Black history speakers reach across racial lines

February 17, 1997


Staff Writer

For several years, North Hagerstown High School students and teachers have talked about doing something special for Black History Month, but bulletin board displays and morning announcements have had to suffice.

But on Sunday, about 150 people filled the school's auditorium to celebrate their heritage and rally as a community.

"I'm surprised to see it go through this time," said senior Montez Anderson, who delivered a speech written by Martin Luther King Jr. "I'm proud."

While money concerns prevented a large program in past years, teacher Leon Brumback was able to secure funding for a show that included singing, dancing and a pep talk from former Washington Redskins tackle Tony McGee.


"It's the coming together that's important," said Brumback, who added that he hopes the event will continue every February now that he has gotten the program off the ground.

McGee's speech, laced with religious themes, urged students to remember the three words that turned his life around: commitment, dedication and sacrifice.

"I'm not here as a former NFL player or a hero," he said. "I'm here as a concerned black man."

McGee's advice cut across racial lines as he told students to focus on goals and shut out harmful distractions. When he was in high school, he said he got Ds because Cs required a little bit of effort.

But after a football coach lambasted his talent and work ethic, McGee reevaluated himself. "When I looked in the mirror, I didn't like what I saw," he said.

McGee said he cut out nighttime television in favor of homework and dropped friends who distracted him from school.

McGee offered words of praise for his audience - the parents and students who showed up on a Sunday afternoon.

"This is a celebration of our blackness, but it's a celebration of people too," he said. "This is Sunday afternoon and a lot of you could be watching the Lakers."

The students who helped organize the event showed off a variety of talents, from singing to poetry to art.

Senior Angela Taylor, treasurer of the Black Student Organization, said the program was appropriate for members of all races.

"I think it means a lot just getting together, like a family," she said. "Everybody of all colors."

Taylor and seven of her classmates wowed the audience with several a capella songs.

Brian Robinson, a 1990 South Hagerstown High graduate, said he was planning his own celebration when he learned of Brumback's plans and decided to collaborate.

Robinson said he was motivated to do something after returning from the Million Man March in Washington almost two years ago.

"I think (black students) should acknowledge their history," he said. "If they don't acknowledge their history, they won't get to where they're going."

Robinson said this appreciation is especially important in Hagerstown where Black History Month gets little attention. He said he hopes celebrations like Sunday's will carry over into actions.

"We hope for people to come together to straighten out the drugs on the streets and changing things - maybe doing something from the children," he said.

McGee told his audience that most will cannot become professional athletes but that all can become something great.

"Commit to something," he said.

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