Living Through Black History

BY R.L. WITTER

I am old enough to have used landline phones, tube TVs with rabbit ears and no remote controls or cable subscription that played the National Anthem and went off-air after midnight, VCRs, payphones, and metal roller skates with a skate key. I remember penny candy, the Good Humor Man, walking to and from school, and being a regular kid who rode bikes and had adventures all day until the streetlights came on—now known as a “free range child.” All of those things are now history.

Whenever I think of “history” I think of cavemen, Kublai Khan, the Ming Dynasty, regal African kings and queens, Renaissance artists, politicians wearing powdered wigs, long ago wars, and the civil rights movement. I think of people like Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. They’re all people who died and events that took place before I was born. History seems long ago and far away, and yet I’ve lived and am living through some amazing history right now.

As a sixth-grade student I was honored to meet both Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King. Activist Theodora Smiley Lacey was my teacher and her mother had been friends with Mrs. Parks since childhood. Her father was president of the board of directors of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, which chose their new pastor, Martin Luther King Jr.

The following summer I met then Vice-Presidential Candidate George H.W. Bush in a hotel elevator. Several years later I met President Bill Clinton at a Phoenix, AZ area fundraiser, and in 2007 I met then Senator Hillary Clinton and soon to-be President Barack Obama at a Democratic Women of New York breakfast. I’ve yet to meet Vice-President Kamala Harris, but I’m working on it!

I’ve interviewed Oscar-winning Actor Denzel Washington; Grammy- winners Dionne Warwick and Roberta Flack, EGOT-winner Viola Davis, legendary Actor and Activist Harry Belafonte, Academic and Former Schomburg Center Director Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, legendary Artist and Activist Amiri Baraka, Activist and MSNBC Host Rev. Al Sharpton, Astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson, Congressman Charles Rangel, Senator Cory Booker, SUNY Old Westbury President Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway, Kean University President Dr. Lamont O. Repollet, Billionaire Robert F. Smith, and countless other interesting and influential Black history-makers.

As of 2023, the 118th U.S. Congress is the most diverse in history with 28% of lawmakers identifying as Black, Hispanic, Asian American, American Indian, Alaska Native, or multiracial. There have been only 16 EGOT-winners; four of them are Black and three of those are Black women.

I say all of this as a reminder that Black history is both American and world history that is still being made fresh daily, and some of our best resources are elders in our own families and communities. My dad was a founder of the National Negro Golf Association and my uncle has a school named after him. Study our history and then make your own. Happy Black History Month!

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