Central teacher initiated Black History Month website

Whittney Wood-Gaines remembers attending Black History Month events in her Columbus childhood and seeing mostly Black residents in attendance time and again.

She long wished there was a way to at least build a wider sense of awareness for such happenings — and remind the community that Black history was linked to all.

Here, Gaines echoes the heart cry of such local Black history aficionados as Paulette Roberts and Brenda Pitts, who assembled the month’s first of more than 50 events slated in February — a local Black history exhibit opening at The Commons at 4 p.m. today with an informal reception.

“Black history IS American history,” Wood-Gaines said.

Therein lies much of the theme of the new, year-round website blackhistorycolumbus.com, filled with a myriad of events, plus a listing of Black-owned businesses, not to mention an overview of local Blacks who have been key community leaders such as the late Mindy Lewis. She was the school board member who helped make the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day national holiday a local school holiday.

Southport resident Wood-Gaines, 36, a special education teacher at Central Middle School in Columbus, is the one who initiated in November the idea for the central website and calendar effort that quickly gained momentum.

“This was a passion project,” she said of her volunteer work.

A core committee of Tom Harmon, Lori Thompson, Frank Griffin, Tatum Downing, and Yoonji Jung helped, along with an overall 12-member committee. Harmon recruited financial support for the work that included paying Jung of Good Creatives for her extensive design, graphics and marketing work.

“I think there were a lot of people who wanted to see something like this for a long time, and I believe you can see that in the overall level of participation,” Wood-Gaines said.

She referenced input and assistance from a broad base of major community players: the city of Columbus administration, Cummins Inc., Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., Columbus Regional Health, Ivy Tech Community College and many others.

Wood-Gaines acknowledged, though, that her vision hardly was very broad initially.

“I thought if we could highlight maybe seven events (in February), that that would be nice,” she said. “I never thought it would gain this much momentum.”

She initially pitched the idea to Thompson and her Paths To Success initiative. That organization works to inspire, motivate and encourage black and bi-racial youth to achieve.

“Whittney is one of the most creative people that I know,” Thompson said. “And she thinks big.”

And, besides being a teacher, she is a lifelong learner.

“She’s like a sponge,” Thompson said. “I really do see her as one of the burgeoning leaders in this community.”

The reaction Wood-Gaines got from most anyone she mentioned it to was, “sounds like a huge undertaking, but a terrific one.”

“I just kept thinking: ‘In a perfect world, how awesome would it be if much of the whole community participated in Black History Month, since Black History Month is not just for Black people, right?’” she said.

She said she can understand how some people feel hesitant about attending some events.

“I definitely understand that some people might have some reservations,” she said. ” … But we’re better as a community when we can come to know and understand one another.”