McCrabb: Black History Month time for education, reflection in Butler County

Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips speaks during a Heroin Summit meeting at at Atrium Medical Center in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips speaks during a Heroin Summit meeting at at Atrium Medical Center in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Forty-four years after Black History Month became a month-long celebration, several Butler County black leaders say it’s important to remember their roots while acknowledging their accomplishments.

‘Open minds and expand perspectives’

As a Hamilton High School history teacher, Duane Moore said it’s imperative to focus on all American history. And that includes black history.

“It’s important to recognize the story we tell and what the people have to offer,” said Moore, 45. “You know, the story that doesn’t get enough attention. We have to show the importance of what led African Americans to be the first to do this or first to do that. What are the circumstances that led them to be the first?”

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On Saturday night, Moore was one of the honorees at the 7th annual All Black Attire Martin Luther King, the major fundraiser for the Feed the Hungry Project in Middletown.

Moore, a 1994 Hamilton High School graduate, has taught for 19 years at Hamilton High. He said he was “very surprised” to learn he was being recognized at the MLK dinner.

“It speaks to the long time of doing good work,” he said. “I feel like I’m being honored for having a career of having an impact with young people in our community. You know, a reflection of a career of doing what I can to open minds and expand perspectives.”

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Moore, a single father with a teenage son, also mentors students in his Miami University fraternity.

For him, it’s important to be visible in the community and the classroom. People need to see black teachers, he said.

“I feel like it’s simply not just about a visible presence, but also I have the background and the ability to communicate,” he said. “I pride myself on speaking to all my students and meeting them where they are.”

‘We take all that ownership on’

Jackie Phillips, health commissioner for the City of Middletown, said she feels “excitement” and “sadness” when she thinks about Black History Month.

She enjoys celebrating the history of black people but doesn’t understand why it’s only celebrated one month a year. American history is celebrated year-round. The same should be true for black history, she said.

So last year, Phillips met with leaders of Bethel AME Church in Middletown, and they have made a concerted effort to have a “black history moment” every Sunday. During those conversations, Phillips said, they try to stay away from the best-known black leaders like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr and look “deeper into our history.”

As a black woman in a leadership role, Phillips, 59, said she has a “big responsibility.” She attends many meetings in Butler County and sometimes she is the lone representative from Middletown. There also have been meetings where she is the only woman and the only black person in the room.

She’s a poster child for diversity.

“There’s a book out that says, ‘You can’t become what you can’t see,’” she said. “That’s why it’s important to see people who look like you.”

Phillips said some people don’t understand how black residents view the news. When they watch TV and see another crime has been committed, under their breath, they may say: “I hope they’re not black. I don’t want to defend another stereotype, another misconception.”

As she said: “We take all that ownership on.”

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Phillips, a 1978 Middletown High School, is a divorced single mother who survived a mentally abusive marriage, she said. She also was an adult college student who earned her bachelor’s degree from Miami University and her master’s degree in public health from Wright State.

She doesn’t hide from her history and shares her story with everyone who will listen.

At the end of the day, regardless of race or background, she said: “We are all interwoven together. I realize we all are one.”

‘It was a great job’

The Rev. Marvin G. Sutton Sr., the first black firefighter/paramedic in Hamilton’s history, said it was “a great experience” when he recently was recognized by the Hamilton City Council.

“I loved the people I worked with,” he said during the ceremony. “I enjoyed their presence. I enjoyed the camaraderie, the many hours we shared expressing our concerns for our families. I was well-respected.”

He was hired by the city in 1982 and retired in 1999.

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“It was a great job,” said Sutton, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church in Hamilton. “Not a good job. A great job. I’m grateful to live in a city where I was given the responsibility of protecting lives and property and with an organization of caring, competent, compassionate, professional people. That’s the Hamilton Fire Department.”

When Sutton, 66, thinks about Black History Month, he reflects on those who sacrificed their lives for the betterment of the country.

“I don’t think of myself,” he said.

In addition to his accomplishments as a firefighter/paramedic, he is a U.S. Navy veteran and graduate of Hamilton Garfield High School (1971) and Miami University (2006). He’s a substitute teacher in the Hamilton and New Miami school districts.

In December, Sutton will celebrate his 40th year in ministry.