The stories that you’ll hear about Black history in the next 27 days took place throughout the entire year, and every February is an opportunity to think about the topic year-round and how our community might become more equitable.
This is the 47th year of the federal recognition of Black History Month, according to a proclamation adopted by the Albemarle Board of Supervisors on Wednesday.
“It’s a significant achievement to acknowledge the contributions of Black Americans nationally but also locally,” said Jesse Brookins is the director of Albemarle’s Office of Equity and Inclusion.
Brookins took the opportunity to introduce Sam Spencer, a self-sufficiency program manager with Albemarle County’s Department of Social Services. Spencer serves on a variety of different committees, including one that oversees the Thomas Jefferson Planning District’s work on eviction diversion.
“Sam has worked for the past few years behind the scenes to give others the opportunity for success, empowerment, and confidence to thrive in a community which we all know and love and appreciate,” Brookins said.
Spencer formally received the proclamation but said he is not one for the spotlight.
“I accept this because I know the work is hard but we’re all servant leaders in this work that we do and being a leader means that you have to serve those in the communities,” Spencer said.
Supervisors took the opportunity to provide comments.
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley of the Rivanna District noted she’d recently read about a book on the desegregation of libraries in Northern Virginia. That book is by Chris Barbuschak and Suzanne S. LaPierre, and LaPisto-Kirtley read a quote from LaPierre from a recent news article.
“Progress doesn’t happen just because time passes,” LaPisto-Kirtley wrote. “Progress happens when people take action to make things better.”
Supervisor Ann Mallek of the White Hall District said she is supportive of efforts to tell a broader picture of places in the rural area, such as a recent historic market at Union Run Baptist Church.
“And helping them to tell their own story much more fully now has really been a wonderful accomplishment over the last several years and I hope that we will continue to do that,” Mallek said.
Here’s a description of Union Run Baptist Church from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
“Union Run Baptist Church in Albemarle County took shape soon after the Civil War when the Rev. Robert Hughes and other freedmen organized the congregation, which purchased a nearby church building and re-erected it on land deeded to them in 1867. The church served as a school and a community center and the property as a burial ground.”
Supervisor Ned Gallaway of the Rio District said the proclamation made him recall the work of Dr. Frank Henderson, a late professor at Ohio University in Athens whose classes Gallaway attended. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansa, Henderson was one of six people who integrated North Little Rock High School in September 1957.
“And he had a very distinctive voice because during a Civil Rights protest, he had his throat partially crushed during the event,” Gallaway said.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel of the Jack Jouett District took the opportunity to read the recent joint statement from Albemarle Police Chief Sean Reeves, Charlottesville Police Chief Michael Kochis, and UVA Police Chief Tim Longo on the recent death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee.
“We are profoundly saddened by the actions that led to the untimely, senseless, and brutal death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five former members of the Memphis Police Department,” McKeel read. “Once again, police officers around the globe who hold dear their oath of office and work diligently to preserve public trust and confidence have been irreparably harmed by the callous actions of others who abandoned their commitment to peace, justice, and the humanity.”
Supervisor Donna Price of the Scottsville District said she is a member of the local chapter of the NAACP and serves on its executive committee. She said the appropriate word to use is “commemoration” rather than “celebration.”
“You cannot celebrate when the battle has not yet been won,” Price said. “We know the history of America since 1619 has been one of prejudice and discrimination, lawful discrimination.”
Price warned about a rising tide of new discrimination by the barring of African-American studies and defunding of equity programs in some places across the country, as well as censorship that’s intended to stop discussion of what some call “woke” topics.
“I call it simply treating people with dignity and respect,” Price said.
Price said continuing to proclaim events like Black History month are important to reaffirm Supervisors’ recent decision to make equity a “community value.”
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