President's Blogs: 2005
October 26, 2005
By now, most of us know that Rosa Parks passed away on Monday at the age of 92. Today, it is not so much Ms. Park's death as her life that we should be thinking of and learning from. For many people, what they know of Ms. Parks is that, in December 1955, while riding a bus, she decided she would not conform to what was expected of her and every other black American in many states in the U.S., namely, she would not get up and give her seat to a white person. As we know, this is a true story but it is neither the beginning nor the end of her story. The way she lived prior to this incident, and the way she lived after, is the crux of the reality that a struggle is not a one-day or a one-time event.
Ms. Parks worked for years with the NAACP and other civil rights movements. She did not go quietly into that good night in 1955.
A number of years ago, I was doing a workshop literally on Martin Luther King Day. When I asked the students who MLK, Jr. was, I invariably got the same response—he was a great man who died in 1968 and we honor him by celebrating his birthday. The reality was these students understood that MLK, Jr. was important but could not see a correlation between his life and theirs (this for the most part, was true regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic group). It is one of the reasons that I developed the workshop, "Examining History and Promoting Social Justice"—to make history come alive for students and so that they could see for themselves how one person's life can and does make a difference, either for positive or negative.
And now, Rosa Parks has passed away. I wonder how many of us talked to our classes, regardless of grade level, on Tuesday or today about Ms. Parks? I wonder how many of us were sad today and/or had a far away look in our eyes and explained to our own children why we were feeling what we were feeling? I wonder how many of us thought about renting or purchasing the film, The Rosa Parks Story and sharing it with our students and/or our own children either this week, next week or next month? Unlike, MLK, Jr., Ms. Parks lived a long, long life. She did not pass away many years ago. How positive a legacy it would be for Ms. Parks if we could bring her life into our work and make her come alive for a generation which may or may not know about a woman who made a choice—not only one day in 1955—but for most of the days of her life.
To a life lived...
High Water at Catfish Bend - A book recommendation
October 11, 2005
A book was recently brought to my attention, and brought to my home: High Water at Catfish Bend by Ben Lucien Burman. I finished it in two sittings. I have already checked - yes, it is available at amazon.com.
Why recommend this book and to whom? Although it was written in 1952, it is totally relevant to the events of the past few months. The book tells the story of an area north of New Orleans which has been flooded. The animals have just about run out of dry land, and the humans aren't much better off. While the humans mill around trying to figure out how to get the mayor of New Orleans, the local engineers, and other government officials to take an interest in their plight, the animals decide that if the humans can't do anything about it, they will. It is not often that you get a fox, a frog, a raccoon, a snake and a rabbit to ignore their hunger pangs and work together, but they talk about their "issues" and decide that if they are to survive, they need to form a pact and work together. There are many, many comparisons that one can make between their survival and our own.
It is certainly a book which will enthrall children in elementary school. It is a great way to have a discussion about the floods and other natural disasters which have occurred throughout the world. Further, it is a wonderful tool for involving kids in the discussion of how working together helps everyone. I'm not forgetting the adults, I loved this book, save for one line in which the rabbit was "giggling all the time like a girl." (Maybe it's because I never thought of rabbits giggling and I sure as heck know some boys who giggle as well!) In any event, whatever your age, I urge you to get a hold of this book and share it with those around you. You'll be glad you did!
October 11, 2005
I am sure we have all been watching (assumption?) the events of the past 72 hours. While it is certain mother nature cannot be harnessed, it is also equally true that it is not mother nature who deems "who shall live and who shall die" when natural disaster strikes. She knows no social or political boundaries. Many of us in the United States, and I remind you that we are not all in the U.S., are still collecting goods and money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. But it bears repeating that a life is a life no matter where it is lived or where it is lost. The victims in Guatemala and in Pakistan, India, Kashmir, and Afghanistan, all were members of families and of communities. What do they have in common? Often, but not exclusively, it is the poor who bear the biggest brunt of natural disasters. Whether it is because they cannot get out, do not know that they have to get out, or simply that their homes, schools, and hospitals are not built to withstand the huge forces of nature arrayed against them, well, I think that bears reflecting on and acting on.
Personally, as in the tsunami, I cannot grasp the number of dead in Pakistan. I cannot grasp the 5 million homeless who have no where to go, no food to eat, no water to drink and no shelter. I cannot grasp that an entire village in Guatemala is, quite simply, gone. I only know how I feel when I see those pictures on the news and in the newspapers.
