By Barney Blakeney
In 2016, Ronald ‘Pike’ Goodwin and Robert ‘Bobby’ Smalls sat at Smalls’ home catching up on their friendship. During their conversation, they reminisced about previous years when various local organizations held holiday galas that brought together old friends and schoolmates. The pair realized that few of those affairs are held these days. From that nostalgic conversation the Carolina Group and its annual Holiday Gala was born.
Goodwin and Smalls, members of Burke High School’s Class of 1961, came up with an idea to host an annual holiday gala which would bring together alumni from the peninsula city’s high schools that existed during their segregated high school era – Avery Institute, Burke High, C.A. Brown High and Immaculate Conception School. They approached several of their friends with the idea and each Christmas holiday season since, the group they formed has hosted the annual Carolina Group Holiday Gala.
December 20 the Carolina Group held its fourth Annual Holiday Gala at the International Longshoremen Association Hall on Morrison Drive. Smalls quickly emphasizes that while the four peninsula high schools are named, participants and associates are not limited to those schools. They reach out and welcome alumni from all area high schools. More than 250 schoolmates, classmates and friends from across the country were in attendance.
The members of the group are; Smalls who is the group’s president, Leon Alston, Woodrow Coleman, Ronald “Pike” Goodwin, Moses Roper who is deceased, Charles McKenzie, Chris Mitchell, Willie Rogers, Irvin Seabrook and Leroy Washington. Smalls said not all the members attended downtown schools – two members are North Carolina natives, Rogers of Wilmington and Coleman of Shelby – hence the name, Carolina Group.
They eagerly admit that while the men are the face and driving force of the group, their spouses and friends are the worker bees who make everything happen. And while the desire to create a festive affair for all to enjoy was the motivation for the gala, the group also is committed to partying with a purpose. Each year the group raises funds which are donated to a worthy cause. This year the group donated $1,000 to Project Cool Breeze which helps senior citizens battle South Carolina’s sweltering heat by providing them with air conditioners.
This year’s gala was catered by Reggie Simmons’ Professional Catering. Music for the gala that featured dinner, dancing and cocktails was provided by DJ Hurricane. Smalls hopes the affair will grow. The group may partner with others in the future, he said.