Finding Humility

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Adire Eleko cloth (Yorùbá, circa 1960)

Imagine you have just graduated with an architectural engineering degree from a prestigious university.  You rank at the top of your class.  You cannot wait to build skyscrapers and office complexes and churches and do the remodeling and refurbishing of old buildings.  Yet, you cannot build a bird’s nest.  A bird builds its nest without any training or instructions; and that bird’s nest often withstands torrential winds and rains and storms while buildings lose shingles, windows, and some even collapse.  I watched this happen once during a storm well over fifteen years ago.

Power lines were down; branches of trees were down; some trees fell in the streets and across yards; some roofs had missing shingles and damaged gutters; there were a few broken windows; and even the tree in my backyard with a three-year-old abandoned Wren’s nest fell down, but the nest itself was still intact, as intact as when I watched Mama Wren build it.  That nest had no glue, no concrete, no cement, no steel, no aluminum, no iron, no rubber, no mortar.  It contained nothing that we humans associate with the secure building of anything.  Yet…

a Wren is just one species of bird, right?!  You could argue that a Wren will never earn a college degree, build a skyscaper or play a guitar.  It was not designed to do any of that.  Yet, the Wren that built that nest in a tree in my backyard simply did what Nature and/or God (or whatever you call this “Life Force”) designed and created it to do.

The leaves change colors and drop from the trees every year in the Fall and then, in the Spring, the multi-colored blossoms appear everywhere on all kinds of flowers and trees.  This all happens without a stop watch or a clock or a wake-up call or even a calendar.  Creation, great and small, does what it was designed and created to do.

We, humans, are not so pliable or obedient.  We find humility and our place only when we recognize that it is not so important to be the first to do something or to be able to do something that someone else cannot do.  When we recognize that we are good at something, we must also recognize that someone before us did something that made it possible for us to do whatever it is we may be good at doing now.  And someone (or some creature) also has talents we do not possess.  Humility is always found in that place where one finds his or her niche and recognizes that in that niche, they make their contribution just like everyone else.  It’s just that simple, and just that complex, all at the same time.

Àṣé!

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

How I Maintain Peace and Equilibrium

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Adire Eleko cloth (Yorùbá, circa 1960)

The following is simply a few of my methods for maintaining a sense of balance and a sense of peace.  This is not for everyone, nor should it be.  Each individual must find where their sense of balance is…The following I learned from my late mother and father, a few late cousins, several former professors, some friends, and from my students and the young people I mentor:

I believe in spending time with and listening to young people. Children, adolescents and young adults not only need guidance but I also need their guidance. Only they can tell me how they feel or how they arrived at a particular opinion. I ask them to teach me something and they always do; and just as I learn something new, they also feel empowered because an older person needed their assistance and advice and respected their capacity to give it.

I avoid negative people. That person (or people) who never has anything nice to say about anything or anyone can ruin an otherwise great day. I avoid them as much as possible or altogether.  (Included in this group are whiners, complainers, moochers, and those who are chronically lazy.)

I expect good treatment and greet almost everyone with a smile; and 99 times out of 100 I get that good treatment and friendliness back. Most people will smile back and speak, but even if they do not smile back, I do not lose anything by smiling and being friendly.  A kind word to a waiter or customer service representative has often gotten me a few perks.

I stop from time-to-time to take a snapshot of a flower, a sunset or a view that catches my attention. Occasionally, I have pulled over on the side of the road to do this. When I look for beauty I often find it.

I turn off the news. I have purged myself of the affliction of addiction to bad news, to horrifying news, to doom and gloom.  Yes, there are plenty of problems that need and should have my attention and my activism. Yet, a combination of activism and cynicism does not work for me; neither does feeding off of the gore and bad policies that have overtaken most news outlets.

I pick my battles. Not every battle is worth the tension and heat it generates. If the battle only allows me to blow off steam, if it resolves nothing nor makes me any income nor pushes me any closer to my goals, then I do not need to participate in that battle. When the battle helps me or someone else, then I might fight it.

I maintain an inquisitiveness about spirituality, the arts, about my ancestors, and I do the research.  For example, I love the idea that the Yorùbá people (along with their many Afro-American descendants in the Americas) believe that procreation is also a form of art.  A sense of wonder about creation and creativity (artistic and otherwise) without the rigid dogmas of organized religions is a better path for me to stay connected to my Creator, and all of creation.

