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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on the Eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Church Bombing

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

"Weary - Self Portrait" by Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All rights reserved.

“Weary – Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All rights reserved.

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

This blog is short and bittersweet.  It is the evening of Saturday, September 14, 2013, as I write this.  It is the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four little girls.  If they had lived, all of them would be over the age of sixty right now.

I learned today that the ex-husband of an old friend is a member of the Wesley family, the same family that Cynthia D. Morris bka Cynthia D. Wesley lived with.  My friend informed me that Mrs. Gertrude Turner Wesley suffered a nervous breakdown after “Cynthia Diane Morris bka Cynthia Diane Wesley” was killed in this explosion.  It seems that both her biological family and her host (or adoptive) family loved this little girl.  Her host or adoptive family did not have any biological children, which is why she appeared as the “only daughter” of the Wesleys in so many news reports in 1963.  Yet, Fate Morris, the brother of “Cynthia Diane Morris aka Cynthia Wesley” remembers his sister and is a man that needs some answers and some acknowledgement.

With her Death Records amended by the state of Alabama in 2002 which legally changed her name back to her original birth name of “Cynthia Diane Morris,” it must be acknowledged that this problem with her death and who or what she should be called has highlighted an important and beautiful legacy among us Black folks:  We Black folks have always had a tradition of taking in children if they needed to go to another school or if their parents were struggling financially or if they just simply needed a home.

Yet, in many instances—particularly before the late 20th century—we never signed any legal agreements or signed any adoption or guardian papers, we just opened our homes and our hearts.  With that said, it does not matter so much that Cynthia is/was claimed, legally or otherwise, by the now-deceased Wesleys; after all, they loved her.  Yet, what Fate Morris, who remembers his sister’s visits on weekends, needs most of all is to hear someone say that she was “Cynthia Diane Morris,” his sister.  What he and indeed, Birmingham, Alabama desperately needs is all of the truth and some real closure.

On the evening of September 12, 2013, I cried when I listened to Fate Morris describe that day when his sister was killed.  He was eleven years old.  I wept again today when I learned that Mrs. Wesley suffered a nervous breakdown after young Cynthia’s death.  Right now, I weep for them all.  To be continued…:  “Related Material – a BlogTalk Radio Interview and an important new CNN article 9-14-2013”

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.

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:

A Little Girl and “The Nativity”

by Leslye “Joy” Allen                                                                                                        Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

For the record, I am a historian and contrary to popular belief, historians are not social scientists.  History belongs in the category of the Humanities, as in the phrase “Arts and Humanities.”  Art and artists tell stories and so do historians.  We just do it in different ways.

Historians analyze and interpret the past.  We ask “why” something happened and we ask “how” something happened.

There are as many different angles and answers to those “how” and “why” questions as there are historians.  Performance art also does this because no two performances are ever the same; and audience members often see and interpret the same story or song in a hundred different ways.

Yet, I digress.

What I really want to share is a particular story, a story about a little girl who sat in an audience and gave me the best lesson about what the arts, particularly theatre, does for an audience.

I have always been fond of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity. Many theatre companies in Atlanta have performed this holiday classic over many decades.

I recall seeing many performances of it by Jomandi Productions and many other local Black theatre companies. In recent years, many directors and playwrights have produced their own version of the “Nativity.”

There was yet another re-imagining of this annual story conceived, written, and choreographed by Patdro Harris as part of Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company’s annual Christmas offering that played in December of 2011 at the beautiful Southwest Arts Center.

Yet, a couple of years ago, I witnessed Black Nativity for perhaps the eighth or ninth time.  This time, however, I sat behind a little girl who could not have been any older than five or six years old.  I watched her and nostalgically recalled that my first theatre experience occurred on a visit to New York when I was four and a half years old—I saw Sammy Davis, Jr. in Golden Boy.  However, the little girl watching Black Nativity did more than bring up fond childhood memories for me.

Sitting in the dark at the Southwest Arts Center, preparing myself for True Colors Theatre Company’s version of Black Nativity, I watched this child’s face break out in a wide—missing-tooth—grin as the music, dance, and dialogue began.

She watched the show with wonder, that kind of childhood wonder where everything is brand new.  After the show was over, while I chatted with some folks in the lobby, I watched and heard this child make a dozen comments and ask nearly as many questions:

“Mama, I sure did have a good time.”

“Mama, was the baby Jesus a real baby or was it a doll?”

“Mama what do actors do to make themselves look old?”  “

What does “nativity” mean?

How can the same person pretend to be two different people?

The questions and comments from this child kept coming.  Yet that is what the arts do—art always triggers the imagination.  So I often wonder why some legislators do not realize that part of the reason why schools have difficulty raising students’ Math and Science scores is partially due to the fact that there has been a systematic de-emphasis and de-funding of the Arts and the Humanities.

Being able to memorize and regurgitate information is not a clear example of scholastic aptitude; being able to creatively think one’s way through or out of a problem is an explicit illustration of genuine intelligence.  If you think Albert Einstein created his theory of relativity based only on what his science and math teachers taught him, you are dead wrong.

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination,” Einstein said.

If you think George Washington Carver did not understand the importance of creativity, think again.  Carver emphasized that, “Since new developments are the products of a creative mind, we must therefore stimulate and encourage that type of mind in every way possible.”  It is not likely Einstein or Carver would have become the geniuses that they were without a genuine respect for the arts.

That little girl I listened to asking questions in the lobby of the Southwest Arts Center would never have asked the kind of questions she asked her mother had her mother decided not to take her to see a play or a musical.

Black Nativity had stoked her young imagination.  When you stoke children’s imaginations, they ask intelligent questions; and when this kind of inquisitiveness is encouraged, they tend to grow up to be adults who ask intelligent questions.  When you have adults who know the right questions to ask, you tend to get a community that will demand and possibly get better public policy on everything from city services to health care to education.

So, do your community, yourself, and your children one favor.  Take yourself, your children or a child to see a play, a Jazz concert, a ballet, and/or an art exhibit.  Now there is no guarantee that you or any child that you expose to the arts will become the next Einstein or Carver, or even a great performance artist.  Yet, why not give them a shot at being any or all of the above.

Peace.

Copyright © 2012 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.