Time to honor African-American history, but how?

February 12, 2014
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Now that we are in the month of February it is time to celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans.

I often wonder what was on the mind of Dr. Carter Granville Woodson in 1915 when he began his work as the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

I wonder about the challenges that he must have faced and how the idea of chronicling Negro history was received.

People must have thought he was crazy in 1926 when he proposed the idea of celebrating Negro History Week. Now through the hard work of many we have Black History Month, a time when people of all ethnicities and social backgrounds acknowledge the black experience.

When I think about Black History Month, I often thing about those giants of men and women who blazed trails for many of us today.

I think about men like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and women like Sojourner Truth.

I think about people from a far off time that seems so long ago and so distant from the reality of today. It seems like black history makers are a thing of the past.

In this day, are there any more opportunities to be the first black this or the first black that? It seems as though the men and women of our past were so great and so courageous and so committed to the struggle of our people. It seems as though the uplifting of the past has distanced us from today.

While it is extremely important for us to recognize the accomplishments of our past, we should also seek out and highlight the accomplishments of those men and women who shape the face of our everyday black history.

One such person is Mr. James Forrest.

Mr. Forrest if the proprietor of Forrest Cleaners, 5825 W. Chicago Ave. James was born into the dry cleaning business. His father opened their first dry cleaners on Chicago’s West Side back in 1963 before the race riots.

As a young boy, James spent a lot of time at his father’s dry-cleaning plant during summer break from school, mostly preparing hangers for the pressers, tagging clothes and sweeping floors.

As many summer breaks went by, his knowledge of dry-cleaning increased. In 1981, his father began delegating to him.

As James learned the business and gained more confidence in his abilities, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and opened a drop-off, dry-cleaning company of his own in 1990.

While his first dry cleaners was located on the South Side, he remembered his roots on the West Side. When his uncle, who was also in the dry-cleaning business, decided it was time to slow down, James jumped at the opportunity to open a green dry cleaners in Austin, where his uncle’s Double Door Cleaners was located.

Forrest Cleaners is a certified GreenEarth dry cleaners.

“You can see, smell and touch the difference in your clothes,” James says.

Wouldn’t it be great if some day the history writers noted that there was a movement that began on Chicago’s West Side? That African Americans heard the call and decide to support one of their own businesses in mass numbers, creating a buzz among the people to shop black in mass numbers.

The caption would read: “Blacks took matters into their own hands and decided to control their own economic destiny.”

Please join us as we support this business in the Austin community.

Malcolm Crawford operates Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center and serves as executive director of the Austin African American Business Networking Association.

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