In Loving Memory – Celebrating Brooklyn Centenarian Susannah Mushatt Jones

Dear Readers:

The article featured here was originally posted in 2014 in honor of Ms. Susannah Mushatt Jones. Earlier today Ms. Jones made her transition just a few months shy of her 117th birthday. Here is a link to coverage from the BBC news outlet informing the world of the  Passing of Susannah Mushatt Jones. We are so thrilled to be able to claim her as one of Brooklyn’s most cherished daughters!

Original article:

On July 6, 2014, Brooklyn super-centenarian Susannah Mushatt Jones celebrated her 115th birthday.  A few days later there was a celebration for her at the Vandalia Senior Center in Brooklyn, New York Ms. Mushatt Jones is the oldest resident of New York State, the second-oldest American and the third-oldest person in the world.

Susannah Mushatt Jones Celebrates 115 years

Susannah Mushatt Jones Celebrates 115 years

Susannah Mushatt Jones was born on July 6, 1899 in Lowndes County, Alabama. This was one of the toughest times to be a person of African or Caribbean descent living in the rural south.  I imagine she witnessed the cruel indignities that were designed to strip African and Caribbean Americans of all hope of ever achieving the basic civil rights enjoyed by their white counterparts. Despite these challenges, she would also witness some amazing “firsts” in Civil Rights history.

Ms. Mushatt Jones - NY Times

The Lovely Ms. Mushatt Jones

Ms. Mushatt Jones migrated to New York City in 1923, at the age of 24. Like those who made the journey before her, she dreamed of creating a new life filled with hope and promise.  For many southerners moving “up north” this was a time filled great expectation, despite the harsh realities they would experience.  This was a period when segregation was woven into every facet of life in America.

Opportunities for economic and educational advancements were non-existent.  Often times, the only jobs available to African-Americans were as domestics or field workers.  If exceptions were made, they were given the most laborious tasks. When using public transportation, they had to sit in the back of the bus. The same rule was in effect when traveling on the interstate.

The legal system was equally as cruel. For many, punishment for the slightest infractions could range from life in prison, to a life of hard labor. There was no hope of a fair jury trial. We also know that, during these times, lynching was the order of the day. This was truly “the worst of time.”

Thankfully, Ms. Mushatt Jones made it safely through these atrocities and settled into life in Harlem. She must have been so excited! This was the time of the Harlem Renaissance and the beginning of a whole new world on so many levels – intellectually, financially, socially and economically. She worked as a child-care provider for 42 years, until she retired in 1965. As she made her way in the world, America’s history was going through a transformation. She had a front row seat.  Here are some of the wonders that she was able to see.

On the Road to Civil Rights – the mid 1950s through the 1960s.

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On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark decision, Brown v. Board of Education, that segregation in public schools was illegal. I am not sure if I could articulate how Ms. Mushatt Jones felt when Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court delivered the court’s decision.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

Surely she rejoiced on November 13, 1956 when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in the case of Browder v. Gayle that segregated bus laws in Alabama were unconstitutional.  This case was presented after Rosa Park’s arrest on December 1, 1955, when she refused to give up her seat on a public bus to make room for a white passenger.  Ms. Parks’ defiance sparked the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for 381 days, until the local ordinance segregating African-Americans and whites on public buses was repealed.

On August 28, 1963, she would see thousands of Americans participate in the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I wonder if she was there?  This past August, we commemorated the 51st anniversary of this historic day.

Rev. Dr. King, President Johnson and civil rights leaders

Rev. Dr. King, President Johnson and civil rights leaders

One year later, on July 2, 1964, I envision Ms. Mushatt Jones rejoicing when President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. I can almost see her listening to the radio as the provisions were read. Title VI prohibited public access discrimination and would lead to school desegregation. Title VII prohibited employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Title VIII was the original “federal fair housing law,” that was later amended in 1988.

On March 25, 1965, all eyes would focus on her home state of Alabama for the Selma to Montgomery MarchRev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, in the campaign for voting rights. Residents in Harlem led their own demonstrations to show their support. Perhaps she was among them.

