Black History: Movers, Shakers and History Breakers

Published: Feb. 9, 2023 at 10:57 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - As we continue our celebration of Black History Month, WLBT is shining a spotlight on movers, shakers and history breakers who are picking up the torch, leading the way and making a difference.

They are focused on creating a better future and striving for excellence.

“I think one way to get inspiration is through other creatives, so read.” That’s Jackson-native and best-selling author Angie Thomas imparting wisdom into the next generation of creative writers at her alma-mater, Belhaven University.

“Had you told me when I was a student here that I would have a scholarship in my name, so many students in the creative writing program would know me, they would have my book in a classroom as required reading... I never would have guessed that. So it shows me I didn’t dream big enough,” she said.

The dream for Thomas began in her hometown, right here in the capital city, which is ground zero for the civil rights movement.

“My mom was a little girl and living in the same house that I grew up in, and she remembers the night Medgar Evers was killed. She remembers hearing the gunshots. So, hearing that from her and knowing that was a part of our history, it was something as a kid that really affected me,” she explained.

Angie Thomas is using her past as motivation, which is now fueling her for her future. The accomplished author says she looks at her writing as a form of activism, and a way to take the torch and use her talents to help push for change.

“There is The Hate You Give, that is translated in over 30 languages, sold millions of copies and was made into a major motion picture. On The Come Up was also made into a major motion picture directed by Sanna Lathan. It has been translated into 30 languages or so, New York Times bestseller, international bestseller. Concrete Rose is my third novel, was another bestseller,” said Thomas.

Now we move from the Mississippi state capitol to The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C, where we find Mississippi-native Trey Baker.

Inspired by his ancestor’s determination and resilience, Baker has made it his life’s mission to fight for civil rights and equity on the local, state and national level.

It is a dream he says was nurtured here at Tougaloo College.

“There had to be a Medgar Evers in Mississippi in order to make his dent, there had to be a Fannie Lou Hamer to make her dent, there had to be a Bennie Thompson, who worked on Fannie Lou Hamer’s campaign, to be able to take it and put his dent in it. Then there had to be a Bennie Thompson to hire me to see me on the campus of Tougaloo College to give me an opportunity to do it,” Baker said.

Baker is now a partner at the prestigious Barnes & Thornburg Law Firm.

Before this job, he served as legislative counsel to U.S. Congressman Bennie G. Thompson and the city manager of Grenada, Mississippi.

He also joined President Joe Biden and his campaign team as the National Director of African American Engagement. Baker then moved up to become the White House Senior Advisor for Public Engagement.

“The American Rescue Plan that put checks in pockets and shots in arms to get us through the pandemic, which was adversely impacting the Black community at a much larger rate. Being able to get that assistance to the Black community was the best thing we were ever able to do,” he explained. “It means a lot to me to start on the very germ of this, at the very genesis of this with the campaign and be able to talk about helping with infrastructure and communities. I would often say communities just like Jackson.”

Another Mississippi native dedicating her life to building up her community and advocating for civil rights is Dr. Lawren Long. Long was recently awarded the Top 40 Under 40.

She also holds a Ph.D in public health administration, and she is an assistant professor at Tougaloo College.

Young serves as a national policy coordinator for the ROC United, a national nonprofit organization that works to improve the livelihood of restaurant workers.

“It helped me to learn who I am, and number two to use these talents to help my community,” she said.

You can also find Long at the Word Center Church where she is a minister and serves as the chief financial officer for Brown Girls, INC.

“We make sure we are keeping women, but not even just women, and even young guys and adults engaged in issues in the community, so we can figure out ways work together to champion some of the issues.”

While this accomplished group is making a huge difference in their own way, they are also inspired by civil rights leaders before them, especially those who started young and never stopped reaching, preaching and pushing for change.

Now, they’re hoping to continue doing the same.

“Martin Luther King was a young man, Rosa Parks was a young woman; these were young people who had the audacity to say things need to be better and we don’t want the status quo. It’s the young people who are going to move us forward. As long as we are doing this work together, we are all making an impact,” concluded Baker.

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