Valerie M. Gonlin wanted to start a gift business for African-Americans that would have a dual purpose: offering items that mark a special date, while showing pride in black heritage.
The result is Time to Remember, a business run out of her home in west Columbia's Wilde Lake village, where she produces personalized certificates commemorating occasions such as anniversaries, weddings, graduations and sorority and fraternity initiations.
Each certificate also includes historical, statistical and cultural information about African-Americans from a given year.
Ms. Gonlin, a special assistant in Gov. Parris N. Glendening's office, said she came up with the idea when she saw date-specific scrolls for babies.
"I thought it would be nice to have an Afrocentric version," she said. "I wanted something original as a gift, rather than a vase for a 40th or 50th anniversary."
So now Ms. Gonlin -- who earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University in 1980 and later worked as a newspaper copy editor -- works nights creating certificates on her home computer, usually after her husband and two young children have gone to bed.
She searches history books, almanacs and data bases to compile the information, generally focusing on such items as the first black to accomplish a feat or to be appointed to an important position.
"It blends my interest in history and editing," Ms. Gonlin said.
Shawn Y. Rich, a former co-worker at the state Department of Housing and Community Development, gave a Time to Remember certificate to a member of her sorority celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary.
The historical information from the 1940s "was so different than what was going on now, it caused her to reminisce," said Ms. Rich, of Glen Burnie, who received a certificate herself commemorating her 1989 pledge to the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.
Examples of certificates from 1966 and 1991 depict the march of black history during that 25-year period.
In 1966, for example, a black marcher was wounded by a white sniper during a voter registration march in the South; the term "black power" was coined and the Black Panther Party founded in Oakland, Calif.; riots occurred in 38 cities; the first black Cabinet member was appointed; and Bill Russell, of the Boston Celtics, became the first black to coach a major professional sports team.
In 1991, South Africa's Parliament repealed apartheid laws; videotape captured the beating of Rodney King at the hands of Los Angeles police; Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, retired after 24 years; Washington Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. was sentenced to six months in jail; and Los Angeles Lakers star Earvin "Magic" Johnson retired after he had tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS.
The Supremes and the Four Tops were hot on the musical charts in 1966; Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever" and John Singleton's "Boyz N the Hood" were box-office hits in 1991.
Ms. Gonlin sells the certificates for $12 to $19 at events such as fraternity and sorority conferences. And with security tenuous in government jobs these days, she is looking to expand her business.
"I see myself as an entrepreneur on a very part-time basis," she said. "It's fun to do these. They're interesting. And when I print one out, I feel proud."
Time to Remember can be reached at 410-964-9496.