Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity Opens in Wheaton

By: Daniel Lyght

Created as a place for all people of the county to celebrate and learn about multiculturalism, the Charles W. Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity carried out its Grand Opening Ceremony September 8 with great fanfare.

The center was dedicated to late former Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist because of his reputation as a great humanitarian and advocate for minorities. Says Montgomery County Council President Blair Ewing, Charles Gilchrist "worked hard to promote and develop multiculturalism."

While serving as county executive, Gilchrist took steps to involve minorities in county politics by appointing the first African American and Hispanic staff advisors and also attempted to form groups which would benefit the minority community.Such as the County Minority Business Procurement Program and the Commission on Ethnic Affairs.

Says U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes, "Decency and justice prevail in our county because of people like Charlie Gilchrist." In order to help the community learn and celebrate diversity, the center will supply space for community cultural activities such as dances and performances and will provide programs for immigrants new to the country through the New Americans Welcome Area.

Says Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, the "NAWA is a great opportunity for new immigrants to receive help and guidance."

Included in the opening day celebration were speeches given by numerous public officials such as County Executive Duncan, County Council President Ewing, and Senator Sarbanes, by county residents representing different ethnic backgrounds, Gilchrist Center Project Manager Alexandra Teaff and also by Gilchrist's wife Phoebe.

Taking over the stage after the speeches were a variety of colorful costumes and energetic performances by the East  West Dance Theater, the Prendergast School of Irish Dance, the Young Steppers from Africa, the Kim Mihee Traditional Dance School, the Persian Dance Group, the Za Wei Zhang School of Chinese Dance, and the Bolivian Artistic and Cultural Fraternity. The Fabulous Flying Fingers also performed "America the Beautiful the Dream" and "Love in Any Language during the ceremony."

There are many people responsible for the success of the Gilchrist Center. These people include Project Manager Alexandra Teaff, NAWA Program Specialist Moremi Onijala, Community Activities Coordinator Anil Saini, and Cultural Ambassador Program Liaison Sharon Knapik. Says Phoebe Gilchrist who received a plaque in honor of her husband and who also participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony, "I look forward to the leadership of Alexandra Teaff now that the center is open."