On Feb. 23 at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, the AFRO honored those leaders in the Maryland/D.C. area making a positive impact on the education of the Black community. The theme for this year’s Black History Month, decided by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), is “The Crisis in Black Education.”

Large audience listens to Singing Sensations Youth Choir of Baltimore (Photo by Andersen Ward)
Large audience listens to Singing Sensations Youth Choir of Baltimore (Photo by Andersen Ward)

The evening consisted of an invocation performed by the pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, Rev. A.C.D. Vaughn; remarks from AFRO CEO and Publisher John J. Oliver Jr. and AFRO board member and pastor of Freedom Temple AME Zion Church the Rev. Frances Draper and musical performances by the Singing Sensations Youth Choir of Baltimore.

When asked about the reason for honoring the leaders in Black education AFRO CEO and Publisher John J. Oliver Jr. said: “125 years. That’s a long time, but during that period of time we’ve had the pleasure of reporting about and to the African-American community those items of news, all kind of news. But also, in context of that reporting, it became very clear that there was a stream that ran through that entire 125 years that too often gets overlooked: That is the role that education plays in the generations that basically have grown up and grown old. For that reason and many other reasons, we felt that it was at least as important as our celebration of 125 years to include the recognition of those institutions that have helped our community evolve, grow and prosper and also gives us the intestinal fortitude to continue addressing the challenges that we continuously face not just every day, every week but also every generation. It doesn’t seem to get an easier.”

At the event, the AFRO paid homage to Gregory Bell, supervisor, Diversity Initiatives, Montgomery County Public Schools; Juliette B. Bell, president, University of Maryland Eastern Shore; Mickey L. Burnim, president, Bowie State University, Alvin L. Crawley, superintendent, Alexandria City Public Schools;  S. Dallas Dance, superintendent, Baltimore County Public Schools; Charlene Dukes, president, Prince George’s Community College; Wayne A. I. Frederick, president, Howard University; Freeman A. Hrabowski, president, University of Maryland Baltimore County; Lillie Jessie, vice chairman, Prince William County School Board; Tuajuanda Jordan, president, St. Mary’s College of Maryland; Ronald Mason, president, University of the District of Columbia; Gordon F. May, president, Baltimore City Community College; Sonja B. Santelises, chief executive officer, Baltimore City Public Schools; the Honorable Kurt L. Schmoke, former Baltimore City myor and president, University of Baltimore; Dr. Maria Thompson, president, Coppin State University; Antwan Wilson, chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools and David Wilson, president, Morgan State University.

Two of the honorees gave remarks on behalf of those honored, Ronald Mason Esq. and Dr. David Wilson, presidents of University of the District of Columbia and Morgan State University, respectively.

“I explain the crisis in Black education this way: Schools that serve Black students, HBCUs and neighborhood public schools are really reflections of Black people, institutional reflections of Black people. And the history of Black people in America is that we’ve always been denied wealth and the access to wealth. So, the challenge of education for us really, is the challenge of educating the most challenged among our citizens with the fewest resources,” Mason said. He continued, “It’s not that we don’t know what to do to solve the crisis in education for Black children; it’s that we’re always trying to figure out how to do it in the context of what we can afford to do. Which is a whole different proposition.”

Wilson spoke second and reiterated what Mason discussed. He said, “I really just want to pick up where Ron Mason left off. The national theme this year is ‘The Crisis in Black Education’ and I can think of no better way to look at the pipeline in Black education than what you see before you this evening–that pipeline from K through higher ed. And if we truly are about ensuring that students, like the Singing Sensations, are going to taste the magic of education, are going to transform the lives of their children and their grandchildren [then] this pipeline cannot have any leaks in it. And so, you’re doing something symbolic, you’re bringing us together and saying you’re not competing with each other, you’re on the same playing field and you need to figure out a way, if you have not done that already, where K through 12 is married to our community colleges and married to our higher education institutions so we are always on the same page.”

Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz stopped by the event and read a proclamation declaring Feb. 23 as Afro-American Newspaper Day in Baltimore County.

William “Billy” H. Murphy Jr., great-grandson of AFRO founder John H. Murphy Sr. and founding and senior partner at Murphy, Falcon and Murphy, was also in attendance. In addressing the audience Murphy referenced his family’s role in the newspaper.

Murphy said, “It’s a blessing from God to be born into a good family. It’s an extra special blessing. Jake and I, Francis and I, share tremendous pride in being Murphy’s, coming from the seed of a courageous human being who was enslaved, who fought for his country, came back, married a beautiful Baltimore girl; and at a late age instead of enjoying the fruits of his labor, ventured on a mission to start what was to become the greatest institution in journalism that has affected us in so, so many ways.”

The “AFRO Honors Black Leadership in Education” event was just one of many to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the AFRO this year, including the Character Education program, the Clean/Green Block Initiative and fueling the AFRO Honors Murphy Women and it will all culminate with a 125th Anniversary Gala in August. For more information on 125th anniversary events visit afro.com.