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July 2024

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Emergency Preparedness: Are You Ready?

Farewell from the 2023/24 Social Work Interns

Gina on the Horizon

Mark Your Calendars for the Healthy Aging Research California Virtual Summit

Meet Our New Development Associate

Putting the Strategic Plan into Practice

Washington Park: Pasadena’s Rediscovered Gem

Introducing Civil Rights Discussions

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Springtime Visitors

Freezing for a Good Cause – Credit, That Is

No Discussion Meeting on May 3rd

An Apparently Normal Person Author Presentation and Book-signing

Flintridge Center: Pasadena Village’s Neighbor That Changes Lives

Pasadena Celebrates Older Americans Month 2024

The 2024 Pasadena Village Volunteer Appreciation Lunch

Woman of the Year: Katy Townsend

April 2024

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January 2024

Villagers Reflect on Black History Month

By Jan McFarlane
Posted: 01/24/2024
Tags: jan mcfarlane

As we begin celebrating Black History Month — which got its official start almost five decades ago as part of the nation’s bicentennial — where are we now, in the movement to eliminate racism? The observance aims to honor the contributions of African Americans and recognize their sacrifices, but racial discrimination continues to permeate much of society.


I spoke with three African American members of our Pasadena Village hiking group — Valerie Jones, Jo Yeargin and John Jackson — to gain their perspective. 


On Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 15, as Valerie, Jo and I enjoyed breakfast in the safety and serenity of a café in South Pasadena, I asked “where are we today? Have we gone backwards?” 


“Yes,” Jo said immediately. Valerie agreed. 


However, Jo said, she was heartened while driving over that morning to see traffic was light, that at least some people were celebrating the day by not working. But, Jo continued, she had another thought as she saw two young white boys waiting to cross the street at Orange Grove and California boulevards. 


“They can stand there and wait to cross the street quietly. No one will approach them. No adult will ask them if they need help, as though they are in the wrong place. It wouldn’t be the same if they were Black boys,” she said.


“You’re always being watched,” Valerie said. She recounted a story of being in a health food store. The Asian proprietor sent her son to watch Valerie as she stood in the aisles pondering which health supplement to buy. “Think how that feels,” she said.


And then, there is always the fear of police, they said, particularly for Black males. “And, you have sons,” Valerie said to Jo. Valerie told a story about a Black lawyer who was coming to talk to her League of Women Voters group. “He was driving along, minding his own business. He was in a suit, driving his nice car. Then he was stopped by the police. I think sometimes they must be jealous. When someone gets ahead, they want to take you down.” Jo agreed.


Growing up, Valerie said, she went to parochial schools in New York. Often she was the only person of color in her class — or one of only a few. Then she went to a historically Black college in Virginia, Hampton University. “I felt like I could breathe,” she said.


“And,” Jo said, “We are not taught our own history, the contributions that Black people have made. I did not even know who Bayard Rustin was until a few days ago. Bayard was the one who organized the March on Washington in 1963.” Also, Bayard Rustin was marginalized in history because he was a gay man. Even Black leaders wanted him kept in the background because they thought that, as a gay man, he might bring discredit to the civil rights movement.


Jo and Valerie agreed that young Black students still are not encouraged to reach their full potential. “Counselors are always telling them to go to PCC,” Valerie said. “Not that there is anything wrong with community college, but what about four-year universities, like UCLA and USC?”


Jo said that’s what happened to her son. His high school counselor suggested PCC for him. Jo was not having it. She took her son to visit UCLA and USC, but he wasn’t interested. Then her son heard a Black lawyer talk about Cal Poly Pomona. “That’s where he went for undergrad, and then he went to Irvine for his M.B.A.,” she said.


So, where are we today? Valerie and Jo decried the harsh talk coming from leading politicians that demeans and demonizes people of color— anyone not a white, straight, male.


How do we combat this racism? “Well, for starters, just sitting beside someone,” Jo said. “Ask someone what they think.”


“But,” Valerie said, “don’t think all Black people think alike. And don’t make one person feel responsible for saying what ‘Black people’ think. We are all different.”


We can educate ourselves about our history, both good and bad, Valerie said. Last year she visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. Known informally as the National Lynching Memorial, it has steel rectangles hanging from the rafters, each one memorializing a county where someone was lynched — and describing the person and details of the murder. 


We can attend events honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month. As we completed our breakfast, Jo was in a hurry to drive over to the Jackie Robinson Center in Pasadena, where her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, was having its annual MLK Day program.


John Jackson described in a phone conversation a life-transforming experience on a recent trip to South America. While in Colombia, Johns discovered a place he had never heard of, known as San Basilio de Palenque. “Palenque” means “walled city.” Known as Palenke by local Afro-Colombians, the site is the first “free town” for Africans in the Americas.


Declared a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage site in 2005, the town began in 1619 as a refuge created by African enslaved people who had escaped the Spanish colonizers who had kidnapped and brought them to work on plantations in the Americas. Over time, more runaways found their way to Palenke and settled down. For many years, the Spanish colonial government sent expeditions to subdue the rebellion. After many defeats, the Spanish crown agreed to peace terms with the citizens of Palenke. In 1772 the community became part of an official district of Colombia. 


Today the town has about 3,500 inhabitants. Most are Afro-Colombians descended from the area’s original escaped enslaved people and have preserved their ancestral customs and language, Palenquero.


“Just going there, to that town, was an eye-opener and made the whole trip worth it,” John said. “Their culture demonstrates the resilience of African people.”

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