Some Youngstown-arearesidents think black history should be celebratedall year long.
By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- February is officially Black History Month, and programs, teachings and events on the contributions of black Americans can be found at most schools, churches and other organizations throughout the month.
When February comes to an end, however, and many people put away the black heritage posters, study references and other materials, several area residents pick up the torch of black history and carry it through to the next year teaching it to eager minds -- both young and old.
Dedication: A walk during any month through the lower level of the Phar-Mor building in downtown Youngstown, where Kathryn Hawks Haney houses her "Give the Children a Chance" ministries, would silently tell the story of Haney's dedication to teaching the history of black people.
In each window of Haney's office hangs pictures of historically important black people with biographies beneath each image. The visual education continues inside with more black art, photos, extensive literature and a big-screen television that is always tuned to something that focuses on issues pertinent to blacks.
Haney started her community involvement with a youth choir, but as the children grew older she incorporated other things, such as computer-based learning and black history. One month, she said, just isn't enough time to satisfy the thirst for lessons in black history.
"What started us to going year-round with black history lessons was that after Black History Month the pictures were just too beautiful to take down, and I felt enough had not been learned in that short period of time," Haney said.
The sessions are not limited to blacks, she added, as people from all backgrounds come and take part. The lessons have been a huge success. Children come from various schools, churches, community and recreational centers and group homes, and there are adults "who just pack in here," she said.
"There are a lot of things Miss Haney doesn't know about black history," she says with a smile. "But God sends everybody I need through that door to make what I am doing here a success."
Called upon: Anthony Feldes, a retired military man and Youngstown West Side resident, is often one of those individuals called upon to give lessons and little-known facts on the history of blacks in the military.
Much of what Feldes shares in his lectures was learned firsthand while he was in the military.
Feldes retired from active duty in 1972 after 20 years of service. He spent several years in the Reserve after that, but said bias and discrimination by several of his colleagues left a bad taste in his mouth and ultimately led to his complete retirement.
"What put the icing on the cake was when I was actively involved in doing work at the Mount Hope Cemetery [on the city's East Side] and a commander told me outright 'We don't help those kind of people.' I was outraged," he said.
The cemetery contains the remains of many black residents.
About six years ago, Feldes attended a program right around Black History Month, where, he said, several of the scheduled speakers could not make it on time. Feldes, who is white, asked to address the audience in the meantime.
Before the event was over, Feldes had spoken on the Moffit Marines, the first black Marine platoon, inhumane treatment of blacks in military history, and Johnson Chestnut Whittaker, a man he said was court-martialed for conduct unbecoming a soldier after he was found brutally beaten and tied to a bed.
From then on, Feldes has been dishing out black military history to any group willing to sit still long enough to take it in.
"I mostly get calls in February, but maybe that will change over time," he said.
Group study: For those looking for a regularly scheduled dose of black history in a study group atmosphere, there are the study sessions conducted by Kenneth King, known as "Brotha K" from WGFT Radio.
He said several factors have influenced and driven the study groups.
"Around '95, with Tom Pope [a nationally syndicated black radio talk show host] being on the air and bringing more of a talk format to the city, there was an interest by some folks who wanted to begin to study black history on a more consistent basis and more structured format," he said. "Some of those who attended never had black studies and wanted to study African history on more of a community level."
King also had attended a conference on African history where one of the objectives was to restart community history clubs, which had proved successful for blacks in the past, he added. The group meets regularly for study sessions, attends various conferences and is involved in a list of community activities.
King said the response to the group through the years has been good with much consistency in attendance, though some members have left because of other commitments. He said some teachers and ministers in the group take the material and use it in their religious and school teachings.