The mop, dimmer switch, traffic light, ironing board and remote control are just a few of the things invented by African-Americans. Adesina Ogunelese, a noted historian of African and African-American history, knows all about them because she began teaching about black inventors in 2006 in an after-school program. A fixture in Maui libraries and schools since then, she will share knowledge like this 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 ’50s and ’60s where not much Black History was taught in schools,” said 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.
“I enjoy giving these programs so that young children can be inspired to do great things with their lives at a young age,” Ogunelese continued. “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’s 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 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 their 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 their own greatness? There is more to life than 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.”