Rep. Hakeem Jeffries speaks at 39th Annual Black History Month Observance Breakfast

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries speaks at 39th Annual Black History Month Observance Breakfast

By Kirsten J. Barnes

Columbus residents attended the 39th Annual Black History Month Observance Breakfast at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center on Feb. 19, with House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries as the keynote speaker.


The program’s theme was “Black History: A Legacy of Strength, A Future of Hope.”


Five people were honored during the awards presentation. The 10 Points of Light award went to James and Pat Gant, Darryl “DJ” Jones, Christopher B. Lindsey, Lucas Melton, Marco Richh, Katrina Collier Long, Dr. Brenda Coley, Kevin Green, Silvia Bunn and DJ Chip. The Emerging Leader award went to Kimberly Wright. Herman Lewis, Mike King and the Courier Eco Latino’s Wane A. Hailes received the Unsung Hero award. The Apex Award went to John Lee, and Myles and Ann Caggins, Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe, Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson and received the Legacy of Leadership award.


“We have a rich history, we have a rough history, and we have a resilient history,” said Jeffries, who represents the Eighth Congressional District of New York and was introduced by U.S. Congressman Sandford D. Bishop Jr. 


Jeffries explained how vital the history of African Americans is to American history.


“African Americans started off as enslaved men and enslaved women, the most difficult of circumstances…going on to become doctors and lawyers, teachers and preachers, engineers and scientists, authors and inventors; going on to achieve in every single field of human endeavor.”


He explained that even though African Americans started at the bottom, they rose to the top.


“An African American invited the cotton gin, accelerating the pace of industrialization. An African American invited the traffic light, accelerating the pace of transportation. An African American invited the technology used in cell phones and smartphones, accelerating the pace of communication. And an African American invited the modern-day blood bank used to save soldiers’ lives during World War II, accelerating the pace of medical innovation,” said Jeffries, who is serving his sixth term in Congress. “And three African American women, no longer hidden figures, helped to make sure that we would land a man on the moon, accelerating the pace of space exploration.”


However, he did not dismiss the struggles that African Americans had to go through to get to this place because of the transatlantic slave trade. 


“We arrived here through the horrors of the Middle Passage, the brutality of chattel slavery; kidnapped, raped, Jim Crow, lynching, racial segregation, mass incarceration,” said Jeffries. “We have a rough history.”


Still, he explained, the silver lining is in the resilience of African Americans. 


“You can’t get from your point of departure to your point of destination without at some moment along the way encountering a little turbulence,” he said. “When you encounter that moment of turbulence there will be some folks around you who will doubt your ability to make it through.”


He told the audience of nearly 200 people not to allow their “haters” to distract them, and to share the Black experience with others.


“African Americans have a rich history. America is better off today because of our journey,” said the Brooklyn native. “We’ve got to tell the story, particularly for our young people to understand where they have come, so they know where they will be capable of going.”

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