Jeroline D. McCarthy

by Jeroline D. McCarthy, Gold Lifetime Member

In the wake of a rejection of an African-American history course for Florida students, the Youth Black History Committee ushered in a recent “20th Annual Youth Black History Program,” gathering a crowd at AACS.

“Today marks 20 years in the life of Youth Black History, a special event for AACS,” said Mistress of Ceremonies Jill Prime. During the “Spotlight on 20 Years,” Bryanna Ivey, a program alumna, articulated that the Black experience “is vital in helping this nation grapple with the truth about institutional racism and its impact on all of us.”

Edwina Mezo Brown shared the stage, personified as “Heritage,” and offered a perspective of our ancestors’ legacy. Young vocalist Jaiyse Williams provided a powerful performance of “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Expressing emotions that our ancestors might have had after being freed in 1865, the skit, “Freedom,” cast a Council of Freed Persons – with “Freedom” portrayed by Faith Robinson; “Doubt,” played by Joy Prime; “Iggy” and “Faith,” role played by Sheldon Hadley; “Hope,” Jill Prime; “Fear,” Miles Lee; and the “Voice of Reason 1 and 2,” Najee Monroe and Maxwell Lee, respectively.

Our ancestors dedicated themselves to building houses, churches, schools, colleges, and acquiring businesses and thriving towns – and contributing to science, technology, math, medicine, music, art, and humanities despite jealousy and the rage of others. Celebrating were Matanzas High School Steppers with a rhythm and blues percussive dance, directed by Khadijah Jones.

Audience members, Janette White Van Dyke and Janice White Voles, recounted being beaten, spat on, and kicked while integrating St. Augustine schools during the Civil Rights Movement. Their brother, Samuel White, was part of “The St. Augustine Four.” Another audience member, the Rev. Lorenzo Laws, as founder of the Fort Mose Historical Society of St. Augustine, said that the Fort Mose Museum rekindles its site as the first, free African territory in the U.S.

Jeanette B. Wheeler And, for such a time as this, Chair Jeanette B. Wheeler was recognized with a keepsake photo of a Youth Black History program from her committee – Richard P. Barnes, Patricia A. Bottoms, Melba J. McCarty, Harriett A. Whiting, and Annette Williams. Coming Mrs. Wheeler’s way as well was a Long-Term Service Award from Board of Directors Chair Stephanie R. Matthews, AACS President Joseph T. Jones, Jonathan Robinson, a program alumnus, and Jill Prime, representing the current performers.

Receiving a keepsake photo, Jeanette Wheeler (seated) 
 is flanked by her committee and the young people. 

Receiving a keepsake photo, Jeanette Wheeler (seated) 
 is flanked by her committee and the young people. 

A former educator, Mrs. Wheeler, 91, weighed in on the first recruited young people – in the company of their parents – at Walmart, then at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church and First Church, and at the sororities. Mrs. Wheeler is a driving force for young people learning about their history, and for financial support in awarding over $100,000 in AACS scholarships for higher education.

She encouraged the young people, saying that her son, Johnnie Wheeler, as a kid, only wanted to play sports. He attended Howard University on a football scholarship, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and then went on to get his Ph.D.

“Young people, you are the stars,” Mrs. Wheeler continued. “They know we love them. We would not put in all of this time, if we didn’t love you, and wanted you to succeed.”

Earlier, AACS President Jones had said, with our children knowing our true history, “it actually improves their overall academic achievement. (But) here’s the problem,” he added, “We know that, the researchers know that, and also your governor.”

*This article originally appeared in The Scribe, AACS’ Newsletter