Local nonprofit hosting BHM event

Published 10:57 am Friday, February 17, 2017

While figures such as Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. are synonymous with black history, a flip through the pages of Cass County’s history reveals plenty of men and women who fought against the evils of slavery.

From the families who harbored fugitive slaves along the Underground Railroad to the collation of Quakers, freemen and other area abolitionists who opposed southern slave catchers during the Kentucky Raid of 1847, the county is replete with figures who worked to end the oppression of African Americans.

Later this month, members of Dowagiac nonprofit The Stepping Stone will seek to celebrate their stories during the organization’s first annual Local African American History Program. The event will be from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Stepping Stone Center, 214 Miller St., Dowagiac.

Hosted in conjunction with national Black History Month, organizers will invite several people to speak about the county’s involvement with black history, including members of The Underground Railroad Society of Cass County and Vandalia author Cindy Yawkey, who will discuss her book “They Have My Shoes, They Have My Freedom: A Story About the Underground Railroad.”

The event is coordinated by Selina Ivens, the program developer and youth director with the Stepping Stone. Ivens said she and others with the group were inspired to host an event highlighting Black History Month due to the interest children with the Stepping Stone’s afterschool study program showed in the subject while learning about Martin Luther King Jr. last month.

Ivens decided to focus the event on local history, and came across a bounty of information while researching the subject along with Tyree Blackamore, executive director with The Stepping Stone.

“We have come across stories of interesting people of all races, who played a big role in fighting for freedom in the area,” she said. “There is a lot of history that occurred in this area alone.”

The event will feature talks and demonstrations by other presenters as well, including author Brenda Walker Beadenkopf, who will discuss the nonviolent protests used during the civil rights movement; African-American cowboy Jeremy “J-dub” Kaler; Dowagiac police officer Thorn Lewis; and Trine Wendelboe with Dowagiac’s One World Center.

“We are sure everyone who comes will learn something they didn’t know before,” Ivens said.

Several vendors and artists will also have displays at the event, including Dowagiac artist O’Larry Collins. Organizers will also host a bake sale and raffle that afternoon.

The event is free and open to the public.

“We plan on doing this every February,” Ivens said. “There is so much history that we know it will grow each year.”