Luverne High School students present Black History Program

A student-led, inaugural Black History Program was held at Luverne High School Feb. 25. at 9 a.m. in the Luverne High School auditorium. Sixth through twelfth grade attended along with other guests from the community 

Jarrion Harris began the program with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by Mattie Register singing the national anthem and a prayer led by Nikki Taylor. Guests and students were welcomed to the program by Minseong Cha. 

Poems recited during the program read by James Abram, Kierra Suddith, Mattie Register, Destiny Pressley,Jordan Johnson,Taylor Turner, Keeshaun Glanton and Nikki Taylor. Raven Thompson and Mattie Register provided the vocals for a praise dance, “Stand Up,” performed by other LHS students. Taylor Hermeling introduced the first guest speaker, Monica Riley. 

 Riley is the policy strategist at American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama. She is a native of Monroeville, Ala. She is a community and electoral organizer  who specializes in  advocacy work. 

Riley first discovered her voice and passion as a freshman on the campus of Troy University, where she served in leadership roles in several campus organizations. Monica also serves as the State Democratic Executive Committee Representative for House District 89. She sits on the SDEC Executive Board and is a member of the minority caucus and the youth caucus. She is the chair of PikeDems and the Board Secretary for Hiztorical Visions Productions.”

Riley said that teaching people how to advocate for themselves and for their community has become one of her life Purposes. 

“We cannot tolerate or ignore racism and prejudices. We must confront it and we have to do it together while celebrating our diversity, that is what it means to be in a community. Audre Lorde once said, “Without community there is no liberation, but community must not mean a shedding of our differences’,” Riley said. “We have to see and hear each other but also try and understand each other. You guys are the future. You will be the teachers, the football players, the scientists, the TV anchors, and where you are right now is part of your journey. As you move forward remember to move in unity and togetherness. As you look at your peers and your teachers, acknowledge that they are different and that there is nothing wrong with that. When you leave here today remember that as you lead, don’t work alone. Leaders work together in communities that are diverse and powerful.”

Aniyah Burnett then read Maya Angelou’s poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and a special performance was given by the LHS Band Percussion. 

Community leaders Charlie Johnson, Betty Dawson, and Benny McDonald were recognized for their service to the community. Petrina Sankey, Access facilitator at LHS, gave a short bio of each. 

“We would like to recognize someone that is no longer with us, Mr. Charlie “Cuz” Johnson who was a fixture in the Luverne community for almost 50 years. He graduated from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in 1962, married Mrs. Leola shortly thereafter, and then began teaching at the Crenshaw County Vocational School. In 1970 the vocational school was shut down due to desegregation and Mr. Johnson transitioned to a teaching position here at Luverne. Mr. Johnson was an integral part of helping the Crenshaw County School System navigate desegregation. He served on the board of education, was a longtime deacon that set a very good example for many to follow, and served the community up until his death,’ Sankey said. 

Mr. Charlie “Cuz” Johnson’s grandson, Tyler Johnson, accepted the award in recognition of his grandfather’s service to the community. 

Tyler Johnson accepted the award in recognition of his grandfather’s service to the community

“Mrs. Betty Dawson is a lifelong representative of Crenshaw County. She attended Woodford Avenue High School before integration and later transferred to Luverne High School where she graduated from in 1973. In 1995, she received her associate degree from Lurleen B. Wallace Community College. In 1999, she graduated from Troy University with a degree in social work. Dawson has devoted her life to helping vulnerable children and families that have lost loved ones. She made history when she became the first Black female to become a member of the Luverne City Council. Dawson aspires to learn from the examples Mr. Charlie Johnson set and establish her own role in serving the District 1 constituents,” Sankey said.

Betty Dawson recieves her certificate of appreciation

“Let me tell you a little bit about Mr. Benny McDonald,” Sankey began. “Mr. Benny was born in Crenshaw County and graduated from Woodford Avenue School in 1966. Mr. Benny is a graduate of Troy University and served 20 years in the United States Air Force.  He has been married for over 50 years and is a father of four. Mr. Benny’s help with this school and the community has been fundamental.”

The second speaker was introduced by his wife, Mrs. Linda Perry Forbes

Mrs. Linda Perry Forbes

“Pastor Antonio Forbes Senior, M. A. is involved in many programs, including Operation Good Shepherd Program where he provides support and encouragement for families and their loved ones who have been affected by violence. He is also a member of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity. He is the pastor at New Home Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery where he has served for 22 years. He has a total of 30 years in the ministry,” Forbes said. 

“I would like to honor the past, celebrate the present and inspire the future,” Forbes said. Looking to the past we honor historian Carter Woodson for creating Black History Month and I am grateful to President Ford for making the celebration official. This allowed African Americans recognition for their various contributions throughout history. Now, if we are going to talk about the past, we have to acknowledge the foundation of black history and what that foundation was on, was prayer. Before there were any demonstrations, sit-ins or protests, there was prayer.”

Forbes said that action was not just taken but prayer meetings were held first to ask for God’s guidance.  

“Nothing was done without prayer. We would not be where we are now if it had not been for the prayers of our ancestors,” Forbes said.  “It is no coincidence that Black History Month was set in February, the month of love. As the bible says, love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others. Love never fails. These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. We must embrace each other with love.”

The program ended with the LHS Student Choir singing Lift Every Voice and Sing and a word from Principal Kilpatrick. 

“These last two years have been absolutely crazy with the global pandemic and we are so glad that today we had the opportunity to come together as one school, under one roof to celebrate as one people,” Kilpatrick said. “Diversity is a beautiful thing but as we look at history, diversity has also caused division.As we sit here today, there is diversity in this auditorium, different races, different genders, different beliefs, different ideas-everything that can help shape us and keep us moving in the right direction if we can just come together. (Tramadol) ”