A knowledge of the struggles and successes from the past sets the foundation to a deeper understanding and appreciation in the future. According to the 2010 census, nearly a full quarter – 23.7% – of the city of Lansing’s population is African American. That alone is reason enough to commemorate Black History Month throughout February in the Greater Lansing region; people what are our friends, neighbors, family members colleagues and clients.
Black History Month is more than an occurrence denoting the celebration of diversity in our society. It’s about recognizing the many African American authors of our nation’s history – those whose stories are woven into the fabric of our country and whose contributions and causes have elevated the human spirit and advanced the ambitions of society.
African American history in Lansing dates back to the very founding of the city, when James Little, a freed slave from New York, came to Lansing in 1847 and settled on a farm. In the 173 years since then, a wide range of African American trailblazers helped to shape our region. Just a few of the notable women on that list include:
Olivia Letts: In 1951, Letts became the first black female teacher hired in Lansing. She was named the city’s first black principal a decade later and was among the district’s first black administrators. In 2016, she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
Hortense Canady: In 1968, Canady was the first black resident elected to the Lansing school board. She was one of the five board members recalled in 1972 for advocating a school desegregation plan. Canady eventually became the first executive director of the Lansing Community College Foundation. She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002.
Dr. Alexa Canady: The Lansing native was the first black female neurosurgeon in the United States. She was chief of neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan from 1987 to 1989.
Paula Cunningham: Starting her career as an associate professor at Lansing Community College in 1981, Cunningham became the school’s first female president in 2000. She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2013.
In a time when racial relations are witnessing an increased strain in our country, this month is the ideal opportunity to ease the tensions by opening ourselves to a fuller comprehension that our differences shouldn’t be used to build further divisions. When our differences in our history, our traditions and our perspectives are celebrated, our world is broadened and ties that bind us together are strengthened.