07 August 2019

Remembering Toni Morrison, A Mercy God Had On Us

Remembering Toni Morrison, A Mercy God Had on Us
By Latorial Faison

What on Earth would we do without the work Toni Morrison has done, the light she gave to our dark sky, the legacy she and her sisters and brothers of the pen, together, leave us? When I heard about her passing, once again, I felt power leave what I know as the Earth. Toni Morrison was the center of what became Black life on the page for all of America. I felt this same way when Maya Angelou passed, that sorrow you feel when an anointing is no longer there, when you are left with only the power of some words that you pray are enough to keep you in a holy place. She empowered us with the story of Pecola Breedlove in The Bluest Eye, with Sula, Song of Solomon, and Tar Baby. With Beloved, she painted the harsh realities of slavery for Black women and mothers in the character of Sethe. Time and time again, with Jazz, Paradise, Love, A Mercy, Home, and God Help the Child, Morrison writes relatable tales underlined in truths with which African Americans could identify, novels and stories with which non-Black people could accept, laud, appreciate, and maybe even use as scaffolding to understand the phenomenon of disregard for Black people in America, the phenomenon of how Black people have fought for various kinds of freedoms and over and over again have created beauty from cinder and ashes every time the society burns everything we have longed for to the ground.

"Freeing yourself was one thing, 
claiming ownership of that freed self was another." 
-Toni Morrison

It is a powerful phenomenon when someone's life and work can have such a transformative and lasting impact on your own. The Bluest Eye was my first read. Beloved, my second, and then there was a thirst for everything and all things Morrison in my college days. I had not read a Blackness with which I could universally and in my bosom identify until Black authors like Morrison wrote it on pages of books. She has given so much life.

"The function, the very serious function of 
racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being." 
-Toni Morrison

w/Jessea Gabbin at Furious Flower '19
Morrison has been the air so many of us Black students, scholars, readers, and writers have breathed, a song we sing, an infusion we need to get up and do life more comfortably, less painfully. To be able to read a book that takes you into the miracle of a Black place and make it larger than life with such unashamed truth, with such a sincere appreciation for everything that the White world and Black society belittles was sheer bad-ass. Toni Morrison, she was a bad mamma jamma. When white authors were writing about high society and the American dream, Morrison was writing about the reality of the struggle, Black folks reading dream books and playing numbers. When White critics questioned whether her writing had focused on the serious mainstream, Morrison answered declaring that as a Black woman writing in America, Black life was the mainstream. To suggest she write anything else and any other way was racism. To suggest we bow and imitate white writers, follow their lead, is to suggest that we are not equal, individually creative, aesthetically desirable, culturally relevant.

"Like any artist without an art form, she became dangerous."
-Toni Morrison

I so appreciate this work, this legacy that Toni Morrison leaves behind. It is hard to share the world with such greatness, such Black excellence and not be touched, moved, or made by it. Toni Morrison was real for having not forsaken the page, the call of a writer and writing about it all, every facet of Black life. She did it for the love of men, for the strength of women, for the innocence of our Black children, for the complex history we share, for the future that is to be ours. She was the distraction we needed from the distraction of racism that offered us such great Black hope, such a beautiful Black love, such a talented Black mold. May all that we do when they are no longer with us, give honor, give light, give continual fight, greatness, and excellence to the movement that is still Black and powerful, to Black history, the Black culture, to the Black canon of Black stories chronicling Black life that we know deserve, desire, and must be told by usToni Morrison was a mercy God had on us. He didn't have to do it, but He did. Like an angel that fell from the sky, she did the Lord's work, and she did it well. When you've dealt in Black power, when you've labored in Black power, when you have made Black empowerment your life's work, surely you can rest in peace. 

