Retired Air Force Master Sergeant Kenneth Funchess has a long, illustrious career in the United States Air Force, and is now the JROTC instructor at Hope High School. He spoke at the annual Black History Month Program at Bethel A.M.E. Church on Saturday night.
Funchess focused on young people and the importance of Black history. He asked the question “How proud are we of our heritage?”
“Dr. Woodson began the celebration of Black History Month with one week set aside to honor and remember those who had gone before us,” he said. “It has gone from a week to a month. We've come a long way, but we've got a long way to go.
“Equality was fought for by both Dr. Woodson and Dr. King, and they were both assassinated,” Funchess said. “Their deaths did not quell the voice of justice and the messages that they were getting across.”
Funchess showed the audience an aviation history book that the teachers used to teach his children in school.
“I taught my kids by the lessons I learned,” he said. “I taught them the history of the Black man. There is nothing to be ashamed of, hold your heads up because there were a lot of accomplishments by Black men and Black women. There was Harriet Tubman, who helped get slaves to freedom with the Underground Railroad; there was Frederic Douglass, who helped his people; there was the Freedman's Bureau of 1865, who helped the freed slaves; there was the 14th Amendment; there was the 15th Amendment; there was the Civil Rights Act of 1875, and in 1957 and 1960, there Civil Rights Acts passed.
“We can't forget Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, the blood plasma research that was done by Black Americans, and Mary McCloud McCune, who took $1.50 and built a school for Negro laborer's children.
“We also can't forget the contributions to the world of George Washington Carver, who produced bleach, peanuts, and house paint, to name a few products he helped invent and develop.
“We remember Thurgood Marshall, the famous lawyer who won 32 out of 35 cases before the Supreme Court while working for the Civil Rights movement and the NAACP,” Funchess said. “We also have to remember Richard Allen, who founded the A.M.E. Church in 1816.
“Dr. Martin Luther King gave a sermon shortly before he was assassinated that some have called the 'Drum Major' speech,” he said. “Some of what he said, I will give you tonight...
“When I die and someone does my eulogy, tell them not to mention the Nobel Peace Prize that I won or the 300 or 400 other awards I have received...Tell them I tried to be right, I tried to feed the hungry, I tried to clothe the naked, I tried to visit those in prison, and I tried to stop injustice.
Page 2 of 2 - “If you want to say that I was a drum major, tell them I was a drum major for justice.
“The reason that I gave you these facts is for Black History Months in the future,” Funchess said. “I work with youth every day at the high school, and when I came, the students were kind of shocked at my discipline tactics. They have gotten used to them and have come to appreciate them, I think.
“A favorite question that is posed to the youth nowadays is 'Why spell your name with numbers?,' he said. “To ensure that we live a Christian life, we need to show our youth how to live in Christ. There are still people of all ages who will not listen to good teaching and we must try to get through to them, before it's too late.
“We must remember the teaching and the accomplishments that Black Americans have given us and remember to pass that history on wherever we can, lest people forget what has gone on in the past so we can make the future better,” Funchess said.