At the end of the day, black history is the story of resilience – from Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad to poet Maya Angelou and athlete-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick.
That was the message delivered by the Rev. Simeon D. Spencer, senior pastor of the Union Baptist Church in Trenton and the keynote speaker at Lawrence High School’s annual black history celebration Feb. 22.
The annual event also marked the bestowing of the “Trailblazer Award” on five honorees, including former Lawrence High School principal Anthony Watson, for their contributions to the Mercer County area.
In his keynote remarks, Rev. Spencer pointed to poet Maya Angelou and her signature poem, “Still I Rise.”
“‘You may write me down in history, With your bitter twisted lies, You may tread me in the very dirt, But still like dust I’ll rise. You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still like air I’ll rise,'” Rev. Spencer said, quoting Angelou’s poem.
Angelou’s story is a sad one, but she rose above her circumstances, he said. She was raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was 8 years old. When she told a family member, her uncles killed the man – and she went mute for five years, “because she thought her voice killed him,” Rev. Spencer said.
It was her aunt who brought her out of her mute state, encouraging her to read poetry, Rev. Spencer said. She loved poetry, but would not speak. Her aunt told her that she would not be able to understand a poem unless she could speak it out loud – and she did.
“Hers is a powerful story of resilience – and the celebration of black history is nothing, if not about resilience,” he said.
Black history is full of resilient men and women – from Harriet Tubman to the Rev. Richard Allen, who founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and all of whose who walked with him, he said.
And then there is Colin Kaepernick, who understands protest and who “pricks” the conscience of America, Rev. Spencer said about the NFL quarterback.
“Black history should be celebrated. You don’t know how unique you are. You should not only celebrate it, you should carry it in your heart,” he said.
Everyone has heard about the Holocaust, the Trail of Tears and the genocide in Rwanda, he said. The survivors have spoken about the unspeakable – “and here is the good thing. They lived to tell the tale. They had resilience,” Rev. Spencer said.
“You may not write a book, but you have a story to tell. That’s what has kept us keeping on – resilience. We need these stories, so be encouraged. Have strength and resilience,” Rev. Spencer said.
“Young people, stand on your feet. Go find your life. When you find it, I promise you – faith will give you resilience,” Rev. Spencer said.
The Lawrence High School black history celebration also acknowledged five honorees with the Trailblazer Award, who have each risen in their field – from education to entertainment to banking.’
Lethel “Showtyme” Brooks, who grew up in Trenton, was honored for his skills as an entertainer – artist, singer, songwriter and producer. He has worked with rhythm and blues artists K-Ci and Jojo, Donell Jones and rapper Pharoahe Monch.
Nina Dawkins, who grew up in Trenton, was honored for her contributions to the entertainment industry. She is an event planner and has booked comedians nationwide for more than 15 years through ND Entertainment.’
Alisa McNeese also grew up in Trenton and became the Trenton Fire Department’s first black female firefighter. She is one of seven women firefighters in the Trenton Fire Department.
Darlene Robinson, who was set to embark on a career in foreign service, instead became a banker and was honored for her contributions in the financial industry. She is a relationship manager in PNC Bank’s Community Development Banking-Northeast Territory Team.
Anthony Watson is a career educator and served as Lawrence High School principal from 1992 to 2000. He came to the high school as an assistant principal in 1983, following stints as a teacher, counselor and interim assistant principal in other school districts.