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SHARE celebrates 20 years of preserving African American history and educating against racism

Chianté Lymon, SHARE’s executive director, sits at a conference table reviewing an oral history in the organization's office in Kalamazoo. She's wearing a black turtleneck sweater.
Leona Larson
Chianté Lymon became SHARE's executive director in 2021. She's reviewing one of the oral histories the organization has produced. SHARE is in the process of putting all the oral histories it has gathered online, so more people can learn from the past.

The Society for History and Racial Equity, or SHARE, will mark its 20th anniversary Saturday at 3 pm in Portage.

Since its founding in 2003, the Society for History and Racial Equity has told the stories of African Americans in Kalamazoo — people such as Enoch and Deborah Harris.

Hailing from Ohio, the Harrises became Kalamazoo's first Black settlers. Their neighbor in the Buckeye State was a man named John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. Perhaps that’s why the couple brought apple seeds to Kalamazoo when they arrived around 1830, and planted its first apple orchard.

Chianté Lymon is SHARE's executive director.

“The information that we collect here at SHARE is not found in a textbook. You know it's not taught in schools. Especially local history about African Americans in a community.”

About 10 years ago the organization added a second mission to its work, racial equity. The group sponsors an annualSummit on Racism, for adults one year and teens the next year. Lymon said more than 6,000 people have attended a summit to date. She says a changing world has changed the group's focus.

“Over the last two years, the world has had a shift in our in our understanding of what diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging, anti-racism, anti-oppression looks like,” Lymon said.

“Before we were focusing on helping people to understand that this is an issue, and I think now the world understands how much of an issue this really is for community.

"So now we're working towards, 'what does eliminating racism look like in our community?'”

Lymon said she hopes that 20 years from now the group will continue to collect oral histories. Preparing for Saturday’s anniversary celebration has led her to reflect on SHARE's past, future, and even a Kalamazoo without the Society for History and Racial Equity.

“Without SHARE being in this community, we would lose the history of African Americans in this community," she said.

"We are one of the only organizations that actually collects oral histories from community members. We also are a clearinghouse for conversations, for people of all walks of life to have conversations about racism in an open concept type of experience for people."

“I think it's so important so that we don't feel that we're being judged, right? Because we don't know or because we lack information, or we're at different places in the continuum.

"So, I definitely think if SHARE wasn’t in the community, we would lose so much history, so much information, so many connections with community.”

Saturday’s celebration starts at 3 pm and runs till 6 pm at the Portage Zhang Senior Center. Space is limited; people interesting can call 269-381-9775 or email to reserve a spot.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.