Gathering celebrates achievements in black history

EAST LIVERPOOL – From the 1963 civil rights march on Washington to sports, the church and a family tragedy, the role that seeking racial equality has played in the lives of area residents was highlighted at the fourth annual Black History Month celebration recently held at United Brethren Church.

Sponsored by the East Liverpool-Wellsville NAACP and Community Resource Center, the event was themed “Race: Lived Experience,” and featured area speakers, entertainment and awards.

Ruby Golding, Dorothy James and Mary Wilson spoke about riding the Freedom Train in 1963 from Pittsburgh to the nation’s capital, where they marched with civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying it was something they will never forget and how kind everyone was to each other, despite more than 200,000 people milling around and a shortage of food when only 85,000 boxed lunches were available.

Local environmental activist Alonzo Spencer spoke about African-Americans in the military, specifically the Tuskegee Airmen who trained in Alabama to fly and maintain air planes. They became one of the most highly respected fighter groups during World War II, and Spencer said, “Men whose skin defined them as black also wanted to be defined as patriots. The Tuskegee Airmen worked hard to prove they were as good as anyone else.”

Speaking on stereotyping in sports, Willie Sallis, president of the Beaver County NAACP, said it was once believed blacks were not smart enough to be quarterbacks or coaches but, today, they are both. He said, “When you do the math, we can jump higher, we can run faster, but those are facts, not stereotyping.”

He said that, while stereotyping can never be changed, African-Americans need to change the things they are able to, such as high school drop outs, unwed mothers and homes without fathers.

The Rev. Brenda Johnson, Sheridan AME Church, talked about hope that led to formation of black churches, while Jackie and Jenny Hicks talked about the tragedy of the racially-motivated murder of their brother and Makesha West, president of the local NAACP, related how being raised in a “house of addiction” had affected her life, saying, “Just because you fall into statistics doesn’t mean you have to stay there.”

West also spoke on the dire need for people to join the local NAACP chapter, whose membership is faltering, almost to the point of not having enough members to retain its charter. She urged those present to join, saying an adult membership is $30, a youth membership, $10.

“The NAACP is still here, it’s still active. You don’t always see us, but we’re always there,” West said.

The annual NAACP Image Awards were presented by Alma Johnson to Margo Coon and Robert Green, who were honored for going beyond and above in the community or at work.

Johnson also received a nod and bouquet of flowers for her dedication to planning the annual Black History program.

Patti Swartz of Kent State University said four schools participated in the annual Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King essay contest, with the winning illustrations, sculpture and essays on display at the dinner.

Andrew English, 2011 recipient of the Darnell English Scholarship spoke on the benefits of the award, while Cheyenne Matthews performed an interpretive dance dedicated to Darnell English.

Entertainment included solo performances by Leah Prescott, Linda McCuen and the Greater Faith Worship Center Youth Ensemble, as well as traditional dances and drumming by Harambee of Youngstown.

Gwen Booker offered the welcome; Nicki Brooks served as narrator; Alma Johnson offered closing remarks and prayer was given by the Rev. Rolland Owens of New Hope Baptist Church and the Rev. Travis Coon, Antioch Baptist Church.