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Students given unique opportunity during Black History Month

DAILY LEADER / NATHANIEL WEATHERSBY / Taqiyah Washington, 10, reads her essay on Shirley Ann Jackson, the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. from MIT, at WCHJ AM 1470 while Boys and Girls Club of Lincoln County Director Melanie Lewis watches over her shoulder.

DAILY LEADER / NATHANIEL WEATHERSBY / Taqiyah Washington, 10, reads her essay on Shirley Ann Jackson, the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. from MIT, at WCHJ AM 1470 while Boys and Girls Club of Lincoln County Director Melanie Lewis watches over her shoulder.

Station WCHJ AM 1470 is placing children from the Boys and Girls Club of Lincoln County in the spotlight as they share the stories of influential black women and men in history.

Every day this week and next week at 4:30 p.m. two to three children will be invited into the Christian radio station’s studio on 983 Sawmill Street in Brookhaven to read essays on people like Ruby Bridges, Booker T. Washington, Michelle Obama and George Washington Carver. Thursday, the two children at the microphone were Alexia Dixon, 12, in the seventh grade at Alexander Junior Hihgh School and Taqiyah Washington, 10, in the fifth grade at Lipsey School.

Dixon presented on Mississippi’s own Medgar Evers of Jackson, who was a prominent civil rights activist. Evers was rejected from the University of Mississippi Law School because of segregation and went on to do work with the NAACP and other organizations in the state. Evers was assassinated at his home in Jackson on June 12, 1963.

Washington read about Shirley Ann Jackson, the first black woman to earn a Ph.D from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first black woman to be elected president and chairman of the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and first black woman to be president of the Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York where she still currently works.

Each girl read her essay and answered questions formulated from the essay by the general manager of WCHJ, Charles Tillman.

Boys and Girls Club Director Melanie Lewis said that the program between the radio and the after-school club has been going on for about 15 years, and this year’s lineup involves about 25 children.

“We have so many children that don’t know black history,” Lewis said. “When they have these essays they have to learn, they’re surprised when they hear about the stories of some of the black people they cover.”

Tillman said the radio station started the idea for short spots about black history during Black History Month around 1998 then two years later started including the Boys and Girls Club.

“When we first started we had people of all ages saying, ‘I didn’t know black people did that,’” Tillman said.

He said he and many of his peers didn’t know much about black history until they got older and did research on their own.

Tillman said this led to wanting to bring in children from the club to teach and educate them about black people – what they contributed to the country, what they were involved in within the country and what they were not given credit for.

The young girls who shared the airwaves with Tillman Thursday appreciated the opportunity to learn more about something they didn’t know and probably wouldn’t learn in school.

“It felt good because I learned about a lot of stuff I didn’t know,” Dixon said.

Her peer, Washington, said she was nervous at the beginning of the session but as her time on air neared its end she started feeling “kind of happy.”

They both shared the experience is important to them because it gives them the tools to share these stories with their future children or other people they may come in contact with who may not know these special people in black history.