All Articles Tagged "martin luther king jr"
Talk about Mandela family values…
According to published reports, Makaziwe and Zenani Mandela, half-sisters and daughters of famed anti-apartheid leader and former South African president Nelson Mandela, are suing three former associates of their grandfather, for ownership of two investment holdings linked to the 94-year-old revered leader. In a dispute, which appears to be playing out in the press as much as it is in the courts right now, Tukwini Mandela, daughter of Makaziwe and granddaughter of Mandela, wrote an open letter to the Associated Press, accusing George Bizos, longtime Mandela associate and the accused in the case, of slandering the Mandela family name with comments he made that the Mandela children were only interested in gaining control of the companies so that they can have control of the money.
Of course, all of this was happening as the former president was in the hospital for a recurring lung infection. And according to the Canadian Globe and Mail, the latest public dispute over money has added fuel to an already growing chorus of disenchanted South Africans, who feel like members of the family are putting their own personal capitalistic interests over the Mandela name. Outside of the investment holdings, which is said to make money from the hand-printed artwork of Mandela, Makaziwe and daughter Tukwini are heading up the House of Mandela wine business, which produces vintage Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from various vineyards chosen by the Mandelas. Tukwini’s brother, Kweku, is a filmmaker, who has made films around the Mandela’s life and legacy. And then there is the reality TV show and the fashion clothing line – the latter of which was at the center of another well-publicized dispute, which resulted in ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and their two daughters, Zindzi and Zenani, boycotting his 90th birthday over not being properly consulted about the clothing line. All the public bickering and money-chasing has inspired one South African newspaper cartoonist to feature the family members in a cartoon where they are playing “Squabble – the Mandela Family Game,” on Mandela’s dormant body.
I am less interested in whether or not the family is right in their case against Mandela’s former attorney, mainly because I don’t know enough to speak on it, and while the public feuding is a mess, it is certainly not exclusive. You can throw a $20 bill in the middle of a circle of my family members and see if a free-for-all doesn’t happen. So I don’t expect anything different from any other family, just because they have a legacy attached to their names. But I do want to discuss this underlying question about whether or not the Mandela family should be profiting off of his image. Without it being expressed as much, I think that this is what is at the center of what irks people most about stories like these involving notable figures. Just ask the descendents of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The King family currently operates his foundation, which also serves as the intellectual properties management of all things Dr. King-related, including providing licensing for the use of his speeches. Most recently, the King family drew scrutiny for its refusal to allow the organization which helped to get the memorial statue built in Washington D.C. to continue to use King’s name. This occurred after the organization, which was called the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation and is now called The Memorial Foundation, had already paid approximately $800,000 in licensing fees. In fact, the King family has a long history of profiting off of the slain civil rights leader’s name, including signing a multimedia publishing deal in 1997 with Time Warner reportedly worth $30 million to $50 million, and their selling of King paraphernalia in private auctions. Also, while the general public may have limited access to the “I Have a Dream,” corporations and media giants alike, those who can afford the King family’s licensing fee can reap the benefits of his legacy to sell things like cell phones.
Since King was a man of the people, folks assume that his image should forever be public domain. I mean, isn’t that what a man, who fought not just for racial equality, but against economic subjugation would have wanted? But it would behoove most to know that once upon a time – in December of 1963 to be exact – King sued Mister Maestro, Inc., a subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox Records to stop the unauthorized sale of one of his recorded speeches, claiming copyright infringement. So at least it would appear that the patriarch of the family was well aware that his image had to be protected.
And I think that protection, including having a say over who and how an image is used, is probably one of the greatest reasons why family members should retain control. Also, so much of these people’s lives are up for public consumption. And while King or Mandela devoted themselves to the greater good, it probably didn’t lend much in the way of financial security for their family. And despite whatever worldly problems that exist, being able to provide and tend to one’s own household comes first. Therefore, while I may cringe at how the names are used, who am I to tell the family members how they should benefit from their own legacy? I mean, if the family doesn’t get to profit, than who?
Is Black Leadership Dead? The State Of Leadership In The Community And Figuring Out How To Revitalize It
Is black leadership dead?
