February marks Black History Month and there are several events planned this year to celebrate Black history, culture and life, as local programming goes virtual to adapt to COVID-19.
Among this month’s programs, West Kentucky Community and Technical College recently announced a full slate of events for the occasion. It includes a culinary tribute, a virtual panel discussion with Paducah community members and videos posted on social media.
“I am looking forward to it all, because it speaks volumes to the celebration of Black history on the college campus,” Chevene Duncan-Herring, WKCTC diversity, equity and inclusion director, told The Sun.
“We had to pivot into the virtual platform and, with that said, we’re still able to promote Black history and engage our students, as well as our community, so I’m just proud of it all.”
One of the WKCTC events recognizes African American chefs in history.
Chef Jessi Donaldson, director of campus dining and catering, researched famous chefs to feature each week at the college’s Kitchens Café and Center Café. It includes sharing cards with biographical information. She also will tie in weekly food specials to honor the chefs, which include Zephyr Wright, personal chef to former President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Paris-trained chef James Hemings.
“I thought it would be really interesting to specifically look into African American chefs and what they contributed to culinary arts, as we know it, and then also to Black history and the civil rights movement,” she said.
“I thought it was really interesting that so much of what I found, even the food and the history, just go so hand-in-hand.”
In her research, Donaldson came across some “really cool chefs,” and she described it as an enlightening project. She wanted to create menus that honored them and the foods they made, as well as sharing knowledge about the chefs and their accomplishments.
Leah Chase, the famous, late New Orleans chef, will be featured in the third week of February. Chase died at age 96 in 2019.
“She’s known as the ‘Queen of Creole Cuisine’ and she had everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to President (Barack) Obama, President (George W.) Bush and even Beyoncé eat in her restaurant,” Donaldson said.
“She’s quoted as saying, ‘In my dining room, we changed the course of America over a bowl of gumbo and some fried chicken.’ ”
Meanwhile, WKCTC’s “One Book Read” for 2020-21 is “The Gone Dead,” by author Chanelle Benz, whose novel touches on issues of race, justice and memory, “revealing buried old wounds of a family, a community and country,” according to the college.
As part of Black History Month and “One Book Read,” WKCTC invites students, faculty, staff and the public to watch and participate in a live panel discussion on its Facebook page and YouTube channel at 6-7 p.m. Feb. 11.
The discussion, “Oral History: Stories from the Community,” will feature Paducah community members. Panelists will explore the “topics of race, memories of the South and social injustice,” according to the college.
It will also post two videos on social media that showcase Paducah residents Varetta Hurt, in a monologue as Harriet Tubman, and Samuel “Snacks” Hawkins, through spoken word, among other virtual events. Hurt’s video is planned to premiere at noon Feb. 18, and Hawkins’ video is set for noon Feb. 25. Both videos may be viewed at any time after they premiere.
In other local programs, the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce will celebrate Black History Month during its Power in Partnership Breakfast this week.
It will have Paducah native Brent Leggs as the featured speaker. He serves as executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund with the National Trust for Historic Preservation based in Washington, D.C.
The virtual broadcast is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Thursday, and people can register to attend via Zoom at paducahchamber.org. It will be shown live on the chamber’s and WPSD Local 6’s Facebook pages, and livestreamed on WPSD Local 6.
The McCracken County Public Library also has scheduled two programs on Zoom this month for its Virtual McLib Series.
The first program is “Escape to Freedom: The Role of the Steamboat in the Underground Railroad,” at 7 p.m. Feb. 10. It features local historian Richard Parker, said adult programming coordinator Bobbie Wrinkle.
“There’s an opportunity at the end that people can ask questions, so we’ll get a discussion going,” Wrinkle said.
“He will speak for about 45 minutes and then, after that, people can ask questions. It draws on a timely topic, but it also draws on the rich, local history — Kentucky history, that regional history. I think that’s always important. People love to learn about our local history like that.”
The second program is, “An Evening with Samuel ‘Snacks’ Hawkins, Poet, Performer & Educator” at 7-8 p.m. Feb. 17. Visit mclib.net to learn more information about the programs and to access the Zoom meeting link.
“The programs are open to the public,” Wrinkle added.
“It’s very easy. You can just go to our Facebook page and they have links that you can link to get into Zoom. The programs are also recorded and if you go to our YouTube, ‘MCLIBTV,’ a lot of the previous programs are posted on YouTube.”
Through its website, mclib.net, the library also has posted an article for Black History Month that shares local history links, event information, fiction and non-fiction book recommendations and a list of documentaries.