PIQUA — Edison State Community College’s Diversity Committee recently held an event on its Piqua Campus, called “Let’s Get Civil — A Celebration of Black History Month.”
“Black History Month was established mainly because black history and events in history related to African-Americans were overlooked and continued to be egregiously overlooked in curriculum,” said Edison State Community College President Dr. Doreen Larson. “We certainly still celebrate those events, but we really celebrate the influence of black history on all of our history. Think about how our lives would be so diminished if we did not have the contributions to our culture, our science, our literature, and our music that was brought to us by African-Americans into the United States and into our history.”
The event featured a dance selection from the group G.O.R.E.E. (Giving Others Resources, Education, and Empowerment through) Drum and Dance.
While focusing primarily on West African dance styles, the group weaves together the rich diversity of directors Balla and Ndeyekhady’s far-ranging experiences. G.O.R.E.E. Dance and Drum aims to honor the tradition of their teachers, culture and history of traditional West African dance with its own unique flair.
The evening included historical readings by Edison State Community College staff and community volunteers, who read aloud writings penned by several black authors and influential figures throughout history, including Paul Laurence Dunbar, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Harriet Tubman, Eloise Greenfield, Nikki Giovanni, and Henry Allen Lane, relative of Diversity Committee member Larry Hamilton, among others.
Chair of the Diversity Committee Marva Archibald and DC member Carl DeSantis presented student essay competition winners.
First place was awarded to Lauren Wright, of Fletcher, for her essay titled, “Let’s Get Civil;” second place was awarded to Brooke E. Trent, of Bradford, for her essay titled, “Let’s Get Civil — My Brother Chase Shoaf;” and Sara Ellis, of Sidney, was awarded third place for her essay titled, “Let’s Be Civil: Surviving the Social Media Era.”
The evening’s keynote address was given by Piqua Mayor Kris Lee.
Lee, the city of Piqua’s first black mayor, brings with him a historic background as a descendant of the Randolph freed people, a group of 383 emancipated people and survivors of slavery on a plantation in Roanoke, Virginia, in the 1800s. Once released, the Randolph group resettled north of Piqua at Rossville, a location also called the Randolph Slave Settlement.
Prior to becoming mayor, Lee worked in law enforcement for over 20 years, while also serving as the city of Piqua’s 3rd Ward commissioner. Lee is also an alumnus, adjunct instructor, and Peace Academy trainer of Edison State.
“Black history is American history, it’s just the history that we’re not taught,” Lee said. “I was very fortunate; they don’t do it today, but I had a wonderful teacher in high school, named Larry Hamilton, who taught me black history. He taught me about some wonderful people, like Paul Laurence Dunbar, Maya Angelou, Soujourner Truth — people that I didn’t know until I was introduced by him.”
Lee shared that if he had any claim to greatness, it would come through historical means.
“My father, his father, people who came before me; if I’m great in any way, it’s because I’ve learned lessons from them,” he said.
Lee said, throughout his life, he has learned important lessons from both people close to him personally and important figures in black history and the history of the United States.
“One of those is Dr. Martin Luther King,” he said. “Dr. King had a dream; I wholeheartedly believe in that dream that we would all come to be seen as equal, and we’re not there yet. We have made long strides, I have to say, from being a kid in the early ’70s and understanding — because my father had taught me about Dr. King and the civil rights movement — what that meant and how big it was.”
Lee also described the important role his father played in his life, a man whom Lee said has helped him to achieve the successes he has to this day. One of the lessons learned from his father, came through the poem, titled “If,” by Rudyard Kipling.
“The most important part of the poem came, for me, at the end,” Lee said. “It says, ‘If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings — nor lose the common touch, if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, if all men count with you, but none too much; if you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run, yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and — which is more — you’ll be a man, my son.”
“My father said, ‘I want you to fill every day with doing the right thing and treating people good,’” Lee continued. “He said, that’s going to be your ticket to greatness, and happiness, and it’s your best way to get to heaven.”