Each year, citizens take the month of February to honor the many achievements of African-Americans. As a former private sector businessman, educator, and now a public servant, I am grateful for the tremendous breakthroughs that African-American entrepreneurs, inventors and scholars have given to our nation and world. I would like to take this week’s legislative column to recognize and highlight the many African-American role models we have in education and industry, as well as give local families some ideas on how to help bring this month alive for their children and grandchildren.
IN PURSUIT OF DR. KING’S DREAM: 48 YEARS LATER, TREMENDOUS PROGRESS MADE – BUT THERE ARE STILL MILES TO GO
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke as a civil rights leader and as a father in his world famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Dr. King said, “We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating ‘For Whites Only.’ We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.” He also said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
In the year 2011, our nation firmly believes that slavery and segregation were wrong and immoral as they systematically victimized our own citizens and prevented all Americans from realizing their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Civil rights leaders showed tremendous personal and moral courage, helping America keep its “eye on the prize.” Despite our nation’s impressive progress, each of us has a responsibility to continue working toward fulfilling Dr. King’s dream of a nation that judges its citizens by the content of their character. Realizing this dream will result in an America that ensures every citizen can realize his or her full, God-given potential.
TODAY: AFRICAN-AMERICANS HELPING SHAPE OUR WORLD
African-Americans have truly made the world we live in today, helping Americans live longer lives, take advantage of technology and explore beyond our own planet. The following are just a few of many, many examples: Inventor Otis Boykin invented electronic control devices for IBM computers and the control unit for a pacemaker.
George Carruthers, a member of the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame, invented the far ultraviolet electrographic camera, used in the 1972 Apollo 16 mission. Engineer Lonnie G. Johnson, worked for NASA, but is beloved by kids for one of his inventions: the “Super Soaker” water gun!
LOCAL CONNECTIONS TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS AND HARRIET TUBMAN
Our greater Rochester-Auburn community has a strong connection to two very well-known African-American leaders: Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Douglass, who is buried in Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery, was the great reformer, writer, speaker and statesman who emerged as a leader of the abolitionist movement and is widely considered one of America’s foremost intellectuals. Harriet Tubman, who resided in Auburn, was a former slave who became an abolitionist of unimaginable courage and fortitude as one of the “conductors” of the Underground Railroad. Tubman made 13 trips to the South rescuing 70 slaves.
SPOTLIGHT ON UPSTATE – LOCAL AFRICAN-AMERICANS LEADING THE WAY
Central and Western New York are fortunate to be home to many prominent African-Americans in the fields of math and science. As a former business owner who started successful manufacturing companies, I know firsthand that a strong education is the key to a quality job. Luckily, we have many good role models in our own community. Here are just two: In 2005, Rochester native Professor Jonathan David Farley was named a “Science Fellow” of Stanford University’s Center for International Security. Dr. Farley was the 2004 recipient of the Harvard Foundation's Distinguished Scientist Award, a medal presented for “outstanding achievements and contributions in the field of mathematics.” According to US Black Engineer magazine, in 2004, University of Buffalo professor Scott Williams was selected one of “The 50 Most Important Blacks in Research Science.”
LEARN ABOUT BLACK HISTORY IN OUR OWN BACKYARD
New York stood at the forefront of the anti-slavery movement, and learning more about the Underground Railroad is a great way to learn about New York’s black history. Visit the “Flight to Freedom” interactive exhibition at the Rochester Museum and Science Center or the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn to learn more about Upstate New York’s role in the Underground Railroad. Additionally, Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery is hosting a Black History Month Family Day on Feb. 27, with family art activities, music and dance performances, tours and storytelling. In Syracuse, the Onondaga Historical Association Museum is displaying photographs, documents and oral histories collected by the Black History Preservation Project in the “Community Collections” exhibit. All of these are wonderful activities for the entire family!
Upstate New Yorkers are fortunate to have such a strong connection to Black History. Many of our forefathers stood up for what was right and supported the abolitionist movement. Our current communities are home to many inspiring African-American role models in all walks of life. February as Black History Month provides an excellent opportunity for each of us to learn more about New York State’s history and feel a special sense of pride in the pioneering achievements of African-American New Yorkers.
As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at email@example.com. You also can follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and informational updates regarding state government and our Assembly Minority Conference.