Black History Month - Living Legends Jannie Blackwell and Stanley Straughter of The Mayor's Commission on African and Caribbean Immigration Affairs

By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

Hello All:

February  2016 Marks the 90th Anniversary of Black History Month, as Founded by the great Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926.  He was a highly accomplished educator who loved his people very much, and was concerned about the lies being told the children about their history and accomplishments.  Many of us who follow the Black History month tradition are well aware that Black History is made every day - that there are great Black people all around us - and that not everybody had to lay down his or her life to make a contribution  to our lives and the futures of Black people.  In many cases we walk by them everyday and have no idea how much they do to make the lives of people of African Heritage better, more successful, more empowered.  Our version of history or "his-story" has to be re-interpreted and re-evaluated so that we begin to understand, recognize, respect and reward those who are currently making it happen - RIGHT NOW - not waiting for the history books to record it - but grasping the significance  for ourselves, and teaching our children to develop a reverence for it now.  

That said, I'm taking a departure from my regular format to share an interview, almost verbatim, with two contemporary history makers - Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and  Stanley Straughter, Chair of the African Americans in Business Council.  These are short, one-on-one interviews conducted a week prior to the Christmas/Kwanzaa Holidays in December 2015, at City Hall in Philadelphia.  I have shortened some of my comments during the interview in order to give fuller voice to these two wonderful people who spend their time, creativity and energy making it happen for us all.  

Note:  JB = Jannie Blackwell
            SS = Stanley Straughter 
            GDW/EBN = Gloria Dulan-Wilson Blog/ECLECTICALLY BLACK NEWS 

The Hon. City Council Representative Jannie L. Blackwell 


I have the honor and the privilege of interviewing The Honorable Jannie Blackwell, Philadelphia City Council Representative of the 3rd District.  

Ms. Blackwell is a legend and a sister after my own heart, because she not only represents African Americans, but Africans and Caribbean brothers and sisters. That means she's got the entire globe and the whole picture; and she knows that we're all one and the same people.

I basically first became aware of her at the Anniversary Luncheon for Odunde that was held last summer (2015 and she got up and spoke and I was thinking, “Well, we've got a sister, and she's involved in Africa.” But of course she's been involved for years, and since I'm the newcomer, I was on the late show.

Then last November 20th, I had the privilege of covering the forum on Entrepreneurial Women in Africa and Sustainability, entitled “Women's Entrepreneurship Day 2015”, and there she was on the podium! So I thought, “That's nice, we've got Philadelphia here!” Little did I know that Philadelphia had coordinated the event, under the auspices of City Councilwoman Blackwell and Stanley Straughter, and had brought most of the panelists from Philly to participate in the forum at the UN! Late show, again!

Philadelphia Mayors Commission on African and Caribbean Immigration Affairs at the UN, November 20, 2015

Councilwoman Blackwell presides over the Mayor's Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs, which meets the second Wednesday of each month in the City Caucus Room in City Hall. The meetings are well attended, with close to standing room only, and are presided over by Stanley Staughter, who has been in the forefront of African and African American issues in Philadelphia and internationally for at least 50 years. The commission has a varied audience representing residents from Kenya, Nigeria, Liberia, Senegal, Haiti, Ghana, Guinea, South Africa and other parts of Africa, the Diaspora, and, of course, Philadelphia – who gather to discuss ways to improve the educational, residential, and health experiences in Philadelphia. The meeting, which commences at 6:00 PM, also has a fair amount of guest speakers, who attend to inform and update members about information of interest and concern. The top two concerns at present are education of the children in the current state of disarray of the Philadelphia School System; and issues surrounding those entrepreneurs who are looking to establish businesses in the community.

As mentioned, Philadelphia played a key role in the recently held UN conference on Women Entrepreneurs – Dr. Joi Spraggins, a member of the Mayor's Commission was one of the presenters; as well as Jannie Blackwell, and Dr. Shannon Marquez – Assoc. Vice Provost Office of Global Health and International Development from Drexel University. Commission set two busloads of participants to the event, which was co-hosted by The Permanent Mission of Grenada, Drexel University, and UNESCO's Center for Global Education.

