Posts Tagged ‘Black History Month’

Reflections on Black History: Seventy years ago

February 22, 2021
My class photo taken in the third grade 70 years ago reminds me of a desire to “make history” during the celebration of what was then Negro History Week. Times and the name have changed, but the desire still burns brightly.


As the celebration of Black History Month continues to unfold, I recall an event occurring 70 years ago to the date on February 22, 1951, when I was eight years old in the 3rd grade at Roosevelt School, an all-black school in Gary, Indiana where I was born. I have been reflecting while looking at my class picture and noticing the bulletin board in the back of the classroom decorated with these words: “Negro History Week.” Since that time, the celebration and recognition of the contribution of African Americans have been expanded to Black History Month.

The bulletin board in the picture reminded me that at that time I consciously determined that I would someday “make history” and do something significant as an African American. Back in the day, it was expressed this way: “I wanted to be a credit to the Negro Race.”

Over the past seven decades, I continue to strive to make that desire a reality. In 2019 during a book signing and presentation during Black History Month 2019, I shared from my newly published book Embracing Your Life Sentence: How to Transform Life’s Greatest Tragedies into Your Greatest Triumphs. I also reflected upon the significance of Black History and related some of the events transpiring in my life since that class photo was taken.

I went on to graduate as Valedictorian of Froebel High School, class of 1960 and enrolled as a pharmacy student at Purdue University from 1960-1965, becoming the first African American to graduate from Purdue’s five-year pharmacy program. During my time as a pharmacy student, I was also introduced to Black poetry and would later discover my passion to teach and to write poetry.

Upon graduation from Purdue, I took the state board examination and passed to become a registered pharmacist in Indiana. My first full-time job was as a hospital pharmacist at Methodist Hospital in Gary, Indiana. I was enjoying the good life until I received “Greeting from Uncle Sam” and I was drafted into the US Army in 1967, in the midst of the Viet Nam conflict. That two-year stint I describe as my “Lemonade Experience” in that what I thought would have been the worst thing that could have ever happened turned out providentially to be far better than I could have ever imagined. While I was a pharmacy instructor at the Medical Field Service School in San Antonio at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, I discovered the joys of classroom teaching and writing poetry, passions that continue to burn.

During my stint in the military from 1967-1969, I also rode the crest of the Jesus Movement, a national revival impacting the lives of countless young people and others. I experienced a powerful conversion that introduced me to the transforming power of God through receiving the Holy Spirit and studying the Bible.

Twenty years later in 1981, I enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Indiana University, pursuing a doctorate in English with a minor of Afro-American Studies. I completed my dissertation in 1986 entitled “Portrait of the Bondslave in the Bible: Slavery and Freedom in the Works of Four Afro-American Poets.” Of those four early Black poets discussed, I first heard of three of them as a freshman at Purdue in 1961.

As I reflect upon my life, I acknowledge that I have been blessed to enjoy the overflow of God’s goodness and grace. Today, I am a Vietnam veteran and cancer survivor of more than 20 years. In addition, I am a former registered pharmacist, a published poet and a writer, a retired professor of African American Literature, who continues to teach because “I love the teacher’s task and find my richest prize in minds that open and in eyes that ask.”

Just as I made up my mind in elementary school that I would someday make a significant contribution as an African American and someday do something to “make history,” I am sure that others now living and those who come after me also have a similar burning aspiration to “make history.” So often we think of history as people and events of the past; however, we must remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “The reader of history must replace the words ‘there’ and ‘then’ with the words ‘here’ and ‘now.’”

I close my sharing with an original poem shared during the opening session of a New Testament History Class that I taught in 1976 at a Bible college in Kansas when I knew that I was destined to teach on the collegiate level. That class and countless other events confirmed my desire someday to make history.

The Living Gallery of the New Testament

In the living gallery of the New Testament is reserved a special space
An empty canvas awaits each feature of your face.
Each of us paints a self-portrait in the minutest detail.
To develop your life’s masterpiece, you can never fail
When you follow Christ’s example, the Master of the Word,
Beholding as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord
Each day abounds with potential for matchless artistry.
Now is your golden moment—you are making “His Story.”

I close with this related song “History” by Maverick City Music