Tonight D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s newest album, Black Messiah, was released through iTunes. If you ever needed proof of Divine timing, this is it. Black Messiah is the first album in fourteen years to be released by the R&B and soul singer. Judging by the wide ranging posts on twitter and Instagram under the hashtag #blackmessiah, D’Angelo fans and music lovers in general are more than enthusiastic and pleased with his latest project.
In the wake of all the events that have transpired in these last months of 2014, following the deaths of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice; no indictments for the police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, this musical project is everything political, poetical, and sensual that we here on planet Earth need to hear and feel.
Black Messiah is indeed the return, no, awakening, of something great and deep within each of us – love and soul.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. –Lao-tzu
On August 21, 2014, my journey of more than a thousand miles began with a one-way flight from St. Louis, Missouri to Los Angeles, California. As I near my 90th day in LA, I feel a bit more ready to share my journey with those interested in reading about it, interested in relocating to California, or anywhere period.
You know when you tell people you’re making a major move or life decision, folks like to attribute it to things such as a bad break-up, a new man, a well-paying job, etc. I had none of that! Maybe a few bad memories, but ultimately, I decided to move and did what I could to make it happen.
I do believe in life that God and/or the Universe sends us people or gives us signs and symbols to guide us along. My interest in moving to California was sparked by a dream and two conversations. In the dream, I was inside an airport and received a plane ticket to San Francisco, and that was it. The first conversation I had regarding California was with a professor who was telling me about the culture of the Bay Area and how I would do well there as a creative. The second conversation was with a stranger in a park who asked me if I was from California. Suffice it to say, these isolated events were enough to provoke interest.
I was also seeking more artistic exposure, career opportunities, and ways to develop digital media skills. That’s not to say those opportunities weren’t available in St. Louis, but I’d also been there since I graduated from undergrad- I felt a tad stifled and definitely felt the need for a change of scenery.
Oh yeah, I never had a formal “plan.” The first four months of 2014 I was unemployed and struggling to complete my master’s thesis (which, by the way, is still incomplete). Nonetheless, within that first month of unemployment I pieced together my first vision board, which had several things on it including the Golden Gate Bridge and palm trees. In March, I walked into an AT&T store and changed my phone number from a 314 area code to a northern California area code (yes, you can do that). That act for me was somewhat a physical reminder to myself that my move was going to happen.
Towards the end of April, I was rehired by my former supervisor at Walgreens, where I worked prior to grad school. During this time, I was also looking at job prospects and arts education opportunities in the San Francisco Bay area and came across a program at the San Francisco Art Institute. With no formal arts training, I gathered recommendation letters from former professors, developed a brief portfolio and artist statement, took a chance and applied. To my surprise I was accepted into their Post-Baccalaureate Certificate program in New Genres. I also looked into store transfers, but after the initial email was sent out didn’t receive any responses.
Obviously, since this post is about my move to LA, the whole Bay Area/arts school didn’t pan out as anticipated, for financial reasons mostly. So I’ll skip the extended version of how expensive the city of San Francisco is, difficulty finding a roommate/housing, and the cost of attending art school even after being offered a decent amount of financial aid in grant and scholarships. Once I declined acceptance in early July, I was a bit disappointed, but I wasn’t broken. After a week or so, I reminded myself that this move was still possible and gave my supervisor a list of store zip codes in the Los Angeles area that I could transfer to. She sent out an email and within the hour, she received a reply. Bingo!
Preparation and Transition
My lease was up at the end of July, so I was already in minimalist mode because I hate packing and moving. I had started the process of donating things, giving away and selling items including furniture. By the last week of July all I had was my car, clothes, books, wall art, and other personal belongings. August 1st I was back at home with my parents. I hadn’t heard any more details from the California store so I decided to follow-up with a phone call. During that call, the man I spoke with wasn’t as sure of an opening as in the initial email. After the call, I concluded that the Cali move was a bust. Maybe it wasn’t time after all. I made my peace with living with my parents for a moment; and those California dreams were quickly turning into “maybe I’ll move towards the end of this year or sometime next year.” That is, until that email came through on the 9th or 10th of August stating that an opening was indeed available. I called the store to confirm and they penciled me in to start on August 24th.
