Weekend events commemorate first African slaves brought to US

Enslaved African people may have been brought to North America as early as the 1500s, perhaps by Sir Francis Drake of England, according to the Smithsonian Institution, but many historians peg the arrival of the first Africans to English North America in Virginia in 1619.

The dreaded Middle Passage was the stage of the triangular trade in which millions of Africans were forcibly transported to the New World as part of the Atlantic slave trade.

The Mahoning Valley will mark the occasion with the Mahoning Valley 400-Year Commemoration, a weekend of diverse activities Friday through Aug. 11 throughout downtown Youngstown.

A full rundown of the activities, including a downtown festival from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, will be printed in Sunday’s paper on C1 BEST.

“I first heard about this commemoration and the call to mark the occasion nationally during a guest speakers’ presentation, and I knew we had to celebrate here in the Valley,” Helen Youngblood, event co-chairwoman, said in a news release, noting the event has blossomed into much more than she initially planned.

On Aug. 25, 1619, the first “20 odd” Africans in English North America arrived in Point Comfort, today’s Hampton, Va., aboard the White Lion. The individuals, originally captured by Portuguese enslavers in West Central Africa (likely modern-day Angola), were masters of their trades – skilled and knowledgeable farmers, blacksmiths and tradesmen.

Their innovations in food production and crop cultivation were understood to be valuable. They were forcibly traded to the colonists in exchange for food and supplies.

Telling the story of the Valley’s black American trailblazers is a signature part of the commemoration.

Based on nearly a year of research on the part of a subcommittee, a 100-page publication detailing the history and noteworthy contributions of area black residents has been created.

Pre-sale of the commemoration book will be this month, and the group hopes to distribute the colorfully illustrated product to schools as a teaching tool in the fall. Check with Youngblood for details.

“I am in awe of what our ancestors have contributed and accomplished,” Youngblood said, adding most people aren’t aware of this legacy and take sacrifices for granted.

The 400 Years of African-American History Commission was established by Congress on Jan. 8, 2018, to inspire, develop, and support programs and activities throughout the United States to commemorate the anniversary of slaves arriving in the U.S. and highlight years of African-American contributions.

Tickets available for advanced purchase for the upcoming weekend are available at American Family Insurance, 5500 Market St., Boardman, 330-518-1127.

For information on being a festival sponsor or vendor call Youngblood at 234-855-4729.

A part of the commemoration activities is the seventh annual African American Male Wellness Initiative.

Next Saturday, the Valley’s 5K walk and run will take place at the Covelli Centre on Front Street in downtown Youngstown beginning at 7 a.m. and include a day of free health screenings, education and empowerment for the entire family.

Kendall Johnson, also known as King Kendall, an author and motivational speaker, will serve as master of ceremonies.

The event will also feature the Matrix Band and special preview performances of the upcoming Youngstown Playhouse production of “Dreamgirls.”

Back-to-school supplies will be distributed compliments of Ronald McDonald’s Charities Fast Track McDonalds and the Herb Washington Family.

Ron Torbert, a National Football League referee and crew chief, will be returning home for the occasion as honorary chairman.

“We are excited to have Mr. Torbert, a native of Youngstown and South High School graduate, return to support our campaign to raise financial support and awareness of preventable diseases for African American men, said the Rev. Lewis Macklin, the local Male Wellness Initiative coordinator and pastor .

Torbert noted the issue of black and Hispanic men knowing their health numbers and seeking treatment is important as his father died of prostate cancer.

The wellness event will also honor the 2019 Healthy Heroes – Brian Marrow, head coach of the Youngstown East High School football team; William “Guy” Burney, My Brother’s Keeper and coordinator of the city’s Community Initiative to Reduce Violence; the Rev. Todd Johnson, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Warren and CEO of the nonprofit Focus; and Michael Engram, founding executive director of Game Changers.

The AAWALK has provided health screenings, workforce development training and educational community resources; impacting more than 100,000 black Americans nationwide.

Here are some health facts:

In 2018, nearly 165,000 new cases of prostate cancer were reported in the United States. Among those statistics, one in six African-American men will develop the disease in his lifetime, which is almost two times the rate of white males.

African-American men are also more than two times as likely to die from the disease.

For additional information regarding the wellness initiative, go to www.aawalk.org or contact 330-788-1696.

Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. Contact him at ebrown@vindy.com.