In thinking about Black History 2021, the brilliant Amanda Gorman and her stand-out performance at the Biden Inauguration quickly comes to mind. America’s first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate presented a powerful image of the spoken word, punctuated by hand and facial gestures, surrounded by a yellow sun splashed dress coat with a swirling red head band all combining to provide a spirited uplift to a somewhat uncertain ceremony transforming Presidential power.

Her poem, The Hill We Climb, reminds us all how poems, music scores, books, documentaries, art and other cultural mediums can inspire and reinvigorate youth and adults alike. For my grandchildren, Tyler (13) and Logan (9), it was like a bolt of lightning to illustrate that young talented African Americans , female and male, can be center stage even for worldly events.

The Vineyard has an impressive list of those in decades past whose shoulders Ms. Gorman stands on. Helene Johnson was a poet who was active in the Harlem Renaissance whose poems explored gender and race. One of her most famous poems, Bottled, was published in the May 1927 issue of Vanity Fair. Her first cousin was our very own Dorothy West, novelist and short story writer — known famously for her books The Living is Easy and The Wedding. Dorothy West was also the founding writer for this very Oak Bluffs town column. Abigail McGrath operates the Renaissance House writers retreat on the Vineyard for budding writers in honor of her mother Helene and her aunt Dorothy.

A close friend of Dorothy’s was Lois Mailou Jones, a leading African American female artist of the 20th Century, whose grandmother, Phoebe Moseley Ballou, came to Oak Bluffs in 1896 affording Lois an opportunity to enjoy summers on the Island most of her life. With the encouragement of Alain Locke, Harry Burleigh and Meta Warrick Fuller, Ms. Jones went to France in 1899 and studied in the studio of Auguste Rodin among others. Her travels took her to France, Haiti and the African continent but she returned to the Vineyard each summer. In the 1950’s and 1960’s she would rent a cottage in Menemsha where she would paint seascapes and landscapes. She also taught at Howard University for 47 years. Today, all can see her magnificent work in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Uncle to all of these cultural icons was the irrepressible and prolific song composer and singer Harry T. Burleigh. Mr. Burleigh stayed every summer at Shearer Cottage from 1917 to 1941 where each day he would go to Grace Church in Vineyard Haven and work on his many musical compositions. He gave to the world Swing Low, Swing Chariot, Dig My Grave Long and Narrow, I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired, and his own inimitable version of Deep River. This brilliant Spingarn Medal winner attracted to Oak Bluffs Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters and Fisk University’s Roland Hayes.

Luella and Ralf Coleman purchased property on Myrtle Avenue. Ralf Meshack Coleman studied theatre at Harvard under H.W.L. Dana and subsequently at the Provincetown Wharf Theater and the Boston Experimental Theater. His first public introduction to the stage was as narrator for an all black pageant at Symphony Hall in 1920. He directed the Allied Arts Players in 1927 and the Boston Players in 1927. He made his Broadway professional debut as a romantic lead in Roll, Sweet Chariot throughout the 1933-1934 season. He would eventually become the director of the Boston Chapter of the national Federal Theatre Project.

Liz White lived in New York and was working on Broadway but racism prevented her from working on stage. She remained backstage as a dresser to actors. Liz launched the Shearer Summer Theatre with friends who came to the Vineyard. In August of 1945, Ms. White directed a cast to perform Clare Booths Luce’s The Women at the Oak Bluffs School gymnasium. Liz would direct more than 10 or more productions on the Vineyard, including The Slabtown District Convention, Lysistrata, Anna Lucasta, Angel Street, Cooling Waters and Othello.

Our current history includes the magnificent Francine Kelly Art Gallery at the sprawling Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs. Zita Cousens Gallery is a comfortable place for many local artist and book readings. The 19th Annual Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival will be held this August. Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has become a master at making films about the black experience in America. His works include producing and hosting Finding Your Roots, The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross, and most recently the PBS special entitled The Black Church : This is Our Story, This is Our Song.

Not far from Amanda Gorman’s national presentation on the Capitol stands the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Washington Mall. In the museum is a replica of the porch of the Bunny Cottage purchased by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and his wife Isabel Washington in the 1930’s. We look forward to the day when Amanda’s voice and persona is included in the museum as a lasting symbol of history and culture.

Paradise on earth is living the Vineyard experience. Enjoy it as life is fleeting.