Tampa celebrates black history with 26th annual expo

02/14/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: black history, kathy castor, Bob Buckhorn, Tampa


Tampa leaders and members of the black history committee kick off the city's 26th annual black history celebration.

photo by Janelle Irwin

For the 26th year, Tampa leaders came together with the African-American community to celebrate the city’s rich history during a lively ceremony Friday at the Tampa Convention Center. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called on young African-American students to pay attention to the fight that paved the way for their own success.

“If you don’t know your history, you’re going to repeat the mistakes. If you don’t know the trailblazers that came before you and pay homage to their contributions and to recognize what they went through which is a very different world than what, perhaps, you’re going through and to acknowledge that, but for some of them, you would not be here today and this city would not be a great American city.”

The annual event hosted by the city’s black history committee is full of pageantry from local African-American artists. Lenoir Russell is vice president of the committee.

“Music is a critical part also, of the black community. It’s always been very special. The negro spirituals, up until the jazz musicians today – Aretha Franklin. It’s a big part of our heritage and our history.”

Tampa was once a hot bed of leading African-American icons like Etta James and Louis Armstrong. That part of the city’s history appeals to the younger generation, a group Russell says a lot of the annual celebration caters to.

“The young people can see the history and learn about who’s in their community as well as participate because a big part of our program is also scholarship. So, we encourage college graduates and our sponsors along with us give money toward that end. It’s just bringing all the cultures together that’s most important and letting them know of our contributions to the nation and to the world – to the community, the city, the nation and the world.”

The Tampa Black History Celebration honors leaders in the African-American community each year. This year, Carolyn Collins, current president of the Hillsborough County chapter of the NAACP, was recognized by Tampa member of Congress Kathy Castor. Collins has been a longtime supporter of affordable healthcare and has worked to educate people in the community on health-related issues. Castor told members of the audience that Collins confronted critics of the Affordable Care Act while advocating for it.

“She explained that this, your health is a fundamental civil right and that’s what she has believed in for decades and worked for for decades.”

Also honored during the ceremony were pharmacy professor Monroe Wilson Black, businessman Moses White and former vice president of academic affairs for Hillsborough Community College, Sandra Wilson. Chester White Jr., a Tampa native, said successful African-Americans like them are important to both Tampa’s history and future.

“We’ve had many prominent leaders who have contributed to the building of this community such as my uncle which is being honored today, Moses White, and we’ve had many, many more, my father included. We’ve had funeral directors. We’ve had entrepreneurs across the board. However, with the changing of times, most of what we have accomplished has been eroded, but then too, we have not forgotten the purpose for which they gave their time and their love to this community.”

And Matthew James, a retired Tampa resident, said he’s glad the city continues to recognize black history month.

“It’s important because we stand on the shoulders of our forefathers, our parents. It’s the history, the legacy and the heritage that we come to celebrate today; the great work of the people who have given their life, they’ve dedicated their lives to it. So, we come in the honor of them and then we look forward to the future.”

There were some political undertones. U.S. Representative Castor called attention to the state’s dismal restoration of rights laws. She said there are 5.3 million Americans who are being disenfranchised, largely from their right to vote.

“That number is larger than the population of 31 states in the United States of America. In the state of Florida this is shocking. Twenty percent of African-Americans are disenfranchised under these post-civil war era policies. Ten percent of Floridians of voting age remain disenfranchised today because of Florida’s outdated system. We are the worst in the country in restoration of rights once someone has served their time.”

Prior to the ceremony, students roamed an expo hall where they could pre-register to vote, get information on college opportunities and learn more about African-American history in the area.

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