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Remembering the History-Makers Lost in 2020

When I was going to ClaraTag Elementary School in Miles Heights, a neighborhood in the Cleveland, Ohio area, we had a show and tell in school. I was excited because I finally had something to show and tell.

My mother and I went to pick up my father from the Cleveland Hopkins Airport. For those who remember, this is pre 9/11. Back then for those who can remember you could go to the actual gate and watch the passengers leave the plane.

One of the passenger’s was a man named Cassius Clay. He would later change his name to Muhammad Ali. His proper name is Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.

This man was standing in front of me at the Cleveland Hopkins Airport on the plane that my father flew on. My mother was bold and asked him for his autograph for me. It would be my Show and Tell item. He asked her for some pen and paper. She couldn’t find anything, but her checkbook. He told her, “I will autograph the line that says paid to the order of if you will autograph the line on the bottom of the check to make it good.” They both laughed and he gave us his autograph.

No matter what you think about him, no matter what mistakes he may have made, he made a positive difference in the world that he lived in. I will always be honored that I met him at least once.

It was my Black History moment.

He died June 3, 2016.

The year 2020 changed Black History in a number of ways, and 2020 was a challenge for many no matter the color of your skin. A pandemic that some say happens every 100 years has hurt all of us. It is said that African-Americans may have suffered more than other cultures. I just know it has been a pain for us all. The marches and riots that all took place in 2020 were all history making.

We lost some notable people in the history of Black America last year, not all having to do with the pandemic. No matter how they died, a death is a death.

I am sure you heard about Kobe Bryant and friends that were on the helicopter with him. The death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and several other friends in the helicopter accident, it reminds us to not just talk about history, but to make good history.

(Our hearts and prayers go out to all the families affected, no matter how they died.)

Other notable people were Congressman John Lewis, also, mathematician from West Virginia, Katherine Johnson, actor Chadwick Boseman of the “Black Panther” movie and other famous movies as well, rapper Pop Smoke, civil rights legend Rev. C.T. Vivian, and entertainment icon Andre Harrell.

Did you hear about Bruce Boynton, who became famous because in his last year of law school at Howard University, back in the 1950s and 1960s, he was arrested in Richmond, Virginia after he refused to leave the “Whites Only” section of the Bus Station. His then attorney, Thurgood Marshall, took the case and helped overturn several Jim Crow laws and inspired the Freedom Riders of that day. He died.

Did you hear about Tony “Tiny” Listen, who played “Deebo” in the movie “Friday?” He did way more than that movie, but that helped start it all.

He died.

Think about Charlie Pride, a black country music singer who helped break racial barriers. He died.

Maybe you heard about, Joe Clark, the no-nonsense High School Principal in New Jersey, who helped inspire the movie, “Lean On Me.” It is also interesting that someone else associated with the movie, Bill Withers, a great singer-songwriter, who was born in Slab Fork, West Virginia, died. I also believe he wrote one of my mother’s favorite songs, (I don’t know if it was her favorite. Her favorite is probably a church song, but I heard her hum it a number times,) “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” Which is even more interesting because I got in trouble for saying, “ain’t.” He also wrote, “Lean On Me” and a number of other great songs. They both died.

Maybe you heard about college basketball coach John Thompson, who was with the Georgetown University. He left from coaching high school to become their college coach in 1972. He went on to become the first Black Head Coach to win the NCAA championship when Georgetown beat the University of Houston in 1985.

He died.

I know you heard about David Dinkins who made history in 1989 when he was elected the first Black mayor of New York City beating Rudy Giuliani.

He died.

I want to mention Chadwick Boseman again because he was fighting with colon cancer for a year without anybody knowing. He was only 43 when he died.

Then we saw Herman Cain who was the president of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, the head of Godfather’s Pizza, and one-time Presidential candidate go on to his reward. He died.

I think it is important to mention again Georgia’s Congressman John Lewis, who was the last living speaker from the March on Washington, on August 28, 1963. He like to talk about going to make “good trouble.” He died.

There are so many more that I did not mention. There was so much more that should have been said about the ones I did mention. No wonder someone said that “History” is just his-story. Maybe it should be his & her story. We all have a story to tell. Just make sure, your story, red, yellow, black, or white, is a story that’s worth repeating! All of these history makers are gone, but you are still here. Let’s all go make some “good trouble” and make history we can all be proud of for someone to remember. Go help somebody make a positive difference in this world!

The Rev. Darrell Cummings is pastor of Bethlehem Apostolic Temple in North Wheeling.

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