One of the key issues focused upon at the UN is also a focus of the Commission: That of dealing with women's issue, including entreprenerial endeavors, alleviation of poverty, upgrading and epxanding educational progams both for adults and youth; and improving the lives of women and Black families in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. It's a key area that Councilwoman Blackwell has played an integral role, hands on, in providing the guidance, and where possible, the resources, as well.

Like myself, there are many who are not totally familiar with Councilwoman Blackwell.  Her husband, the late Lucien Blackwell, was a former city councilman and congress member   She was part of what we call a power couple.  Many  may not know that she has consistently  been a staunch supporter for her community and the rights of her constituents. So now we're going to catch up! For all intents and purposes, this is not an “interview” per se, but more of a conversation. For the uninitiated, and those new to either Philadelphia or to Third Councilmatic District, which includes parts of West and Southwest Philadelphia, my first question is:

GDW/EBN: Who are you, and how did you get to do all this wonderful stuff?

JB: I'm a public servant. And my mission is public service. I was telling my colleagues in Council – because one of our older members, Marian Tasko, is retiring; this was her last day – and I told them that over the years, I came to City Council January 3rd, 1976 – when Rizzo was here - with my husband. And then we only had one aid. I now have ten people, and I'm still behind. And I talked about that I've learned what public service is; what a privilege it is; and what a privilege it is to work with other people who similarly understand what it means. We talked a little bit even about this issue with Trump and fighting Muslims, and I said, “My goodness, doesn't he realize that we are all children under one God no matter what our religion is? But that's the sadness of what they're trying to do to destroy this world, and our culture; which we never really found as a people – and now they're trying to destroy parts of Stan (Straughter), and they were dealing with Godfrey Sithole; trying to free Mandela. And I met Stan = I enjoyed meeting him, but he and Lucien, and some of the others – Clinton wanted Lu to stay over in Guinea – but he didn't want to stay there. He wanted to be home with his family and his grandchildren. And I have always known that we 're one people. My best friend, from the time we were 18, both started Westchester University. There were only two Blacks in the class – Delores and myself – and we became best friends. Later on she fell in love with a Nigerian and married him – so we've always had this connect. It's just that when one really focuses and looks at it – I'm waiting for (Maulana) Ron Karenga – I've got to get a flyer for that December 28th (Kwanzaa) – the whole issue of fighting immigration – the whole issue of Black and brown people being one – it's so important. And so many of our people don't realize that who they are; that we are one. So many of our people – we were looking at the numbers in City Council, at how many of us there are and people don't realize it. It means that when you look at your numbers properly, and see the power you have, you can be whatever you want to be. It's amazing – I look at some of these movies – can't think of the name of this movie that talked about integration – it was a human interest story – I cannot think of it – a woman who was in Law and Order was the main star; and she ran a rooming house, and the end of the story – the movie now with Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard – were the main stars (Hustle & Flow?). And at the end of the movie they showed how Dr. King came along, and integration came, and how so many of our places closed.

GDW/EBN: Because we thought we had arrived; but Integration meant disintegration of what we had – we threw out the baby with the bathwater.

JB: It was very sad. I look right here where we have Thurgood Marshall and the fights. And I think the fight was right in that day, but it's gotten all twisted and distorted now. The fight for integration – to have decent schools and a decent opportunity for children to learn, is important; but it's changed. Now they have public schools and they don't want us to be educated – they don't want to teach us. They don't want our children to learn Life's changed. It was one thing during the Thurgood Marshall years, but it's something else now.

GDW/EBN: It's also because of who we're allowing to interpret our message.

