(WKBN) — February is recognized as Black History Month, a time to honor the triumphs but also recognize the struggles of African Americans throughout U.S. history.
African Americans are one of the largest ethnic groups in the United States.
“If Black people were not here, this country would be nowhere near like it is today. Nowhere near,” said recent Youngstown State graduate Lekeila Houser.
Houser is an advocate for social and racial justice and said their struggle for civil and human rights is essential to understanding our country and its history.
“Black history is really our American history. It should be engrained in any and every United States history class,” said Houser.
Nationally and locally, African Americans are responsible for a large part of our architecture, clothes, style and food.
Yvonka Hall with the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition said the African Diaspora has transcended Africa — It is everywhere.
“What we brought with us from Africa was our culture — food in particular. When we talk about some of the things that we consider soul food — black-eyed peas, okra, collard greens, yams,” said Hall.
Understanding the history of when Africans arrived upon American soil as indentured slaves to help build the nation is essential as it provides context for the present and sheds light on the struggles they endured.
“I think that that’s important for us to listen to those stories, listen to the traditions and the things that are passed down around food, around culture, around music, around dress. All of those things will help carry us through the hard times and help us understand why our fight is so real,” said Hall.
One local group in Youngstown called the Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past allows student leaders to meet “foot soldiers” of the Civil Rights Movement to learn the lessons of social and racial justice and nonviolence.
The organization was created fifteen years ago by Penny Wells, and it takes Youngstown high school students on a journey to the Civil Rights sites in the south.
“History comes alive when you go to where it happens, and history comes alive when you meet the people,” said Wells.
Wells said the goal is to provide educational experiences that move people to action.
“After going on Sojourn I began to fight for social justice in the Youngstown area. So I did voter registration on YSU’s campus and at Youngstown Early College,” said Houser.
Brittany Bailey, a senior at YSU, is also a passionate member of Sojourn to the Past, and she said she loves using her voice to make a difference in social.. and racial injustice.
“It’s not just yesterday’s problem. It’s still happening today and we do need to confront it. If we don’t confront it we’re doomed to repeat it no matter what, and it’s just going to be a revolving circle,” said Bailey.
Keeping history alive and learning about other cultures shows we all have our own stories to tell, but they mesh together and tell the collective story of how we got to where we are today.
Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past has put together resources on its website where you can find information on an anti-racism workshop, and find out how to support the group.