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Photos by Phu Nguyen/Cuyamaca College photographer

February 9, 2013 (El Cajon)-- A library exhibit featuring John Robert Clifford, a seminal figure in African American history and a forefather of a Cuyamaca College administrator, and a stepping demonstration by members of a historically black fraternity are part of the commemoration of Black History Month at Cuyamaca College.

Danene Brown, interim vice president of instruction at Cuyamaca College, poses next to a campus library exhibit about her great-great-great uncle, John Robert “J.R.” Clifford, a seminal figure in African American history. The display is part of the college’s commemoration of Black History Month.

At Grossmont College, the celebration takes on a culinary and artistic flair, with events ranging from a soul food lunch with live jazz; a rare visit by a pair of blues and jazz icons; and a showing of a student documentary on multiculturalism.

All events are free and open to the public.

Through the month of February, the Cuyamaca College library is showcasing the accomplishments and times of key figures such as “J.R.” Clifford, a trailblazer in education, journalism, law and civil rights, and the great-great-great uncle of Danene Brown, interim vice president of instruction at the campus.

Born in 1848 in Moorefield, West Virginia, Clifford fought for the Union in the Civil War; became the principal of the first public black school in the South, and was the publisher of the nation’s longest-running black newspaper before its forced closure in 1917. He was also one of the nation’s first black lawyers, and helped found the Niagara Movement, the cornerstone of the modern civil rights movement.  The group continued until 1911, when most of its members became the backbone of the newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP.


Harpers Ferry Historical Association, Inc.

Standing at left is J.R. Clifford, who joined his friend, W.E.B. Du Bois, seated, to found the Niagara Movement, an African American protest group of scholars and professionals formed in 1905. 

Today’s African Americans

Tanis Starck, the director of the office of Intercultural Relations at San Diego State University, will be speaking at the Cuyamaca College Student Center at 1 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, followed by a special step show – a combination of cheerleading, military and drill-team moves -- by SDSU’s chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. Games and prizes are also part of the hour-long mix. 

“Cuyamaca College takes great pride in its diversity and we are honored to highlight the history, accomplishments and contributions of the African American community,” said college president Mark J. Zacovic. “In this country, the fabric of society is strengthened, not torn, by the mixture of its weave.”

At Grossmont College, the community will have a rare opportunity to join two celebrated musicians – the Queen of the Kansas City Blues Jeannie Cheatham and legendary jazz artist John Handy -- as they talk about their lives, careers and craft from 2-3:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at Griffin Gate in the student center.

Cheatham is a pianist, composer and author whose rich vocals and rousing piano led her to perform with rhythm and blues icon Big Mama Thornton for a decade, and, in the ‘80s, to tour with Cab Calloway. “Sweet Baby Blues,” her debut album with her late husband Jimmy Cheatham, includes “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On,” regarded as a blues classic.

John Handy, whose soulful and fiery saxophone style is instantly recognizable to generations of jazz fans worldwide, has performed in the world’s great concert halls, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center,  and the Berlin Philharmonic Auditorium, and at preeminent jazz festivals. His highly acclaimed original compositions, “Spanish Lady” and “If Only We Knew,” both earned Grammy nominations.

Grossmont College film student Sicarra Devers, 22, cites her mixed-race heritage as the inspiration for her documentary film, “Who Are We Really: An exploration of Multiculturalism Self-identity,” which will be shown 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, in Room 220 of Building 26. The film explores self-identity through the lens of a multicultural society and utilizes interviews from students, faculty, community members and social commentary to highlight issues relating to race relations today.

“In my experience, being mixed race, I have grown up constantly being questioned what I am or which side I favor more,” she said. “It was always very frustrating being told that I wasn't black enough or Mexican enough, or an equal enough representation of both. Originally, I was inspired to do this as a personal project, exploring attitudes on race in regards to the African American community and what it means to be black. But as I started to research and talk to more people I realized that self-identity and racial attitudes are a universal aspect of American society.”

President Sunita V. Cooke said Black History Month continues to carry a special significance at Grossmont College, where a planning committee works months in advance to put together a rich mix of activities that is both enlightening and entertaining.

“Ultimately, our goal is to inform people about the importance of this month and its commemoration of ways the African American community has contributed to the greatness of this nation,” she said.

For more on Grossmont’s Black History Month celebration, go to

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