ROCKINGHAM – Yesterday, February 28th, was the last day of Black History Month (BHM). The brainchild of prominent historian Carter G. Woodson, its origin can be traced to a celebration of “Negro History Week” in 1926 and, since 1979, the month of February been designated by every president since Carter as “Black History Month.”
Although now firmly rooted in our culture, Black History Month remains controversial in some circles. Black History Month still remains a time in which oppression sometimes rears its ugly head instead of being a time of truly celebrating black achievement and culture and discussing the black plight in America.
Historically, Black History Month has always sparked a conversation about whether or not it is necessary. Many believe in this “post-racial” society, it is no longer a necessity, but to this belief, I raise a few questions for everyone of all races. This month, have you learned something new about black history and achievement that you did not know? Have you explored an element of black culture this month whether it be food, music, or an event? Have you read a book by a black author? These are very simple things that we could all do to honor this month, but it very seldom happens.
Racism and oppression exist when others are exploited and/or made invisible in mainstream society. Ralph Ellison, wrote very candidly about this phenomenon in his book, Invisible Man, published in 1952. In 2018, African Americans are still “invisible” in mainstream society in most avenues outside of entertainment, which is why movements like, Black Lives Matter exist.
So what can be done to combat this “invisibility” complex? It is kind of simple to began.
Those in positions of power and privilege need to listen and ask questions, and those who are being overlooked need to speak up and out.
So I asked members of the black community of Richmond County one simple, yet broad, question: What do Black people of Richmond County need?
“The kids need more positive activities outside of sports,” stated Kenyadia McLaurin, native of Hamlet, NC, and currently residing in Elizabeth City.
She continued, “I remember going to the Center in South Hamlet everyday for the afterschool program, and the summer food program and going to church camp every summer. Those things really built character and gave me exposure outside of my neighborhood.”
“Everyone just needs motivation and to take advantage of opportunities that make us better, ” says Teraefean Goodwin, host site supervisor for Project R.E.B.U.I.L.D.
She added, “A lot of programming has gone away because the services weren’t being utilized and the funds are no longer there to provide the necessary programs.”
Kiera Wall, native of Hamlet, currently residing in Greensboro, NC, says, “Many of our black men have records, often time mistakes made out of immaturity and circumstance, and they never get an opportunity to shake their labels. They need a fair chance and more options for employment outside of just Perdue.”
As a former recipient of AFDC back in the 80s and 90s, Marcella McDonald, a receptionist in the Student Services Department of Richmond Community College, expresses concerns for the young black women in Richmond County.
“I wish the young moms had more help and motivation to get off of government assistance. I remember receiving the benefits and while helpful, I always had the mindset that it was only temporary, many today are getting too comfortable. They really could have more.”
Carlotta Griffin-Knotts, Director of Student Retention and Intervention, expressed concerns mainly regarding education and the future.
“We need to make critical thinking and writing a priority. Education is essential to success in this day and age. We need to learn more skills and be more technologically competent. We need to embrace diversity among ourselves and the world, because we are on this planet together. We need to become entrepreneurs, vote, and become leaders. We must honor our culture, our past, and forge a great future ”
Elder Tommy R. Legrand, Pastor of Prayer and Faith Temple COGIC and long time community worker in South Hamlet for over 30 years, share a similar sentiment when it comes to leadership in the community.
“We need a whole package and there’s really no voice to express our concerns. In the 70s and 80s, we had the Concerned Citizens and other groups to advocate for justice for black people. Today, there is a lack of community development and network with city officials. We need workers. Many of us older folk can’t do as much anymore and no one is picking up the reigns.”
He continued, “If we don’t speak up, no one is going to come across the tracks and tell us that there’s x amount of dollars for community development. That’s how we were able to erect the memorial for the Imperial Foods Fire and get street lights and other things in South Hamlet.”
“We need more representation and opportunity,” Mayor Antonio Blue of Dobbin Heights simply stated.
“Why have we never had a black head coach for a football program that is majorly made up of African American players? Why did it take a black man 40 years to become fire chief? Why aren’t there more black teachers and principals? There are many professional jobs in Richmond County, but we aren’t always given the chance. We have to get rid of the nepotism.”
Statistically, African Americans make up about a third of Richmond County’s population, yet in the two major towns, Hamlet and Rockingham, there are no black city council members, no black county commissioners and there is only one African American that sits on the Board of Education. The representation is lacking yet, there is an overrepresentation in unemployment, low performance in education and arrest rates.
To combat these issues, we must make them visible and never be afraid to confront the truth. We must dialogue about the issues to educate ourselves and others. It is the lack of knowledge and lack of dissemination of information that ultimately keeps us separated and unprogressive.
Sharing words of wisdom from his father, W.H. “Chip” Knotts, II, owner of Nelson Funeral Services, one of the oldest black-owned businesses in Richmond County, says very casually, “Black people can build a whole new world with the information they don’t know.”
So perhaps today, immediately following the end of Black History Month, we as a people can continue to perpetuate the spirit of the past month and make progress each day towards rectifying the negativity and strife that continue to plague not only black people, but persons of all color, race, creed, religion, etc.