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Natalia Naman Temesgen: Ordinary people create extraordinary lives

When I sit to work on a script or a column, I often think of a famous quote by Henry David Thoreau, "How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live."

I often find my experiences are not worthy of broadcasting to the masses. I do however find myself drawn to the true stories of those who have in fact lived lives of incredible adventure, courage or honor.

Today, I am thinking of Black History Month and the many true stories of Black Americans that are worthy of being written down. I have been working on a play for the past few years set during the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921. During this horrific day-long riot, the black segregated community of Greenwood -- called the "Negro Wall Street" for its affluent residents and successful businesses -- was burned entirely to the ground.

One of the Greenwood residents who lived a noteworthy life in the wake of this event was John Hope Franklin.

Franklin grew up in segregated Tulsa, where he excelled academically. He was a child during the riots and grew up to be one of the most prominent historians of the 20th century.

For his ability to excel despite many societal odds, his contributions as a civil rights activist, and his accomplished work as a historian focused on the South, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.

Another exceptional figure that comes to mind is Mary McLeod Bethune. A child of former slaves, Bethune grew up in poverty and was the only one in her family who was able to attend school. Her other siblings were obligated to work to help support the family.

Aware of the preciousness of her education, Bethune took her academics very seriously and was accepted to a prestigious Northern private girls school, and then attended what is now Moody Bible Institute. She returned to the South as an educator, believing an education was the key to racial ad


Before turning 30, Bethune founded a college for blacks that would become one of the few places where black people could earn a bachelor's degree. She later became a special adviser to President Roosevelt on minority's affairs and took a prominent role in incorporating the United Negro College Fund.

Her achievements were lasting and important. And they were not only laudable for the fact that she accomplished them as a black person during a trying time for blacks, but also for the fact that she did it as a woman during a trying time for women.

In fact, her legacy will be celebrated here in town at next week's Mayor's Masked Ball, a charity masquerade with star power that benefits the UNCF.

I love to find inspiration in the incredible stories of history and incorporate them in my writing.

Hopefully one day I will have stood up and lived enough that I will tell my own stories, but even then I won't stop breathing life into those that have been forgotten in the recesses of time and abstraction.

-- Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent contractor. Contact her at