4:28 min February 05, 2024

Black History Being Made in the Pocono Mountains

African-American leaders in the Poconos reflect on black history while celebrating the legacy of Dr. King

The Little Bethel AME Church was built in the mid 1800s as a place for black Americans to worship freely. Now, as we celebrate Black History Month in February, PTN attended a recent MLK Day celebration for East Stroudsburg University, where we spoke to black leaders about the past, the present and their future.

The packed house at Stroudsmoor Country Inn celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in song and in speech.

East Stroudsburg University has hosted this event for the better part of three decades, recognizing community members and students like Brian Akonu. Akonu is originally from the Bronx and is now ESU Student Body President.

“We pride ourselves on being the most diverse school in the PASSHE system,” said Akonu. “We're seeing a great influx of diverse students within, especially like the last ten years. Is this cool to see that there's a bigger community on campus dedicated to different things and it makes our school more fun because we're seeing experiences that you may not find at other schools.”

Akonu literally looks up to ESU President Kenneth Long. The two, different generations, yet their fervor for black history is similarly strong.

“We're kind of marking a new chapte. Black history is U.S. history. I mean, that's an important thing,” said President Long. “I mean, me being the first African-American president of East Stroudsburg University, 130 year old institution, but me being the first. But I think laying that groundwork now allows us to move forward as a community, because our community is becoming more and more diverse.”

“Black history means a lot in the sense that we're paying it forward. All of the efforts that we have from the past and the people that did what they had to do, even some that lay down their lives and lost jobs and went the ultimate sacrifice for us to be able to do what we do, to be able to learn, to be able to just be a society among others. It's a blessing, really is,” added Akonu.

Writing her own chapter in black history, Christa Caceres. The president of the Monroe County NAACP stood as a newly elected Pike County Commissioner. Caceres was sworn in after the first of the year, the first woman of color to serve in that post.

“When I realized that I was the first woman in almost 30 years to be elected to the seat, and I was the first African-American woman or woman of color to ever hold the seat. It's incredible,” she said. “And again, it just speaks to our community coming together and saying it's time for progress. Right. It's time for different ideas, different vision, different voices. And I'm honored to be one of those chosen to move to move us forward.”

Caceres is one of the many leaders in the crowd, speaking out for the causes Dr. King did and encouraging the next generation to do the same and to continue making history.

“And I think a lot of people forget that Dr. King was just in his twenties when he did the bulk of his work in civil rights. And it's time for folks like me at 50 something to prepare to pass the baton because, you know, clearly we have young people who are more than ready to step up and lead,” she added.

“If we do spend the same time working together as we do, trying to divide us apart. I'm not sure what we can accomplish. And that's the power of unity and togetherness. And for Black History Month, I think that's one of the messages that I want to convey is unity. We can get more done together than we can apart,” said ESU President Kenneth Long.

Looking back and to the future with a message of unity for Black History Month here in the Poconos.