Students, teachers, pastors and other prominent members of the local African American community came together Tuesday for Grayson College's 6th Annual Black History Month Program. This year's theme was “Your educational ambition should include a vision to help others.”

Keynote speaker LaVelle Hendricks, who is an associate professor for the Department of Psychology, Counseling and Special Education at Texas A&M University-Commerce, said the theme of the program is meant to encourage those who have received the gift of education to share it with others.

“I believe that in this life that we live, many African Americans have provided us with many gifts and many of their talents as we go along this journey,” Hendricks said. “I firmly believe that it's because of many African Americans that we are now standing on the shoulders of many who paved the way for us. But while we are on this journey, it is critically important to understand that we didn't get here by ourselves.”

Hendricks went on to explain support systems can be found in many different places.

“Truly, we have a support system in our community and in our churches and a support system even among our own brothers and sisters,” Hendricks said. “That's why I believe that it is important to understand that where we are getting today and from whence we have come, it is all because someone else paved the way for us. Those of us today who have been impregnated with knowledge and information to whom much has been given, now much is required.”

Those who attended the program were provided with a free meal from Sugar Bear Catering, run by a Grayson College alumnus.

After most were done eating, Grayson College President Jeremy McMillen expressed his gratitude for the honor of speaking at the event.

“We have got to know where we come from to know where we're going,” McMillen said. “We've got to remember we've had and how those propel us forward. Keep telling these stories so my son who is 11 will know what struggles people had and that we won't go backwards; that we go forwards; that we lift everybody up; that we are able to do work that helps transform communities.”

Following McMillen's opening speech, Ricky Sommers, Charles Niblet and Aaron Thomas engaged the audience and kept spirits high throughout the program. In addition to the music that was played, Joylette Blanton performed a praise dance.

Charles Leslie, coordinator for the event, continued Hendrick's emphasis on giving back.

“Giving back is really what it's all about,” Leslie said. “It's what our heritage is all about. Like Jesus on the cross always had somebody else in mind, that's what the education has to be here. As you leave here, to think about others. To be educated is not just about you. There's others that have paved the way.”

Two such people were honored for paving the way, Pamela Polk and Obie Greenleaf received the living legend award.

Polk began her education journey with Grayson College where she earned her Associate of Science before proceeding on to Texas A&M Commerce to earn her Bachelor of Arts and then her Master's in Counseling and Guidance. After a teaching career of 35 years, she retired in 2004. Polk has since come out of retirement and continues to work as owner of Polk Presentations.

Greenleaf moved to Denison in 1947. He earned a bachelor's degree in business from Texas A&M Commerce. After more than 20 years of service, Greenleaf retired from the United States Army. Currently a candidate for Place 2 in Denison, he is heavily involved in the local community.

Hendricks said a strong community is vital to everyone's success.

“We're sitting here today because somebody sacrificed for us,” Hendricks said. “Someone cared for us. There is not a single person in this room who has achieved anything, did it by him or herself. No person is an island. We all need one another.”