Saturday, January 28, 2017

We the People

Photo courtesy of ABC
We the people-- black, brown, white. Women, men, and children. Old and young--gathered together in Chicago, across the country and around the world last weekend in order to from a more perfect union which is truly representative of what America is in all of its diversity. We the people, hundreds of thousands of us stood in solidarity around the world.  We came to establish justice for marginalized people struggling to be recognized as human beings. We came to challenge a “Just Us” system of mass incarceration that targets Black and brown and poor. We came to insure domestic tranquility at home and abroad. We came as citizens, immigrants, and refugees. We came as keepers of the promise. We came so that our voices are heard loud and clear. Make no mistake! We came to provide for the common defense of all the people—not some of people. We came to make America live up to its potential for greatness for we know that we as a nation, are only as strong as our weakest link. We came to hold up and lift up the weakest among us. So, we came to secure the blessings of liberty for those seeking to be free—free from police brutality, free from racial caste systems, free from poverty, free from religious persecution. We came to be able to love who love. We came to be who we are and not what others want us to be. We came to secure make good on the promise of emancipation to ourselves and our posterity—our children, and grandchildren and the children not yet born who deserve a better America than we have. We were women demanding to be recognized as first class citizens. We were men supporting our mothers, wives, and daughters. We were people of color not wanting to be treated like “other” than human beings deserving of respect. We the people do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America –all of America, not the divided states of America. We came to stake our claim of that which belongs to us We the people; we are America. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A TTs’ Tribute to her Nieces and Nephews

As I stood in the shower with the warm water running off my body, thoughts of my great nephew Elijah who was born on January 11, 2017 came to me. He is the last of my six greats born in the last two years. Elijah is the son of my youngest niece Jasmine. I was in the delivery room with my sister Debra during Jasmine’s birth. Recovering from surgery at the time, I didn’t have anything else to do so I went to the hospital. 

Witnessing her birth is one of my most treasured memories because it is the closet I will ever come to childbirth. You see, I am a childless aunt. I never planned on not having children; it just happened that way. With no children of my own, I poured into my six nieces and three nephews—Rhonda, Sabrina, Steven, Khalilah, LaNita, Racquel, Brandon, Marcus and Jasmine. And I will pour into this new brood, but in a different way. 

In this role since I was two years, it is a title I have worn all of my life. I can’t remember not being a TT, and I have taken my auntie duties seriously trying to be the aunt I think they need me to be. Fiercely protective, I want nothing but the best that life has to offer them. When they hurt, I hurt. When they’re good, I’m good. 

I have tried to be a good aunt. My siblings read to me, and so I read to my nieces and nephews (most of them anyway). They were my constant companions because we are closer in age than I am to my siblings. Before I could drive, I was dragging them around on the bus going to the movies and the museums. We played laser tag and Whirly Ball and went bouncing on trampolines well into my adult years. I am allowed to attend their cousins’ only outings because I am an Honorary Cuzo.

Wanting them to see the best of themselves, I bought books with characters who looked like them. I bought cards and dolls with brown faces. I combed and braided hair. I wanted them to have cultural experiences, so I arranged trips to see Muntu Dance Theater, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and plays. Cultural and ethnic representation was essential.

I gave them advice—even when they didn’t ask for it. Sometimes I pushed; other times I pulled back. I tried to remind them of who they were and was expected of them as a member of our family. Sometimes I judged when I shouldn’t have. I just wanted them to better than me. No matter what, I have tried to be a presence in their lives that they could always count on. I wanted them to know that I was always there if they needed me. 

They are grown, married, and moved away. They have families of their own now. Among them there are six children: Jahari, 20, is Steve’s son. Bryce is Sabrina’s son and he’s 11. Solomon and Luke are Racquel’s twins and they are a year-old. They share a birthday with their cousin Layla. She is Khalilah’s daughter and she’s four weeks old. Bringing up the rear is Elijah who is 4 days old. Rhonda and Brandon live out of town, and Marcus recently moved out on his own. I have enjoyed being who they needed me to be: Steph, TTSteph Nanie, and TiTi/Mama. This TT’s work is done.

Being a great aunt is not the same as being an aunt. There is more space in between. It’s not like being a grandparent because it doesn’t carry the same weight in the world. My nieces and nephews are now the aunts and uncles to their niece and nephews, and they will love fiercely, too. We are a close knit family.

They are all doing well, and I am awed by not only their professional accomplishments but their growth as human beings as well. They are smart, funny, compassionate and just all-around good people. My role in their lives is changing—as it should. I have given them all I have to give. And while I mourn the loss of my evolving role, I rejoice in watching them be parents and aunts and uncles to the next generation.

