ORANGE, NJ — The Orange Housing Authority, which had hosted an annual Black History Month celebration at Washington Manor on Wednesday, Feb. 24, teamed up with the Orange School District to celebrate Women’s History Month there on Tuesday, March 29. More than 20 third-graders from Park Avenue Elementary School helped recognize the ways women have strengthened and enriched America through songs and poetry inspired by the life of civil rights activist Rosa Parks.
“Come on up to the Front of the Bus, I’ll be Riding up There” was just one of the songs sung by the Park Avenue School choir as they performed for the seniors and other residents at Washington Manor last week. OHA and Orange School District officials said the event’s goal was to entertain the audience, as well as reinforce lessons about Rosa Parks, whose actions led to the famed bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. in 1955.
OHA Executive Director Walter McNeil said it’s no coincidence the agency celebrates Black History Month and Women’s History Month.
“Every year, the Orange Housing Authority hosts a series of programs in honor of Black History Month,” said McNeil on Wednesday, Feb. 24. “Our programs are to teach and remind our community about the historic contributions and trials and tribulations of African-Americans. Too often, we see a news segment on police brutality, racial profiling or racial inequality. It is our responsibility to continue to inform our community about the many events and social movements that are happening today.”
McNeil said, “History is who we are, our heritage.” Those sentiments were echoed by People’s Organization for Progress Chairman Larry Hamm, who was the guest speaker at the OHA Black History Month event Wednesday, Feb. 24.
“You can’t even talk about the birth of mankind without talking about Africa; every time I turn around, they say we found the oldest person that ever was in Africa, then next week there’s one older than that,” said Hamm on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
Hamm went on to encourage all the seniors at the OHA Black History Month event to tell their stories to younger generations. He said historians and laypeople alike often make the mistake of describing and defining history as something separate, distinct and disconnected from themselves, but the reality is far from that.
“There are no inferior or superior human beings. We are all equal and we got to put racism in the garbage can of history forever,” said Hamm. “But the only way to do that is you have to fight with knowledge. You have to know your history. But history, brothers and sisters, is not just in the history books. All history is the consolidation and the distillation of your collective experiences. See, we lived history. We don’t have to watch the movie ‘Selma’ to know about the civil rights movement; we lived through that. All y’all got to do is tell your story of how you got here.”
Also at the Black History Month event, Nia Baskerville, the OHA development associate, read a poem by author Langston Hughes that she said best summed up the significance of holding such an event at a public housing complex that is home to a large number of senior citizens.
“I read ‘The Negro Mother,’ by Langston Hughes, taken from his play, ‘Don’t You Wanna Be Free,’ and it just has been something that always stuck with me during Black History Month, so I decided to present it to the residents here,” said Baskerville on Wednesday, Feb. 24. “I believe it represented a woman who, in America, had been through a great fight during slavery time, but still lets us know at this time that, as young African-American women or older African-American women, we have the opportunity to excel in whatever we try to do. The seniors can relate to that time period, but even difficulties that we face now as a race, (we should) be able to use it as incentive to press forward.”
And Baskerville recited Sojourner Truth’s poem “Ain’t I A Woman,” for the seniors and residents at Washington Manor on Tuesday, March 29, for the program on women’s history.
“The status, rights and opportunities for women in America have significantly evolved over past decades,” said Baskerville on Tuesday, March 29. “However, changes are still needed to expand opportunities for women.”
McNeil agreed with Baskerville, adding the same could and should be said about the ongoing struggle for civil rights and racial, economic and social justice that minority groups have been engaged in for decades. He said he’s glad he runs the the OHA, because it gives him a chance to positively impact people’s lives.
“Women’s History Month, which takes place every March, is a time when we recall and celebrate the many groundbreaking achievements of women,” said McNeil.
“We have to continue to celebrate women’s contribution. Today, women are still fighting for justice. It is imperative that we actively make efforts to educate our community of the importance of equality as it pertains to women’s rights.”