A Black boy and a White boy

by Leslye Joy Allen

Some folk will read the title of this blog and think that this blog is about race relations or racism.  This blog is not about that, at all…

This blog is not about the Black boy who got arrested or killed by police.  It is not about some Black boy who is a genius and who has defied the odds and created some great new invention.  It is not about some White boy that got away with something that would probably get the Black boy killed.  And it is also not about some White boy, who, like that Black boy, invented some new technology or has an unusually high IQ.  This blog is about two typical American boys…

I met the Black boy a few years ago when I went to observe a music class at the Atlanta Music Project.  He was proudly and boldly blowing his clarinet.  A few months later I attended his recital with the rest of the music students in this program.  He remembered me and promptly took me to meet his music instructor.  I chatted amicably with his mother, and like most native Atlantans, she and I discovered we knew a lot of the same people.  Since then, I have discovered that this Black boy has added the bassoon to his growing number of instruments.  He also won some position in student government at his elementary school.  Thoughtful, talented, intelligent and kind, he gives me a big hug, every time I run into him with his mother at the supermarket.  His mother told me that instead of watching TV every night, that television viewing is limited in their household.  Instead, they have full conversations and they tell stories…

Now I met the White boy last week on a ride on the MARTA train heading home. Five-years-old and seated with his young mother, he proceeded to read everything on the signs in the train.  “You read very well,” I said.  He quickly extended his hand to shake mine.  His mother and I chatted about school, education, and how well her son reads.  She told me that she lives within walking distance of a public library where they have these great storytelling sessions for children.  As I approached my stop, I said, “So nice talking to you. Now young man, you keep reading! I get off here.”  She replied, “This is my stop, too!  Take my business card,” she said, “I know a lot of historians. Maybe we can all get together some time.”   I thanked her and watched she and her five-year-old son walk home in what is and remains nearly a 100 percent Black neighborhood. And I am also quite familiar with the library that she told me about.  The Black women who conduct those storytelling sessions there at the library have engaged this little White boy.  He not only could read—his pronunciation was perfect…

It should be obvious to anyone reading this that the Black boy and the White boy have parents who spend time with them. These parents have found programs and activities that are beneficial to their children. Now, I’m not making any major pronouncements here about parenting or race relations.  I am simply writing about typical, well-raised children. I am, deliberately avoiding the noise—at least momentarily—from the media that often dominates the narrative.  Not all the news about children and what happens to children is bad news.  And the future is not all gloom and doom. And, for now, I’m going to bet the future on my Black boy and my White boy. Àṣé.

(My previous blog is Frank Wittow’s Legacy…Nevaina’s Dream)

Copyright © 2015 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 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. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

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A Schoolteacher’s Story

by Leslye Joy AllenGE DIGITAL CAMERA

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

I have been blessed.  My late Dad was a full-time, hands-on Dad that believed that females had the right to do whatever their skills, talent, and intellect allowed them to do. I do not remember ever being told by my father that I should not do or try something because I was “a girl.”  And it was Daddy who introduced me to great Jazz and Popular song.  Manhood for me was defined by him as a love of Billy Eckstine, Nat “King” Cole, and Johnny Mathis (my favorite), but that is a story for another blog.  I should add that in addition to his trying to be genteel or dapper as his musical heroes were, Daddy was also quick to intervene in situations when he thought a woman was in physical trouble.  I thought of him and my Mama after a recent encounter with one of my Mama’s oldest and dearest friends.

I recently ran into one of my late Mama’s former co-workers and good friends. Like my late Mama, she was also an elementary school teacher. This particular schoolteacher remains one of my favorite people on the planet.  She and I hit it off when I was about three-years-old, when I literally wandered in this woman’s classroom, a classroom adjacent to my Mama’s classroom via their shared cloakroom.  She was also was one of the people who wrote one of my recommendation letters to college.  Now in her eighties, she is still so much fun and packs a lot of spirit in one tiny mocha-colored frame.

This same schoolteacher told me that she had once been a battered wife.  I never met or knew her first husband.  I only knew her second husband that she married much later in life.  He was a tall, handsome man with golden-colored skin and wavy-curly white hair.  He was also funny and quite gentle, and thankfully nothing like her first husband.  She and husband number two had a good time together for over thirty years before he passed away.  Yet, she still remembered her tragic first marriage.

