Black History Month

Black History Month– both locally in the Toledo area and throughout the nation– is a chance to not only look at our past but to learn more about the contributions of Black leaders and individuals, past and present. In 2022, Black History Month focuses on Black Health and Wellness, particularly in light of the inequities that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated in the access to and the delivery of healthcare for Blacks and other minorities.  

We’ve asked local leaders – who have impacted our community on many levels – to offer their ideas about Black History in Toledo. They include Zahra Aprili Collins, Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union; Judge Ian English, Lucas County Court of Common Pleas; RoShawn Jones, Soul City Boxing; and Lisa McDuffie, YWCA President and CEO.

JUDGE IAN ENGLISH 

English earned his bachelor’s and Juris Doctor’s degrees from the University of Toledo. He was in private practice before joining the Lucas County Prosecutor’s office. He was elected Judge of the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas in February 2015. In addition, Judge English has served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toledo, and head coach of UT’s nationally recognized Mock Trial Team. 

Why do you think it is important to recognize Black History Month?
There is a saying that “Black history is American History,” and as such it is an important part of our collective history.  I think it’s important to recognize all the accomplishments and contributions made by African Americans despite the challenges we have overcome.  

What is the one accomplishment you are most proud of in your career? And in working within the Black community here?
I am most proud of becoming a judge in our community.  I am the youngest of seven children born of parents, neither of which graduated from high school. I am a proud graduate of the Toledo Public School system, go MACMEN!  I overcame the odds of success that were stacked against me based upon my race and the economic circumstances I was born into.  As a child I dreamed that I could become a judge and reaching that accomplishment has been the proudest moment in my career. I am proud that I remain accessible to the community. I am often approached by parents and youth for guidance and advice regarding their future paths. I work with many young folks that are heading to college or law school but need support and encouragement to accomplish their dreams.

What can non-Black people do to even the playing field?
Dr. King gave us the path we must follow in his famed ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.  When all people of this country stand together against a common enemy, or stand together for a common cause, history shows that we are unbeatable. When we, all of us, demand that this nation “live out the true meaning of its creed” that all men are created equal, then, and only then, will this country reach greatness that our children deserve.

ZAHRA APRILI COLLINS

Program manager for the Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union

Collins identifies and pursues resources to assist members in achieving economic empowerment, including cultivating new and maintaining existing relationships with community organizations. The Toledo native is a graduate of Scott High School who attended the University of Iowa and BGSU. She is active in Toledo organizations and is the Head Coach of the Women’s and Men’s volleyball teams at Scott. She is also a 2021 recipient of a Leadership Toledo 20 Under 40 award.

Why do you think it is important to recognize Black History Month?
Black History Month is the one month out of the year where individuals, institutions and organizations make it a point to give a semblance of respect to the very important contributions that have been made by Black people in this country. Histories are taught from the perspective of those in power and American history is taught from a Eurocentric perspective. A perspective that, more often than not, has information that is intentionally omitted during students’ formative years. Recognition of Black History Month is important because it fills in gaps of information that have been withheld from our formal education. 

What is the one accomplishment you are most proud of in your career? And in working within the Black community here?
I am most proud of the work that I have done with my family, and my career experiences have contributed a lot. In 2020 we were not able to have our family reunion because of Covid, so we had a “Zoomunion.” From that event I was able to come together with cousins to form the William and Sina Hannibal Legacy Initiative (HLI). (William Hannibal was her maternal great, great grandfather.) We are a non-profit organization whose mission is “to uplift underserved people of color by providing opportunities that advance familial lineage and professional growth.” We do this through programming centered on 5 pillars – family legacy, social justice (diversity, equity & inclusion), ministry (faith), education (STEAM), sound stewardship and entrepreneurship. 

Working in the Black community of Toledo, I am most proud of the work that I have done with the Scott High School Alumni Association. From campaigning to save the building with the Save Our Scott organization (S.O.S.), to reinstituting the Hall of Fame, to the number of scholarships that we give graduating seniors, I know that the work that I do makes a difference to the students of my alma mater. I still live in the neighborhood, so I see this difference daily when I walk out of my house.  

