A Thought for the Old and New Year

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

One of the first things that came to mind shortly after Christmas and before the New Year was how much my Mom and Dad would have been thrilled and proud that a great film like 12 Years a Slave received great reviews and had enjoyed large viewing audiences.  I would have heard a litany of what they remembered about their childhoods and how far we Black folks have come.  And if they were still alive they would surely have warned me not to hyperventilate about whether or not Santa Claus was Black or some of the foolish and racist slips of the tongue that seem to dominate our current news cycles on most days.

Strangely, my mind goes back to that one scene in the film 12 Years a Slave where after a slave has literally dropped dead from exhaustion while laboring in the fields, you see the slaves standing around a gravesite that they have prepared for their fallen comrade.  Suddenly, a slave woman begins singing the old Negro spiritual “Roll, Jordan, Roll.”  Then all of the slaves joined in and they sang with a joyous abandon.  At this moment in the movie theater, I completely lost my composure.  I wept so loudly that I had to place my hand over my mouth to muffle the sound.  For days, I wondered why that scene—and not one of the other more horrible scenes where someone was beaten or tortured—caused me to cry like a two-year-old toddler.  Then it came to me.  This was a gift.  The gift was not simply my ancestors’ songs, but their decision that they had a right to sing their songs.

Their gift feels as familiar as a book of black poetry or history or the first time my parents took me to a Jazz concert or to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre or to a Broadway play.  Afterwards, they would always inform me that I must never forget that it was my people that had created the artistry and creative offerings that I had just witnessed.  The lesson was simple—I could perpetually cry about what white folks had done to my people or I could fight for and celebrate what my people had done for themselves and for me, all of which is a balancing act.  Yes, one must call out and fight against racism.  Yet, one cannot allow it too much space in one’s head, lest one descend into perpetual victimhood.  “How much of your energy are you gonna’ give THEM,” Daddy would ask without blinking?

I wept in the dark of that movie theatre, as the slaves on the screen sang with abandon and rejoicing.  It is difficult to count one’s blessings when the world and everyone in it seems to be your enemy.  Yet, that is exactly what the slaves did.  My slave ancestors did not sing with joy because they were happy and content, but rather because the singing allowed them to reclaim their humanity, to reclaim their right to joy.  No degree of inhumane treatment routinely meted out to them by white slave masters could make them surrender their own humanity, or their very human need for joyousness and a belief in the future even when that future was uncertain.  Their gift is still a gift that keeps on giving if you are willing to claim it.  This is what I hope to remember now, and in the New Year.

Peace.

Leslye Joy Allen is a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License 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 blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author.

Thorough Good Thurgood

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

What could “Thoroughgood” ask for

when he did not dig his birth name?

I like “Thurgood, much better,” he said.

But what else do you do when your classmates at

Lincoln

Wrote stories and poetry as in Langston,

Sang and danced as in Cab,

Redeemed the Gold Coast into a new Ghana as in Kwame?

You did what all of us could do now, IF

We paid that much attention to each other.

We would do what you did:

You built on what you knew;

Rejoiced in what you knew;

and created a New World.

– Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013

**The late U. S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 with the birth name “Thoroughgood” and he attended the HBCU Lincoln University with poet and writer Langston Hughes, entertainer and musician Cab Calloway and with the future President of the newly independent nation Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) named Kwame Nkrumah.  Marshall died January 24, 1993.

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License 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 blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

Saying Goodbye to Gayleatha

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I learned late on Monday, 17 June 2013 that one of my Aunt Minnie Belle Veal’s protégées passed this April 2013.  She was Ambassador Gayleatha Beatrice Brown (June 20, 1947 to April 19, 2013).

A Howard University alumna, “Gay,” as I called her, was the first person I knew that worked for Randall Robinson’s TransAfrica, the first person who wore braids before they became popular. In her usual “I-will-not-have-any-of-it” style, my “Aunt Beh Beh” (Minnie Belle Veal) drove from Edison, New Jersey, all the way to Gay’s graduate school, the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, after someone there mildly suggested that Gay, a Black girl from a working class family in New Jersey, should not seriously consider a career in Foreign Service.  And then—with the hell-and-be-damned-with-you that is the best of Black America—she became a diplomat and later an ambassador.

I remember her as someone who loved my Aunt Minnie Belle more than life.  The book she gave Auntie in 1969 was The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.  I ended up reading the copy of the book she left for my Aunt.  I remember Gay as someone who liked her eggs scrambled hard, like me.  I fixed them several times for her and myself on one of the extended visits to Atlanta that she took with my Aunt Beh Beh.  The last time I saw her both of my parents were still alive, but my Aunt Minnie Belle had just passed and Gay had arrived for her funeral.  Now, all of them are gone. 

In the usual routine of graduate students and, I guess, members of the foreign service, Gay and I lost contact with each other due to moving around.  She quickly went from being a U. S.  Diplomat in France to her later years when she served as Ambassador to two countries on the continent of Africa, Burkina Faso and then later Benin.

I received an email earlier in the day from a former female student of mine.  This student was about to embark on studies that are not so traditional for women in general, to say nothing of Black women.  Later in the evening I decided to look up Gayleatha on the Internet.  I had found her before and quickly forwarded the hyperlinks.  This time I found her again, but what came up first was her obituary and the Funeral Service for Gayleatha Brown, which I did not expect.  I thought about my Dad, who has been gone now for twenty-six years, who was as proud of Gayleatha as he was of his sister Minnie Belle.  As my head raced, my first impulse, in the wee hours of the morning, was to call Mama to tell her that Gayleatha was dead.  It dawned on me, as I reached for the phone, that Mama was also gone.

With the exception of a few cousins on my Dad’s side of the family, most of the people that I knew whom Gay’s passing would upset, have already passed on themselves.  I would tell you how I am holding my chin up, trusting in God and all of the usual stuff that people say at a time like this.  However, I have had about as much death as I care to take in one year.

I lost Mama, a beloved cousin; and while I have two loving families, I had a couple of family members who decided that I made a good emotional punching bag since they could not vent their dissatisfaction with themselves on anyone else.  Additionally, someone who I thought was a friend proved to be anything but one.

Now, I know that I have not earned this and that I have no control over any of this.  And in spite of how truly bad I feel, late Monday into the wee hours of Tuesday morning were not completely awful.  After all, I heard from a former student who is planning to study and do great things; and I made a quick acquaintance of a Vassar College Professor who likes my blog and who does his own bit of social commentary.  I just wish that the day had ended on a better note.  Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that I learned of her passing, I remain grateful to have known Gay.

So, all I ask is that you pray for the family of the late Ambassador Gayleatha Beatrice Brown.  Pray for my students and for all young people who desperately need her example to do the kind of work we all need them to do.  As for me, I am, right now, not much in the mood for anything.   And I make no apologies.  That is just the way it is, for now.

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License 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 blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.