Former Residents Share Importance Of Black History Month
Black History Month is something many learn about in school, but many may not realize its true importance until later in life.
Several former residents of the area recently shared how Black History Month has impacted their lives, and why it remains important for the upcoming generations.
Keishia Blake, a third-grade teacher in the Bronx, said she grew up in Jamestown and moved to New York City to teach. Blake recalls her childhood fondly, explaining that her family and the community were always welcoming and supportive.
“My church was behind me, and my community was behind me,” Blake said. “Moving to New York City, that’s probably one thing I miss. It was close-knit.”
She said she had several mentors throughout her childhood, including her aunts, parents, other family members and church members. Blake also recalled looking up to Vivian and Lulu Taylor as a child, as well as her grandmother, Gloria Leeper.
“A lot of my stories come from my grandmother,” she said. “What it was like to live down south, and what it was like to be a sharecropper.”
Knowing one’s history is important in life, Blake said. Younger generations need to know their history on an overarching level, as well as a personal level, she added.
“Before you know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been,” Blake said. “I feel like this generation, and I’ll include my own, has lost their way. They only know what’s given to them.”
If young people knew about Civil Rights History, they wouldn’t take going to school or other activities for granted, she said.
“College nowadays is only an arm-length away, but some people worked so hard just to say they got there,” Blake said. “Some of my kids (in class) didn’t know the importance of Barack Obama being president. I think it’s important they are taught who they are and where they came from so we don’t go back down that road.”
In her own work as a teacher, she has attempted to teach her students about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and other areas. During the 15 days of teaching in the month of February, Blake focused her lessons on Black History Month.
“I told them ‘We will learn about someone new who did something for us,'” she said.
The students knew of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but didn’t know of other prominent figures who fought for the rights of African Americans in the U.S. and across the globe. She explained that people had died or went to jail to secure the rights that the students have today, while many never received those rights for themselves.
Blake said she hopes to instill this knowledge in her students, but also provide a good role model through her own actions.
“I want to show the kids that there are African Americans within reach to look up to,” she said. “You can be the person to make that change.”
Learning and moving forward is not just for students, but adults as well, Blake said. She said awareness is important, but it is also important to take action. It is good to watch films or programs that inspire feelings and inform, but the next step is just as important, Blake added.
“When do we change our actions?” she said. “Once we see that movie or hear something, what do we do from there?”
James Dickey grew up on 11th Street in Jamestown, and later moved to Lafayette Street. Currently, Dickey is a police officer with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department in Charlotte, North Carolina, however, his family members remain in the Jamestown area.
“For the most part, I had a good childhood,” Dickey said. “I was into sports, played football, track and basketball.”
In middle school, he said his parents separated, and he ended up staying with his father. He continued playing sports throughout high school, and later attended college in Buffalo with a football scholarship. Afterward, he came back to Jamestown, played semi-professional football and then worked at Cummins Engine for six years.
In a change of pace, Dickey move to Charlotte, and became a police officer.
When it came to Black History Month as a child, he said it wasn’t a subject he learned extensively about.
“It wasn’t something my dad talked about much,” Dickey said, adding he did learn about it in school. “I was always curious why there was one month designated to Black history – why not learning about all history all year?”
His grandfather, Andrew “Bobby” Dickey, was very invested in Black History Month, and Dickey said he could see his passion for it.
As an adult, Dickey said he has a greater grasp on the importance of Black History Month.
“I do realize it’s important to know the history,” he said. “Racism is still alive and strong, but we can still press forward.”
Dickey said as a police officer, he often interacts with people during their worst moments, and comments or jeers are made regarding his skin tone or his position.
“Sometimes, people see the badge, or they see the color,” he said. “The important thing is to not take it personal. THey don’t know me, and they don’t know my personality.”
In his daily life, he tries to be a good police officer and a man of integrity.
He said he believes it is important for young people to learn about their history. Dickey said he doesn’t know much about the upcoming generation, but said it seems like many have no regard for history and no goals or plans for the future. He said the should focus on history, become informed and set goals for themselves.
Likewise, he believes it is important know that as a law enforcement officer, he and his fellow officers are just people.
“This, coming from law enforcement, we have their best interest at heart and we want to take care of people,” he said. “For some of us, it’s a calling. Be aware of the consequences of your actions, and set goals.”
He said he also believes police officers should not abuse their authority.
