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February 21, 2012 > Honoring the history of African Americans

Honoring the history of African Americans

By Jessica Noel Waymire

Several years ago Connie Willis, an educator, businesswoman, and member of Palma Ceia Baptist Church in Hayward, had a vision. She wanted to create a community event that would educate young people and adults on the rich history of African Americans. An inaugural event was held at the church in 2009, but in order for her vision to be fully realized Willis knew she needed a bigger plan. After two years of planning and recruiting auxiliary groups for an official committee, a much bigger event was possible and the first annual Black American Heritage Faire was held at the church last year. Willis hopes the Faire will continue as long as it serves the needs of the community.

The timing of this month's Faire coincides with Black History Month, a tradition dating back to 1926. Carter G. Woodson, an African American historian and son of former slaves, campaigned to have a week each February set aside for the remembrance of African American history. The second week of the month was chosen because it held the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, a critical figure in the abolishment of slavery, and Frederick Douglass, a writer, social reformer, and former slave. The weeklong remembrance was expanded to a full month in 1976. Woodson hoped that the need for a designated holiday would eventually pass and black history would simply become American history. Actor Morgan Freeman has expressed similar sentiments saying, "I don't want a black history month. Black history is American history."

With the Civil Rights Movement now 50 years in the past, much progress has been made toward creating a more equitable society. Communities today, especially in the Bay Area, are increasingly more diverse. Social groups and public figures continually speak out against racism and in favor of creating a more harmonious society. In spite of the progress, much work remains. Willis says, "Although a lot of African Americans have benefitted from the progress personally and professionally, some continue to suffer injustice economically, educationally, and socially." Creating and participating in events like the Black American Heritage Faire are ways to combat continued inequality. Through educational forums such as this, the history of African Americans becomes the history of all Americans.

This year's Faire opens with a joyful round of "Old 100s," traditional gospel styled music. On the itinerary are an essay contest for youth, oral histories and oratory exhibits, historical games and songs, and a special panel for men led by Palma Ceia pastor, the Reverend Tommy E. Smith, Jr. Volunteers from the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California are hosting a workshop on researching family history. A member of Palma Ceia's Women's Ministry is leading a workshop on the craft and history of quilting. Quilts played an important role in African American history as a means of covert communication during the time of the Underground Railroad. Arts and crafts are available for children.

African American history is American history. Educating oneself in the experiences of ones fellow Americans creates empathy and understanding, which leads to greater acceptance of all peoples. Acknowledging the tremendous suffering and courageous spirit of black Americans and their role in the founding of this nation will help in preventing future injustice. Much progress has been made, but much work yet remains. Come and experience the beautiful history of African Americans and learn how we can continue to work toward a truly equal society.

Black American Heritage Faire
Saturday, February 25
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Palma Ceia Baptist Church
28605 Ruus Road, Hayward
(510) 786-2866
Free Admission

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