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Celebrating Black History

By Erika Fricke Daily Planet Staff
Monday February 26, 2001

The annual Black History Month celebration at the Martin Luther King Youth Services Center Saturday opened with a libation — the tradition of giving honor to ancestors and people before you.  

Paul Cotton, on stage above the seated crowd said, “We stand on the shoulders of other people,” and recited names of famous black Americans, Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. But the thanks weren’t only for the famous. “We honor all the brothers and sisters who died. We honor all the brother and sister’s who said, Hell, No. I won’t do it.” 

Participants celebrated both ancient contemporary heroes all day Saturday.  

While Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received the requisite nods of recognition, organizers took participants back to an even earlier history, with images and culture of ancient Egypt. 

“We go all the way back since the beginning of time, from the Nubians in Egypt all the way through,” said Patricia Pitre, organizer and mistress of ceremonies. “We wanted to not just say we go back to civil rights and slavery. We have to take it back to the beginning. A lot of our kids only know Martin Luther King.” 

In addition to a play showcasing ancient martial arts, posters about the Ancient Egyptian culture lined the walls.  

Off the walls, in the audience, local heroes were celebrated for their work with Berkeley children. Ivora Peazant, Percy Crawford, Charles Richardson, Norman Letcher and Essie Gaines were winners of awards for their years of community service.  

The Young Adult Project, a city of Berkeley program that provides youth services to prevent delinquency, hosted their 16th annual Black History Month celebration. 

The organizers of the Young Adult Project defined the message for this year’s celebration as “Love of Self, Love of Family, and Love of Community,” to address the concerns many older people in the African American community have for the younger ones. “I can’t expect a child to give love to another person if they don’t love themselves,” said Pitre.  

But, she said, for a community to prosper each member must take care of the others. “We need each other,” she said. 

Pitre feels that looking to young people provides direction for them.  

“The significance of us celebrating black history is for our community and family not to forget whence they came. We’re living in a society with a lot of ills, the old traditional values are fading away,” she said.  

Tyrone Ingram and Walter Fox, who videotaped the event, were only two of the more than 100 people who donated time, energy and services to make the celebration possible.  

Ingram said that supporting and celebrating real black culture was extremely important for all Americans.  

“We don’t have the real essence of black history and black culture in today’s media,” he said. “The representation we get of black society is not a positive one. It’s more hip to be gangsterish and anything that’s anti-social.” 

The celebration was dotted with few faces outside the black community. Ingram said it was too bad that more non-blacks didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about black history because the only forms of black culture that people outside the black community get is “hip-hop pop culture.”  

“We’re getting a pop-commercialized version of black culture and it’s false,” he said.  

The performers at this year’s celebration included dancers and singers, but these were liberally interspersed with speakers, story-tellers and dramatic arts.  

Pitre said she was extremely conscious of showcasing a variety of talents.  

“We’re not just musically inclined,” she said, speaking of the larger misperception of African-Americans as rap artists and athletes. “We have a lot of talents, but the children don’t have the opportunity to perform.” 

Of all the acts — the Prison to Praise Gospel singers, the Teen Club Dance Performance, and other music and poetry — 11-year-old Glorius Price liked the African storyteller best.  

“I thought it was real neat because it’s about culture and real nice things,” he said. “I like to get lots of knowledge about culture.” 

While many people in attendance were affiliated with the Young Adult Project, the celebration also captured community members and passers-by. 

Bradley Dean heard about the celebration through a friend. Wandering amongst the vendors selling African cloth, jewelry and art, he smiled at the speeches and student dances.  

History didn’t mean much to him as a kid, but he said as he got older he realized the importance of looking to the past to determine the future.  

“A lot of things we’re doing right now have been repeated,” said Dean.  

He cited prejudice and groups united against prejudice both cycle and repeat.  

“It happens and then it goes away,” he said. “My mother used to say nothing is new, everything’s been done.”