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In honor of Black History month, Bearing News reached out to members of the community to find stories representative of struggles and opportunities African-Americans have had.
Hayes attended a newly desegregated Hickman High School in 1957. Her achievements led to a full ride scholarship to MU.
|Dr. Wanda Brown
Brown started off attending a segregated elementary school but soon made her way through integrated schools in Fulton, Mo. Her experiences shaped her contributions to CPS.
|Dr. DeAngela Burns-Wallace
Burns-Wallace initially struggled to find a balance between two worlds. Finally, in college she became the strong black woman she is today.
|Junior Eryn Wanyoni
Because Wanyoni’s parents are Kenyan and she attended private school through elementary school, she remained unaware of the expectations of African-Americans until sixth grade. She battles stereotypes of African-Americans and of Africans.
Gospel Explosion was a free event hosted by Missouri Parks and Recreation to kick off Black History Month.
When the Little Rock Nine marched up the stairs to attend their newly integrated school in 1957, Celestine Hayes was already a few steps ahead.
As one of six African-Americans to attend Hickman High School in 1957 a few years after Columbia Public Schools desegregated, Hayes has fond memories of her time in high school.
“I loved high school,” said Hayes, who graduated from HHS in May of 1960. “I met some wonderful friends and have some amazing memories.”
Hayes said she was involved in everything from Leaders’ club, an activity for outstanding athletes, to Choraleer’s, a musical program offered at HHS at that time. Hayes said she didn’t miss an opportunity to join a club. Listed in the local papers, Hayes was the first African American at HHS to achieve community-wide recognition for her school work, even granting her a full ride scholarship to MU post graduation. Hayes’ said her high school experience shaped the strong Black woman she is today.
“It has always been inspiring to be around all kinds of people,” said Hayes, who will turn 70 on Oct. 4. “I love to meet people of every race.”
Being one of six African Americans encompassed by Caucasian Americans in a newly integrated high school, was neither intimidating nor upsetting, as she was surrounded by diversity since the time she was small.
“My whole life had diversity, so school was just another situation,” Hayes said. “Church had no separation between classical and gospel music, so school was just another thing.”
Hayes said diversity was her life as church had always been integrated, and learning Spanish as a second language felt like Heaven. Hayes was taught by her father, Rev. John R. Guyton, that she could be anything she desired. However, Hayes’ motto didn’t always bring positivity to the negative acts of other around her.
The only African American in most of her classes and sometimes teased about her differences that she held between her and her neighbor, Hayes still shined. Elected junior class treasurer in 1958, she said she tried never to allow petty situations keep her from academic success.
“Sometimes I wondered if people didn’t choose to associate with me because of my race or human nature,” Hayes said. “I loved diversity, but I had to ask myself that question every once in a while.”
Hayes said when the negative pressures around her exceeded her comfort zone she would just break down and cry. The bathroom was the safe zone where Hayes, who describes her younger self as shy, went when the pressures around her got to be too much. But she realized that something would have to change in order for her to achieve her dreams.
“One day I just told myself I was not going to cry about what I feel is sly or a put down because of my race, weight or whatever,” Hayes said. “After that day I never cried in the bathroom again.”
And from that day on, Hayes said she developed a thick, strong skin so that not even demoralizing comments from her own race about her academic activities would discourage her. Hayes said her philosophy has always been that teens and adults go through rough times in life being put down because they never say anything about it.
“So many times the way you are treated is all about the way you demanded it,” Hayes said. “You must relate respect to the way you carry yourself.”
The struggle her family had as they dealt with the death of her father in December of 1958 laid a toll on Hayes both emotionally and financially, her love for music in high school, helped mend the pain. Linda Berrier, her piano teacher at the time, continued to give Hayes lessons even though her family couldn’t pay for them.
She continues to use those lessons as she works with students at Ridgeway Elementary school. There, she sometimes witnesses the same mean behavior in others she faced as a child. She said she uses the strengths she developed from her high school experiences to help her young students when they are faced with hurtful words from those around them.
“All people have to do is say something nice to somebody,” Hayes said.
She said her high school experience could be related to students now, as African Americans now have bountiful opportunities. From rigorous classes offered in high school to scholarships given for students’ dedication, Hayes said it is the student’s responsibility to watch how they can get caught up in the ideas of this world.
