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Remembering the Second Meaning of February

By Michelle Rubio
On February 28, 2013

Texas A&M International University's President, Dr. Ray Keck, shook hands with host Dr. Israel Peniel to publicly congratulate him for his inspiring show: an act that would have outraged many during the Civil Rights Movement. This simple moment was a result of our nation's progress towards equality. Although many associate this month with Valentine's Day and love, locals and special guests gathered at the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts on Feb. 5 to remember and honor this progress through a series entitled "Songs of Freedom: Black History Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow."

The recital hall was filled with thick piano chords, upbeat clapping, and enlightenment as Dr. Peniel opened up the series with his songs of praise. With the help of Pastor Tony Gutierrez and his worship team from the New Life Assembly of God, the crowd prayed and sang together to remember the oppression that many faced as the New World was being formed. Vanessa Peniel confirmed this oppression during a slideshow presentation that took audience members through the history of African Americans.

From Jamestown to the Jim Crow laws and beyond, the sights were hard to take in. Pictures of open encouragement for segregation silenced the entire room as Mrs. Penial shot fact after mind-boggling fact of all the ways in which African Americans were treated differently, including the fact that every African American before 1863 was a slave and how even during the nineteenth century, schools were racially segregated.

Keck comforted those among the crowd at the end of this series by affirming that the world is a good place when he said, "Looking at those photos is hard because I lived through it. It's because of these miraculous people that we can thank God that our nation is not like that anymore."

Through all this strife, Penial highlighted a culture that was pioneered during these times. A culture that still trickles into our lives today, though most of us do not realize it. The use of music and dance was instrumental to their development; at one point, it even took on a whole new form of communication. Slaves would use lyrics with secret messages embedded with ways to escape and dance with military drills to use against slave owners. This form of dance, known as "stick dance," is still used in modern day step and drill teams in universities today.

Not only did culture and customs affect the United States; many people did as well. Peniel showcased an eye-opening timeline of all the influential people in the history books, from the initial leaders like Rosa Parks to Elijah McCoy to the more modern Barack Obama and Gabby Douglas, the first U.S. African American gold medalist.

Despite the tension in the room, there was a heightened sense of awareness on how influential African Americans really are. This awareness turned into reflection as Dr. Israel Peniel took the stage again to talk about happiness. Using Bloom's model of taxonomy, Dr. Peniel closed the series with a benediction that before someone can master anything, including happiness, there are six steps to go through which include knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, respectively. His booming voice clarified that, "if you're looking for happiness, you're missing the whole point: happiness is all in the ride. Happiness won't come until you're already happy." He urged people to be happy with themselves before they looked to others for happiness. As the crowd held hands to the night's final song, "We Will Stand," the room ended with the same feeling it started with, joy.

This series, now in its' sophomore year, was the birth child of Dr. Israel Peniel and was free to the public. Special guests included the team of New Life Assembly of God from Laredo and the Evangelist Johnny Gonzales Music Ministry from McAllen, Texas.

The next event this month will be a part of the Voices in the Monte series and will welcome poet Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie on Feb. 20. For more information on uplifting events like this throughout Black History month, log on to TAMIU'S website for a calendar of future opportunities to engage with the community.

(Michelle Rubio may be reached at

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