I find myself intrigued by that question ever since the election of Barack Obama brought about a public debate within some in the black community on whether or whether not he should be considered a black leader. Apparently, Bob Johnson, black billionaire and founder of BET, is just as intrigued, because earlier this month he released the data from his national survey, which he co-commissioned with Zogby, on how African Americans felt about President Obama, the economy, and if their lives were better off having lived under the Obama Administration’s tenure. According to RJ Companies, the website where the data is published, the opinions of 1002 randomly selected black adults were included in this survey and they were polled by both phone and online survey. However, despite the massive promise, the results of the survey offered very little in providing real measurable insight.
Among the non-surprises, this poll revealed that 91 percent of black folks see President Obama as favorable and 72 percent believe that his election has helped them individually. And because of this virtual non-reveal, certain members of the black media didn’t waste any time unmasking the data, including Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report, who in post called the survey “pretty sloppy work,” which he writes, “didn’t really tell us much useful.” Writes Ford: “What have we learned? That a billionaire, Black or white, can spend all the money he wants asking poorly constructed questions for no other purpose than to remind people that he is still rich.”
I don’t know if I agree with Ford’s conclusion, as I’m pretty sure there is some purpose Johnson is trying to achieve outside of statistically stuntin’ on a Negro. But his point about question construction is noted. And as Ford, I too raise an eyebrow at this particular question from the poll, which asked respondents to choose which of the following people speaks for them most often. The multiple choices include the following:
1. Rev. Al Sharpton
2. Rev. Jesse Jackson
3. Congresswoman Maxine Waters
4. NAACP Chief Ben Jealous
5. Congressman James Clyburn
6. Urban League President Marc Morial
7. Michael Steele, former chair of the Republican Party
You do have to wonder why these particular people were selected out of all the black folks who have ever stepped on a soapbox and did or said something worth being called a leader. First, there are a couple of people on this list I wouldn’t call black household names. Likewise, with the exception of some small nuances in beliefs and Michael Steele – the list’s sole republican – I wouldn’t exactly call this list diverse. Although a polarizing figure, a list of leaders, which excludes Louis Farrakhan is ignorant of his influential reach within the community. I mean, the Million Man March anyone? Bueller? I guess then it should come as no surprise that while Sharpton received 24 percent of the tally, making him the winner of the leaders listed, the vast minority of people – 40 percent – decided that none of the leaders listed best represented their interest.
Problems with the question structure aside, there does seem to be an obsession with declaring a black leader in the community. With the plethora of social, economic and political problems affecting the community, folks understandably yearn for the days of messiah-like figures such as Malcolm X and the and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who could lead our community to greatness. And yet today, as blacks progress further economically and politically and are now welcomed in spaces that they have traditionally been excluded from because of the color of their skin in the past, there seems to be a less identified black leader or message coming from within the community. Or as Kirsten West Savali writes for NewsOne:
“The big reveal of Johnson’s poll is not that there are no clear leaders, but that there are no clear Black agendas from which clear leaders can emerge. When the goal of assimilation becomes primary, the fights of the every-day Black (wo) man become secondary. And the plight of everyday Black people, communalism, was at the heart of of those movements of yesteryear which required leaders to organize the masses. The time of sharing a common goal has faded into the current zeitgeist of simply sharing a common skin tone — and overwhelming pride that someone with like skin tone has become the face of the United States.”
I believe there is a lot of truth to what West- Savali writes. I also think though, that throughout our history in America (and more likely before our ancestors got to the shores), there has never been a clear black agenda or person (s), who represented the ideas and interests of the collective black experience. I’m willing to bet that anytime throughout the history of black folks in this country, a similar question about black representation would produce the same varied responses as what we see in the Johnson/Zogby poll. I know it would have been true for the era of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois; it was true of the era of Malcolm X and the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr; and it is true for today’s contemporary black leaders. And it is not necessarily centered on the question of should we or shouldn’t we assimilate, but the unresolved question about how to handle women and gay rights in addition to intra-racial class distinctions. Splits and disagreements within both the King-led Civil Rights Movement and the Malcolm-led separatist movement reflected the significance of these sub-contexts. These questions, as well as how black leaders at any given time choose to respond to them, added certain nuances that throughout history tend to make having a sole black agenda unlikely, in addition to increasing the chasm between us intra-racially even further.
