A poem written by the late Rev. William Holmes Borders, a pastor of Wheat Street Baptist Church in Atlanta and a civil rights activist, has often been cited by black leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.
The poem, which encourages self-worth despite racial and socio-economic status, was the theme of a Black History Month program at Cleveland Historical Museum on Thursday, Feb. 28. Cleveland native and filmmaker Nikol Johnson was the guest speaker.
Johnson spent the first 13 years of her life in Cleveland, living with her grandmother, Juanita Johnson. She then moved to Los Angeles for the next 20 years, graduating from California State University with a degree in criminal justice.
Thursday’s program fell on the same night as the premiere of a movie she has helped produce with Brilliant Women in Film titled “Beyond the Vows.” The movie is about the relationship struggles of a young married couple trying to lead a Christ-centered life.
According to Johnson, she and the other producers in Brilliant Women in Female are being recognized with a day in their honor in the City of Houston on March 8.
Johnson said her roots in Cleveland helped provide the foundation for who she is today.
“I am somebody, not only because of my race’s history of inventions but because of the my strength and the core of my leaders – the teachers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers who laid a foundation for me,” she said. “I am somebody because of Mrs. Willie Lee [Cleveland], who taught us to believe in ourselves and that we could do anything with God, because of Mrs. Etta David, who stood on education and encouraged us all to love, because of Mrs. Irene Hopkins, who taught us to love and showed us an example of sweetness and kindness, and because of my grandmother, Juanita Johnson, who taught us to fight for our rights and stand for ourselves.”
That foundation included the black churches in Cleveland where a child couldn’t get away with chewing gum in church without being called out by elders, Johnson added.
“We had order and respect for elders. I do not recall any boys sagging with their pants or any girls with lose, foul mouths…We were taught it takes a village. We must desegregate our minds. We must stop the black-on-black violence. We must stop crying period. We must correct our youth. That’s very important,” she said.
After her well-received speech, Johnson was presented a certificate of appreciation from the Cleveland Historical Society.
Etta David, who has arranged the Black History Month programs for years, was recognized by her peers for her contributions to the community. She was surprised by a bouquet of flowers and a certificate of appreciation.
The family of the late Mrs. Willie Lee Cleveland was presented a certificate of appreciation to honor her contributions to the community.
Cleveland Historical Society holds programs on the fourth Thursday of every month at Cleveland Historical Museum, 203 E. Boothe St., Cleveland. The meetings start at 6 p.m. and are open to the public.