This is truly faith and inner knowing in action. Nothing with my move was set in stone. The uncertain got certain, real quick and I only had about 11 days to get my *ish together! I didn’t have a large sum of money saved up (although I don’t doubt that would’ve helped). The point is that when things fall apart they actually, and sometimes gradually, fall into place. I had been conversing with a friend of mine from St. Louis who had relocated to LA about two years prior. Since she had once been in my same position she was eager to assist me with my move and transition to LA life. She has been a godsend for real.
To help my mind stay in positive space I reassured my move in various ways. First, by talking to people who had already taken the plunge. I talked to my friend who had relocated to Texas a year prior with $100 to their name and that friend is doing great. That’s crazy faith and inner knowing. I had found a sista on YouTube, Te’Erika Patterson, who documented her journey from Florida to LA and provided a lot of useful information. I reached out to her and she was actually the first person to greet me upon arrival in LA, which can be seen here.
The Warmth of Other Suns, Literally and Figuratively
There were books that helped me too, like re-reading sections of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and reading about the various journeys to California by African Americans during the Great Migration in The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. I revisited sections of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and read for the first time, Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive by Bishop T.D. Jakes, which reinforced my own ideas surrounding trusting the inner voice/knowing of spirit and willingness to take risks.
Of course! It’s natural. There are going to be family members, friends, and strangers that want to know why you want to move, what’s wrong with where you are, and try to impart some type of wisdom or advice into your life. That person for me was my dad all the way up until the day before I left. Although my mom had questions in the beginning, she came around sooner. My dad is bit more pragmatic and while I valued his reasoning, I knew that deep down the decision was ultimately mine to make. It was important that I stick to my guns, not to prove a point, but to stick with my decision and trust myself.
Lessons On Leaving
I thought flight day would be exciting. Nope! It turned out to be the most emotionally taxing day of my life. My mom drove me to the airport and in true momma fashion she cried. I cried intermittently throughout the flight when I wasn’t napping. What had I gotten myself into? My dad cried before I left the house and I had never seen his eyes well up like that. It was in that moment that I really felt unsure. Like maybe he was right when he suggested Chicago or Memphis, but those cities didn’t appeal to me. Even though I grew up with winter in the Midwest, the thought of Chicago style winters and that brutal wind was a bit drastic for someone who doesn’t like being cold. As much as I love New York City, I wasn’t quite ready for walking NY city blocks in the snow. Besides, all of those places were familiar. I had never been to California and perhaps the unfamiliar is what drew me in most.
Now That I’m Here
LA is definitely an attractive city, but it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not all glitz and glamour, if you’re looking for that sort of thing. Making LA home requires more work than a little bit and remember, this gal didn’t visit before taking the leap. I don’t regret my move. However, I don’t hate it and I don’t exactly love it either (at least not yet). I’m okay with that. I’m going to take my time. This is a part of my journey and no one can live it for me so in the meantime I’m learning the city and taking it one day and one dollar at a time.
The Katherine Dunham Museum is in serious danger of closing. On October 15, 2014, Leverne Backstrom, President of the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts & Humanities (KDCAH), met with Shawndrea Thomas of Fox 2 News in St. Louis to discuss the possible closure of the Katherine Dunham Museum, as a result of owing more than $7,000 in taxes to St. Clair County. If this type of news alarms you, we hope that you continue reading and are compelled to share this information with others.
KDCAH is a small, African American organization, serving a community where the wealth inequality continues to be a challenge. There is no paid staff; as a result, much of the work rests upon the shoulders of volunteers, near and far. Unlike many larger museums and cultural institutions, there are no major individual sponsors or endowments. With funding for the arts on decline nationwide, as well as the loss of arts funding from the state of Illinois, KDCAH cannot depend on state grants or foundations for assistance.
Our supporters understand Miss Dunham’s vision and continue to stand by us. We have been fortunate enough through the years to garner support from many amazing people and we are grateful for their ongoing commitment to the arts and ensuring that Miss Dunham’s legacy continues. Many of our supporters are philanthropists in their own right—their contributions range from monetary to in-kind gifts or services, and volunteering. However, we need the backing of the community today. We need the support of everyone serious about cultural preservation and cultural arts programming to take action now.
Denise Saunders Thompson, Director of the International Association of Blacks in Dance, confirmed that her organization is aiming to raise $3500.00 if the City of East St. Louis and the Metro East region would match that. Marie-Christine Dunham Pratt, daughter of Katherine Dunham, continues to express her support of the Dunham Centers and willingness to make up the difference if the Museum is unable to raise the amount needed.
We know that there are many more of you out there that would like to support us, who have not had the opportunity to do so previously. There is so much more we would like to do and see happen within our organization going forward. In fact, there are community events underway to bring more visibility of the museum to the community and to expand our reach globally. The recent renovation of the Museum’s Artisan Village and performance stage were part of this goal.
We not only want to save the museum, we are desperately seeking committed sustainers if we are to see longevity with the museum and future programming. Seriously, our community is our greatest advocate and we can’t do this without your active support. To borrow from Miss Dunham, we don’t want to say “we tried,” we want to be able to show and prove “we did it” together.
Yes, the Katherine Dunham Museum is at-risk of closing, but we each have the power to collectively change that outcome. When we fail to support cultural institutions in our communities, we have already done the community a disservice. We currently have a monthly donation program available, the Sustaining Friends Circle. If just 70 people pledged to donate $25 per month, the museum could be sustained and our annual operating budget would increase significantly, but we welcome all levels of giving. Please help us keep the doors of the Katherine Dunham Museum open by visiting www.kdcah.org.
I’m not one of those individuals who says don’t celebrate the 4th, as a matter of fact enjoy it, get you a plate or two, spend time with family, live life BUT never, never forget the price that was paid for us to enjoy even these liberties. The first African slaves arrived in this country in 1619; the Declaration of Independence July 4,1776; slavery was not officially abolished (on paper) until 1865… You get it. So on this day I celebrate one of America’s greatest orators and freedom fighters, Frederick Douglass. This is an excerpt from his speech, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the American Negro” delivered in Rochester, NY on July 5, 1852 to an audience celebrating Freedom and Independence:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from oppression in your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot, and kill.”
Vivian G. Harsh (1890-1960) was an African American librarian who believed that librarians shouldered a “deep responsibility for intellectual and civic leadership in their communities” (Anne Meis Knupfer, 61). In 1924, Vivian Gordon Harsh became the first black librarian to work for the Chicago Public Library system. In 1932, George Cleveland Hall Library opened its doors and was the first black library in Chicago’s Bronzeville community.
As its first director, Harsh’s vision for the library was to become a community gathering space and to provide educational outreach. Harsh would travel throughout the south every summer in search of books written by or about black people with a mission to build the library’s repository. She amassed the “Special Negro Collection,” which gathered the attention from many readers and researchers. As director, and with the assistance of Charlemae Rollins, Harsh organized several community programs including art exhibits, literary forums, black history clubs, drama clubs, a senior citizen’s group, and debates to name a few. Harsh served as director until her retirement in 1958. Under her leadership, the George Cleveland Hall Library became an intellectual and cultural meeting space for African Americans and the Bronzeville community throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
Knupfer, Anne Meis. The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women’s Activisim. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.
“Storytelling is a wonderful way of breaking down barriers, or getting acquainted with new people, and drawing groups and individuals together.” -Charlemae Rollins
Charlemae Rollins (1897-1979) was a black children’s librarian, author, and storyteller. In 1927, she began working in as a children’s librarian in the Chicago Public Library system. When the George Cleveland Hall Library opened in 1932, where she worked closely with Vivian Harsh to organize the library’s collection. Rollins was appointed head of the children’s literature department and held that title until she retired in 1963. Early on Rollins coordinated a number of public programs serving Bronzeville and nearby neighborhoods including a Negro history club, book fairs, drama and poetry clubs, storytelling sessions, and “appreciation hours” that highlighted the contributions of black people to the arts and letters. Several black writers would spend time at the Hall Library from Richard Wright and Margaret Walker to Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. Rollins was the first black librarian to serve as president of the Children’s Services Division of the American Library Association from 1957 to 1958. Outside of librarianship, Rollins taught courses at Morgan College (now Morgan State University), Fisk University, and Roosevelt University as well as authoring, co-authoring, and editing several books.
In a previous post, I discussed Melville Herskovits and his contributions to African Diaspora Studies. However, most of his contributions are celebrated within the halls of academia and the field of anthropology. Outside of academia, Julius Rosenwald, a Jewish philanthropist, businessman and former President of Sears & Roebuck, was in his time one of the most influential supporters of African American education and self-sustaining community efforts.
Like Herskovits, Rosenwald was the son of Jewish immigrants. By age 16, Rosenwald’s parents had sent him to New York City to work with his uncles as an apprentice in the clothing industry. Rosenwald was smart and innovative in his business dealings, but his timing was also perfect. He moved to Chicago to expand his clothing manufacturing business around the same time that Sears, Roebuck, and Company was looking to expand its portfolio. Rosenwald was instrumental in diversifying the Sears Company by offering other products, earning nearly 50 million in profits initially.
Having acquired that level of financial success during the Progressive Era (1890-1920), he established the Rosenwald Fund in 1917 as a means to contribute his millions to worthy causes and live by his slogan, “Give While You Live.” Although many Americans benefited from Rosenwald’s philanthropic pursuits, African Americans benefited especially from his generosity. In his lifetime and after his death, the Rosenwald Foundation contributed “over $70 million to public schools, colleges and universities, museums, Jewish charities, and black institutions before funds were completely depleted in 1948 (wiki).”
Here are 8 ways that Rosenwald supported philanthropic causes on behalf of African Americans:
Aschenbrenner, Joyce. Katherine Dunham: Dancing A Life. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002.
Bone, Robert and Richard Courage. The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932-1950. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2011.
Boyd, Valerie. Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Scribner, 2003.
Knupfer, Anne Meis. The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women’s Activisim. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.
Melville J. Herskovits was an American Anthropologist whose pioneering research solidified the field of African and African American Studies within American academia. Born in Bellefontaine, Ohio in 1895, Herskovits was the son of Jewish immigrants and grew up in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. In 1920, he earned his undergraduate degree in history from the University of Chicago. He went on to earn both the M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University, where he studied under the direction of Franz Boas, known as the “Father of Anthropology.”
Much of Herskovits’ extensive career as a scholar, anthropologist, and professor focused on the study of people throughout the African Diaspora, particularly the power dynamics in Africa, theories of cultural relativity, and the ways in which African culture and traditions had survived among black people in America. Between 1920 and 1924, he lectured Columbia and in 1925 was appointed Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Howard University. Through his academic and professional circles, he met and befriended several people, including Ralph Bunche and E. Franklin Frazier.
For Herskovits, race was not a biological concept, but a sociological construct. Although he published extensively, his most groundbreaking work was, The Myth of the Negro Past (1941). This text rejected the pervading ideology of the period that black culture was pathological and that black people had lost all aspects of their past when they were taken out of Africa and brought to America. Additionally, he supported Civil Rights and advocated for African independence from European control.
Some of his fieldwork included Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, Haiti, Trinidad, Brazil, and Suriname, co-authoring several articles and two books with his wife, Frances Herskovits. In 1938, he established the first Anthropology Department at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. While at Northwestern, he established the African Studies Program and became its first director in 1948 and in 1961 was appointed Chair of African Studies, the first such position in the United States.