I hope anyone who reads this finds (or has found) his or her own path to peace.

Àṣé!

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

They Should Live Where You Live

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait,” Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am not going to rant about the deaths of unarmed Black men and women, and unarmed men and women of color killed by police or those who have unnecessarily died in police custody.  As someone who was once harassed by police, I need no convincing that this nation has a policing problem.  (And I’m too exhausted with the campaigns for President of the United States to make any commentary about that.)  Yet, as much as this nation has a problem about the often poor relationships between police and communities of color, I would add that it is dangerous to make or create a single national narrative about these relationships. We need several narratives and they need to be local.  Let me give you a scenario that paints one local picture about where I live.

On that rare occasion when I have called police, I typically got a quick response.  And I live in a 99.9% Black middle class Atlanta neighborhood.  Typically, the only time the police are called on the street where I live is when someone has a dog that barks late at night (this usually requires a phone call to Animal Control, as well), or when some kids are playing music too loud and late at night; but none of this happens with any real frequency.  Some homes are occupied by renters who often have to learn that some things are not tolerated in this subdivision.  Now, one of the key differences about my subdivision’s relationship to police is that there is a small group of neighbors, all of who are homeowners, who regularly speak with police about anything they see as out of the ordinary.  I also learned from these same neighbors to call the Non-Emergency Police Line and request that an officer come out to see you personally.  You do this when you want a small matter handled without getting someone arrested.  Let me give you an example.

A dog was barking continuously late at night.  I rarely saw the pet’s owner because she worked odd hours.  She was a renter, looked to be maybe twenty-something years old, but I did not know her, and I rarely saw her long enough to speak to her about the dog.  A neighbor had placed a note in her mailbox about the dog, but nothing happened.  I was awakened late at night and in the early morning to this barking dog for about two weeks.  Every night he would bark, I would go look out my windows to make sure there wasn’t some stranger or some intrusive animal lurking around the house.  I never saw anything.  I called Animal Control, first.

Animal Control said call the police because the owner of the dog was violating a Noise Ordinance by allowing the animal to stay outside and disturb the peace after 10:00 PM.  I called the Non-Emergency Police Line.  The officer that answered the phone asked if I had contacted Animal Control.  I told him that I had spoken with Animal Control, and then I asked him to send a police officer to my home so that I could speak with them.  Because it was not an emergency, he told me someone would come by in about two hours.  In roughly 45 minutes a police officer was pulling up in my driveway.  I walked outside and spoke to the officer, and told him about the dog.

“What do you want me to do?” he asked.  I said, “I want you to go over to her house and just tell her that she either needs to put the dog in the house at night or get the dog one of those collars that deters barking.  Let her know about the Noise Ordinance law because she might not know this. I don’t want anyone cited for anything.  I just need you to let her know that the dog is keeping people up late at night.” 

The police officer did exactly what I asked him to do.  He came back and told me he had spoken with the woman.  Since all backyards on my street are fenced in, it is quite typical for pets to remain safely outside in one’s backyard during the day or night.  I reasoned that because she worked odd hours, often at night, she probably never heard her dog creating a disturbance.  That same evening before she left for work, she put her dog inside her house so the pet would not wake up her neighbors.

Now, what I did to resolve this small problem here in Atlanta might not work somewhere else.  It might not even work in another section of Atlanta.  In a different town or neighborhood, I might have been harassed (or possibly, shot) because I dared complain about a barking dog; and the police might not have even bothered to come out to speak with me or with my neighbor about what the police considered a trivial matter.  In some scenarios, where you live matters almost as much as the color of your skin or the nature of the problem.  However, too often the narratives or plans of action, come from national leaders who do not have a clue about the relationships between police and citizens in any particular neighborhood or town.  Furthermore, what works in Atlanta might not work in New York City and then again it might work in New York City.  Yet, Atlanta is not New York City is not Ferguson is not Baltimore is not Chicago, and etcetera.

