March 4, 2010

Virginia National Guard celebrates Black History Month

By Master Sgt. Carlos J. Claudio
192nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. — Nearly 100 people gathered at the strikingly renovated Henrico Theater in Highland Springs Feb. 26 to celebrate Black History Month with a program that educated, inspired and entertained.

  Black History Month

This year the Virginia National Guard hosted the first Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., essay contest. The winners (from left to right) are Summer Joy Allen, Brycen Jones and Jaycee Sansom. (Photo by Master Sgt. Carlos Claudio, 192nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

The program, attended by invited guests, the general public, and members and family members of the Virginia National Guard, kicked off with a passionate and distinctive a cappella rendition of the National Anthem by the Veritas Classical Christian High School Choir from Richmond, led by choir director David Kim.

In a Feb. 1, White House release, President Barack Obama proclaimed this year’s theme, “The History of Black Economic Empowerment” and called upon us “to honor the African Americans who overcame injustice and inequality to achieve financial independence and the security of self empowerment that comes with it.”

Col. Carl Bess, director of staff, Virginia Air National Guard, welcomed the audience to the Virginia National Guard’s 10th Annual Black History Month celebration and echoed similar sentiments on economic empowerment.

“In the face of economic oppression, they started insurance companies, vocational schools, cosmetic companies, firms, banks, newspapers and hospitals,” he said. “Tonight we gather to acknowledge the various accomplishments African Americans have made to this great nation.”

  Black History Month

The Virginia National Guard Black History Month festivities were held at the newly refurbished Henrico Theater in Highland Springs, Va. (Photo by Master Sgt. Carlos Claudio, 192nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

Capt. Antoinette Allen, Virginia National Guard State Equal Opportunity Manager, read a poem titled “Songs for the People,” written in 1895 by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.  Harper was an African-American writer, lecturer, and political activist, who promoted abolition, civil rights, women's rights, and temperance.

One of the highlights of the evening was the announcement of winners of a composition contest.  This year the Virginia National Guard hosted the first Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., essay contest. The contest was open to all children of Guard members, ages 7 to 18.  The children were asked, “If you could write a letter to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., what would the letter say?”

The youngest winner of the contest was Jaycee Sansom, 7, a second grader from Bristol.  Sansom’s essay centered on personal responsibility and how she has been inspired by Dr. King.

Also winning was Brycen Jones, 8, a third grader from Virginia Beach. Jones’ essay focused on the things that America has achieved thanks to the efforts of King.

And winning for the 9-year olds was Summer Joy Allen from Henrico. Allen’s essay focused on historical differences in her lifetime and that of the 1960s.

Each winner received a certificate of appreciation and a National Guard goodie bag from Brig. Gen. Robert L. Tucker Jr., commander of the Joint Task Force.

Following the awards, Allen said it took six months to plan and prepare for this event and the most significant part of the event for her was acknowledging the accomplishments of the children who won the essay contest. 

“That is the future of our organization and it was special to hear how they view the world,” she said.

  Black History Month

Actors from the play "1001 Black Inventions," sang, joked and educated the audience during a two-part play on historic figures at the 2010 Virginia National Guard Black History Month celebration. (Photo by Master Sgt. Carlos Claudio, 192nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

Allen said that special emphasis observances like Black History month serve to continually educate and motivate military personnel to see the value of diversity. When asked if there is a need to continue having various history month events anymore, she said, “Yes, we are still making history.” 

The main event of the night was the play “1001 Black Inventions,” a two-part production. The first part took the audience on an engaging and poignant journey featuring historic figures that explained, despite challenges in this world, it was still possible to do anything and be anything you want.

The second part of the play transported the audience into the “Twilight Zone,” a place where a typical American family attempted to live in a world without inventions created by Africans and African Americans. Both parts where interwoven with music, humor and educational points.

Afterwards, Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, presented certificates of appreciation to the actors and said the play was one of the most entertaining ways he had seen to explain African American history and its impact on our society and our world.

Once the program concluded, show attendees were invited to view art work by “Frame Art Galleries” from Highland Springs and also taste Jamaican dishes by “The Jerk Pit” restaurant from Richmond.

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