Lockport, along with several different cities across the country, has faced criticism for its dealing with race. The death of Troy Hodge, a Black man who died in police custody in June of 2019, is not the only wound on the city’s reputation. The continued lack of Black representation as police officers and male teachers has drawn critical attention from many residents, including Renee Cheatham, a member of the Lockport City School District's Board of Education.
However, Lockport, past and present, is full of “trailblazers,” said Cheatham.
To that effect, at 7 p.m. on Feb. 26, a virtual forum has been set up by Cheatham on Facebook, called Black History Celebration.
The point of the forum, Cheatham said, is to highlight some of the positive things that Black Lockportians have made possible for Lockport as a whole.
One of the best examples of this is Aaron Mossell, the son of a freed slave whose efforts led to the integration of the public schools in Lockport as early as 1876.
“The integration of the schools, that’s big,” Cheatham said. “There’s so much history here in Lockport. He wasn’t just a brick layer. He fought for integration of the schools, so his kids could go to school.”
The forum will also feature local trailblazers who will speak of their experiences today. They include Carsee Herring, the founder and president of Lockport New Beginnings Inc., Anthony Patterson, who will be speaking of his life in Baltimore as a teacher and how it contrasts with his experience as a native Lockportian, and Michael Powell, a Lockport graduate who is in the criminal justice field.
“I think it’s just understanding your roots,” Cheatham said. “Understanding where you came from, where we are now and what our local trailblazers are doing.”
Future trailblazers will also be honored during the forum. Paula Travis and Teria Young, president and vice president of Lockport High School PTSA, respectively, are not Lockport natives, but have contributed to the movement in Lockport.
“We want to recognize what they’re doing,” Cheatham said. “They’re out there, really trying to bring forth change in the community, and I think that should be noticed and recognized.”
The entire event will be narrated by Cheatham’s daughter, LaDrea Ingram, another trailblazer who works as a psychologist.
Cheatham said Black history is important to all Lockport residents, and it’s important it isn’t overlooked.
“We can pull together as community members and show them what’s going on and highlight our history,” she said. “Black history is a part of American history, and it’s a big part. ... Everything's not bad, and that's the perception of our culture, and there are so many trailblazers from Lockport. We want to bring them back. We want them to go to school and go out into the world and come back."
"We're more than just slaves, and that's what's taught to us at school. ... We're more than that. Black History Month, it's February, but it's every day for us. Every single day. It's not the celebration of a month, it's a celebration of every day of our lives."