Many powerful public voices are speaking out against police brutality and the need for more meaningful dialogues between the police and people in the communities the police are supposed to serve.  They are right for doing so.  Yet, many of those national and/or regional voices do not live where you and I live.  In fact, many “so-called” local activists do not live where we live.  Every Black person I know, knows of at least one activist minister who only visits a particular neighborhood to preach on Sunday, while that same minister no longer lives in the neighborhood where the church is located, but rather lives in some distant suburb.  We all know at least one activist politician who is always speaking out about something that has gone terribly wrong in one of our communities.  The problem is that minister or politician often never sets foot in the neighborhood in question until there is a problem or until it is election time.  Their voices may be necessary, and much of what they have to say might be useful.  Yet, they should not be the only voices defining the narrative about how to address these problems.

If you want to find out more about the police where you live, you can and probably should stop by a nearby police precinct and introduce yourself.  You will find out rather quickly how cordial those police are to you in a few minutes.  It never hurts when a few police officers know you as a law-abiding citizen that tries to look out for your neighborhood.  Additionally, when there is a real problem in your neighborhood, you might get a much swifter response because of that relationship.

Yet, you should also carefully monitor and choose who should speak for you and your community.  Whoever it is ought to know the lay of the land, how the people who live there interact with each other and with law enforcement officials.  It ought to be someone that has a personal vested interest in where you live, not simply someone who shows up when a problem arises so that they can get some good press coverage.  It ought to be someone who lives where you live.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Remembering Dr. Edward B. Allen and the Laws/Allens

by Leslye Joy Allen

Photo taken by Billie Allen in 1994 (Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen Photo & Document Collection. All Rights Reserved.)

Photo taken by Billie Allen in 1994. (Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen Photo & Document Collection. All Rights Reserved.)

I did not meet my cousin Dr. Edward B. Allen until I was well in my twenties.  He was the third and last born of three children born to William Roswell “W. R.” Allen and Mamie Wimbish Allen. His sister Lamay was the eldest, then came Wilhelmina (bka “Billie”) and then there was Ed.  He and I met for the first time at his eldest sister Lamay’s home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  His sister Billie Allen and I had long been partners-in-crime, but I had not yet met Ed.  All I knew about him was that he was a dentist.  When I saw him he reminded me of my late father Thomas Charles Allen who was also not very tall, tan-complexioned and balding.  Now, allow me to clarify something that Ed and his two late sisters needed clarified: I, Leslye Joy Allen, share the same “Allen” surname as Ed, but my last name comes from an entirely different Allen family, as I am biologically related to two unrelated sets of “Allens,” all on my father’s side of the family.  Let me explain.

The original family surname was “Layende.”  The Layendes were slaves from Cuba that arrived in the mainland United States.  As a historian, I feel obligated to remind people that the Southern region of the USA and Latin America and the Caribbean were quite fluid and did business with one another all throughout the era of chattel slavery.  This surname “Layende” was later anglicized to “Laws.”  Ed’s paternal great grandfather Milton Laws’ sister Mollie Laws-Maddox was my great grandmother.  They were the son and daughter of slaves David and Sarah Laws.  Sometime before American chattel slavery ended, Milton Laws was sold, and he acquired the last name of “Allen,” and became known as “Milton Allen.”  How he got this last name is not clear, but it is highly probable that Dr. Edward Bowden Allen would have been named Dr. Edward Bowden Laws had this slave sale not taken place.

Not long after Billie Allen asked me to do some family research, I had been searching for two men, one named “Milton Laws” and the other named “Milton Allen” only to discover from our mutual cousin Mittie Ann Tillotson that “Milton Laws” and “Milton Allen” were the same person.  Cousin Mittie Ann was the great granddaughter of Richard Laws, the brother of Milton and Mollie.  When Billie sent me photos of she, Ed, and Lamay’s paternal great grandparents Milton and Laura Allen, the first thing that struck me was how much my paternal grandmother Minnie Belle Maddox-Allen looked like her maternal Uncle Milton Allen (formerly named “Milton Laws.”)  And then things began to click.  Stay with me, now…

Now, Mollie Laws-Maddox’s daughter named Minnie Belle Maddox-Allen was my grandmother (My grandmother also named her daughter, my paternal aunt “Minnie Belle,” so I am also related to two “Minnie Belles.” Whew!!)  My grandmother Minnie Belle Maddox married a man named Will Allen who was not related to my cousin Edward Allen.  Will Allen, my paternal grandfather is where my own surname “Allen” comes from.  You can imagine my early confusion at trying to figure out how my paternal grandmother was related to Ed, Billie and Lamay Allen when “Allen” was her married name, not her maiden name.  But such is the case with African American genealogy.  There are hundreds of descendants of slaves whose family surnames were chosen by newly freedmen and women themselves; they made-up some names; and in many instances the maternal and paternal surname was identical because both slave husband and slave wife belonged to the same owners and both bore the same surname.

