“How many of you in this room read the story Little Black Sambo in grammar school?” asked Assemblyman William Payne as he addressed the Black History Month closing ceremony audience. As a child in a majority White school, Payne explained that Little Black Sambo, the story of a young African boy growing up in the jungle was juxtaposed with Dick and Jane, the story of two White children living in the suburbs with their parents and dog. “These are the lessons my peers were taught about Black people, that we came from jungles, we were lazy and uneducated.” “We heard about American heroes that were White, but we never learned about the heroes that were Black,” he continued. A sponsor of the Amistad Act, Payne developed legislation mandating that African-American history and contributions be incorporated into all K-12 curriculum and textbooks. He cited several examples of contributions by Black Americans including the preservation of blood plasma by Dr. Charles Drew; Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performing the first successful surgery on a human heart in 1893; Garrett A. Morgan’s invention of the gas mask that saved tens of thousands of soldiers during World War I (he also invented the traffic signal); and the Tuskegee Airmen that flew during World War II, protecting combat pilots and destroying 251 enemy aircraft without ever losing a bomber. “These are all lessons that should be included in American history, not extracted from it,” he concluded.
Black History Month at Bloomfield College is a period of time devoted to understanding, open dialogue, and celebrating the contributions of the African American culture. College President Richard Levao said, “There is still a need for Black History Month to continue an open dialogue and to celebrate the achievements of African Americans that have been omitted from American history.”
The afternoon was full of contributions. In addition to Assemblyman Payne and President Levao, the keynote address was offered by Rahfeal Gordon, a motivational speaker, author and entrepreneur who started his first company at the age of 15 and co-founded Team Infinite which is a very popular club on campus that serves to educate, perform community service and develop leadership skills. He talked about being a superhero through purposeful attitude, persistence, and transcendence. Gordon referred to himself as a member of a privileged generation. “The generations before us were the problem solvers; they dealt with discrimination and segregation. Our generation is the bridge to keep it moving forward.”
Awards were given by Black History Month committee members Will Everett and Tia Cherry. The awards were given to: Excellence in Mentoring Award: Dr. Denise Dennis; Most Influential Faculty or Staff Member Award: Dr. Laura Hill; Distinguished Athlete Award: Kevin Udo; Outstanding Organization Award: Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc.; Distinguished McNair Scholars Award: Ulysses Coleman ’12; Woman of Action Award: Ashley Taylor; Exemplary Student Leadership Award: Sharif Thomas; Spirit of EOF Award: Miariah Price; and Outstanding Administrative Leadership Award: Ms. Maretta Hodges.
Additional contributions were by Tawn Walker who led the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, Pastor Mark Exum who led the audience in the Black National Anthem, Ro’Cynda Brantley who performed the spiritual Give Me Jesus, Terrance Bankston ’04 who introduced his friend and keynote speaker Rahfeal Gordon, College Chaplain Rev. Sherry Karasik who read excerpts of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail, Team Infinite who gave a dance performance and the closing remarks by Maretta Hodges, director of EOF and the Black History Month chair. The event was hosted by Da’Cheray Thomas, the president of the Black Student Union.
Photos of the event can be found here.