"Don't ever think I fell for you.  I didn't fall in love, I rose in it."
-Toni Morrison

#ToniMorrison #Blackwriters #LatorialFaison
#Beloved #Sula #TarBaby #SongofSolomon #TheBluestEye #Jazz #AMercy

19 July 2019

The Living Truth: Nikki Giovanni

"The Living Truth"
N   I   K   K   I      G   I   O   V  A   N   N    I 
by Latorial D. Faison

w/Poet Nikki Giovanni
I believe that if you keep on living, some amazing things can happen. In June, I had the opportunity to spend seven amazing days with over fifty poetry-loving human beings in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.  We had no idea what was ahead. All we knew is that we were there to bask in the glow of a literary icon and poet extraordinaire. As fellows, we spent an entire week at the Furious Flower Poetry Center's 2019 Living Legacy Seminars celebrating the life and work of poet, author, activist, and educator, Nikki Giovanni. We are now officially known as "The Giovanni Class."

w/Dr. Joanne V. Gabbin, Founding Director
of the JMU Furious Flower Poetry Center
Furious Flower Poetry Center, the nation's first academic center devoted to African American poetry, was founded in 1994 on the campus of James Madison University by Dr. Joanne Gabbin, English professor, poet, and author. On June 16th, a weeklong schedule of events unfolded complete with poetry seminars and professional development opportunities around Nikki Giovanni. The 2019 Living Legacy theme was “The Living Truth: The Life and Work of Nikki Giovanni.” Graduate students, poets, writers, educators, and visiting scholars from all over the U. S. pilgrimaged to the Shenandoah Valley for this once in a lifetime chance to study an icon.

Members of the Wintergreen Writers Collective
Scholars & Writers: Dr. Daryl C. Dance, 

Dr. Maryemma Graham & Dr. Trudier Harris 

Scholars at this year's seminars included Dr. Howard Rambsy, II of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Dr. Margo Crawford of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Emily Lordi of University of Massachusetts and Vanderbilt University, Dr. Tyechia Thompson and Dr. Virginia Fowler, both of VA TECH, Dr. Joanne Gabbin and Prof. Lauren Alleyne, both of James Madison University, and several women from the Wintergreen Writers Collective who are top scholars on African American literature and poetry.

"Truth is on its way..." 
2019 Furious Flower Fellows Late Night Discussion
(Gwendolyn Dixon, Geoffrey Hicks, Cleemence Mbabazi, 
Julie Isman, Dave Wooley, Judy Juanita) 

We had the extraordinary opportunity to work together daily learning more about each other, the passionate work we do, and Giovanni’s contributions to American literature, the African American literary canon, the Black Arts Movement, the Civil Rights Era, social justice and contemporary studies.

2019 Fellow, Dave Wooley & Howard Rambsy

Daily the fellows analyzed, synthesized, and contextualized Nikki Giovanni's poetry and discussed their generational, contemporary relevance and historical framework. Groups presented lesson plans on incorporating Giovanni’s life and work in the classroom. Everyday was a moment of truth where we considered the underlying themes throughout Giovanni's work based on both life experiences and movements. 

 JMU Professor & Poet Lauren Alleyne 
Interviews Nikki Giovanni

We knew that to have occupied the same space as Giovanni for a week and to have heard her speak and read her poetry, to be blessed with the sobering honesty of her prolific voice, that was the single most rewarding experience we could bring from this mountaintop to students, poetry lovers, literary enthusiasts, to family and friends everywhere, and to our own selves. It was our moment of truth, and we knew exactly where we were, what to do with it, and how very canonizing and transformative it would be; we would never be the same.

"I turned myself 
into myself." 
-Nikki Giovanni

"Be quiet 
in this medium, 
to both receive it
and give it."
-Dr. Joanne Gabbin
2019 Furious Flower Fellows Meet, Greet & Get Acquainted
(Angel Dye, Amy Alvarez, Britny Codera, Maurisa Li -A-Ping & Carmin Wong) 

