Black History Month got off to a lively start on Sunday as the Sedalia-Pettis County NAACP and Burns Chapel Free Will Baptist Church joined forces for a program dedicated to historic and contemporary issues.
The program, entitled “Don’t Let the Past Block Our Future” featured musical performances, dramatic and humorous skits and short remarks by community leaders, including 18th Circuit Presiding Judge Robert Koffman, Sedalia attorney Richard Beard, Ward 3 Councilman Bob Cross, Open Door Benevolent Ministries Executive Director Jack Menges and Sedalia Mayor Elaine Horn.
Joyce Washington, of Sedalia, helped coordinate the day’s events and said she hopes people left with “a sense of unity.”
“We are all going through stress right now,” Washington said. “This economy is hurting everyone - it doesn’t matter what the color of their skin is. We have a lot more in common than we think.”
Sedalia Mayor Elaine Horn said black Americans and their history of struggle against slavery and racial oppression give all Americans “an occasion and opportunity” to celebrate the nation’s founding principles.
“Black history in the U.S. has been a proving ground for American ideals,” Horn said.
Rhonda Chalfant, president of the Sedalia-Pettis County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stressed the need to “remember history so we don’t repeat it” while drawing parallels between modern incidents, such as the February 2012 shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, and earlier historic occurrences, like the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.
Likewise, Chalfant compared the past struggle of women and minorities to embrace their right to vote with contemporary attempts to restrict access to the polls through “voter ID laws and the gerrymandering of districts.”
“If things are going to change, we must make sure our children have the information and critical thinking skills necessary to make those changes,” Chalfant said.