As a formal dinner wound down Sunday evening, a live rendition of Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk" brought dozens dressed in all-white tuxedos and dresses to their feet, dancing boisterously next to their tables.
The attendees cutting up on the floor of a hall in Northwest Baltimore weren't celebrating a wedding or throwing a post-Preakness party. Most hadn't seen the first grade.
The Little Flowers Early Childhood and Development Center held its annual cotillion — one of several events planned this spring, including a prom and a graduation.
The child care center is just blocks from Penn North, where rioting broke out last month over the death of Freddie Gray. Parents said their children sheltered in the center during the violence over the death of the 25-year-old, a week after he suffered a severe spinal injury in police custody.
Amid the chaos of the past month, the cotillion took on added significance for some.
Antionette Johnson, 29, danced with her sons Quinard and Quadair Henson, 9 and 7 years old, to the "Cupid Shuffle" before reflecting on how Little Flowers has helped them cope.
"It takes their minds from the negativity," she said. "It shows them there's something other than violence and aggression when they need to express themselves."
Baltimore City Councilman William "Pete" Welch said the event gave the children a sense of community and accomplishment, and "sets the tone for more positive experiences."
"These are experiences that help form who they will be," he said. "If you can change their character as a child, you can change their destiny as an adult."
Welch, who said he will attend the graduations of 13 different schools in his district, clapped enthusiastically at the end of one group's dance routine and another's a cappella version of "I Believe I Can Fly."
"You have to fill their lives with as many positive, uplifting experiences as you can," he said.
Crystal Hardy Flowers, who owns and operates the 200-student program, said the cotillion served as "a day for them to be kings and queens."
"It's about bringing the community together and supporting our children and their futures," Flowers said. "It's a chance to honor our children and their accomplishments. And they like to get dressed up; that's a nice thing, too."
Channan Simmons, vice president of the Little Flowers parent-teacher association, referenced the energetic, dancing children as an example of the resilience she believes the city showed over the past month.
"We're not going to let what happened out there hinder us as a community," she said.
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