“Black culture is so strong, but many kids get wrapped up in negative things,” Hayes said. “I don’t condemn them [for sagging their pants, or using the N word] but those kids dress, act and talk because that’s how they validate themselves.”
Hayes said her decision to attend HHS was one of the wisest she ever made. She appreciates everyone who assisted her for they are all the keys to her life. She said HHS felt just like a second home, even with the lack of minorities in the hallways. Simply put, Hayes said she loves herself for who she is and every situation she has been exposed to.
“There is a blessing in black culture, and I am just a spiritual fanatic,” Hayes said.
By Mahogany Thomas
From a segregated elementary school to a small integrated high school in Fulton, Mo., Dr. Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent for secondary education for Columbia Public Schools, said if it had not been for the situations she encountered in Fulton, her 33 years with Columbia Public Schools would be nonexistent.
For Brown, both integration and segregation provided good structure and education. Even with hand-me-down books, Brown aspired to learn, which she says today stands as an encouragement to students that they can make the best out of every situation.
“Because segregation at that time was the normal, I was fine being in a segregated school,” Brown said. “All my teachers were black and had high expectations for us.”
Working her way up the ladder beginning as a language arts teacher at Hickman in the late 1970s, Brown said her high school experience shaped the success of her career.From diapers to secondary education, the idea of school and its extra curricular activities were never a stranger to Brown.
“I had been teaching since I was an infant; most kids played house; I played school. It was just something that was always in me,” Brown said. “I use to have friends that wouldn’t come to the house if I was going to play school one more time because, of course, I was always the teacher.”
A cheerleader for one year and in band for another, Brown participated mostly in speech and debate in high school, winning several awards. However, no award could compare to the devastation she felt after a conversation with her school guidance counselor.
“I remember one day as a junior going to see my counselor because I wanted to talk to him about how to go to college,” Brown said. “He told me, ‘Wanda, you are bright enough to go to college, but college is not for you because your mom and dad are sick, and I know that they can’t afford it. You probably need to do something like go to the local brick plant and work there as a secretary because you could do that.’ ”
Belittled and hurt by this statement, Brown said if she had listened to him, college would have never been an option for her. She was determined, though, not to let her counselor’s opinion define her future. Brown said she had great parents who pushed her to do the best she could, which is what brought her through even the roughest areas of high school.
“I remember after talking to my counselor I went home and told my mother. I was crying, and I remember my mother sort of laughed it off,” Brown said. “I thought she would be mad, but she just said if I was going to let somebody define my dreams, then I might as well stop now.”
Brown’s parents were unwavering in the idea that she would attend college, and the same determination and support her parents instilled in her are the characteristics she tries to covey to students she’s interacted with in her career.
“I look to try to encourage [students] because I see so much potential in all of our kids. I see kids who have so many different talents in different ways and different areas that I try to encourage them as much as I can,” Brown said. “Whether that is through trying to be a good role model for them or hooking them up with good role models or giving them a pat on the back or just listening sometimes, I want to be the best support I can be.”
Brown, who will be 57 March 4, said her professional experience has been important because of the amazing young people with whom she interacts daily.
While Brown acknowledges college might not be the best fit for all students, she wants everyone to be ready for a quality post-secondary experience; regardless of if it’s college, vocational schooling or technical schools students choose, Brown aspires to facilitate student success because she feels kids in today’s society must experience those opportunities.
“We, as educators, have got to make sure that we give them to the opportunities and chances they need.” Brown said.
As Brown attempts to provided students with the opportunities they need, she feels kids also need to be self motivated in order to succeed.
High school for Brown was educational, exciting and memorable which shaped, the strong woman she is. When Brown comes in contact with students who fail to apply themselves and acknowledge their future potential, she said she recites her story.
“If I can give kids anything, I think I can give them that,” Brown said, “which is that I know they can do this, and if they don’t get in the way of themselves doing it, then they will get it done.”
By Mahogany Thomas
A first generation college graduate caught between two worlds as high school student, Dr. DeAngela Burns-Wallace, director of access initiatives for the University of Missouri – Columbia, said it wasn’t until college that she became the strong black woman she is today.
Burns-Wallace attended an all-black Catholic grade school in Kansas City before choosing a predominately white suburban Catholic high school compiled of only about 60 African-American students out of 800. Active in honors and the equivalent of current AP classes, Burns-Wallace said more often than not she was the only black student in her class.
