Black History – Great Is Who We Are!

By Beverly Gadson-Birch

As we wind down Black History Month, let’s not wind down Black History. Black History Month is a ruse to observe or teach in one month what the schools should be teaching all year. Be careful of what you read and how you interpret what you read. Most of what appears in history books is a watered-down version of who we really are. We are the descendants of kings and queens. We are the ones responsible for breakthrough inventions and builders of this great nation.

Black history begins at home. I make no excuses for my blackness. It is better to have been born black with morals than to have been born clueless as to who I am. There are many contributing black forerunners in history I revere and am indebted to them for their sacrifices. Challenged, whipped and broken, our ancestors bravely fought against injustices and paved the way for generations that followed. The first memory of my ancestors began with slave labor in cotton, tobacco and rice fields.

My parents were my first heroes, particularly my mother. Most folks knew her as quiet and soft spoken. I knew the real deal. However, passive she may have seemed, she was quite the adverbial mom knowing when to speak, where to speak, how much to say and just how much she was going to take. She was not afraid to address the white clerk at the grocery store that brushed her aside at the check-out to serve a white person standing in line behind her or put her change on the counter because she did not want to touch her hand as if she had a disease. We must first realize the greatness within us—within our homes before we can recognize the greatness in someone else. We are stronger than we think.

After learning of Katherine Johnson’s death, a mathematician, born August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, WV, I choose to pay homage to her for her extraordinary contributions to NASA’s aerospace projects. She solved some of NASA’s more complex equations by hand which proved to be more precise than computer generated calculations. Although, Johnson worked in a male dominated, highly racial environment she did not let the distractions and naysayers interfere with her work. According to Wikipedia, Johnson’s calculations were critical to the success of the first and subsequent US crews’ spaceflights. I watched the movie “Hidden Figures” about Johnson’s life at NASA, in awe not ever recalling or reading of her major contributions to spaceflights. In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. NASA dedicated a building in her honor at Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA. It’s unlimited possibilities like aerospace that children of color need to be taught in school. In my opinion, teaching should be about capturing the innocence of children’s mind and taking them beyond their perceived limitations? Teaching is about challenging students to reach their highest potentials.  It’s about exposing students to non-traditional careers that have been either white male or white female dominated or both.

As we recognize and salute the many contributions of blacks and in honor of the late Dorothy Pringle Mack, from Sumter, SC, a great mathematician, thank you on behalf of hundreds of students who excelled and are living out their dreams. Mack taught at Burke and Bonds Wilson High Schools and held varied math positions while working for Charleston County School District. She also taught at the College of Charleston. It’s because of educators like Mack, Bushka, Thompson, Risher, Gaillard, Singletary, Higgins, Rhett, LaRoach, Coaxum, Carr, Jenkins, Heyer, Washington, Brockington, Hill, Grace, Brown, German, McClain, Wineglass and countless other educators too numerous to name, who believed in us, we are who we are. Today, I salute my ancestors! Thanks for making the pages of those old hand-me-down textbooks come alive. Despite being labeled failures before we ever sat down in a classroom, black teachers, you believed in us.

We don’t have to look far for greatness; greatness lies within.

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