While coming of age in Miami-Dade, FL, I became an active participant in the Miami-Dade Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). I served as president of the number one youth council in the nation and a member of the executive board of the Collegiate Chapter at Morehouse College. As a youth in Miami-Dade, FL, I traveled extensively competing in the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO), one of many youth programs of the NAACP.
ACT-SO was founded in 1977 by the late Vernon Jarrett, with its first national competition held in 1978 in Portland, Oregon. Jarrett, a native of Chicago, was a world-renowned author and journalist. He wanted to support and reward young intellects the way that many look up to sports heroes. Famous alumni of ACT-SO include:
Anthony Anderson Actor/Comedian
Michael Beard Actor
Tanarrraive Due American Author
Roy Hargrove Jazz Musician
Jada Pinkett-Smith Actress
John Singleton Filmmaker
Kanye West Rapper
On this day, February 21, we celebrate the NAACP and its programs such as ACT-SO. Also, on this day, Civil Rights Activist, Julian Bond, was elected Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors in 1998. Bond, known to America as a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement, university professor, prolific writer and orator, served as chair of the National Board of Directors of the NAACP until 2010 and a member of the Georgia Legislature for 20 years (in both houses). Currently, he serves as a member of the faculty in the history department at the University of Virginia and a distinguished adjunct professor at American University.
Many persons have asked: What is the purpose of the NAACP? Its purpose, according to the organization, is:
“To ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.”
As a product of the Youth and College Division of the NAACP and its ACT-SO program, I have no doubt that the NAACP provided great experiences that have shaped who I am today. I thank Vernon Jarrett, Julian Bond and many others who have paved the way for youth such as me to become the benefactors of youth programs that engage students of color in a positive way.
On this day in 1933 Eunice Kathleen Waymon, better known by her stage name of Nina Simone, was born in Tryon, North Carolina. Simone was a singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist. She has been widely associated with the genre of Jazz music.
She studied at Julliard School of Music and some of her many recordings include an adaptation of George Gershwin’s” I love you Porgy,” (from Porgy and Bess), her debut album, “Little Girl Blue,” and she turned Lorraine Hansberry’s unfinished play, “To be Young, Gifted, and Black” into a Civil Rights song (which was later covered by both Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway). Her music served as a source of inspiration and enjoyment for the people of her generation and those who continue to follow her.
For me, one of her most poignant works is the song,” Four Women” which is a song about four different stereotypes of African American women. The first woman in the song is “Aunt Sarah” who represents African American enslavement. The second woman is “Safronia” who is of mixed heritage and “forced to live between two worlds.” The third woman is a prostitute known as,”Sweet Thing.” The fourth and final woman is known as,”Peaches.” She is the product of oppression and suffering that African Americans (particularly African American women) have endured over the years in this country. I find this work particularly beautiful and haunting at the same time. I have posted the original piece by Nina Simone, as well as a more modern day rendition performed at the recent airing of “Black Girls Rock!”(by the singers Kelly Price, Marsha Ambrosius, Jill Scott, and Ledisi). I hope you enjoy viewing/listening to them and take the time to ponder on what each woman’s plight must have been, where she drew her strength from, and how she reflects people we may know in our own lives.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have opened and closed over the years largely because of the challenging environment under which they almost universally exist — a lack of adequate funding, general lack of support from state legislatures in the case of public HBCUs, and an overall lack of respect for their unique mission on the landscape of higher education in America. Whether out of the spirit of philanthropy, necessity, or fairness, the reason HBCUs were created in America and have survived for, in many cases, more than 140 years, is that they filled a void in this country.
HBCUs have marked their place in the history of this country. For Blacks, they have been the road to higher education and to middle class America. HBCUs have a tradition of providing access to African Americans who otherwise might not have been given the opportunity to earn a college degree. There are many things HBCUs have in common, including the fact that, when you delve beneath the surface, many of them are more similar than dissimilar – their history, their student body, and their tradition of educating tomorrow’s Black leaders.
Today, we celebrate the birth of my alma mater, Morehouse College, which was founded as Augusta Institute, on this Valentine’s Day in 1867. As the College celebrates its 144th Anniversary this week with its Founder’s Day events and the Centennial celebration of the world renowned Morehouse College Glee Club, I think back on the impact this institution has had on me and many more Morehouse Men in the country and abroad. The College is one of three remaining conventional men’s colleges in the US and the only historically Black. In 1999, when I stepped on the hallowed grounds of Morehouse College in Mays Hall and attended classes in Wheeler Hall as a finance major, I knew that I could achieve my goals and persist as a young Black male. The faculty, administration and staff believed in me and of course treated me with respect. It was at Morehouse College that I learned to be well spoken, well dressed, and well traveled.