-Nikki Giovanni
Giovanni shares with 2019 Fellows
It was a pleasure to watch  someone I grew into adulthood reading and admiring, one of my favorite poets of all time, the Nikki Giovanni, enter the room early in the week to standing ovation, to see her smile light up a room in which I sat, to hear her brilliant insight, to experience her genius on writing and life. Her trajectory from Knoxville to Cleveland, through the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Arts Movement, and beyond, has been an experience that she has captured in a treasury of poems, books, essays, interviews, recordings, and letters. Giovanni, who is thirty years my senior, turned seventy-six this year. She has lived and worked alongside some of the greatest African American women writers and artists of all time including Mari Evans, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Lucille Clifton, and others. 
                                      "The imperial we" 
w/Dr. Joanne Gabbin,
Nikki Giovanni & Dr. Ginny Fowler
When Giovanni spoke her truth, many of us were delivered into another place, into another time, one of utter revelation. We were born, in so many ways, over and over again. If ever an artist transcended race, gender, and generational divides, it was Nikki Giovanni. While many sat in awe of her words and presence, almost every one of us, in response to her uninhibited verbalizations somehow expressed amenFor over 50 years, Giovanni has given us words that educate, sustain, encourage, and uplift. Her work is inspiring to all of those in search of truth fighting the good fight and holding on to hope for the future.

"Love requires balance and trust."
-Nikki Giovanni
Author of Bicycles: Love Poems

Reading at Furious Flower 2019
From across the nation, fellows of the Giovanni Class ranged in age, ethnicity, race, and religion yet found common ground in Giovanni, her life's work, and her truth. We gathered for an open mic poetry reading Thursday evening and signed up to read our own poetry or poems by someone else. Professor and author, Damaris Hill, read from her latest book, A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing. I read my poem "Mama was a Negro Spiritual," a finalist for Furious Flower's 1st annual Poetry Prize and winner of the Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Prize for 2018.

The Wintergreen Writers Collective, a group of women writers and artists organized by Dr. Joanne Gabbin when Giovanni came to teach at Virginia Tech, also graced us with their presence at the 2019 Seminars. Gabbin, who has become close friends with Nikki Giovanni over the years, realized that Giovanni could benefit from a community of sisters who were artists and writers; this sisterhood has helped to give Giovanni staying power. She came to VA Tech in 1985 and never left.

Giovanni & Some of the Wintergreen Women
Many of the Wintergreen Women have produced amazing work in academia and the arts; a few of them are responsible for a major portion of research and scholarship that exists today on the literary work of African American women. A group of ladies from the Wintergreen Writers Collective joined us to pay tribute to their friend and sister, Nikki Giovanni.

Giovanni at Friday Night's JMU Reading
Giovanni was as candid yet down-to-earth as she has ever been and filled with hope in what seems to be difficult days for the nation. She encouraged writers to "write what you know" and young writers to "read more," to remember the history that got us here. Poems read throughout the week included "Nikki Rosa," "Ego Tripping," "Rosa Parks, " "Cal Johnson Park," "We are VA TECH," "Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day," and others. The Giovanni Class enthusiastically relived the legend's poetics and could be overheard saying throughout the week, "I was born in the Congo," "I turned myself into myself" or some other Giovanni line that had come to mean absolutely everything. Giovanni spoke of family and the influence family had on her life. She also shared how other writers had poured into her and inspired her along the way with their work and words of wisdom. When asked how she feels about the legacy she has built and will leave behind, Giovanni reflects on her late grandparents and her Knoxville upbringing. According to Nikki Giovanni, If she has lived her life in a way that makes her grandmother and her ancestors proud, she says, "I did my job." 

"Once you get the white man out of your book,
the whole world opens up." 
                                                          -Toni Morrison

The amazing phenomenon:
actress, writer
vocalist, quilt artist Val Gray-Ward
Midweek, The Giovanni Class was given a special treat; we attended a presentation featuring the famed actress, producer, cultural activist, artist, internationally known theater personality, Wintergreen Woman, and very good friend of Giovanni's, Mrs. Val Gray-Ward. The legendary Gray-Ward, who is now in her 80's, is creating a historic quilt made of pieces from people and places she has known to include Gwendolyn Brooks and many other well known icons and legends in African American history. Upon completion, her famous quilt will be placed in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D. C. We had an awesome time meeting Gray-Ward and learning of her life's work. Fellows talked to Gray-Ward about everything under the sun, and she shared so many memories of the people represented in her famous quilt, including Nikki Giovanni. Gray-Ward mesmerized us all with her amazing recitation of "The Creation" by another literary giant, the great James Weldon Johnson who gave us "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

