Toni Morrison’s “Home” Forced me to Remember Home.

Toni Morrison portrait at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

Final Exams, teacher end of the year evaluations, and a community historic preservation project I am currently spearheading has me wishing lately that there were 48 hours to a day. As a result, I have not had time to read as much as I normally would but that is expected this time of the year and I know that rest and relaxation are only eleven days away! I did manage to squeeze in, Home, a novel last week by the queen Toni Morrison.

Home revolves around the story of Frank Money, a Korean War veteran and modern day African American Odysseus wandering through the South trying to find his way back home to Georgia following the war. However, unlike Odysseus, the only gods he encounters are the gods of the American South in the 1950s: Segregation, Poverty, and White Supremacy. I love Morrison’s subject matter and her ability to create characters and settings that remind me of places, family members, and experiences I have and have never been nor had. She is able to recount the African American experience in such vivid and emotional details with her choice of words and an uncanny ability to convey emotion that she always strikes a cord with me. I love her stories for their depth and development but I love them even more, because I feel that she is telling my story and my mother’s, father’s, grandmother’s, and great great grandfather’s story in this country. I feel the ability to appreciate and connect with her stories because the characters and their experiences flow through my very veins.

Picture of African American soldiers during the Korean War from americanradioworks.publicradio.org

The story begins with Frank Money daring to return to Lotus, Georgia a place with few opportunities with the intent of finding his sister Cee who he heard was in grave trouble. Along the way, he is plagued with some pretty horrific flashbacks from his tour of duty in Korea that often curbs his ability to decipher reality. In the end, you finally get a better idea of what part of his flashbacks were rooted in true past events or fabricated to help him deal with his past sins. I also really enjoyed the tender but despondent chapters where Frank and Cee reminisce about about their relationship. Frank was Cee’s valiant protector and Cee’s innocence and naivete gave Frank’s life purpose even during childhood.

Gordon Parks
Segregation Story Series

However, it was the women who come to Cee’s aide when she was horrifically violated in a incident that too closely mirrored the real actions of James Marion Simms, the “father of gynecology” that I loved the most in this story. Their determination, dedication, solidarity, and strength warmed my heart and made me pick up my phone to check on my 80 something year old aunt. Everyone with a female loved one from that era can find comfort and nostalgia in the way they called on the old remedies that would earn the ridicule of modern day doctors but were the only element of salvation poor African American women in the South could depend on to save or treat their children and spouses.

Gordon Parks, Untitled
Taken in 1950 in Ft Scott, Kansas

As you can see from the pictures above, I am currently trapped in a Gordon Parks vibe. However, looking at these photos from the 1950s really made me feel like I was in Lotus, Georgia while I followed Cee and Frank as they learned to come to terms with their past and become the masters of their own destinies and how they saw their own purpose in this world. Home forces to me to remember home and was definitely worth a read.

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 🙂

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”…. 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 😉
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 🙂


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 🙂

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 🙂

Running for my Life

This past weekend, I ran for the second year straight in the D.C. Prince v. Michael Jackson 5 K race. All of my close and not so close friends know that I am a Prince fan to the 100th degree and have been since I was a little girl. Before I go on, I have to admit that I neither love nor like running. I would much rather be on my bicycle riding through the Everglades or any of the many creeks where I currently reside. However, I love fitness and I love physically pushing myself. I had eagerly registered for the race four months ago and had my Prince playlist ready a week before to get me hype for the run. But, when I woke up the day of the race, the winds were clocked at 40 mph and it was 53 degrees outside. Such conditions were not ideal for this born and raised South Florida girl. In addition, my 4 year old son was just getting over an annoying tussle with an asthma outbreak and recently diagnosed with an ear infection, my husband was making me feel guilty by complaining about being unable to go to a martial arts class because the time conflicted with the race, and my bed looked like my only place of solace after a really hard week at work.

After rolling myself out of bed and making my cup of tea, I decided I was going to tell my husband forget it and I would just do it next year. But then I remembered the quote I had recently written on my chalkboard by Eleanor Roosevelt which says, ” Do something everyday that scares you.” I rushed and cooked everyone a breakfast, packed my son’s inhaler and new Star Wars light saber, and husband in the car. I made it there minutes before the race began and literally had to run to the starting line. I finished in 34 minutes.

I know for many avid runners, a 5k is child’s play, but for this soon to be 40 year old it meant everything to me. I purposely did something for me and added another memory to my “you are one bad little momma” bank. I am realizing that it is not the new pair of shoes, dress, jewelry, car, or bag that gives you confidence. I firmly believe that confidence and an undeniable glow comes from life experiences and events that serve as proof that you can presevere and finish strong. Don’t be afraid to try something scary, something new, something no one else is doing, or something you thought you could never do.

Saturday I ran for my life. I ran for my happiness. I ran for my confidence. I ran for me 🙂

A Lesson on Beauty

Forty is knocking on my door and I have always been intrigued and somewhat suspicious by people who claim that entering into a new decade brings forth some sort of deep reflection or ground breaking awareness. Once again, 2019 has yielded another incident where I have been forced to eat my words. In a couple of months when I cross the threshold into my fit ,fly ,and fabulous 40’s, I will have transitioned with a new understanding of the definition of beauty. Beauty is not starving oneself to maintain a size two or saving up a year’s salary for liposuction. Beauty is not bathing in fade cream to erase one’s sun kissed melanin skin or going bankrupt and becoming a victim of alopecia to cover the natural crown of coils that grows directly from our heads. Beauty is not becoming a slave to designer brands that make mockery of our culture but will gladly claim our dollars. Beauty is not denying our self worth in hopes of proving our worth to others. Above all else, beauty is not dimming your light to make others shine.

I have always been teased for my angular chin from my childhood to my adulthood. I would never let it bother me because it is the same chin I inherited from my Bahamian great grandmother aka “Big Mamma” who was a bomb ass chic. When I look in the mirror, I see history and a direct line to a woman who was strong, resilient, kind, and full of life and laughter. I see beauty…..

While recently visiting the Smithsonian African Art Museum, I came across this 20th century Angolan mask of a woman who is supposed to be the epitome of beauty. The craftsmanship was breathtaking but even more beautiful was the fact that she possessed my angular chin! Coming across her during my museum visit momentarily led me into a moment of self reflection where I came to the resolution that I need to celebrate every inch of my body and I can no longer allow anyone in the flesh, on social media, or in Hollywood set my standard of beauty.

I was hot and sweaty but in my element . I love D.C. museums 🙂

I also loved this 19-20th century Nigerian mask of a young woman. I also interpreted her larger than life crown as her glory and not something to be ashamed of.