OCALA, Fla. – The City of Ocala held a Black History Month program for seniors Monday morning at the newly opened Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place. The center pays tribute to the first elected Black councilwoman in the city.
The event honored and paid tribute to many living Black legends in Marion County.
The ceremony was a special celebration attracting over 100 seniors who listened and learned as the city honored several Black trailblazers who are getting results and giving back to their community.
“We wanted to really show Ocala how history started here, but also how we are making history now, " said organizer Latoya Artis, senior recreation supervisor.
Among the few people recognized included Mel Poole, an Air Force veteran of more than 20 years and the first ever director of the City of Ocala’s fiber network.
“Preserving that history, Sharing it and that ensures that hopefully we don’t make some of the same mistakes we made in the past. You have to look forward,” Poole said. “My message today was to always remember where you came from.”
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In addition, the city recognized Captain Fred Chisolm from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and Bernard Rembert, the principal at Forest High School. They also recognized praise dancers and the Howard Academy African American Museum.
News 6′s Jerry Askin also sat down 93-year-old Dr. Eddie Joseph Shellman Sr. He’s an educator who taught anatomy at then all Black Hampton Junior College in Ocala in the 1950′s. He’s now one of the only living Black professors who transferred over to then Central Florida Community College when schools were integrated in the 1960′s.
He said he remembers the inequities and racial struggles during that time.
He also said he’s happy to see the City of Ocala celebrating and honoring Black History Month, but he says the ongoing fight towards freedom has not been easy.
“To get here, it was the devil. Like when I first went into the president’s office to tell him about the pay. They dropped all of us two pay scales lower than the whites,” Dr. Shellman said.
There are several similar stories shared as residents took time to reflect on how far we as a country have come and how far we still have to go.
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