As Black History Month comes to a close this week, I have pondered many things about the contributions of African Americans to our country over the centuries, particularly from the brave men and women who contributed to the struggle during the Civil Rights movement. And I realized that we have fewer and fewer of our Civil Rights heroes among us.
On Monday, we had the spirit of two of them in Atlanta Public Schools.
The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who has a lecture on civil engagement that bears his name at D.M. Therrell High School, and Barbara Cross, who is the daughter of a former pastor of Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham and was in the church when it was bombed in 1963.
At 93, Rev. Lowery was unable to attend the lecture himself that day. But his daughter, Cheryl, stood in his place and brought the same contagious optimism her father became famous for when he walked with King, Abernathy and Lewis all those years ago. I was pleased that hundreds of our own students are getting to learn about the contributions of the Rev. Lowery and others.
I was honored to join in with some of our board members, including APS Board Chair Courtney English, to help kick off the lecture, which was provided by Atlanta City Council President Ceasar C. Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell offered inspiring words about leadership and gave pointed advice directly to the students on how they can start engaging in their communities now to be our teachers, principals, school superintendents and council presidents of the future.
Our students also represented themselves well with Amadou Bah of B.E.S.T. Academy High School, Gilbert Young of Henry W. Grady High School, Danielle Bell of South Atlanta High School of Health and Medical Services, and Donavan Harris and Keiyitho Omonuwa of Therrell bringing their own remarks to the occasion. Ziana Townsend of Therrell offered rousing renditions of the National Anthem and “The Greatest Love of All” to complete the morning and make the 14th Annual Lowery Lecture for Civil Engagement one that all of us will remember for years to come.
Before heading over to the elementary school, the Lowerys invited me to visit Rev. Lowery at his home – just a few blocks from the high school. He’s still a firecracker with wit, charm and a passion about all issues. In that short time, it was like taking a college course on leadership, civil rights and citizenship all in one! Many thanks to the Lowery family for allowing me the time to learn and love with one of our country’s greatest Americans.
Afterwards, I visited D.H. Stanton Elementary School, where Mrs. Cross related the compelling story of her family’s move to Birmingham so her father could take over as pastor of Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church. Mrs. Cross told our students about the horrific event on Sept. 15, 1963, when their church was bombed and four little girls lost their lives.
What’s more, Barbara Cross was inside the church at the very moment when it blew up. And it was powerful for our students to hear history directly from someone who was there.
It was a privilege for many of our students to participate in events today that put them in touch with history.
And it inspired me as well.