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Celebrating Black History Month, notable Americans

Created date

January 31st, 2009

Shue Albert Einstein once said, The only source of knowledge is experience. Erickson community members Mabel Thornton and W. Burghardt Turner use their experiences as young African Americans during the civil rights movement to teach others the importance of history and how that knowledge can change the world. Teaching peers through inspired programming Living in Washington, D.C., as a young adult, Greenspring community member Mabel Thornton had the distinct privilege of hearing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak at her church and attending the historic March on Washington. It was for these experiences that one of Thornton s Greenspring neighbors, Mary McDonnell, asked her to help produce programming in honor of Black History Month for the community s cable channel, produced by the on-campus TV studio. Since then, she and McDonnell have produced many important programs on Black history, including the 2008 Telly Award-winning program, Poems and Portraits of Black Artists. Sharing historic lessons All of Thornton s inspired programming is driven by her desire to share the important lessons of Black American history. I feel that the history of our country doesn t tell the stories of African Americans, Thornton says. I m currently working on a program for 2009 on Reconstruction and Black lawmakers. In my research, I ve discovered things that even I did not know, and I learned Black history in high school and college. I figured that if I didn t know it, then probably a lot of other people didn t either. Changing perceptions With the important histories of African Americans and Native Americans finally making their ways into textbooks, Thornton feels it s important to share her knowledge with her peers. My generation has been less exposed than children today to successful African Americans, she says. They ve lived at a time when Black history was not discussed. I am proud of the fact that the people watching the shows we create are learning things they didn t know before. I ve had many people tell me that what they ve seen has inspired them, and they want to learn more. Educating tomorrow s leaders Nearby, at Greenspring s sister community, Riderwood, in Silver Spring, Md., community member W. Burghardt Turner learned the importance of education at a very young age. He was named after his father s close, personal friend, W.E. Burghardt DuBois, founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As a young adult, Turner founded and served as the first president of the Patchogue Branch of the NAACP and as a member of the Long Island Coordinating Committee on Civil Rights. Then Turner decided on a career as a teacher. I always had an interest in teaching, he says. I found it very rewarding. He dedicated his life to the ideals he grew up believing by teaching thousands of students the importance of learning from the past in order to create a brighter future. In 1988, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, recognized Turner by naming the New York State underrepresented graduate fellowship program in his honor. Since the inception of the W. Burghardt Turner Fellowship Program, more than 100 master s and 180 doctorate degrees have been awarded to minority scholars. Changing the world Now as a writer (along with his wife, Joyce) and long-standing member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity s Iota Upsilon Lambda Chapter, Turner continues to dedicate himself to civil rights and diversity within the halls of higher learning. In May 2007, Turner presented the keynote address at the State University of New York at Stony Brook s commencement ceremony. He challenged tomorrow s leaders to act responsibly as they find their place in the world. During that ceremony Turner also received an honorary doctorate, fulfilling a lifelong dream. After I received my master s degree, I continued working at Columbia on my doctorate doing research and teaching, Turner says. I was also teaching in the public schools and supporting a wife and young son. It became too much, and for financial reasons I had to give up the pursuit of my doctorate. I always thought I d go back. While no longer actively teaching in the classroom, Turner continues to contribute his knowledge of history to a number of books, including Caribbean Militant in Harlem, by Richard B. Moore, W. Burghardt Turner, and Joyce Moore Turner; and Caribbean Crusaders and the Harlem Renaissance, by his wife, Joyce Moore Turner. Since moving to Riderwood, Turner has enjoyed meeting new people while remaining active in the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity s Iota Upsilon Lambda Chapter and contributing to his causes.