Fort Leonard Wood held its annual Black History Month Luncheon Tuesday in recognition of the contributions African-Americans have made to the nation.
The event was organized by the 14th Military Police Brigade and featured a performance by “For the Culture” from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri.
Chaplain (Capt.) Joseph McCall delivered the invocation, thanking those who sacrificed for posterity. “(Our ancestors) were not ashamed to put their lives on the line for freedom and progression,” he said.
Waynesville Middle School Principal Michele Sumter delivered the keynote speech.
Before assuming her current position, Sumter previously worked in community schools while stationed with her husband at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
The theme of this year’s event was black migrations. During her speech, Sumter gave a personal anecdote about the trials her mother, who was born in Charleston, South Carolina, faced during the Civil Rights Movement.
“At 11 o’clock every day during lunch, (Mom) would have to leave the cubicle where she worked and either ride the elevator up and down and sneak to eat her lunch or go downstairs to the first floor and eat by the dumpsters,” she said. “You see blacks were not permitted to eat in the building.”
Following a “peaceful, but productive conversation” with the supervisor, she said, “black employees… no longer had to be segregated for lunch.”
Sumter reflected on the lessons her mother learned from such experiences.
“Tone can determine or deter conflict,” she said. “Conflict is inevitable, but combat was optional.”
She likened her ability to be present at the luncheon to the results of experiences such as her mother’s.
“I’m standing here today as a principal of the most diverse middle school in this part of Missouri, in a room full of my peers, sharing a meal,” she said. “That’s a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Shifting the focus from history to the future, Sumter asked the audience how they will make the world a better place.
“What will your contribution be to this society?” she said. “We, you and I, have an obligation to not be individualistic in our concerns, but to always, and in every community where we live, find ways to help someone else.”
Teaching, she said, is how she makes her mark.
“I knew that I needed to do something to impact the world,” she said. “I knew that I could teach students about the importance of being at school every day, submitting quality work, leading by example, self-respect, being kind and having a good attitude.”
She concluded her by speech encouraging every member of the audience to make a difference.
“It’s our human obligation,” she said.
Sumter and members of “For the Culture” were presented awards of appreciation following the speech.