Black leadership is not dead, just dormant. Truth of the matter is that there are lots of people of today, who by using traditional modes of organizing, could be considered leaders in a different time. In fact, many of the people listed in the question would qualify. However, times are changing socially. And a new style of leadership is needed to reflect what is a socially evolving community. The time is ripe for a leader to emerge, who can speak fluently and champion the cause of not just black empowerment but black empowerment through gender, sexual orientation and class equality too.
When Martin Luther King Jr.’s memorial was unveiled to the public in D.C. in 2011, it was a monumental moment that commemorated the struggle and sacrifice of not only Dr. King, but all those who marched and fought for equal opportunity, rights and more during the Civil Rights Movement. But that was just the beginning. Today, there’s another great figure from the Civil Rights Movement being immortalized in statue form in Washington D.C., and that’s Rosa Parks.
During a ceremony today at the Capitol building, President Obama, members of Congress and members of the Parks family helped unveil the statue, which is the first full-length one of a black woman in the Capitol according to ABC News (Sojourner Truth does have a bust in the building as well). According to the Inquisitr, the statue stands at almost nine-feet-tall and shows the icon seated with her hands folded on her lap. The Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal honoree passed away in 2005, and the statue had been in the planning and creation phase ever since then. President Obama spoke at the unveiling saying, “She defied the odds, she defied injustice. She helped change America and helped change the world…We do well by placing a statue of her here, but we can do no greater honor to her memory than to carry forward the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction.”
Rosa Parks spent a majority of her 95 years working against racial injustice, poverty and many other social issues, so it’s definitely nice to know that a statue celebrating her work and life will be around for many, many years to inspire others to do the same. As her niece Rhea McCauley told ABC News, “…her being in the hall itself is permanent and children will be able to tour the (Capitol) and look up and see my aunt’s face.”
The morning following last month’s presidential inauguration, you may have scrolled through your Facebook feed only to find the above collage with a caption that read, “Based solely on historical contributions, should Jay and Bey be in this collage?” Call me a progressive-thinker, or maybe it’s because I spend a majority of my days with teens who have to explain to me what words like “trappin’” and “ratchet” mean, but I found myself wondering, “Why wouldn’t they be?” Meanwhile, co-workers and Facebookers truly surprised me with responses like, “They haven’t broken any racial barriers or anything,” and “Beyoncé and Barack don’t even belong in the same category.”
I beg to differ. And the question then becomes, what does it take to be considered “black history”? The significant contributions of those that today’s youth identify with may not be sit-ins for social change or marches breaking racial barriers, but does that make them any less a part of our culture? Yesterday’s Jackie Robinsons are today’s Jay-Zs in their eyes. When you think of black history, American entertainers and famous figures of today could be considered the black history of this generation’s tomorrow. If this is a collage about social change and politics, then maybe Bey and Jay should have a seat. But if we want to talk about African Americans who have made significant contributions to our culture, yes, they are in the same category as our POTUS and FLOTUS. They’ve built brands and businesses and broken records. Barack, Beyoncé and Booker T. Washington have more in common than you think: they’ve all made history and opened many a door.
Just hear me out. I definitely agree our generation is plagued by a frightening disconnect between sacrifices of yesterday’s leaders that are responsible for so many of the opportunities we often take for granted today. One of the reasons why I fell in love with President Obama’s message and mission is because I feel like he truly understands what so many of us fail to grasp: In order to make our youth understand and value the opportunities that have been presented to them, we have to meet them where they are at. How can we expect young people to truly appreciate their history and culture if we fail to acknowledge the idols who have made history during their lifetimes? President Obama got it right when he invited Jay-Z to do a voice over for his campaign ads. One of the reasons why his election was so greatly affected by the high number of young voters was because he understood that they would never hear his message for change if they felt he was someone who couldn’t understand their voice as well.