JB: That's exactly right. Unfortunately, that's one of the things that we've given up doing. And that's very, very sad. So you know, we have to realize who we are, and that we are – and I listen to people like NEELY FULLER, who talk about racism in America. I think that our children kill each other because they don't realize that they love each other, they would not do so. They are so angry at this world. (NOTE: NEELY FULLER is also the mentor and inspiration for the late Dr. Frances Cress Welsing

GDW/EBN:  I remember when we had prayer in the schools, and discipline in the homes.  Those things are no longer available because of laws that were passed that have nothing to do with common sense.  So we have more kids being killed by other kids, because they don't get the discipline to begin with; more people being cynical about other people and values of life.  And for the fact that we're all human, just like you said; and that we're all one people. And so what you now have is that the police now get to play target practice with your kids, and you can't discipline them. And if you do try to discipline them, you get arrested.

JB: That's right. It's very, very sad. And if we don't realize that we have to control our destiny, we have to figure out who we are – I looked at Yuoma Ba who spoke at the UN, who is the president of Echoes of Africa. She spends four hours every Saturday with a group of them from Senegal and they teach their children their native language; they give the other mothers four hours to do whatever they need to; they do tutoring, if kids need tutoring. But they deal ethnically with their children – if you know who you are, if you know you're somebody, if you know you're loved, if you know you are unique unto yourself, then you don't have to go around fighting and being angry; killing somebody over nothing.[NOTE: Youma Ba owns a great African Restaurant, Kilimanjaro - in West Philadelphia - the food is fantastic - if you haven't partaken, make it your business to do so - you will be hooked. Great African cuisine! ]

GDW/EBN: It's interesting – I worked with the Japanese for four years in New York. Japanese Saturday Schools are  wonderful.  We're fussing because our kids are not getting an education that we won't give them; we want to make everybody else responsible for an education that really is our responsibility – if we want it to reflect what they need to have.

JB: Very sad. If we don't learn to love who we are right now, respect who we are. I mean you can go down to the historical, archeological library that Stan has at 33rd and South, and they will give you the timeline. You have to go half way across the whole wall – nearly two thirds of the way over to even get to Greece and Rome. I mean our civilization started so very long ago; and it just amazes me when you look at the statue- you can go into the Egyptian Room, and no matter where you see statues, the noses are taken off.

GDW/EBN: Runoko Rashidi was in Philadelphia this past week end and did an entire presentation on that same thing.  The other thing about it is that, I was listening to you talk about the superintendent of schools here; I have a problem with all this stuff with Philadelphia, because I expect more from Philadelphia.

JB: It's 2015. I Agree!

GDW/EBN: I expect more from Philadelphia period. When I graduated from Lincoln University, Philadelphia schools were like – the tops! But when I come back – and I'm back and forth here – my best friend lives here – my daughter and son also live here – I started noticing that things were not the same. Like Powellton Village. I used to live in Powellton Village – all of a sudden you couldn't find half of the brothers I used to know from Africa, who made up the bulk of the population. I used to come down here for the International Ball which was hosted by different diplomats from Africa – at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel – a lot of things that used to be OURS no longer exist.

JB: Remember Franklin Plaza? Now it's the Sheraton!

GDW/EBN: And nobody knows that Progress Plaza was started by Rev. Leon Sullivan, the only Black owned shopping center within what...? OIC is a mere shadow of its former self.

JB: That's right. Stan has always been a part of that.

GDW/EBN: What's your vision for the African/African American diaspora here in Philadelphia. What's your hope/wish?

JB: Well, we have to focus on our schools. And accept the fact, so that we can fight it, that there's a plan not to educate our children. And if we could look at it, instead of now they're closing the schools, I'd rather they focus on what the educational agenda is, rather than the physical condition of the building. Sure we need that; but first things, first! My God, you can go in third world countries and they have kids sitting on window sills getting better education; sitting on the floor. You know, caring about them; knowing what's important. And we don't have that. So we need to focus on what a standard curriculum really looks like.

GDW/EBN: I agree. And we need to also focus on making our own curriculum and maybe folding some of the standard in. When they talk about the standard curricula, Black people need better than standard.  Because the so-called standard curricula is already below standard when you compare it with other educational centers in the world. They talk about S.T.E.M. - but you don't have a value system; you don't have comprehension– you don't have any ethics, no culture and no art.  When I'm listening to brothers and sisters on the bus, who are my age – and I'm not a kid -  their English is atrocious!!  That should not be for Philadelphia.  Children coming behind them sound even worse than their parents. We've got a problem. And the School Board is not addressing it; and the School Reform Commission is  most certainly not addressing it. They should have been abolished.

