Community Voices

It’s never too late for us to learn the contributions of black people in America

Janelle Monae, left, Taraji P. Henson, second right and Octavia Spencer, right, introduce Katherine Johnson, seated, the inspiration for ‘Hidden Figures,’ as they present the award for best documentary feature at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Janelle Monae, left, Taraji P. Henson, second right and Octavia Spencer, right, introduce Katherine Johnson, seated, the inspiration for ‘Hidden Figures,’ as they present the award for best documentary feature at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Last week, as we were coming to the close of our Black History Month observance, I thought of the struggle to get our youngsters — all youngsters — interested in the contributions blacks have made to America. We can’t blame our children for not knowing, or even for not being interested in blacks’ contributions to America. The struggle, it seems, is in getting out the news.

Our history books, until recent years, didn’t do a very good job of telling our story, except to say that we once were slaves. As we grew into a more integrated nation, it seemed as though our story was finally coming to light; that all would know that, yes, while we came over to these shores in shackles in the belly of slave ships, our lives were essential to the growth and development of America. And I don’t just mean as cotton-pickers.

I was reminded of this sometime late 2016 when I heard of the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly. I had mixed feelings: I was stunned and utterly disappointed that this story was unknown to so many for so many years, and yet I was, oh, so proud to know about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. The book was made into a movie and Johnson, the only survivor of the three women is 98. Last Sunday, she made an appearance at the Academy Awards to a standing ovation, She waved to the audience and said a soft, “Thank you.”

Sitting up in my bed, I yelled back, “No, thank you!”

Surely, I thought, if these women were important, and yes, smart enough help get our country’s space program off the ground, surely they were important enough for all of America to know about.

In an interview on National Public Radio last September, Shetterly told of how the late John Glenn placed his life in the hands of “human computer” Johnson before taking off into space. Shetterly quoted Glenn as saying: “Get the girl ... this human computer to check the output of the electronic computer, and if she says they’re good, you know, I’m good to go as part of my pre-flight checklists.”

Now many years later, years after Jim Crow was outlawed in America, the story comes to light. Still, diligent and watchful African Americans are aware that some of the dust from that seriously sad time still floats around, trying to settle on us to keep our creative spirits from rising.

I for one, would like to believe that hiding the “good works” of black Americans is something that was done in a bygone era. Surely that couldn’t happen nowadays.

That is why this question has haunted me for nearly a year, now: Why is it that until recently we Americans — especially African Americans — never knew about the contributions of these three brilliant African-American women to our country’s space program?

In her interview with NPR, Shetterly said she gets asked that question a lot, adding that the women were modest and thought they were just doing their job.


The astronauts they helped were “just doing” their jobs too. But all the world knew about them. They became our heroes. And because the news of them was spread abroad, even some of our little black boys and girls grew up to be astronauts.

Who knows what some others would have become if they had knowledge of the work and contributions of Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson.

Thank God their story is now known. And it isn’t too late for young people — and old people, too — to be inspired by them and the work they did for our beloved America.

Study of Spirituality

The Dianne Collins and Alan K. Collins Distinguished Speakers Series — Program in the Study of Spirituality, will present a lecture by J. Kim Wright, J.D., at 7 p.m. Thursday at Florida International University Modesto A. Maidique Campus. His lecture topic will be, “Is law the Manifestation of Spirit for the Common Good? — The Legal System as the Structure for Integrity, Purpose and Joy?”

Wright is a trailblazer in the area of Integrative Law, who after many years of practicing law, now writes, trains, coaches, and mentors lawyers around the world. She is the author of two American Bar Association books - “Lawyers as Peacemakers” and “lawyers as Changemakers.”

The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. Call 305-348-7266 for more information.

Passover gift baskets

Passover is in April and there is a need for volunteers for the Jewish Community Service’s (JCS) annual food distribution event, when holiday food baskets are delivered to home bound seniors.

If this is something you or your organization would like to participate in, you may register online at

To register your group and for more information contact Marian Mendelshon at Community service hours are available for students.

Basket assembly will be from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on March 26 at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, 137 NE 19th St.

Purim celebration

Temple Hatikvak of Homestead, 183 NE Eighth St., will celebrate Purim with a festival at 6 p.m. on March 11. At 7:30 p.m. on March 14, the synagogue will have its board meeting. Shabbat services will be at 7:30 p.m. on March 24.

For more information concerning the temple, call 305-251-2569.

CROP Hunger Walk

The community is invited to join Miami Lakes Congregational Church as the congregation walks March 11 to end hunger.

Called the CROP Hunger Walk, the three-mile walk (a one-mile option is available) is a community-wide event sponsored by Church World Service and organized by local congregations to raise funds to end hunger at home and around the world. The walk will begin and end at Miami Lakes Congregational Church, 6701 Miami Lakeway South.

Registration starts at 8 a.m,. and the walk starts at 9 a.m. For more information visit

Author Thane Rosenbaum to lecture

Temple Beth Sholom will welcome Thane Rosenbaum as its scholar-in-residence the weekend of March 3-5 at the temple, 4144 Chase Ave. in Miami Beach.

Rosenbaum is an essayist, law professor and the author of several books. His articles, reviews and essays appear in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Haaretz, Huffington Post and Daily Beast.

In addition, he moderates an annual series of discussions on culture, world events and politics at the 92nd Street Y in New York, called The Talk Show. Rosenbaum is a Distinguished Fellow at New York University School of Law, where he directs the Forum on Law, Culture and Society.

While at Temple Beth Sholom, Rosenbaum’s schedule will start at 6 p.m. Friday, when he will lecture on the topic, “Israel vs. the World — The World vs. Israel.” The lecture will be followed by a Shabbat pot-luck dinner at 7:15 p.m., and a coffee, tea, and dessert and “Stories of Elie Wiesel” at 8:30 p.m.

At noon on Saturday, there will be a “lunch and learn” session about the story of Miami Beach, using Rosenbaum’s acclaimed novel, “How Sweet is it!” as a backdrop.

The weekend of lectures will continue with “Breakfast and Discussion” at 10 a.m. Sunday with the topic, “Moral Justice in Our Legal World.” Rosenbaum will discuss his book, “The Myth of Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails to Do.”

Panelists will include federal prosecutor Joan Silverstein and Julie Braman Kane, president of the American Association for Justice. District Judge Beth Bloom will serve as moderator.

For more information, call Mark Baranek, director of congregational engagement at 305-538-7231 or email

The Rev. Dr. Mary Ellen Cassini honored

A warm Neighbors in Religion salute to the Rev. Dr. Mary Ellen Cassini, the chaplain at Palmer Trinity School, who recently was honored at the Barry University Distinguished Alumni Awards. She was one of 10 alumni award recipients recognized for their outstanding achievements and contributions to society. Cassini was honored at the awards event on Feb. 9 at the Coral Gables Country Club.

“We are extremely proud of the Rev. Dr. Mary Ellen Cassini,” said Patrick H. F. Roberts, head of Palmer Trinity School. “Her daily life reflects Barry University’s core commitment to ‘knowledge and truth, an inclusive community, social justice and collaborative service’ and we are pleased that she is being recognized in this way. She inspires our students... to lead lives of virtue, humanity and spirit, and she does so with the strength of her own example.”

Cassini received her undergraduate, Master of Arts in English and a Doctorate of Ministry from Barry University.

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