Panel discusses importance of Black History Month


CULVER CITY — “Black history is about inspiring the next generation,” fashion designer DaShaun Hightower said Feb. 15 during an in-depth conversation about Black History Month with Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson Jr. and others at the Macy’s store.

Also taking part in the discussion were singer-songwriter Malynda Hale, Google executive Daraiha Greene and actress Danielle Truitt as they discussed how black history has influenced their careers. The event was hosted by Emile Ennis Jr. of Clevver Entertainment News.

“We need Black History Month because it’s a celebration of American history,” Truitt said. “There would be no America without black people.”

“What black History means to me is celebration and education,” Wesson said. “Every generation has to fight for their civil rights. We have a responsibility to prepare the next generation for this fight, which will last forever. We need to educate the next generation to give them the tools to fight for their freedom and civil rights.”

Wesson also urged self-determination.

“One of my favorite entertainers is James Brown, who famously said, ‘I don’t want nobody to give me something, open up the door and I’ll get it myself.’ I strongly agree. We need to open up the door so that we can get it ourselves.”

“We need to put more focus on the new history being created,” Truitt said. “In the past 20, 30 years, there’s been amazing creativity in the black community. Young people need to see black people who are achieving awesome things. If they see black people doing awesome things, they can say, ‘If they can do it, I can do I.’

“There are so many people who sacrificed — Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass,” Truitt continued. “But there are so many more people in our race that we can revere and recognize. And let’s not just focus on this month, we need to talk about black history 365 days a year.”

“One of the greatest influences in my life was Yvonne Brathwaite Burke,” Wesson said. “She was a Los Angeles County supervisor and a congresswoman — she was the first member of Congress to have a baby. … I can’t think of another person who had a huge impression on me.”

“I love television producer Shonda Rhimes,’’ said Hale, who impressed the audience with several of her original songs. “She is showing that black is beautiful on television. She’s an incredible icon.”

“My icon is Sojourner Truth, who escaped slavery and became a great abolitionist and orator,’’ Greene said. “She fought for all women and for black America. I also like actress Yara Shahidi of the ‘Black-ish’ and ‘Grown-ish’ TV shows, who is using her platform for good.”

“One of my classic icons is James Baldwin,” Truitt said. “He was a literary genius. He spoke about the duality of being black. We are American, but there is this other duality because of our skin color.”

“I’m an admirer of the designer Ann Lowe, who designed clothes for the most famous people in America,” Hightower said. “A lot of people don’t even know that she was an African American.”

Greene was asked about the growing number of programs meant to teach kids how to code and how that will affect the tech industry for black Americans.

“There are millions of tech jobs that are coming in the near future that are going to be unfilled,” Greene said. “But the pipeline to technical talent in our community is there. We need to teach these kids so that they will say, ‘Hey, I can code. I can create an app.’ We need to change the perception for our kids so that they can fill those jobs and reach for the stars.”

Asked what shifts Truitt has seen in the entertainment industry for people of color in front of the camera and behind the scenes, she answered, “There’s definitely been more opportunities for women and blacks in the entertainment industry. There are more showrunners, more women, and more directors of photography. This year, there are so many more leading roles for black women that have been written specifically for black women. There also are more platforms such as Netflix and Hulu, where we can get our content out there.”

“In order to sustain the momentum, we have to continue to watch the shows and go to the theater,” Wesson said. “We have a responsibility to watch programs that not only support black people, but Latinos, Asians and the LGBT community.”

Ennis noted that Wesson continues to create initiatives that spark change. He asked Wesson what initiatives have had the biggest impact over this past year.

“We are a very competitive city,” Wesson said. “One of the events we are looking forward to is that Los Angeles will host the Olympic Games in 2028.”

Wesson expressed his concern about the high incarceration rate of blacks.

“African Americans are incarcerated 4 to 6 more times than other groups,” he said. He saw potential employment opportunities for disenfranchised blacks in the booming cannabis industry.

“We have established a social equity program so that minorities have a pathway to get into this business,” he said.

Ellis asked those on the panel if they felt black people are more confident in themselves now because they are seeing more positive and diverse representations of themselves reflected not only in the media, but in almost every field.

Hale said she was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and wrote the song “We Run’’ which she stirringly sang at the event. “I felt that if people heard the song, they would think about putting themselves in another person’s shoes,’’ she said.

“Yes, but we as a people should not to get too comfortable,” Wesson warned. “We need to be grateful for what we have, but the moment we close your eyes, there are people who would be only too glad to take away our rights. You’ll open your eyes and say, ‘’Dang! I’m outside!”’

Ellis asked what advice the panel would give to the next generation and what role do they want to have in shaping the next generation.

‘’Tell your kids they are brilliant and that they are great,” said Truitt. “That’s what my parents told me. It starts in the household. Tell your kids, ‘I’m capable.’”

“I ran into people all my life who said, ‘No, you can’t do it,’” Wesson said. “You have to educate our kids to believe anything is possible.’’

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