Kalamazoo leader Buddy Hannah was born in Miami. But by age 10, he found himself living on a farm in Georgia with his grandparents. Hannah, who is Black, recalls that his newly adopted small town had an historic structure in the middle of the road, a slave market, where enslaved persons were once bought and sold. Hannah says it’s still there. He's 73 years old.
“Every day on my way to school, we had to pass by that slave market,” Hannah said in an interview that aired Tuesday on WMUK 102.1 FM, as part of a monthlong series highlighting local citizens making a difference.
Hannah, a tireless youth advocate who is an actor, director, playwright and poet of six published books, is a past Irving S. Gilmore Community Medal of Arts recipient. He is also well-known for the radio, online and newspaper commentaries on the issues of the day that he used to do.
While Hannah says incidences like having to daily see a slave market and being forced to enter the local store through the rear and more were commonplace as a youth raised during segregation in the South, no one ever threatened to harm him. But there was a consequence for growing up in a racially divided society: It was not until Hannah was an adult in college that he shared a class with a white person, for the first time, because he had attended segregated schools ever since kindergarten.
He said he finally experienced integrated classes when he moved to Kalamazoo and enrolled at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Ironically, he had served in Vietnam on behalf of all Americans and earned silver and bronze star medals for it; it entitled him to have his education paid for through the G.I. Bill.
“That was the first time I had been in a classroom with white students,” Hannah said.
Hannah also holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Western Michigan University. He has parlayed his life experiences into a mission to help others at every turn he can, most especially youth, once giving them a major role in a neighborhood oral history project that produced a book and documentary.
In Tuesday's interview, WMUK’s Earlene McMichael asked Hannah to summarize his life’s work in a sentence. He shared many thoughts.
“Always try to do some positive things. People will know whether you’re a good person of good character or not. Just try to do the right thing and help people.”
Want to learn more about Buddy Hannah? Visit the city of Portage's website to watch a videotaped interview with Hannah.