The Stories That Need To Be Told

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There is a hierarchy within storytelling and the sharing of history. Certain stories are constantly recited while other stories are mentioned infrequently. In my home, I heard my parents tell stories about their childhoods and how they survived attacks on their Blackness. My parents gave me books about Black heroes to read. I learned about Madame C. Walker’s business skills, Marian Anderson’s gifted singing, Shirley Chisholm’s determination, Fannie Lou Hamer’s strength and Charles Drew’s ingenuity.

Yet, in school, Black history was squeezed into February’s curriculum or other holidays of the year such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I absolutely value the celebration of Black History Month in February, as it is a necessary celebration for Black folks and folks of all races/ethnicities to become educated on Black history and culture. But I deem that this celebration should not stop once the month ends.

When I saw how briefly that school teachers would talk about Black history, I knew that my parents and extended family would have to be my primary teachers. Through my family’s stories, I saw that I was Black every day of the year and that my roots were resilient. I discovered that the words “Black” and “smart” could be said together. That Black folks have created inventions and art forms. That my ancestors were warriors and that this warrior spirit swirled within me.

Every Black person should be able to hold pride in their bodies instead of being starved of it. How can this pride become prominent within the lives of Black folks? When Black folks can access their stories of strength, then internalized racism can lessen.

Within the last few months, I have seen three films that displayed the journeys of Black folks. These films focused on the challenges that Black folks have endured while emphasizing their beauty and their accomplishments.

Late 2016, I watched Loving, which is based on the true story of Mildred and Richard Loving. Mildred, a Black woman, and Richard, a White man, got married in 1958 in Washington, D.C. When they returned to Virginia, their home state, they were arrested for miscegenation (interracial marriage). Instead of serving lengthy prison sentences, the court demanded that they live outside of Virginia for 25 years. Although, this case was made into a movie before (Mr. and Mrs. Loving), Loving is a lovely and slow-moving account of this couple’s romance and demand for equality through petitioning the Supreme Court. The Lovings were unintentional activists as their case resulted in the 1967 dismantling of miscegenation.

Before 2016 ended, I also watched Fences based on the August Wilson play of the same name. Unlike Loving, the film Fences is not based on a true story, but it’s a realistic portrayal of life for a Black family in the Jim Crow era. Audiences view the impact of racism on the identity of “Troy,” a Black man, and how his relationships with his wife, sons, and brother became disconnected. Denzel Washington played the intense role of “Troy” and directed the film. Viola Davis recently won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role of “Rose,” the wife of “Troy.”

In January of this year, I watched Hidden Figures which is based on the real-life efforts of Katherine Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. These Black women mathematicians worked at NASA during the 1960s Space Race. I have studied a lot of Black history, but I had not heard of these women before seeing the movie. While I stared at the theater screen in a nearly packed room, I laughed, yelled, and cried. By the end, I thought my tears were not going to stop gushing. I felt like I had seen the triumphs of my own sisters. And I desired that everyone saw this movie, especially young Black and Brown girls who were interested in the math and sciences.

One of my favorite writers, the late Maya Angelou, said “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I certainly agree with my girl Ms. Angelou. But I also know the agony in preventing an entire group from seeing their stories. From seeing their bravery and their truths in books and magazines. From being able to see themselves on TV and movie theater screens.

When movies such as Loving, Fences, and Hidden Figures are created, Black folks see that they have culture and history. They see the fullness of their stories and how their stories need to be told.

 

 

 

 

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Racism, the Church, and Mud Jumping

Racism, The Church, and Mud Jumping

In my last blog post, I mentioned that I was affected by word offerings at my church’s Black History Month service. I will share one of the word offerings that I heard.

After the guest speaker finished his testimony, my pastor asked the other ministers if they had remarks. A minister, who happened to be White, spoke bravely to the audience. On behalf of his race, he apologized for the pain that “his people” caused Black people. He commented that “racism is America’s original sin.”

In my pew, I focused on his thoughtfulness. I hadn’t expected his apology. Instead, I thought he would make the usual remarks that most ministers made at the end of a service. Yet, he turned the service into a moment of reconciliation. He exposed racial wounds and initiated healing.

We have all had to apologize for an offense. An apology makes us ponder our own failings and admit them to another person. Hopefully after the apology, one is able to avoid making the same mistake again. When *Pastor Allen said that he was sorry, he acknowledged a history of slavery, racial epithets, and discriminatory practices.

He did not ignore that these incidents happened and still happen.

He took the microphone and allowed empathy to spill out on Black faces. In my social work program, I hear a lot about empathy. My professors explain how social workers should work vigorously to understand their clients’ lives. To me, empathy is about trading places with another person. Literally, you are shedding away your selfishness. You are crawling into someone’s skin and bones in order to feel their agony.

In America, we need more empathy. In the Church, empathy should invade us. Though, empathy can make us uncomfortable. When believers of color decide to express the impact of racism in their lives to White believers, will the dialogue get hard? If it does, I deem that it needed to land in that place.