"You are the author of it, 
but it no longer belongs to you."
-Toni Morrison

2019 Fellows Toast to Nikki Giovanni at the 150 Franklin Street Art Gallery
Faison w/Adrienne Christian, Giovanni, Marta Werbanowska & Tabitha Morrison) 
After Val Gray-Ward's presentation of her beautiful and historic quilt, the 2019 fellows along with Giovanni and Gray-Ward visited and toured the 150 Franklin Street Art Gallery in Harrisonburg to see the eccentric Collection of Alexander and Joanne Gabbin.
2019 Fellows in Discussion
Ruth Terry Walden and Kendra Bryant
Throughout the week, fellows worked on ideas for teaching Giovanni and Black poetry in the classroom. The week culminated in group presentations, a sharing of those lesson plans that we intended to carry back home to share with the masses, to honor Giovanni, to continue to teach the value and importance of Black poetry, Black literature, Giovanni's living truth. She is a legend, and her poetry helped catapult us into today, as she was one of the most prolific writers of her time during such an important time in our history. It was a surreal experience. We laughed, many of us cried, felt at home, or as though we were in the presence of the elders (because we were), and we straight had . . . church. Talk about a monumentally moving experience and coming together in the name of womanhood and writing, Black poetry, Black thought, and hundreds of years of American struggle to exist, to find ourselves, to define ourselves through so much history, tragedy, movement, and revolution. This week was a song we had to sing together.

"Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me, and before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free."

I grew up singing in a small Baptist church known as Bryant Baptist Church in Southampton County, Virginia, and I credit my late grandmother, Shirley Lee Turner Williams (1932-2008) for that experience, for the spiritual beauty, richness, education, and necessity of the "Black Church" experience. It is a part of who I am and ever will be. Giovanni's work is anointed with themes from the traditional Black Church experience, namely spirituals. Drs. Gabbin, Crawford, Rambsy, Lordi, Fowler, and even Giovanni, herself, made mention of how the poetry exists musically, how it was built with the bricks of the Southern Black church as well as any Harlem Renaissance jazz spot.  Negro spirituals never leave you, and because they never left me, I helped usher The Giovanni Class, in . . . 

(below Furious Flower Fellows sing Negro Spirituals-Gospel at Furious Flower 2019;
amongst them Jennifer Dukes, Melody Pannell, Judy Juanita, Angel Dye & Faison)

"After singing Amazing Grace"
At the request of Dr. Joanne Gabbin and her roll call for "choir members," we sang and spiritually connected in ways that, I am sure, none of us had imagined. We went to the place where our ancestors stood while singing Negro spirituals like "Walk with Me Lord," "This Little Light of Mine," and "Oh Freedom." I had not imagined having church at Furious Flower, but I am so glad we did. This week was more than academic training and professional development; it was a spiritual encounter. We even sang Nikki's favorite hymn, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," and after Dr. Emily Lordi's presentation on Giovanni's poetry and the connection to Aretha Franklin's music, I lead our cohort choir into Dr. King's favorite hymn, the one he'd call Mahalia Jackson in the middle of the night to hear, "Amazing Grace." I said to Nikki, "I can't sing it like Aretha, but I will do my best."

"Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. Twas grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home."

w/Jessea Gabbin
One evening just before our open poetry reading, The Giovanni Class surprised Dr. Gabbin and honored her with flowers and gifts for her hard work, inspiration, and dedication to Furious Flower at JMU. My role in the surprise tribute was singing one of Dr. Gabbin's favorite gospel songs, "I Won't Complain." There's something about the Black experience that is highly spiritual and transcendent. It will unify if you let it. African Americans are rich in history (oral and written), creativity, innovation, brilliance, and culture; we have created an aesthetic that lives on in contemporary art forms for centuries. One week at JMU, meeting new friends in the name of poetry, and hanging out with the living legend herself was the highlight of our summer. 

from Giovanni's "Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)"

I was born in the Congo
I was born in the Congo
I walked to the fertile crescent
     and built the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough 
     that a star that only glows 
     every one hundred years falls  
     into the center giving divine 
     perfect light
I am bad

"A poem is a prayer." 
Throughout the week, The Giovanni Class had space, time, and opportunity to devote to reading, analyzing, and discussing poems like "Ego Tripping" and many other iconic poems by Giovanni. We were eager to share how her poems made us feel, where they led us, how they changed us, and how they propelled us out of and into various places in our positionality and minds. Some testified of the profound effects a Giovanni poem had on them when they first read it.

