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Prayer Breakfast kicks off Black History Month in Lee County

Charles Barnes stands in Black Resistance exhibit at Williams Academy

The Lee County Black History Society kicked off Black History Month with its annual Prayer Breakfast, a free community event featuring reflection, prayer, song and tours of the Williams Academy Black History Museum.

Nationally, the theme for this year’s Black History Month is Black Resistance. Fourth-generation Fort Myers resident Jarrett Eady, a certified diversity professional and director of diversity and inclusion for The School District of Lee County, served as keynote speaker and discussed how resistance takes on varying shades, forms and opportunities.

“Resistance in this community has looked like mobilization. It’s looked like, at some moments, civil unrest. It’s also looked like knowledge and making sure the community was educated about issues that might be of appropriate nature for further investigation and also further analysis,” Eady said.

Nearly 50 individuals attended the Prayer Breakfast, which was held Saturday, Feb. 4 at Roberto Clemente Park in Fort Myers. Attendees included lifelong Fort Myers residents who were raised in segregated schools as well as newer residents and youth.

Eady offered a review of Black history throughout the 20th century, pulling newspaper headlines to demonstrate the state of race relations in Lee County from the 1920s through 1970s.

“Throughout our history, there has been resistance to some of the laws held against us, Jim Crow laws,” said Charles Barnes, chairman of the Lee County Black History Society. “Pretty much in every segment of life experiences for us, we had to challenge something. It comes down to voting issues, housing issues, utilizing public facilities, getting a better education… All those had to be fought by us saying, ‘No, you can’t.’”

Locally, acts of resistance included sit-ins, walkouts, protests and lawsuits, one of which was not settled until 1999 when a federal judge finally declared Lee County had fully transitioned from a segregated to desegregated education system.

“Black History Month is just one month, but some of these struggles and life challenges are constant throughout the year,” Barnes said. “To have a greater impact, you have to be constantly working on trying to make things better and trying to make people aware of the fact that certain opportunities in this country are just not available to everyone.”

Black History Month Events

The Prayer Breakfast was Lee County Black History Society’s first community event during Black History Month, which is celebrated every February. Upcoming events include:

  • Friday, Feb. 10: Movie in the Park (6-8:30 p.m. viewing of “Teach Us All,” a 2017 documentary exploring educational inequality)
  • Saturday, Feb. 25: Health Hustle (7 a.m.-1 p.m. health and wellness festival with a 5K walk/run, Zumba, yoga, bootcamps, vendors and museum tours)

Black History Month events will be held at Roberto Clemente Park, 3265 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Fort Myers.

About Lee County Black History Society

The Lee County Black History Society, Inc. (LCBHS), a nonprofit organization, was founded in 1994 by Janice Cass. The LCBHS, Inc. is comprised of an 11-member Board of Directors which meets on the second Tuesday of each month. The meeting is open to the public. The LCBHS provides a way for African Americans in Lee County to recognize and celebrate Black History Month, as well as created and maintains the Williams Academy Black History Museum. Black History Month, Legends Gala, Florida Emancipation Day May 20 celebration event, Juneteenth and Holiday in the Park are events presented each year by LCBHS through partnerships with other community-based organizations, churches and private citizens. For information, visit LeeCountyBlackHistorySociety.org, email blackhistory@lesscountyblackhistorysociety.org or call 239-332-8778.

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