February 16, 2007

Bush praises black leaders at history month celebration, San Diegan recognized

By Kayla Webley
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON — President Bush celebrated an audience filled with black leaders Monday —astronauts, sports stars and his own cabinet member Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice— to mark African American History Month.

Bush said he couldn’t think of any better way to celebrate black history than by highlighting the achievements of “ordinary citizens who do unbelievably fine things.”

“Their stories speak a lot louder and a lot clearer than I could have,” Bush said at an East Room speech. “The strength of the African-American community has always lied in the hearts and souls of our citizens, people who refuse to allow adversity to diminish the spirit and extinguish the drive to make America live up to its promise.”

Noting the theme of this year’s African American History Month, “From Slavery to Freedom: Africans in the Americas,” Bush told of the suffering blacks endured and how they overcame adversity.

“Yet despite these assaults on culture and humanity, the children of Africa persevered,” he said.

Bush pointed out several audience members, describing their influence and achievements in black history.

There was Tyrone Flowers, who as a young basketball star was headed for college when he was shot, leaving him paralyzed in a wheelchair, Bush said. Flowers, who earned a law degree, and his wife went on to found Higher M-pact in Kansas City, dedicated to helping “high-risk urban youth become tomorrow’s leaders.”

“The interesting thing about this good man is a lot of people would have either quit or sought revenge. But not him,” Bush said. “He picked a different path and found a different calling.”

Bonnie St. John, who grew up in San Diego, didn’t let losing a leg at age 5 stop her from reaching her dream of being a skier, Bush said. She won medals in downhill skiing in the Paralympics. St. John stood to thank the crowd for its applause, her medals on a red, white and blue ribbon hanging from her neck.

Bush praised astronauts Robert Curbeam and Joan Higginbotham, who were aboard a shuttle mission in December. As the audience laughed, Bush said in jest their job was “not much of a job, just to rewire the International Space Station. It sounds complex.”

Among the crowd sat many sports stars, including several Black Ace members and their founder Jim “Mudcat” Grant. Black Aces is an organization of professional baseball pitchers who have won at least 20 games in a single season. Bush also recognized Sylvester Croom of Mississippi State University, the first black head football coach in the Southeastern Conference.

Though they did not attend, Bush applauded football coaches Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts and Lovie Smith of Chicago Bears. The two became the first black coaches to meet at the Super Bowl two weeks ago.

“It might just have been a game for some, but for a lot of folks it was a moment, a historic moment,” Bush said.

Bush also introduced the Jackson High School Black History Tour Group choir from Jackson, Mich. Their first song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” often called the Black National Anthem, clearly expressed the event’s celebratory message.

“Sing a song full of faith the dark past has taught us,” they sang. “Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us. Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on ‘til victory is won.”

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