I believe that we have a choice in how we use our memory: many of us have forgotten (not out of ill will) the tsunami as we watched Hurricanes Katrina and Rita arrive. We probably won't forget these as quickly or easily—news media outlets will keep the stories alive for some time to come. But memory is a funny thing—Pakistan, India, Kashmir and Afghanistan, even Guatemala are so far away—we react with pity, horror, sympathy, and empathy, but then we tend to forget..
There may be some out there (friends, relatives, colleagues) who are tired of giving. Maybe even some of us. I know that there are those in the nonprofit world that worry about their own fundraising efforts when so many are giving to the victims of natural (manmade? broken levees, shoddy buildings) disasters. My response? Cook another dinner at home tonight instead of going out. Put off buying something that maybe you don't need but that you want for another week, month, year. We all have at least a nickel in our pocket that we call "spare change"—whatever you can give, there is always something.
Maybe governments should do more to help—there is no argument from me there. But just because they should doesn't mean they will. In the meantime, it is up to all of us not to forget that we are the lucky ones—we are alive and we have roofs over our heads even if our quarters are what we might call "cramped." We also can help in countless other ways—again, I remind you that all these towns and villages will need help for a long time to come—whether or not they remain before the television cameras. Hook up with a town where the school needs to be rebuilt, with a village which will have to help their survivors care and feed for children (and adults) who have lost their families.
Yes, it's a "downer" but it is also reality—something we need to help deal with and not walk away from or avert our eyes. If it's painful for us, how much more so for those who have lost one or more family members? Don't blame it on nature—it's not her fault. It is we who are the newcomers.
Judge Constance Baker Motley, Playwright August Wilson, and Comedian Nipsey Russell
October 5, 2005
This message is a celebration of the lives of three people who in very different ways gave so much to so many and who passed away in the last week: Judge Constance Baker Motley, playwright August Wilson, and comedian Nipsey Russell.
Judge Motley racked up a string of firsts: the first black woman elected to the New York State Senate, the first female Manhattan borough president, and in 1966, the first black woman on the federal bench—a position she held until her death, on September 28, at age 84. Judge Motley, who was born in New Haven, Connecticut, began her career as an NAACP clerk and served with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund where she worked with Thurgood Marshall. She was part of the team that argued Brown vs. the Board of Education and, later, won nine out of ten cases she personally argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
I have never seen anything about Judge Motley in history textbooks—what a great exercise for students to study her life and write in to textbook companies to seek her inclusion where she rightfully belongs, and where future generations can read about her life and her impact as a champion of civil rights and a "crusader for justice" as her son, Joel Motley, said she'd like to be remembered.
August Wilson, the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright also passed away at the beginning of the week, at the age of 60. In his relatively short life, he gave us so many plays to study, to perform and to learn from—all focused on the African-American struggle in the 20th century. He wrote 10 plays, including: The Piano Lesson, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which was set in 1927 and told of the exploitation of a group of blues musicians, Fences about the effects of segregation on a man and his son, and Gem of the Ocean, which was set in 1904 Pittsburgh and told the story of a legendary community elder. I was lucky enough to see both Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Gem of the Ocean when they were performed on Broadway.
If you want insight into 20th century reality, I urge you to read one or more of August Wilson's plays. He has left us words and images which will not go gently into the night.
Nipsey Russell, who died yesterday at the age of 80, was a poet and a comedian—one of those rare human beings who could actually combine both. As a child, I remember watching him on everything from the "Flip Wilson Show" to game shows. I remember thinking that I had never seen anyone who could so rapidly skewer someone and do so with a smile on his face. It was one of my earliest experiences with the potential power of soft-spoken humor. In this day and age, it is rare to even think that humor, devoid of curses yet in-your-face, can be relevant. Nipsey Russell was relevant to everyone who watched him and listened to his actual words and what was behind them.
Thank you all, for contributing so much to so many.
Rest in peace!
The Jewish High Holidays and the Muslim Month of Ramadan
October 5, 2005
It is an unusual occurrence but, I believe, one to be celebrated: this year there are many overlapping religious holidays due to the alignment (in a sense) of lunar and solar calendars. Monday night was the beginning of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Tuesday, the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
In one of the New York papers, Sheik Omar Saleem Abu-Namous, imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, had this to say on the overlap of the holidays: "This is a happy coincidence. If we can disregard the differences and concentrate on the similarities, we will become more friendly." Upper East Side resident, Yasmin Torres, a practicing Muslim, also saw a connection between Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan: "They say, a long, long time ago, it was all related. We come from the same people."
I echo many of the sentiments expressed by Sheik Omar—we should concentrate on the similarities and, I would say, learn about our differences. Ms. Torres is also correct—the Muslim and Jewish peoples have the same root, Abraham. In this time of celebration for so many people, may we not just hope but work towards a better understanding and a healthier, happier relationship between the followers of two important religions.
