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“Airmen’s Night Out” celebrates African-American heritage

A child plays the drums during the African American heritage Airmen's Night Out in the community center Wednesday.

A child plays the drums during the African American heritage Airmen's Night Out in the community center Wednesday.

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- The history of African Americans was celebrated through food, story-telling, artwork and drum lessons Feb. 23 in the community center during the second Airman’s Night Out.

More than 40 Airmen held ‘passports’ to the various locations, allowing them access to the mysteries of the Underground Railroad, genealogy, hip hop music and a time warp back to the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala.

Once the passport was stamped in all four areas, the Airmen were given a certificate for four hours of community service.

“We’re telling our heritage in a different way,” Shirley Sims said. “It’s visual and personal.”

Upon entering the converted community center, displays of African-American statues, artifacts and artwork were arranged on tables, leading the visitor to the genealogy room.

Monica Woods, retired Civil Service employee, told the Airmen how her sister was able to track down their ancestors. She told the Airmen how they could track their own genealogy through Web sites and other sources.

Another legacy was told through different means.

Earline Bess, a contractor with the 16th Communications Squadron, explained a portion of the history behind the Underground Railroad through quilts and music. As music played softly in the background, Ms. Bess showed Airmen the different designs on the quilts that were a covert language to the slaves.

“Negro spirituals were secret codes,” Ms. Bess said. “These were sung by the slaves for comfort, as a warning, for guidance and entertainment. Secret codes were hidden in these songs as well as in the designs of the quilts they made.”

Music also played a role in a future generation as the Airmen moved on to the history of hip hop.

Staff Sgt. Cory Walker, 16th Logistics Readiness Squadron, was on hand to explain how hip hop got its start and developed over the past 30 years.

“In the 70s, times were tough and the artists described them through their songs,” Sergeant Walker said. “As the years went on, the styles developed and changed, but it always told a story.”

Sergeant Walker quizzed the Airmen on different artists and songs, eliciting laughs when he stumped them on who sang what songs.

Another story was told on a bus outside the center.

Airmen boarded the bus where a lone woman sat in the front seat. Airman 1st Class Jennifer Jenkins, 16th Maintenance Operations Squadron, played the part of Rosa Parks while Arnetha Welcome, 16th MOS, gave a brief overview of what happened on Dec. 1, 1955. Airmen were given the chance to ask “Rosa” questions about her role in history.

Moving even further back in time, the Airmen returned to the community center for a demonstration of West African drums.

Mike Beck, a civilian, makes several different types of drums and gives demonstrations. According to Mr. Beck, the fastest growing percussion instrument in the world is the Djembes (pronounced jim-bay). The base is carved from wood indigenous to Africa and goat skin. It’s able to produce two separate tones on one drum, where a standard drum produces only one.

The event’s finale was the presentation of the African-American History Month art contest awards. The subject for the contest was Rosa Parks.

Nia Kearney, daughter of Capt. Michael Kearney, 505th Command and Control Wing, won a $50 savings bond, a certificate for first place and her entry framed.

“A thought inspired my drawing,” said Nia. “What her (Ms. Parks) little deed did inspired us all.”

Airman Michael Severin, 16th Operations Support Squadron, enjoyed the experience.

“It taught me a lot,” Airman Severin said. “Through the stories of the quilts and hip hop, I learned to respect the heritage.”