OPED: A personal look back at Black History Month

Amanda J Cain
York Dispatch

As Black History Month comes to a end, certain questions are asked. 

Such as, have we, the media, done our jobs?

Here at The York Dispatch, earlier in the month we set out a plan to fairly cover the month and call attention to it.

Amanda J. Cain

I especially wanted to pitch the idea of doing a couple of profiles that showcased certain figures who might not be that well-known. 

With a couple of tips from Carla Christopher, the new equity coordinator at the York County School of Technology, we hit the ground running and started to pick our way through the month.

Artist and educator Ophelia Chambliss, of Manchester Township, gestures while talking about her artwork (shown to the left of her) Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, at Marketview Arts, in York City. As the curator of the Twelve Black Female Exhibition, Chambliss noticed the lack of representation of African Americans in art exhibits, and came up with her own show, to not only showcase herself, but other women ranging from ages 15-65. The show can be viewed Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Marketview Arts is located at 35 W Philadelphia St. Amanda J. Cain photo

One story was about an art exhibit, titled 15-65 Twelve Black Female Artists.

In my mind, this was the one event that I was totally interested in. On Feb. 9, reporter Alyssa Pressler and I went to talk to curator Ophelia Chambliss. She is an artist originally from Chicago who has made her mark here as an artist, educator and entrepreneur.

This one, in my mind, got me thinking a little deeper about the meaning of being surrounded by culture. 

Culture is everywhere, if you think about it. York County can be considered a tad diverse, with York City as its cultural center.

Being from Detroit and growing up middle class, I know both sides well, and oftentimes people are surprised when I say that I am more comfortable in a diverse setting than an independent race setting. 

The day after the story and photos were published, Chambliss thanked us for coming and had a question for me, which was a really good one. 

"You mentioned that you would not have participated in an all-black show. Why?" she asked. "Do you think that would've somehow tainted you as a photographer, if people would've thought less of you and your work?" 

It was an honest question, although I'm sure most people are reading this and wondering what it has to do with Black History Month and York County. 

Well, honestly, a lot. 

Currently, I live in York County, and I am African-American. I am sheltered in the fact that I didn't have to go to public school and didn't grow up in the ghetto. I come from a well-deserved middle-class family that integrated me with other races and that paid for private education. 

So, in going back to Chambliss' question, it's not that I dislike being surrounded by my own culture. It's that I'm used to being surrounded by everyone.

Celebrating Black History Month through art

It has nothing to do with race; it has to do with how I was raised and how I perceive the world. With that being said, showcasing my work in any exhibit would be an honor. For me, personally, it would just depend on where the show is and what it encompasses. 

As a race, we are so talented and so gifted — although, from what I've heard, York County doesn't know it yet.

Rajah Fink, watches as her sister Rayah participates in a lay-up drill during practice Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, at Dover Area High School. Amanda J. Cain photo

For instance, last week a story I wrote about Dover Area High School's Fink sisters ran, and I was very proud of it. When talking to the sisters — African-Americans transplanted to York County from Baltimore County, Maryland — it almost felt like a bond that I understood.

Actually, I completely understand. I've known everything to be mixed, so wherever I am I don't necessarily look for racial tensions — I look at it as: I'm here in an area that doesn't really know me, but I want to know the history of how York County got to be this way.

Mixing it up with the Finks

Is it really up to the media to bring light or awareness to York County for Black History Month, or is it York County's turn to wake up and embrace culture?

Honestly, as one of two newspapers in this area, I think we've done well. There is always room for improvement, but we're at least open to those words, whereas I think York County wants to stay sheltered.

There's that word again: "sheltered," which means "protected from difficulties or unpleasant realities."

We all love to be comfortable, but honestly being comfortable can usually result in being negative. Just because we've always seen things a certain way doesn't mean we can't learn to love in general. This county needs more love, and people need to know that, regardless of race, we can all help each other.

By living in York County over the past year, I've never encountered any real tension directed at me, which is a huge blessing. But I've heard of friends being targeted, and I really am glad I don't know what that feels like.

Am I still sheltered? Kind of. But honestly, this is just who I am and how I see the world. I love to travel, and the best thing about traveling is meeting random people from all different cultures.

Have we, the media, done our jobs? Yes, we have. York County, it is now your job to break down the walls of tension.