More than 300 people attended the 6th Annual Black History Celebration held Friday at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. The three-hour gala led off with a plate of soul food and a documentary about North Richmond, and ended with raffle drawings for money, a TV, and a one-night stay in Tahoe.
The evening itself felt like an Oscar night party as everyone was dressed to the nines, some in colorful West African fashion, and sat at circular tables watching young entertainers drum, dance and sing the night away. There were four-year-old ballerina dancers tiptoeing to Tchaikovsky; a 12-year-old tap dancer cutting a rug to Stevie Wonder, and a nine-year-old poet quoting a two-minute passage from Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ speech. All received loud ovations.
After the dinner-and-a movie opening, master of ceremonies Joe L. Fisher stood below a Civil Rights Movement historical flag and sung the black national anthem: Lift Every Voice and Sing. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin then took center stage and spoke of the song’s soulfulness. She also spoke about Paul Robeson, an African American singer and actor who became involved with the Civil Rights Movement, and his passion for working hard for a new level of social living.
Between sets, Fisher said Friday night’s observance was the second consecutive year the City of Richmond Recreation Department had sold out the event. And according to Fisher it’s growing. The planning committee used 40 tables to accommodate its guests this year, whereas last year they only used 20 tables, he said.
“When you look into the audience you see more than just African Americans,” Fisher said. “You see a variety of different people. People know and understand the significance of African American input. So in this city you can see [awareness] growing.”
But conscious appreciation for African American success stories hasn’t been easy. Take black inventors for example. Who would’ve known Granville T. Woods, a black man from Ohio, sold telephone patents to Westinghouse and General Electric before Thomas Edison?
That’s where educator Ronald James Reed, of Oakland, stepped in Friday night. Reed set up a Smithsonian-like display of more than 10 black inventors just inside the auditorium’s doorway so people could educate themselves as they walked to their tables to eat. The self-made black inventor expert said he’s traveled all over California for more than 20 years showcasing his little museum of flashing lights, old telephones, historical photos and sleight of hand water trick.
“I was thinking I’d only travel for five years, but there’s such a high demand for black inventions because this information is not in schools,” Reed said as he stood in front of his display. “There are people that have been in college four-to-eight years that don’t know about these inventors.”
The city also acknowledged Betty Reid Soskin, Dr. Brazell H. Carter, Ruth Thomas and RPAL’s jazz ensemble, Originalz, for their dedicated community service.
“Black folks in our city are really proud of our heritage,” newly appointed Councilmember Jael Myrick said. “I know I was raised with that. It’s good that we have to celebrate our culture. We have to remember where we came from and make sure our children remember where we came from.”