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By STEPHEN SWISHER
Rantoul Press correspondent
“Why are we here today?”
That was the question posted by the Rev. Clarence Buchanan of St. Luke’s Church in Champaign, keynote speaker for the Black History Month program at Rantoul Township High School Saturday.
“We are here to reflect on the past and to see how far our Lord has brought us as a people and a community,” Buchanan said. “We’ve come a long way.”
Buchanan went on to explain that we must not only look into the past but also the present and beyond, to see how far American society has come and what can be done to secure a brighter future.
“The distractions of family loss, drugs and violence show us we can do better. We must do better,” Buchanan said, adding, “When we make up our minds to do better we can do better.”
He finished his speech by asking everyone in attendance to stand up and repeat after him, “I am a motivator. I will motivate everyone I am in contact with. I will make things better.”
The master of ceremonies for the event was Rantoul Township High School student Tahali Rusley, who introduced all of the performances and sang in her school’s choir, which performed “Endless Night” from “The Lion King.”
The Greater New Life choir and the St. Luke’s choir also performed.
“It’s a great event to celebrate community,” Rusley said.
The program also included a creative dance performance and a traditional African dance, both performed by students in honor of Black History Month.
Interspersed throughout the dances, choirs, and Buchanan speech were “African American firsts” read by students who gave short biographies on pioneering African Americans in history.
Some of those included were the first African American president, Barack Obama; Oliver Lewis, who won the first Kentucky Derby; and the first person ever to perform a successful open heart surgery, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams.
“The program means a lot to me. Just by experiencing some things growing up and seeing what my parents went through,” said Luanna Williams, who is a cook at RTHS and is a member of the Greater New Life choir.
Williams grew up in Mississippi where the schools were still not integrated and the “separate but equal” concept was still in practice.
The entire event was coordinated by Betty Jones, who has worked at RTHS for 27 years teaching English.
“I want to get students and the community involved,” Jones said. “African Americans have made contributions to American culture. We are celebrating our time.”
Not only did Jones work to get everyone together to celebrate Black History Month, she also took part in the traditional African dance and sang in the St. Luke’s choir.
“Miss Jones does everything and a great job every year,” Principal Todd Wilson said. “She will start planning next year’s event and reserving the cafetorium on Monday.”