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No Smoking Youth Club highlights history, health

Program held annually to mark Black History Month

Program held annually to mark Black History Month

February 24, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

From a discussion of slavery in Maryland to health challenges facing today's black population, there were plenty of pauses for serious thought Saturday afternoon at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center.

The program, titled "Family and Friends Day: Black History Tribute," was sponsored by the No Smoking Youth Club, a Washington County peer education program.

The guest speaker was Andy Smith, president and executive director of Brothers United Who Dare to Care.

The event is held annually to mark Black History Month, he said.

Smith provided a timeline of black history in Maryland and Washington County, starting in 1634, when the first blacks arrived in Maryland to work on a plantation that employed slave labor. By 1755, about one-third of Maryland's population was derived from Africa, he said.

He discussed the rich history of blacks in Washington County, noting that "our history is all around us."

Smith pointed to Asbury United Methodist Church, built in 1818, which is the oldest church in Hagerstown built for a black congregation. And in 1839, the Rev. Thomas Henry incorporated Ebenezer AME church.

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Even the community center, itself, has historic significance, he said, having served as the first school for secondary education for blacks in Washington County.

History also has had an impact on the health of many blacks, Smith said.

The health habits and lifestyles forced on slaves became a part of who they were - from the foods they ate to the stress in their lives.

"But this is a history that you can change," Smith said. "There are things we can do to put black health back on track."

Smith said many medical issues are not limited to the black community.

"We have become a society that consumes the wrong foods, that doesn't get enough sleep and doesn't incorporate adequate exercise in our lives," he said.

Smith also targeted smoking, calling it "one of the major causes of so many health problems."

"It is the basis for our No Smoking Club," he said. "When I see a 12-year-old lighting up a cigarette, it's just crazy that tobacco is in the hands of someone so young. If you know someone who smokes, help them change their own history."

Smith challenged blacks to focus on healthier lifestyles.

"We can't change the lives of our forefathers, but we can do a lot of things to make our lives better," he said.

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