Although Black History Month is shunned by some, I think that if the textbooks don’t tell our history, shining a light on African-American history during the month of February is a good thing.
When I was a little kid in the 1950s, I was extremely curious. So when my mom and dad would discuss different topics to keep my sisters and me informed, my ears perked up.
I remember not understanding why we couldn’t live anywhere we wanted to as a family in Omaha. I would ask, “So tomorrow if our family all had white skin, we could move anywhere we wanted in Omaha?”
When my parents answered yes, I would say, “But you told us that the most important thing that we must remember is to be good people. We should be kind, loving, honest and fair to others.”
When my parents replied yes that was true, I asked, “So why does our skin have to be white to move into any neighborhood we want to? Is being good people not enough?”
I remember hearing many sighs as I grew up when I asked questions that were painful for my parents to answer. But they knew they must teach us the plight of our people.
We learned that African-Americans were brought to America on slave ships, and our ancestors were slaves for over 400 years. But we did not learn in our school history books the many contributions that black people made to our country. Those lessons were definitely left up to our parents and the black community to teach us.
But right here in Omaha, it is gratifying to witness black people contributing to the community in a positive way and being great role models to young African-Americans. As I look at the Smith family — Llana; her husband of 51 years, Rudy; and their family — I think how fortunate we are to have them in our community.
Llana is gifted in music and theater arts. Rudy is an award-winning photojournalist and active in social justice causes. Rudy retired from The World Herald after 45 years of service. Their children, Rudy Jr., Shannon (now deceased) and Quiana revealed their gifts as they were growing up.
“It started with my mother, the late Pauline Smith,” Llana said. “She had the gift of public speaking and writing plays. I had my children in a group called SS and company with their cousin Synceree. They performed a Black History program at the Civic Auditorium, with Shannon giving a Martin Luther King speech. The audience gave an extended standing ovation. They also performed “The Creation” and “God’s Trombones” by James Weldon Johnson. They performed at churches and all over the city of Omaha during the years they were growing up.”
Llana said her sons and Synceree lost interest in the performing arts as they grew older, but Quiana (whose professional name is Q.) realized that she loved performing for a live audience. Her gifts include directing, writing, acting and singing. She is now a singer and actress on Broadway and has performed not only in New York, but also in Central America, South America and Europe.
People with God-given gifts become a legacy when they bless others with them. For instance, 30 years ago, Rudy and Llana met Jay Terrell at a church in Wichita, Kansas. Terrell eventually moved to Omaha and became the minister of music at Salem Baptist Church. Llana and Terrell wrote plays together, with Terrell doing the music and Llana writing the scripts. Over the years they put on many productions, including two sold-out performances at the Rose Theater.
Jay Terrell is now the director of magnification ministry at Resurrection Baptist Church in Schertz, Texas. Recently, he invited Llana to write and direct its Easter program. On Easter, there will be three services at Resurrection Baptist Church with performances that Llana has written and directed. She is sharing her gift with others and will be well-remembered for her talent.
I’ve watched over the years how our community has embraced the Smiths with love, pride and joy, and it makes me wonder if our suffering as a race has made us more appreciative and joyful as our people succeed in different venues.
As we celebrate Black History Month in our community it reminds me of a verse from “Still I Rise” by poet Maya Angelou, “I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise, I rise, I rise.”