#BlackYouthMatter: Vol III by Chris Thompson | 29 Days of Little Known Facts About (Black) American History (XXIII)

archive photo of Nikita Pearl

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#BlackYouthMatter: Vol III

Third week of Black History Month! Here is another group of young people who have been paving their own paths, fighting for what they believe in, and making history, and one harsh truth that you need to know:

Phiona Mutesi is a champion chess player from Kampala, Uganda. She represented her country at four worldwide chess Olympiads and is one of Uganda’s first titled female chess players in Ugandan Chess History. Mutesi learned about chess through a sports outreach program when she as a child selling maize on the street. She eventually beat every chess player in the institute. In 2012, she won the Women’s Junior Chess Championship of Uganda three times. In the same year, she, along with Ivy Amoko, received the title of Woman Candidate Master at the 40th Chess Olympiad in Istanbul. In 2013 Mutesi won the Under-20 Girls Category at Uganda’s National Junior Chess Championship. In 2017, while attending Northwest University, she and her team won the Top Small College title for her university, beating the four-time champions Obrlin College. Phiona Mutesi’s achievements have garnered her the nickname “Queen of Katwe”, the name of the slum from whence she was born. The “Queen of Katwe” title is also the name of a book about her life and a 2016 film. #BlackHistoryMonth #BlackYouthMatter

Nikita Pearl Waligwa was a Ugandan actor who rose to fame co-starring in the film “Queen of Katwe”. She played the role of Gloria, a childhood friend of Phiona Mutesi. The film was a critic’s favorite, but did not gross as much as hope internationally. Still profits from the movie went to help social programs in Uganda.  In 2016, the same year the film was released, Waligwa was diagnosed with a brain tumor. A year later, she was given the all clear from her care providers, but another tumor was detected in the last 12 months. On Sunday, 16th February, Nikita Pearl Wligwa passed away at the age of 15. #BlackHistoryMonth #BlackYouthMatter

Ezana was ruler of the Kingdom of Aksum, a region that spread across Ethiopia, Eritrea, southern Saudi Arabia, and parts of Sudan. He succeeded to his position while still a child. While his father Ella Amida introduced Christianity to the region, Ezana is considered the first monarch of Aksum to fully embrace the religion, hundreds of years before any western European would touch its soil. During his reign, Aksumite coins were minted with the phrase, “May This Please the People”, on them. This hints at a desire as a ruler to feel responsibility for his subjects’ contentment. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church considers Ezana of Aksum a saint.

Elsa Mengistu (@Elsamengistu) is a climate activist from High Point, North Carolina, by way of Ethiopia. She is an operations coordinator at Zero Hour, a grassroots climate organization intent on gaining support for the Youth Climate Movement. Mengistu has been active in social causes since middle school. She has advocated for changes on various issues, including electoral politics, racial justice, LGBTQ+ equality, and women’s rights, through local organizations and school clubs. She has also worked on gun violence prevention and was one of the lead youth organizers for her local March For Our Lives chapter. In 2019, she was named as one of Grist’s 50 Fixers, a group of up-and-coming individuals working on innovative solutions to fix the biggest challenges that face our globe. Mengistu continues her work while also being a fulltime student at Howard University. #BlackHistoryMonth #BlackYouthMatter

The Little Rock Nine were Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls. They were Black students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School with aim to desegregate the pubilc school. They had been vetted and recruited by Daisy Gaston Bates, president of the Arkansas NAACP and co-publisher of the Arkansas State Press. She determined that they would have the strength and resilience to endure the abuse and harassment they might face. Sure enough, their first day was met with angry protesters, white students and parents, and even a blockade from Arkansas’ National Guard under orders from the governor. the most poignant image is that of Elizabeth Eckford arriving to the school alone, amidst a crowd of bloodthirsty protesters, as she did not receive the message that the 9 were to arrive to the school together in a van. On the second day of school, the 101st Airborne Division had been called in to escort them to school. They all graduated and flourished in successful careers after after allw as said and done.

Claudette Colvin should be a household name. Nine months before Rosa Parks, 15-year-old Colvin was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Besides just Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith engaged in the same act of defiance, refusing to give up their seats and getting arrested for it. Their charges and arrests culminated in lawsuit, Browder v. Gayle, which took direct aim at Alabama’s Jim Crow laws. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and was ruled that segregation was unconstitutional at every step.  The reason Colvin’s effort was not publicized until recently is because the she unmarried and pregnant. Even Rosa Parks said, “If the white press got ahold of that information, they would have [had] a field day. They’d call her a bad girl, and her case wouldn’t have a chance.” Sadly, she was not wrong. Colvin’s fight against racism would be thwarted by society’s misogyny. Though Rosa Parks became the face of defiance against Alabama’s cruel laws, Colvin, Browder, McDonald, and Smith laid the ground work. #BlackHistoryMonth #BlackYouthMatter 

Mikaila Ulmer is an Austin, Texas native who used her family recipe for lemonade to build an empire. In 2009, at the age of 4, Ulmer was encouraged by her family to make a product for a children’s business competition. Inspired by a bee sting and a family recipe she received, she decided to start a lemonade stand. This is how Me & the Bees (www.meandthebees.com) was born. Her lemonade is unique in that it uses flaxseed and honey. At age 10, Ulmer went on Shark Tank to bid for and earn a $60,000 investment in her buzzing business. That same  year, she met Barack Obama. Today, 15 year old Mikaila Ulmer’s business Me & the Bees sells out over 350,000 bottles a year and is distributed in 500 stores across the United States. 10% of her sales go to bee conservation.

Chain Gangs were the new workaround to legal slavery in the US. Black men would be incarcerated at disproportionate rates and then linked together like cattle. Their prison uniforms would be designed to be humiliating. Infractions could be anything from stealing to not giving a white person the right of way on a sidewalk. They would then be forced to dig ditches, build roads, or do any variety of hard manual labor with few breaks and harsh punishment for being tired. More disturbing is that Black children would often be jailed and put on these chain gangs as well. Children as young as 10 would be tried as adults and treated as such. Though chain gangs have lost favor in general (though some states are bringing them back), over-punishing Black children has not. A Black child is more likely to be punished in school for the same infraction that a white student commits. They are often seen as older than their white counterparts, which can lead to them being beaten, arrested, or killed by police. It is rare that a black child gets to be a child in America.

About Chris Thompson

(he/his/him) Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog , he currently writes the Chronicles of Nonsense segment for the Almost Tuesday show on WAYO-FM 104.3, and regularly posts and writes on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon.Additionally , Chris is a Food Writer for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is http://www.chroniclesofnonesense.com

About 29 Days of Little Known Facts About (Black) American History

29 Days of Little Known Facts About (Black) American History is an annual blog campaign curated by 540WMain that has a mission to promote and share little known facts about Black Americans everyday throughout the month of February. Now in it 3rd year the campaign highlights the life and work of past and present day Black Americans that are overlooked or underrepresented in our conversations about American history.

540WMain will celebrate its 4 year anniversary with a party and extravaganza on Saturday June 20, 2020. In just four years the organization has become a pillar in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood and a convener and curator of important and vital community conversations, classes, and programs. Your financial support helps us scale up this work in 2020 and beyond with a year long fundraising goal of $40,000

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