The Pages of Opinion invited readers to help narrate the importance of Black History Month through the prism of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. But instead of his dream, it became ours. The Blade received dozens of pictures, drawings, poems, videos, and essays. Here is a sampling of reader submissions:
Click here to view a photo gallery of Toledo School for the Arts students and their artwork.
Emily Hayman, Drew Longmore, and Ava Redina, 9th graders at the Toledo School for the Arts, show their pieces created about an influential writer, artist, or social leader of the Harlem Renaissance. Miss Hayman and Miss Longmore focused on author Zora Neale Hurston, while Miss Redina studied singer Billie Holiday.
Denzel Moore sits on the steps of the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., the site of the bombing where four girls died in 1963. Mr. Moore visited the church to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Submitted by: Mattie Garrison McAlister, retired Toledo Public Schools teacher
Now it is no mystery
This story belongs in history
Of freedom fighters
Oh so bold,
Whose stories are finally being told
Stories of their bravery.
Of victories in spite of slavery.
We owe them all our liberty
They did so much for us
Some even died,
To bring us equality,
Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman
And Medgar Evers too.
Thurgood Marshall, Sojourner Truth
Just to name a few .
Frederick Douglass, Jackie Robinson,
And Martin Luther King
All suffered many hardships
To make freedom reign
We owe them all and many more,
Who worked to set us free.
They sacrificed so very much,
To bring us equality.
Now, we must live
So we can show
How their struggle can make us grow.
Submitted by: Andrea Cardinal
"Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty." — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Last summer I joined our neighborhood watch Facebook page, and almost immediately regretted it. We were experiencing a rash of petty crime: a ladder missing from a front yard. Cars being rifled through during the night. Some of them had been broken into, but most were already unlocked. Twice I have been victim of larceny since moving to Toledo, and while unnerving, ultimately it is just an annoying inconvenience.
Suddenly, the Facebook page was rife with warnings about otherwise unidentified "black males", guilty of everything from walking down the block and looking into car windows, to driving past open garages and peering in. The frequency of these posts was unnerving. I was especially perplexed by the congratulatory nature of the comments below these posts, praising the poster for their "vigilance". None of these suspected individuals' crimes were substantiated. Best I could tell, these black males, most likely teenagers, were no more likely than any of the white teenagers strolling our neighborhood to be guilty of anything.
I posted a video clip of the infamous "What Would You Do" bike thief episode. It shows two separate instances of a teenage boy stealing a bike from a public park, caught by hidden camera. Although they are dressed the same and use the exact same cocky, cavalier language, it is only the black kid that is instantaneously accused of theft, while the white kid is left completely to his devices. My commentary was, "I hope you are as vigilant about the groups of white kids I see out at 3am when I have insomnia, as you are about the black kids in broad daylight."
Immediately I was informed that I would be banned from the group for making false accusations of racism if I persisted. I was told that racism happens, sure, but it doesn't happen here in this neighborhood. The topic seemed to be a sore spot from an earlier discussion I had missed, and I reopened the wound with my attempt at satire. Surprised, I clarified my position. I urged everyone to replace their "vigilance" of posting to a Facebook page every time someone walked past their place, with just saying "Hey" to that person. That if they feared their possessions being stolen, to secure them. And if they truly believed they saw something suspicious, to provide many, many more details other than, "black male". My strategy this time was a more subdued attempt at inciting rationality.
Overwhelmingly, the responses ranged from adamant denials of systematic racism, and again an insistence that our small sliver of Toledo was immune from it, to the direct perpetuation. Alarm bells sounded. Where had I moved? My children were going to be going to play with, and go to school with, these people's children? I couldn't even go for an evening walk and look anyone in the eye without wondering if they were one of perpetrators of such ignorance. And in the wake of the unjust killing of an unarmed teen by a so-called "vigilant" neighbor, I was aghast at the actions, and reactions, of my neighbors. I am still appalled by our own newly elected mayor, a former police officer himself, who denies that racial profiling happens within the Toledo police department. It is a statistical impossibility. The perpetual denial that Toledo is somehow immune from racism and inequality is exactly what keeps it alive here.
Michelle Alexander, associate professor of law at Ohio State University, in her book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," reveals many alarming statistics about blackness in our culture today. The most disturbing is that, despite drops in overall crime in recent years, there are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. (Alexander, Huffpost Blog, 2/8/10) Despite only making up 13.6% of the population, black men make up over 40% of the overall prison population. Since blacks and whites commit crimes at roughly the same rates, and use drugs at roughly the same rates, why does the criminal justice system seem to disproportionately favor whites? Why are my white neighbors only suspicious of our black neighbors?
In his final book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tells the history of white privilege through a letter sent by our nation's first president, George Washington. In the letter, Washington reveals moments of torment, "...those moments of conscience when something within told him that slavery was wrong. As he searched the further of America one day, he wrote to his nephew: 'I wish from my soul that the legislature of this State could see the policy of gradual abolition of slavery. It might prevent much future mischief.'" King continues, "Here, in the life of the father of our nation, we can see the developing dilemma of white America: the haunting ambivalence, the intellectual and moral recognition that slavery is wrong, but the emotional tie to the system so deep and pervasive that it imposes an inflexible unwillingness to root it out."
