West Chester celebrates Black History Month

By JEREMY GERRARD, Daily Local News, 2/17/12

WEST CHESTER — Borough Hall was filled with song, dance and inspirational speakers Wednesday evening as West Chester celebrated Black History Month.

The event was held one day after Frederick Douglas’ adopted birthday and one month from the 100-year anniversary of local Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin’s birth.

West Chester University student Yheralis Lantigua, intern to Mayor Carolyn Comitta, was the project manager for the event.

State Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19th, of West Whiteland, welcomed everyone and spoke on the history of African Americans in Chester County from his time as an educator at West Chester University.

“I think as you go and begin to learn the history of this region you will see many examples of African American history,” Dinniman said.

He pointed out that his headquarters was used as a stop for the Underground Railroad and that West Chester was home to one of the first African Methodist Episcopal churches.

“Wherever you look, wherever you investigate, you will find an endless array of examples of the contributions of the African American community to West Chester,” Dinniman said.

The Black National Anthem followed Dinniman, sung by members of the Cheyney University Concert Choir.

Later, guests were treated to a video prepared by West Chester University students that featured both university students and local high school students talking about how to implement the philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr. into their lives.

Alice Thomas, a member of the West Chester chapter of the NAACP and founder of the Black Student Union at Henderson High School, discussed her experiences growing up in West Chester as a part of the first class to integrate J.R. Fugett Middle School.

“West Chester has a lot of growing to do, we’ve made a lot of changes and had a lot of growth, but we still have a ways to go,” Thomas said.

Earlier in the presentation, students from Bayard Rustin High School discussed the importance of the Black Student Union at the school. Thomas said she was happy to see the program grow from its start at Henderson and serve as a blessing to the community

Thomas also discussed her participation in the March on Washington.

“I was very proud,” Thomas said. “That was a march that no one will ever forget.”

The last speaker for the evening was James Trotman, a professor at West Chester University.

Trotman spoke on the legacies of Rustin and Douglas, noting their character and commitment to freedom and equality.

The program was concluded with an inspirational praise dance by Christina Randolph.