It was HBCUs such as Morehouse College that provided educational opportunities for African Americans when other educational pathways were closed or limited. These colleges and universities, developed with the assistance of the American Missionary Association and the Freedmen’s Bureau, along with financial support from certain Black churches and private philanthropists, continue to educate African American leaders and greatly contribute to America. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to attend this first rate college and appreciate past president Walker E. Massey (9th president) and current president Robert M. Franklin (10th president) for their leadership.
On this day in 1986 Debi Thomas became the first African American to win the Senior U.S. singles figure skating championship. She also went on to win championships in world figure skating and captured the bronze medal in figure skating in the 1988 Winter Olympics. She did all of this while studying medical microbiology at Stanford University (she went on to study medicine at Northwestern University and is now a Doctor).
I remember her competing in the Winter Olympics vividly, as I was just beginning college myself during that time. In my world, figure skating was not an activity that African American youth were typically exposed to. My family had always encouraged me to “go against the grain” and pursue whatever I was interested in – even if it was something that I didn’t necessarily see my peers doing. So to see this young black woman accomplish something outside of the norm was inspirational to me. It encouraged me to think bigger than what I saw in front of me. We often limit ourselves and our thinking about what we can do and accomplish based on how society perceives us. We put ourselves in “boxes” that the larger society says we should fit into.
Recently I have been following the news stories about the number of African American players in the NHL – a sport whose players have historically been predominantly white. There are only about 30 black players in the league and over the course of the past year, The Atlanta Thrashers have acquired seven of those black players. This story caught my attention because you don’t often see African American youth pursuing a sport such as hockey. It’s exciting to see barriers and stereotypes being broken down and people going outside of limits that society may try to impose upon us.
I encourage everyone to think outside of the box, follow your dreams – no matter how wild they may seem, and don’t allow anyone to define you – based on your race, size, gender, socioeconomic status or any other box people may try to put you in. Find the definition of your being from the depths of your soul. Let people like Debi Thomas serve as your inspiration to reach for that which may seem unreachable.
I will leave you today with this powerful thought: “If you don’t define yourself for yourself then you will be crushed into other’s fantasies of you and eaten alive.” Audre Lorde ~ Caribbean American writer, poet, and activist
On this special day in Black History Month, the nation’s capital, Washington, DC, was designed by inventor, examiner, mathematician and astronomer, Mr. Benjamin Banneker, in 1791. 210 years later, Washington, DC, is now home to the first Black president of the United States of America, Mr. Barack Obama, 44th president. As a past resident of the Baltimore, Maryland metropolitan area, I frequently traveled to Washington, DC, believed to be the nation’s first truly planned city, meticulously mapped out by Banneker, an African American male. The fact that this man was largely self-taught and was able to make such an impact on society gives me hope to know that I can achieve my goals in life as a newly minted PhD.
The District is unique also as it was established by the U. S. Constitution. The City of the District of Columbia is home to the Washington Redskins, the Washington Wizards, and the Washington Capitals, with roughly 591,833 residents in the City and the majority of the City being African American (55.2%). I look back on my days in the DC metropolitan area and pay homage to Benjamin Banneker. One item I will always remember is that the Washington, DC, area is not only the seat of government for America but also home to many artistic and educational activities, from excellent colleges and universities to museums and great dining establishments.
Thank you Benjamin Banneker for founding one of my favorite cities in the United States.
On this day in 1913 Civil Rights Activist Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. On December 1, 1955 she refused to obey a bus driver’s orders to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus. Under Jim Crow laws at that time in America, black and white people were segregated in just about every aspect of daily life, including the use of public transportation.
In December of 1943, Mrs. Parks became active in the Civil Rights Movement by joining the Montgomery Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and served as the secretary to the President of that organization for the next two years. Even though Mrs. Parks came to be known as “the Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement, “she was not the first person to engage in such an act of ‘civil disobedience.’ Other individuals such as Irene Morgan in 1946 and Sarah Louise Keys in 1955 had won rulings in the area of interstate bus travel. Nine months before Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat, a fifteen year old by the name of Claudette Colvin also refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, AL bus.
