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Public Affairs : 2013 Black History Month

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The West Point Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic, the Equal Opportunity Office and the Cadet Respect Committee produces “At the Crossroads of Freedom Street and Equality Lane” Black History Month tribute Feb. 19 at Robinson Auditorium. Shown in the background is actual footage from the March on Washington as cadets walked on the stage re-enacting the event, representing more than 100 years of the fight for justice and freedom for African Americans.


Observing crossroads in history


Story and photo by Kathy Eastwood

Staff Writer

WEST POINT, N.Y. (Feb. 28, 2013) — West Point’s annual Black History Month Observance paid tribute to the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington at Thayer Hall Feb. 19. The theme of this year’s event was “At the Crossroads of Freedom Street and Equality Lane.”

One of the most important historical events for African Americans was the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 that freed slaves and allowed African Americans “in suitable condition” to be received in the nation’s armed services.

Yet, African Americans were still fighting for jobs and equal rights 100 years later in 1963 when thousands gathered in Washington, D.C., and marched in protest.

Class of 2016 Cadet Kiara Ocasio-Trujillo, Company H-1, enjoyed participating in West Point’s annual observance.

“It was a lot of fun,” Ocasio-Trujillo said. “We have a dynamic group of people and we rehearsed multiple times a week.”

Ocasio-Trujillo and her roommate, Class of 2016 Cadet Dartie Gilet, both write poetry and teamed up to recite Margaret Walker’s “For My People.”

“I think it’s great to be able to contribute something that is so meaningful to so many people,” she said.

Class of 2013 Cadet Kiandre Chambers participated last year with the Gospel Choir and served this year as the director.

“I’m the performance cadet-in-charge so it was my job to make sure transitions go smoothly,” Chambers said. “There was a lot of coordinating everything and recruiting for performers. I wanted people who would be dedicated because we didn’t have much time to prepare for it.”

Chambers not only directed and coordinated the program, he also performed. He’s a member of the Gospel Choir and the Omicron Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, the group who performed the Black Fraternity Significance and Stroll Rho.

“I like to dance, but I can’t dance very well,” Chambers said. “I’m a closet dancer.”

The dance is a tradition of African Americans and is thought to have its roots in competitive schoolyard song and dance rituals historically performed by African-American fraternities.

Class of 2014 Laivan Greene, a member of the Gospel Choir, sang a solo performance of “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke.

Greene also got involved with other aspects of the program.

“I came up with the idea of a step dance, but someone else came up with the choreography,” she said.

From the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves to the civil rights movement of 1955-68, they exemplify the struggles African-Americans endured.

They fought long and hard for equality and freedom. Through peaceful protests, African Americans were successful for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination due to race, creed, religion or national origin; the voting rights act of 1965 protecting voting rights, the passages of the 24th amendment that banned poll tax and the fair housing act of 1968 banning discrimination when renting or selling a house to African Americans.

One of the most poignant parts of the observance, and the opening act, was when all the cadet performers walked on stage from the back of the auditorium while a video of the March on Washington played in the background and the cadets stood in front of the video, as if to be a part of it all.