By Lena Foster

With a mixture of sophistication and style, The NETwork DFW’s Juneteenth Charity Sneaker Ball embodied genuine Black essence and greatness while recognizing a historic event.

The NETwork DFW hosted their first sneaker ball this past Friday at the African American Museum to commemorate Juneteenth and acknowledge four Dallas high school graduates who received scholarship awards from the organization. 

Each student received a scholarship amount of $1,500 to go towards their future education totaling this year’s scholarship distribution amount at $6,000. These students not only possessed the passion for change, but showed desires to utilize their talents to impact those in their communities. 

Arianna Jenkins is one of this year’s scholarship recipients, and she plans to major in textiles and apparel at The University of Texas at Austin this fall. Jenkins graduated from Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet where she participated in extracurricular groups such as Link Crew and Moot Court, became Student Body President, established her high school’s student court system, and walked in several fashion shows including New York Fashion Week. 

Jenkins also intends to attend law school and become a civil rights attorney. This was Jenkins’ first Juneteenth celebratory event.

“I’ve always truly wanted to get more involved with it, and it’s been a lot of trying to get my family to learn more about it and to switch from celebrating July 4 to Juneteenth since this is our holiday,” Jenkins said. 

This year’s theme Stepping into Royalty correlated with guests’ attire of black tie formal with various sneaker choices. Guests were exposed to a red carpet pathway entering the building, and inside, tables were decorated with sneaker center pieces and framed pictures of the leaders of The NETwork DFW who helped organize and run the event. 

Lena interviewing LaDrica Derrico, CEO of The NETwork DFW

“Juneteenth is such a pivotal moment here in Texas,” LaDrica Derrico CEO of The NETwork DFW said. “We have to do it big. People are in their nice suits with their fly kicks.” 

Guests were also given the opportunity to utilize the event’s customized backdrop for pictures as well as the 360 photo station provided by Picture Perfect 360 Booth.

With music provided by DJ She Real, guests enjoyed a southern-influenced array of food prepared by Our Door to Yours Catering including charcuterie cups for the appetizers, a choice of herb roasted chicken/fried chicken or southern style meatloaf for the main entree, and collard greens with smoked turkey and mac & cheese with honey butter cornbread as sides. Desserts included 7Up cake and peach cobbler. 

Kitchen Kandy Event Staffing served cocktails throughout the event, and Mama Africa’s Apparel sold a range of African wear.  

Some of the highlights of the event consisted of a musical performance by Officially R Nezz, a speech from the keynote speaker Dr. David Woody III of The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, and an interactive African dance from Bandan Koro. 

Hosted by Victor Lankford and Christina Evans, the event began with a powerful musical rendition. Officially R Nezz sang two selections relating to freedom and Black joy, two concepts surrounding Juneteenth.

“Even though we’re aware of our pain, we also need to immerse ourselves in the Black joy that we often experience,”  Officially R Nezz said.

 During the first selection, she descended down the stairwell singing a slower tune. Once she was on the first floor, she sang a more upbeat song where she moved throughout the tables and uplifted the crowd. 

The program took a significant turn towards Dr. David Woody III’s message focused on the history of Juneteenth and the future generation which highlighted the achievements made by the four scholars honored.

“I think back to when I was growing up and really not having access to this kind of experience, and the fact that we are seeing African American leaders step forward to talk about their experience and want to mentor students and ensure that folks are getting the appropriate  recognition for the hard work that they’re doing, I think is really important,” Woody said. 

Woody currently serves as the President and CEO of The Bridge, which is the largest provider of day shelters, and has held this leadership position for seven years. AT&T in Dallas has connected with The Bridge by providing resources and support such as volunteers and technologies. 

Although he’s never been to an event like this, Woody made sure to wear his best shoes, his purple and yellow Lebrons, to showcase the importance of the event.

“I thought that, in terms of the African American experience, we’re bright, and we’re flashy when it comes to this kind of event,” Woody said. “So to get to go to the best of my closet was really exciting.”

The event transitioned into a jubilant moment of motion involving African dancing, music, and culture. With the high-leveled dance moves going to the beat of the drumming, the crowd was not only left excited but motivated to participate. 

Bennie Phillips, Carolyn Jackson and LaToya Henry celebrating a great cause at the ball.

People got the opportunity to drum and come together on the dance floor to learn an African dance. 

Everette Early, one of the scholarship recipients, was out on the dance floor, which was something new for him. 

“Today was the first day that I was really dancing like African-style,” Early said. “Honestly with the drums and music, everything was a cultural vibe, and it really brings you back to your roots.”

Early attended Hillcrest High School Collegiate Academy where he participated in organizations such as Boy Scouts of America, Key Club, National Black MBA Leaders of Tomorrow, and National Society of Black Engineers Jr. Chapter. He intends to study electrical engineering at Prairie View A&M University and focus on working with sources such as renewable energy, and he wants to show other African American students the range of options for their lives.

“I want to show them that there’s more to us as a people, and that we could achieve more than anybody else if we really put our minds together and we all just connect to help each other to grow,” Early said. 

Xavier Brewington and Kohl Crawford were also honored as the organization’s scholarship recipients. 

Throughout the night, these four high school graduates were brought a great deal of encouragement and congratulation, especially with an understanding of their intentions for the betterment of others. 

Brewington, who graduated from Plano East Senior High School, plans to go to Howard University to major in finance with a concentration in actuarial science. In high school, Brewington made it a plan of his to be active throughout his entire high school time by participating in groups such as National Beta Club, the Chamber Orchestra, and the International Baccalaureate Program at the school.  

Brewington wants to be involved in the insurance industry, where he will find ways to refine the disparities for those less fortunate. 

“I’ll work in the insurance field to help combat some of the inequities currently in our system in terms of insurance, specifically towards African Americans and lower income individuals in specific zip codes,” Brewington said. 

Crawford went to Rowlett High School and developed passions for kickboxing, cross country, reading, soccer. He was also a part of groups such as National Honor Society and Black Student Alliance, where he served as the vice president. He will be going to Texas Southern University and be in the honors program to become a civil rights lawyer. From there, he will be moving on to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law.

“This award means alot to me. My family has done a lot to get to where we’re at right now and those four years are really starting to pay off now,” Crawford said. “It’s a great feeling honestly just to know you’re one step away from being financially free.”

Infinity Candle Co., Eleven86 Real Artesian Water, and Berkshire Farms Winery sponsored this event. 

To donate to The NETwork DFW to help fund future events and activities, click here.