Let’s be honest, when black history month rolled around, for 28 days throughout our childhoods we saw the same names in rotation: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and George Washington Carver, aka, “The Peanut Guy.” And while I could appreciate the paths they had paved, a part of me couldn’t truly identify with their struggle. “You have to know where you came from to know where you’re going,” sounded profound and all, but it’s only as an adult that I’m starting to realize how heavily our present successes rest on the shoulders of our history. When I was in ninth grade, all I cared about was making sure my Timberland sign showed on my boots. I cared more about what I was wearing to school as opposed to the fact the ancestors lost their lives so that I could even attend. When trying to relate anything to our young people from black history to birth control, you have to speak in their language and become familiar with what is important to them before you can attempt to teach what SHOULD be important to them. Acknowledging the contributions to our culture that today’s leaders in entertainment, politics and sports bring to the table doesn’t diminish or throw shade on the foundation that was built from those who fought and died for the belief in something better. We have to do more than throw on the Roots anthology and repeat, “People have died for the rights you take for granted.” We have to find a way to make it relate to the things they are going through today.
Closing that gap requires us to challenge our stagnant way of thinking that says that black history is something that began and ended and acknowledge it as an ongoing process that only continues to grow greater. And as with any culture, that means accepting it in its totality and not just picking the parts we’re personally proud of. What we shouldn’t do is make black history some outdated, pretentious social club that those born before 1960 have the monopoly on and act as though black history isn’t accepting any new members.
Before talking about how Sidney Poitier was the first African American to win an Academy award, try mentioning the fact that Tyler Perry is the first African American ever to launch his own major TV and film studio. Can we show the same love that we showed Jackie Joyner Kersee and Wilma Rudolph, to Serena Williams and Gabby Douglas? Maybe, just maybe, our kids will talk about Alicia Keys like we once talked about Aretha Franklin. And before catching feelings over the bible Barack Obama is using, take a few minutes to consider the fact that we have lived to see our first black president. There’s surely enough pride to go around. The fact that our leaders of yesterday have leaders of today to help bear the burden of uplifting our culture is not a threat but a credit to all of their sacrifices. And although we may not want our kids breaking out at the black history recital with a rendition of “Single Ladies,” it’s as much a part of our culture as “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Like it or not.
How do you define black history?
Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog Bullets and Blessings .
‘My Mother Was Not A Weak, Timid, Insecure Woman As Portrayed:’ Ilyasah Shabazz Displeased With ‘Betty And Coretta’
On Saturday night, the highly anticipated Betty and Coretta debuted on the Lifetime Movie Network, which was somewhat of a biographical film that highlighted the unique friendship between the widows of Human and Civil Rights activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Many were thrilled, not only because they would be allowed a glimpse into the lives of these two strong women, but also because of the all-star cast, which included Angela Bassett, Mary J. Blige and Ruby Dee as the film’s narrator. It seemed as if the project would’ve been the perfect way to kick off Black History Month. However, Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X, is urging the public not to be fooled by Lifetime’s inaccurate portrayal of her mother or her friend, reports The Washington Post.
While Shabazz does commend the movie network for their willingness to highlight an era as important as the one depicted in the film, she expresses that the movie was highly fictionalized and the manner in which it portrayed her mother was extremely inaccurate.
“My mother was not a weak, timid, insecure woman as portrayed,” Shabazz said. “She was regal, compassionate, strong, loving, beautiful, resilient and well-educated. That is why the Delta Sigma Theta sororities named academies all across this country after her, so others could be inspired how to turn tragedy into triumph,” says Shabazz.
She went on to say that even the attire that Blige wore during the film while assuming the role of her mother was wrong.
“My mother did not tie a scarf to her face as she was shown wearing in the film.”
Lastly, she expressed that her intentions were not to bash the network or nitpick, but she felt that accuracy should’ve been an important factor to the network when they took on this project.
“If only Lifetime had consulted us, the sisters, maybe this would be more than fiction. I am not pointing my finger solely at them, but it must be our responsibility to ensure history is properly documented,” Shabazz said.
Another questionable point in the film was the highly embellished portrayal of Betty’s death. According to those who were there, she was unable to speak the entire time she was in the hospital.