After more than a few beatings from her first husband, she told me she left him when their children were quite small and filed for divorce.  One day, however, her soon-to-be ex-husband showed up unannounced at her new home waving a gun at her, angry that she had left him.

“Out of the corner of my eye,” she said, “I saw our five-year-old son walking toward us.  All I could think about was what if this fool pulls the trigger or what if the gun goes off and kills my child.”

Therefore, this schoolteacher—who is barely five feet tall and who has never weighed more than a 115 pounds—wrestled with her six-foot-tall first husband for that gun.

“I was terrified that my child would get killed,” she said.  “I finally got my hands on the handle of the gun, the barrel aimed at his chest; and I pulled the trigger and it only clicked. He brought an UNLOADED gun to scare me, but I ended up scaring him and I scared myself.”

“He was shaking like a leaf and he said, ‘You really would’ve killed me, wouldn’t you?!’ I looked down and saw that he had urinated in his pants because I pulled that trigger.  It still bothers me that I pulled that trigger, but my child, all I could think of was my child.  He left and never came back.”

For most of us, we remember at least one female schoolteacher that we liked or even loved.  While I have plenty of male teachers to thank, like most of us, our female teachers were typically the majority when we were in grade school.  There was always one teacher who sparked our desire to learn or who did something or said something that we fondly remember or that changed our lives for the better.  At least I hope we all have that memory.

Now, I have nothing profound to say about domestic abuse or gun violence.  I only ask that you remember your favorite female schoolteacher and try imagining her being beaten or having to face the same ugly scenario as my Mom’s friend faced over fifty years ago.

Coda: A couple of years ago the United Nations Secretary General initiated a campaign to end violence against women.  U. N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon named it Orange Day” and designated the 25th day of each month as Orange Day in recognition of the ongoing fight to end violence against women.

The irony for me is that my mother, who was darker complexioned than I, had beautiful copper undertones in her skin and wore the color Orange better than anybody I know.  And while my Dad never abused my mom or any woman, one of the last things my Mama told me before she passed on to the ancestors was that before she ever knew or married my Dad, was that she had an early boyfriend who did not hesitate to give her a black eye!  So this blog is as much for her as it is for her good friend, and men like Dad.

You can read more about the United Nations “Orange Day” campaign here: http://endviolence.un.org/orangeday.shtml

Learn more about the law and the abuse of women at:

Can a United States Federal Judge Keep His Job is He is Criminally Charged with Domestic Abuse?  YES!    

FREE MARISSA NOW.COM which covers information and updates about the Florida woman facing 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot at an abusive husband.

Copyright © 2014 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 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. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

18 Days Earlier We Marched and then We Lost…

A staged reading of the play "Four Little Girls" streaming live online from the Kennedy Center on September 15, 2013 at 6:00 PM EST.

A staged reading of the play “Four Little Girls” streaming live online from the Kennedy Center on September 15, 2013 at 6:00 PM EST.

…FOUR LITTLE GIRLS

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, and Doctoral Student

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

There were four little Black girls whose lives were snuffed out on Sunday morning, September 15, 1963 when a bomb planted by racist White terrorists exploded in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  They were, Denise McNair who was the youngest at age 11, Carol Robertson aged 14, Cynthia Wesley** aged 14 (**Real and Birth name is “CYNTHIA MORRIS”), and Addie Mae Collins was aged 14.  When that bomb went off, most Black Birmingham citizens and most Black Americans forgot about the “March on Washington,” held a mere eighteen days earlier on August 28.  Not long after the blast, all hell broke loose.  The New York Times headline on the following day read (click here for article): “Birmingham Bomb Kills 4 Negro Girls in Church; Riots Flare; 2 Boys Slain.

Birmingham, then nicknamed “Bombingham,” had an ugly history it would take decades to live down.  A middle class neighborhood in the city had suffered so many bombings that it was nicknamed “Dynamite Hill,” because angry Whites bombed homes to stop Black people from moving into the area.  Dynamite Hill was the neighborhood that honed and developed future Phi Beta Kappa scholar, radical activist, and author Angela Davis.  Yet, that is a story for another essay.  There are those of us, however, who think the story of what and who we lost on that fateful Sunday morning deserves its place in all the national narratives of American history.  I am one of those people; so is actor and activist Erich McMillan-McCall.

