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.

 

I AM…

 

(for Billie, who insisted that I boldly say, “I AM,” and for Nevaina (nih-von-yah)—one of many actors who were once under Billie’s direction—who reminded me to say it even louder)

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

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

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

I am Thomas and Syble’s daughter.

I am the granddaughter of Lorena and George and Minnie and Will.

I am a historian.

I am an intellectual.

I am a dramaturge and patron of theatre and the arts.

I am a Jazz fan.

I am a Johnny Mathis fanatic.

I am eloquent.

I am also a great procrastinator.

I am one who is often impatient.

I am one who does not like braggarts or pretenders.

I am a good and loyal friend.

I am also one who, some times, does not listen.

I am a woman who will drop you like a bad habit if you lack empathy or fidelity.

I am an environmentalist.

I am a lover of animals and nature.

I am a lover of children.

I am a Black Nationalist because it makes sense to take care of your home and your people first.

I am a woman that does not deal easily with shallow people.

I am a woman that prefers simplicity.

I am a woman who is fond of the exotic.

I am a woman who has learned how to say, “No” the hard way.

I am a woman who does not like playing small.

I am a woman who never discounts what other people have to go through to do whatever it is that they need or have to do…which is why I am deeply offended when other people discount what I go through.

I am a woman that dislikes men and women who try to prove their worth with things rather than demonstrate who they are by what they believe in and what they put into practice.

I am a woman who would prefer the company of a poet over that of a stockbroker or the company of a musician over that of an accountant or the company of a college professor over that of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company…

I am my mother and father’s daughter.

— Leslye Joy Allen 

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 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.

Mama’s Garden

by Leslye Joy Allen

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

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

cherry-tomatoes-plant

Cherry Tomatoes Plant (available from: Public-Domain-Image.com)

 

“If you plant it in the earth, give it just enough sunlight, just enough water, and just enough nurturing, it will yield something.” – Syble Allen Williams (1921 -2013)

Now, when I think of teaching, I think about my Mama’s gardens and the first time I read the quote by author Gail Godwin who said that, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre.”  A while back, I did not exactly understand the connection between teaching and theatre or any connection to my Mama’s conceptualization of gardening.  After all, was it not possible to be a gardener or agriculturalist without being an artist?  Even further, when I thought of theatre or any performance art, I thought and continue to think of people trained to act, sing, dance (or all of the above), and who are on stage for the sole purpose of entertaining and enlightening a receptive audience.  The idea that a teacher and students were engaged in any kind of performance art escaped me until I stood in front of a classroom and gave a lecture without reading from any notes.  My Mama, Syble Allen Williams, understood the performance element in teaching the first time she set foot in a classroom to teach.  Only after she died, however, did I begin to understand some other things about the “pure theatre” or the creativity of teaching that was not readily apparent to me when she was alive.

I remember how she would begin to count to ten in order to get her kindergarteners to take their seats.  “One…Two…Three…” she would say slowly and deliberately.  The objective was to have all of her students seated BEFORE she reached the number ten.  They would scramble to their chairs, each one determined not to be the last child to make it to his or her seat.  Then there were Mama’s famous gold stars that she posted next to the names of those kids who ate all of their lunch—they were the fabulous members of the “Clean Plate Club.” Many children decided to sample a vegetable that they really did not want to eat in order to earn that gold star.  Yet, she was at her most creative with her classroom gardens and her trips to the farm.

After Mama’s funeral service, our cousin James—who served as one of her pallbearers—told me that before her funeral began, four of her pallbearers were discussing their trips to farms and the gardens they helped to plant and tend when they were mere kindergarteners in her class.  Four of Mama’s pallbearers were her former students.  I remember when she made the switch from teaching third grade to kindergarten.  I also recall her comments about children who grew up in the city.  While she loved city life, she noted that children in cities rarely got much, if any, exposure to farm life.

Mama was born on a working farm in a tiny Georgia hamlet about forty minutes away by car from Atlanta.  She lived there until she was about nine years old.  Around her ninth birthday, her family migrated to Atlanta, as did so many Black rural families during and after the Great Depression.  The beauty is that Mama’s appreciation for her agricultural roots ultimately became a wonderful lesson for her students.

Back in the 1970s when she started teaching kindergarten, she told me one day that too many of her students really did not know anything about where their food came from or the teamwork required to run a farm.  Eventually she located a nice man—whose name escapes me now—who had a small working farm in McDonough, Georgia complete with crops, chickens, pigs, and cows.  I only remember him as a middle aged, brown-skinned man who seemed tickled to death that the work he did as a farmer had some intrinsic value to Mama and her young students.

Every year she taught kindergarten she included a trip to that farm in McDonough, Georgia so that “her children” could witness the interaction of farmer and crop and cows and chickens.  The cows’ manure fertilized the soil that yielded the crops.  It was all organic and interactive.  Every year, she would have her five-year-olds plant a garden in their classroom.  She would gleefully remark how they would become mesmerized when they would see something that they had planted in the soil begin to grow.  “Their eyes just light up at the first sight of the smallest bud,” she would say.  For me, the strongest memory was her garden at our house and her household plants.

Each year she grew tomatoes, cabbage, collards, and squash on a strip of land in our backyard.  I also recall one year she grew the hottest jalapeño peppers ever grown in the history of humankind—I remember it well; I ate one of those peppers and needed a couple of pitchers of ice water to cool the heat.  Then there was her endless sea of green plants that lined our porch and windowsills.  She often noted that the tomatoes might not grow as big as you wished, but if you nurtured those seeds, you would still get tomatoes.  This was her lesson to her kindergarteners and to me: you always get something back if you plant something and nurture it.

Mama’s gardens and farming adventures were lessons in sheer creativity.  In these activities were a science lesson, another lesson that taught respect for animals’ contributions to our welfare and an appreciation for our natural environment, a lesson in how any one of us who had patience could nurture a plant from a seed or seedling to full bloom.  Even further, when I think of how many people never want to revisit their childhoods, I am comforted.  Mama found beauty, resilience, and lifelong lessons in her own childhood, a childhood that she spent helping her parents and grandparents tend to plants and animals on the old family farm.  Her students got a chance to share in a part of her upbringing.

On a nearly cloudless, sunny day in February of 2013, Mama had six pallbearers: one was a dear cousin, another was a family friend, and four were her former kindergarteners.  These six dignified, hardworking, respectable, responsible, and well-educated Black men—all now over the age of forty—donned white gloves, and hoisted Mama’s coffin and took her to her final place of rest in the soil—soil she respected.   Proudly, I watched them, as I am sure she did.  And then I thought, “If you plant it in the earth, give it just enough sunlight, just enough water, and just enough nurturing, it will yield something.”

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.

Mercy, Mercy Me: Black, Clean, and Green!

by Leslye Joy Allen

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

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

I am sure there is someone who saw the title of this blog and instantly thought of the late Marvin Gaye’s environmental anthem from 1971, “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology).”  Well, this is not exactly about Marvin Gaye.  Yet, music can trigger an entire series of memories.  Music is as much a cultural and historical marker of the times in which we live and have lived through as anything else.  However, I arrived at this title and this blog via a beautiful and talented woman named Freda Payne.  If you recognize that name, then you probably remember her anti-Vietnam era song “Bring the Boys Home.”  Freda sang “Bring the Boys Home” with a sense of urgency and longing that none of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s will ever forget.  It is ironic, but no accident that Freda’s anti-war anthem and Marvin Gaye’s song bemoaning our poisoning of the environment were released in the same year.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, you can do a quick Google or YouTube search and find all the information, beautiful music and pointed messages you need.  Yet, this blog is not exactly about music.

Not long ago, I received a sweet and thoughtful message from Freda Payne, along with a request from her to tell folks about her son Gregory who is a partner with Clean Green Nation.  Before I could even visit the website, I heard Freda’s song in my head, then I heard Marvin Gaye.  These were songs from my childhood and adolescence.  As the music played in my head, I looked up Clean Green Nation on the Internet.  It specializes in environmentally sound and clean energy for your home, your business, and even your farm.  I smiled as I clicked on one section of the website after another because one of the first things that struck me about the website was the same thing that struck me about Freda’s request.—Her request, like the website itself, was filled with a deep understanding about this nation’s need to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, and the need to reduce greenhouse gases so that everyone can breathe cleaner air.  She is also a proud mother.  Her son Gregory is one of a growing number of young Black Americans committed to this admirable and much needed goal.

I visited what has to be one of the very best websites and businesses for selling, installing, promoting, and explaining clean energy.  The best part about what Gregory and Clean Green Nation are doing is that there is some item or service available there for every budget.  Solar panels and wind turbines are available for homes and businesses.  For under $20.00, you can purchase a variable flow showerhead that saves water; another nifty gadget that helps you to time and shorten your showers is available for $2.99.  Importantly, Clean Green Nation has one of the best Learning Centers that I have ever seen.  In clear language, visitors to the site find out exactly how solar and wind energy work.  They learn about radiant barriers that keep heat out of a house in the summer and hold more heat in during the winter.  A range of services and products are offered that will simultaneously save the customer money and help clean up the environment at the same time—I cannot stress the importance of these factors when it comes to marketing anything affiliated with that word “environment” to Black and other communities of color.  There was a time when I would go to rallies and lectures about the environment and I could count the number of Black folks (including myself) in attendance on one hand.

The first time I told someone I was an environmentalist was over fifteen years ago.  The man looked at me strangely, as I stood there with my cloth shopping bags.  I went into one of my quick talks about how we should use “these bags” instead of the petroleum based plastic bags many stores continue to use.  Once, I even got a manager at a local grocery store to start recycling these same petroleum based bags.  However, for a long time there seemed to be a kind of disconnect about the whole concept of cleaning up the environment in many Black communities; and that is a shame because WE Black folks, and other peoples of color, are usually the first to suffer from environmental toxicity.  It is no accident that toxic waste dumps are often located near or in poor communities, particularly poor Black communities.  Yet, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, WE all bear responsibility and have the capacity to contribute to the fight to clean up the environment.  I say this so that those folks who read this, who happen to be White or members of some other ethnic group, do not feel left out.  My message in this blog, however, is deliberately directed at Black people because information about the environment has not always reached or been directed toward Black communities.  This is where Clean Green Nation comes in.

While Gregory services the West Coast and West Hollywood specifically, anyone can order products and services from his website.  Even more important, anyone can learn more about how to lower utility bills and help the environment!  It is just that simple. I must add something important here: Gregory was not born when his mother sang that song that showed the human and personal costs to us as we lost one young man after another in the Vietnam War.  The song was so potent that U. S. Armed Forces Radio banned it from its airwaves.  Gregory was not born when Marvin Gaye sang a song with lyrics filled with sadness over the way we all had poisoned our natural environment.  The tragedy is that both of these songs are still relevant some forty plus years later because the problems we were dealing with in 1971 are still with us today.  I remember it well.  Future generations do not so much need new songs as they need new songs with different themes.  Now when I was a kid, James Brown taught us to chant, “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”  Today I ask you to support a committed young man who drives a hybrid in a town that often prides itself on glamour; a young man trying to make an honest living and help clean up the planet at the same time.  Say it with me now, “Let’s Be Black, Clean and Green.”

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

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support 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.