Motivational speaker Johnny Westmoreland broke the good news on Good Friday at his 5th annual Seniors Banquet at the Columbus Park Refectory: Free food, just for being seniors. Westmoreland does this every year, and this year was even more meaningful. The banquet was held on the 25th anniversary of the death of his mother, Mae Ella Westmoreland.

Ald. Ed Smith (28th Ward) said, “I think this is a tremendous effort. I want to commend [Johnny] for taking the time to do this, and he’s doing it for a great group of people. I had to come by and support him. I hope he continues to do this. I hope it continues to grow, and we can all work together to help make it bigger.”

Westmoreland said he holds the banquet each year to honor “those seniors in the Austin community who helped raise me when my mom died 25 years ago. The day that she died, March 25th, happens to fall on this particular day, and it makes 25 years, and it’s Good Friday, so that’s a good sequence. Those seniors played a very important part in my life because we grew up as a poor family. When their grandchildren ate black-eyed peas and pork chops, they didn’t give me a can of Ravioli. I ate black-eyed peas and pork chops along with them. So one day I woke up and said, ‘I want to give somebody something.’ What about those seniors who helped raise me? People seem to have forgotten about those seniors. So I organized this. The first time I didn’t know it was going to be that much financially, but God said he would provide a way for me because it was in my heart to do these things and give back to those seniors and they helped me to direct my path and helped me join a church. I’ve been in my same church, Pleasant Ridge, under the direction of Dr. Joseph Jones, 116 S. Central Ave. I’ve been a member since 1980, and we have some wonderful seniors.”

The banquet’s guests were treated to a fashion show, featuring The Black ‘N’ Elegant Modeling Troupe. Fashion show commentator Leon Hasley’s descriptions and quick-wit made the show very entertaining. All the models wore after five evening attire. Entertainment was provided by “Chicago Idol” Maurice Mahon, Fatima Williams, Hugh Brown & The Brown Brothers and Mary Ann Huggins.

Listed program special guests included Arlene Jones, Austin Weekly News; State Rep. Deborah Graham (78th Dist.); U.S. Cong. Danny K. Davis, 29th Ward Alderman Isaac Carothers and WVON radio host Garfield Major.

Johnny also had the chance to show off his new baby daughter.