Black in Time

Jazz event is a highlight for Black History Month


Special to The Miami Herald

Jazz is popular music that originated among black people in New Orleans in the late 19th century. It’s a mix of blues, folk, march and ragtime, and it helps define the black experience in America. This year, for the second time, Jazz On The Green, a Black History Month program, will be held at Plymouth Congregational Church in Coconut Grove. The Feb. 10 presentation will again benefit The United Negro College Fund.

During a 10 a.m. church service, three educators will be recognized for their community service: Leona Cooper Baker, a retired teacher who works quietly and diligently to preserve and promote the historically black West Grove; Chester Fair, a college administrator who is active in the local and national Pan Hellenic Council, and who travels from Richmond Heights to Miami Gardens promoting youth programs; and retired school administrator Dorothy Wallace, who helps provide young women a second chance in life. The D.M. Wallace COPE Center-South, a Miami-Dade County Public School Academy of Health Science & Medicine, is named in her honor.

At 11:30 a.m., the jazz set begins. Featured artists include local favorites the Jesse Jones Jr. Quintet, vocalist Brenda Alford, musicians from the FIU Jazz Quartet, and Plymouth Congregational Church.

The public is invited to attend and donations to the United Negro College Fund are encouraged.

Why Black History Month?

Black History Month began in February as Negro History Week. The idea for the week was conceived by Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

The week selected contains the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and Frederick Douglass (Feb. 14). The first event was held in 1926. Fifty years later, in 1976, during the nation’s bicentennial celebration, Negro History Week was expanded to the entire month of February. Then-President Gerald R. Ford encouraged all Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Every president since then has dedicated February as Black History Month. The 2013 proclamation is online.

Programs nationwide celebrate national figures who made sacrifices in order to help advance society and recognize local figures working in the community to help improve life for future generations. Locally, Plymouth Church’s Black History is one of many program that carries out President Ford’s request.

At Plymouth, the activities of the event’s chair, Henry Givens, and co-chair Leatrice Taylor Damus are noteworthy. Both are active members of Plymouth Congregational Church, supporters of the United Negro College Fund, and each is recognized in a variety of community organizations for their outstanding leadership.

Committee chair Henry Givens, a native Miamian “born down south in Princeton,” is a Miami-Dade County Capital Inventory Specialist. He is Vice President of the Bahamas Education, Culture and Science Foundation, past chair of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board and the first black person to chair the Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce.

Co-chair Leatrice Taylor Damus, was born in River Rouge, Michigan outside of Detroit. One of American Airlines’ first black stewardesses, she and her husband moved to Miami in 1972.

She is a member of the Young Patronesses of the Opera, The Links Inc., Opera America, American Red Cross Ball Committee, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens Gala Committee and the advisory committee for the University of Miami’s Friends of the Young Musicians’ Camp. Affiliated with Girl Scouts since childhood, in 2012 she received a signature award at the 100 anniversary of the Girl Scouts of America luncheon.

With their skills, the committee was able to have this event underwritten again by members of the Plymouth Church congregation and corporate sponsors. The goal is to help black college students continue their education. The public is encouraged to participate by making checks payable to The United Negro College Fund and sending them to Plymouth Congregational Church, 3400 Devon Road, Coconut Grove, FL 33133.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to

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