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Black History Month, Ages 50 – 62

Recently retired from the California Department of Education, Andrew Laufer is writing a book about his life including periods as a butcher's helper, food service worker, construction laborer, animal research assistant, seasonal fire fighter, and janitor. In his youth, he hitch-hiked up and down the coast and out to Colorado numerous times providing context for hundreds of short stories.

I embraced African-American culture when I agreed to participate on the Black History Month Planning Committee at work. The exposure helped me to understand some perspectives and issues important to the Black community, and our society as a whole.

During my first year on the Black History Month Planning Committee, I was asked to celebrate the rich history of hats in African-American culture. My signature "look" at work included wearing a fedora, so the Planning Committee asked me to participate by being one of ten people on stage showing off our hats.

A narrator described the historical significance of the fashion. Decorated church hats were a way to express individualism during times of oppression. Hat styles changed from simple shapes and decorations for church to elaborate and elegant statements of class. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American Culture dedicates a portion of their exhibit to Mae Reeves, a hat maker in the 1940's, who made hats for many elite African American women such as Lena Horn and Ella Fitzgerald. The presentation was interesting, fun and entertaining.

The audience sang the Black national anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, with enthusiasm and conviction. Lyrics such as "... sing a song full of faith that the dark past has taught us, sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us" were awe inspiring, and powerful.

There were also performers on stage who read or recited current and historical poetry. Their performances represented deep emotions: anger, frustration, resilience, joy and faith related to their tumultuous past, continuing discrimination, and hope for the future. Maya Angelou's Still I Rise is a good example:
















"Out of the huts of history's shame, I rise. Up from a past that's rooted in pain, I rise..."

One year, during Black History Month, a panel of African-American high school students described the current school environment to us. Even in the face of their success, teachers often profiled them as "under achievers" and accused them of cheating.

A successful African-American gentleman told me he had the same experiences when he was in high school in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as did his children. Low expectations are far reaching. When he was a child, he couldn't imagine ever becoming president of the United States. Educating all students and teachers in Black History can help to change these unfortunate realities.

Participating in cultural events like Black History Month celebrations helps to fill in the gaps left by American History curriculum. Black History inspires the potential for greatness for anyone facing societal barriers to success.

In one of my last years on the Planning Committee, we asked artists to display their work. One artist painted President Obama conversing with a young African-American boy who was looking up at him. The painting conveyed a profound message: the boy imagining being president of the United States. It signifies there is hope that positive change is possible.

~ Andrew Laufer


















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