It’s time for the next generation to take the reins to steer the future of Woodland Village, and what better way to do it than with a party?

Thomas Blake said the community, which sits off of Route 210 in Indian Head at Woodland Drive, has long felt like “a big family” to everyone who lives there. Blake himself has lived there since he was a child.

As a place that was historically occupied by African American families, Blake said, that family feeling went a long way toward developing a community that protected and nurtured its residents when the world around them often did not.

Despite their struggles, he noted proudly, the neighborhood has produced a large amount of successful citizens, ranging from public servants to members of the armed forces and doctorate holders.

Back in 2014, Blake said they decided to convene their first big celebration of the neighborhood’s past, present and future. It was a huge success, he said, so much so that they decided they’d reconvene every five years.

Since 2014’s party, Blake said, 12 new families have moved to the neighborhood, and so to him Saturday’s party was just as much a celebration of their newer neighbors as it was one for the long-time “pillars of the community,” as he called them. But, he said, it was also a valuable chance to engage the younger community members and entice them to be as active in neighborhood affairs as those who’d come before.

More than 100 people showed up for Saturday’s festivities, which felt equally like a block party and a family reunion. Held at Francis and Gladys Simmons Park, a neighborhood spot named for two of the aforementioned pillars of the community, people embraced and shared memories with old neighbors they hadn’t seen in years. The day was filled with food, music and free family-centered fun, but more importantly, it seemed to celebrate the close atmosphere cherished by residents past and present. A balloon release at dusk commemorated the deceased residents who are still held dear.

Rose Chase, president of the Woodland Village Civic Association, has lived there for 30 years and said she’s always valued how her neighborhood “is like one big family.”

“It’s the closeness,” Chase said of what she thinks makes Woodland Village special. “Everyone watches out for one another. There’s always someone to watch your house when you’re away, and on snowy days there’s always someone to shovel your walk.”

Indian Head Mayor Brandon Paulin called the celebration an “awesome” way for the community to commemorate their shared history, and added that it’s “the best community event in town” of its type. He, too, said he could tell how close-knit the Woodland Village family is.

“They’re not all related by blood,” Paulin said, remarking on how the event still had a strong family feel. “That atmosphere is something that communities around America can make a template of.”

Vice Mayor Ron Sitoula said that Woodland Villagers are “representative of Indian Head itself.”

“We, too, are close knit,” Sitoula said of the town at large. “We chose to live in Indian Head. This highlights the fact that communities like ours can only be better if we join hands and come together.”

Before they opened up the buffet line to the hungry partygoers, Blake spent some time speaking on the importance of their shared heritage. They’ve “come a long way” from their beginnings as a military base development, Blake said, and that’s what deserves to be celebrated.

“[Hillary Clinton] said it takes a village, and we lived that,” Blake said. “They came together, and said we’d had enough of no park, no water, and it took men and women who weren’t attorneys, doctors or anything else ... and they challenged them, these black people who didn’t have the education or pull or network, but they fought for years.”

Many of the pillars of the community Blake specifically named have passed, he said, but their descendants remain and have something very special: the fighting spirit of their predecessors.

“They imparted that in us. And so we grew on, and that brings us to the present,” Blake said. “Guess what? Woodland Village produced some very special folk, and I celebrate them.”

Twitter: @LindsayIndyNews

Twitter: @LindsayIndyNews