On that note, may I take this opportunity, whatever you celebrate (or not) to wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year!
September 29, 2005
Today, I was in the post office. The postal worker who was helping me (who knows me pretty well by now) asked me if I needed any stamps. I told him no, not today. He said he had something that he thought I would like. Let's put it this way—I walked out of the post office with stamps. What did he show me? Something I had no idea had been produced: a group of ten stamps, each depicting a different time and place such as "Lunch Counter Sit-Ins," "Montgomery Bus Boycott," "Selma March," Freedom Riders," and "Brown vs. The Board of Ed." The stamps are on a sheet entitled "To Form A More Perfect Union—Seeking Equal Rights for African-Americans." In the middle of the sheet is a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a quote:
"For in a real sense, America is essentially a dream, a dream as yet unfulfilled. It is a dream of a land where men of all races, of all nationalities and of all creeds can live together as brothers."
(Feel free to amend to add women and sisters—we should all be equal. Great to discuss with students.)
The back of the sheet has explanations of the stamps as well as the names of the artists. They are a great teaching tool!
I need to go back out and get more sheets—this first one, well, I might just frame.
September 6, 2005
I hope you don't feel bombarded by this third message about the hurricane and its aftermath. I just wanted to focus your attention for a moment on a population of the devastated areas that we don't perhaps think of or hear enough about: the thousands and thousands of pets and other animals who have been left homeless and/or the pet owners who would not leave their animals.
We all know that the need for counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder for the victims of Katrina are great. Some of us, who may be just plain animal lovers, may have thought about the pets also affected by this tragedy. What you may not realize is the amazing healing effects that animals, pets and others, have for survivors of great tragedy.
I am sure there are many of us who have personal stories about this. I would like to share two of them with you:
If you have been a member of TAP since 2001, you will recall that one of our members, Nancy, lost her husband on 9/11. Shortly after 9/11, in October, we went down to the ruins of the World Trade Center, by boat. Before getting on the boat, a woman named Cindy came up to us with her dog Tikvah, who is a "comfort" dog. Tikvah stayed with Nancy the entire trip down and back. Tikvah (and Cindy) are still in Nancy's life, to this day. In addition, Nancy's own two cats, who have since passed on, also played their part in helping Nancy move forward.
Personally, I lost my father and my brother in a car accident which my mother and our two dogs were also in. After the accident, while waiting for the police to arrive, one of our dogs, Phoenix (so named because my mother had rescued her from a highway) held our other dog King, by the scruff of his neck until someone could arrive to take them somewhere safe. Phoenix died of a heart attack that night but King lived another seven years. My mother called King, her joint "survivor." I cannot even begin to tell you how important it was to my mother that King had survived. King saw her through the accident and numerous bouts with cancer. When King died, we were all afraid my mother would not live much longer. In fact, she died about a year later. I thank King for being my mother's companion for so many years. Although my mother had an amazingly strong will and a zest for life, I (and my mother's friends) know that King played a role equal to or greater than the one any of us played in her life after the accident, as he was her constant companion.
Today, I will be donating to a couple of groups who help take care of the animals affected by the hurricane. I understand those people who would not leave their homes because they didn't want to leave their animals—for many of these people these animals are their family.
The comfort that these animals have given and can give to countless survivors is beyond measure. They supplement the work done by trained counselors. Please, just because they may walk on four legs and not two, please don't forget these living beings and the role they play in the mental health and recovery of those that walk (if they walk) on two legs.
If you go to this link and scroll down to "animals" there are a number of worthy charities who are there to help: http://www.networkforgood.org/topics/animal_environ/hurricanes/
If anyone has additional recommendations, please e-mail the listserv.
September 2, 2005
Last night I conducted a workshop in Connecticut. This morning, I received an e-mail from one of the participants saying that the workshop had inspired her to take action: namely, she contacted the mayor of her city asking him to take in refugees from hurricane Katrina. She volunteered to help coordinate the efforts.
When I spoke with this woman this morning, I told her that, yesterday, after hearing the mayor of Detroit offer to send buses and pick up 500 refugees, I was asking myself why other towns and cities couldn't offer to do the same. The Houston Astrodome is overcrowded. They are sending people who have gotten out to other locations. There are thousands and thousands of people who still haven't gotten out.
This woman motivated me to do two things:
1. I am presently drafting a letter to the newspaper in my town asking the town to offer to take people in. Although we live far from Louisiana and Mississippi, and people might not want to go so far, if they want to or need to, they should be able to find "haven" (what an inadequate word) regardless of distance.
