Laughlin Chapel Students Mark Black History Month in Wheeling

A few dozen gathered at the Laughlin Memorial Chapel Thursday for a celebration of Black History Month, during which local students of varying age commended black leaders of the past and present.

The ceremony is an annual event for the chapel kicked off by a dinner. Students — who come from Madison Elementary and Ritchie Elementary schools, Triadelphia Middle School and Wheeling Park High School — orchestrated the formal presentation with help from chapel staff.

Kids from grades 3-5 read aloud facts and quotations from historical figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Booker T. Washington and President Barack Obama. Teacher Judy Saunders said before their presentation that this was a way for youth to engage with American history and understand something of those who paved the way for modern-day black leaders.

Later, a few older students extensively described the work and life of Katherine Johnson, the famed NASA physicist and mathematician who made substantial contributions to the program in the early 1960s. Johnson is a native of White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., and she was recently the subject of the film “Hidden Figures.”

Moundsville Mayor Eugene Saunders attended as a special guest speaker, and recounted achievements and the obstacles in their way. Saunders became the first black mayor of Moundsville in 2008, but he described much of his life as a series of firsts.

He said there were times in which he faced unjust treatment and wanted to quit, but said his mother wouldn’t have it.

“You can’t quit,” Saunders recalled his mother telling him. “You’re going to pave the way for others.”