Let’s honor Ohio’s African-American leaders

February is Black History Month and a time to pay tribute to the many contributions of African Americans throughout our nation’s history. Here in Ohio, that history continues to be made today by individuals in the African-American community who have stepped forward to assume leadership roles.

I want to share the stories of just a few of those leaders.

Larry Macon Sr. was born and raised in my hometown of Cincinnati, where he started preaching at the age of 12. For the past 30 years, he has been a pastor, a teacher, an author and a consequential civic leader in the Cleveland community.

Macon is a humble man, despite his service and impressive accomplishments at Mt. Zion Church and well beyond. I have been fortunate to work with him on issues such as fighting drug abuse and encouraging worker training to help people obtain the dignity and self-respect that comes from work.

In addition to guiding his flock of more than 5,000 and providing a steady hand to 75 different ministries, Macon has been an advocate for encouraging strong families, providing quality education to all children, and helping people from all backgrounds rise up in society and live out their dreams.

I met Denise Robinson at her life’s work, Alvis House, an impressive organization she leads in Columbus committed to helping former prison inmates straighten out their lives, leave their past behind and become productive members of society.

Seeing her work firsthand was inspirational and encouraging. From Alvis House’s family-focused support programs, to career-oriented skills training, to peer-support for newly released inmates, Robinson and her team are changing lives and making our communities safer, one person at a time.

Celia Williamson, chairwoman of the Research and Analysis Committee for the state of Ohio’s trafficking commission, is a longtime leader in combatting sex trafficking, with a focus on the exploitation of children. As hard as it is to believe, according to law enforcement, nearly 300,000 American children are at risk of becoming victims of sex traffickers, and this horrible crime occurs in every region of Ohio.

Williamson’s research at the University of Toledo has helped in developing legislation I am pursuing at the federal level. Her passion is infectious. Having been with her recently at a roundtable discussion on the tragic sex trafficking of teenagers, I saw why she has become a leader in this national movement to free children from exploitation and give them the opportunity to live the full and happy lives they deserve.

Larry James is a partner with the Columbus law firm of Crabbe, Brown & James, but his leadership goes far beyond the world of the law. In fact, he co-founded the African American Leadership Academy in central Ohio to help prepare new leaders for the future. In honor of his many accomplishments, the law firm changed its name to include James in January of 2001.

James continues to give back to the community, serving with organizations such as Kenyon College, the historic Lincoln Theater in Columbus, the National Fraternal Order of Police and the King Arts Complex. I had the privilege of visiting the King Arts Complex in 2010, and I appreciate the work James and others have done to keep the Rev. Martin Luther King’s dream alive. James is a model for so many entrepreneurs around our state and our nation.

Antwone Fisher was born in a women’s prison outside of Cleveland and grew up in foster care, where he suffered physical and emotional abuse. While working as a security guard for Sony Pictures, Fisher penned a book about his life and his experiences. That book soon became a movie, and Fisher has used the platform his success has given him to become a leading national advocate for children who have been abused.

Simeon Booker grew up in Youngstown in the 1930s during a time of great racial division and persecution. He took those experiences and turned them into a career in journalism, rising to become the first African-American reporter at the Washington Post – where he fought against racism and helped to champion the civil rights movement.

His coverage of the murder of a 14-year-old boy named Emmett Till in Jim Crow era Mississippi shined a light on the consequences of segregation that the world could not ignore. In this year’s Congressional Record Entry honoring Black History Month and the achievements of African Americans, I ensured that Booker was specifically mentioned in recognition of all he contributed to the movement to end racial segregation in our country.

Peterson Mingo grew up in Cincinnati as one of 26 children. He served his country in the U.S. Marines and has gone on to serve his community in many ways. In addition to his work at Christ Temple Baptist Church in Evanston, he is a stalwart volunteer.

In 1993, Mingo started the Evanston Youth Athletic Association and continues to be a champion for bettering the lives of youth in the Cincinnati area. Mingo also is a board member of the Coalition for a Drug Free America, helping to prevent substance abuse from spreading throughout southwest Ohio. He continues to be an inspiration to me and many others.

These are just a few examples of African-American leaders who continue to positively influence the history of our state and our country. I’m proud to have worked with many of those leaders during a challenging time in our nation’s history and in the African-American community.

Our country’s greatness has always been built on the efforts of ordinary people who do extraordinary things. During Black History Month – and throughout the year – let us hold up those who are contributing to that greatness in our own time.