“I felt that most of the time I was living between two worlds,” Burns-Wallace said.
While Burns-Wallace attended high school, she and the rest of the intercity African-American students rode the same bus to school. Burns-Wallace said she would ride the bus with steudents like her but once she arrived at school, she would leave her friends who she grew up with and attend classes where she was the only black student.
“I moved from being DeAngela to Dee,” Burns-Wallace said. “Because Dee was more acceptable in the classrooms and with the teachers, and it was easier for them to pronounce as well.”
Feeling as if she was constantly walking between the two worlds she was balancing, Burns-Wallace said she was always juggling. From the classroom to the hallway, Burns-Wallace said even her extra curriculum activities were divided.
“I was on the cheerleading squad and dance team with all of my friends,” Burns-Wallace said, “but academically, I was in a different space.
The division in Burns-Wallace’s activities and academics were so prominent, Burns-Wallace remembers certain situations vividly.
“In honors chemistry we had mole day, we had a whole little festival and I was queen of mole day. But my black friends didn’t understand, or see why we needed to come to school at 6 a.m. for mole day,” Burns-Wallace said. “The honors chemistry class were all there but the regular chemistry class wasn’t.”
While Burns-Wallace enjoyed where she stood academically, it was still an adjustment. From honors classes to gospel choir, the whole concept of moving between two worlds was her reality. Burns-Wallace, 37, said that was how she survived. Fortunately, college was much easier.
“I chose an institution at Stanford where I didn’t have to be Dee Burns,” Burns-Wallace said. “I could be DeAngela, I could be a strong black woman and an intellectual and I didn’t feel for the first time in my life that I had to choose between the two.”
For Burns-Wallace, college was a place that taught her how to define herself in various ways and not to feel like she had to apologize or turn down her heritage.
“Stanford taught me how to use my intellectualism without losing my culture, and who I was and where I was, but taught me how to infuse it into my intellectualism,” Burns-Wallace said.
From Stanford, Burns-Wallace went on to graduate school at Princeton University, then working for the US department of the state as a diplomat and now to her current job position. Burns-Wallace said it’s through her experiences and encounters that have moved her to take part in the career she has now.
“When I left the government and came into higher education it was because I wanted to find students who were me and who are me and expose them to all of the possibilities that are out there,” Burns-Wallace said. “To show students the reality of what is possible that they don’t even know.”
Burns-Wallace said that through her job she witnesses students dreaming inside of a box with a 20 block radius. Burns-Wallace said her job is to expose them to the things they didn’t even know existed. In higher education and Burns-Wallace said she is in a positione where she can help students and provide them exposure and show them the world.
“To me this is just an amazing career,” Burns-Wallace said. “A lot of people can talk about what they’ve done or who they worked with and what they have accomplished but there is no doubt in my mind that I have impacted lives.”
Burns-Wallace said many people in her past encouraged have encouraged her and shaped her life into the way it is now. For now, Burns-Wallace said she stands as that catalysis for student’s, especially like herself. “I think the important thing to remember is that nothing is beyond anyones scope,” Burns-Wallace said. “And if it beyond our scope it is because we put those limitations on ourselves.”
By Mahogany Thomas
First enrolled in private school through her elementary years and then attending summer school since sixth grade through Columbia Public Schools, Wanyonyi said it was her encounters here that opened her eyes to the world of color.
“It was sixth grade summer school when people first asked me the question, ‘Why do you talk so white, Eryn?’ ” Wanyonyi said. “And I had no idea what they meant.”
Wanyonyi said she felt she always acted and talked the way she was raised; so to be questioned about it and teased because of it was an alarming surprise. Being at a private school initially, Wanyonyi said she had no idea she would encounter these types of discrepancies.
“I’d always been raised to do my best and try hard; reading at four and just loving school,” Wanyonyi said. “So to be questioned about my character was just hurtful.”
However, Wanyonyi said it was more than that particular question that brought heartache as the actions of her peers around her exacerbated the situations.
“I began to realize all of the discrepancies between Africans and African-Americans during that time, and I just didn’t understand why,” Wanyonyi said. “None of these things seemed to make sense to me and I just see no reasons to have them.”
In sixth grade Wanyonyi said her peers didn’t seem to like Africans, which she said she still witnesses with the refugees who attend her church. Wanyonyi said her brother went to hang out with one of his friends, who was African, and he witnessed all of the hatred derived toward them. But the hatred, Wanyonyi said, her brother experienced mirrored her situations with her peers.
