Students should set their sights high and get involved, two speakers told Northeast High School students Friday as part of a Black History Month program. "Building Bridges," a program of presentations, exhibits, demonstrations and classroom lessons honoring Black History Month, is aimed at dispelling racial myths and stereotypes in the school and community, school officials say.
On Friday, two black speakers, one corporate and one military, came to the school to share their advice with students.
Forest Farmer, president of Acustar, a Troy, Mich.-based subsidiary of Chrysler Corp. that employs 25,000 people, told students to reach for the stars.
He said he wanted the students to expand their career options and know "there is opportunity beyond the service industries."
"I want to challenge them to get a better education and to be the best they can be," he said. "Our most valuable resource in this country is our people. We must be concerned with our ability to compete in the international marketplace."
The other speaker was 26-year-old Lt. Lorie Blount, a 1986 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and an outreach officer for the academy. She told students that the best way to prepare for college is to study hard and get involved in sports and clubs.
Blount said Black History Month is important for the students.
"There are so many important contributions by black Americans that are not in the textbooks, not talked about and not on TV. The kids really respond to someone who is near their age, someone who can say, 'I've been there. I know.' " Judy Terwilliger, an English teacher who helped coordinate the program, agreed.
"If the contributions of black Americans to our culture were included in our curriculum, we would not have to have a Black History Month," she said. "This is necessary for our black students, to encourage them to seek a higher level of achievement."
She and three other staff members from the school obtained a $2,500 grant from the Pinellas County Schools Education Foundation to sponsor the program.
Pam Wall, an 18-year-old white senior at the school and a member of Hi-Y, a youth and government organization, said the program helps students "learn to judge people by who they are, not what color they are."
She said, however, that some of her friends have said there should be a White History Month as well. "I tell them the rest of the year is devoted to white history," she said.
Jayme Austin, 14, is a freshman at the school. She said Black History Month has been a source of pride for her as well as a source of information for "Black Facts," a feature she does on the morning announcements.
"In school, I've always been given the impression that a lot of important things were made by whites, but I've found out a lot of important things were actually invented and perfected by blacks."
Other guest speakers for "Building Bridges" have included state
legislators and representatives of the Pinellas County Arts Council, Pinellas County schools, General Motors, General Electric, Suncoast Medical Clinic, Brevard Community College and Kraft-General Foods.
Alonzo Colquitt, another coordinator of the program, said many students think the only successful blacks are athletes, entertainers or drug dealers.
"This program gives them the chance to see that the people who are successful are the ones going to school," he said.