Revival of Black History Month Festival honors Eva Mannings with essay contest

By Oldens Lafortune

Outlook writer

Eva Mannings was known for her passion to educate and mentor young people in Tallahassee so to have her name associated with an essay contest for children was only fitting.

With Black history as the backdrop no less.

Organizers of the Black History Month Festival named their “I Am Black History” Student Essay Contest in honor of  Mannings. The organization announced its winner last Saturday at the Union Bank Museum in conjunction with the launching of this year’s Black History Month Festival.

Dr. Janelle Robinson performance during the Black History Month Festival kickoff.
Photo by Oldens

First-place winner Caleb Johnson, an 11-year-old, sixth grade at Cobb Middle School, said he felt a sense of pride for winning the contest that honors Mannings.

“Knowing I am Black history is very important for me to know my roots and where I came, and how my grandparents strived to get where they are now just so I go school,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s grandparents had a lot in common with Mannings, who treated every child as if it were her own.

Mannings graduated from FAMU and later earned another degree from FSU. She was a long-time teacher who volunteered with several organizations. Her accolades also include being the first Black reporter and editor for the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper.

She continued to influence young people until her passing late in 2019.

Johnson was one of several young people who entered the contest, with the task of answering the question why they are Black history. His piece was based on love, which his grandparents instilled in him, he said. 

“I put a lot of thought into this essay,” Johnson said “I put a lot of thought into thinking of my grandparents because they were slaves back then… I put a lot about their love because love is what got them free.”

Kaliah Stevenson, an 11-year old from Havana Magnet School, was second behind Johnson in the sixth-grade category. Third place went to Nigel Pittman, 11, from MacIntyre Park Middle School in Thomasville, Ga.

Corrin Hobbs, a 10-year-old at Florida A& M University Developmental Research School, won the category for fifth graders.

The Black History Month Festival originated in Orlando in 1991. It was later recognized in Tallahassee in 2005 and folks made the annual trip to Orlando until February of 2012. 

The festival is a month-long series of activities, including cultural events and recognition of those who contributed to African American history.

Plans to revive the festival began last year when Nicole Everett, who drove the revival effort, asked Priscilla Hawkins, founder of the Festival, to bring the month-long shindig back.

Caleb Johnson explains the back story to his winning of the “I Am Black History” Student Essay Contest in honor of Eva Mannings. Photo by Oldens Lafortune

 “When she and I began to meet and do a little planning, she helped pull all the people together who are a part of the advisory committee,” Hawkins said.

Their work resulted in Saturday’s kickoff that brought to live some of the ideas they discussed. Activities included a fish fry and live performances. Unveiling of the new Black History Stamp from the United States Postal Service that pay homage to Gwen Ifill was one of the highlights. Ifill was a notable, award -winning African American journalist, newscaster and author who moderated both 2004 and 2008 vice-presidential debates. She died in 2016 of breasts and endometrial cancer.

“I believe that there is no American history without Black history and it’s not highlighted enough,” Everett said, explaining why she wanted to revive the festival. “It’s important that our people know the shoulders on which they stand.”

And Johnson stood on some broad shoulders that motivated him to compete and win the essay contest.

“The love that my parents give me is outrageous,” Johnson said. “It’s the reason I’m on the A-B Honor roll. It’s the reason that I’m in (Cobb Middle School) with a 4.0 GPA.”

Hawkins said the festival isn’t just about celebrating the notable names in Black history nationally, but also highlighting local history.

 “For me,” Hawkins said, “the Black History Month Festival is about being right here and honoring those folks who are right here that we can touch and feel.”

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