9 Family Connection celebrates Black History Month by partnering with UNCF and showcasing the importance of education. We introduce you to several bright young students who are UNCF students. The students share with us who in history has inspired them and who has impacted their lives and how they are using that person's influence in their lives today.
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Here are some of the people or times in history that they shared.
Dr. Howard Thurman
Dr. Howard Thurman was an educator and civil rights leader, considered a theological and philosophical visionary. Dr. Thurman's views on education's role in societal success played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement of the United States. Rather than the traditional civil rights advocate's approach toward tolerance rooted in individual change and understanding, Dr. Thurman both studied and preached the concept of peaceful enlightenment, and the way spirituality and faith can influence community. Born and raised in segregated Daytona, Florida by his formerly-enslaved grandmother, Dr. Thurman came from humble beginnings to study at Morehouse College in Atlanta, moving on to become a pastor and professor of religious studies in his later years. Dr. Thurman's studies were largely influenced by Quaker pacifist Rufus Jones; soon Dr. Thurman's devotion to nonviolent activism resulted in his leading a group of African Americans to India, where he met Mohandas Gandhi and solidified his perspective of peaceful opposition based in faith.
Dr. Thurman wrote several important books; arguably the most influential of these is Jesus and the Disinherited, from whose teachings Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. drew a particularly substantial influence. The book argued that Jesus led oppressed peoples through their difficulty and suffering by preaching unconditional love and nonviolence. His teachings led such civil rights activists such as Dr. King and Jesse Jackson to draw from nonviolent opposition in the pursuit of racial tolerance and acceptance.
Frederick Douglass lived in the late nineteenth century, and is regarded as one of the most influential abolitionists, orators, and authors of his time. His escape from slavery at age twenty resulted in his writing several books, including Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and two autobiographies. His writings shed light on the brutalities of slavery, lynching, and oppression of African Americans, and provided readers with an intimate account of slave traditions and the personal revelations of an American slave. Douglass' books are regarded as some of the most valuable pieces of American culture in the nineteenth century. Douglass lived as a powerful abolitionist and orator, from editing a black newspaper to publicly advocating for antislavery politics. An expert of persuasion and rhetoric, Douglass used his articulate nature to propagate for radical change and the end of slavery in the United States.
Douglass welcomed the revolutionary change the United States would inevitably undergo as a result of the Civil War, hoping the victory of the Union would bring the end of slavery and introduce more tolerant rights for citizens. Douglass is also recognized as a firm advocate for women's rights and an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln. He traveled across the country throughout his lifetime, spreading the message of equality and advocating for social change in the United States.
The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance, also known as the "New Negro Movement," took place during the 1920's, predominantly concentrated in Harlem, New York City. Following the emancipation of slavery at the end of the nineteenth century, African Americans in the United States yearned to establish a culture and sense of individual identity in American society. Despite heated opposition from intolerant groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and oppressive legislation from Southern Democratic whites in Congress, black Americans strove to overcome this adversity and sought an improved standard of living.
The movement was sparked by several notable events in African American art. These events include the performance of Three Plays for a Negro Theater, by Ridgely Torrence, establishment of the Liberty League, and the publishing of the sonnet "If I Must Die" by Claude McKay. A massive influx of culture began, resulting in a new African American identity in the United States that was exemplified by artistic and literary developments. Music, theater, art, poetry, and countless books and writings were inspired during this influential time. Such notable African Americans as poet Langston Hughes, novelist Zora Neale Hurston, and sociologist W.E.B. DuBois, among many others, saw the rise of African American culture and social identity in American society.
The Harlem Renaissance marked a starting point for a collective attitude of self-determination and ambition amount the African American community. The movement provided an outlet through which African Americans could channel their desires for social equality, express individuality and cultural influence, and discuss ideas and goals for the future of the community.
Most widely recognized as the first African American to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall is regarded as one of the most influential African Americans in changing United States civil rights laws. Beginning with the denial of his application for admission to the University of Maryland Law School because he was African American, Marshall sought immediate and radical change to United States laws that would allow for more fair and equal treatment of African American citizens. Most notably, Marshall pursued the overturning of the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that outlined the doctrine of African Americans and white Americans being considered "separate but equal." Upon his graduation from Howard Law School, Marshall helped draft the constitutions of emerging African nations of Ghana and Tanzania. His influence on the fair treatment of the United States' oppressed minority citizens made him a frontrunner in creating legal doctrines which would ensure equality for all citizens in new countries.
In 1954, President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Supreme Court. Marshall made over 98 major legal decisions throughout the course of his tenure, including the limitation on government rights to search and seizure and privacy issues. Thurgood Marshall made a name for himself as an advocate for the oppressed American citizen, whose voice spoke for those who could not speak for themselves.
Robin Roberts is an anchor on Good Morning America. She began her career as a sports reporter after becoming known for her athletic accomplishments during her studies at Southeastern Louisiana University. After working as a sportscaster for ESPN for several years, Roberts also began as an anchor for Good Morning America, contributing to both news programs simultaneously. Along with co-anchor George Stephanopolous, Roberts led Good Morning America's ratings to the top of the charts for the first time in over 16 years.
Roberts is often remembered for the emotionally-charged reports she conducted on the damage to Louisiana following the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Her contributions to ESPN sports reporting earned her three Emmy awards, as well as being inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame for her contributions to basketball, both in athleticism and reporting.
Roberts fought a public battle with breast cancer in the early 2000's. She underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy and received a bone marrow transplant. However, Roberts established herself as a courageous contender against the disease in the announcement of her plans to return to Good Morning America after undergoing treatment. She is speculated to return to the program in early 2013.
Diahann Carroll is a television and movie actress whose career has continued for almost sixty years. She rose to fame in the early 1950's in such projects as Porgy and Bess and Carmen Jones, and was soon established as a major influence on the acting community for her role in the television series Julia, where she was the first African American actress to play a non-stereotypical role. Carroll is a Tony-award winning Broadway performer, as well as an Emmy-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actress. Her work toward breaking down barriers that prevented African American actors and actresses from playing substantial, multi-dimensional roles in movies and television afforded the African American acting community tremendous opportunities.