Celebrating Black History Month

Published 5:11 pm Thursday, February 24, 2022

By Chris Quilpa

It’s time again to honor and recognize, to appreciate and give thanks to African Americans for their significant contributions to our country.

Their contributions in various fields, like arts and letters, science and technology, education and religion, space programs, entertainment and sports, military and justice, politics and government, and civil rights, have enriched the history of the United States and also the world.

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While our country, with the rest of the world, is still dealing with COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination and mask mandates, misinformation, political and economic instability, let us take this opportune time to learn or relearn more about African Americans and their invaluable contributions that have helped make America great and what she is today.

Honestly, before I immigrated to the United States in 1983, I did not know much about African Americans, except for legendary civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and well-known talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

Thank God, after almost four decades of living life and learning just about anything in America, I’ve been exposed to the beauty of diversity and different cultures. My 20 years of honorable service in the U.S. Navy has given me the rare opportunity to have participated in a wide variety of cultural events and programs. I have gained insights and increased my  knowledge, in particular, about African Americans in the United States. I have come to know more about their stories and struggles, their continued fight for their rights and causes.

Through the years, I have learned something about George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Doris Miller, Carl Maxie Brashear, Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, Lawrence Douglas Wilder, Curtis Milteer Sr., Dr. L.D. Britt; Barack and Michelle Obama, Barbara Jordan, John Lewis, Kamala Harris, Colin Powell, Lloyd Austin, Condoleezza Rice, Bernard Shaw, Gwen Ifil; Neil deGrasse Tyson, Katherine Johnson, Mae C. Jameson, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Nikki Giovanni, Rita Dove, Whoopi Goldberg, Queen Latifah, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Tyler Perry, Mohammad Ali, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Simone Biles, Quincy Jones, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Wilton Cardinal Gregory, and more.

I have met Suffolk poet and performance artist Nathan Richardson and one-time Virginia poet laureate Tim Seibles, and seen the popular American poet and activist Amanda Gorman delivering her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the Jan 20, 2021, inauguration of Joe Biden, 46th president of the United States.

Like other Americans, notable African Americans have been a source of inspiration. They have, indeed, achieved significant and valuable contributions that America can be proud of.

They have lived and experienced racial discrimination, inequality, injustice, economic and political challenges that have impacted their lives tremendously. They continue to fight for what they believe in.

Out of their struggles to shine, to be recognized and to live decent lives, they have become leaders and partners in nation-building.

Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk, Chesapeake, and Portsmouth. Email him at chris.a.quilpa@gmail.com.