Celebrating Black History ‘on the air’

Published 11:57 am Friday, February 3, 2023

Patience Tobias and Amirea Richardson sat quietly in their chairs in the studio at WCHJ Radio in Brookhaven. They listened as Christian station’s manager and host Charles Tillman introduced them on the air.

Melanie Lewis, director of the Brookhaven Boys & Girls Club, sat by the girls as they prepared to present the first day of the Club’s annual 10-day visit to the radio station.

This is the 26th year Lewis has taken students — two each day — to read essays on prominent people in African American history on the radio as a local celebration of Black History Month.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

On Feb. 1, the first day of this year’s tradition, Tobias and Richardson read essays on Katherine Goble Johnson and Mary McLeod Bethune. Richardson, a fourth-grader, started the segment by answering a few questions from Tillman, then reading her essay on Johnson.

“What’s your favorite subject in school?” Tillman asked.

“Art,” she answered.

“Art? Are you good at it?” Tillman asked.

Richardson smiled, nodded and answered, “Yes.”

She shared about Johnson, a mathematician best known for her work for NASA, including calculating trajectories for the Apollo 11 and Space Shuttle missions. In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Johnson died in 2020 at the age of 101.

Tillman zeroed in on something interesting Richardson read.

“Astronaut John Glenn wouldn’t trust anyone or the computer until Johnson double-checked the math,” he said. “He trusted her more than he trusted the computer!”

Third-grader Tobias was up next.

“What’s your favorite subject?” Tillman asked.

“Math,” she said.

“Oh, math is your favorite subject,” the host said, and started to follow up with a question about her interest in Richardson’s essay subject.

“No, my least favorite is math,” Tobias said. “My favorite is reading.”

Tillman laughed and Tobias read her essay on Bethune, best known as a teacher who set educational standards for today’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and served as an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the National Youth Administration. She and her husband co-founded Bethune-Cookman College where she served as president for 40 years. Her work led to social, economic and educational changes in the U.S. for all African Americans.

“You could say she was a teacher among teachers,” Tillman said.

“I already told people I want to be a teacher,” Tobias said.

The half-hour segments will continue each weekday beginning at 4:30 p.m., through Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, on WCHJ 97.5 FM.