My friend, Erich is the founder of Project1Voice, an organization devoted to preserving Black theatre companies and our important historical legacies.  I should add that not only is he a multitalented performance artist with credits on Broadway, national stages, and television, he is also a visionary.  I say he is a visionary, however, with a very important acknowledgement of the type of communities that both of us grew up in as children.  Black women, he emphasizes, were at the center of these communities.  Yet, in several of our usual marathon-long telephone conversations, he has lamented that he is bothered by how Black women’s voices are not only muted or unacknowledged in the historical narratives, but also on the stage, and in the arts.

Erich and I are products of a time when to be young and Black and living in the American South did not necessarily mean that everywhere you went there was danger; what it tended to mean was the Black community in which you grew up was supportive, filled with a great deal of love and encouragement.  There were threats to our wellbeing, to be sure.  Yet, those threats largely came from outside the neighborhoods where we lived.  As much as some very sympathetic White liberal folks and some younger Black Americans have erroneously assumed otherwise, our Black parents and elders made sure we had normal childhoods with school, church, piano lessons, baseball games, concerts, plays, parties, and family picnics.  They did all of this for us in spite of the racism and the perpetual threat of (and often real) racial violence that characterized much of life for us during the 1960s and 1970s.  Erich understands this type of upbringing.

His proactive approach, that provides greater visibility to financially struggling Black theatre companies while engaging educational, civic, and political organizations in this collective struggle for artistic, political, educational, economic, and historical viability is not exactly a new way of doing things.  The Black community that I grew up in was filled with folks who could sing, dance, act, organize, who taught school, practiced medicine, ran businesses, and helped elect Black people to political office—This is what we were/are.  I loved this Black community, and the activism and the theatre it produced.  I still live in the neighborhood my family moved to when I was around the age of eleven.  It has not entirely lost those same qualities that it had during my childhood.  However, I fear that these types of communities become more rare with each passing decade.  At the same time, I am gratified and encouraged by Erich’s embrace of the old collaborative efforts of our neighborhoods and organizations that we remember about our childhoods; and his insistence that those qualities can be modified and used to great affect in the information age.  I hope this is the beginning of a new trend.

Sunday, September 15, 2013, is the 50th anniversary of one of our worst tragedies.  On this date, Project1Voice, in collaboration with Howard University, African Continuum Theatre Company, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will present a reading of the play “Four Little Girls,” written by Christina Ham, directed by Phylicia Rashad.  It will stream live online at 6:00 PM EST via the Kennedy Center’s website.

Targeted toward young audiences, this will be one of those wonderful opportunities to sit down in front of your computer screens with your children and your friends to watch this important piece of theatre and history—Free of Charge.  You should also check for viewing parties around the country.  Additionally, over thirty Black theatre companies around this nation will be presenting “Four Little Girls” simultaneously on the fiftieth anniversary of this national tragedy.

Erich and I both remember neighborhoods where middle class and working class Black families looked out for each other and each other’s children.  These facts, however, are precisely why the slaughter of Denise McNair, Carol Robertson, Cynthia Wesley** (**born as “Cynthia Morris,” but cited in the historiography and in most news reports as “Cynthia Wesley“) and Addie Mae Collins was so devastating to Birmingham’s Black community and other Black communities throughout the nation.  The reading of this play is not only a way to honor these dead children, but to also recall and remember the kind of stable and warm neighborhoods where all of them and us grew up.  Let us honor these little girls by going home again.  Peace.

Please visit: Project1Voice and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for more information about this play; how to access the play via the internet on Sept. 15, 2013 at 6 PM EST; and for information about other great performances and programs.

Leslye Joy Allen is also 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 © 2013 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 stated as the author.

** Shortly after this blog was published, I, Leslye Joy Allen, was contacted by Fate Morris, the brother of the young girl commonly known in historical and news records as “Cynthia Wesley.”  Fate Morris insisted that his sister’s real name is “CYNTHIA DIANE MORRIS,” and that authorities recorded her name incorrectly the day of the explosion.  Mr. Morris also informed me that he has decided to accept the Congressional Medal for his sister.  Originally he and Sarah Collins Rudolph (sister of Addie Mae Collins) had declined this medal.  Please read the following article about the survivors of this tragedy: “Survivor of ’63 Bombing Seeks Funds”** 

Please join Project1Voice‘s commemoration of the lives of these four little girls: