(from Left-To-Right): Historymakers’ ambassadors: director, writer, producer and performer T’Keyah Crystal Keymah & print journalist and author, Sylvester Monroe, visit Dorsey High School to uplift and encourage.
The Chicago-based organization’s annual, nationwide Back-To-School with Historymakers program sent prominent and well-known figures to speak at multiple Los Angeles high schools.
Encouragement is crucial in the lives of youth today and Historymakers clearly understands the need for it. As one of the largest African-American video oral history archive organizations in the U.S., Historymakers’ Back-To-School program is leading the way in reaching out and getting youth excited about education. Actress, writer and producer T’Keyah Crystal Keymah & veteran journalist, Sylvester Monroe are the Historymaker ambassadors who visited Susan Miller Dorsey High School to speak with youth and encourage them to stay committed to their education and dreams.
“I was inducted into Historymakers in 2004 and it’s an honor I hope to deserve one day,” said Keymah.
Keymah made history starring on Fox Television's Emmy winning variety show, In Living Color, helping to pave the way for future African American comics and variety shows featuring African Americans. She would go on to star in hit television shows such as Cosby, On Our Own and That’s So Raven.
She was raised in Chicago by her grandparents and knows about struggle, which is what she’s sharing with youth through Historymakers.
“Being raised by your grandparents has a disadvantage,” stated Keymah to HistoryMakers, “But to me, the advantage of it outweighed the disadvantages that I’ve come through life just feeling lucky.”
As a journalist and best-selling author, Monroe also had a rough upbringing in the Chicago housing projects but turned circumstance around for himself.
“It’s giving back,” said Monroe. “I grew up in Chicago, inner-city, in the Robert Taylor Housing Projects and one of the things I constantly want to tell people is to say, ‘Just because you go to an inner-city high school…live in the projects, that really doesn’t mean that you can’t do and be whatever you want to be.”
Monroe is the senior editor at public radio show, Marketplace, an L.A. based but national show, which features topics on global business and economics. He has worked with Newsweek, Time Magazine and Ebony with 20+ year’s experience as a correspondent, reporter and editor covering a range of stories and issues during those years.
“’I used to be you,’” said Monroe, “’An you can be me.’”
The theme of this year’s Historymakers program is COMMIT as ambassadors will personally recount their own school experiences and the struggles they encountered on their paths to success. They will also encourage students to commit to their education.
Monroe and Keymah spoke to youth about their paths to success and the importance of commitment.
“By bringing these living leaders into today’s educational system, we are raising awareness about the achievements of the accomplished African Americans in local communities and bringing these leaders into schools to see things firsthand, while providing important role models for today’s youth,” stated HistoryMakers Founder and Executive Director, Julieanna Richardson.
Last year, HistoryMakers program sent nearly 500 of their HistoryMakers’ ambassadors into schools in 77 cities and 35 states, including 102 year old “Bloody Sunday” civil rights pioneer, Amelia Boynton Robinson, neo soul artists Kindred the Family Soul (Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon), singer and actress Freda Charcelia Payne, and actor Harry J. Lennix. As a result of the successful program, many of the HistoryMakers have now adopted a school, which is one of the goals for the initiative.
This makes for HistoryMakers 4th nation-wide event, encouraging students to commit to excellence and their education. Other Historymaker ambassadors visiting schools throughout the Los Angeles area included stage and television actor James Avery, broadcast executive Ronald H. Brewington, education chief executive Angeles Echols, record executive Steve McKeever, music arranger, director and conductor Benjamin Wright, aeronautical engineer and engineering executive Wanda Austin, Broadway actress and acting coach Janet Adderley.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is chairing the nationwide effort with the goal of having nearly 500 black leaders go “back to school” in 68 cities and 30 states. The program is putting HistoryMakers in direct contact with over 25,000 students across the nation to tell their stories and to encourage youth to strive for excellence.
“[Julieanna Richardson] invited me to be a Historymaker,” said Monroe. “It’s quite an honor to be in that group.”
“I applaud Julieanna Richardson so much for having the vision to recognize that there needs to be a collective, a gathering of information about people who you may or may not have heard of but who’s life has been significant in regards to Black people—people of color,” said Keymah.
“I love schools, I love young people and I told Historymakers, ‘Send me wherever you want me to go.’ Where ever [I] go, I’ll find young people to love and to dialogue.”
The HistoryMakers, the nation’s largest African American video oral history archive, is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit dedicated to recording and preserving the personal histories of well-known and unsung African Americans. To date, the organization has interviewed over 2,000 HistoryMakers, with the goal of creating an archive of 5,000 interviews (30,000 hours) for the establishment of a one-of-a-kind digital archive.
For more information, visit The HistoryMakers website at www.thehistorymakers.com and
The HistoryMakers Education page at http://www.thehistorymakers.com/education.
Photos by Brian W. Carter