2. I stopped by the local Red Cross asking them to put me in contact with someone who can help me spearhead this effort locally. (We don't have a mayor.)
I believe each one of us has a roof over our heads, water to drink and food to eat. Our children will be attending school next week or have already started school. The people who live in areas of Louisiana and Mississippi have none of those things. Let us all think of contacting friends, relatives, and elected officials and see if our locales (in the U.S. and Canada) can offer our homes and our schools as other cities are doing.
Opening our wallets is a help. Offering our homes and our schools is not only what we can do it is what we should do.
Please, I urge you, anyone who has suggestions or has undertaken a plan to help the hurricane victims/survivors, please, e-mail this listserv and share.
PS In watching TV coverage this morning I saw that President Bush was flying over the devastated areas. I was wondering how much it cost in security and jet fuel to bring him there. Most of the people devastated by this hurricane have no phone service, cannot contact relatives, many have not been taken off their roofs or out of the areas in New Orleans and surrounding areas which are health hazards. I doubt that there are even a handful who have TV or radio access to see this visit for themselves. Might not the money spent in bringing the president to the hurricane area have been better spent on food, water and shelter for the victims? I don't mean to be cynical but I hope Air Force One also managed to deliver, via airdrop, water and food to those down below whom they were flying over.
September 1, 2005
By now I think we are all aware of the devastation that has taken place in Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of hurricane Katrina. At some point in the future, engineers will have to wrestle with having cities and towns built either on the water, so close to the water, or below water level without an adequate levee system in place (in New Orleans, the system was only built to withstand a category 3 hurricane—not the category 4/5 which Katrina was—the reason given was a cost/benefit analysis. Apparently, the cost for building a better levee system was prohibitive. I wonder what it costs to rebuild New Orleans and the shattered lives of survivors? What compensation is there for the loss of life?)
As with the tsunami, the effects of Katrina will be felt for years to come. So many lives were lost and so much of life was lost. People are without food and water and often sweltering in the hot sun. People can't find or connect with their loved ones.
Although hurricanes know no socioeconomic differences per se, and victims came and come from all different backgrounds, the sad reality is that most (not all) of the people who did not leave their homes could not leave their homes—either because they had no money to leave, had no place to go, or were elderly or infirm. Yes, there were those who thought they'd just ride it out but those are not the majority.
I am writing today as I did after the tsunami to ask you to go to the following link which will connect you with Network for Good—you can cut and paste it, and do what you can.
We are all in this together regardless of where we live. There will be time for finger pointing later—right now, taking care of the people affected is all our responsibility.
Before I leave you today, you will notice that there are not a lot of postings on this listserv about the war in Iraq. We are all entitled to our opinions when it comes to what is going on there—we might not all agree and we might not think every day of both the civilians and soldiers who die there on a daily basis. But I ask you today, when we think about the people devastated by the hurricane who were just trying to live their lives, to also think about the people in Iraq who are mostly trying to do the same thing—live their lives. Many of them are also living without potable water, food, jobs, etc. Yesterday's tragedy in Iraq in which more than 1,000 people died, mostly women and children, they were just trying to celebrate a holiday. That too merits our thoughts. I do not know what we can realistically do for those survivors or for those who have lost their families in Iraq, but I do think, at a minimum, it challenges us to remember that loss is loss—and families all over the world feel equally bereft when they lose a loved one. Human life is no more or less valuable depending on the region of the world in which one lives. All human life is equal. The tragedy of loss whether through natural disaster or other means is still the tragedy of loss.
Teach your children well.
Helen L. Phillips, John H. Johnson, and Peter Jennings
August 15, 2005
They say that death comes in threes. Three very important people, each, in their own way, advocates for equality, passed away recently: Helen L. Phillips, John H. Johnson, and Peter Jennings.
For those of you who don't know who Helen L. Phillips, was, she was the first African-American opera singer to sing at the Metropolitan Opera—this in 1955, seven years before Marian Anderson's death. In 2005 this might not seem so earth shattering but, in fact, it was and is. In later years, Ms. Phillips became a schoolteacher—I'm sure her students learned a great deal from her—and we can still learn from her. If you google Helen L. Phillips as I did, you will find articles in many newspapers on her passing. Unfortunately, I do not think the media gave her life and her impact enough attention.
This is also the case with John H. Johnson, who passed away last week and was buried today in Chicago. Mr. Johnson was the founder of Ebony and Jet magazines, publications which today still have a wide circulation. Mr. Johnson was a tireless advocate for equality and never shied away from pointing out inequities. His publications showcased the lives and contributions at a time when "mainstream" media did not, apparently, think that the achievements of African-Americans were of interest to a wider audience. Today, though the situation has improved, one can argue if there is now parity.