JB: I put in a bill to get rid of them.

GDW/EBN: Didn't we get rid of them in the vote?

JB: Well, we passed the bill – which was my bill – I introduced it

GDW/EBN: So, can we kick them out now?

JB: I'm hoping we will! It passed. The people said – they agreed – they wanted to get rid of them. But now the State hasn't done anything to make that a reality; so we'll see. Because I think there's a clear mandate that the people want it stopped. Like I said, it passed on the ballot. People are tired of what they see.

GDW/EBN: You're in charge of the Educational Committee, what does it take to have a Saturday School for African American students struggling in Philadelphia, like the one you spoke about?

JB: Some schools have extra hours, have schools on Saturdays; schools at night. And the school district has to commit to it – the school district has to commit to not charging insurance that people can't afford, so that children and neighborhood kids can use the school. But, they have to be more open and commit to – everybody has to commit to the real resourcs of their neighborhood, and we could get past this thing. Between the libraries, and the rec centers, and the schools – there's so much we could do – but that's why so many people believe that this system just doesn't want it to happen. Doesn't want our kids to be saved, because they keep fighting common sense answers to these issues.

GDW/EBN: So what can we do to get around it? Maybe we need to partner with some of these mega churches we've got here.

JB: That's good! That's good because they have the resources, as well. Any of these entities would be good; and we have to start some place – and we could expand to the other places if we could get that kind of commitment. You're exactly right.

GDW/EBN: There's an African proverb that says: “If the people will lead, the leaders will follow.” A lot of times the people will complain, but they're not saying anything; because they're not taking any steps – all they're doing is mouth music. But if the people start taking the moves – it seems to be the trend that the rest of the leaders will have to try and get in front of it to make it look as if they're in charge – at least to pretend that they're leading.

JB: You're exactly right. You've been thinking hard and long.

GDW/EBN: Rev. Jesse Jackson honored former mayor Michael Nutter in 2012 – Philadelphia is the largest predominantly Black major urban city on the East Coast – New York doesn't have it – we have – but we're acting like a fourth class city in terms of the population. In reference to the organization, what events to you have coming up in the future?

JB: We meet the second Wednesday of each month – we also are preparing – we have people to come to us to bring us information – . We're having a read in in the name of the ECHOES OF AFRICA; we're having various groups that will be hosting affairs; and we will have all those within the next two weeks. The African Caribbean Business Council gave me an award; and they made me an honorary Haitian.

GDW/EBN: I have to compliment you on your art – I love your collection.

JB: Yes, I'm blessed. People have given me many awards. If you look up you can see this one from Nigeria. People are nice. We love our work. We had some new people join last night. We already represented 35 countries – I guess we're really close to 40 countries.

GDW/EBN: So how is it in terms of African Americans – meaning Philadelphians and Africans and Caribbeans, in terms of the interaction?

JB: For our organization – it's mainly African and Caribbean. We started out trying to help them with immigration issues and other issues. I started out when I saw people were being harrassed. And, in fact, we had a youngster at Tillman's school who was almost killed – so we started out trying to provide assistance and help to people. And now we try to do exchange MOUs (Memorandums of Understandings), business plans, Education, Supplies, all kinds of things. So that's how we started – based on need. Now it's great – each country supports the other one in their memberships, anniversaries, we work a lot together. But it took us a way to get here.   One of our ministerial leaders is from Panama. We have so many people that we work with; so many of their people – we've all learned to live, to exchange cultures – and as you know, many folks intermarry – we have an Ethiopian group at 44th and Chestnut. They have their own headquarters, and so we try to help them. A lot of groups want their own big building.

GDW/EBN: We need to have our own building. I was on that committee for Germantown High School, where we were trying to get the school reopened - we had to go through that whole charter school process and then they turned it down.