Although they have yet to speak out, some have speculated that the children of Dr. King will also be unhappy with the portrayal of their parents in the film. Especially the questionable depiction of the controversy that surrounded the FBI tapes that were sent to the Kings just before Dr. King was to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
What do you think of Ilyasah’s statement?
Photo courtesy of WENN
Jazmine Denise is a news writer for Madame Noire. Follow her on Twitter @jazminedenise
‘You Don’t Play With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’: Dr. Cornel West Upset Over Pres. Obama’s Use Of MLK’s Bible
It’s no secret that Dr. Cornel West doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with President Barack Obama, nor does he have any qualms about expressing his indifference. During a recent panel discussion appearing on C-SPAN, which explored poverty in the United States, Dr. West touched on his disapproval of President Obama being sworn in for his second term using the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Bible. It appears that West feels that the President’s use of the Bible served as a moment of “political calculation”.
“When I got the news that my dear brother, Barack Obama, President Obama, was going to put his hand on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Bible, I got upset. I got upset because you don’t play with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and you don’t play with his people. By ‘his people’ I mean people of good conscience, fundamentally committed to peace, and truth, and justice; and especially the Black tradition that produced it.”
“All of the blood, sweat and tears that went into producing a Martin Luther King Jr. generated a brother of such high decency and dignity that you don’t use his prophetic fire for a moment of presidential pageantry without understanding the challenge he represents to all of those in power, no matter what color they are.”
Dr. West went on to express that the symbolic moment was “personal” for him because it tapped into the tradition that he came out of. He also urged his audience to question what Dr. King would think of the state that our society is in and how our government is currently being run under the advisement of President Obama, which he believes is in opposition of MLK’s principles and beliefs. He closed his statement by expressing that he does not hate Obama, he simply loves “the tradition that produced Martin Luther King Jr.” and refuses to “allow it in any way to be sanitized, deodorized and sterilized.”
Check out footage of Dr. West’s full statement on the following page. Do you agree or disagree with his stance?
As this day draws to a close we reflect on the many historic commemorations that took place: the second inauguration of President Obama, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and, of course, the birthday and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Among the many things that Dr. King stood for was worker’s rights and economic justice. MNSBC’s blog for The Ed Show reminds us of this, with a look at the 1968 strike of Memphis sanitation workers.
Echol Cole and Robert Walker had been killed on the job in February of that year and given only a small bereavement fee by the state of Mississippi. It was one more slight against black workers who were expected to work with old equipment for little pay. It also became what MSNBC calls a “catalyst” for a strike in which black sanitation workers in the city sought to unionize.
“[T]he 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike plays, at best, a tertiary role in the popular narrative of King’s legacy—this despite the fact that it was his last campaign, the battle which cost him his life. When Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, he was staying in a Memphis motel. The last speech of his life, the famous ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ speech, had been delivered the night before to an audience of striking workers and their supporters,” the blog says.
Ultimately, Dr. King’s great fight was for civil rights of all kinds. In a climate in which black workers were doing tough jobs for no money, this strike falls under the umbrella that covers the larger fight that Dr. King engaged in and led. But as the blog points out, Dr. King recognized the singular importance of economic equality.
“Dr. King became involved in the strike as he was working to launch the Poor People’s Campaign, an effort which would explicitly highlight the link between racial and economic justice,” writes the MSNBC blog. “He fought for union recognition because he understood racism and economic inequality as intimately connected phenomena: mutually reinforcing evils in an even larger tapestry of injustices.”
As we celebrate Dr. King, we should remember the many fronts on which he fought.
While sitting in church yesterday morning, my pastor (Hey Dr. Williams!) took the time out to talk about his appreciation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He went on to read a long quote by the man, which was one I had personally never heard before, but struck me in its depth. It went like this for inquiring minds:
“A religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man’s social conditions….Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion. Such a religion is the kind the Marxists like to see—an opiate of the people.”
It was speaking on the importance of not only trying to help positively change those in the church, but also go out into the world and make a change for everyone. Because it’s difficult to tell a man he’s saved and then send him out in the world where so many evils and larger powers (lack of employment, racism and other social issues) hamper his ability to survive. That long passage resonated in my mind for the rest of the day, so much so that I had to tell my boyfriend about it (a paraphrased version of course). And it also pushed me to want to look into more of the wise words of Dr. King and share them with you! Always a poignant speaker, there are of course a massive amount of quotes from his sermons and from his writings to choose from, but here are just a few that I KNOW we can all relate to. By the way, these are in no particular order.
