Something special has been going on in Prince George’s County for centuries that has produced and inspired so many international icons in business, politics, sports, entertainment, and education. Here are a few:
Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, was six years old when he arrived in the Adelphi area with his parents from Russia. Educated at the University of Maryland in College Park, he would go west to Stanford and found the company Google. But he had rooted in Prince George’s: his parents still live here, his father a mathematics professor at UMD, and his mother a scientist at the Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt.
Kevin Durant, the NBA’s most valuable player this year, is a son of Seat Pleasant. A superstar athlete for the Oklahoma Thunder, Durant ‘s MVP acceptance speech is one for the ages: “And last, my mom. I don’t think you know what you did. One of the best memories I had was when we moved into our first apartment, no bed, no furniture and we just sat in the living room and just hugged each other. We thought we made it.”
Mary Harris Jones, known as the labor activist Mother Jones, moved to a friend’s farm in Adelphi in her later years, at the intersection of Riggs and Powder Mill. Considered “the most dangerous woman in America” for her ability to lead workers on strike when she “crooks her finger,” her legacy lives on at the Mother Jones Elementary School, located on the exact spot where she lived and died.
Jim Henson (the Muppets!!) came to University Park as a 5th grader, and he started his puppetry career right away. At Northwestern High School, he creating puppets for a TV show called The Junior Morning Show. As a commuting student at UMD, he developed the TV show Sam and Friends. Clearly, Henson’s genius flowered in the County, and he was inducted in to the Prince George’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
Kathie Lee Gifford may have been born in Paris, but she arrived in Bowie at 4 years old and by 14 she was entertaining the county as a folk singer and cheerleader. Known then as Kathie Lee Epstein, she won Maryland’s Junior Miss Pageant in 1970, an event that moved her out of Bowie and on her way to superstardom. But she continues to come back and share her memories and success with Bowie’s youth.
Mya (born and raised in Greenbelt as Mya Marie Harrison) was named in honor of poet Maya Angelou, was influenced by Stevie Wonder, Minnie Ripperton, Madonna, and Fred Astaire, has won just about every music award worth winning: a Grammy in 2012, two MTV moon men awards (including the prestigious MTV Video of the Year award), a Screen Actors Guild Award, Billboard’s Top 100 Artists of the 2000s, and a second place finish in Dancing With the Stars. She has a heart as big as her voice: founder and co-founder of several important nonprofit groups, spokesperson for Secret to Self Esteem, Stop Breast Cancer, Haitian Disaster Relief, Global AIDS education, and homeless LGBT youth. At Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, she was a cheerleader on the Pom Pom Squad, and she graduated at 16 years old! In short, Mya has done the county proud, and is a global music icon (and did we say she writes or co-writes almost all of her own music?)
Michael Steele, the ubiquitous political television pundit, former Republican Party chairman, and ex Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, was born at Andrews Airforce Base in the County. While he grew up mostly in neighboring DC, he returned to the County as an adult in 1986 and began the grassroots activities that drove his political career. He now makes his home in Landover.
John Carroll is remembered today as the first Archbishop of America and the founder of Georgetown University. Born on January 8, 1735 on a 27,000 acre plantation in Upper Marlboro, Carroll’s family was active in the early organization of American States. George Washington considered Carroll a good friend, and would often visit his home. His memory leads us back to a time when Upper Marlboro was an active, thriving port city, one of the true colonial capitols of America. He lived a full 80 years, a witness to the fight for and realization of the American idea.
Adam Francis Plummer, who was born into slavery in 1819, grew up on the Calvert family’s Riversdale plantation. He was educated by an itinerant minister and kept a diary from 1841 until his death in 1905. Now in the care of the Smithsonian, it is considered the only living diary of a slave in US History. In 1870, Plummer had saved enough money to buy 10 acres of land in what is now the town of Edmonston, making the Plummer family its first permanent residents. Long thought lost, it was first revealed to the public in a Smithsonian ceremony in 2003 and is a riveting first person account of a man who lived 44 years in slavery, and another 42 years free.
Turkey Tayac, born as Philip Sheridan Proctor, the leader of the Piscataway Indian Nation of Prince George’s County, and an inspiration to Native Americans throughout America, was instrumental in re-claiming the continuing legacy and culture of the Piscataway in Maryland. The first European to note the activities of the Piscataway was John Smith who, in 1608, mapped this populous and thriving tribe in what is now known as Prince George’s County. Thought until the 1960s to have migrated outside of Maryland, Turkey Tayac established a now-widely-recognized validation of “self-identification,” which revealed a significant living population of Piscataways in the county that dated back as far as 1300 AD. He was especially concerned with the protection of an archeological site in Accocreek that is now a National Historic Landmark, part of the Piscataway National Park. Although he died of leukemia in 1978 and didn’t live to see the Piscataway recognized as a living tribe, his descendants continued the effort and were ultimately rewarded with recognition by the state of Maryland in 2012.
Zina Garrison, of Hyattsville, is a world-renouned tennis celebrity and Olympic gold medalist (1988). Serving as honorary chairman of the ATA National Championships in 2002, held at the Prince George’s Tennis and Education Foundation, she brought national attention to the roots of an organization that was founded in 1917 as a forum for African-American tennis talent. Garrison’s career including the winning of a Gold Medal at the 1988 Olympic Games, a runner-up at Wimbledon, and three time Grand Slam mixed doubles champion. Her contests with rival Marina Navratilova are legendary; she finally upset her in the 1988 quarter finals of the US Open. She shares her house with emerging tennis star Taylor Townsend, who are often seen training at the College Park facilities.