His work was also influential to the academy and he taught or trained several black anthropologists, including Katherine Dunham who was a student at the University of Chicago and conducted fieldwork throughout the Caribbean in the 1930s. The Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University is considered the largest African diaspora collections in existence.
Influential Jewish Americans Who Influenced Black History
Black librarians, archivists, museum professionals (museum/gallery founders, curators, and collectors), and community members have always played a critical role in documenting and shaping our understanding of black history and culture in America and worldwide. Laboring in love, these individuals were committed to researching, collecting, processing, cataloging, creating finding aids, conserving, interpreting, distributing, and exhibiting the “stuff” of our history. Yes, alladat!
Fortunately, my grad school experiences exposed me to the various dynamics of the historical process, allowing me to experience firsthand the relationship between historians, libraries, and archives. In my own journey, the library and archives are not only a safe haven for thought, but the foundation of the research process. Historians, especially, often rely on libraries and archives for primary source materials. Unfortunately, I realize that many of our historical culture keepers, or griots, are often overshadowed by more prominent figures and movements.
Studying Katherine Dunham and her early years in Chicago, gave me the opportunity to become acquainted with other pioneering women like Vivian G. Harsh, Charlemae Rollins, and Margaret T. Burroughs, among others. However, these core women were actively engaged in research, writing, institution building, documenting and managing collections. In the process, I learned more about myself, but also about black women’s role in community development and in shaping black intellectual culture.
“The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future…History must restore what slavery took away.” – Arthur Schomburg
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg or Arthur Schomburg (1874-1938) was a Puerto Rican historian, writer, activist, bibliophile, and collector who immigrated to New York in 1891, and settled in Harlem. Although Carter G. Woodson is most often recognized as the “Father of Black History,” in some circles, that reference is also bestowed upon Schomburg, though most of his acclaim is attributed to his extensive collection of books and artifacts.
One of Schomburg’s earliest childhood memories was of a teacher telling him that black people had no history or record of achievements. In the United States, he often experienced the same racial discrimination as African Americans and began referring to himself as “Afroborinqueño” or Afro-Puerto Rican. These events only motivated him to continue documenting and collecting as much as he could about the history of black people worldwide.
In New York, he taught Spanish, supported his family through various positions, and advocated for Cuba and Puerto Rico’s independence from Spain as a member of the Revolutionary Committee for Puerto Rico. It was also during this time that he began to research and write about Caribbean and African American history. In 1911, he co-founded the Negro Society for Historical Research with John Edward Bruce, one of the earliest historical societies to promote African American history. Such an endeavor brought together a cadre of African, West Indian and African American scholars.
Schomburg was an active figure in the Harlem Renaissance movement of the 1920s. Two of his most notable works include A Bibliographical Checklist of American Negro Poetry published in 1916 and his essay “The Negro Digs Up His Past,” first published in the March 1925 issue of the Survey Graphic, which focused on the intellectual life of Harlem. His essay also appeared in Alain Locke’s seminal anthology of essays, fiction, and poetry, The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925).
The energy of the Harlem Renaissance was instrumental in creating opportunities for black professionals and black research collections. Not only was there a demand for books about or written by black writers, there was a demand for professionally trained black librarians and much interest in Schomburg’s personal collection. Schomburg, too, had a joint interest in making his personal collection available to the public, but keeping it in Harlem.
In 1926, the New York Public Library purchased about 5,000 objects from Schomburg’s vast collection of literature, art and cultural materials related to people of African descent. Subsequently, he was appointed curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art, which was renamed the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in his honor. During the academic year 1931-1932, Schomburg served as Curator of the Negro Collection at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, assisting in their acquisition and development of collection materials. He later traveled to Cuba, where he met Cuban writers and artists, and acquired more materials for his research and collection.
Today, the Schomburg Center continues to be recognized as one of the most important repositories in the United States, wholly devoted to people of African descent worldwide and continues to be an important cultural force within the Harlem community.