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Black history is nation’s story every month of year

RitCoburn Whack  Chicago-based three-time Emmy-award-winning producer produced program titled “MayAngelou’s Black History Month Special.” Coburn Whack is executive producer

Rita Coburn Whack, a Chicago-based, three-time Emmy-award-winning producer, produced the program titled, “Maya Angelou’s Black History Month Special.” Coburn Whack is executive producer at RCW Media Productions, Inc.

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Updated: March 24, 2012 9:02AM



The music is a haunting time machine to the past. Sprinkled with freedom songs and the a cappella serenade of a people too long denied, it is the score for stories and lessons that need to be told and retold for generations.

Such is the backdrop for a radio program ushered in by a stirring excerpt from a speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and also with the words of Langston Hughes and the soothing maternal voice of Maya Angelou.

The hourlong program began airing on public radio stations across the country in February.

Focusing on the civil rights movement — an oft told but inexhaustible story — it recalls from the mouths of some who walked with King, intimate slices of their journey. Others discuss the personal impact civil rights and the collective march toward freedom had on their personal lives.

The program is the work of Rita Coburn Whack, a Chicago-based, Emmy-award winning producer, and is titled, “Maya Angelou’s Black History Month Special.” Last year’s special has just picked up a Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation.

It is, in my humble opinion, worth sharing with family and friends, especially the youth. Underwritten by AT&T, the show will run through the end of February.

And yet, as much as I almost hate to say it — even as much as I also can appreciate such a treasure — it bothers me that so much of the history of African Americans, at least the public acknowledgement of it, is relegated to one month, even the shortest month of the year.

As a boy, when I studied U.S. history in elementary school, I caught glimpses in my books of blacks as slaves. In some later chapter, I saw photos of King and other blacks marching for civil rights. But mostly we were invisible throughout my early study of history.

That sense of our invisibility made me feel insignificant. It left me to wonder where I — where we, as a people — really fit in the historical portrait of life in America. What I later understood is that black history is as much American history as the history of any of us who call ourselves Americans.

Even clearer to me was that the tellers of history are critical to the preservation of that sacred history; that ultimately revisionists can neither negate nor stand against truth, and that some of those capturers of history we call storytellers need have brown eyes, mahogany skin and be knit to the souls of black folks.

To that end, my friend Rita Coburn Whack seeks through her company, RCW Media Productions Inc. — started in 2010 —to tell stories in the vein of the African griot.

Rita has been telling stories in radio and television for years and hopes now as an independent producer to continue in her passion as a storyteller — one who seeks to preserve historical fact but also to convey the nuance of those stories by telling them in the authentic voices of those who lived through and made that history.

“That’s the history we will never get, unless we go to the people who made it and ask,” Rita told me. “I specifically look to tell the stories of the African American, the Black, the Negro and the Colored because those stories really still haven’t been told. They weren’t told conclusively in history books.”

I, for one, can attest to that.

And I can attest to the need for more stories like Rita’s, which fed my soul and filled me as an American with pride.

For more information, go to: mayaangelouonpublicradio.com.



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