Justice Thurgood Marshall

Justice Thurgood Marshall

I would be remiss if I did not mention two additional milestones that took place in 1967.  The first occurred when President Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall to be the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. The second occurred when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Loving v. Virginia that laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional.

As we know, the fight for Civil Rights culminated in the 1960s but is far from over. The decades that followed would be marked with notable firsts in education, housing, criminal justice and employment.

I would love to know what her reaction was when, in January 2009 and January 2013, Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States of America. His beautiful wife Michelle would take her place as America’s First Lady. When Ms. Jones was growing up the word “lady” was not given to African-American women. What a celebration this was for her on so many levels. She lived through a century of firsts with years to spare.

This list is by no means finite. I have presented it in this manner to provide a glimpse of what she lived through. I also imagine that she played an important role in securing many of the freedoms that we now enjoy.

As we help Ms. Jones celebrate another milestone, in addition to serenading her with the traditional “Happy Birthday” another song that was popular during the civil rights movement also comes to mind, “Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway.

Please join Brooklyn Legends in wishing Ms. Mushatt Jones a very Happy Birthday!

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Credits:
Photos of Ms. Mushatt Jones – The New York Times
Photos of The Little Rock Nine – images via Yahoo.com
Photo of James Meredith – Wikipedia.org
Photo of Richard and Mildred Loving – Time.com
Photo of Jackie Robinson – via Pinterest, Mary Kay Ward
Photo of Justice Thurgood Marshall – images via Yahoo.com
Photo of The March on Washington – via Googleimages.com
Photo of Rev. Dr. King and President Johnson – via img.dooyoo.co.uk
Background information – Wikipedia and Google.com
Rosa Parks on the bus in Alabama – via Pinterest, Linda Wallace

In Search of Dignity

Dear Readers:

So much time has passed since my last post.  I truly miss connecting with you.  Now that summer is almost over, and my vacation and travel schedule has leveled off, you will be hearing from me much more often.

Michael Brown -  New York Daily News

Michael Brown – New York Daily News

Throughout my travels I have been following the events of the past few weeks. The first incident that comes to mind is the tragic death of Michael Brown, and the impact on his family and the people of Ferguson.  I also find myself thinking about Michael’s friends and classmates.  How will they cope?  Will steps be taken to ensure that his classmates have access to grief counselors?  How will history record this horrific incident?  Most important off all, after the media leaves, and the 24 hour news cycle moves to the next breaking story, who will speak for Michael Brown?  Will he and his parents be treated with the grace and respect that they so rightly deserve?

This tragic end to a young life, filled with hope and promise, has cut to our core; giving way to a resurgence of issues we naively hoped were in the past.  Despite the best efforts of our civil rights leaders, academics and influencers, prejudice, hatred and fear still exist.  Unless we can create a space where honest conversations can take place around issues of race and perception, these emotions will continue to confront and challenge us.

Shortly after the news of Michael Brown’s death was publicized, men and women from all over America made their way to Ferguson.  As with all tragedies, there are always opportunists and detractors, but I believe that the people who made the journey were motivated by a sincere desire to stand in unity with Michael’s family.  At the end of the day, their precious gift has been taken from them.  Nothing will take away their pain, but we can help hold them, and surround them with love up at a time when they need it the most.  I watched as Michael Brown’s parents spoke to the world with such great composure and “dignity.”  To be completely transparent, I spent the past few days searching for that word, which I have not heard used much since my grandmother died.  I remember hearing her words “dignity is the one thing no one can take away from you, unless you surrender it.”

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The next few months will be long and arduous for Ferguson, particularly as the world will be watching.  While those who made their way to stand in solidarity at the beginning of this tragedy will eventually focus on other events in their lives, new strangers will come to take their place.  They will stand united in their grief, their anger and their disbelief.  They will stand because this is what we, as people of African-American descent, have done throughout our fight for social justice in this country.  This most recent situation brings to my mind a quote on dignity:

I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have
three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and
dignity, quality and freedom for their spirit.
I believe that what self-centered men have torn down,
other-centered men can build up.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

almighty-yellowplant.blogspot.com

almighty-yellowplant.blogspot.com

We at Brooklyn Legends join the world in celebrating the life of Michael Brown.  We stand united with his family and we pray that God grant them peace.