Since its inception, the Furious Flower Poetry Center has been committed to "ensuring the visibility, inclusion, and critical consideration of Black poets in American letters, as well as in the whole range of educational curricula." Furious Flower, given its name from lines in a poem by Pulitzer Prize winner and former US Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks, "The Second Sermon on the Warpland" (1968), aims "to cultivate an appreciation for poetry among students of all levels . . . to support and promote Black poets at all stages of their careers and to preserve the history of Black poets for future generations."

w/Emily Lordy, Vanderbilt University
Poetry is an experience, a truth telling that transcends time, galvanizes people, and solidifies how we view and define ourselves. It continues to heal, teach, and reach mankind in ways unimagined. The 2019 seminar was to be a tribute and honor to Giovanni, but she honored us every time she showed up, stood up, spoke up, and poured into our spirits. One thing is for sure. Furious Flower 2019 fellows, The Giovanni Class, left this year's Living Legacy seminars empowered, inspired, and energized to continue the great work and legacy of "The Living Truth" known as Black Poet, Nikki Giovanni. I certainly did. We read poems together. We wrote centos for Nikki together. We created memories and bonds that will last a lifetime. We connected with a kindred spirit, a living legend, that we will never forget. May we all strive to continue the literary and cultural legacy of Black poetry and Black thought. That's my intent. After all, I'm a "G."

"My favorite spot is no longer there,
just the memory."
-from Nikki Giovanni's "Cal Johnson Park"

Furious Flower 2019 - The Giovanni Class

#FuriousFlower #JMU #LivingLegacy19 #NikkiGiovanni #BlackPoetry #LatorialFaison

28 February 2013

Military Women: History that Built a Nation

Since the beginning of time, women have played pivotal roles in cultures all over the world.  As societies vary, so have the roles of women. Historically, women have served as caregivers, cooks, planters, inventors, mechanics, builders and business women. They have even served as leaders in their families and communities.  However, if there is one place where women have transcended the traditional roles of gender to serve as heroically as their male counterparts it is in our nation’s armed forces.

Women served on battlefields as cooks, laundresses, nurses, water bearers, and saboteurs during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. During the nation’s Civil War over 3,000 women served as volunteer nurses providing care to both Union and Confederate soldiers. Many times, women on both sides of the conflict served disguised as men. In 1881, the nurse Clara Barton established the American Red Cross.
Barton had worked for ten years to create an organization that would provide peacetime disaster relief and wartime assistance. The Red Cross is still a very prominent organization that serves as an important partner with today’s military. As a result of thousands of U.S. soldiers affected by typhoid, malaria, and yellow fever during the Spanish-American War of 1898, Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee suggested to the Army’s surgeon general that qualified nurses be contracted to serve the Army. By the war’s end, over 1,500 nurses had been contracted out to Army hospitals in the U.S. and abroad; some
lost their lives. 

As a result, Dr. McGee was appointed as acting assistant surgeon general, the first woman to ever hold that position. She was later commissioned by the Army to write legislation that would create a permanent corps of nurses. This was groundbreaking for women in the military, and in 1901, the Army Nurse Corps was established. Women have gone on to be trailblazers in our nation’s armed forces where they serve with dignity, respect, honor and a strong sense of duty for their country. During World War I thousands of women served as nurses; more than 400 died in the line of duty. In 1920, the Army Reorganization Act granted military nurses the status of officers with “relative rank” from second lieutenant to major but did not grant them full rights and privileges. During World War II over 100,000 women served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and over 86,000 as Women Appointed for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES). 

Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS) were organized and flew as civil service pilots. Many of these women were captured by the Japanese and held as Prisoners of War (POWs). Before World War II ended, women had served in a variety of positions to include intelligence, medicine, supply, communications, etc. The idea of women serving spread to other branches of service. In 1942, the Coast Guard created its Women’s Reserve known as SPARS incorporating the “Semper Paratus – Always Ready” motto. 

A year later, the Marine Corps established the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, allowing women to serve. As America demobilized, all but a small number of servicewomen were mustered out. The U.S., now a world power, was forced to keep the largest peacetime military in its history. Women have a rich history of both struggle and service in America. Breaking ground in new positions, they were not always welcomed or congratulated for their efforts. When wars and conflicts were over, many were forced to go back home or into the low-paying positions they held before serving. It took tremendous courage and dedication to be a trailblazer, and it still does. 

The next war, the Korean War of the 50s, would call on women again, to serve, and women also served in Vietnam, some losing their lives in both conflicts. Since these wars, women have gone on to achieve a great number of firsts in our nation’s military. For example, women have graduated from service academies where they once were not accepted. Women have become military chaplains, pilots, military police, and commanders of major military installations. 

Women have worked hard to achieve fair and equal benefits in the military. Today more combat positions are open to women. Women have served their countries and even paid the ultimate price, made the ultimate sacrifice by laying down their lives for freedom. In 2004, by year’s end, 19 female soldiers had been killed during the war in Iraq, the most servicewomen to die as a result of hostile action in any war in which the nation participated.

In 2005, the first woman in history was awarded the Silver Star for combat action. History was made in 2008 when the U. S. Army promoted a woman to the rank of four-star general. During Women’s History Month, let’s pay tribute to women in history who have paved the way for the success of the entire nation, women who have served in their families, their communities and in their professions. Women known and unknown have played vital roles in the establishment and continuation of the life we now know. Moreover, let’s salute and pay tribute to those women who have served our nation heroically and unselfishly, those women who have made the ultimate sacrifice and continue daily to pay it forward in the name of freedom.

(published in STARS & STRIPES KOREA, Okinawa, Guam, Kanto, February 28, 2013)

13 February 2013

A History to Remember: At the Crossroads of Freedom and Justice

Fifty years ago, one of America’s greatest leaders, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., took to the national mall in Washington, D. C. to deliver what would go down in history as one of the most famous, profound, and prolific speeches ever delivered in America, “I Have a Dream.” King’s dream was “that one day . . . the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”  He dreamed this dream out of a tragic history for the Negro in America. 

Instead of inclusion and citizenship, the Negro had been offered exclusion and slavery.  Instead of equality and justice, the Colored man met inequality and Jim Crow.  Instead of fairness and freedom, the Black man in America faced hatred and imprisonment. Today, the African-American stands liberated from a dreadful past, yet the race is still very much on a road to freedom and equality. 

One hundred, fifty years ago and one hundred years prior to King’s famous speech, another of America’s most historical leaders, President Abraham Lincoln, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln stood firmly on the premise that the nation had been “conceived in liberty.” He was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are create equal.” 

While the Emancipation Proclamation freed few slaves, it lit a fire under the nation and caused the Negro to fight harder and Whites to take notice. It was a wartime measure that made it very clear that the Civil War was more than a fight between north and south; it was a war between emancipators and enslavers. Dr. King referred to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation as a “great beacon of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice . . . a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.” Today, we celebrate “At the Crossroads of Equality and Freedom: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington,” the national theme for African American History month 2013 as instituted by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. This organization was founded by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the second African-Americans to earn a doctoral degree at Harvard University after W. E. B. DuBois. He was also the father of Negro History Week, which became Black History Month now referred to as African American History Month in America.

Why celebrate Black History Month? We celebrate Black history to reflect on the actual history, significance, and contributions of African Americans in America. The time set aside to do so was not easy to come by. Black people had to fight for the very right to celebrate their struggle, their victories, their history. 

