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Community Advocacy Organization

Black History-Our History

Courtesy Photo-Virg Bernero

Who am I to talk about black history? A proud Italian American who grew up in a tight-knit, immigrant family that knew little of diversity and nothing of black history.

I learned about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and scratched the surface of the black struggle at St. Benedict School, which was nearly all white just like my neighborhood at the time. And yet, I was struck by the cruelty of slavery and the injustice of Jim Crow laws. Dr. King became an inspirational figure in my life. This was all due to my early education.

At home, no one spoke of Dr. King’s heroic leadership or the struggle for equality in America. Dr. King’s voice spoke loudly to me as a young boy just as President Obama’s place and voice speaks loudly to young boys of every race and as Senator Rafael Warnock’s voice will speak for generations more.

Change and progress in racial justice can seem painstakingly slow, but it is happening before our very eyes. As we celebrate Black History this year, I am especially grateful to the teachers - in and out of school - who took time and patience to help educate a chubby, Italian kid about the harsh realities of the black struggle for equality in America. I am grateful to college professors and co-workers, elders, and young people too, who took time to counsel me, to enlighten me by word and deed, to mold and shape me into an ally in the struggle.

Black History cannot simply sit on a shelf. It must come to life for all Americans. And we can each play a role. Black history can and must continue to guide America’s path toward “liberty and justice for all.”

(Virg Bernero was 51st Mayor of Lansing)

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