JB:  They're terrible!

GDW/EBN:  I agree - I guess we have to press for their abolishment at the state level - and not let it drag out - the people's voice should be respected.  City Councilwoman Blackwell to you have any  closing thoughts you'd like to share? 

JB: I think that we have to rededicate and refocus ourselves on the mission. And that's each country, each individual, each advocate – all of us have to relook at who we are, and what it takes for us to work together in order to make it happen.

Stanley L. Straughter 

As I mentioned earlier, Stanley Straughter and City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell have been in the forefront of working with people of African Heritage in the Philadelphia community.  As with City Councilwoman Blackwell, Mr. Straughter is integrally involved in his community, as well as multi-cultural and international event.  He's widely known and respected for his focus and his ability to get things done.  I first became "aware" of Mr. Straughter at the 40th Anniversary celebration of Odunde` - but I'm sure we run in concentric circles because we have so many of the same friends and associates in common - such as Mel Foote of the Constituency For Africa, whom I've known for quite some time.   Because he was headed to a meeting, our interview was less than 10 minutes.  Hopefully there will be an opportunity for a more in depth interview in the future.  

GDW/EBN: And we're talking to Stanley Straughter whose title is...

SS: I'm the Chairman of the African Americans In Business Council, and I'm Chairman Emeritus of the Mayor's Commission on African Caribbean Immigrant Affairs for the City of Philadelphia.

GDW/EBN: And I have had the distinct pleasure of running into him in various and sundry places - which means we run in really great concentric circles – so I had the honor of sitting in on a meeting at the UN that I was invited to, and found out that at the same time they were actually engineering it from Philadelphia; and here I am sitting here in the central spot, and didn't know anything – imagine my surprise – so I want to get a little update on how this came to be.

SS: Well we were honored to be a part of – we've been engaged in this global African Diaspora Initiative for the last couple of years with the African Union. The African Union has an initiative that deals with bringing the people from the 6rh region or 6th Diaspora – Continental Africa, Africans in the Caribbean, and people in the United States – so our effort representing that part – being a component of that part gives access to the global agenda of the African Diaspora. This year, in September (2015) the United Nations named this decade 2015 to 2025, the Decade of African Descended People. And my colleague, Ambassador Dennis Antoine, the permanent representative or Ambassador from Grenada to the UN and I have been organizing these initiatives around taking the UN to the village. The premise is that all those high falluting people up there in New York need to come and see what the real people are doing; suffering and dealing with on a day-to-day basis. And so this is part of the stategy that I've been working on for the last couple of years with the UN and its leadership. So we have them come here to Philly, Washington, all around the city – into the communities! And the program of the sustainable development goal was one of the early programs on sustainable development goals around women; and women entrepreneuriship, and the empowerment of women. So the women that we took up there were Youma Ba, who owns two restaurants here – she's from Senegal, a great entrepreneur, who spoke about her experience being a woman from Senegal living in Philadelphia and trying to go into business here – and all of the trials and tribulations in doing that. The other is Ms. Oni Richards-Warity, from Liberia – the executive director of the African Family Health Organization – AFAO, we call it – this organization provides health service to about about a thousand African Caribbean immigrant families here in the City of Philadelphia. We have a large African/Caribbean community, but specific to the African Community, a number of the people here illegally, And you know, being here illegally, or undocumented – you don't qualify for anything. Nothing. I mean, you're poor – and they make you poorer – and it's such a great tragedy. I served as the chairman of the board of AFAO for a number of years, and I still help to raise money for them. But they're really doing God's work.
The other lady who spoke was Dr. Shannon Marquez – the Associate Provost of Drexel University's School of Public Health – and they have 24 projects in Africa, working with African countries on health care, training. I speak at the Drexel program a couple of times year round – on health – Not health specifically, but how they need to take these great institutions we have here and take them to Africa. Everybody's talking about China and whatnot, take these Universities to Africa.

GDW/EBN: We've been trying to do that with Lincoln U, as a matter of fact.

