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Black History

COMMENTARY: How Will You Celebrate Your Birthday?

WASINGTON INFORMER — The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service has appointed the 400 Years of African History Commission and charged it with planning, developing and carrying out programs and activities.

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By Ted Ellis

Every year of our life we get a chance to celebrate a wonderful milestone, our birthday! Birthdays are special days to reflect on our past experiences and accomplishments, while looking toward the future. Looking back over the years, we realize there were challenging moments and circumstances that we had to face, but, we grew, we became better because of those obstacles. We became a bit older and a bit wiser.

Birthdays are impactful and special, something we instinctively want to share with others, with our family and with friends. Everyone gathers together to share stories, memorable stories, stories that shaped who we are, stories of our past that enlighten, invigorate, and even empower. Our birthdays provide an opportunity for us to bond, one to another. Our birthdays come and go, yet with every moment that passes, we never forget our history or our journey.

In 1619, the White Lion ship flying the Dutch flag carried on board 20 or so odd enslaved Africans to the English colonies at Point Comfort, Va., currently known as Fort Monroe National Monument. First known as The Gibraltar of the Chesapeake and later as the “Freedom Fortress,” Fort Monroe has a storied history in the defense of our country and its struggle for freedom. It was a stronghold for the Union Army and a place of freedom for enslaved Africans.

Our landing at Point Comfort marked a long chapter of enslavement of Africans throughout this nation, and it was not until 1865 that the enslaved became free men and women. Each year beginning in 1619 Africans fought for their survival, and most of all fought for their humanity. Our survival through periods of Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and post-Civil Rights continue to prove our resilience in the fight for humanity, justice, and equality. Each year we reflect upon our progress, the lessons learned and triumphs earned.

Our birthdays are special! We celebrate what we have accomplished over a period of 400 years. The inventions that advance our livelihood, the medicines that cure our diseases, and the methodologies that improve our agriculture. We are a people of deep faith with an unshakable trust in God, and as freed Africans we constructed churches, schools, colleges, universities, roads, and cities. We were and continue to be the architects of our communities and we celebrate that. From the bellows of slave ships to working in the fields of cotton, rice, sugar and tobacco, and then becoming literate, advancing ourselves as inventors, teachers, preachers, politicians, nurses, doctors, scientists, scholars, entrepreneurs, culinary chefs, composers of music, the arts to our excellence in athletics. We celebrate all our accomplishments.

The year 2019 reflects 400 years since those 20 or so enslaved Africans arrived in Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619. It is a year to commemorate and pay homage to our African ancestors for enduring and ensuring an existence for us today. Although there are continued struggles and challenges we will recognize all of our accomplishments and celebrate those achievements on our birthday.

The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service has appointed the 400 Years of African History Commission and charged it with planning, developing and carrying out programs and activities throughout our 50 United States. It is my honor to serve on the Commission and help guide those activities over the next year.

2019 is a very special year, and I will celebrate my personal birthday by honoring my African ancestors. I will commemorate the significance of their sacrifice, and in so doing, I will live a life of hope, purpose and promise focused on forging a better future for all of us. I will recognize those who have helped me in my personal journey and lastly, I will continue to pursue my passion and share that passion with others.

Most importantly, I am asking everyone next year: How will you celebrate your birthday?

Ted Ellis, artist and cultural historian, is commissioner of the 400 Years of African-American History Commission.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.

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Activism

Juneteenth Father’s Day for the Formerly Incarcerated

The giveaway was a testament of the Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back to the community in the best way they could. Participants received an array of gifts including clothing, work pants, jeans, socks, toiletries and gift cards. The event gave them a place to identify with other men who have overcome many hardships and now live independently of the direct supervision of the criminal justice system.

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From left to right: Dora Parlor, Richard Johnson and Ayanna Weathers. Photo by Jonathan ‘fitness’ Jones.
From left to right: Dora Parlor, Richard Johnson and Ayanna Weathers. Photo by Jonathan ‘fitness’ Jones.

By Richard Johnson

The founders of The Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back organization sponsored a Father’s Day celebration event that highlighted a “just serve spirit” which recognized dads who want to “give and serve” their families and communities, that reached over 150 men in deep East Oakland. Fathers from all walks of life, languages and nationalities were in attendance.

The giveaway was a testament of the Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back to the community in the best way they could. Participants received an array of gifts including clothing, work pants, jeans, socks, toiletries and gift cards. The event gave them a place to identify with other men who have overcome many hardships and now live independently of the direct supervision of the criminal justice system.

The celebration was co-sponsored by several organizations, including the African American Sports and Entertainment Group, (AASEG) headed by Ray Bobbitt, B.O.S.S. Reentry program, and the Reentry, The Post News Group and Violence Prevention programs directed by John Jones III.

The participating fathers were offered counseling and services to cover back rent, rental deposit, utility bills, credit repair and much more.

As fate would have it, one of the Founders of Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back, Mr. Paul Redd, was called home by the Lord. His passing came on Father’s Day. We could never question God’s work when He calls His flock home. Paul will be greatly missed by many who loved, appreciated and respected him greatly. We, the Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back, gave back in our experience our profound condolences to the family. We will certainly continue the work that he helped to establish. Rest in Peace my brother.

