Trip to the National Museum of the American Indian

The school year is thankfully winding down. At my school, it is customary for most teachers to provide summer assignments for their students. This year, my new focus has been to ensure I provide opportunities for my students to not only explore history through text and literature, but through material culture, and their surroundings. Today’s youth needs to understand that history is not something they simply read about in a book but is tangible. It can be seen, heard, and touched. History surrounds them but is also inside of them. As a result, my incoming United States History students will be responsible this summer for getting out of the house and visiting the National Museum for the American Indian. They will have to complete a pretty detailed gallery walk which will have stops along all four floors, require them to take pictures of themselves next to artifacts, and create new thematic names for the exhibits.

When many key Europeans first made contact with Amerindians, they promoted the idea that Native Americans were one monolithic group with little diversity , social and political complexity, and of childlike intelligence. This assignment was driven by my desire to allow the artifacts to speak for themselves, prove them wrong, and help my students develop a more accurate understanding and familiarity of the Native Americans in North and South America. Some of the artifacts that caught my eye are seen below.

Brilliance…….

When the brilliance of a people speaks for itself . . . . . Could you imagine walking over this bridge?

Culture….
Legacy …..
Wonder…..
Soul….

I just had to take a picture of this famous 1999 Fritz Scholder statue entitled “Future Clone” that was loaned out for Black Swans, one of my favorite movies. Although its tall, blank faced, androgynous appearance is disturbing and quite intimidating. I found it mesmerizing in person. Still trying to understand why and will be reflecting on that for awhile.

Summer is right around the corner and can’t wait to post more museum visits and book reviews ๐Ÿ™‚

Field Trip to the National Museum of African American History

Came across the quote on the museum wall. It was so powerful. It temporarily stopped me in my tracks.

Today I took my African American History students to the National African American History Museum. My lesson plan was motivated by two quotes from Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Negro History Week which later evolved into Black History Month”โ€ฆ. to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching” and “The thought of the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every class he enters and in almost every book he studies.” I wanted my students to better understand how access to artifacts and inclusive museum exhibits help people obtain a more complete understanding of history and their place in American History. Students were given a structured assignment which guided them through the museum but gave them the freedom to choose exhibits they found interesting to complete their project. After I got over the anxiety of taking 40 students out of the building on public transportation, made sure all of my students were set, I used my remaining time to explore the museum solo.

This is my sixth time visiting the museum , second time within the last three months. I was starving and didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast so I first sat down to order some shrimp and grits, my absolute favorite dish in their delicious cafeteria, and then ventured to see the “Slavery and Freedom” exhibit. I have been reflecting on three artifacts I saw ever since. I saw a concrete block used both in a slave auction in antebellum Virginia and as a stump for general Andrew Jackson and Senator Henry Clay to give speeches to adoring crowds. I also saw a crib built for an enslaved baby on a South Carolinian plantation and a 19th century sack with an embroidered message sewn by an enslaved woman named Ruth. The message explained that the sack which originally contained three tattered dresses and a handful of pecans was given to her 9 year old grandmother by her great grandmother just before she was sold away and never seen again. She sowed the story behind the sack on the front so she wouldn’t forget.

Since I have become a mother, there are very few and rare times in a day where I am allowed to forget that I am responsible for the well being of another human. I couldn’t help but imagine the anguish all three of these women experienced. Whether they were suffering from the feelings of being utterly helpless while their child was ripped from their bosom on the auction block in a room full of profit driven speculators, relentlessly praying their baby survive the haphazard conditions of the slave quarters with insufficient clothing and food, or hoping their child who is being sold away will somehow remember them despite knowing they will never see them again, all of these women and mothers suffered heartbreaks that should have crushed their very will to live. It really shook me to realize that in the end it didn’t, because I am here today and I realize that I am only here today because they did not give up or give in.

There is no lecture I could have given in class that would help my students understand the history of the people contained in this museum.I strongly believe that there is no other monument or museum in D.C. that can capture the complete history of America than the stories contained in this museum. If you are ever in the area, you should definitely pay a visit.

Don’t get me wrong. There are an equal number of exhibits that spread joy and bring smiles to your face. I almost completely got swept back in time with a permanent koolaide smile on my face in the Arts and Culture exhibits.

I didn’t know how to act while in the presence of this holy artifact. I was standing in front of Jimi Hendrix, the G.O.A.T’s tattered amp and vest
Although I made it to George Clinton’s mothership, I couldn’t get on. I guess I lost my ticket ๐Ÿ˜‰
And of course I had to take a pic of the Purple One’s Wardrobe
Can’t wait until my son is old enough to bring him here so he can see an artifact of the man he was named after ๐Ÿ™‚


Respect and Reverence for “A Gathering of Old Men”: a Tale of Redemption

I am thoroughly convinced that in my past life I roamed the streets of New Orleans or Sao Paulo adorned in bright colors ,dancing carefree to Rag time jazz, or complex Samba beats. I have not yet had the pleasure of traveling to Brazil but I swear when I visited New Orleans I felt I had been there before and was being welcomed home. I know that both places have been romanticized and are not paradises without their share of economic and racial problems. However, New Orleans has been one of the only places where I felt completely enveloped and surrounded by historic imprints of the African American culture. No one can visit New Orleans without acknowledging the “swag” its been blessed with by its African and African American residents throughout the centuries.

