By Larry Whitley Sr. and Sherry Kuiper, Fort Meade Public Affairs Office
“I just have to sing.”
The refrain and title of a popular song was performed by the MacArthur Middle School Honors Chorus to uplift and energize the crowd attending Fort Meade’s Black History Month observance.
The song is a sort of mirror to the extraordinary achievements of Dr. Toya Corbett, dean of students at North Carolina Central University, who was the guest speaker for the event held Feb. 23 at McGill Training Center.
Corbett’s presentation illustrated her deep conviction to “just learn and teach,” as her personal achievements suggest.
Her speech provided an in-depth discussion on the history of education for black Americans of African heritage, and why this year’s theme, “Crisis in Black Education,” is timely and relevant.
Quoting the renowned abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass, Corbett said “education is emancipation. It means rights and liberties. It means the uplifting of man in the glorious light of truth.”
Corbett argued that a focus on education is a key ingredient in democratic societies.
There’s been a “crisis in black education in Maryland since 1642, when slavery came to Maryland at St. Mary’s City,” she said.
The Black History Month observance put a light on education. This year’s host, the Defense Information Systems Agency, provided several exhibits and informational activities that focused on education and significant contributions to society attributed to black Americans.
The Freedom Inn Dining Facility provided a free sampling of cuisine historically associated with black American culture.
The packed event also featured a stirring presentation of the national anthem by Jennifer Augustine and riveting reading of the Presidential Proclamation for Black History Month by Denise Wagner.
In her speech, Corbett reflected on the accomplishments of abolitionist and Civil War leader Harriet Tubman.
“From one freedom fighter to [the next], the crisis in black education persisted and evolved,” Corbett said.
A notable example, she said, was Tubman, a Marylander who was born a slave in Dorchester County in 1850 and became a conductor of the Underground Railroad, “leading 13 missions to liberate her family and friends.”
Tubman was never caught.
“Soldiers here at Fort Meade, you may be surprised that during the Civil War, Harriett Tubman became the first woman to lead an armed military raid in 1863,” Corbett said. “What’s most intriguing about Ms. Tubman is she never learned to read or write.”
Corbett, who earned her doctorate in history at Morgan State University, studied and researched the educational evolution in Maryland’s education system as part of her post-graduate studies and has authored several papers and books on education systems issues.
Her leadership qualities and the importance she places on education and the educational process was presented by Sgt. 1st Class Derrick Chambers, senior Equal Opportunity advisor for Fort Meade.
A high school classmate of Corbett, Chambers said she is his “friend, inspiration and mentor.”
He related how Corbett, then a high school senior, shared a locker with him, a freshman, and inspired him to get involved with student government and make a difference in the educational experience there.
“I was reminded this morning that not only is there a crisis in black education, but there is a severe crisis in education for all people that has us all worried about the future of education,” Corbett said.
“What’s important to remember is that it is our children that are suffering” through this crisis.
Before Corbett left the podium, Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard talked with her and presented Corbett with a memento from Fort Meade.
“Thank you so much for coming here and making us think, making us remember and making us better people,” Rickard said. “Thank you for your service and your kind words, and for coming here today to honor us.”