Local figures talk about the importance of Black History Month

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Feb 1, 2018 at 12:34 PM

As Black History Month, February is a time to discuss black history in a society where American history is often told mainly from a white perspective.

Throughout the month, children across the region are reminded of important historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass and others who played pivotal roles in advancing the social position of black Americans.

But some children today don’t know as much as they should about figures such as these, says Carver Recreation Center Programs Coordinator Tamara Foster. When she was in high school in the ’90s, she said she learned a lot from a black history course — which no longer exists in many schools.

“Honestly, I can tell you, if we don’t celebrate it and talk about black history to kids, they won’t know about their history. I’ve often mentioned people like Rosa Parks and Frederick Douglass, and some kids have looked at me and wondered, ‘Who are they?’” Foster said. “Things like that are important for the kids.”

Because of this lack of knowledge, Foster said Black History Month is a time to make up for lost knowledge. 

“To me, the importance of it is for our kids here to know about their history, ancestors and what people have done for them in the past,” she said. “It’s not always about someone being famous, it can be about someone in the local community. Some kids don’t even know that they had relatives involved in important events in black history.”

She said that every year, Carver Recreation Center works to teach black children throughout Johnson City more about black history to get them more in touch with their roots and the history of their people. The children often participate in projects that get them thinking about the civil rights era and black figures who inspire them most.

Kenneth Bonner, a local community activist with the NAACP, said black history is about more than just studying a few figures with historical notoriety. It’s about instilling a sense of pride in a historically marginalized and oppressed community.

He said black children in particular need to grow up learning more about who they are and where they come from. Without that knowledge, he said many grow up feeling a sense of disillusionment stemming from a collective identity crisis.

“I always thought that teaching about it would make them more proud of themselves and less susceptible to doing things that are detrimental to themselves and their communities,” he said. “We get caught up in that anger because our knowledge about who we are is limited.

“It seems like the educational system’s focus on black history starts from slavery and ends at the civil rights era. If it went further, I think it would play a big role in promoting racial harmony. The more races know about each other, the more harmony there can be.”

Looking to the future, Bonner said children need to learn about other figures in black history besides people like King and Du Bois. By delving deeper into black history, he said the struggles of the civil rights era can be looked at as a movement made up of many ordinary people working to advance their position in society.

“Some feel like they’re not good enough to be a part of a big movement for change. It’s like, ‘I have to be well-educated and trained like someone like Martin Luther King Jr.,” he said. “The more pride about themselves they have, and the more they learn about themselves, the more they participate and create change in society.”


There will be a number of Black History Month events at Carver Recreation Center and East Tennessee State University.

Carver Recreation Center

• At 6 p.m., Feb. 22, Carver will hold its Black History Month Celebration, where attendees will be able to participate in a program about black history and children at the Carver Recreation Center will be encouraged to do various art projects that relate to their favorite black history figures and talk about why they inspire them.

• On that same day, the center will hold its annual Taste of the Community fundraiser event. For more information about events at the Carver Recreation Center, call 423-461-8830. 

Black History Month events at ETSU

The following educational and entertainment programs are free and open to the public. For more information about each event, contact Tedra Bennett at 439-6171 or ztab37@etsu.edu.

• Red, Black and Green Ribbon Giveaway – Tri-colored ribbons commemorating Black History Month, with information on the meaning of the colors, will be provided by Multicultural Affairs. Thursday and Friday, Feb. 1-2, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Culp Center second floor educational booths.

• Black History Month Kick-Off – This skit and party in which selected students will choose a Civil Rights activist to portray will educate participants as they celebrate the beginning of Black History Month. Refreshments provided. Thursday, Feb. 1, 7 p.m., Culp Center ballroom. An Unapologetically Black event.

• Mental Health Discussion – A discussion for African American students about mental health and the available resources both on and off campus. Monday, Feb. 5, 7 p.m., Culp Center, East Tennessee Room.

