Black History Month event honors county's African-American community, leaders
Frederick County and city officials gathered with others Tuesday to recognize Black History Month and highlight the importance of the African-American community in the county, said County Executive Jan Gardner.
The event featured a few speakers, including U.S. Rep. John Delaney, and a joint city and county proclamation marking February as Black History Month to acknowledge African-American citizens and their contributions. The event was slated for earlier in the month but was rescheduled because of bad weather.
Delaney, D-6th, said that Black History Month is an important time to celebrate “those champions who have done so much to not only change the trajectory of African-Americans in this country but in their actions and through their deeds give us example of some of the finer moments in American history.”
He continued that despite progress made, “too many” African-Americans are struggling with economic hardships. In addition to being a celebration, he said, the monthlong observance is “also a time to remember what we have to continue to do so that their lessons will not only sustain us ... but give us the ambition to overcome some of the biases and barriers and obstacles that still exist.”
Delaney also read a congressional citation directed to Frederick County citizens in celebration of Black History Month. County Council President Bud Otis and Frederick city Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak read the proclamation from the county and city.
“Closer to home, we certainly want to recognize the importance of a number of African-American leaders who’ve made a difference in our community,” Gardner said after referencing several nationally recognized historical figures.
Gardner pointed to several African-American men and women known for their roles and contributions to the local community. Among others, she named Dr. Ulysses Grant Bourne, one of the first African-American physicians in the area, and Lord Nickens, a civil rights advocate and former leader of the Frederick County branch of the NAACP who died in 2013.
People in her younger generation have “truly been privileged” compared with African-American men and women who faced racial discrimination in the past, said Angela Spencer, chairwoman of the Frederick County Human Relations Commission. She said that “it has not been that long ago that changes have been made for people who look like me.” People should continue to “engage, educate and empower” each other, she said.
About 20 people stood alongside the local leaders and Delaney at the event. They included other members of the Human Relations Commission, county government representatives and community members.
Willie Gardner, of Frederick, said at the event that she has come “a long, long way,” recalling walking as a student along roads in Alabama and getting mud splashed on her clothes when a bus carrying white students would pass.
“We had to pay for our books, which had been discarded from the white population,” she said after the event, noting that she continued grade school in Georgia. “Our schools were inferior. I started school in a church.”
An active community volunteer and retired teacher, Gardner said in an interview that she has had to overcome many obstacles tied to discrimination, but she carries a positive philosophy for life: “I’m not a victim, I’m a victor.”
She was “honored,” she said, that the county and city proclaimed Black History Month.
“I’m here today because I couldn’t help but celebrate,” she said. “There was no other choice.”