Story and Photos by JOE GIDDENS
Black History Month became official by then-President Gerald Ford in 1976 as part of the U.S. bicentennial. Since then, every president has followed suit, with President Donald Trump proclaiming it as National African-American History Month.
This year’s theme, “African-Americans in Times of War,” calls our attention to the heroic contributions of African-Americans during our nation’s military conflicts, from the Revolutionary War to present-day operations,” according to a White House Proclamation on Jan. 31.
“It’s not just Black History Month, it’s African-American History Month and the African experience in this country is part of the fabric of this country,” Gerald Rivers said. “Quite often we forget or overlook the contributions of African-Americans so at least at this time we can celebrate and commemorate them.”
At Pima Community College, the centerpiece of this year’s celebration was River’s and Charles Holt’s production of “Martin & Music” performed at multiple campuses. River’s reenacting selected passages of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches, with Holt providing choir accompaniment.
“The music becomes the message and the message becomes the music,” said Charles Holt in regards to the title “Martin & Music.”
Part of the duo’s inspiration for their performance was the cruel irony of how King’s mother followed her son in death by being assassinated at organ of the the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta Georgia. Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr. who was convicted of the slaying “said he had acted out of hatred for Christianity and because his god had told him to,” according to his 1995 obituary in The New York Times.
“The message of Martin Luther King is as significant and poignant today as it was 50 or 60 years ago,” Rivers said.
The message of peace, love and brotherhood never dies out, never becomes out of style or out of date.
“And particularly with this current political climate that we are living in and the divisive rhetoric that we hear from both sides. Doctor King’s message is needed now more than ever,” Rivers said.
The production ended with an informal question-and-answer session and sharing of experiences with the audience.
Teresa Hawkins shared some of her experiences of being in a biracial couple with Bernard Bowers, and how the achievements of those that came before made their relationship possible.
They met in 1987 playing racquetball at the Old Pueblo Courthouse, a now-defunct club in Tucson.
“You play me like a man or get the hell out,” said Hawkins to her future husband during their initial meeting.
To Bernard’s credit, he upheld that mandate and walked away with the win.
“Black History Month is important to me because it’s American history, it’s a part of the American Dream. (Colonial) separatists started the first civil rights movement in this country,” Bowers said.
“This needed to happen, we always need to find what happened in our history,” he said.
Robbin Hatchett Jr., was imapcted by the performance at East Campus.
“It’s always good to do your research on stuff not blindly. Need to know the real facts not just on black leaders but all all leaders,” he said.