Fort Hamilton Army Base in Bay Ridge held a solemn observance of the history and achievements of black Americans on Thurs., Feb. 28.
The theme of the event was “Know the past, shape the future,” as the ceremony began with a touching video celebrating the accomplishments of black Americans throughout our country’s history.
While the event took place on the last day of Black History Month, the prevailing notion was that it’s not just about a week, a month or a year; the contributions of black Americans should be remembered and celebrated daily.
Among the notable African-Americans recalled in the video were Madame C.J. Walker, an African-American entrepreneur, philanthropist and political social activist; W.E.B. Du Bois, a sociologist, historian and civil rights activist; Charles Drew, the father of modern blood banks; Brooklyn-born video pioneer Gerald Lawson; Brooklyn-born U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm and former President Barack Obama.
Capt. James JeanBaptiste served as master of ceremonies and delivered the opening comments. “We celebrate the contributions made by the descendants of Africans, the contributions that have made our country the great nation that it is today,” said JeanBaptiste.
He explained that the origins of Black History Month could be traced back to Carter Woodson, who is known as the “father of Black History Month.” Woodson was a former slave who did not begin his formal education until he was 20 years old; in 1912 he became only the second African-American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University.
“In 1926, Woodson promoted the idea of Negro History Week, which was to be held the second week of February,” said JeanBaptiste. “The second week of February was chosen because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12 and Frederick Douglass on Feb. 14, both dates that black communities had celebrated together since the late 19th century.”
Negro History Week was the precursor of Black History Month. In 1974, former President Gerald Ford urged Americans to observe Black History Month before former President Jimmy Carter formally recognized Black History Month in 1978.
Fort Hamilton service members also offered keynote addresses highlighting deserving African-Americans for their accomplishments, including Clara Adams Ender, retired chief of the United States Army Corps; and Dr. Dorothy Height, who served as president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years.
“It’s always good to reinforce and remind people of the contributions of all of its citizens, primarily because America is made up of its immigrant class,” said Alpha Company XO of the Joint Task Force Empire Shield Marcia McBean. “We are a conglomerate of different people that all work together to create and be part of the American fabric.”
Command Sgt. Maj. LeShan Hayes agreed. “It’s awesome when we can get our service members to come out for such a great event that represents black history, and not only black history, what this country is actually founded on. It’s just been an all-around great day,” LeShan told this paper.
Sgt. Seraphim Toussaint read Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” and the observance ended with the Joint Task Force Empire Shield’s haunting guitar, drum and vocal performance of Whitney Houston’s “My Love is Your Love.”
“It was a great event today and I think the music was a real surprise for everybody,” said Fort Hamilton commanding officer Col. Andrew Zieseniss. “It’s just a wonderful way to wrap up the last day of Black History Month.”