Adesina Ogunelese, a noted historian of African and African-American History, will share her knowledge with Maui’s youth in a series of readings for Black History Month under the theme of “Divas, Dancers and a Millionaire” at the Makawao Public Library.
“I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s where not much Black History was taught in schools,” says Ogunelese. “So when I discovered the rich history of my people at 16 I vowed to make it a life long practice to read and discover as much as I can of the hidden history of my culture. I realized then that it is only your history when you tell it. So what I do is pick a subject that I am interested in and read all the books I can on that subject. I am a avid reader, and I can consume three to four different books at a time.”
Ogunelese does readings at the library and at various schools on Maui. She began with a series on black inventors in 2006 in an after-school program. The mop, dimmer switch, traffic light, ironing board and remote control are just a few of the things on a long list that blacks have invented, and Ogunelese would talk about their lives and how they were able to make these inventions. Then in 2008 she was invited to bring that presentation to Kihei and Makawao Elementary Schools.
“I enjoy giving these programs so that young children can be inspired to do great things with their lives at a young age,” says Ogunelese. “I had wanted to learn to fly when I was 16. I joined the Civil Air Patrol in Philadelphia, but was the only girl and only black in the program. Even though I was second in my class on the exams, they wouldn’t allow me to fly, saying that girls could only do the radio. I didn’t know about Bessie Coleman, a black woman who traveled to France in the 1920s and received her pilot license. Nor did I hear about the heroic deeds and flying of the Red Tail pilots in World War II. Perhaps if I had known about them, I would have had the stamina to pursue this dream further.”
Most of the books in her series this month have come from the Makawao Library, where she goes in at least twice a week to see what’s new and browse through the books. Ogunelese believes that our own educational system does leave something to be desired when it comes to teaching the spectrum of cultural history.
“All children need to know what there own culture has accomplished,” she says. “They draw inspiration from that. On the shoulders of our ancestors we stand, but if our stories are never told, hidden or distorted how can they aspire to there own greatness? There is more to life then white American history. Quite frankly, I was bored in school with it, but had Black history, American Indian, Mexican, Chinese, etc. been part of the framework of American history and each culture had a chance to see how they had a hand in building this land, then it would have been much more interesting.”
“Black History Children’s Story Hour” will be offered on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 2 pm. Ogunelese will read “Aida” by Leontyne Price, the story of an Ethiopian princess from the opera, and “Dancing in the Wings” by Debbie Allen, a story of a young girl’s dream of becoming a star ballerina. This program is suitable for ages three and older. All children must be accompanied by a parent or caregiver.
“Profiling Black Opera Divas: Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price” will be presented on Monday, Feb. 13 at 6 pm. Anderson, the first African-American woman to sing opera on stage, overcame racism in Washington DC and performed at the Lincoln Memorial in front of 75,000 people. Price, an American soprano who benefitted from Marian Anderson’s experience, was one of the first African-Americans to become a leading artist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
“Profiling Black Ballet Dancers: Arthur Mitchell and Alvin Ailey” will be offered on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 6 pm. Mitchell, an African-American dancer and choreographer, broke the stereotype of a ballet dancer and was the first black person to dance in the New York City Ballet. Ailey, a choreographer and dancer who founded his own dance school in New York, is the first black modern dancer and is credited with popularizing modern dance.
“The Life of Madame C. J. Walker: the First Black Female Millionaire” will be presented on Monday, Feb. 27 at 6 pm. Walker, an African-American businesswoman, hair care entrepreneur and philanthropist, made her fortune by developing and marketing a highly-successful line of beauty and hair care products for black women.