NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The power and excitement of the Pushing Forward for Jobs and Freedom celebration of African American history was fueled by an extraordinary youth march held the week before from the Peoples Center to a Kensington Street home where a toddler survived a drive-by bullet wound last October.
Photos of the march shown on a giant screen put youth at the center of the celebration and set the stage for the afternoon.
As Prof. Jamie Wilson said in his address, "as this nation fights wars of national aggrandizement, as the gap between the rich and the poor grows, and as the middle class wanes, black people and multiracial alliances will continue to struggle for freedom, justice and equality and the lessons of past struggles will act as guidance."
Wilson discussed those past struggles, capturing the attention of young and old alike, centered on anniversaries in 2013 of the emancipation proclamation, the murder of Medgar Evers and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
"it is important," he concluded, "for us to recognize and remember the lesser known and more familiar voices of struggle within the African American experience because, no matter what our hue, our cultural roots and routes may be or become, the history of African Americans has something to teach us all."
A weekend storm and icy driving conditions prevented Prof. Wilson from traveling to New Haven from Boston, so instead he addressed the event via skype. Even young children were at full attention.
The program personified unity of experience and dreams as the multi-racial audience appreciated comments by the New Elm City Dream youth following a video of the march for love, jobs and peace they organized, and then comments by Connecticut Students for a Dream leaders Carolina and Camila Bortolleto whose story of growing up without documents led to their organizing for a path to citizenship for all 11 million immigrants.
A stirring drum rendition by Brian Jarawa Grey and friends, and a medley of civil rights songs performed by Scotticesa Marks added meaning to the 39th annual African American History Month Celebration hosted by the People's World in Connecticut.
The presentation of prizes to winners of the high school competition by Al Marder, chair of the Amistad Committee, gave dignity and significance to the work of the youth who had been asked to write or draw about the meaning of the emancipation proclamation for today and how as individuals and a community new strides can be made for freedom and equality.
Ideas in the essays read included forming an Equality Commission, creating a play about freedom and equality, and going door to door to get people involved around issues of concern. The annual competition is held in remembrance of Dalzenia and Virginia Henry, a mother and daughter in the union movement who dedicated their lives to children.
The event kicked off the Connecticut fund drive for the daily online People's World. In her appeal, Pat Highsmith told the crowd, "this is the place to get the truth!"
Inspired and enthused, those present including elected officials, union leaders and community activists enjoyed a delicious home made buffet after the program, sitting in small groups to trade thoughts and make new friends.
Photo: African American History Month celebration at the Peoples Center on February 24. Dana Asbury/PW