“They’d ask me if I ran around naked in Africa even though I was born here,” Wanyonyi said. “And they also would make the click sound around me, because certain languages in Africa would click.”
Aggravated and annoyed, Wanyonyi said she sought comfort in her parents who just encouraged her to be strong. Telling her to continue, as the young woman she was then, remains influential to Wanyonyi.
Enrolled in all honors and advanced placement courses at RBHS, as well as Show Choir, Wanyonyi says she doesn’t get caught up in the idea of being the minority; instead, Wanyonyi using her situations as a way to succeed and fulfill her dreams. Wanyonyi said having additional African-Americans in her classes is just a bonus at this point and doesn’t stop her from partaking in certain activities.
“It’s nice to have Spencer and Tatiana in show choir, so we can talk about our hair and the different make-up we have to use,” Wanyonyi said. “But at the same time, if it’s only me, I don’t mind.”
Wanyonyi said high school is better than her middle school because she doesn’t need to feel the need to act in a particular manner to please everyone else. She said she’s been able to meet other African-Americans who’ve been in similar situations, which have also guided her experience positively, however things are not perfect.
“It’s great to experience all types of different cultures in our society but sometimes we see a lot of people purposely segregating themselves, even in an integrated society,” Wanyonyi said. “While it’s not always by race, but instead athletics or clubs, it still leaves a negative effect on the American people.”
Wanyonyi said students should never segregate themselves but instead branch out because they miss out on certain people, and without that experience, people disrespect each other’s differences. Wanyonyi said this is what she believes happened in the sixth grade and wishes other students wouldn’t have to ever encounter those types of situations.
“If you know who you are and you are proud of that it doesn’t matter what other people have to say,” Wanyonyi said. “So anyone can then stand up for themselves and know that it is ignorance and just own their culture.”
By Mahogany Thomas
As a send-off to Black History Month, gospel music spreads throughout the air at the Gospel Explosion and Soul Food Celebration. On Feb. 26 at 3 p.m. each local act attempts to engage the crowd with its gospel singing and draw enthusiasm.
This type of music is often a way for people to express their religious beliefs. Originally church groups would sing gospel in order to accommodate for group participation following a lead voice.
Missouri Parks and Recreation funds the event, which is hosted by St. Luke United Methodist Church, 204 E. Ash.
“Our church strongly supports the Gospel Explosion,” Rev. Raymond Hayes of St. Luke United Methodist Church said. “It is a well-attended excellent community wide program. Gospel music is one the African-American cultural means of expression, with its roots in spirituals, blues, jazz and African music. It is a major influence in all popular music.”
The free gathering is open to all ages and allows for a chance to hear local musical acts as well as attend a free soul food dinner afterward. The event brings Black History Month to a close with a celebration of religious music and cultural tradition.
“For more than 20 years we have ended the celebration of Black History Month with the Gospel Explosion and Soul Food Diner,” said Bill Thompson, Parks and Recreation Coordinator. “At the roots of all African-American music is the spiritual [ideal], which led to the creation of gospel and other music forms. To recognize this heritage and honor the link to the black church, we have the Gospel Explosion. Our musical guests represent this proud genre. The Soul Food dinner is a community [event] and includes some foods that we consider to be ‘Soul Food’ and part of the African-American tradition.”
This cultural festivity is about honoring the African Americans in Missouri’s past. This form of music has made its way through past generations to remain an intricate part of culture today.
Junior Grace Ezeji shares her historical musical inspiration with others to keep traditions going and keep her faith close and an important part of culture today.
“Ever since I was born, I have been going to church,” Ezeji said. “And I remember my dad used to sing for the choir at church, so I just loved it and started to sing the songs I had heard from church when I was little. That’s how I got started. The impact it has on my life is that when I am going through tough times in my life, singing a gospel song helps me feel that there is a God out there watching over me and that He will help me get through whatever.”
Ezeji is not alone in her love for the musical art of Gospel. Each new celebration passes down the importance of the music on the community and on history itself, keeping the customs alive. This forms a tight bond between vastly changing generations and brings back a true tradition in the culture.
“It’s important to the black church and people because it is our heritage,” Hayes said. “It’s a heritage we are proud of, and historically we do not want it lost.”
By Alexa Walters