• Talent Show Auditions – Student singers, dancers and musicians who wish to participate in the Feb. 28 Talent Show will audition. Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 6-7, 7 p.m., Culp Center ballroom. Sponsored by the Black Affairs Association.

• National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day – Red ribbons symbolizing the fight against HIV/AIDS will be given away, and information and free testing will be provided by HOPE for Tennessee. Wednesday, Feb. 7, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Culp Center, meeting rooms 4A and B. Sponsored by Multicultural Affairs.

• “Sex Education” – A discussion designed to educate and raise awareness of issues surrounding sex, including health protection and the consequences of poor decisions. Wednesday, Feb. 7, 7 p.m., Culp Center, Multicultural Center presentation room.

• Jam Night – Poets, singers, rappers, musicians and storytellers will be invited to step up to the mic and share their individuality, creativity and artistic and cultural expressions. Hosted by Jazmine Henderson. Thursday, Feb. 8, 7:30 p.m., Culp Center, Multicultural Center lounge. Sponsored by Multicultural Affairs.

• “Do You Know Your Hair?” – An event featuring tips and tricks to help participants embrace their natural hair, presented by campus hair entrepreneurs. Monday, Feb. 12, 7 p.m., Culp Center, East Tennessee Room. 

• “Black Stereotypes” – A discussion exploring stereotypes within the black community and within the Black Lives Matter movement. Tuesday, Feb. 13, 7 p.m., Culp Center, Multicultural Center presentation room. 

• “Black Love/Interracial Relationships” – A discussion pertaining to perceptions of race and dating. Wednesday, Feb. 14, 5 p.m., Culp Center, Multicultural Center presentation room. An Unapologetically Black event.

• “Shades of Black” – A discussion between black students from different regions of the world, including the United States, Africa and the Caribbean, about their perceptions of being black, the various shades of black, the way they are treated in their countries and their ways of life. Thursday, Feb. 15, 6 p.m., Culp Center, East Tennessee Room. 

• “Starving Artists” – Artists from around campus will introduce and explain their work, which will be on display in the Multicultural Center through the month of February. Monday, Feb. 19, 5 p.m., Culp Center, Multicultural Center lounge. 

• Documentary: “I Am Not Your Negro” – A screening of the 2017 film in which writer James Baldwin tells the story of race in America with his unfinished novel, “Remember This House.” A discussion will follow. Tuesday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m., Culp Center, Martha Street Culp Auditorium. 

• “I Too, Sing America: A Tribute to Black American Composers” – A performance of music, poetry and lecture by Johnson City native and Nashville-based vocalist, conductor and educator Charles Edward Charlton. Friday, Feb. 23, 1 p.m., Culp Center, room 271-J. Sponsored by Africana Studies. Contact: Dr. Dorothy Drinkard-Hawkshawe, 439-6688 or drinkard@etsu.edu.

• “Evening of Elegance” Dance – This semi-formal event allows students to dress up, socialize, relax and have fun dancing to the beats of DJ Bout It. Refreshments provided. Saturday, Feb. 24, 10 p.m.-1 a.m. Sponsored by the Black Affairs Association.

• Black Church – A church service and gospel concert featuring the ETSU Gospel and International Choir. Sunday, Feb. 25, 4 p.m., Culp Center, The Cave. 

• Talent Show – This show, emceed by comedian Mr. Bankshot, will give the audience a glimpse of history and tradition through song, dance and instrumental performances. (Performers selected by auditions on Feb. 6-7.) Wednesday, Feb. 28, 7 p.m., Culp Center, Culp Auditorium. Sponsored by the Black Affairs Association.

• “Finite Disappointment/Infinite Hope” – This exhibit of photography by Gediyon Kifle, an ETSU alumnus and official photographer of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., provides an innovative, educational retelling of historical narratives from an artist’s perspective. The exhibit will be on display at the Reece Museum through March 23. Museum hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. For more information, contact Reece Museum at 439-4392.

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