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Considering the Relevance of Black History Month in 2021

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In thinking about Black History Month this year, Ron Ponder, a former NAACP president in Stark County, approached the The (Canton) Repository with an idea on how to raise awareness and dialogue about the importance of the month: a series of personal essays from community leaders about how the celebration is relevant to them. All next week WKSU will be featuring some of those personal essays on Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

Black History Month "started out in 1926 as a weekly recognition in February, then it evolved to an entire month of February recognizing Black history," Ponder said. "It also included originally some of the accomplishments of African-Americans, some of the typical accomplishments like George Washington Carver and his study of peanuts, inventors like the traffic light and other things, talked about the first open heart surgery done by African-Americans."

Ponder explains that the celebration has evolved over the years to recognize current and future individuals and accomplishments, which he believes leads to more acceptance of both blacks and whites that need to be aware of accomplishments of African-Americans.

"So nowadays instead of just talking about George Washington Carver, we're talking about President Barack Obama. We're talking about some of the professional athletes who also extended their reach into the nonathletic world. We're talking about a lot of other accomplishments that African-Americans have made over the years."

The project started with arranging for a series of essays written by Stark County leaders. Ponder explains how he decided whom he would reach out to.

"I played the odds. I reached out to who might be available. I also thought about who would be suitable," Ponder said.

Ponder uses David Komerofsky, the new rabbi at Temple Israel in Canton, as an example. Komerofsky has an undergraduate degree in Black studies.

"I ask each individual to relate to some aspect of Black history personally," Ponder said. "I wanted to know how Black history impacted what they do now and what they've done in the past and what they're gonna do in the future."

Reading about the experiences that prompted the rabbi to be impacted by Black history enlightened Ponder. He says Kirt Conrad, the director of Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA), also had unique experiences regarding Black history that shaped his attitude as well.

"Everybody has some recognition, some reasoning that they themselves support Black history and they relayed that to the listeners and readers with their essays," Ponder said.

Black, white, men, women. There were no lines as to who could or could not be a part of this project. This was a conscious decision Ponder made.

"The Black experience is so diverse that whoever I chose would be equally acceptable regarding their past and their background. I just wanted to give an example of some of the experiences and some of the knowledge these participants can share with your listeners," Ponder said.

With this series of essays, Ponder says it's difficult to say whether or not he will hit the mark with spreading the message he hopes for. He says he's an optimist and always hopes for the best.

"I always consider that what we're doing in light of something culturally significant like Black history and the recognition of Black history, that if one person can understand what we're doing, if we can change one person's mind, we can begin to change society's mind," he said.

Next week's essays:
Monday: Hector McDaniel, President of the Stark chapter of the NAACP
Tuesday: Kirt Conrad, CEO of SARTA
Wednesday: Fonda Williams, Deputy Mayor of Canton
Thursday: Rabbi David Komerofsky, Temple Israel Canton
Friday: Courtney Brown, Habitat for Humanity, East Central Ohio

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Andrew joined WKSU News in 2014. He oversees the daily operations of the WKSU news department and its reporters and hosts, coordinates daily coverage, and serves as editor. His commitment is to help foster reporting that marks the best of what public radio has to offer: a mix of first-rate journalism with great storytelling. His responsibilities also include long-term strategic planning for news coverage in Northeast Ohio that serves WKSU’s audience via on-air, online, by social media and through emerging technologies. Andrew also serves as a back-up local host for Morning Edition, Here and Now and All Things Considered.