Celebrating their history

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Each February the nation comes together to recognize the achievements of black Americans in the country's history. From local heroes like Dred Scott, whose case for freedom went to the Supreme Court and helped raise awareness and increase anti-slavery emotions, to national achievers like Booker T. Washington, a writer, black leader and educator who built the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama into a major black education institution.

Black history is filled with poets like Maya Angelou; athletes like Jackie Robinson; and people who inspire like Martin Luther King Jr. The Southeast Missourian chose four black Cape Girardeans and asked what black history, Black History Month and being black means to them.

-- Chris Harris


Vince Bown

Vince Brown, DJ with Withers Broadcasting. (Kit Doyle)

A little bit from Vince Brown:I'm originally from Chicago; graduated from high school in New Orleans. My degree is from the Illinois Center for Broadcasting in Radio/TV with an emphasis on station operations. I was also program director of the school's audio stations. I currently am the sports director for the Cape Girardeau cluster of stations for Withers Broadcasting (KAPE/KREZ/KYRX/KJXX). I am also the new voice for Cape Girardeau Central High School sports and will join longtime Central football voice Anthony Pennelton later in the fall. You can also hear me (starting Monday) doing news at the top of the hour between noon and 6 p.m.

How do you feel about Black History Month?

It is an opportunity for all people -- not just black Americans -- to learn about what we have done to contribute to this country. One of the greatest black Americans in history was born right here in the Show Me State -- George Washington Carver, the man who turned a simple peanut into a lot of what we take for granted today.

Do you do anything to celebrate or honor it?

I try to search for the little known facts about what we have done -- far beyond Martin, Malcolm and Jesse. One of the most glaring facts of Black History stares at us every time we drive down the street. The traffic signal, made by Garrett A. Morgan, who also was the first black person in Cleveland to own an automobile.

Who are your heroes?

They vary from past to present. Martin Luther King inspires me to use my voice for the greater good. Herb Kent, a legendary disc jockey from my hometown, inspires me to continue to be relevant in an industry that moves with the wind. Another famous DJ, Tom Joyner, showed me through his many flights back and forth between Chicago and Dallas that if you're willing to hustle for what you believe in, it will pay off in the end. My program director, Kevin Casey, inspires me because he doesn't mind complimenting you for contributing to the team, something that should be a blueprint for a lot of people in his position.

What was your family life like growing up?

Typical middle-class childhood in Chicago. However, I broke away from that by running away seven times within a six-month period when I was 10 years old. My late grandmother, Mary Smith, was the difference between me being another kid in the foster system and helping me turn my childhood around to the point where I have become a model of perseverance and stability to others.

Did you feel different as a black person in your community or feel like people saw you as different?

I've always known that I am black, since childhood. As I've grown into my current self, I've harbored the notion that people will be as open-minded as they allow themselves to be. If people close the door to me because I am who I am, then they miss out on an opportunity to unlock a door to a wealth of diverse knowledge that most can't get anywhere else.

Do you still feel that way?

Absolutely. What a lot of people around the country are finally realizing is that this country could have a better standing across the world if the next Commander-in-Chief isn't the same old well-heeled Caucasian male. It's a notion that gets lost in a lot of talk radio because they can't see beyond the politics. Either way the primary goes, it is a new day in America on all fronts.

Where do you think the country stands in the racism war?

There are still a lot of those who have had those old ideas about race passed down to them, and until they make the conscious decision to rid themselves of it, then the country is no better off now than it was when the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing.

Where do you think the community stands in the racism war?

I haven't had the chance to see all sides of the area as of yet, but if the student body at Cape Central High School is any indication, they get the notion of racial harmony better than most of the older people.

What do you think you will tell your children about race and racism?

I don't have children as of yet, but once I do, I'll make sure they understand what our history has been and also to let them know that their life's success is not limited to the color of their skin by any means. There's plenty of examples of why that is so.

Anything else?

I invite members of the community to give me a call at the station so I can get to know them and vice versa. I am one that likes to tell the story of the community at large and the different areas as well. Each of them has a story to tell and should be told to the public at large. It's the only way we can learn about each other without having to get it filtered from somewhere else.


Thomas D. White

Thomas D. White. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

A little bit from Thomas D. White:My name is Thomas D. White. I am 33 years old and was raised in Malden, Mo. I am the senior pastor of "The Rock International Ministries" in Jackson. The ministry is six months old. My ministry training came under A.G. Green of Rhema Word Breakthrough International Ministries in Cape Girardeau. I served in the ministry under Green for nearly eight years. I also have a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and am a former Cape Girardeau city police officer. Currently I teach at the Alternative Education Center of the Cape Girardeau School District.