SS: I've been talking to Lincoln – as a matter of fact to the chairlady of the Board about Lincoln, and I've done a program up there – at Lincoln and Cheyney – introducing them to Black diplomats. I mean, how do you become a diplomat? What is it?

GDW/EBN: How long ago did you do that?

SS: It was the summer before last with the State Department and USAID – they have a diplomat in residence program whereby I'm doing it there, DC, Howard University, as well as Lincoln University.

GDW/EBN: I'm so glad you told me that –

SS: it's easy to get them, and it's something I'm going to continue to do – and I've been working with Dr. John Chikwa at Lincoln; and the chairman of the Business Department. I've been doing it for quite some time. So, going back to the UN, the idea is to connect our community to them; for young people to introduce them to; we're a global economy and our children don't know anything but Broad Street and Susqehanna Avenue. We've got to get them out of there; we've got to introduce them to the world as early as possible in their education, in their career, so they can see – not how big the world is – but how much they can conquer in the world. We have to help them understand that they are conquerors. We have to educate them! And I'm just upset that we, our community, is complicit in not educating our children – they go to school for 12 years and don't get an education. They can't read and write. You go to school for 12 years and you can't participate in no real opportunity to get into college. I mean it's insane the way we're witnessing our children being short changed.

GDW/EBN: Do you think there's some thing in the water. Or are we being brainwashed – I mean really heavily brainwashed .

SS: We've been brainwashed, and it scares men.

GDW/EBN: If you're 68% Black how the heck can you be 68% Black and under these kinds of circumstances..

SS: Just think about it – they get our children in pre-school – they're locking them up! They're suspending our kids in elementary school.

GDW/EBN: That's what I'm talking about – it scares me because we're letting it happen; we're not standing up for them; we're complaining to each other, but we're not getting on them. And we're not pulling our kids out of this crap and getting them into schools that really care – My daughter went to Milton Hershey School – it was an eye opener for me that you can do a school that can be based on positive principles, and take a kid from Kindergarten all the way through college and have them mean something.

SS: Sure, but that's what I'm saying, Gloria – we know what to do. We – meaning society – know what to do!

GDW/EBN: You got to dump society – this is us – and it's just us! Just like you said last night. I was so glad when Jannie Blackwell said we need to get out of these schools and have some Saturday schools – because I've been pushing that forever. (?) I used to work with the Japanese – and I learned a lot that we need to be using – skip the Chinese – Technology is Japanese, it's not Chinese. The Japanese don't have the natural resources we (Africa) have; and we don't have the technology they have. We should be blending together.

SS: We have to look at the world where it's going. Here we are now, what will our children be doing 15, 20 – 10 years from now?? They can't read and write.

GDW/EBN: Let me ask you how many schools are there that are based on Carter G. Woodson's teachings?

SS: I don't know any. We have to look at how we create an elite – because I grew up in Strawberry Mansion in the ghettos. My mother was 16 when she had me; my grandmother raised us.

GDW/EBN: That makes you elite, because one of the things I know about us as a people is that we all come from a basic standpoint – is that we survived all the crap.

SS: You're looking at the crème de la crème people. I was using it in the context of what WEB DuBois was talking about – this Talented Tenth. I was against that early in my career, but now I see the relevance of it. That's what got me where I am today being raised as part of the Talented Tenth.

GDW/EBN: What's the next step for this organization?

SS: Well the Mayor's Commission on African and Caribbean Affairs is celebrating it's tenth year, and we will continue. The meeting you attended last night, we were into welcoming to the organization the new leadership of the African Caribbean Immigrant Community, and the new leaders. You met the new leader of the Liberian organization; new president of the Antigua/Barbados organization. So we're going to cultivate those leaders. Continue to mentor them; the UN, the World Bank, the Global African Diaspora, African Union – because there's work to be done.

Two contemporary History Makers going about their missions to make it better for African Americans by doing what they are called to do, and doing well.

If you look around you, I'm sure you can also catch instances  of History in the Making right under your nose.  You may actually be a History Maker yourself.

Now that you know, what are YOU going to do about it?

Stay Blessed & 


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