On Saturday, Feb. 24, youth at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility led a three-hour celebration of Black History Month, supported by staff from OYA’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations (OIIR). Similar celebrations were (or will be) held at Oak Creek YCF, Camp Riverbend, and Tillamook.
OYA director Joe O’Leary kicked things off at MacLaren’s celebration with brief comments on the importance of Black history for all Americans, the origins of Black History Month, and about this year’s national theme: “African-Americans in Times of War.”
OIIR staffer Roderick Edwards presided over a rendition of the Black National Anthem, and introduced the event’s co-emcees, youth Warith M. and Chris W. Together, they led an event that sought to educate the audience on various aspects of Black history, including:
- the Harlem Hellfighters, a group of American soldiers who were the only Black troops to be allowed into combat in World War I, and who distinguished themselves with their bravery;
- Buffalo Soldiers — African-American regiments that were first created after the Civil War;
- the Black Panther Party; and
- Black Lives Matter.
It’s times like these when we can’t lose sight of what’s important. We need to focus on our similarities and not our differences. We need to embrace what brings us together and not what drives us apart. — Justin H., “Letter to America”
Between the history lessons, youth, staff, and visiting family members played a Black history trivia game, and youth read or performed their own work. MacLaren’s Finest —Warith M., Joe-von P., and Turon W. — performed their songs, “Struggle” and “Focus”. Youth Justin H. read two letters he’d written, one from a slave to his master, and another to America.
The event also featured two speakers from the community, Stephen F. and Robert W., who both had spent time at MacLaren. Stephen spoke about the challenges youth would face transitioning back to the community and the importance of making a personal
change to be successful. Robert, a poet, read from his work and spoke of the importance of youth valuing themselves and their community, and demonstrating that in positive ways.