By Marika Merritt, Business Systems Supervisor, Paducah Power System

There are so many famous Black figures in our past and present that I could point out whose stories have garnered the attention and respect of, not just of those of us in the Black community, but people of all nationalities. Their stories are ingrained in our minds throughout our school aged years, specifically during the month of February.  Of course, I admire the will of Rosa Parks, the resolve of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the defiance of Harriet Tubman, and the determination of countless others who marched for equal rights and endured horrendous and inhumane treatment so that I could be afforded the liberties I have today. Present day names such as President Barack and Michelle Obama, Stacey Abrams, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey…the list goes on and on…have inspired me and caused me to clap and shout aloud with pride at how far it seems African Americans have come from the days of slavery. But there were also great women in my family that helped mold me into the woman I am today.

          Rev. Mollie Bell Whittemore

As a young girl, I remember going to my great-grandmother’s apartment in Blackburn Court after walking the short block from school at Whiteside Primary. She was, what felt at the time, a towering woman to me. As an A.M.E. preacher during a time when women were not always welcomed in the pulpit, Rev. Mollie Bell Whittemore remained a commanding and steadfast figure in the church for over 50 years. I think of, back then, how “fearful” I was of her, but as I have gotten older, I realize that it was her sheer presence-not fear- that commanded respect without her saying a word. Her grace and faithfulness inspire me.

                 Mable Kelley

My grandmother, Mrs. Mable Kelley (Miss Mable, as she was affectionately called by so many), not only taught at Paducah HeadStart for over 30 years but, oftentimes, drove the school bus, as well. She was named a Dutchess of Paducah after her retirement. Granny, as I called her, (which I now enjoy being called by my own grandson) was a force to be reckoned with in her own right. She had such a unique, yet direct way of teaching me to be a proper young lady. Her words continue to echo in my mind. I still own a slip to this day because there was to be no “running around being fast” on her watch.  Her grit and strength inspire me.

Until now, I’ve never told my mother, Ella Merritt (a.k.a. Lil’ Sister), how proud I was of her when, after a few years as an aide on the HeadStart bus route, she, in her 50’s, decided to go back to school and earn an early childhood learning certificate. She then went on to work as a teacher’s aide at HeadStart, concentrating on special needs students for eleven years before she finally retired. The bond she created with those students, and the pride she took in being there every day, further reinforced the work ethic that I take so much pride in today.  The kids and parents alike still love Miss Ella. Her resolve and determination inspire me.

              Ella Merritt

In saying all of that, Black history and tradition to me also includes current events, struggles, and triumphs within our culture. That is not to take away from the enormity of all that those before me endured and accomplished. It’s the pride of seeing even the smallest changes after the biggest battles while knowing that there is still more to be done to effect     positive change and destroy negative stereotypes rooted in misinformation, fear, and hatred. Trusting and believing that troubles don’t last always, and that suffering is not in vain. The resiliency after heartbreaking setbacks and the willingness to not only succeed, but to excel despite of, in spite of, and truthfully, sometimes, because of, skin color. It all inspires me.

Each day, I have an opportunity to witness, in some shape, form or fashion, a myriad of young Black entrepreneurs who have stepped out on faith and seized opportunities to start their own businesses with nothing but a wing and a prayer. I see them perfect their crafts and share those talents with a community that does not always embrace or support them, yet they give back anyway. I “see” them, and I applaud them. They inspire me.

I also see mothers and fathers who quietly go about their day-to-day lives with no fanfare or applause or even appreciation at times, but they pride themselves on making ends meet for their family, time and time again. They inspire me.

Every hero is not famous, and every influencer is not on social media. I think, often, we do not realize that someone, somewhere, is watching and taking mental notes, rooting for us to win in hopes that they too can win. To know how far we have come, while remembering how far we still have to go, I am continuously aware of the plight of my ancestors, the vision and accomplishments of my modern day heroes, and the strides of those of us today who hope that when “our” Black history is being written and discussed, we have left this race, this community, this country, and this world, a little better than how we found it.

Marika has been a PPS Team Member for nearly 16 years.