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YSU Event focuses on blacks, Hispanics



Published: Thu, February 14, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The program also featured a segment on the role blacks have played in the community over the years.

YOUNGSTOWN -- A workshop on diversity and culture drew praise from some of those attending, but an expression of disappointment at the turnout from the event's organizer.

Wednesday night's event at Youngstown State University featured discussions on area black and Hispanic history and the roles Mahoning and Trumbull counties played in the Underground Railroad.

The "railroad" was a network of people and sites that enabled fugitive slaves to escape captivity from Southern states during the 1800s.

"I thought the Underground Railroad was literally an underground tunnel that slaves traveled through," said Michelle Nelms, 34, of Youngstown. "I was really ignorant and I thought this program was very good because it touched every portion in a unique way."

The program also featured a segment that discussed the early role blacks played in the community and the strides they are making now.

Here's a concern: Dr. Herbert Armstrong, 82, of Youngstown, the first black elementary school principal in the area, said he has seen the progression of blacks in the city but has also seen a decline in educational values.

"Once you get an education, no one can take that away, but today, our kids just aren't getting it," he said.

"I have seen parenting change and at one time parents cared about their kids' getting a quality education. They were involved in the PTA and behind the teachers," said Armstrong, principal of Covington School -- now Martin Luther King Elementary on the city's North Side -- in 1965.

Disappointment: Dr. Victor Wan-Tatah, director of YSU's Africana Studies program, said although more than 60 people attended, more students should have come.

"People don't seem to be excited about things of this nature. Maybe we didn't do as much as we needed to do to inform them, but I don't know how else we have to go about doing this," he said. "I am very disappointed because this place should have been filled."

Still, Wan-Tatah said he is glad that YSU is doing its part to help bring more workshops about diversity to the school.

"We need to devote more money toward the budget for the types of studies this department [Africana Studies] needs to do. I am expecting more financial commitment from the administration," he said. "There is not a more efficient weapon for us to use to liberate ourselves and our young people than to learn about who we are."

Panelists at Wednesday's event were a mix of area professors, graduates and scholars. Also participating was OCCHA, a Hispanic social service agency.

The university has planned several more lectures as a part of its African American History Month Celebration. The next one will be at 7:30 p.m. today at Kilcawley Center and will feature Kimberly Phillips, an associate professor at the College of William and Mary.




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