February is a special month for many reasons. Couples go out of their way to express their love for one another on Valentine’s Day. Everybody looks forward to the first Sunday of February to see the Super Bowl, even if only for the commercials and the halftime performances. And, of course, February is the shortest month of the year.
February is also a month designated to recognizing and celebrating the contributions of African Americans to the world.
In 1926, Carter G. Woodson launched "Negro History Week” in February, between the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, to acknowledge historical African-American figures. This later evolved into an entire month dedicated to black history in 1976.
Being an African American myself, I thought it was only right to share my own thoughts on Black History Month.
As a kid, I remember participating in events at my school for Black History Month. The most memorable was a speech I presented to my elementary school in Chattanooga about Frederick Douglass and how he escaped from slavery and later became a leader of the abolitionist movement.
As I got older, I learned more about historical black figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, and countless others who made courageous efforts to help African Americans enjoy the same rights as Caucasians.
In light of that, taking time out to learn about the contributions that my ancestors made to benefit my peers and I during Black History Month each year was somewhat of an obligation to me.
Unfortunately, this year I didn’t get a chance to do that. I didn’t attend any Black History Month events, nor did I increase my knowledge on local figures who played a role in sculpting black history. I could attribute this to a hectic work schedule, having to find a new residence, laziness, the list goes on; all are excuses.
However, I did speak with Arwin Smallwood, an associate professor of history at the University of Memphis. He’s also a distinguished lecturer on the efforts of Carter G. Woodson.
Smallwood took time out to provide me with a brief lesson on Black History Month and its significance among African Americans and society as a whole.
“When it started in the early 20th century, African Americans knew very little about their history,” Smallwood revealed to me. “During slavery, the vast majority of African Americans were slaves — as high as 95 percent. Most slave states didn’t allow for blacks to be educated. They couldn’t learn to read or write and certainly could not study their own history. So coming out of slavery, during Reconstruction and the early part of the Jim Crow-era, most African Americans were catching up. They were learning the basics — how to read, how to write...they were completely unaware of the contributions of African people and their connections to Africa, much less their contributions even during slavery to the American south and the country.
“You have to understand in a segregated south, most white children weren’t learning anything about African Americans beyond the fact that they were slaves and that they were ignorant and basically had not contributed anything to southern society, American society, much less world society,” Smallwood said. “Black History Month had a purpose. [It] was first to educate, enlighten, and inform African Americans who could then go out and inform others about the contributions of African Americans. And then as we come out of Jim Crow and segregation, it certainly had a great purpose, because the first time that many Americans in the south and really all over the country learned anything about any African-American history was during that month.”
Smallwood informed me that a dilemma among the African-American race is that a large portion of us have limited awareness to the contributions that many of our peers have made for us on a local level.
“I think that it’s important for local communities and local people to celebrate the contributions of those who are around them,” he said. “A lot of times, we tend to teach history from the top down —just the great figures: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells, etc., and we often forget about the foot soldier in the Civil War who made up the [more than] 2,000,000 soldiers who fought and died to free millions of African Americans or the foot soldiers who were fighting in the trenches of World War I, who came home and might’ve been lynched or burned alive just because [they] had an uniform on. But these people are history makers too, and had it not been for their collective efforts, we wouldn’t have had the Civil Rights movement, [or] the contributions of black soldiers in World War I, World War II, the Civil War, [and the] Revolutionary War. I think it’s important, during the month, in the African-American community that we acknowledge the contributions of our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and our sisters and brothers and people who are around us everyday who are helping to transform the city of Memphis and the country.”
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On Tuesday afternoon, I had the opportunity to be featured on a media panel, along with five other established journalists in Memphis, in conjunction with The Teen Appeal’s Scholastic Journalism Week.
The event, "Meet The Press," took place at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. Aside from me, the panel discussion included sports writer Jason Smith and columnist Wendi Thomas of The Commercial Appeal; Brooke Thomas, news anchor and reporter for Fox 13-Memphis; Richard Thompson, creator of Mediaverse (an online publication that analyzes the Memphis media), and Michelle Diament, co-creator of Disability Scoop, an online publication covering developmental disabilities.
When I stepped into the room, I saw a nice crowd of people, mostly young, aspiring journalists in high school and college. I greeted Otis Sanford, the panel's moderator and a 35-plus year print journalism veteran. He also holds the Hardin Chair of Excellence in the Department of Journalism at the University of Memphis. I consider Sanford to be a major influence for minorities involved with or interested in pursuing a career in journalism.
In front of my chair, there was a card facing the crowd that displayed my name and media representation. As I sat down, I introduced myself to Brooke, who was seated to my right. We chatted briefly about our job positions and what we liked the most about them.
A few minutes into our conversation, I was approached by Carrie Brown, another journalism vet and professor from the U of M's journalism department (she was also my journalism advisor at the U of M and the person who linked me up with the Memphis Flyer). We joked about me going from being a student in her class to a panelist among professional journalists. After our conversation, she snapped a picture of me and Brooke.
