Sharing the story of struggles past and present
Wednesday, 20 February 2013 12:20

Community activist Courtney Speed, one of the event’s organizers, discussed Henrietta Lacks during her remarks.

Turner Station celebrates Black History Month

by Nicole Rodman

    On Sunday, Feb. 17, residents of Turner Station and beyond gathered at Union Baptist Church on Main Street to celebrate Black History Month.
    Now in its seventh year, the event, organized by Turner Station Heritage Foundation president  Courtney Speed, focused on the Turner Station Progressive Association.
    The Progressive Association was a community organization founded in the 1940s to aid the citizens of the Turner Station Community.
    Among its accomplishments, the Progressive Association purchased the Turner Station community center at 411A New Pittsburgh Ave. (later the now-closed Turner Station VFW hall) for use as a library and classrooms for members of the community.
    Honored at last Sunday’s event were Association members Lorraine G. Hawkins and Thomas Bagley.
    The celebration began with hymns, prayers and scripture readings.
    Also included was the presentation of the flag by Turner Station Boy Scout Troop and Pack #270.
    Following this, Dr. Abdul Jamaludeen stood to introduce guest of honor Lorraine Hawkins.
    While her fellow Progressive Association member Thomas Bagley was unable to attend, his son was there on his behalf.
    In his remarks, Dr. Jamaludeen discussed the denial of educational opportunities to African-Americans from the slavery era to the civil rights era.
    As he pointed out, the Turner Station Progressive Association sought to do what the government at that time would not — educate the black citizens of Turner Station — by purchasing the community center for use as a library and classrooms.
    Following Dr. Jamaludeen’s remarks, Lorraine Hawkins stood to speak.
    In her brief speech, Hawkins discussed the importance of the community center and the value of keeping it open to the entire community.
    Hawkins also introduced her granddaughter,  Jessica Pierce, national training director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
    Pierce described her work with the NAACP and the ways in which African-Americans still face many of the same struggles faced by generations past.
    Pierce discussed the high unemployment rate for blacks (14 percent compared with 7.8 for the general population) and obstacles faced by blacks in obtaining education and health care.
    Following Pierce’s remarks, The Holy Spirits, a dance troupe consisting of five young girls, performed for the assembled group.
    As the applause faded and the dancers returned to their seats, Dr. Jamaludeen returned to the pulpit to present certificates to Progressive Association members Hawkins and to Bagley’s son.
    Next, the Rev. Eric Johnson of Union Baptist Church delivered a powerful sermonette to the more than 50 guests detailing the importance of sharing the story of the black experience with young people.
    “If you do not learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it,” Johnson explained.
    Johnson detailed the struggles fought by past generations of African-Americans, battles over simple rights such as access to education, health care and basic necessities.
    He described the sacrifices made by ancestors that fought for equality, knowing they may never live to reap the fruits of their efforts.
    Speaking to the assembled young people, he urged them to remember that every advantage they now possess came at a cost paid for by previous generations.
    “You are standing on the shoulders of generations that worked hard so that you could have what you have now,” he passionately explained.
    Johnson also explained the importance of sharing the story of the black experience with younger generations of African-Americans in the hope that they do not have to fight the same struggles.
    His voice echoed from the church rafters, “Let your children know that what we have came from struggle!”
    As his voice faded, he ended with a simple plea:  “Tell it. Tell it to your children.”
    As the ceremony wound down, Courtney Speed offered a few remarks of her own.
    Speed thanked those assembled and many of those who had made the event possible.
    She also discussed former Turner Station resident Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were harvested and used to develop treatments for many diseases, including polio and cancer.
    Lacks’ “immortal” cells are still used in medical research today.
    Speed also discussed plans for the renovation of the community center. Beginning in March, the Morgan State University School of Architecture and Planning will assist in helping to repair the building for use in community activities.
    She also recounted her goal to create 100 jobs within Turner Station by 2019.
    Concluding her remarks, Speed reminded everyone that Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, as well as Henrietta Lacks t-shirts, are available for sale at Speed’s Grocery Center on Main Street.
    Donations and proceeds will benefit the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group, which is working on local projects such as a museum.
    Funds will also go to benefit the Henrietta Lacks Endowment Scholarship at the Dundalk campus of the Community College of Baltimore County.
    As the ceremony came to a close and participants went out into the chilly night, the stirring words heard within the church lingered, sticking closely with those who had heard them.