By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
The city paid tribute to the proud legacy of African-Americans and the inspiring contributions they have made to enriching the culture and history of the United States at the 22nd Black Heritage Celebration Feb. 28 at City Hall.
During the annual event in observance of Black History Month, the city’s Black Heritage Committee honored West Haven High School seniors Kobe Brantley and Bobbie James for outstanding leadership and recognized Moses and Roberta Douglas as its African-American Citizens of the Year.
The couple received a citation from Mayor Nancy R. Rossi recognizing their “lifework in shaping the fabric of our African-American community and the story of our diverse city.”
Reading the citation aloud, Rossi said the Douglas’ “daring spirit and inspiring contributions have spoken to the hopes and dreams we all have in common.”
Moses Douglas retired from Ansonia Copper & Brass Co. His wife retired from Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Stratford after 16 years of service and has been a paraprofessional in the West Haven school district for the past 23 years.
The Douglases, who celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary Oct. 22, have been active members of the city’s Allingtown community for four decades.
The 40-minute program, held in the Harriet C. North Community Room, featured a performance of the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” sung by the West Haven High Bel Canto Choir under the direction of Phyllis Silver.
The choir was later accompanied by the near-capacity assembly of dignitaries, family, friends and residents on “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The morning ceremony included an awards presentation by Rossi and Program Chairman Steven R. Mullins, the master of ceremonies, whose daughter, West Haven High freshman Nora E. Mullins, sang a spectacular rendition of “God Bless America.”
The event also included remarks from West Haven High Assistant Principal John DellaCamera and committee founder Beulah “Bea” Johnson.
DellaCamera said, “We are very proud to have (Brantley and James) represent us at West Haven High School.”
Brantley, who aims to study medicine at the University of Hartford in the fall, and James, who aspires to study mechanical engineering at UConn, received a Black Heritage Committee certificate of achievement from Mullins, who was joined by Johnson.
Brantley, a member of the Bel Canto Choir, recently completed Developing Tomorrow’s Professionals, a mentorship program designed to help black and Latino male students who show promise but need some extra guidance in navigating their final years in high school and planning for the future.
James, also a member of the choir, is president of the high school’s mock trial team and Rotary Club and serves as vice president of the Academic Integrity Committee.
In honor of the monthlong black history celebration, organizers have adorned the walls of City Hall with banners and posters depicting important black leaders and role models worldwide.
The committee has worked since 1996 to promote racial harmony across West Haven, transforming City Hall into an exhibition of African-American art and literature throughout Black History Month to educate residents about black culture.