We have to jump into the mud. Our shoes must rip apart. Our jeans should get filled with muck. Then, we are not side stepping around people’s experiences with race and racism.

In Relevant Magazine’s “Justice for Black Lives Must Begin With Us,” Propaganda, a Christian hip hop artist, echoed my yearning for empathy and dialogue. The interviewer noted that the Church has not always strived to chat about racism. He asked Propaganda how the Church should handle it.

He stated: “I think at the end of the day, what I would want to hear from a pulpit, and what I think would be very helpful, is first of all an acknowledgement of our feelings and of the situation. And guide people on how the Gospel applies to us moving forward” (source: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/current/nation/justice-black-lives-must-begin-us-part-2).

The Gospel is our response to racism. Apologies and forgiveness move us closer to love.

“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

We love when we listen to each other’s stories. We offer each other Kleenex during the tears. We clasp each other’s hands and pray. We hug the mud as *Pastor Allen did.

*name changed to respect his privacy

Black History Clings To My Veins

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(Every year, my church hosts a Black History Month service, and various churches in my hometown attend. At this year’s service (Sunday, February 28, 2016), I stood up as choirs sung energetically. I enjoyed watching a liturgical dance. I uttered “ummhmm” when a spoken word artist shared her pieces. I listened to the guest speaker as he revealed his testimony of contending with segregation in the South and finally opening up his own animal clinic in the North. 

I was impacted by wisdom and compassion from other ministers as well.  As I am still processing those moments, I will share the ministers’ word offerings in another blog post.

But today’s blog post includes what I shared at the service. I was able to write a reflection and read it to the congregation.  Please see my thoughts below.  Thanks for taking the time to read, y’all! -afrotasticlady)

History is bubbling inside me. My veins are thick with the stories of my parents’ childhoods. My parents were children of the South, and they had to follow the insidious rules of their homeland. Rules that dictated to them how they would be Black and where they could be Black.

Each day, my parents woke up before the sun was out. For hours, they worked. My mom remembers the large tobacco truck that she had to climb into. My dad remembers picking cotton.

History pushes my heart. I am awed by the resilience of my parents. My parents have been blessed in their own journeys. Through turmoil, they relied on God.

I am overjoyed by the accomplishments of my ancestors. Through abuse and pervasive discrimination, they created arts forms. They were the masterminds behind popular inventions.

Yet, I am surprised when I hear folks ask the following questions: why do we continue to celebrate Black history? And why is there even a Black History Month?

Learning about Black history is an uncovering of memories. It is a discovery of a people who would not be moved despite their losses.

The noise of opponents of Black History Month should be answered. My response to them: Let us look at the foundations of Black History Month.

Carter G. Woodson, a Black historian and co-founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, created “Negro History Week” with his colleagues. In 1926, the first “Negro History Week” occurred during the second week of February, which happened to fall on the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Nationally, schools and other community organizations had their own commemorations of the week. Eventually, the “Negro History Week” transitioned into Black History Month with several colleges celebrating it in the 1960s. Later, President Gerald R. Ford “official recognized” the month. He stated that the month was “the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history” (Source: http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-month).

Woodson was committed to showing society the worthiness of black history. He contributed to opportunities for children and even adults to realize that their brown skin is beautiful. To feel the strength within their bones. To know that there have been courageous women and men who spoke when they were supposed to be quiet. To know that we continue to be a bold people!

To the opponents of Black History Month: please let me inform you about some black heroes. Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a journalist who condemned lynchings. She was also one of the co-founders of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). W.E.B Du Bois, a sociologist and another co-founder of the NAACP, wrote the splendid book “The Souls of Black Folk.” Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Baldwin were creative folks who shared honestly about the black experience in their writings. As young people, Diane Nash and John Lewis worked in SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) during the Civil Rights Movement. They risked arrests and even death in order to participate in sit-ins, freedom rides, and marches. Now, Lewis is a U.S. Congressman.

My response to opponents of Black History Month is that black history is an American history, an African history and a global history. This history clings to my veins and spins in my mind. Blame my parents for the passion. Yell at the college I graduated from. But do not take away the month.

And when the month ends, I will continue to read about unknown and known Black leaders. I will listen to Black orators. I will pester my parents with questions about what they endured in the South. I will take these facts and anecdotes, and I will pass along this knowledge to everyone.

 

February’s 6 Grateful Things List

February Grateful Things List

Hey, hey! Friends, I hope that you enjoy watching this month’s edition of the “6 Grateful Things List.” In this video, I mentioned the following writers/bloggers/creators: Emelda De Coteau of Live in Color and Ashley Hales of Circling the Story. As they say, don’t sleep on these talented women.  I also talked about one of my favorite bands, Needtobreathe. If you need to listen to more of their music, check them out here.

Let’s get to the good stuff already! The VLOG!

Blessings, afrotasticlady