11 February 2021

Grandma Adkins


by Latorial Faison (February 10, 2021)

My husband and his siblings lost their grandmother and my sons their great-grandmother; my mother-in-law and her siblings lost their mother, Mrs. Hattie Adkins; she lived to be 94. My husband loved his grandma; she was to him what mine was to me: a strong tower, a saving grace, a wealth of wisdom, a spiritual mentor, a source of support and supply, a firm foundation. So today, I feel his pain. I feel the void. I had the privilege of getting to know Grandma Adkins over the last 33 years; she became my grandma too (smile). I loved her style. 

I loved the way she treated people. I loved her sense of honesty, equity, fairness, and justice. She had a glorious sense of humor. It was part of her spirit, her humanity, her oneness with God. I loved her intelligence, her will to learn and teach and grow and impart knowledge to her family and to others. She was an inspirer, an admirer; she loved to see everybody "do well." She was an old soul, and she gave her "old soul" to my husband. I thank her for that.
Talk about a Negro spiritual...Grandma Adkins gives new meaning to my poem, "Mama Was a Negro Spiritual." Her voice was amazing, and she could take you to church in a Southampton County minute. We all loved to hear her sing.
We are going to miss her tremendously. Grandma Adkins was an absolute joy to know, love, and be around. She was a giant, a legendary figure in the life of my husband Jerome, our family, his family, extended family, the Shiloh Baptist Church of Boykins, and the Southampton County community. These giants...they just keep on leaving the room.
May God impel us and strengthen us to continue to fill their shoes and exceed their wildest dreams and expectations. May we always live up, not just look up. Grandma Adkins always did. Her obituary though. Check it out. I have two words for this obituary. Two words for Hattie T., Grandma Adkins, Aunt Hattie, Mother Adkins: A-mazing. Grace!

She raised four daughters with her husband, the late Mr. Hugh Adkins: three doctoral degrees (plus an honorary doctorate) and an international evangelist...born and raised to this union. Rev. Dr. Lillie Adkins Faison, Evangelist (and Honorary Doctor) Shirley Adkins Wooten, Dr. Peggie Adkins Smith, and Dr. Evelyn Adkins Carter. She was a superwoman, a super-achiever who set the bar high for four little girls born to the sticks and fields of Southampton County, for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, for me! Thanks Grandma Adkins.
"Here's to strong women" and to strong mothers. . . like Grandma Hattie Adkins. "May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them," and may we raise our sons to find, marry, love, cherish, nurture, cultivate, inspire, and protect them. Long live another Queen Matriarch, Mrs. Hattie Adkins 1926-2021! We honor you. We will never forget.
THE OBITUARY OF HATTIE ROGERS ADKINS 1926-2021: https://www.wmjohnsonandsons.com/obituary/hattie-adkins

04 October 2019

Were You There When They Crucified Botham Jean?

"Were You There When They Crucified Botham Jean?"

When life hands you lemons, you can make lemonade, but I dare you to make change. Black people in America have been making lemonade with their eyes closed, and though America may never admit it, it has been the sweetest anybody here has ever known. In the words of my late grandmother, Black folk can make sugar from shit. Strength, courage, and wisdom, that's who we are, what we have inside of us, and what we know in our hearts we can become. The verdict in the murder case of Botham Shem Jean, an innocent young Black man killed in his own home by Amber Guyger, a White Dallas cop, has left members of the Black community hanging in the balance somewhere between a hallelujah and a to hell with it all. Many don't believe ten years for killing an innocent Black man is enough, that it screams Black lives don't matter. Others are disappointed that Black victims, once again, publicly forgive and cater to those who have taken Black life. We have become great at making those who betray and slay us the victims. We saw this in the case of the mass murders at Mother Emmanuel in Charleston, South Carolina, and we saw it in this case. It is picturesque of slavery and antebellum times. This white America and this Eurocentric world has really done a number on Black folk. We don't even know how to own our own feelings without cowering, catering to, and considering the very evil that has slain us. Black people in the church believe they have to love their enemies as they love themselves, and that is where both the trickery and the tragedy lie.

"To suggest that Black people are unforgiving because we seek justice for crimes against our humanity is outrageous."

The real outrage is the sentencing of Guyger to only ten years for taking this man's life in his twenties. If the tables were turned, a Black murderer on trial for killing an innocent White man would have received a more serious sentence (because we have received harsher penalties for lesser crimes). All of this forgiveness which Black people seem so heroically capable of even when they are the victims . . . well, it certainly says a lot about our history as former slaves in a White America. After families were separated, children sold off, men and boys whipped and lynched, we still found ways to be pleasant to those who enslaved us. What else were we to do really? Nothing has changed. Many would argue, just as top scholars have, that Black people have been victimized and brainwashed by a White slave owning system into believing not only in the theology of a White Jesus but also that turning the other cheek and forgiveness is soul saving. I won't go there because if you live long enough in America, you will make some discoveries of your own. But what I will say is this. We go high and stay low. We are the only people I know who use Jesus to show mercy in a court of law. The very ones who taught us the gospel don't even do that. It's easy to go high when you're already high, when you're standing on the mountaintop looking down, when you can see everybody's position. When you're on the bottom, you're at a disadvantage, and there's a fight that must take place in order to, as Mahalia Jackson sang, move on up a little higher.

