Black Heroes Round Up

A gridded collage of portraits of the the 18 local Black Heroes featured in our Black History Month series

Black History Month Origins

In 1916, American historian Carter G. Woodson, whose parents were enslaved, attended a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the emancipation proclamation. This proclamation, issued by Abraham Lincoln, declared: “all persons held as slaves within any States… shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

Just a year prior, Woodson had founded the the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History). The 1916 celebration Woodson attended inspired his future launch of Negro History Week in February 1926, as a project of the ASNLH and in collaboration with Woodson’s fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. Over time, communities began to celebrate Negro History Week, which later grew into Black History Month.

In 1976, the ASNLH moved to make Black History Month more widespread, eager to share and celebrate the depth of Black culture. President Gerald Ford encouraged the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” officially recognizing February as Black History Month.

Black History is Being Made Every Day

Since its inception, Black History Month has introduced countless youth and adults to important Black figures in history. But Black history isn’t just Martin Luther King Jr., Fredrick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman. Black history is American history. Black history is Southwest Michigan history. Black history is being made every day.

In Celebration

During the month of February, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Michigan had the honor of celebrating Black History Month by recognizing our own Local Black Heroes. Our Local Black Heroes are people who have made a deeply positive impact in Southwest Michigan:

Angela Anderson, a local radio personality, is inspiring others to “Live out loud!”
Valerie & Jeff Boggan, a power couple who have dedicated their life to youth and serving the Kalamazoo community.
Josephine Brown, whose generosity, heart, and action has made a lasting impact in the fight for social justice.
Vernon Coakley Jr., Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety’s first Black chief.
Deveta Gardner, the Associate Dean of University College at WMU, whose influence on youth is setting up future generations for success.
Jahdal Johnson aka DJ Conscious, a local DJ who is inspiring people to reach for their goals.
Kandace Lavender, a poet, vocalist, hip-hop lyricist, and special education educator who is igniting the potential of youth.
Yolonda Lavender, who has been working tirelessly to make a difference, and to improve the lives of those she interacts with through the work she does.
Stacey Randolph Ledbetter, the first Black woman sergeant, lieutenant, then captain of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety.
Vic Ledbetter, who is inspiring the next generation of police officers.
Kama Tai Mitchell, Executive Director of Rootead, whose work in birthing justice is moving toward the elimination of racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality in Kalamazoo.
Dré Patterson, co-owner of a local barbershop, whose goal is to bring a “fresh breath to barbering.”
Layla Wallace, a high school sophomore who owns a cupcake shop dedicated to doing good.
Arthur Washington Jr., who was Kalamazoo’s first Black City Commissioner.
Von Washington Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations of the Kalamazoo Promise, whose life mission is to give back.
Anna Whitten, whose work in education and civil rights made an unwavering impression on Kalamazoo.
Dorothy Young, a passionate advocate for children and education.

These Local Black Heroes are the tip of the iceberg in Southwest Michigan. Their impact on our community makes a difference every single day. Their influence and presence here makes our community a better place.

We are honored to continue this series celebrating local Black heroes every month. Click here to sign up for our e-newsletter and get updates in your inbox.

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