VIENNA Program focuses on black history
The event featured performances by soloists, a choir, a storyteller and a mime team.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
VIENNA -- James Travis removed his cap as the colors were presented.
Holding the cap in his right hand and leaning his left hand on a wooden cane, his mouth moved to the words of the national anthem.
When the "Black National Anthem" was played, he sang out loud.
"Lift every voice and sing, 'til earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty."
Travis, 80, wore a blue jacket with a Tuskegee Airmen patch topped by a bar reading "original."
He was one in a group of Tuskegee Airmen from Cleveland who visited the 910th Airlift Wing on Saturday as part of the Air Reserve station's 10th annual Black History Month Celebration.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black military aviators who flew as part of a "separate air corps" in World War II.
During the celebration, music selections, storytelling, miming and other entertainment were presented by some wearing ethnic tunics, many featuring bright colors. Others wore military uniforms or camouflage.
Guest speaker Brig. Gen. Leon A. Johnson spoke of the often-forgotten history-makers who valued cultural diversity "because it was the right thing to do," before affirmative action, before equal rights laws and, sometimes, before they had a right to vote.
Johnson serves as mobilization assistant to the assistant secretary of the Air Force, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, and also chairs the command's Human Resource Development Council. Part of his responsibility is to pursue diversity in the Air Force ranks and to help the force adjust as the face of America changes.
"The force that protects the freedom of America should reflect the population of America," he said.
Master Sgt. Gerald Stroud, noncommissioned officer in charge of public affairs at the base, said the event celebrates not only diversity in the Air Force but also in the community.
"Everyone says it's about black history, but it's about American history, just from a different perspective," he said. " ... We need everybody, of all races and all creeds, to make this a strong country."
In celebration, the choir from Antioch Baptist Church in Youngstown sang an upbeat version of "We Shall Overcome," clapping with accompanying electric keyboards and drums.
"Are we feeling it yet?" asked Senior Master Sgt. Robert E. Lee, master of ceremonies, after their presentation.
Robert Dabney Jr., in colorful red vest, beat a drum and sang a version of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" as Jocelyn Dabney elicited both silence and laughter with the tale of George, a slave, whipped for stealing a pumpkin, who escapes to freedom with Harriet Tubman.
Throughout the event, Lee spoke of various blacks who made a difference.
He said a goal of the event was to eradicate ignorance.
"Either the United States will destroy ignorance," he said, quoting W.E.B. DuBois, "or ignorance will destroy the United States."