The Museum of African American Art, housed on the 3rd floor of Macy’s in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, in collaboration with LAUSD Arts Education and The Gateway Education Foundation, hosted a 2-part Black History Month program that included a day with three hundred LAUSD elementary and middle school students as well as a community reception and conversation entitled, “Passing the Torch to America’s Youth.” Joining the dialogue were iconic civil rights leaders including former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, Civil Rights leader and organizer, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, along with the first African American mayor of Selma, Alabama; James Perkins, Jr.
The group of about 100 patrons crowded a room in the exhibit hall to hear words from three men with great wisdom. After being filled with fruit and cheese, a full meal of Chicken and Rice was then served with champagne glasses. Plates full of greens, yams, mac & cheese and ham moved across the room as people filled their bellies. Berlinda Fontenot-Jamerson, president of the Museum of African American Art, gave the introduction as people settled in for a treat. “We did a workshop earlier this morning with 300 LAUSD kids that showed up for a ½ day workshop with these same three gentleman,” says Fontenot-Jamerson. “Because of our partnership with LAUSD Arts and Education, and the work of Rory Pullins, this dialogue was able to happen. We’re celebrating 42 years and 40 in this location and as the oldest African American Museum in Los Angeles, we’re proud to play host.”
This program was the mind child of Phillip Brown, father of Rory Pullins of the Gateway Education Foundation. “My father had been taking kids to Selma for decades so that they knew this history. He’ll be 92 on August 6th.”
After the playing of a portion of a documentary on Selma Activist Amenia Boynton, a pivotal staple in the civil rights movement and with the introduction of the evening’s MC, TV commercial actor, Stephen Willis, the talk got off to a great start. “I’ll be 86 years old next month….everyone at this table has been fighting for a combined 100 years or more of keeping things going,” believes former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, “Don’t believe what Trump says. I was in Florida before I came here and something is happening. We’re taking the suffering of our people to redeem America.”
Impactful as well as hopeful, Dr. Lafayette expressed nothing but optimism when asked about what the future holds for our next generation of leaders. “I look around this crowd of people and it feels like family. So many of you look like my aunties and cousins.” Says Dr. Lafayette. “I have to reiterate that training is everything. We were trained to be non-violent leaders. By understanding the cracks in the system, we were able to get a crowbar and open it wide open. But the non-violent training was so important. We have to train the children because we’re not going to be here forever. But I’m not worried about the future.”
Former Mayor Perkins summed up the conversation when he focused on our responsibility to reach the next generation. “I remember when I head the saying ‘we stand on the shoulders of our forefather,’” says Perkins. “Well, I say it’s time to us to get off their shoulders and do the work needed to gear our children up for a fight. My challenge to you is to share your time and experiences with our children. They will never understand what we know unless we develop a greater sense of urgency and get real about what we’re really passing to our children when we pass this torch.”