Guest speakers help Salem students celebrate Black History Month

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Photo by Shawn Nowlin
Dr. Marylen Harmon speaking at West Salem Elementary School.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” Nearly 55 years after the civil rights icon was murdered on a hotel balcony in Tennessee, those words ring more accurate than ever.

Black History Month isn’t just about remembering the contributions and achievements of African Americans throughout the years; it’s also an opportunity to inspire the youth.

To get a first-hand perspective of what it was like growing up during segregation, several Carver graduates – Dr. Wayne Harris, Dr. Marylen Harmon, Jean Green and William Shepherd – visited Salem City Public Schools throughout February to share their stories.

Dr. Marylen Harmon’s Feb. 15 talk with students at West Salem emphasized the progress that’s been made since the 1960s. “When I was growing up, we couldn’t go in the front entrance of most Salem buildings. As a child, I understood what it meant to be separated. I understood what it was like to not be allowed in certain restaurants,” Harmon said. “My father was the principal at Carver, and my mother was a teacher. They taught me early on always to treat others the way I would want to be treated. We have come so far as a society compared to when I was your age.”

Photos by Mike Stevens
Students listening to a speaker.

East Salem’s February 12 Black History Assembly featured Robert “Buster” Shepherd, a 1957 Carver graduate. Wayne Harris returned to his alma mater on February 16, and Jean Shropshire Green spoke to South Salem students on February 7. On Friday, February 23, former city manager Dr. Forest Jones will speak at Andrew Lewis Middle School.

Like many other Salem teachers, Kelly Schumeyer decorated her classroom at the start of the month to reflect the contributions of African Americans throughout history.

Robert “Buster” Shepherd, a 1957 Carver graduate.

“It’s so important that we educate our youth about Black History Month. We are honoring heroes of the black community by celebrating the historic events that make up the collective account of our nation,” Schumeyer, who teaches second grade at East Salem, said. “When we are optimistic and celebrate all the gains of our past, we can continue to push forward for further change with knowledge and insight.”

A fourth-grade teacher at GW Carver Elementary, Michelle Pallerios says that black history is everyone’s history. “It is the American story that hasn’t been told enough. We should always celebrate the heroes of our past,” she said. “We have to teach our children about the past. If you think your life is pretty easy, it is most likely due to the struggles of those before you.”

Former Roanoke City Schools Superintendent Wayne Harris, a 1964 Carver graduate.