But Mrs. Parks’ actions on that December day in 1955 became an important part of the modern Civil Rights movement as it served as a catalyst to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. When Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on that bus, she was arrested and subsequently charged with disorderly conduct and violating a City ordinance (although technically she was sitting in the ‘colored’ section of the bus – however when the white section of the bus became full, the driver demanded that the passengers, which included Mrs. Parks, sitting in the first rows of the colored section stand to allow the white passengers to sit in those seats). On December 4, 1955 the Montgomery Bus Boycott was launched and a new organization was born – The Montgomery Improvement Association, whose first president was a young and relatively unknown minister in the city, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The boycott lasted a total of 381 days until the law requiring segregation on public transportation was ended. Dr. King has stated that Mrs. Parks’ arrest was the precipitating factor in the protest. This boycott inspired many other protests during the Civil Rights Movement and pushed Dr. King forward as a leader in the movement. The Montgomery Bus Boycott also served as inspiration for a bus boycott in Alexandria, South Africa in black South Africans quest for freedom and equal rights in that country.
As we acknowledge and celebrate the birth of Rosa Parks today, let us consider how her action on that day as well as the actions of the other individuals mentioned here was an inspiration for a movement that was not only a part of their personal conviction, but also impacted others in society for years to come. It created lasting change! As we consider their actions, let us not minimize the power we each individually possess to do the same. When we engage in (what could be considered) seemingly simple actions to take a stand against injustices we can become change agents for social justice in our society! Never underestimate the power of one voice – which when united with other like minded individuals can be the impetus for far reaching changes for the betterment of mankind.
I will leave you with this thought for the weekend:
“It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get to where we are today, but we have just begun. Today we begin in earnest the work of making sure that the world we leave our children is just a little bit better than the one we inhabit today.” ~Barbara Jordan – the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate after reconstruction and the first Southern African-American woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
The month of February is special to me, as a product of an African American family in Miami-Dade County, Florida. My parents, Alphonso and Sarah Hilton, always informed me of the importance of this month while coming of age. I actively participated in the local Miami-Dade Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People during “Black History Month.” Black History Month started as “Negro History Week,” under the leadership of Dr. Carter G. Woodson on this date in 1926; however, in 1976 “Negro History Week,” was extended to “Black History Month.” The month is full of events honoring the significance of African American/Black American History.
As a student of color and a graduate of three historically Black institutions in the South, I value the relevance and dedication to Black History Month. In the late 1950’s, students from Morgan State University (a historically Black institution) began a peaceful sit-in demonstration at the lunch counter of a drug store across the street from the campus. This was the first of what would be many student protests on Black college campuses throughout the South. On February 1, 1960, students of North Carolina A&T University participated in a sit-in at the lunch counter of the F.W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, NC, which was segregated at the time. These students sat at the “Whites only” lunch counters and repudiated calls for them to move until they were either waited on or arrested. Unfortunately, it was the latter. These were landmark sit-ins that ultimately expanded to at least 15 other cities in five Southern states.
Thanks to the students at the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities for the bravery and conviction to stand up for the civil rights of persons of color. Because of these students and others like them, we all can dine in restaurants and use public facilities all over the US – and those who are my close friends know how much I love to eat. During Black History Month, I hope to honor those who fought this nation’s battles, whether it was for civil rights or any of the armed conflicts overseas; they are brave soldiers in the fight for freedom.
Four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College started a sit-in movement at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina on this date in 1960. These four freshman students sat down at that lunch counter and refused to leave until they were served. This non-violent act against social justice sparked the nationwide sit-in movement that ensued during this era of the Civil Rights Movement, garnered national attention, and was pivotal in gains that were made to enhance the quality of life for African-Americans and other minority groups in this country.
College students played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was a key organization in the Civil Rights Movement and was formed by young people who had emerged as leaders through this sit-in movement. This series of non-violent protests by the students at North Carolina A &T eventually led Woolworth’s Department Store Chain to reverse its policy of racial segregation.
About eight years ago my daughter and I visited the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History in Washingtion, D.C where we viewed that section of the Woolworth’s lunch counter that is preserved there. Being a scholar of history, specifically African American history, I took a picture of my daughter sitting at that historical monument. I explained to her what the display was about. Even though she was only ten years old at the time, I told her not to underestimate her power to change things that are wrong in our society.
One of our slogans at Upper Iowa University contains the phrase, “Turn your power on.” As we go on this journey of words during Black History Month, I encourage everyone to not underestimate your power to change things. The students in Greensboro who led those sit-ins are a shining example of activisim at its finest. When we stand up for what’s right, speak out against injustice, and come together, we have the power to make a difference.
In closing I will leave you with this quote: “I think the importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and consider yourself not as a single indvidual who may have achieved whatever, but to be a part of an ongoing historical movement.” Angela Davis ~ member of the Black Panther Party; retired Professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz
Blog posts by Adriel Hilton and Melissa Harrell Robinson coming soon!