Each February, I reflect on those individuals in African-American history who have impacted my life. Two famous individuals come to mind — Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm. Some might think I am biased by the fact they are dynamic women of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., but to me they represent so much more than that.
As an adolescent mesmerized by politics, I was blessed to have personal access to Gary Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher. But it was not until I saw Chisholm and Jordan that I was fully able to see myself in the political arena.
A member of the New York General Assembly and the U.S. House of Representatives, Chisholm made it clear that standing up for your beliefs mattered. By conveying the message that she was "unbought and unbossed," she made it clear she worked for the people of New York and not any special interests.
That she had the audacity to run for president in the 1970s helped me to understand the importance of knowing one's worth.
Jordan was congressional royalty to me. As a trailblazer in the Texas Legislature, an influential member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and later as a speaker at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, Jordan communicated in a way that convinced everyone of the wisdom of her arguments. Her commitment to good governance and sound public policy over politics is a principal that guides me today.
Even in the midst of celebrating these great women, I am reminded daily of the phenomenal role models who have influenced my life. My mother, Delores Freeman, and grandmothers, Bernice Patterson and Marie Freeman, each evidenced a form of strength that serves me today.
Role models in church and school, including Josephine Cauley, Eleanor Giron, Catherine McReynolds, Dorothy Ford, Sadie Shropshire and others all emphasized the value of perseverance and hard work. While these women may not have gained national attention, their influence has been felt throughout the generations in Northwest Indiana and other parts of the country.
Whenever I think about history, I'm also struck by smart and talented young people I meet in our community. Their accomplishments will certainly be noteworthy in the future. Whether it is the leadership of James Wells, Coercion Davis and Dana Evans or the talent of Taylor Carter, Christianna Spencer and Rylan Thomas, we are fortunate to have many young people who will represent us well in many arenas. I sometimes lament that we spend too little time discussing the accomplishments of young people who are on the right track.
So often, African-American history month focuses solely on individuals who have gained notoriety. While it is important for children to learn about the famous characters in history, they also should be taught to recognize wisdom and value in their living rooms, schools, churches and other places in the community. They also must understand the onerous responsibility of each generation.
We must revere and learn from the sheroes and heroes of history while providing an example to future generations. We must remember the history makers of tomorrow. February is the month when we highlight the contributions of African Americans, but our people make history 365 days a year.