February is designated as Black History Month in the United States and Canada. In recent years other countries like Ireland and the United Kingdom have also observed February as Black History Month. February was chosen since both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were both born in February. Penny Lane is proud to celebrate Black History Month. We acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments and contributions made by the African American community that are a part of the history of the United States. There is no way for me to name ALL the notable African American authors, poets, athletes, politicians, musicians, teachers, doctors, lawyers, artists, mothers, and fathers who have made a significant impact on our society . . . for that I would need a book series. What I can share is what these contributions mean to me and to Penny Lane.
As a Black woman I am proud to be a part of this revolutionary community. As a matter of fact, all citizens of the United States should be proud. African citizens found themselves enslaved by American landowners. Many of our people perished while on the journey or while held against their will, but many more survived and thrived. They may have been beaten and mistreated, but they persevered through it all. They emerged from enslavement on June 19th, 1865. From there these people found community among each other. They continued to work hard, focus on their family, and embrace their faith. While they enjoyed their freedom, they still had to endure hatred, prejudice, and discrimination. They worked hard, but also lived in fear, but still they persevered. Fast forward and in 2023, this community continue to struggle with prejudice, something that has been so deeply ingrained in our society that people don’t even realize that they are prejudicial, but we continue to persevere.
The month of February is an opportunity to celebrate they myriad of accomplishments of African Americans and how much they have done for our country. From the invention of Jazz to becoming a president, African Americans proudly made and continue to make their mark on the US. I feel eternally grateful for those who have come before me. They paved the way for many of us today. They endured challenges so that we would not have to. They persevered and taught us how to do the same.
At Penny Lane while we celebrate Black History Month, we know that this isn’t just a month of celebration, but rather a reminder that the African American history and sprit of perseverance should be acknowledged. The United States would simply not be what it is today with the contributions of this community. Black labor built the early infrastructure of this country as well as helped enrich many through their contribution to lucrative commodities such as cotton and tobacco in our early years. Black people invented many items we take for granted today such as traffic signals, folding chairs and yes even the potato chip. Jesse Owens, a black American, won 4 gold medals at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 debunking Hitler’s “master race” theory. Mathew Henson, a black American, was one of the first men to reach the North Pole. The achievements and contributions are many and yet African Americans continue to struggle for equity. This does not dissuade us as we at Penny Lane, continue to advocate and support this and other marginalized communities. We work to increase acceptance and eliminate discriminatory practices. We acknowledge the challenges and seek remedies to create a place of acceptance. Let us celebrate Black History month today and every day and let us continue our work and further our message of inclusivity.
Check out some of our Black History Month Resources below!
Hello, my name is Cathy Blair. The name I was born with is Cathy Carter. I continue to use my married name, because I think it has a cool ring but more importantly, I keep it because it bothers my ex-husband. I am a Program Manager for the Housing Department located in Lancaster. I have been at Penny Lane Centers for 25 years and most of that time was in the Residential Program.
I was born in Los Angeles and raised in the Crenshaw area, Ladera Heights to be exact. It used to be called the Black Beverly Hills. My parents met when they were in high school. Both ran track at Locke High School in South Los Angeles. My mother got pregnant with me in their senior year and my father promptly moved out of the state. My mother graduated from high school and received a scholarship to Jackson State University. She took me with her to college. I recall accompanying her everywhere including work, parties, and even dates! She got her degree, and we returned back to Los Angeles where she got a job as a nurse at a major hospital.
There are several things that have always kept me grounded in my faith, my mother, and my sister, and my grandmother. My grandmother is our matriarch who is also the mother of our church. She’s a Registered Nurse just like my mother. When I was growing up my entire family would go to her house for Thanksgiving and Christmas, she would not allow any of my aunts or uncles to bring a dish. So, we would all gather at her house days before to prepare for the holidays. I have fond memories of my grandmother and the other woman in the kitchen cooking greens, ham, mac and cheese and even Chitlins (Google it)! :) While the men played cards and dominoes with Teddy Pendergrass and Maze playing in the background on repeat, we kids were literally playing in the street with the other kids from the surrounding neighborhoods waiting to eat.
Our dinners would include anyone who showed up. We began to have regular “block parties” with the other neighbors from the surrounding streets and blocks. We were able to connect with other communities that we didn’t even know lived in the neighborhood. This tradition continues to be my favorite cultural tradition. My cousins and I have continued it by having dinners and gathering almost every weekend, just as our parents did. Most of all these gatherings are hosted at my place, not sure how that started.
My grandmother is a knitter. She didn’t believe in buying gifts for her grandchildren, so she knitted everything including hats. She would make sure the children at church had sweaters or gloves for some random reason. My mom married a deputy who she met while at work. My stepdad is great and never treated me differently. He has always been defined by his actions as well as his words. We moved to Long Beach and my sister; Patricia (Trish) was born. My sister and mother are my best friends. We communicate daily and my sister and I visit my mother on the weekends. We usually all travel together all the time.
I often reminisce about the 80’s and 90’s, it had the best movies and music. Nirvana’s Nevermind and Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt would best describe me. My mother would make black-eyed peas for New Year’s Eve, as her mother had done (it has something to do with good luck). I do it, but I don’t like black eye-peas, and I don’t tell my mother I don’t like them. I appreciate my partner’s culture which is very different from my own. I sample from him whether it be food language, décor or clothing styles. My own culture is connected to my work because I was raised with the belief that strong communities are critical because they’re often important sources of social connection and a sense of belonging. Participating in a community bonded by attitude, values, and goals is an essential part to enjoying a fulfilling life. I have experienced that here at PLC.
There is so much more that can be said about Black History, but neither time nor space permits, but that should not stop any of us from our own research. As many of you know, I love books related to social and racial justice issues, especially children’s books. Where better to start than with our children? Teach them the history of this country is a true and accurate manner. Advance their understanding of Black History and Racial Justice for future generations.
Black History Tales- Stories From Our Past. Sole of the CommUNITY, a local nonprofit, is hosting a storytelling event in honor of Black History Month. Please click on the link below to get more information and to register should you be interested!