For that reason, I am naturally drawn to any work of literature created by Ernest J. Gaines. I love his storytelling and plots. But above all, I appreciate the respect he shows each of his characters and his ability to tell a story and simultaneously open windows to the rural African African American Louisiana culture. The story centers around a murder of a white landowner with a reputation for harassing the local African American farming community by a number of potential elderly African American men living on and near the farm. All of the men claimed to have committed the murder, but it is apparent only one could have actually carried out the crime.

Ernest J. Gaines

Each of the men have a backstory and I love the fact that Gaines provides them all with an opportunity to share their life’s accomplishments and regrets in Jim Crow Louisiana. Each story is historically invaluable because it provides readers unfamiliar with Louisiana or a basic history of the South with an understanding of how the South stole all of the men’s ability to be men because of the color of their skin. This opportunity is their last opportunity for redemption for some life changing event in which they failed or lacked the courage to stand against Jim Crow. I absolutely loved this book and felt that any of the past male members of my family coming of age in the Jim Crow South could have been one of the characters in this book. This book would also be a great teaching or discussion tool for young men of color today trying to figure out how to muster the courage to stand straight in an era of income inequality, mass incarceration, over policing of African American communities, and police brutality.

Happy Hour at the Creek. . .

TGIF family! I don’t know how your week has been but I didn’t think I was going to make it. When you are a working mom and wife, it seems that you are always going. Every morning I rise at 5 to make sure I can prepare hot lunches for the family and a hot breakfast before we all leave. DMV traffic alone is no joke and between taking my son to daycare and then fighting to make it to my job across town by 8 am, I spend a good three hours each day stuck in traffic. Work can be just as taxing, for as a high school teacher, I am always on my feet. Life does not slow down at 3 pm for as soon as work ends, I jump in my car and zoom to the gym which luckily is only ten minutes away where I work out hard for 45 minutes with an amazing trainer. I then jump back in my car to pick up little man. Thank God dinner is always already prepared for I religiously cook the night before while everyone sleeps. As soon as we are done eating and describing how our day went at the dinner table, I bathe, read him a bed time story, and then pass out shortly after putting him to sleep. Doing this five times a week is tough. And despite the fact that I am a true early bird, for some reason I woke up in the absolute worst mood today.

Needless to say I was overjoyed when my husband said he was going to pick up my son this afternoon. I almost did not know what the hell to do with the extra two hours! I thought to myself “Mom’s love getting their nails done so maybe I should get my nails done. ” As I looked online for salons near my house, I thought to myself, “I really don’t feel like sitting in a confined space and then being stuck not able to do anything with my hands that might mess up my polish.” Believe me, four hours later, I will ALWAYS find a way to mess up the polish. Then I thought to myself, “My husband and I are going out for date night tomorrow and maybe I could surprise him with a new outfit. A lot of moms love to shop.” However, I really did not feel like spending money or dealing with a crowded mall. Truth of the matter, the one gift every mother and wife wants is to be left alone and allowed to take a nap in the middle of the day. This last option was truly enticing ,but I could not ignore the amazing weather outside and in the end, I settled my self down and finally listened to what I wanted to do.

I dusted off my bike, hooked it to my car, and headed for the creek. I come here all of the time in the summer when I am out of school and my son is in daycare. Peaceful is too weak of a word to describe how I feel when I ride along this creek. It was just what I needed. I returned home, energized, and ready to show my family love.

Today taught me two lessons: (1) Stop following the crowd and trying to fit into a stereotype. I have never been the chic to spend hours in a salon or rush to get my nails done every week. When I truly feel the need to do that, I will but I will not attempt to use activities along those lines as a one size fits all for my happiness and (2) Make time for activities I love. I thought the fact that I rode almost every other day during the summer when my son was in daycare and I was out of school was a great way to stay true to who I was before I became a mom and continue doing that which brings me joy, but today the only event that gave me happiness was my ride through the creek. I would never have been at peace and rejuvenated to be the mom and wife I want to be if I had not made time today for that ride. I truly found my happy hour at the creek ๐Ÿ™‚

One of my favorite spots. The sound of the water helps to clear my mind and silence any worries and insecurities.

Feeling like a bad ass because I had the courage to make time during the week for me ๐Ÿ™‚

Rafael Lozano-Hemmerโ€™s Pulse Stole my Heartbeat

I had the pleasure of visiting the Hirshorn Museum here in D.C. I need to first start off by admitting that I am not the biggest fan of abstract art. However, I was absolutely moved by Rafael Lozano – Hemmer’s Pulse exhibit. I am not a technical person so I am not even going to embarrass myself by trying to explain how he did it. However, I will say that while at the exhibit, I hooked my hands up to a contraption that made an entire room illuminate based upon by heartbeat and projected ripples in water on a huge screen based upon my pulse.

He was inspired by this exhibit after hearing this children’s heartbeat in utero. If anyone has ever had the pleasure of witnessing such a miracle, they can reaffirm the old cliche that “Life is art.”

