28 Feb Black History Month Spotlight: Trust Paunganwa
I remember like yesterday, while I was in form 3 (equivalent to 10th grade in the US), I read from the “Students’ Companion International Edition” a saying that stuck with me until now, “This would be a dull and monotonous world if we all thought alike”- and the same can be said if we all looked alike.
Being Black is only a small part of who I am, but it is not the only and maybe not even the most important part. I was born in Honde Valley, Rhodesia under colonial rule (now called Zimbabwe after Independence). I immigrated to the USA in 1999 as a student in South Bend, Indiana and became US citizen many years later. I guess that qualifies me to call myself an African American.
Different times, different places, but the same issues. It is said that “if one lives long enough, one will get to see everything twice.” I saw it in Zimbabwe growing up, and I see it in America. Being Black often subjected me to a range of name calling and stereotypes. Experiencing this name calling and stereotyping led me to dislike who I was at times and sometimes brought me a sense of feeling like I was inferior. My inferiority complex ended when I shifted my focus from just skin color to character, abilities and other personal traits. When you begin to view yourself with pride, several aspects of the truth about you as a Black man come together – number one is that man is created equal, and that is the most important thing anyone can say about me. When I realized I had an important role to play as a Black man, I knew I mattered, too. Now to make others proud of who they are, we need to call attention to the ills that threaten our wellbeing as a human race and to stimulate corrective action on the part of the larger society. When we are all proud of who we are as human beings, our society and the nation as a whole will benefit and lead us to achieve our greatest potential. The tragedy is that we know what to do to clean things up, to restore sanity, and to prevent further damage. What is presently missing at all levels of society is the will to do what we know we ought to do, and that is to treat each other with respect and dignity. To lift each other when we fall and to encourage each other to keep going forward.
I’m glad that someone thought it wise to introduce a moment of time and call it Black History Month, a time for celebration of Black history as part of American history. At New Hope, where I have worked for the past 10 years, Inclusivity is one of our core values. The explanation of this value states that, “We support a culture of inclusivity for our associates and the individuals we serve.” This statement is demonstrated to be true by the leadership that saw it fit to celebrate Black History Month and feature stories of Black men and women who contribute to the success of the company and the individuals we serve. I think Black History Month is a necessary pause to serve as a reminder to America and its people that Black people made, and still make, a tremendous contribution to the betterment of not only this country of the United States but the world. Black and White, Red and Brown are not separate people, they are one people, and one nation as referenced in the pledge of allegiance “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Rita, my wife of 22 years and an elementary school teacher at Indianapolis Junior Academy, introduced me to a significant American Black role model that I had never heard of since I arrived in America about 23 years ago. She was teaching her students about significant Black individuals who were contributors to the American society as part of Black History Month. I would like to do the same and introduce the readers of this article to a great, but mostly unknown, Black role model that I have come to admire. He has represented humanity well as an intellectual, educator, scientist and principled man. He sought no fortune or fame but felt an obligation to help his people develop and grow, which would in turn benefit the country as a whole. He was born a slave but became one of America’s best scientists. George Washington Carver discovered how to make the soil better for cotton crops in the South by planting peanuts and sweet potatoes. He invented hundreds of new ways to use those same peanuts and sweet potatoes to make products that helped revolutionize the agriculture economy of the South. His work was so important that George Washington Carver was honored by the President of the United States. He was loved and admired not only by other scientists, but by all who knew him. He chose to teach rather than join the corporate world, and he lived in a humble two-room house and used his money to improve his research and help others improve their means of livelihood.
Black history is American history. It was true in the development of this great nation, and it is true now.