ROSHAWN JONES

A Toledo native, Jones opened Soul City Boxing in 2009 to give children without a place to go, a place to go. In addition to training kids in boxing and providing gym activities, Soul City offers tutoring and provides meals and health care to children. Over the years several of the gym’s members have claimed international fame – such as Charles Conwell at the 2016 Rio Olympics and Oshae Jones at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  

How long have you been in the Toledo area, and what led you to becoming an activist?
I have been in the Toledo area for 32 years. What led me to become a community activist was the increase in crime rate in the area and the lack of fathers in households with children. Young children need structure in their lives, and I teach them what’s wrong and what’s right. Our community area lacks leadership to increase child development. I also help inner-city kids make good decisions by showing them the importance of graduating high school and college; and if children don’t want to go to college, I recommend they attend trade school and learn a trade.

Why do you think it is important to recognize Black History Month?
It is important to recognize Black History Month because a lot of Blacks in history don’t get the proper recognition for the things they did. Young Black individuals need to see that Blacks in history did have an influence in the world, which will give them guidance and structure to do the same thing and to become great in life as Black leaders themselves. This will show other Black individuals that there are things you can do in the world to make it a positive place. For example, if an 8-year-old boy sees positivity going around in his community that will stick with him for the rest of his life and he will continue to do positive things. It’s like the butterfly effect – positivity will pass on from him to other individuals and this will make him become a great leader. 

What is the one accomplishment you are most proud of in your career? And in working within the Black community here?
Coaching two individuals in boxing and making them Olympians. The first Olympian that I coached is Charles Conwell, who competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics. The second is my sister Oshae Jones who won a Bronze Medal in the women’s welterweight division at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. I don’t believe anyone in Toledo, Ohio, has ever produced two Olympians back-to-back. Not only did we make history by producing two Olympians, but children all over the world will see this and use it as motivation to make history once more! 

What would you like to see regarding issues of race here in Toledo?
The things that I would like to see happen next in Toledo are more community centers being built, more playgrounds being built, more computer labs being built and more funding coming through Toledo. So many other cities such as Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus have more money flow coming in, so they have bigger structures and better facilities to produce more champion athletes and students. So, if we can get more funding in Toledo that will be great for the community. We need more mentors in our community! 

LISA McDUFFIE

President/CEO of the YWCA of Northwest Ohio

Lisa oversees a $5 million budget,  a 20-county service area and a staff of nearly 100 in an organization that ensures the empowerment of women through a wide range of programs and advocacy activities. She earned degrees from Findlay College and Case Western Reserve University and has been active in many organizations throughout northwest Ohio. In 2020, she co-facilitated the group that produced The Toledo Black Agenda, which led to the formation of TREIC – Toledo Racial Equity Inclusion Council.

How long have you been in the Toledo area, and what led you to becoming an activist?
I was born and raised in Toledo. I went to Toledo Public Schools and graduated from Robert S. Rogers High School. I am a Licensed Independent Social Worker by profession and it’s impossible to be a good social worker without advocating for the needs of the people you provide services to and for. Everyone deserves access to quality healthcare, housing, education and economic sufficiency. It’s difficult to see race and gender inequities and not speak out about them. The playing field is not level. It’s important to transform the community to see all we do through a lens of equity. I’ve been doing this for 40 years. 

Why do you think it is important to recognize Black History Month?
Black History Month highlights the accomplishments and achievements of Black people. It brings attention to our history, a history that many would prefer to forget. The sacrifices of many Black people are a reminder of what they did and what youth can do today to honor their legacy. While many have debated the focus on one month, as Black History Month,  and not throughout the year, I see value in the concentration over 28 days. As my activist voice reminds you, you don’t have to limit your celebration to only one month.

What is the one accomplishment you are most proud of in your career? And in working within the Black community here?
The Toledo Black Agenda (www.ywcanwo.org/what-were-doing/toledo-black-agenda), a manifesto of recommendations for Black people by Black people. I had the honor to co-convene a sampling of Black leaders post-George Floyd that developed this document. 

What would you like to see happen regarding racial issues here in Toledo? I would like to see the work of TREIC (Toledo Equity and Inclusion Council) be magnified. The Toledo Black Agenda was the catalyst to develop and implement a community comprehensive strategy that views everything we do in our community through a race equity lens.

What can non-Black people do to even the playing field? It’s important for non-Black allies to move to action. I value your voice, but we need action to dismantle systemic racism. 

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