This research journey began when Ed’s sister Billie could not remember the name of their paternal grandfather, so off I went to look up their father William Roswell “W. R.” Allen’s Social Security application.  On that application were the names of his parents: Doc Roswell Allen and Mary Willie Jones.  Doc Roswell Allen and my paternal grandmother Minnie Belle Maddox-Allen were first cousins.  Soon after this discovery, and with some prodding from his buoyant wife Shelagh (who l instantly liked), Ed wanted to know more about the family tree.  After, acquiring some more information from Billie I discovered that the physician Dr. Edward G. Bowden, who was my paternal grandmother’s physician, was the man Ed was named for.  Dr. Edward G. Bowden married Elizabeth Allen who was the sister of Doc Roswell Allen and daughter of Milton and Laura Allen.  Doc Roswell Allen’s sister Virgil (who later renamed herself “Virginia”) bore one son out of wedlock, and his name was John Wesley Allen and he was a dentist, the first of many dentists in the family. All of these “Allens” were members of that rather complicated “Laws/Allen” family tree.

I only saw Ed about four times in my life.  Yet, each time I saw him, something he said to me gave me some nugget of information.  I still remember when he told me he recalled a “John” from his childhood who came to visit but then seemingly disappeared.  I told him Dr. John Wesley Allen was killed in a car accident in the late 1930s. In the late 1990s, I mailed Ed a report of everything I knew about our family.  I don’t think I even knew about the origins of our slave ancestors the “Layendes” from Cuba when I sent that report to Ed, but he was grateful to receive it.   I still have the “Thank You” note he sent me, a “Thank You” note that his sister Billie said was uncharacteristic of her brother.  I laughed because I got the sense that Ed knew that the work I did was much more time-consuming and tedious than most people realize.

I remember Ed as a renaissance man who loved the good life, who could be aloof, who was often funny with a dry wit, who was a man who loved a good drink, but one who also yearned to know more about the home and people he left when he journeyed North to escape some of the harsher realities of life for Black people in the South that colored much of the 20th century.  Although we did not know each other well, I consider it my privilege to have known him and to have been able to help him answer some of the questions about our family tree and heritage.  We always yearn for home, that sense of understanding where and from whom we have come. We yearn for home, no matter where we go.  And now Ed has gone home (May 27, 1926 to July 18, 2026).  Àṣé.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

"Thank You Note" from Dr. Edward B. Allen to Leslye Joy Allen, July 1997. ((Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen Photo & Document Collection. All Rights Reserved.)

“Thank You Note” from Dr. Edward B. Allen to Leslye Joy Allen, July 1997. (Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen Photo & Document Collection. All Rights Reserved.)

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.   Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother

By Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved.Weary Self-Portrait 2

I am not going to wax poetic about the recent brutality and violence meted out to Black people at the hands of police officers; or wax poetic about the tragic deaths of some police officers. The people that know me know where I stand. I am in no mood to be eloquent.  I will share, however, with you FIVE basic life rules taught to me by my late parents that have always been my hedge of protection.

  1. You always support Black businesses and the businesses in your community that invest in where you live. This is simply common sense.
  2. You never apologize for wanting to work with and for and live among your own people. Only fools fail to take care of home first.
  3. You never support a church or member of the clergy that is more interested in what is on the collection plate than what is happening to the flock he or she serves. This same rule applies to business owners.
  4. You must learn to stand all by yourself some times. It does not matter if you are the only person that shows up on the picket line; or you are the only person who walks out in protest. You do what is right simply because it is right.
  5. If you do not believe in the abilities of yourself and your people, you cannot believe in God. It is sacrilegious to believe yourself inferior and/or incapable while professing some faith in a higher power.

Living by the five rules above is how I honor my mother and my father. Àṣé!

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.   Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.