 I hope that I have left them with something that they will pass on. And so, yes I will step back into the shadow and watch them mold the next generation of greatness. I look forward to a whole new set of experiences with the greats as the legacy continues.
A multitude of emotions swirled inside as I stood in the shower thinking back over the years, weeks and days leading up to Elijah’s entrance into the world. Nostalgia at all of our shared experiences, pride in who we are, humility in where we’ve come from, gratitude for the many blessings, and sadness at what is no more. But more than anything I felt the love that still carries us through. And so today I salute my nieces and nephews for doing what it is that they do—making the world a better place.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The History of a People

It was a cold afternoon on Saturday December 11, when our chartered bus pulled up in front of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. But the sun shined brightly—welcoming us, beckoning us into this place. And I was biting at the bit to get off the bus and begin my journey. I wanted to travel the road of those who came before me--those who paved the way so that I might stand here today. 

I am who I am because of the people who came before me. Their blood flows through and their spirit lives in me. And this museum pays homage to the struggle that it took to get to this place and beyond. I am stepping back into the past and moving through the decades to the election of the nation’s first African-American president—no small feat in a country where we’ve spent much of our time being denied not only citizenship, but basic human rights.

With the rising racial tensions and all of the craziness going on in the world today, there is no better time for me to wrap myself in the history of my people. No better time for me to see American history through the eyes of her African-American offspring. Snatched from the breast of Mother Africa and nurtured on the milk of a reluctant adopted mother.  As a Black woman, I know all too well the duality of living in this place we call home.

I was with 17 others as part of the Literary Sisters, a travel group of women who love to read, founded by Ruth Bridges.  I was so excited! I knew that I was about to experience something that would leave an indelible impression on me. I felt like a child on Christmas Eve waiting for what day break would bring. And NMAAHC did not disappoint.

What felt giddy at first quickly turned serious and somber as I headed down into the lower level of the museum. It was dark and space was tight by design. It opened up as we moved up. I had dressed for the weather outside—a down-filled coat, a turtle neck and a faux fur vest. I went from feeling warm and cozy to hot and confining. The museum opened in September and the newness has yet to wear off. The tickets are timed. Admission is granted by the time stated on the ticket, and my time was limited, so I didn’t bother with the coat check.

I initially felt irritated as I was forced to move slowly with the masses of people meandering through the space. I saw how we came to America as indentured servants before the color of our skin made us slaves. I removed my vest, and I was trying to hold onto it and my coat as I stopped to study the artifacts. It didn’t take long for me to check my attitude. I had the audacity be annoyed by a little discomfort when I was walking the path of my ancestors.  As I moved through the hordes of people clamoring for space I began to absorb the history. 

It was a sobering experience as I examined the objects of my past, watched the short films, and read the stories. I felt like I had entered into a sacred space. People spoke in hushed tones as they moved from exhibit to exhibit. If someone was taking photos, people politely moved out of the way. Everyone said excuse me. There was not a lot of chatter—just necessary talk now and then when someone had to find a way to take it all in. A man stopped and pressed his back and head against the wall. “It’s a lot,” I said. He nodded. 

There were generations of people sharing the wealth of knowledge that the museum held—elders being guided by their adult children and children being led by their parents. It’s one thing to read about history in a book or watch a movie or documentary. It’s quite different to look directly at the shackles that once held the ancestors from which you came. 

 I experienced a kaleidoscope of emotions surging through me. I was colored by anger, humility, wonder, pride. and emotions I can’t name. So much history squeezed into one building. So much pain and suffering. And so much triumph and victory. These people didn’t set out be to heroes, they set out to right wrongs. They wanted to make the world a better place for their children, and their grandchildren and the children to come. They wanted to make the world a better place for me.
As the descendant of enslaved Africans, I’m always searching for the missing pieces of our history. 

The history that was denied to me until I sought it out for myself.  I looked at the dolls that were used to desegregate the schools in Brown V Board of Education. I marveled at toys that were used to change the trajectory of Black people in America. I saw the shards of glass from the window pane of the 16th Baptist Church. My heart raced; my stomach knotted as I was forced to remember that history repeats itself. Thoughts of the recent mass murder at Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina flooded my mind.

I stared at the coffin that held Emmett Till’s body. A boy from my hometown who did not understand the rules of the South. My time ran out. I didn’t get visit the entire museum.  Even if I had, had more time, I couldn’t have taken it all in, in on one visit. As I listened to the women on the bus recount their experiences, I thought back on my own, and I knew I needed to come back to this place again.  
That night when I lay down to sleep, my mind was racing as thoughts of what I’d seen played back like images on a movie screen. I wrestled with my anger and the sadness at the pain and suffering housed in the museum. But I also marveled at the resilience and the tenacity that it took to not only survive, but to thrive. I took pride in the skills, the work ethic and the sheer genius of  people who had made it through so many trials and tribulations over the years. When I finally settled in, I was lulled to sleep by the awe of it all.