Black History Month began in Springfield, Massachusetts this week with an annual flag-raising ceremony at City Hall.
A large diverse audience of children from a local elementary school, a Head Start classroom, and a youth job corps program, were encouraged by keynote speaker Dr. Alonzo Sheffield, 95, a retired physician, to learn their history.
" I think it will help them in their studies and appreciate what the situation is today, " he said.
Sheffield is part of local black history. He was one of the first African Americans to practice medicine in Springfield when he began a general practice in 1947. He recalled it as a difficult time.
" It was the culture and people had prejudices," he said.
Also, he said his patients then were mostly poor people.
" Things are improving, but there is still a lot to be improved, Sheffield said. " I think some people are working on it."
The importance of learning your history was a theme echoed by several other speakers.
State Rep. Benjamin Swan highlighted Carter Goodwin Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Woodson is credited with starting Negro History Week, which evolved to Black History Month.
" He said that a people without knowledge of their history and their culture become negligible in terms of humankind," said Swan, stressing " If you don't know your history you become unimportant."
State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez called for tolerance and understanding.
"Many years ago a great African leader said there is no child born with hate in their heart and if they can be taught to hate they can be taught to love, so this is about loving who you are, loving where you come from, and loving people who come from other places," said Gonzalez.
The program also included a proclamation from Mayor Domenic Sarno , songs performed by a children’s chorus from the Freedman Elementary School, and the raising of the Black American Heritage flag outside City Hall.
This was the 30th annual flag raising ceremony in Springfield to coincide with Black History Month.
The event is dedicated to Ruth Loving, known as Springfield’s “mother of civil rights.” She died in 2014 at the age of 100.