March 4, 2009

Guard celebrates culture during African American History Month

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

African American History Month

Performers from the Ebizu Muntu African Dance Company entertain guests of the Virginia Guard with a drum performance during the African-American celebration at the Holocaust Museum in Richmond Feb. 27. Many Soldiers and Airmen boarded a bus from Fort Pickett to enjoy the celebration hosted by Virginia's Equal Opportunity office. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

RICHMOND, Va. — Approximately 75 Soldiers, Airmen and civilian employees of the Virginia National Guard met in Richmond to celebrate African-American History month at the Holocaust Museum Feb. 27 with special guest speakers, a special performance by dancers and some authentic African-inspired foods.

The ceremony started with opening remarks by Air Force Capt. Antoinette Allen, state equal opportunities manager and a prayer by Army Chaplain (Maj.) J.D. Moore.

Following the prayer and the singing of the National Anthem by Angie Wade and an introduction by Army Col. Stephen L. Huxtable, deputy director of the joint staff, the guest speaker, The Honorable John W. Marshall, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety, took the podium and delivered a powerful speech on discrimination and the “unsung heroes” of the equal-rights movement of the 1950’s and 60's.

Marshall said he is often asked, especially with the recent inauguration of our nation’s first African-American president, is “what would your father say today?” Marshall, son of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme court and acclaimed civil-rights lawyer, responded with a speech his father gave in 1992 in Philadelphia

“The battle for racial and economic justice is not yet won. Indeed, it has barely begun. The legal system can force open doors and knock down walls, but it can not build bridges. That job belongs to me, belongs to you, it belongs to all of us. Take a chance won’t you? Knock down the fences that divide, tear apart the walls that imprison, reach out, for freedom lies just on the other side,” said Marshall quoting his father.

African American History Month

Sgt. Francis Asubonteng, a management analyst at Joint Force Headquarters, and 1st Lt. Frederick Stovall, a surface maintenance specialist for JFHQ, pause to glance at some of the artwork set out for viewing before the event at the Holocaust Museum celebrating African-American History. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Marshall said, “I think he would say that he is pleased, that he is pleased with how our nation has continued moving forward, but then he would say that he is nowhere near satisfied because there is so much  yet to be done”

Following Marshall’s speech, Allen introduced the Richmond–based Ezibu Muntu African Dance Company. The Ezibu Muntu, with four female dancers and two male drummers, performed several authentic African dance numbers to the beat of the drums and a hand-held bead covered Gourd.

The Dance Company, which has been celebrating African dance and tradition since 1973, according to Allen, taught the audience several dance moves and encouraged them to dance and sing along to Funga Alafia Ashay Ashay, an African song of welcoming through hearts, words and happy thoughts.  

The final dance by the performers was a warrior dance. They explained how in Africa even if the warriors lost the battle, they would still come home and dance to celebrate the noble efforts put forth by the brave warriors. The dance began with the females welcoming home the war-weary soldiers, followed by one of the drummers leaving his drum to fulfill the role of the warriors returning to the village through dance.

With the finale of the dancing the guests were invited to partake in some authentic African-inspired cuisine. The food included such things as fried okra, pineapple upside-down cake, chicken balls and cornbread. The food samples were provided by local restaurant Ma-Musu’s West African Cuisine.

Though the Virginia Guard has come a long way in filling its ranks with African-American Soldiers and Airmen since the first enlistment by an African-American in 1964, Allen reminds us that it is still important to move forward and remember the past through events such as these.

“With the history we have in Virginia, of being a very diverse state, it’s still important today because we’re still working to achieve equality for all Virginians. These events just spotlight different heritages and different cultural traits, and that we can all be included in the celebrations,” said Allen.

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