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The Eisenhower Community Center once again on Sunday was the site of one of the area’s largest celebrations of Black History Month—the annual Black History Program hosted by the village of Bellwood.
Several dignitaries, including U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and State Rep. Chris Welch, were on hand for this year’s celebration—once again coordinated by Tonita LeShore, Bellwood’s director of Community Development and Human Resources.
Deborah Powell served as the event’s mistress of ceremonies, with performances by Sade Longe of Proviso West, who sang the national anthem; the Freedom Expression Mime Ministry of Freedom Baptist Church, Hillside; the Proviso West Interpretive Praise Dancers; “Let’s Scat” by Lincoln Elementary School; “Ain’t I a Woman” by Amaya Williams, Roosevelt Middle School; “Blue Sky” by McKinley Elementary School; “A Tribute to the Motherland” by MECA Elementary Christian School; “Fanga and Sinte” by Roosevelt Middle School; “Woka Woka” by Thurgood Marshall School; “Teach Me the Blues” by Grant Elementary School; and the celebration’s finale: “Wade in the Water” and “African Folk Trilogy” by the Roosevelt Middle School Combined Band.
“I believe this is a great day for the village of Bellwood,” Welch said. “Every year it’s standing room only, people are excited about the program, but it also gives proper respect to Black History Month.”
Not only did those in attendance recognize, salute and celebrate legacies of achievement throughout African-American history, they also paid tribute to two long-serving village officials.
Sunday’s celebration was the 16th and final one as mayor for Dr. Frank Pasquale, who is retiring. Also retiring after 35 years of service to Bellwood—including 16 as village clerk—is Lena Moreland.
“I’m very proud of this family, and I consider Bellwood a family,” Pasquale said. “This is their month, and it’s an honor to give credit where credit is due. It means a lot to me.”
Both Pasquale and Moreland received letters of recognition from Davis and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, while Pasquale also had a proclamation presented to him by Karen Yarbrough, Cook County recorder of deeds.
“It’s a bittersweet day for me because he’s retiring,” said Dr. Daisy Harmon, R.N., a Bellwood resident for over 40 years who’s never missed a Black History Month celebration since its beginning.
“I have enjoyed working with the mayor,” said village trustee Ronald Nightengale, “and I’m looking forward to some new ideas that the incoming mayor will have and the projects, and being able to work with him and accomplish some of the ideas that he has.”
Davis also saluted Pasquale and the village.
“Whenever I see the mayor and the clerk and I also see the trustees, it’s a community I call a community of love where people love to cooperate with each other and just enjoy themselves,” Davis said. “Not only is this a great event for me, but it’s also the way this town operates. How divisively mixed it is, and how cordial it is in terms of relationships. It is indeed a mixed community and one that works extremely well, and I always feel good whenever I come to Bellwood.”
Nightengale, who wore a traditional African Dashiki shirt and pants, said he likes that the annual celebration brings together different ethnic groups.
“That’s something good,” he said. “I like to see the young people come out. They don’t know a lot about black history, and it gives them the opportunity to become curious about it and seek information on it.”
Harmon, a former District 88 board member and past president of the Chicago Black Nurses Association, said the annual Black History Program “is a reflection in terms of the people and their contributions, and to bring today back to the new generation that’s coming up. And for them to know what’s taken place.”
“History is such a great part of our being,” Davis said. “It’s good for children especially to learn where different groups fit in our society. This town to me is an example of how people can live together in harmony even though their heritage may have been different.”
The past eight commemorations of Black History Month—and the village’s Black History Program—has been under the presidency of Barack Obama, the nation’s 44th chief executive and its first African-American president. Obama, of course, is no longer commander in chief, and his successor, Donald Trump, has been mired in controversy thus far.
“Communities of color felt like they have lost and we had lost some of the momentum based on the gains that had been made,” said Davis, one of over 65 U.S. representatives who didn’t attend Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20—and one of six in Illinois, including Luis Gutierrez, Dan Lipinski, Mike Quigley, Jan Schakowsky and Bobby Rush. “Lots of people understand the struggles that this country has gone through and they were so looking forward to what they thought would be the next step. A woman (Hillary Clinton) elected president, a woman whose relationship with communities of color has been great.
“Instead we’ve got a different kind of president and yet African-American history has been so great. We will march on no matter what—until the victory of full integration of full citizenship, until all of those things are one. So this is a bump in the road.”
“I think an event like this puts everything into perspective,” Welch added. “It shows where we’ve been, and we have a place we can compare it to. If there’s anything that we can do to get back to what we had just even two months ago, a day like this will show you that you’ve got to rise up, speak up and stay active.”