Fondly,

Monique

 

 

Quintessential Elegance – In Memory of Ruby Dee

Dear Readers,

Another beautiful Legend has made her transition, the elegant Ms. Ruby Dee.  I am so heartened by the many posts about her life and talent.  She was truly one of the giants of stage and screen.  If I live to be 91, I certainly hope that I age as gracefully as she did.

My fondest memory of this Grand Dame was her performance in one of my favorite plays – A Raisin In The Sun, which premiered in 1961.  Ms. Dee starred as Ruth Younger, a steadying presence for her husband Walter Lee Younger, portrayed by Sidney Poitier; her mother-in-law Lena Younger, portrayed by Claudia McNeil and her sister-in-law Beneatha Younger, portrayed by Diana Sands.

A Raisin In The Sun addressed the ever-present civil rights issues of that time – racial discrimination in housing and impediments to economic advancement due to limited employment opportunities.  Despite these challenges, there were three aspects of this story that I am most fond of: the family’s decision to move into their new home in the Lakewood section of Chicago despite attempts to dissuade them, Beneatha’s dream of becoming a doctor, which was rarely seen on film during that time in our history and the prominent status given to each of Beneatha’s male suitors.

Ms. Dee’s appearance in this play (and movie) did not come as a surprise to her family, friends and colleagues.  Like her husband, Ossie Davis, she took an active role in the fight for civil rights and used her status to promote the cause of African-Americans in the entertainment industry.   In 1963 this dynamic couple served as Masters of Ceremonies for the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  When the world said goodbye to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she and her husband were there.  Similarly, when the world bid farewell to Malcolm X, they were also present.  These are just a few examples of their many contributions to the cause of racial and social justice.

Brooklyn Legends joins the world in saluting the life and legacy of the great Ms. Ruby Dee.  She was truly a woman of style and substance.  For me, she had a quintessential elegance that I will always remember.

I would like to close this post with a quote from her daughter: Nora Davis Day:

We gave her our permission to set sail.
She opened her eyes, closed her eyes and away she went
.”

images

Fondly,
Monique

Free to Be…Phenomenal

Dear Readers,

In a few hours we will have a front row seat at Dr. Maya Angelou’s memorial service.    The livestream begins at 10:00 am.  You may watch it on OWN or via livestream at: http://new.livestream.com/wfu/angelou.

Since our dear Maya’s transition, I have been heartened to read the tributes that have poured in from around the world.  I simply love knowing that someone who looks like me has made such an enormous impact and has touched so many lives.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Maya’s writings helped shape my life.  I am honored to add my voice, to countless others, she has touched with her writing and poise; her hope and determination.  What awesome gifts to leave the world.

During times like this, I always ask myself, what will they say of me when the time comes?  I am quickly reminded that each day provides me with a new opportunity to decide how I want to show up in the world and to make tangible contributions.  It is up to me to shape this narrative through my thoughts and actions.

As we say farewell to our dear Maya, and marvel at her stellar accomplishments, I would like to encourage each of us to marvel at all that we have achieved.  Lets also give ourselves a little more credit too!  While many of us could relate to Maya’s ‘caged bird” at one point or another in our lives, that time has come and gone.  We are now free to be ….phenomenal.

Have a great weekend.
Monique

Truly Phenomenal – Remembering Dr. Maya Angelou

Image

Remembering Dr. Maya Angelou – one of the world’s most Phenomenal Women!

With fondness,
Monique

 

To Honor & Cherish – A Memorial Day Tribute

Dear Readers,

On Monday, May 26th we will celebrate another Memorial Day in the United States.  Many community organizations have created special, commemorative programs to honor the veterans who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms that we enjoy.

Despite some outward appearances, Memorial Day is meant to be a solemn and reflective time for all Americans.  Of course there are many ways to observe this holiday.  Today’s post is not meant to diminish the family activities that will be held, but simply to serve as a reminder of the heavy price connected with the privileges we frequently take for granted.

