Celebrating black history

Harriet Tubman, Duke Ellington, W.E.B. DuBois and Oprah Winfrey were among those held up as examples of the contributions African Americans have made to American history and society at an event Thursday at Glendale Community College to mark Black History Month.

“We are here today as a celebration of our ancestors,” said Kerry Lee Riley, a professor of ethnic studies at the school and the organizer of the event.

Students and staff members shared information and celebrated black history through poems and songs.

Austin Kemie, who works in the college’s admissions and records department, spoke about the legacy of Black History Month, from its roots in 1926 as a weeklong remembrance to honor Frederick Douglass to its official establishment as a monthlong event in 1976.

“One of its goals is really to improve race relations among all Americans,” Kemie said.

Riley sang two spirituals — “Balm in Gilead” and “Wade in the Water,” and other faculty members read poems by Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou.

Edan Harris, a 22-year-old student and president of the African American Assn., spoke about growing up in New Orleans, where life was still segregated by race in many ways.

The African American community at Glendale Community College isn’t large, Harris said, which made it even more important for people to turn out and recognize Black History Month.

The program closed with a group sing-along to the gospel song, “This Little Light of Mine.”

College professor Sandi Sheffey’s reading of Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman” was particularly poignant for Marla Sharpe, a 21-year-old student who was in the audience, because her mom used to read it to her when she was a child.

Khachik Nadzharyan, 21, said celebrating Black History Month was a good way to remind people about the role African Americans play in the country.

“I’ve never been to one [a Black History Month event], but I thought it was very inspirational, especially the gospel music,” Nadzharyan said.

 ANGELA HOKANSON covers education. She may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at angela.hokanson@ latimes.com.

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