- “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”
- “When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. Where evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice.”
- “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
- “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
- “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
- “On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.
- “Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.”
- “As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”
- “We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
With notable alumni in every field from politics to education, Morehouse College is a historically black all- men’s located in Atlanta, Georgia. Consistently ranking in the top five of HBCU’s in America each year, here are 10 famous brothers who attended Morehouse College.
The Emmy award winning director is a part of a legacy of Morehouse men, as his father and grandfather both graduated before him. Enrolling in 1976, Spike entered college with no idea about what he wanted to major in. He returned after one summer wanting to become a filmmaker, and eventually received his bachelor’s degree in mass communications. His films have helped launched the careers of some of our favorite black actors and actresses.
As a child, I grasped on to the strengthened calf of my mother, to gain her attention, and pushed one of my storybooks into her hands. “Mommy, where am I in the book? Why am I not on the book?” My mother looked down at me confused, trying to understand what I meant. She glanced at the little white girls and boys parading through the pages. Still nothing. It wasn’t until looking through a bookstore and stumbling upon a book of children’s poems by Nikki Giovanni that she completely understood. On its cover a small chestnut boy accompanied evidence of her little girl, a grinning little brown female with pigtails and a fragmented smile. She brought the book home and handed it to me before bed. I was all beams and hope, “Mommy, I’m in the book! Look it’s me!”
I was three then. Of course, I didn’t understand the brevity of my plea. However, my mother was in awe. She became enthralled in portraying our culture’s prevalence on anything I played with after that. The dolls she purchased were always heavy beige or smooth caramel, the pale Santa ornaments that adorned our Christmas tree were painted brown, and the paintings that laced our walls boasted proud African-American faces. My favorite book became a compilation of poetry with a wide spectrum of verse. My parents and I flipped through pages of everything from Robert Frost to Gwendolyn Brooks.
Our shelves were adorned in us. The smell of their collegiate days sifted through the dust of texts waiting to be read. My knowledge of Medgar, Malcolm and Martin wasn’t minimized to a few paragraphs in my grade school textbooks. I was able to hear the cracking of spines and witness the brown of pages as I broke open their histories, pulled from the bookcases of my family.
I grew into my skin. Proud.
I never had the phase of trying to eradicate my blackness: A cousin who tried to bleach her chocolate skin bereft of the honey complexion her brother’s wore. Friends who giggled and laughed at the Kente cloths and cowry shells of our newly transplanted African classmates. The immature clucks and clicks of a faux language, typical of movies that mimicked the beautiful diaspora’s urbanity, ignorantly dismissing that their primary language was English.
My mother delved further than most parents were willing to. She didn’t just purchase things with white features painted a dull Crayola russet. She taught me broad lips, big bones, Aida, Langston, Alvin Ailey, curves, Zulu, Harlem, blues, Chicago and so much more. While my classmates were trying to mold themselves into a vision of what society said was beauty, I was trying to accentuate my blackness.
I devoured minority authors in my waking hours, spit poetry about our significance, and attended an HBCU. Many argued that the heavy immersion would leave me bereft of well-roundedness. They were wrong. I memorized Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, downloaded Maroon 5, Limp Bizkit and eventually grew into the idea of sporting a ton of American Eagle and Abercrombie. I was as well-rounded as they came.
It’s our responsibility to build our child’s self-esteem through cultural reflection and understanding. By encouraging their faces on things they’ll confront every day, we show them that we exist. Because of my mother’s persistence, I walk and breathe with pride. I have embraced my culture in ways that brown children, all over, will never get the chance to. Our next generation isn’t lost for we hold the key to their most pivotal characteristic: understanding.
Imagine, my mother bought me a series of books written by women with my skin and today I’m on the journey to becoming one of those distinguished ladies. Destiny.
“RivaFlowz” is a teacher and professional writer living in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter: @rivaflowz.
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