In honor of Black History Month, the Long Beach Martin Luther King Center hosted a variety of events throughout February in a series titled, “taking the chains off of our minds to empower a new generation.”
Executive Director Myrnissa Stone said that many of the events were aimed at educating kids on African-American history and heritage, but many also focused on building self-esteem and positive self-worth.
“From all of this, I want them to take away the fact that each of us are unique in our own way, and it’s what’s on the inside of is that makes us beautiful, and not where we come from, or the color of our skin or the texture of our hair,” Stone said. “And to be proud of our culture, of our heritage and to strive to be the best person that they can be, and let that speak for who they are, their conduct and their character.”
One educational series focused on African-American life before, during and after slavery. Stone said that the children watched films and documentaries, and listened to guest presenters to learn about what life was like for African-Americans at that time, and the laws that limited their everyday lives. Decorated Tuskegee Airman Julius Freeman also stopped by the center, to share his story of serving as a fighter pilot during World War II in the historic group of the first African-American pilots in the U.S. army.
The center also held self-esteem workshops, where Stone said they focused activities that taught confidence and self-worth. She said there was also a workshop called “I am not my hair,” that documented the history of African-American hair, and how beauty traditions have evolved over time, but also aimed to teach women to value inner-beauty above all.
“It helped them to really focus and understand that what they wear and where they live, and different things that are on the outside of us don’t define and shape who we are on the inside,” Stone said.
Last Friday was the African-American feast, which was the biggest event of the month, Stone said. The celebration of food, song and dance drew over 200 people to the MLK Center, which was transformed by beautiful decorations in an African motif.