As we prepare to pay tribute to the men and women who are no longer with us, I would also like to pay tribute to the veterans who served in recent wars, and now struggle to pick up their lives from where they left off.

For many, the transition has been wrought with many challenges such as: insufficient housing, inadequate health care, dwindling employment and rising costs of furthering their education.  Some of our veterans are now struggling to find their way.   As a nation we should feel embarrassed to learn that many veterans are homeless, while others face health challenges that will leave them wounded – physically, and emotionally – for years to come.

Our veterans were proud to serve our country, but were disillusioned when they try to re-enter society.  I do not claim to have the answer to what is documented as a growing problem, but I firmly believe the impetus to solve this problem starts with an honest dialogue that acknowledges the problem exists.  So tomorrow, when we greet each other with a cheerful “Happy Memorial Day” let’s take a moment to recognize that, for some, this sentiment is not fully recognized.  It is truly up to us to honor and cherish the veterans who are no longer with us and those who are.

To the brave women and men who have given their lives to protect America, we honor and cherish you.  To the brave women and men who return home, to take their rightful place in society, we salute you and cherish you for all that you have done.

Last year, I wrote an article on the origins of Memorial Day and the important role that African-American veterans paid in shaping this holiday.  The article is reprinted below for your convenience.

Happy Memorial Day!

Have a great week.
Monique

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Reflecting on Memorial Day 2013

On Monday, May 29th, Memorial Day was observed in the United States.  I was pleased to read so many tributes where the authors went to great lengths to make the distinction between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Both observances are equally important.  However, it is my opinion that in the United   States we could do more to recognize the women and men who have died to protect the freedoms we enjoy.  Whenever I see and hear the words “Happy Memorial Day,” connected with a sale or other promotion, I feel a bit awkward and find the positioning to be insensitive; especially given the wars we are still involved with.  With so many other days to shop and save, I would like to see us become more mindful of everything we have to be thankful for.

There are two accounts of the origins of Memorial Day that I would like to share.  The first account comes from the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.  The second account comes from The Root and Black America Web.

Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to adorn the graves of the war dead with flowers.  Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30th of each year.  It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.  The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

photo obama lays wreath

Today, in the United States, Memorial Day is a federal holiday that occurs every year on the final Monday of May.  On this day we recognize the women and men who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.  Many of the rituals that make up Memorial Day were born out of Decoration Day which originated after the American Civil War as mentioned above.  The one major difference is that today we extend this tribute to Americans who have died in all wars.

The Root and Black America Web

According to Black America Web, African-American veterans were the first to celebrate our fallen soldiers.  David Blight, a History Professor at Yale University, credits African-American soldiers in Charleston, South Carolina with launching the first Decoration Day, in honor of the Union’s war dead on May 1, 1865.

After the Civil War ended, these soldiers went to places where they knew hundreds of their fellow service men, who were also prisoners of war, were buried in mass graves.  As a show of humanity these soldiers, many who were recently freed slaves, gave their fellow service men a proper burial.  After the burials were complete, they decorated the graves.  According to legend, this ritual took hold and was the beginning of the Memorial Day tributes we now see across the country.

The objective here is not to debate which account is more accurate but to simply point out the important contributions that people of African descent have made to shape our great nation.

We at Brooklyn Legends take great pride in saluting our fallen soldiers and thank them for all the sacrifices they have made.  It is our honor to pay tribute to them.

 

 

Brooklyn Legends Inspirations IV – Am I Helpful?

Dear Readers,

Happy Sunday.  I hope that you were able to enjoy this beautiful day.

imageIn this month’s issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, I came across the article that many in my circle are talking about – 20 Questions Every Woman Should Ask Herself.  I put off reading the it for a couple of days but, finally, curiosity overruled.  So, with my iPad in hand, I settled in for the journey.

Halfway through the article, I had a real ah-ha moment.  Who better to bring that about than Gloria Steinem.  I have reproduced the article here for you to enjoy, but I wanted to share my takeaway with you, right up front.

