HOHENFELS, Germany -- Dancing, singing and home-cooked food marked the Hohenfels celebration of National Black History Month at the Zone, Feb. 22. Rather than a retrospective on the trials faced by African Americans over the years, the evening focused more on celebrating how far our nation has come.
Created in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, "Negro History Week" expanded into National Black History Month in 1976 when President Gerald Ford urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."
The original week was chosen because it marked the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who became a leader of the abolitionist movement. An outstanding orator and writer, Douglass held many public offices and was even nominated for vice president of the United States on the small Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872.
"We're here today to acknowledge all the people that had to struggle to get us where we're at today," said Charlene Murray, the chairperson for the committee responsible for the celebration. "No matter where you live or where you're from, everyone needs to know what the person before them had to go through."
Each table at the celebration sported a placard featuring a short biography of a famous African American. One of these cards spotlighted Murray's grandfather, Charlie, owner and manager of the Augusta Giants from 1950 to his death in 1968.
"I was named after my grandfather," said Murray proudly. "He started the first black baseball team in Augusta, Ga . He had to stumble over a lot of blocks with people trying to pull him down, but it was accomplished."
The Augusta Giants were the first black team to play at the segregated Jennings Stadium in Augusta.
"We've come a long way," said Murray, "and we're here to say we're proud to be black Americans."
Murray and her team set out a fabulous Southern feast which included fried chicken, fish, pork ribs, collard greens, candied yams and more.
"It's all homemade like our mammas taught us," she said.
The evening highlighted the multiple talents of Hohenfels diverse community. The "Praise Team" singers of the All Nation Services at Nainhof Chapel performed several soulful songs throughout the celebration, with Dawton Ross belting out a tune as well. Hohenfels Middle/High School student KeShon McCune recited Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and Latifah Parker shared Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman" poem.
HMHS senior Shaquail Reed read her original poem, "What are we for?" Reed said she drew her inspiration from the similarities and differences between her own experiences and that of her parents.
"Our leaders fought for our freedom, and yet it's like we cheated them," she read in part. "The greatest names of all are still inspiring to this day. Always listen to your ancestors because they'll lead you to the way … Set your mind for a goal that can reach out to the lost souls … My question will forever remain a mystery to those who do not understand about our history."
The performances concluded with a series of spirited dances originating in Sierra Leone in West Africa.
"I learned these dances at school in my home country," said Kadiatu Bah, who choreographed the performances. Bah said she was excited to share a bit of her culture with the Hohenfels community and with the friends who danced with her.
After the performances, the crowd stayed to dance and enjoy camaraderie.
"This is a chance to bring people together, so they can actually remember where they came from," said Bah's husband, Staff Sgt. Donald Tricket, also from Sierra Leone. "And it's good to show people what kind of power we can have if we all come together."
Coming together is really what these celebrations are about and that's what prompted Sgt. Josh Prado to bring his young daughter.
"We came here to show our support as well as to show my daughter that people are people no matter the color of their skin," he said.