The African American Cultural Society's 18th-annual Youth Black History Reality Show will be online this year, due to the pandemic.
We all know Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Frederick Douglass. But who are the other great black voices of the past?
For 18 years, the African American Cultural Society has hosted the Youth Black History Reality Show, giving local children and teens a chance to research the answer to that question and present their findings to a live audience. This year, it will be online only, but Program Chairperson Jeanette Wheeler hopes that can give the show an even broader audience.
Wheeler, a former teacher and administrator in Connecticut, is the matriarch of the show and the AACS, and she visited the Palm Coast Observer office on Feb. 15 to talk about black history and race relations.
She brought along friends from two younger generations for their perspectives: LaToya Taite-Headspeth, 42, is the registrar at Imagine School Town Center; and her daughter Samira Taite-Headspeth, 16, is a student at Flagler Palm Coast High School.
What has the Youth Black History Reality Show accomplished in the past 18 years?
Jeanette: It has accomplished an opening. It has accomplished conversations. It has stimulated minds of the young people as well as people in the community about their black heritage. And along with that, with the young people, it has helped them to develop confidence, social skills.
LaToya: In the education system, you learn about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks — like, the same five people every year. Our history didn’t start at slavery, but that’s where the history books take you over and over again. The Reality Show allows our children to develop a sense of pride, so they can say, “Wow, I am worthy, I am enough.”
It does a whole lot more than just putting them on the stage, but they also do develop a stage presence.
Samira: In the beginning, I liked watching it because my brother was in it. He was Barack Obama, and I thought it was so cool: "My brother’s the president!"
I feel like it brings young black kids together. Being part of the program requires you to do research, and even though it’s not the biggest audience in the world, you feed off the energy. It requires you to learn.
Why is it important for the community to know that there are many black inventors, writers and scientists throughout history?
LaToya: Representation matters. If all the community as a whole is learning — at school, in the media, on TV shows — about black people is slavery, there’s this narrow view. It’s important that the positive influences and contributions of all people are known to all people.
Jeanette: It makes for better relationships when you realize that each person has the same worth that you have. It goes back to what Dr. King said, what he dreamed for his little children: that people can look at them and judge them by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.
"Our history didn’t start at slavery, but that’s where the history books take you over and over again. The Reality Show allows our children to develop a sense of pride, so they can say, 'Wow, I am worthy, I am enough.'"
Samira: This program helps you see how educated and sophisticated we were — we are. It helps young people to get reading and be a part of it. My friends genuinely talk about the roles we’ve played.
In your lifetime, how have race relations changed?
Jeanette: Other races are beginning to look at black people as being human, that they’re capable of doing different kids of jobs.
Now when people in power use, the N word, they end up paying a price for it. That’s one thing we can appreciate. We still have a long ways to go, but we are moving in the right direction.
How can we improve race relations?
Jeanette: It’s got to start with individuals. You’ve got to have a heart and think of people as being human, just like members of your family.
Another thing: If you are in a privileged person that you can hire or donate to some of the organizations that are making improvements — get involved. The AACS would welcome people from another race, especially those who feel they have special ways of helping the girls and boys in the organization.
Samira: Posting and promoting positive things on social media — I think we should use these platforms for change.
There are some people who are never going to change. You can’t do anything about it but spread positivity and love.
LaToya: I think there has been growth and improvement. We don’t have to pretend that we are the same. What makes everyone beautiful is your differences. Let’s embrace and have conversations.
How would it help students to see more black teachers and administrators in schools?
LaToya: You see it, you can be it. That would make such a positive impact.
Jeanette: I grew up in the segregated south: Georgia. In the integrated world, when there is a black teacher who walks in, I would say the average black kid gives a sigh of relief: “There’s going to be somebody who’s going to be a little on my side. Maybe I’ll feel free to share some of my experiences.”
As a teacher who also taught in the integrated society in Connecticut, I had a lot of black students who were reluctant to talk about their families, the things they were going through. We had culture days where you would have to prepare meals of your culture. I would have to go and talk with some of the students of color to let them know, “It’s OK to talk about collard greens. It’s OK to talk about fried chicken, fried fish. Other people eat that too.” They thought that was just in the black culture.
Samira: Going into class, I’ve seen a lot of this happen with the black boys. A lot act out, but the teachers don’t know what to do, so they just say, “Get out of my class.” And they stereotype every black boy like, “This one’s probably angry too,” but he’s not doing anything.
LaToya: If you have educators representing who’s being educated, if that looks as diverse as the student body, there will be a whole lot more learning taking place.
What did the election of Vice President Kamala Harris mean to you?
Samira: It meant a lot to me. But no one was talking about it. People were tweeting about her outfit. My history teacher went on about how it’s unfair for Trump to be impeached.
Jeanette: It meant that we are growing, that attitudes are beginning to change slowly, that my young daughters can now say, “Hey, I can do that too. Maybe I don’t want her position, but I might want to be a big CEO someplace,” so it gives courage to most of us that the doors are slowly opening.
But one of the things most of us people of color have seen is that the opposition [on Jan. 6, for example, in the raid on the U.S. Capitol] is because of these doors opening to people of color. Might as well say it: members of the Ku Klux Klan — that’s what they all are. They just have different names now.
Defeating racism may feel, at times, like a hopeless cause. What keeps you moving?
LaToya: It’s tiring, but there’s always hope. It’s never too late to change, as long as you have breath in your body. Be that individual. Don’t wait on somebody else. The change you want to see in the world — it should start with you.
Jeanette: Slaves had hope. Harrite Tubman and the Underground Railroad — they knew they would have been killed had they been captured, but they had hope they would get out of that situation. That’s one of the strongest values of people of color. This is what we teach our children, when they come home crying when they have been called certain names. We say, “No baby. That’s not really you that they’re talking about.” Hope is always there.
Samira: There’s always going to be people who are against it. But I really do hope that one day it’s going to change. I feel it’s going to get better.