How do you feel about Black History Month?

Black History Month is a specified time for us to focus and reflect on the history of black Americans. I believe we can live without it, but I am thankful for it because it demands attention to our history that some would otherwise overlook. In most areas that have a cultural make up similar to Cape Girardeau County, these subjects would never be brought up or discussed. This does cause people to ask questions and offer celebration opportunities, such as services dedicated to remembering that black Americans also have history other than slavery. I also believe it can be over-celebrated or made into such a mockery, which breeds racial tension where there should not be. This country has come a long way. I thank God for the accomplishments in the education of our black youth about our history. I am a firm believer that if you don't know where you are coming from, it's hard to know where you are going.

Do you do anything to celebrate/honor it?

I have no annual celebration that I attend regularly. I do enjoy visiting different black history programs in the churches.

Who are your heroes?

There are several heroes in our history and I thank God for all of them. I especially thank God for my parents who taught me to live among any race. My parents never spoke ill of any other races and always encouraged us to love all people.

What was your family life like growing up?

I was raised in Malden, where at times you were likely to run into racial inequality. Thankfully, I never had to experience any of that. I was raised by both of my biological parents and given the opportunity to learn without the influence of racial prejudice.

Did you feel different as a black person in your community or feel like people saw you as different?

No, not all. Once again, I was aware that racial injustice existed and still does but I wasn't directly affected by it in my community.

Do you still feel that way?

Yes, very much so. I have always been blessed to be able to communicate across racial barriers. Am I naive to believe that racial discrimination has gone away? Of course not. It is very much alive and living but God has blessed me to be able to operate as a "bridge builder." I pastor a church in Jackson, where most of my membership is white. We love the Lord and want to see other people love Him as much as we do. That is our motivation to put aside cultural differences and come together as "people," not "black or white people."

Where do you think the country stands in the racism war?

We have come a long way, but we have to keep praying. When you look at the word "war," that indicates that there are at least two forces. You have to understand that racism comes from blacks as well as whites.

What do you tell your children about race and racism?

I raise my children the way I was raised -- to love everyone. Whether you are black, white, red or blue, we all bleed red blood and the same blood that flowed from Calvary to save me from the sins of this world was used to save whites as well.


Angela Lewis-Moore

Angela Lewis-Moore. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

A little bit from Angela Lewis-Moore:My name is Angela Lewis-Moore, and I am from St. Louis. I played college basketball at St. Louis University and graduated in 2004 with a bachelor's degree in communication and minor in African-American studies. After that, I played professionally in Germany, then returned to St. Louis University to pursue a master's degree in communication, which I completed in December 2006. I coached at Metro High School for a year, before coming to Southeast Missouri State University as an assistant women's basketball coach at Webster University.

How do you feel about Black History Month?

I feel that Black History Month seeks to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans to our society. In addition, it is important that everyone realizes that the history of Africans in American and African Americans is not void of the other happenings in the history of this country. In school, for example, students would benefit from learning history in a more holistic manner as opposed to fragments.

Do you do anything to celebrate/honor it?

I do not do anything specifically to honor or celebrate Black History Month, but I know that most communities have various tributes during the month of February, so I will attend if my schedule allows. Also, being an African American is an important segment to my identity, so I often gravitate to reading material or programs related to the topic that may pique my interest.

Who are your heroes?

My heroes are my parents, Leonia and Sylvester Lewis. They have sacrificed so much for my siblings and I and have taught me through their actions what courage, strength and perseverance mean.

What was your family life like growing up?

I grew up in a loving, nurturing, supportive household with my parents and two older brothers. My parents worked extremely hard and sacrificed a lot to make sure we had the best opportunity to succeed. They supported our athletic careers as well as demanding academic excellence. As a result, my siblings and I all received scholarships to play basketball and have all earned master's degrees in our respective fields of study.

Did you feel different as a black person in your community or feel like people saw you as different?

No.

What do you think you will tell your children about race and racism?

I do not have children, but when I have them I would encourage them to get to know people for who they are and not to assume that everyone in a particular race or ethnicity is the same. Also I will teach them to question what they hear and learn in the media about a particular group.


Lynn Ware

Cape Girardeau Police Department's Lynn Ware. (Kit Doyle)

A little bit about Lynn:I grew up in Flint, Mich. I came here in 1978. I received a bachelor's degree from Sterling University and a master's degree from William Woods University,

I am the Cape Girardeau Safe Communities Program coordinator, I serve as liaison for MODOT District 10 for Child Passenger Safety, member of the National Child Passenger Safety Board, the State CPS Board, the Executive Board for the Southeast Coalition for Roadway Safety, the Cape Family Resource Center Executive Board, coordinator for the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Impact Panel, and I am also a Sunday school teacher at Rhema Word Breakthrough International Ministries.

