Award winning gospel and contemporary vocalist, Donna McElroy, singing, "Someday We'll all be Free."
Award winning gospel and contemporary vocalist, Donna McElroy, singing, "Someday We'll all be Free." (Marianne Salza)

Learn about black history at these local events

Black History Month is a time to raise awareness about the contributions that people of color have made nationally and around the world.

Celebrants are combining music, poetry and history to celebrate an exploration of local African American history including stories detailed in author Sharon Kennedy's book, "The Voices of West Medford."

Medford celebrations kicked off Feb. 2 with the West Medford Community Center (WMCC) presenting "Words and Music: Why Black History Month Still Matters, to discuss the importance of African American history."

"I thought it was important to talk about Black History Month because it is good to recognize the contributions that black people have made in this country, and important to move forward and make change," said event participant Antonia Collins, a Medford High School junior. "When we look at black history, we see resilience and empowerment."

WMCC, a cultural and social center founded in 1934, gathered a panel last week to offer diverse perspectives on Black History Month, and interviewed city leaders, youth, and neighbors of Greater Medford to comment on why it is vital to honor black history today.

Kennedy's book details the contemporary history of African Americans living in West Medford. She has catalogued the compelling stories of residents who are descendants of individuals who settled in Medford in the late 1800s.

"I think about black history perhaps incessantly," said Kennedy, a local storyteller. "It's something that I care about passionately."

On Feb. 15, the public library sponsors "Celebrating the American Spirit," with music and conversation beginning at 7 p.m. at the library, 111 High St.

According to a Medford Wicked Local posting, the evening will feature Sonny Carrington, saxophonist; Terry E. Carter, of the West Medford Community Center; the Rev. Noah Evans, of Grace Episcopal Church; Wallace Kountze, from the Mayor's Office; Diane McLeod, executive director of the Office of Human Diversity; the Rev. John O. Page, of the Shiloh Baptist Church; and West Medford resident Dorothy Elizabeth Tucker.

Award-winning gospel and contemporary vocalist, Donna McElroy kicked off the Feb. 2 Black History Month celebration at WMCC by performing songs about self-respect, love, and maintaining one's faith that brighter days will come. The Berklee College of Music professor recalled learning how to sing with her father in their living room.

Black History Month is an opportunity to introduce local African American history to younger generations and newer residents, and teach them about the struggle for justice during the Civil Rights Movement said genealogist Leona Martin.

"Black history has been important to me most of my adult life. As I got older I was able to learn more and become a part of effective change," said Martin, who recalled the influence of her mother, a bold civil rights activist and single parent to three children. "I think 50 years is not enough time to make change in the behaviors that are insidious, but we are trying and need to do more."

Collins aspires to give hope to youth that change is possible and will bring us closer. As the daughter of WMCC Board President Brian Collins, Antonia has learned about the legacy of black history and the West End community.

"Even one person and the actions of bringing together youth in a small neighborhood in Medford can have a large impact," Collins said. "It inspires me."

Lynn will offer a variety of celebrations through various organizations. The Lynn Center will host their 6th Annual Black History Month Celebration while the Community Minority Cultural Center (CMCC) offers a calendar full of events for the month.

The Department of Mental Health's local office will partner with Department of Children and Families in sponsoring Lynn Center's annual event.  The celebration will take place at 330 Lynnway, Suite 201 on Friday, Feb. 9 from noon to 1:30 p.m. and will include a documentary film, music, and a luncheon buffet.

CMCC kicked off celebrations with their Eye on the Prize event on Feb. 1 and their admiration of Black Poets on Feb. 5. The Ebony Photo Exhibit, which was scheduled for Wednesday Feb. 7, was postponed because of weather conditions and will be scheduled for a later date, according to CMCC secretary Darrell Murkison.

Other CMCC celebrations include a Kwanzaa Workshop on Feb. 13, a Black Panther discussion on Feb. 15, a Hidden Colors I event on Feb. 19 at CMCC, 298 Union St., Hidden Colors II at the Lynn Museum on Feb. 21, and Black History Jeopardy on Feb. 23 (at CMCC), all at 7 p.m. An Afro American Leader Summit will be Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. with a location to be announced at a later date.

Malden Public Library is setting the books aside and offering a different way for its members to celebrate Black History Month. Anyone who holds one of its library cards has access to stream and download movies onto any portable device through the website Hoopla.

In honor of Black History Month, the site offers a great selection of movies, audiobooks, and music.  Library cardholders of Malden can check out any of the selections for free without the overdue fees.

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