In this Black History Month 2021, it is important for us to take the precious time to celebrate and participate in any and all of the varied activities that our schools, churches and communities have planned for us. What makes this such a particularly special time? Let me share with you from two different vantage points.
Vantage Point #1: A Victory
Consider this story. It was the beginning of the year. Democracy had been facing numerous challenges and had successfully beaten down mistruths and incomplete representations. Democracy was weary. She decided to rest in one of her most favored and austere homes, just to refresh a bit. Audiences had frequently come to see her and seek the sensations and feelings of her history in this favored home. But today was different. A quartet of ruffians, Lies, Violence, Brutality, and Destruction paid her a visit.
Democracy was taken by surprise, and as she fought to preserve her home, she was clearly outnumbered. In the shadows that lengthened, Democracy saw help on the horizon. In moments of swift action Truth, Right, Justice, and Might stepped in and prevailed. A victory had been earned. With full knowledge that Lies, Violence, Brutality, and Destruction had been defeated, but were not gone forever; Democracy was urged to seek the guidance of Accountability based upon Truth. She was told that Lies must be refuted; Violence, Brutality, and Destruction must pay for the damage that was created. Democracy followed the wise counsel of Accountability. As time has passed, Democracy has continued to grow stronger and become even more admired. She has made a very special friend and introduces him everywhere they go. Her friend: Unity!
As we consider this story, the importance of Democracy in the event described in this story must always be celebrated, strengthened, and defended. This protection and defense begins with reinforcing what you know. When was the last time that you read an excerpt from the Constitution of the United States? With the technological prowess that we have nowadays, it will take little effort to make a choice to read a portion of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, or selected Amendments. The archives of our country are full of individuals who made the choice to become guardians (protectors) of our democracy.
Approximately 3500 individuals have received the Medal of Honor, which is the highest military decoration awarded for valor. The first African American Medal of Honor recipient was Sergeant William Henry Carney who served in the Civil War. Sergeant Carney was shot in battle two times, and received grazed injuries two times, but carried the United States flag, refusing to let it fall to the ground.
Mary Edwards Walker is the only female to receive the Medal of Honor. She served as a physician during the Civil War. Her story of service for the Union resulted in capture, and she was a prisoner of war for a period of time. This Caucasian woman was awarded the Medal of Honor, had it rescinded for political reasons, and had her status reinstated by President Jimmy Carter. And in World War II, my uncle, James R. Peters, left the sharecropping challenges of the South, joined the Navy, and eventually earned the position of gunner mate on the USS Hornet. The USS Hornet was hit with two torpedoes and my uncle, along with the few survivors, were in the Pacific Ocean for 72 hours before being rescued. These are just a few of the thousands of life stories of the sacrifices that have been made for Democracy! The written accounts, both historical and current, of contributions of African Americans, People of Color, and Women may not be easy to find, but their stories are worth the search. Their stories are foundational to the Democracy enjoyed by all.
Vantage Point #2: Celebrating People
The heroic efforts of African Americans and other People of Color have been chronicled within many of our history books. The journeys of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas, George Washington Carver, and Booker T. Washington are clearly worth reading repeatedly. The medical accomplishments that were made based upon Henrietta Lacks are undeniable. And yet, the lived experiences of our local family and friends also rises to the level of hero and heroine status. Would it surprise you to know that there were areas of Peoria that African Americans could not own a home? Could not get a job? Could not go to school? Nowadays, we accept these facts with a “that was then” mentality. But these were not just circumstances and situations; they were circumstances and situations that affected people. These people have a story. These people found a way to survive and to flourish. What a fascinating story that each of them has to share. Although many of our historic senior Peoria residents have died, their legacy lives on. What a wonderful legacy from Dr. Maude Saunders. What a joy it was to listen to Dr. Romeo B. Garrett! What a message of courage it is to hear of the efforts of Frank Campbell, Erma Davis, and John Gwynn (just to name a few)! Celebrating People!
Celebrating people of all ages who are making a difference by living a life of dignity, courage, and perseverance in the midst of past and present challenging times is essential to maintaining our hope and encouraging one another. An excellent activity to include in your Black History Month 2021 celebration (virtual to be safe) will be an exploration of the African American Hall of Fame Museum in Peoria. Established in 1987, this Museum celebrates the accomplishments, struggles, and victories of persons within our Peoria community. Whether yours is a first-time visit or a planned annual activity, you will marvel at the depth and dignity that has been captured in the Hall of Fame.
Black History Month 2021 truly is a time like no other for celebration, not because we have successfully resolved the problems facing our nation, not because our economic status is so great, and not because we have learned to love and trust one another.
Black History Month 2021 truly is a time like no other for celebration because a brazen challenge to democracy has been withstood; because on national, state, and local levels, we have people who are our daily role models showing us that there is power in living a life of truth and concern for our neighbors; who have affirmed for us that for All lives to Matter-Black lives must Matter.
Black History Month 2021 truly is a time like no other for celebration because it is not too late. It is not too late for social justice. It is not too late to end systemic racism. It is not too late for environmental preservation. It is not too late for mental and physical healing.
And because it is not too late, Black History Month 2021 is a Celebration of HOPE!.And because it is not too late, Black History Month 2021 is a Celebration of HOPE!