We could very easily replace "slavery" with "racism" and aptly describe our current cultural condition. We possess the same unwillingness to root out our prejudices because it is hard and none of us wants to be considered racist. We are lulled, as King said, by the "tranquilizing drug of gradualism", the idea that things aren't as bad as they used to be, so civil rights matters aren't pressing. As white people we have the privilege to ignore where the system is unjust for people of color and to deny where we directly benefit from it. But If we can all agree that we do not want racism in our neighborhoods, we must root it out. Rooting it out starts with revealing ugly truths about ourselves, then having uncomfortable conversations. Racism will never end if each of us doesn't make an earnest attempt at listening. Listening means not speaking. Listening, then quietly considering where we are at fault, then making direct, conscious action to eliminate those faults.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Dr. King is a hero not only for his prescience about integrated communities, but for his unwaveringly optimistic attitude about the work to be done. He was proud of the ground gained through the civil rights movement, achievements that only moments before seemed impossible, but knew the road ahead was long. But however long it takes, justice will prevail. Like the initial quote, I am optimistic about my neighborhood, which is one of the most diverse in the city. I am optimistic that my daughters will see an ever egalitarian society as they reach adulthood. Where they, as women, benefit equally from their accomplishments as their male peers will. Where their friends of color have the same opportunities as they do, and enjoy the same freedom to move about our neighborhood, our city, our world, together, with all their scintillating beauty.
Submitted by L.J. Hamilton
Because of the dismal and violent state of Black America, one would be led to assume and possibly believe that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of a more peaceful and equal America died with him 45 years ago. To some this viewpoint may seem pessimistic, however it is quite difficult for one to be an optimist when constantly bombarded with negative news reports and imagery that would suggest, as a culture, the majority of us see no value in those just like us.
As if by predetermined design, we have become the greatest contributors to our ultimate failure as a community. We target those who were raised in the same neighborhoods, educated in the same schools, and some we even considered friends during our adolescent years. Many of our women are content with being dependent on “the system” while satisfied with mediocrity, and being considered nothing more than the mother of children who will be born and raised in a home where the father is absent.
Our men are angry and deemed as uncontrollable; they are feared because of cultural differences and misunderstandings. Like animals most of them have a “survival of the deadliest” mentality, claiming to have no fear of death and learning no lessons from the constant demise of those surrounding them. Our communities are plagued with drugs, violence, and abuse, yet every year in February it becomes socially “important” for us to reflect on history and remind the hopeless to keep hope alive knowing one glad day we shall overcome.
Forgive me. I am too much of a realist to believe in historic flights of fantasy. I treasure and revere history; of course I understand that it is most important to learn from it. However, I also understand that the only thing that comes to dreamers is an abundance of dreams. Without action those same dreams become irrelevant. Am I saying Reverend King’s dream was irrelevant? Of course not. His dream was amazing. His efforts were tremendous. His mission, however, was violently cut short by the same manner of violence he protested heavily against.
Therefore his dream was never seen in fullness by his eyes; and we have not yet seen it fulfilled. I too have a dream of peace, equality, and prosperity for all people. However, to build up black communities one has to put action and effort into making those dreams a reality. Until we do, nothing will change and every year, every February, we will be forced to remember slavery, underground railroads, and a dream that may never come true.
Student Abbi Rahm honors Savion Glover, tap dancer, actor, and choreographer
Student Julia Vaillant honors the late Louis Jordan, musician, songwriter, and band leader
Student Neva McGovern honors the late Sammy Davis Jr., entertainer and member of the Rat Pack
Student Kendra Beaverson honors Debbie Allen, actress, dancer, and television director and producer
Freedom and rights
Submitted by Olivia Wright
The significance of Black History Month is that our country gives us freedom to all be joined together. No matter what race, religion, or gender we all have equal rights. We all can celebrate this month by remembering the horrible times in our country and to not allow them to happen again. We also can celebrate our freedoms and rights. Not only this month, but every month we can respect others and their rights.
Free African-American girl
Submitted by Selena Pickets
The significance and importance of Black History Month to me is gratitude. My grandmother used to be forced to work in the fields. As she was working in the fields in the fall, she missed part of school. Between then and now, many heroic people like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King fought so that there would be a difference between my grandmother's generation and mine. Every February, and every day, I am thankful to be able to say that I am a free African American girl.
Remembering the past
Submitted by Lyndsey Matus
It is important to honor February as Black History Month to remember what our country went through and how far we have come today. Without the effort and determination of those in the past, such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., we would not all have the benefits of a free nation today. Many would still live lives of inequality and discrimination just because of the color of their skin. They did nothing wrong to deserve it, they just wanted to reap the benefits of freedom like everyone else. February allows us to remember that difficult time of segregation in our nation, and makes us even more thankful for our wonderful freedom and equality today. Remember those in the past so it never happens again in the future.
A symbol of change
Submitted by Drew Locinski
It is important to celebrate Black History Month because it is a symbol. It symbolizes everything this nation has stood for throughout its existence. It symbolizes freedom, equality, and justice. It is not just a month for one race of people, but a month for mankind to celebrate how far it has come. The United States has shown time in and time out its ability to change for the better and that is what this month stands for.
Pushing past barriers
Submitted by Caroline Hoffman
Black History month is an extremely important celebration. African Americans have suffered years of discrimination, yet they have managed to make tremendous contributions to the world throughout history. A great way to honor African Americans during Black History Month is to read and learn about blacks, who have pushed past barriers to make themselves known, both in the past and present.
People should educate themselves about the changes African Americans have made to improve the world from all aspects, from politics to music. Through this education, people can develop a higher respect for blacks around the world and what a blessing they have been in our own history.
A great nation
Submitted by Nate Oblizajek
Black History Month gives us the opportunity to learn more about and better understand a group of people that have not always been equally respected in the past. It gives us the opportunity to develop a deeper respect not only for African Americans, but for all genres of people.
It is important for us, as the United States of America, to respect one another and to be unified as a beautiful country with many varieties of cultures. If it were not for the assistance of so many different groups of people, we would not have been able to establish the Great Nation we have today, nor the society that makes up the entire International Society as a whole.