How do you feel about Black History Month?

I think Black History Month is GREAT! Although, I believe we should share/teach what blacks have achieved all the time. We are a strong, creative and intelligent culture (not putting down any other cultures) and not just in sports and rap music. I also believe as a culture, we must do more, and it's up to our generation to make that happen. Our younger generation sometimes doesn't have the information they need, primarily because of the lack in the older generations. We must, as a culture, teach other children about the old days and their inventions and miracles, as well as what's going on in the world today.

In my opinion, the school system is limited. Personally, I never left that task for them to perform for my daughter and now my grandchildren. Although, I do thank God for what is being taught in our schools and the efforts that are made in recognition of Black History Month. I do want to add that there's so much information out there now, much more than ever before. The number of black researchers and educators has greatly increased, allowing much more information to be available for our young people. Frankly, I enjoy going to the Internet, reading books and doing projects with my grandchildren and sharing our history with other children. But most importantly I share with them that this is their time now to be strong, creative and intelligent and to be the best they can be.

Do you do anything to celebrate/honor it?

The way I celebrate Black History Month is to be the very best that I can be as a person. To be the "dream" that Dr. Martin L. King talked about. To treat everyone with respect and fairness, rather their black, white, red, rich or poor. I try to participate and support the programs that are being held in the community. This is a special time, a time of recognition and coming together in agreement and not forgetting how our ancestors performed and lived; a time of remembering how destructive racism is and what it can do to the communities that we live in.

Who are your heroes?

My mother and father are my heroes. They both worked hard in their professions to take care of me and my four siblings. It was not easy for them, but they taught us all the difference between right and wrong and that life was not always fair. You must stay in school and get an education so we could do better then what they were doing.

My mother was the one that disciplined us -- funny, she was short and small in stature, but to me she was strong, very tall and what she said was the law. My parents are my heroes because when things were very tough they still stayed together and made it work for our sake. My heart goes out to those one parent families. It's so important for families with children to have both parents in the home along with rules and discipline.

What was your family life like growing up?

For me it was tough; I was the oldest girl, and while my parents were working I had the responsibility of three siblings under me. We were raised in the city, and I remember so often the other kids in the neighborhood were a darker skin color. We were all considered black, but many times we had to fight, because someone didn't like that our skin was lighter. So we had to learn how to take care of each other and many times just down right fight. But for the most part it was great growing up. Holidays are very memorable, especially Christmas with all the white snow, the sledding, huge Christmas tree with gifts and all the food.

Did you feel different as a black person in your community or feel like people saw you as different?

No, I always wanted to work and try to do my very best, as well as mimic what I've always taught my daughter, "To do what you know to do is right and God would take care of the rest." As for feeling if people saw me differently because of my race, sure I've felt that before. Not everyone and certainly not often, but I've been there before. It's not a good feeling, but I have learned to overcome that and remember what my goal is. Although, I must say it is an honor to work and help others in our community where ever I can. It doesn't matter to me as I've said before if you're black or white, rich or poor, we're all in this world together.

Do you still feel that way?

Yes, and let me emphasize: To me, we are a blessed community. There are opportunities out there, and there is racism, too. I don't believe we're in a racism war. But I do believe you must make yourself marketable and set specific goals for yourself. I haven't always been where I am now. I went back to school, got an education and have student loans just like the next person. If I had not done that, I would not be where I am now.

I don't want to offend anyone, but I recommend that you do what I did years ago, and that is evaluate the community that you are presently in. If it does not have what you need to prosper spiritually and financially in a positive way for your life, you should find a community that works for you. I did -- I came here when I was 18 years old, and I will be 50 next year. I was a housekeeper at a hotel, factory worker, salesperson, secretary, supervisor and now an educator with a master's degree. It was not easy, but you only have one life. Make it work!

Where do you think the country stands in the racism war?

Well, racism is out there; we just have to make sure as individuals that we don't take part in it.

Where do you think the community stands in the racism war?

I think each individual has there own beliefs. Some will be racist. We can't change everyone, and those are just obstacles that we have to be aware of. Our focus should be on our goals and how we can over come these obstacles. Remember, when one door closes, God can open another.

What do you tell your children about race and racism?

I have one daughter, Erica, one son, Kirvy, and three grandchildren. I share with them all of the above and more, and I pray that they will have God's protection and favor everywhere they may go.

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