The Mann Center honors Lorina Marshall-Blake as a Voice of Hope
by Jamyra Perry | Philadelphia Tribune
Every year, the Mann Center for the Performing Arts celebrates Black History Month with its Voices of Hope program.
The community event, held Thursday evening, highlights African-American culture and iconic Philadelphia innovators within the health and wellness field.
This year’s honoree was Rev. Lorina Marshall-Blake, president of Independence Blue Cross Foundation. Because of the pandemic, the event could not be held in person, but that didn’t stop dozens upon dozens of the honoree’s friends and colleagues from getting together virtually to celebrate her 2021 Innovation Award.
The Independence Blue Cross Foundation’s mission is to find sustainable solutions that improve the health and well-being of the community.
The Mann Center for the Performing Arts President and CEO Catherine Cahill opened the Zoom call and asked the honoree to say a few words before handing the program over to the event’s emcee.
“We’ve had to forego a lot over this past year, but we felt compelled to bring people together today in whatever way we could. So we are gathered here today for this award ceremony and some truly uplifting wisdom from our honoree Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake, a woman who wears many hats and who has dedicated her life to servicing our Philadelphia community,” Cahill said.
Marshall-Blake said she was glad to see so many friends online with her to celebrate not only her works but also the good work that the Mann Center does for the community.
“The Mann Center of the Performing Arts is just so phenomenal,” she said. “I can’t think of a more exciting place to be today and all the great work that they do. So I applaud you and all that you’re doing.”
The Mann Center’s Vice President of Education and Community Engagement, Naomi Gonzales, who served as mistress of ceremonies for the event, welcomed the virtual audience with a tribute to the honoree that referenced Marshall-Blake’s well-known affinity for hats.
“I would like everyone to tip your hat to Ms. Lorina by finding your hats and putting them on. This is our special way of sending you our love and our hearts,” Gonzales said.
Some of Marshall-Blake’s longtime friends shared stories that exemplified why she is the Innovation Award winner.
Arch Street Presbyterian Minister of the Arts J. Donald Dumpson and members of the church choir honored her through song.
“A few things about Lorina and words that come to mind are joy, light, passion and deep care. I never have seen her not smile when I walked up to her,” Dumpson said. “We also want to say the song that we want to do the tribute to you is called ‘Love’ and it’s by Kurt Franklin. You really emulate so deeply in so many ways, love, and most importantly, agape, the deepest form of love that there is.”
Shelley Sylva, head of social impact for TD Bank, said whether you just met Marshall-Blake or knew her for years, you’d always feel like you were talking to an old friend.
“Lorina is simply legendary, and I have had the pleasure to be in several community organizations with her over the years and watched her do the work,” Sylva said. “She just has a way about her when she speaks to you. There could be literally a room of 100 people or 1.000 people and it feels like it’s just you and her. Her kindness is real and genuine.”
As part of the celebration, the Mann Center included a portion of an interview between 6-ABC’s Tamala Edwards and Marshall-Blake. During the interview, she shared what inspires her and what it means to her to receive the Voices of Hope 2021 Innovation Award.
“I’d like to think I’m a voice of hope. In other words, no matter what’s going on I’m still, what is it, I’m a radical optimist. I’m always looking for the bright side. I think of my grandmother, my mom and Kamala Harris. They are voices of hope, and they inspire me to keep on going. In other words, I can’t sit down, I have to keep moving,” she said.
The Voices of Hope celebration continues on the Mann Center’s website and social media that includes the full interview with the award recipient and a special performance from Philadelphia rapper Chill Moody.