"We go high and stay low."

To suggest that Black people are unforgiving because we seek justice for crimes against our humanity is outrageous. Had Botham Shem Jean been a Black cop who entered a white Amber Guyger's apartment, shot and killed her, neglect to use protocol, neglect to give first aid, neglect to call 911 first, we all know that the verdict would be different. A Black man gets twenty years to life for less than murder. So why does Guyger escape with ten years for killing an innocent Black man? Why? Because forgiving Black people willed it so? Because Botham Jean's family and even the job felt sorry for Ambery Guyger? No. What happened here is just another by-product of systemic racism and white supremacist attitudes in America. Guyger's background and history support her actions in Botham Jean's apartment. Whatsoever a man or woman thinks in their heart, that is who they are. That's BIBLE or biblical, just as forgiveness, faith, hope, and love are biblical.

I am so glad that our ancestors did not have a cover all attitude about the injustices they experienced. The history of Africans in America is tragic. The present of Black people in America is equally tragic. If we continue to accept the status quo, the infinitesimal rates mass incarceration of Where would we be? People in this life have choices. Some of us are called to only take care of self. Others are called to take care of the masses. Whatsoever a man or woman chooses is his or her business. But he who stands for nothing will likely fall for anything.

In the Bible, everybody's personal business became an issue for the masses. It's part of bearing witness. Every life has value; we don't come here in vain. There's more to the Bible that Christians read than messages of faith, hope, and love. There are stories of challenge, battle, and war. Otherwise, why would we still be reading stories about the persecution of Jews and Esther's role in it all, David and Goliath, Sampson and Delilah, Joshua and the battle of Jericho, Judas selling Christ out, Jesus Christ crucified, and so on. These are stories of faith and hope, but they are also Biblical scenarios of endurance and fight. The 12 disciples knew that death, grave, and the resurrection were the imminent fate of Jesus Christ, but they stood up for righteousness anyway.

"We are the only people I know who use Jesus to show mercy in a court of law. The very ones who taught us the gospel don't even do that."

We should not let the words that we profess be confused by any man and definitely not by us. We have a right to scream injustice when our fellow men are voiceless and slaughtered. We don't expect the grieving to do anything but grieve. It is their necessary right. But we do expect people in positions of authority to do justice in the positions they have been given. Were you there when they crucified Botham Jean's character? When they searched his apartment looking for reasons why a White cop might have a reason to enter an innocent Black man's home and murder him? Because surely, she had a reason. Were you there? If the system had its way, she would have gotten completely off because marijuana was found in his home and because his ice cream was a weapon. If you can stand, stand. If you can speak, speak. If you can write, write. We do not have the freedoms we have as Black people because somebody decided to sit down in the struggle. America has given us nothing except what it owes us. We have this freedom that we have because people fought for them, lost their lives for them. Lest we forget.

To paraphrase Frederick Douglass, you can pray for freedom and justice for years, but the answer won't come until you pray with action. Let us not get so spiritual that we forsake the good work that we have been sent to do in "the natural." If you really believe that it's all about Him, we are going to need everybody to do more than pray. We need individuals to stand up, speak up, show up, live up, and put up. We cannot stand idly by while our killers are given lesser time for murder than people of color get for selling marijuana and abusing or killing animals. Sojourner Truth asked the question, Ain't I a woman? Today, we ask Ain't we human? 

This system has killed millions of Negroes, and it will kill a million more...if we let it. While many of us are here to make lemonade. A great many of us are here to make change,. Medgar Evers lost his life at the hands of white supremacists, racists who disregarded Black life. They killed Emmet Till, four little girls in Sunday School, and countless other Black men, women without being held accountable. The struggle of the Civil Rights Era is still the struggle of today.

People with racist views and implicit biases are still among us and disregarding Black life and people of color. When life hands your lemons, make change. You might even make history. But whatever you do, don't you dare make less of the very work that got you here and the people who did it. We are because of the important work somebody else did. They did not sit idly by and let the world have it's way with them. They stood up against injustice. They spoke out against inequality. They lost their lives to do so, and they changed our world for the betterment that we now enjoy. We are expected to do the same because we owe. We owe it to those who paved the way. We owe it to our children's children and every generation to come. It was Botham Jean's house this time. Whose house will it be next time? I hope my freedom and justice never rest in the hands of docile, fragile, traumatized, or Americanized people. Go find me a Harriet Tubman, a Nat Turner, a Sofia from The Color Purple.

"When life hands you lemons, make change."

#BothamJean #BlackLivesMatter #CivilRights #BlackHistory #Racism #Equality #Justice

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)

Grandma Adkins

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