John H. Johnson started out with $500 and a dream...Much has been written of late, of the fact that he amassed a fortune, no mean feat for anyone. I think though, that Mr. Johnson would say that his legacy was not his fortune in money alone, but more in what we all learned and continue to learn from the magazines which he founded and his example.
In terms of inequality though, as we all know it still exists. Though mainstream media reported on Mr. Johnson's death, it did not give 1/10th the coverage to this event as it did to Peter Jennings death (more on that in a minute). I would be remiss if I did not question this inequity or under-reporting of the life and death of such a giant in the publishing world.
Peter Jennings' death has gotten wide coverage in the U.S. There is good reason for this. Mr. Jennings truly seemed to embody an investigative reporter—one who questioned the status quo in various situations and challenged us to think outside the box. In light of so many of today's pundits, his loss will be felt for, in my book, years to come. It seems to me that there are few anchors working today in mainstream media (Ted Koppel comes to mind) who are willing and able to dig below the surface and ask the tough questions that need to be asked. Bluntly put, there do not seem to be many anchors or reporters today who engage in critical thinking. There are those who say that Mr. Jennings was not impartial but many of the people with whom I've spoken who hold this view seem to have never watched his reports for themselves but have heard this from others: a distinct lack of independent thinking.
As you head back to your classrooms think about downloading articles on these three people. Discuss with your students what they think the importance of each person was, in their own right. When meeting up with friends and colleagues, let them know about the passing of these three human beings and why you feel that they are important.
Let us not forget Helen Phillips, John H. Johnson, Peter Jennings, their contributions to journalism and the arts, and the lessons we can still learn from them.
American Legacy, The Magazine of African-American History and Culture
August 4, 2005
Whenever TAP does a workshop we provide a resource list of recommended films, books, and magazines. One of the magazines that we recommend is American Legacy, The Magazine of African-American History and Culture.
I personally first learned of this magazine in 2000 when I was visiting one of our board members. She had a subscription to the magazine—the cover caught my eye as there was an article on Baltimore, a city I was scheduled to visit in 2001. After reading through this magazine, I realized how much I had been educated, entertained, informed and yes, ignorant of. My subsequent subscription has never lapsed.
The latest edition, fall 2005, features articles on:
1) The Dance Theatre of Harlem (on the rise again)
2) The Soldiers Who Built the Alaska Highway
3) Discovering the Treasures of the National Parks
4) The Teacher Up North (How higher education came to a rural town in North Carolina)
5) Top 10 Influential Books & Films in Black History
I want to share the lists with you. How many of these films and books have you seen/have you read/do you own? Are there books or films that you would recommend that aren't included on these lists? Whenever there is a list, there will be those of us who say "but they forgot..." So, with that in mind, I give you American Legacy's list and would urge you to send other suggestions to the TAP listserv, buy a copy of American Legacy magazine for yourself and/or get a subscription to the magazine either for yourselves or for your school. An annual subscription, which includes four editions, is approx. $12 a year!
Top Ten: Influential Books by Gerald Early
1. The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. DuBois (1903; many editions)
2. White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550 - 1812, by Winthrop Jordan (1968; University of North Carolina)
3. The Myth of the Negro Past by Melville Herskovits (1941; Beacon)
4. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings (1984; HarperTrade)
5. Before the Mayflower by Lerone Bennett (1962; Johnson Publishers)
6. Blues People by Amiri Baraka (1963; HarperTrade)
7. Harlem Renaissance by Nathan Huggins (1971; Oxford)
8. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954 - 1963 by Taylor Branch (1988; Simon & Schuster)
9. Paul Robeson by Martin Duberman (1988; New Press)
10. Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work and the Family from Slavery to the Present (1985; Knopf)
Top Ten: Influential Films (plus) by Gene Seymour
1. The Birth of a Nation (1915)*
2. Body and Soul (1925)
3. Hallelujah (1929)
4. Imitation of Life (1934)*/**
5. Gone With the Wind (1939)*
6. Carmen Jones (1954)*
7. Black Orpheus (1959)
8. Black Girl (1966)
9. In The Heat of the Night (1967)*
10. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)
11. Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979)
12. She's Gotta Have It (1986)
13. Boyz 'n The 'Hood (1991)*
*Indicates films TAP uses in various workshops
**Remade in 1959
So, happy reading and viewing. Again, I urge you to:
1) Share additional suggestions of books and films with the TAP listserv
2) Get a copy of or subscription to American Legacy Magazine. You won't be sorry!