Wendi from the CA came in shortly afterwards and took a seat to my left. This was my first time meeting her, but I had heard a lot about her prior to our acquaintance. We chatted for a minute or two as well, and then the other panelists came in. Other than RIchard, I didn't know any of the panelists prior to the event. I introduced myself to all of them.
As the panel began, we all briefly shared our stories on how we got involved with journalism. My interest in the field began in fifth grade when my father purchased a 12-month subscription to Vibe magazine for me. I was amazed by how the writers for Vibe covered the stories in such a vivid and detailed manner. They made me feel like I was in the room with them when they interviewed the entertainers.
We were also asked about the favorite story we'd covered and why we still have a passion for journalism in a time where the print industry has seen a significant decline.
After the panel was over, the crowd asked us questions. As it ended and everyone began to leave, I was approached by a couple of people who asked me questions about my job, how I came up with story ideas, and if I had any advice for them.
One of these people was Tyler Springs, a student at Rhodes College. He asked for my advice on how to secure a position at a publication when you don’t possess any past experience in journalism. I encouraged him to start freelancing, contact local journalists who he’s a fan of, and ask if he can shadow them.
Being a young gun in journalism myself, I was humbled by his sincere interest in acquiring knowledge from me on how to make his presence felt within the journalism realm. I remember that it was not too long ago when I was approaching seasoned journalists and asking the same thing.
The next day, I received a tweet from Tyler that included a link to a write-up he had done on the event. He inspired me personally. It's good to see that there's still an interest in pursuing journalism as a career despite if some think otherwise.
A relatively shy person in front of big crowds, I'm glad that I stepped outside of my comfort zone and participated in the panel. It was most definitely an experience that I won't forget. Furthermore, I look forward to seeing the many young, aspiring journalists who filled the room for the panel discussion go on to have prosperous careers. I wish them all the best. The sky's the limit for us all.
The Teen Appeal is a city-wide, student-produced newspaper created in 1997. Partners in The Teen Appeal project are the Scripps Howard Foundation, the University of Memphis Department of Journalism, Memphis City Schools, and The Commercial Appeal.
Follow me on Twitter: @Lou4President
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Over the last few months, several Memphis Police Department (MPD) officers have made headlines. It began with the murder of Officer Martoiya Lang, who was fatally shot on Dec. 14th, 2012 as she served a drug-related warrant at a house in East Memphis.
"[Officers] never discuss being harmed, but we try to be as careful as possible," said 13-year MPD veteran Gloria Suggs. "It’s something that we keep in the back of our mind. You don’t want to think about not going home to your family. You just want to keep it positive and believe that everything is going to be okay."
Nearly two weeks after Lang's death, on December 27th, MPD officers fatally shot Charles Livingston, an armed robbery suspect, after he fled through the woods from a McDonalds on Frayser Boulevard. Officers said he pointed a gun at them, which led them to discharge their weapons.
On January 11th, an MPD officer fatally shot Donald Moore, an animal hoarder, at his Cordova home. The officer shot Moore after he pointed a gun at him and several Memphis Animal Services employees, who were there to serve an animal cruelty warrant.
A week later, on January 17th, officers shot and killed Steven Askew as he sat in his car in the parking lot of the Windsor Place Apartments at Knight Arnold and Mendenhall. The officers shot Askew after he allegedly pointed his handgun, which he was registered to own, at them. One of the officers involved with Askew’s shooting, Ned Aufdenkamp, has received several complaints throughout his tenure as a police officer and was submitted for the department's Early Intervention Program in 2012.
On January 23rd, one week after Askew’s death, a MPD officer shot 18-year-old Bo Moore in the parking lot of the Quick & Easy convenience store on 931 S. Highland after he pointed a gun at the officer.
Additionally, the media has focused in on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s (TBI) investigation into why MPD officer Terrance Shaw shot and killed 15-year-old Justin Thompson in September 2012. Shaw was off duty at the time of the shooting. The TBI investigated whether or not Shaw was trying to prevent a robbery during the shooting and if he had prior history with the victim. Shaw was cleared of facing criminal charges for the shooting on February 1st.
“There is insufficient evidence to create a reasonable chance for a conviction against Mr. Shaw, particularly when considered with the foreseeable defense that could be raised under the evidence,” District Attorney Amy Weirich said in a statement.
Prior to the death of Thompson, Shaw was involved in three shootings, which were all considered justifiable. On Valentine’s Day of 2009, Shaw shot and killed 25-year-old Courtney McGowan after he put his car in reverse and nearly ran Shaw and his partner over, according to the incident report. In November 2008 and June 2011, Shaw shot two different dogs that charged at him.
In a time where MPD officers are receiving more negative attention than positive, Suggs still wears her badge with pride. She said it’s not fair for all MPD officers to be viewed negatively when there’s only a handful who are going against what the department represents.
“We’re like miniature celebrities, because if anything goes on with this family, every news channel and newspaper wants to capture it,” Suggs said. “People forget that we are human. We are mothers. We are fathers. We are grandfathers, grandmothers, husbands and wives. We’re someone’s sister. We’re someone’s brother, and we have family at home that want to love us just as if we didn’t have blue on. Sometimes people forget that we do have love in our hearts, and if we didn’t, we wouldn’t risk our lives to help out the community.”