To utilize the services of BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency), please contact John Jones at 510-459-9014. For more information on this activity and future activities, please contact Richard Johnson at fatijohns28@gmail.com.

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Bay Area

Willie O’Ree, 1st Black Player in NHL, is a Real Ice Man

In 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act. The bill awarded O’Ree a Congressional Gold Medal, the U.S. Congress’ highest honor, for his contributions to “hockey, inclusion and recreational opportunity.”

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Willie O’Ree on the ice in mid-career.
Willie O’Ree on the ice in mid-career.

By Tamara Shiloh

Historically, professional hockey has held fast to its tradition of lacking diversity among its players. But no Black on the ice did not hold Willie O’Ree back. He started playing hockey at age 3 and instantly had a passion for the game.

Born on October 15, 1935, in Frederickton, New Brunswick, Canada, O’Ree at the age of 14 years old, played with his brother Richard in organized hockey. Within a year, he was playing with the Frederickton Falcons in New Brunswick Amateur Hockey team.

O’Ree played in Canada with the Quebec Frontenacts in the 1954-55 Junior League and the Kitchener Canucks of Ontario during the 1955-56 season. It was during this season that he lost 95% of his vision in his right eye after being hit by a puck. He also suffered a broken nose and cheekbone. Knowing that the NHL bylaws would prevent him from playing with the eye injury, he kept it a secret.

After one year in Ontario, O’Ree returned to play in Québec and was eighth in team scoring with the Quebec Aces in the 1956–57 season with 22 goals and 12 assists for 34 points. He would play two more seasons with the Aces in 1957–58 and 1958–59.

As a result of the relationship between the Boston Bruins and the Quebec Aces, O’Ree was called to play with the Bruins making him the first African American to play in the National Hockey League.

That same night the Bruins beat the Montreal Canadiens 3–0, so there was no fanfare in the fact that O’Ree was the first Black player to play in the NHL. Neither The Boston Globe nor The New York Times wrote anything about the historical event.

O’Ree would only play two games for the Bruins in the 1957–58 season. He returned to the team in the 1960–61 season and scored four goals and 10 assists for 14 points in 43 regular-season games. On Jan. 1, 1961, O’Ree also became the first Black player to score a goal in the NHL, in a 3–2 win over the Canadiens.

Racism continued to show its ugly head on and off the ice. On the ice there were always fans throwing things at him and players would make racial remarks and he would suffer body abuse.

However, during one game he returned the favor and broke his stick over a player’s head. During an interview, O’Ree shared that he was treated worse in the United States than in Canada.

He retired in 1979 at age 43. He has spent the past two decades as the NHL’s diversity ambassador, working to expand the sport.

O’Ree has received many accolades since his retirement. In 1998, he became the NHL’s director of Youth Development and an ambassador for the NHL Diversity program. He traveled throughout the United States promoting hockey programs, with a focus on serving economically disadvantaged children.

In 2003, he was named the Lester Patrick trophy winner for his outstanding service to hockey in the United States. O’Ree received the Order of Canada in 2010 for his outstanding service to youth development and promoting hockey within North America.

He also received the Order of New Brunswick (2005) and was named an honored member of the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 1984. In 2018, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In 2021, as a celebration of Black History Month, all NHL players wore a commemorative helmet decal honoring O’Ree from January 16 to February 28.

In 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Willie O’Ree Congressional Gold Medal Act. The bill awarded O’Ree a Congressional Gold Medal, the U.S. Congress’ highest honor, for his contributions to “hockey, inclusion and recreational opportunity.”

O’Ree is the first player in NHL history to receive the honor.

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Bay Area

Nigerian Ambassador Visits Oakland

The Nigerian embassy came to the Oakland Airport Executive Hotel from June 3-5, 2022, in response to complaints of delays in processing passports and lack of access to embassy support. 

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By Uche Uwahemu

The Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC was in Oakland for three days recently to provide needed passport services to Nigerians in the Bay Area and beyond.

The Nigerian embassy came to the Oakland Airport Executive Hotel from June 3-5, 2022, in response to complaints of delays in processing passports and lack of access to embassy support.

Seen as a way of taking the embassy to the people, the event brought with it some dignitaries, including Nigerian Ambassador/Deputy Chief of Mission Mukhtar Ibrahim Bashir, Embassy Minister Peter Edako, and Nigerian Head of Mission/US Embassy Amiru Abdulmajid.

“Our goal is to meet Nigerian citizens where they are and provide services to them,” said Bashir. “I think we met our goal with more than 400 people that received services in Oakland alone.”

The president of Nigerian American Public Affairs Committee (NAPAC), Dr. Veronica Ofoegbune, echoed the sentiment of the ambassador by saying, “this event is an absolute success and we are happy that Nigerians took advantage of the opportunity to renew their passports.”

The ambassador and his team also met with Oakland City Councilmember Loren Taylor to discuss the possible business opportunities and sister city bilateral relationships between Oakland and Nigeria.  “Nigeria is one of the largest markets in Africa,” said Taylor. “I welcome the opportunity to open that market for our small businesses and investors from Oakland.”

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