Tables around the community center displayed posters, books and photographs which showcased achievements of African-Americans in education, business, civil rights, law, government, politics, art, music and literature.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class April Slaughter, from the office of the Chief of Naval Reserve, served as the emcee for the ceremony. Following the singing of the national anthem by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Corey Parker of the U.S. Navy Band, and the invocation by Chap. (Lt. Col.) Clyde Scott, JBM-HH installation chaplain, Col. Fern O. Sumpter, commander of JBM-HH, gave opening remarks.
“Each February, Black History Month is celebrated to recognize the past and present contributions of African-American history and culture,” Sumpter said. “This year’s theme … ‘At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington’ acknowledges the struggles made and the sacrifices endured.”
She pointed out the significance of this year’s theme, indicated by two important anniversaries in the history of African Americans and the United States — the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, which set the stage for Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I have a dream” speech.
Guest speaker at the event was J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford, poet, author and arts event coordinator.
Sistah Joy is the founder of the Collective Voices, a Washington, D.C.-based ensemble of poets, and is known for her poems on social consciousness. She has performed her poetry with her groups as well as a solo artist across the United States, and in London, England.
As Sistah Joy read her poetry, she was accompanied by djembe drummer, Doc Powell. The African rhythms enhanced the poet’s message.
“There are moments in history that stand out — and the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington are two momentous times that shifted this nation’s course. When we think of President [Abraham] Lincoln, his motives many [people] question. But the reality is unquestionable. Today the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation was that first step toward freeing Americans who were of African descent,” Sistah Joy said. “Likewise, was the March on Washington that amassed over 200,000 persons — primarily Americans, primarily, African-Americans. Not insignificantly, over 200,000 gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the same number that was set free by the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Sometimes parallels are a bit more than coincidence.”
Sistah Joy credited her father for imprinting upon her the significance of social justice in America and said “it was the occasion of the assassination of Dr. King that would later bring me to write my first poem.”
Opening with “Strong Hands of Mother Africa,” Sistah Joy’s poetry captivated the audience, who were taken on a journey through the poet’s strong social themes. Other poems she read included: “History Has Shown,” “On Freedom,” “Freedom’s Echo,” “The Harvest” (subtitled “No Sharecropper’s Here”), “Proclamation,” “I Stand Tall,” and lastly, “Get Out of My Way.”
After Sistah Joy finished her reading, Powell performed a solo piece based on the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” by Langston Hughes.