Director Christopher C. Melvin, Jr. was appointed to the Board of Directors of the RTA in September, 2012 representing the City of Chicago. We thank him for writing this post about Black History Month.
February is Black History Month. Each year it gives me cause to step away from the news of the day and to take a fuller, broader view of the Black American experience, the history of my people.
In 2019, Black Americans will have been in this country for 400 years. We arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, 157 years before the constitution was created. It is no overstatement to say that we have been a part of building this nation from the very beginning.
During those 400 years we have made significant contributions to our nation despite enduring dehumanizing treatment. We were enslaved and even after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, we were further oppressed when we were betrayed by “Reconstruction” and “Jim Crow” laws.
Yet, we have always been dedicated Americans. The first revolutionary to die in the Revolutionary War was Crispus Attucks, a black man. We fought in the Civil War. We fought in World War I. We fought in World War II and we continue fighting for our country today. We fought when America asked for our all, knowing full well that upon returning home after victory, we would again be treated as half-men.
Contrary to the some of the stereotypes on TV and the media, the real story of Black America is one of standing with dignity, while enduring horrific oppression. Most of the black people I have known have been law abiding, church going, fair minded, hardworking, smart and optimistic people with a deep faith America would one day redeem itself for its bigotry.
When we were able to fully challenge America for our freedom, we did so in the most peaceful and civilized manner. We asked for fair treatment based on our U.S. constitution. As Reverend Jesse Jackson has said, “In doing this, we added to the value of the constitution, and deepened freedoms for all Americans.” Prior to the civil rights movement, there was no Title IX, no ADA, no Gay Rights Movement, no Women’s Equality Movement, no Peace Movement. In that sense, we changed the world. From A. Phillip Randolph and the Pullman Porters Union, we created a protest politics movement coupled with legal challenges that was extended and refined by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, and which became a tool for social change for many other groups in their quests for freedom.
Like most Black Americans who migrated to Chicago, I came here from the south. Chicago for generations stood out like a beacon of hope for us. The dynamism of the economy, sitting here at the nation’s crossroads, offered us an opportunity to be a part of the mainstream economy. Many black families came to Chicago to provide their families with a decent living and their children with a brighter future. That very dynamism is alive and well as evidenced by our President Barack Obama.
Here at the RTA, we are proud of our commitment to fairness and equal opportunity for all. You can see it in our RTA staff. You can see it in our RTA leadership. You can see that commitment in our Board’s policies. We add each and every day to the vitality of this economy as CTA, Metra and Pace move people throughout the region in an efficient manner.
I want to urge everyone in the RTA region and every American to pause and give some thought to Black History Month.
Christopher C. Melvin, Jr.
RTA Board Member