In honor of Black History Month, b asked several notable African-American young adults in Baltimore to talk about its relevance to their lives and society.
Here's Kiki Brown, 37, assistant promotions director and midday personality, 92Q. This is an edited transcript of a telephone interview:What does Black History Month mean to you?
Pioneers: The thing that I think about is the pioneers in our history, the sacrifices that were made for me to be where I am today — as a radio announcer, as a businesswoman, as a mother, as an African-American woman in today's society.
I think about the sacrifices that my ancestors made so I could be here. I can make the time to continue to make history for my son's life, my niece's life, my nephew's life, my neighbor's child.
One of the people I think of is Miss Cathy Hughes [founder of Radio One and TV One]. She's a true pioneer, especially for women in radio. She sacrificed a lot, being a single mom. Now she owns so many stations. She has TV One, News One. I look at her because she's also a single mom, and she started with a dream. She's like a true inspiration. She's the first person I look to.
The second person I look to is Neke Howse. She taught me everything that I know. She brought me here [from Pittsburgh]. And I actually took her slot when I came here last year.
My father was in radio. Growing up and in my 20s, my early 20s, I worked in radio in Pittsburgh. He was working mornings, and I was working nights. I always knew about radio through him. I tried to fight him. I went to nursing school. I went to paramedic school. I didn't want to do what he was doing. But it was my passion. He passed that baton, and here I am. I'm doing exactly what he's doing.
What does it mean to society?
I think that what it means to society is that you can make the sacrifices that you need to live the life that you want. I think that it should be appreciated more. When you look at black history, you automatically go to Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Cicely Tyson, Oprah Winfrey. ...
I believe we also need to do more to encourage those around us today. Black History Month examines those who have already achieved. But look around: There are little girls today selling Girl Scout cookies. They're learning to run a business, to run finance. They're making history in our black community. We're not encouraging that. That's how our leaders in the past did. They encouraged each other; they supported each other. And it kindof stopped.
I think that it needs to be recognized more. We look at it in the month of February; we should look at it all the time.
But we don't encourage. We look at those who have already achieved. They can be the next Barack Obama or the next Cathy Hughes. Because we see their talent. They need to be encouraged.
What is the specific relevance in 2011?
We have a black president. Nobody thought that would happen.
We're so much more advanced. Look at technology. Look at how far we've come to communicate with each other. No longer do we have to use a pay phone or send a letter, wait days to send a message. We've evolved so much as a people, with social networking.
The way you know about somebody today is so fast. If someone said, "Have you ever heard [a specific musical act]?" No, I haven't. Oh, you should Google her. And I can get online and I can hear her. I can see into her career. She's starting off.
Times are different, and we learn about people differently.
I think we've evolved as a people. I know how much we've accomplished through technology, social networking. It wasn't the same with Dr. King. It wasn't the same with Oprah Winfrey in their early years. They didn't have Skype. They didn't have speaking ... through virtual classrooms.
Community effort is so different. I wasn't born around [the Civil Rights era]. When you think about the pioneers, you think about the marches. You think about people losing their lives, being sprayed by hydrants and hoses. You think about the dogs biting.
Today, it's very rare that you see that. Now you can just get a petition started or put a message together on YouTube and start a petition there and get a million hits. On a positive, our young people are talking to Congress.
It's double-sided. There was more togetherness back then. ...
I see the efforts. But it needs to be a a little more appreciated.
Is black history adequately recognized in the U.S.? If not, what could individuals and institutions do further?
I don't believe that it is. Wasn't it McDonald's that did a promotion that was 365 Black, with Tom Joyner? Instead of learning black history during February, we should be learning it all year long. It should be integrated in the lives of adults. Black history did not stop at Barack Obama. Remember that record sore? That bakery? That beauty salon? Me, being a radio personality, I not only honor those who have made history in the past, but I honor the sororities and fraternities that are doing things in our community. Me saying it is not enough. It needs to be more. We need to do a better job of it.
It's easy for us to forget what's come before. As a single mom raising a young black man, I have to provide a constant reminder: I grew up in the projects; I made sacrifices so that you can have what you have today. He has to be constantly reminded that this world is not going to be at his feet when he wants it, at his command. You have to work for it.