I began by asking myself this question – am I helpful to others?  Before I can make an impact, I must listen and hear the other person’s problem and respect their point of view.  The frame, or context if I use Gloria Steinem’s word, is everything.  Without this understanding, I do not have a clue as to what I am doing, or why I am doing it.  The person with the problem instinctively knows what is needed.  It always comes down to identifying proper resources.  Over the years I have grown to learn solutions can come in the simplest forms.  My job is to do whatever I can to be helpful, without judgement.

____________________________

Question #10 – Am I Helpful?

Gloria Steinem, journalist, author, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and member of the steering committee of the women’s activist fundraising platform.

April 2014

A few years ago, after visiting Ghana for a conference on sex trafficking, I traveled to Zambia to stay with some friends who live on the Zambezi River. It’s a rural place, full of big-game preserves and small villages where daily life is a struggle. When I arrived, villagers were mourning two women who had gone into Lusaka to prostitute themselves and support their families—and disappeared.

On a big tarpaulin laid out in a barren field, I sat with 30 or so village women in a circle. Talking circles are powerful things—they’ve given birth to countless activist movements, even revolutions. On this occasion, though, I thought our lives would be too different for us to connect. And at first, shyness did prevail. The language barrier made things difficult. But then the women sang a song, and my inability to carry a tune made them laugh. One of the English-speaking friends I was staying with sang “This Little Light of Mine,” and others translated its lyrics. And then a woman from the village told a story. With tears in her eyes, she said she was a widow who only now felt safe enough to reveal that her husband had beaten her.

As is often the case, that one truth teller broke the spell. Other women began to talk about their lives. Many of their husbands worked in lodges where tourists came to see wildlife, but the lodges didn’t hire women. These families couldn’t meet the cost of living or cover what was to the women the most important expense: their children’s school fees. Many wives contributed by farming, but as soon as their vegetable crops were near harvesting, elephants would eat them to the ground. And so with no other option available to them, some women sold their bodies.

The situation seemed hopeless. But when I asked what would help, the answer was surprising: an electrified fence to keep out the elephants. Back in New York, a few friends helped me raise the money to build one. I received updates from the villagers: [there] was a photo of the area the women had cleared, by hand, of rocks and stumps and weeds; [there] was a photo of the finished product, fresh shoots of maize starting to take shape behind it.

When I went back the next year, the women had harvested a bumper crop of maize. They had food for a year, plus extra to sell to pay their children’s school fees. Before I spoke to them, if you’d asked me how to stop sex trafficking in this village, never would I have said, “Find a way to keep elephants out of their gardens.”

I call this story the parable of the fence, and these are its lessons: Helping begins with listening. Context is everything. People who experience a problem know best how to solve it. Big problems often have small solutions. And, finally, do whatever you can.

I’ve done what I thought were big things, like testifying before Congress, that had no impact at all. And I’ve done little things I don’t even remember doing, like introducing two people, that I would later discover had made an impact lasting decades. That night on the tarp beside the Zambezi, I had no idea what remarkable things would come of our talk. The art of being helpful is behaving as if everything we do matters—because we never know which things might.

Pinterest - serendipitousbliss.tumblr.com

Pinterest – serendipitousbliss.tumblr.com

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Credit:
O, The Oprah Magazine, April 2014
Photos – credit is captured in each photo caption.

Remembering Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Civil Rights Icon

Dear Readers,

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader and icon, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The year was 1968, and the struggle for racial and social justice was woven in the fabric of American life. The entire world watched as people of African and Caribbean descent fought to end injustice and discrimination throughout the country. Hundreds of supporters would gather and march for equal access to education, housing, employment and voting rights.  We have made phenomenal progress but, as we also know, there is still much work to do.

As we pay respect to Dr. King, we would be remiss if we did not salute his widow Mrs. Coretta Scott-King.  A devoted mother and community activist, Mrs. King carried on her husband’s legacy, with unmistakable style and grace, until she passed on January 30, 2006.

Brooklyn Legends joins the world in commemorating Dr. King’s legacy and the great changes he was able to bring about.  We thought you might enjoy watching this segment from his last speech – I’ve Been To The Mountaintop.