Dickey said as a man of faith, he also suggests finding something bigger than one’s self to believe in.
“As a Christian man, I believe in following the heart of God,” he said. “I want people to connect and get over personal preferences or issues.”
Obi Madubuko was an active student at Jamestown High School. She was an honor roll student, participated in music and sports, including softball, basketball and track and field. She played trumpet in the school orchestra and was in the JHS marching band.
Currently, Madubuko works as a litigation and compliance partner at Greenberg Traurig LLP, a global law firm. She is based out of the New York City office, but lives in Westchester, NY, which is less than one hour north of the city. Madubuko represents companies doing business in international markets, and offers counsel on how to comply with U.S. laws on a variety of topics such as anti-corruption, trade sanctions, data privacy and cybersecurity.
When it comes to Black History Month, Madubuko said it has always been a time of reflection and learning.
“As an African-American child of the post-civil rights movement, Black History Month was especially meaningful to me,” she said. “It gave me the opportunity to learn and celebrate the life and works of famous African-Americans like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harriet Tubman, who both believed change was possible despite great challenges and personal risk and showed me how one person can make a difference.”
She said Black History Month also taught her to appreciate the struggles and contributions of the many African-Americans whose stories are never celebrated or are seldom acknowledged. Madubuko said it also allowed her to learn their stories and share them with others.
“For a kid who was often the only diverse student in my class, this meant a lot and gave me a sense of pride in myself and what I could achieve in life,” she said. “I know that without the sacrifices of the generations of African Americans who came before me, I could not have achieved or event dared to dream the life that I have now.”
Madubuko shared a few memories from her life centered around Black History Month. One in particular focused on the experiences of her mother at the 1963 March on Washington, where she heard first hand Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
“The impact of this speech on me, even at a young age, coupled with my mother’s account of her experiences shaped my interest in pursuing a career in law and my desire to advocate for others,” Madubuko said. “Growing up, we would to my grandmother’s house in Cleveland OH and I would play with the next door neighbors’ kids, whose aunt was Rosa Parks, the mother of the Civil Rights Movement. I would often hear stories of Parks’ bravery in challenging discrimination against African-Americans by refusing to give up her seat on the city bus and, more personally, knowing that my great-grandfather, Joseph Humphrey, was killed by police for engaging in the same act of civil disobedience in Memphis, Tennessee.”
She said she and her family became part of Black History after her father, Dr. Benjamin Okwumabua, bought a manufacturing plant in Jamestown in 1979. Ebony Magazine ran an article regarding her father’s journey as a Nigerian immigrant, and how he became the first African-American to own and operate a manufacturing plant of industrial office equipment. Madubuko said she was privileged to be mentioned and to appear in the family photo.
As an adult, she said Black History Month has taken on an added meaning. As a mother, Madubuko said it is imperative to teach her children their history and about the hard-fought struggles of those who came before them.
“My aunt, Angela Lee, who worked for many years as an educator in the Cleveland public school system, has said every Black parent should create a home library so our children can learn their history and not be swayed by the negative portrayal of Black people that sometimes seem to dominate mainstream media,” she said. “I look forward to teaching my youngest daughter about the Harlem Renaissance, African-American poets like Langston Hughes, who went to high school with my grandfather, American’s first self-made woman millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker,, mathematicians like those in the blockbuster film, “Hidden Figures,“judges like Constance Baker Motley …. and the list goes on and on. I was always hungry for knowledge and I fully intend to pass on this love of history to my children.”
She said the month gives her an opportunity to reflect on the people who have helped her shape her life, such as Ron Graham, funder of the Chautauqua Striders Track and Field Program and Infinity Performing Arts. She said Graham also helped not only herself, but her brother as a mentor.
“The example Ron provided is why I continue to give back and mentor young people interested in pursuing careers in law,” Madubuko said. “Ron is a local hero who I wish to publicly acknowledge as being a key player in Black History of Jamestown.”
She said Black History Month is important not just for the history but also for the present. It is also not just for African-American families, but for everyone.
“Black history is American history,” Madubuko said. “The more we as Americans know about all the contributions African-Americans have made toward shaping this great nation we call home, the more informed we will be and the better chance we have of seeing our common bonds rather than focusing on our differences. This shared sense of history will also help us to remain vigilant against injustice and enable us to continue the march toward a more inclusive and tolerant America.”