African Americans have fought for every freedom they now enjoy; it is a story that must be told and retold until it becomes classic. The stories of slave ships and Middle Passage are important. Phenomenal figures like Harriett Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, and Ida B. Wells yield not just African American stories; they yield American stories. African Americans like Phyllis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker, Mary McLeod Bethune, George Washington Carver, Madame C. J. Walker, Dr. Charles Drew, and the Tuskegee Airmen were pivotal influences in America.  Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, Thurgood Marshall, freedom fighters, abolitionists, and so many unnamed others were instrumental on the journey toward freedom.  Then there are the Emmitt Tills of history, whose stories tell the most tragic, dark side of it all.  Though unpleasant, it is a past worth knowing; thus the history must be told.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson began the celebration as Negro History Week, and the world embraced it.  His goal was that “we should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history.” It is important to recognize African American leadership and achievement just as all other Americans are celebrated for their philanthropy, patriotism, historical significance, and contributions.  There is an importance in writing the very names of history makers down. We need to identify with who did what, why, and how difficult it was for them to succeed as African Americans. 

When genius shows up and shines even in the darkest hours, it is extraordinary.  African Americans have exhibited extraordinary talent.  It was evident in history, and it is evident today.  It shows up in education, government, science, the arts, and entertainment. Today many African Americans continue to excel as they face challenges and beat odds; they go on and achieve greatness and expand and bring value to American culture.  

An African American, for the first time in history, ran for president of the United States, won, and was elected a second term. That is remarkable not just as African American history; the election of President Obama is a sign of the tremendous growth, diversity, change, and hope for an America standing “at the crossroads of equality and freedom.” 

The idea of celebrating African American history was embraced in America, by people of all colors, because they felt the need to pay homage to a race of people whose story was not accurately and adequately recorded in American history.  They embraced the idea realizing that the contributions of Black people in America were too often overlooked.   They endorsed celebrating African American history because the very strength, resilience, long suffering, and fight of a people once enslaved but now free is a strong testament of American hope.

Many inventions that we enjoy today are the inventions of African Americans who have made significant contributions both nationally and internationally.  African American children need to know about these contributions; knowing their history gives them hope.  

African American children need to be able to look and live beyond stereotypes and know that if their ancestors could achieve and succeed, so can they. American history is a long story, but it is a story that gives us all hope.  We are not living with that same racial divide of slavery and Jim Crow today, but we still face division in various forms in our culture.  We are standing “at the crossroads” so to speak “of equality and freedom.”  This month gives all people the opportunity to get a closer look at African American history and culture, to know its relevance, and to put it into perspective.  Many don’t know the struggle and cannot identify with it.  When you become familiar with the struggle, you can better identify with those who suffered it. It illustrates not only a willingness to tolerate difference, but openness toward diversity.  

Those who seek unity, peace, and equality do so by gaining a better understanding, an appreciation for the diversity with which we have been endowed in America. The harsh reality of slavery in America tells the story of a brutal inhumanity of man. One cannot discuss American history without discussing African American history. 

It is a story of triumph through adversity; it is a testament of hope in times of despair.  African American history is a reality that a deprived people suffered. It’s a dream that a King had, a Proclamation that a U. S. President signed.  Today we stand a little more united, a little more integrated, more educated, but most importantly, we stand proud to be free of a past that crippled the nation.  Today Americans vote, eat, ride, go to school, and shop together, and we shouldn’t take this for granted.  Good people lost their lives so that we could do it all. They were brave enough and bold enough to want our lives to be different, to be better; they bought this freedom we have to day, and they paid for it with their lives.

We should not neglect or let go of African American history, this hope, or the dreams of those who dared to envision and fight for better tomorrows.  Lincoln dreamed “of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope on earth.”  Dr. King’s dream was “deeply rooted in the American dream.” He dreamed “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.” 

Today, at the crossroads where equality meets freedom, where Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation meets the March on Washington and Dr. King’s Dream, let us all, no matter what our race, color, or creed, take on the responsibility of our past.  Let us be those citizens who vow to wake up daily in order to make life great, to make America great, not just for ourselves but for all of mankind.  Remember the history of African Americans. Celebrate it. Let us keep this history alive in the spirit of hope for generations to come

(Published by the Dept. of Defense, February, 2013)

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