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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx encouraged hundreds of black community leaders to remember who they are and where they come from and to look at where they are today and look back at those who worked to get them there.

At the 5th Congressional District’s Black History Month celebration Saturday at the Jaycees center in Waldorf, Foxx spoke of his childhood, his grandparents’ struggles for equality and inclusion and where society is today because of the efforts of those who exercised their freedoms.

Foxx looked back at his accomplishments, including completing law school and noted that what he accomplished was made possible by people who came before him.

He said his grandparents — both educators — worked at black schools during a time and place in North Carolina where there were three white school districts and only one set of black schools.

He said his grandfather begged for resources for the schools at a time when, as a black man, he couldn’t set foot in a white person’s home.

Foxx said what he remembers so vividly about growing up with his grandparents was that for them, “My life was about realizing a dream that they had.” He said he worked as hard as he knew how to work “because I knew I was not standing alone.”

Foxx said folks such as his grandparents and many of the guests at the breakfast “were exercising freedoms in a system that didn’t recognize their rights as citizens in this country.”

He talked about Franklin McCain, one of the Greensboro Four, who sat at a whites-only counter and waited for service day in and day out in protest. He said those efforts weren’t done to raise up but to gain equality and inclusion.

“Inclusion in the purest sense of the word,” he said.

Foxx also spoke of today’s youth and how important it is for them to know who they are and where they come from.

He said there still is a struggle out there to bring people together and not be divided. He sees it even in his role in transportation where many decisions and practices made 50 years ago still are having effects, such as highway placement dividing some areas from low-income areas.

Foxx also sees places where transportation decisions can bring people together. Columbus, Ohio, for example, has a freeway in one area that divides a business district from a low-income area. Foxx said the mayor of Columbus wants to cap the freeway, which would put a bridge from the low-income area to the business district, bringing the two together.

There now is a light-rail system that goes into low-income areas, bringing business into those communities.

Foxx said there still are challenges when it comes to bringing people together, but “we have to be fueled by those who got us to this point.”

Prior to Foxx’s address, U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) said Black History Month provides a moment of reflection as well as an opportunity for rededication. He said citizens should reflect on U.S. history and the bitter struggles that, in many ways, have defined that history.”

For many guests at the annual breakfast, the event itself is a time of reflection.

Malcolm Funn and his wife, Annette Funn, of Chesapeake Beach have attended the breakfast for 33 years and have watched it grow to the large event that it is today.

Malcolm Funn said the breakfast “is a way of getting together and looking at accomplishments taking place and recognizing the things that need to be done.”

Karen Fennell of the United Democratic Woman of Maryland said the event “brings us back to look at history and the people that stepped forward to make the changes we have today.”

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told the crowd he was planning legislation against racial profiling.

Participants on Saturday were entertained by the True Victory Zion United Methodist Choir.

gphillips@somdnews.com