Editor’s note: Stephanie Ganaway-Pasley has a long list of accomplishments. She is a Walden University PhD in Psychology student; a summary court judge in Charleston County, S.C.; a qualified civil mediator; and former NAACP Woman of the Year. Ganaway-Pasley recently gave a speech in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Charleston Southern University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in psychology. As a result of that occasion, Spotlight on Walden asked her to share her thoughts with our community in commemoration of Black History Month.

African-American history is a rich embroidery of stories about individuals from multiple countries who have unique talents. Their many contributions to the United States are what, in part, make our country great.

African-American people were, unfortunately, transported to this country for one distinct reason: slavery. Slavery was a trade and industry decision, undertaken purely for economic considerations. Slaves were regarded as property to be worked, used, and sold. No consideration was given to their health and well-being, their security, the division of their families, or their basic liberty. None of these basic human rights were a primary concern for many Americans during these centuries in our history.

Black History Month constantly reminds me that I have more opportunities than my ancestors did. This month provides new wakefulness for some and inspires others to speak of the struggles of a race of people who did not have the freedom to make their own choices. During Black History Month, we celebrate the many stories, some well known and some never before heard, of how a race of people tolerated injustices and overcame unforgiving realities to play a positive role in the development of the United States.

I believe recognizing black history is extremely important so that we as a society ensure we do not make the same mistakes again. When I grew up, my parents made sure I learned about our history. I was taught about Emmett Till, who was murdered because he was accused of whistling at a white woman when he was 14 years old. I learned about Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist who was murdered in the driveway of his home in the presence of his family. And there were also Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a remarkable civil rights leader; Phillis Wheatley, who was known for her poetry; and Harriet Tubman, an abolitionist known for her bravery.

During this special month, however, I recognize it is my mother and father who have made the biggest impression on my life, walking in the footsteps of our ancestors who helped to pave the way before us. My parents worked two or three jobs and taught me a philosophy of hard work: If you start something, you must continue and see it through. They also instilled in me the importance of knowing who I am and the power of words.

“Let your words represent who you are and where you stand,” they told me. Beyond encouraging me, they taught me about the importance of making good decisions and the significance of a quality education. I consider myself blessed to have experienced the love and care of parents who created powerful memories that inspire me on a daily basis.

The stories my parents told me in respect to black history have made me stronger and more determined to treat people the way I want to be treated. I am always mindful about how I treat people, even in my professional life. My parents taught me to support those who are different and appreciate them. Black History Month should remind us all that we should continue to work together every day of the year as a people with a common interest, regardless of our race, color, cultural background, or ethnicity.

Members of the Walden community have also shared their stories and insights about African Americans who have influenced or inspired their education, research, careers, or social change initiatives. To view webinars, articles, and a list of books recommended for reading during Black History Month, visit www.WaldenU.edu/blackhistory.

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