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Colo. house speaker addresses Black History Month at Academy luncheon

Colorado Rep. Terrance Carroll speaks at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Falcon Club during a Black History Month Luncheon Feb. 22, 2010. Mr. Carroll, the speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, holds degrees from Morehouse College in Atlanta, the Iliff School of Theology in Denver and the University of Denver College of Law. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Colorado Rep. Terrance Carroll speaks at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Falcon Club during a Black History Month Luncheon Feb. 22, 2010. Mr. Carroll, the speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, holds degrees from Morehouse College in Atlanta, the Iliff School of Theology in Denver and the University of Denver College of Law. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Second Lt. Tasia Tindle introduces Colorado Rep. Terrance Carroll at a Black History Month Luncheon held at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Falcon Club Feb. 22, 2010. Mr. Carroll, the speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, was the guest speaker for the luncheon. Lieutenant Tindle is a readiness officer with the 10th Force Support Squadron and a graduate of Louisiana State University. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Second Lt. Tasia Tindle introduces Colorado Rep. Terrance Carroll at a Black History Month Luncheon held at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Falcon Club Feb. 22, 2010. Mr. Carroll, the speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, was the guest speaker for the luncheon. Lieutenant Tindle is a readiness officer with the 10th Force Support Squadron and a graduate of Louisiana State University. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Chaplain (Capt.) Laserian Nwoga performs an invocation at the Black History Month Luncheon at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Falcon Club Feb. 22, 2010. Colorado Rep. Terrance Carroll, the speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, was the luncheon's guest speaker. Chaplain Nwoga is assigned to the 10th Air Base Wing Chapel. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Chaplain (Capt.) Laserian Nwoga performs an invocation at the Black History Month Luncheon at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Falcon Club Feb. 22, 2010. Colorado Rep. Terrance Carroll, the speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, was the luncheon's guest speaker. Chaplain Nwoga is assigned to the 10th Air Base Wing Chapel. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives spoke before more than 150 people about encouraging others during a Black History Month luncheon at the Falcon Club here Feb. 22.

Terrance Carroll represents District 7, comprising parts of north and northeast Denver, and is the first African-American to serve as the state house speaker.

"I'm always a little embarrassed, almost, to speak at Black History Month events," Mr. Carroll said. "I think, 'There's still so much more for me to do.' I look at the folks who came ahead of me historically, and I'm not there yet. I'm just standing on their shoulders."

Mr. Carroll was an only child, born to a 51-year-old single mother, on whose shoulders he said he stands. His family name comes from the Carroll Family Plantation in Maryland.

"My grandfather was a sharecropper of the land where his father and his grandfather were slaves," Mr. Carroll said. "The great-grandson of a freed slave now lives in Colorado serves as speaker of the state house. That can only happen in this country for all sorts of reasons."

He grew up in the Anacostia area of Washington, D.C., near Bolling Air Force Base and Fort Lesley J. McNair.

"If you've served at Andrews AFB or Bolling AFB, you know where I'm coming from," he said. "Most of my friends growing up were drug dealers. Most of my friends, by the time they were in high school, had children of their own. Young men weren't expected to finish high school; young men weren't expected to go to college.

"You constantly had to fight. There was no option not to fight because if you didn't fight, you'd be run over, or someone would take advantage of you," the representative said.

As Mr. Carroll was growing up, his mother, a domestic worker, pushed him to get his education -- to get through high school, to go to college and get a degree.

"My mother made sure I could do things she couldn't do because she never made it past third grade," Mr. Carroll said, adding that he credits his mother for giving him the opportunity to succeed in life.

"We celebrate thousands of stories of people who come from backgrounds far worse than mine," he said. "They had hope, they had courage, but most importantly, they had someone behind them who always encouraged them and pushed them forward. Every single person who makes it probably had someone ... who encouraged them. And that's what Black History Month is really about -- it's a testament to us to encourage others to do things they never thought they could do."

Thanks in part to his mother, Mr. Carroll attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he graduated with honors in 1992. Dr. Howard Thurman, a 1923 graduate of the school, said that "Over the heads of her students, Morehouse holds a crown that she challenges them to grow tall enough to wear."

The school did not take shortcuts or make special accommodations; it challenged students to reach that height, said Mr. Carroll, who went on to receive a Master of Divinity degree from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Denver College of Law.

"You had to work for that crown," he said. "Black History Month is about being strong enough, courageous enough ... to wear the crown that people like W.E.B. DuBois and the Tuskegee Airmen have held for us."

Mr. Carroll was first elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 2002. He sponsored a bill in 2008 that established the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Highway on Interstate 70 between Brighton Boulevard and Tower Road.

Because education has played a pivotal role in his life, the representative said education was one of his top priorities.

"Not a day goes by that I don't think about the history of my family and the sacrifices that my mom made so I could be where I am today," he said. "We need to make sure not a day goes by without us remembering what sacrifices others have made so that we could be where we are today."

Education is also a priority for 2nd Lt. Tasia Tindle, a readiness officer with the 10th Force Support Squadron who volunteered as master of ceremonies for the luncheon.

"I wanted to get more involved with a lot of the observances at the Air Force Academy, particularly those involved with education," the Louisiana State University graduate said.

This is the first event at which Lieutenant Tindle has volunteered, but she said she plans to volunteer for future awareness events such as Women's History Month and the annual Holocaust observance.

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