It is the First of February, and the weather here in Dallas has been outstanding. It is truly a beautiful day for the first day of Black History Month, again. I grew up in the center of black history in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. This is the same neighborhood that gave us Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My elementary school, Our Lady of Lourdes, was the oldest black Catholic parish in Atlanta. The school was located at the intersection of Boulevard and Auburn Avenue. My little school was in the shadow of Ebenezer Baptist Church and Dr. King’s final resting place.
Auburn Avenue was the cradle of black economic activity and on that street was the headquarters of the SCLC, Southern Christian Leadership Council. That organization was the foundation of the civil rights movement. As a kid I walked past these historic and iconic symbols daily, especially heading to the esteemed Butler Street YMCA which was where I learned to box, play basketball, and swim. Not far away from the Butler Street YMCA is the place of my birth, Hughes Spalding hospital which back then primarily served blacks, it is now a Children’s Healthcare hospital.
As for my school, Our Lady of Lourdes, it is no more, it is now a Community Center.
And that is my point in this missive, we can go walking back down memory lane for Black History Month, but what do we find when we walk down the lane today? What will be different for Black History Month next year, or the year after that?
This month, and actually no month, can just be relegated to a celebration of the past. Rather, we must consider what the past, and face the rising sun of a new day begun, tackling the pressing issues that plague today’s black community.
I was born in 1961 and grew up on a little street called Kennesaw Avenue. Then the two parent household in the black community stood around 75%. My parents, Herman Sr. and Elizabeth Thomas West shaped me to be the man that I am today. Mom taught me simple lessons like, “a man must stand for something, or else he will fall for anything”. Dad shared with me insightful metaphorical lessons like, “an empty wagon makes a lot of noise”. Sadly, in this Black History Month 2017, there are estimated only 24% two-parent households in the black community. And the consequences have been dire, but this could have been avoided.
Liberal Democrat Senator Patrick Monyihan warned of the potential unintended consequences of one “The Great Society” programs – providing government largesse to mothers of children born out of wedlock. The interesting caveat was that the subsistence check came only if there were no man in the home. Monyihan was pilloried by those on the left for his prediction of the decimation of the black family, which sadly has come to fruition. It is not only the decimation of the foundation of the black community, family, but also the dismissal of black fatherhood, responsible black fatherhood.
Will this be discussed this month?
My parents made a superb decision that set my feet upon the path of success. They realized that a good quality education breaks down all barriers. That is why my parents made the choice to send me to Our Lady of Lourdes, and afterwards I spent two years at Marist School. After a solid first through ninth grade in private school did they allow me to attend Henry Grady High School for my final three years and graduation.
But it was that solid foundation of education, resulting from their choice, which set me above the standard at Grady HS, both academically and athletically. I have been blessed to go forward and attain a bachelors and two masters degrees, and I attribute it to parents who understood the value of education.
As stated, Our Lady of Lourdes is no longer a school, due to lack of financial support. One has to wonder, how many single Moms in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood are denied that option as a choice for a better education opportunity of their child?
Will this be discussed this month?
I was not just blessed to have two superb parents, but parents who were American Patriots. My Dad served in World War II and was wounded in the place of my first assignment in the Army, Italy. My Mom served as a civilian for a Marine Corps headquarters in Atlanta. My older Brother was a Vietnam era Marine, and I will never forget the day when I was challenged to be the first Officer in our family. And so it began with High School Junior ROTC that lead to the University of Tennessee ROTC, and being commissioned as an Army officer on 31 July 1982. Before I shipped off to Ft. Sill Oklahoma for my officer basic artillery course, my Dad and older Brother, both enlisted Disabled American Combat Veterans, shared with me. They told me that being a good leader is about being a good follower. They instructed me to always, take care of those placed in your charge, and lead from the front setting the example.
A lesson I never forgot in my twenty-two years of active duty service, and never will I forget as I passed it on to my young nephew. He currently serving as an Airborne Artillery officer and combat veteran, where he is the fourth generation of my family to be in military service.
That is my Black History story, and I do not cherish or celebrate it for just one month. I live it every day and my wife, Dr. Angela West, and I pass it on to our two daughters. Ours is the story of faith, family, education, and service to the Nation. When you ponder what is happening in our inner cities, the objective of this month, and every day, must be to restore those fundamentals. The carnage and horrors we see in Chicago, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Detroit, and elsewhere cannot be the new Black history.
If that real change happens, then Black History Month is not just about looking back, but having more great stories to share for the future, not just of the black community…but for America.