West Point Black History Month draws crowd

Published 5:29 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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WEST POINT —The City of West Point hosted its 21st annual Black History program Tuesday afternoon inside the city gym. A large crowd was present, and attendees ranged in age from infants in their mother’s arms to local seniors. Mayor Steve Tramell and members of the West Point City Council were present along with three- and four-year-olds from the Chattahoochee Early Learning Academy (CELA), students from West Point Elementary School, Long Cane Middle School, Troup High and Springwood School.

The younger generations that are coming along kept the crowd mightily entertained with some most impressive singing talent.

Troup High junior Raygen Godfrey was the principal speaker for the day. She’s the granddaughter of the late Donald Gilliam, a long-time former member of the West Point City Council. She told the big crowd that Black History extends beyond what today’s student learns in the classroom. 

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“It mingles with our everyday lives,” she said. “The month sparks conversations at home, encouraging local families to share personal stories and pass down generational wisdom, which that generation will pass to the next. As a result, the youth of this town develop a complex understanding of their roots, connecting them with narratives of resilience.”

Godfrey said that basic human decency is the bigger picture. “Do today’s kids learn that there’s danger in going to the store for a pack of Skittles as Trayvon Martin did, or it may do no good to cry out “I can’t breathe!” as George Floyd did?” she said. “Do they know that going for a simple jog as Ahmaud Arbery did can cost you your life? Do they learn that you can be killed in your apartment while watching TV and eating ice cream? There’s a growing list of people who have died who shouldn’t have.”

“Lastly, I give voice to Willie T. Edmondson,” Godfrey said. “He’s my former pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church right here in West Point. He was also the mayor of LaGrange. He made a major contribution to a beneficial turning point in both cities. His impact in West Point and LaGrange was nothing short of life-altering. As a spiritual guide, he baptized me, imparting a sense of profound connection to my faith and religion. Beyond the pulpit, he took on the responsibility of civic leadership, bringing significant change to our neighboring city of LaGrange.”

Godfrey maintained that Pastor Edmondson was involved in educating young people. 

“He was an amazing person who addressed social issues, promoted unity and inspired collective action for our youth,” she said. “Black history in West Point, Georgia stretches beyond the limits of a calendar. It unfolds a seven-minute symphony of personal and communal stories as well as a yearning call to action. As today’s youth — including myself — engage with the living history of our town we become active participants in shaping the legacy that will define West Point, Georgia for generations to come. I will always keep my grandfather’s advice at heart as I live my life. He always told us to never let anyone dummy you down. Thank you, grandfather.”

Godfrey received a rousing standing ovation for her remarks.

She was followed by the Lynch/Lewis family, who did a song in beautiful harmony. “What if God is unhappy and not pleased with the words we sing?’ their song went. “Lord, just be pleased with our love.”

On behalf of the city council, Tramell presented certificates of appreciation to area schools. Board Chairman Sandra Glover accepted on behalf of CELA, Principal Keneitha Cook for West Point Elementary, Principal Chet Stewart for Troup High, Head of School Dr. Kim Plank for Springwood School and Eman Cohen for Point University.

Members of the city council presented awards to business people in the city. Sandra Thornton recognized Monica Gunsby of Queen’s Catering, Joel Finlay thanked Michael and Keisha Conliglio for having Burrow Warehouse and Brix in West Point, Kevin Patrick presented the Donald Gilliam Community Service Award to Christopher “C.J.” Hicks for his One Touch Lawn Service business and Gerry Ledbetter expressed his appreciation to Aaron and Brittany Lewis for their Luminous Skin Care business.

A raffle was held to award kids’ bikes to some children present. The winners included four-year-old Scarlet Ruff, who attends CEKA; two-year-old Joanni Duke, Small Wonders Day Care; seven-year-old Justice Boykin, Springwood; four-year-old Jayce Hall, CELA; five-year-old Corleone Langston, CELA; five-year-old Evelyn Widener, CELA; three-year-old Majesty Earl, CELA, and five-year-old Lakor Morgan, Callaway Elementary.

The program concluded with the Lynch/Lewis Family leading the crowd in singing, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ which has long been recognized as the Black National Anthem.