Bordentown community celebrates Black History Month

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Community members came together to honor and discuss the significance of Black History Month at Bordentown Regional High School.

Government officials, school district staff and students led a unique, special presentation during the event.

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As more than 50 people convened in the high school’s library for the annual event on Feb. 28, now in its seventh year, the audience was treated to speeches from municipal officials, a keynote speaker, visual presentations, and performances from Bordentown students.

Alongside the high school students and staff, the event was attended by Bordentown Township Mayor Stephen Benowitz, Bordentown Township Committeeman Eugene Fuzy, Bordentown City Deputy Mayor John Brodowski, Burlington County Freeholder Daniel J. O’Connell and keynote speaker Helen Elizabeth “Bettye” Roberts Campbell. 

Benowitz commenced the morning event with remarks about the prominence of African American History as well as the significance of the 15th amendment to the United States Constitution, which was passed by Congress on Feb. 26, 1869 to grant African American men the right to vote, and later ratified on Feb. 3, 1870. 

“The promise of the 15th amendment would not actually be realized for almost a century,” Benowitz said. “By means of the passing of the National Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it illegal to discriminate against African American voters.”

“I challenge all of the students here to exercise their rights to participation in our political system by registering to vote. It is your duty as a citizen to have a say in the political process,” Benowitz said. “I speak directly to the African American students who have chosen to listen to my words, to heed what I am saying. Please remember, if you take anything away from the words that I am speaking, make all the people that made this possible for you, to exercise the right to vote, and their efforts paid with blood, sweat and tears, not be done in vain by uttering these words in all future elections, ‘I just voted.'”

Following Benowitz’s opening remarks, the morning continued with a new addition to this year’s event, a performance by the Bordentown Regional High School Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Michael Montalto.

After the ensemble played a rendition of world-renowned American American composer Duke Ellington’s “Rockin’ In Rhythm,” Campbell, who has been an active volunteer throughout her life in the area’s school district and organizations as well as a curator for the township’s Black History Month programs, took to the podium to share her perspective on African American culture.

During Campbell’s speech, she addressed particular topics in African American history directly in Bordentown as well as individuals in the nation’s history such as multiple, perhaps lesser known people, who achieved notable “firsts” for African Americans.

Campbell highlighted particular individuals such as David Harris, the the first African American airline commercial pilot hired by a major U.S. airline and was the first to be promoted to Captain, Ruth Carter, the first African American to win an Academy Award for “Best Costume Design,” and Doris Miller, an African American sailor in the United States Navy who manned anti-aircraft guns during Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. He was recognized by the Navy for his actions and awarded the Navy Cross, which made him the first black American to be awarded this honor.

After her speech, Campbell introduced a student-led presentation to acknowledge more notable figures in African American history such as Marian Anderson; Hattie McDaniel; Mae Jemison; and George Franklin Grant.

In addition to a featured performance by the Bordentown Regional High School Dynasty Step Team, the Jazz ensemble performed “Bag’s Groove,” a composition by Milt Jackson to close out the ceremony.

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