“Dream Land Burning” by Jennifer Latham Burned a Hole in my Soul

I review quite a few young adult books because I am a high school teacher and our school librarian has created an out of this world book club that would make any bibliophile salivate. She brings in the most amazing authors of  a diverse array of young adult and adult works.  Last year, she invited Jennifer Latham to discuss her book, Dreamland Burning. Now I love a good mystery book as much as the next; however, this book made my soul shiver. To begin, the book crosses between two eras in Oklahoma history: modern day and 1921. 1921 is a pivotal period in Oklahoma history, for it was the year of the Tulsa Race Riots. The Tulsa Race Riots occurred during a period of heightened racial turmoil in U.S. History following the conclusion of WWI. Latham visited our book club when she was still a resident of Oklahoma and she shared the amount of research she conducted for her book. Her firsthand research and interviews with survivors and their descendants is what makes this book so enthralling. 

Image result for dreamland burning

She centers her story around Rowan Chase a teenage biracial amateur detective  who accidentally unearths a skeleton dating back to the 1920s  in her backyard during a renovation. As the police and Rowan work to recreate the story surrounding the skeleton, Rowan finds herself unraveling a past steeped in racism, blood, and tears that many members of the community white and black have tried to keep buried. Not only does the author give an account of the consequences of violent white supremacy in the 1920s that led to the riots but also incorporates the little known story of the Osage Nation with William the teenage son of a white Oklahoman man and Osage woman who survived the riot. I was aware of the Tulsa Race Riots and have given many lectures on it in school. However, I was unaware of the specific injustices the Osage Nation suffered in the 192os. The Osage Nation had become one of the wealthiest Native American tribes in America at the turn of the century after oil deposits were found on their reservation. The Oklahoma state legislature passed a law requiring the finances and spending habit of Osage Indians to be overseen by whites. Many white men married Osage women preceding a spike in mysterious murders and suspicious deaths of Osage women.

While Rowan attempts to process the events that led to the 1920s riot, she finds herself at the center of a racially charged uprising in her own time involving a fatal incident of police brutality and the plight of undocumented immigrants attempting to make a better life in Oklahoma.  

This book is a MUST READ. It is a great source of historical fiction but it is an equally  awesome “Who done it?” The ending is not predictable!!! I loved it and I hope that this book is one day turned into a film.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Ashes: The Seeds of America Trilogy.”

Image result for laurie halse anderson ashes

Everyone who knows me knows that I am an absolute history nerd. I live, eat, sleep, and breathe history and always have.  I particularly love learning and sharing the history of people who have traditionally been silenced and marginalized.  However, there was always one era in history that I had absolutely no interest in learning.  I would purposefully put my head down in silent protest whenever it was the topic of discussion by my 11th grade U.S. History. I absolutely hated learning about the American Revolution. It had always been presented to me as a period  where Black people were completely absent or simply sitting around and twirling their thumbs while white patriots and Englishmen battled it out for control of the 13 colonies.  It was not until graduate school  when I learned that could not be farther from the truth.

In fact, not only were enslaved men and women present at almost every major battle of the Revolutionary War, slavery and Black participation  was a major influence right down to a section of the original draft of the Declaration of Independence blaming King George for the  colonists’ dependence upon slavery. Thus, I was excited when I heard about Anderson’s  Ashes, a young adult historical fiction novel about Isabel, a young black woman (which almost made me do a dance) on a quest to find her developmentally challenged sister Ruth who had been sold away. She is accompanied by Curzon, a young runaway who initially cast his lot with the British as a volunteer soldier seeking his freedom only to be tricked and suffer detrimental consequences and later join the Patriots.

The story highlights the challenges, hopes, fears, expectations, choices, and overall experiences of Blacks during the Revolutionary period, particularly Black women. Isabel, the main character, is the quintessential heroine. I appreciate the author’s ability to show her strength and vulnerability. The Revolutionary era was a time of great uncertainty and I never felt Anderson, who is white, tried to simply lump Isabel and Ruth’s entire experience with one completely identical to their white female counterparts.  At no point could her readers forget that every trial Isabel was enduring was a result of the fact that she was  Black, a runaway, and a woman. Ashes was an  interesting story rooted in solid historical research and I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I have to admit, I was once again disappointed with the ending. I hate to spoil the story for those who have not read it, but Anderson leaves her tale on a very optimistic and naive outlook. Isabel and her family step into a new country believing it will embody the  Enlightenment ideals white, Black, free, and enslaved patriots fought for. I acknowledge the fact that many Blacks who  fought in the war on the side of the Patriots held the very same optimism. Sadly, my knowledge of the Black experience  in early American History prevents me from being able to share such a hopeful ending. The new country  missed its opportunity to completely abolish slavery and instead cemented  an inhumane institution in the very legal documents that define our country today. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and will actually use it as a teaching tool in my high school African American class.

By the way, I guess this might be a great time to share the fact that I was nominated for an Outstanding Teacher Award by my local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I do not believe I have a chance of winning; however,  I am honored to have been nominated. I will find out later this month if I won ๐Ÿ™‚

Later Gators!