Have a great weekend.

Monique
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Credits:
Information about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – http://www.nobelprize.org

 

A Fashion Model & Activist Leads The Way

Dear Readers,

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We are excited to have you join us for today’s salute to Bethann Hardison.  She is a fashion model who became an advocate and activist for young women and men of color, looking to chart their course in the modeling industry.  From her Brooklyn roots, she has traveled the world, and she has used her influence as a trailblazer to change a few things along the way.

Bethann was raised first by her mother, who was a stylish, fashionable woman, before going to live with her father, who was a respected Islamic leader.  When reading about her early years, I clearly see the reverence she has for both parents, and how they influenced her career trajectory.  She embodies her mother’s love for fashion, style and unmistakable grace; and is grounded by her father’s skill as a leader and strategist.  These experiences motivated her to become a fashion model turned activist, and a champion of ideals and causes.

Bethann’s Early Years

By all accounts, Bethann was a game changer.  In an interview for the book Inspiration: Profiles of Black Women Changing Our World by Crystal McCrary, she recalls her reaction to the invasion of the Suez Canal, which happened when she was a teenager.  A strong believer in the power of the individual in the face of government, she sent letters and beseeching telegrams to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles stating her opposition.  This bold move set the stage for many initiatives that she would pursue.

Bethann made the decision to attend an all-white high school in Brooklyn that African-American students were being bussed to, George W. Wingate High School, instead of attending the performing arts school that she had been accepted to.  She views this as one of the best experiences in her life; for she discovered who she was and stepped into her power.  She also found her voice and began to express her ideas.  As a student, her impact was significant and punctuated by some impressive “firsts.”  She was the Wingate High School’s first African-American cheerleader.  Additionally, in her junior and senior years she was elected to produce and direct “Sing,” a performance competition among the upperclassmen.  Each year she led her class to victory.  These experiences set the stage for the world she would eventually help shape.

After graduating from high school she continued her education; first at New York University Art School, followed by her tenure at the Fashion Institute of Technology.  From there she entered New York City’s garment district in search of a job in the fashion industry.

Bethann’s Introduction to the Fashion World

In the late 1960s, Bethann was discovered by an African-American designer, Willi Smith, and began working for him as a fitting model.  She crossed over into runway and print modeling for other designers shortly thereafter.  In the early 1970s, was among a few African-American models to appear in fashion spreads for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines.  She joined the ranks of her contemporaries – Iman, Beverly Johnson and Pat Cleveland.

Bethann Joins Click Models

In 1980 Bethann joined Click Models, a firm that would usher in change for the modeling industry.  Within one year she was head of Click’s women’s division, which is the most powerful and lucrative department in any modeling agency.  In her interview with Crystal McCrary, you can feel Bethann’s delight as she recounts her accomplishments while working at Click.

“We went up against the big boys without even trying.  Our vision was very different from that of Ford, Wilhelmina, Stewart and all the other agencies.  It was an alternative.  The girl next door wasn’t the girl we wanted, but we found the boy next door before anyone else did.”  “We represented people like Whitney Houston, when she was a young teen.  We started Talisa Soto, who was a Calvin Klein girl.  Isabella Rossellini was our girl and the list goes on.  Fashion photographers loved our style because it was different.”  Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Perry Ellis were the main clients of Click.  They loved Bethann and were interested in anything she was a part of.

Following her success at Click, Bethann was in a position to make a greater impact.  Concerned with the politics of the fashion industry, in 1981, she changed her focus from modeling to activism.

Bethann Hardison Management 

In 1984, and with the support of a friend who was in law school, Bethann decided to go into business for herself.  Bethann Hardison Management was created.  From the inception, she set out to increase African-American visibility in the fashion world.  When building her talent roster, she skillfully negotiated with female models from other agencies.  In lieu of obtaining their standard agency advance, they agreed to wait for their checks until Bethann’s clients made their first payment.  This generosity was a testament to her stellar reputation as an industry leader, mentor and friend.

Her company opened its doors with a 16 models.  Nearly 50% were African-Americans.  It is important to note that from the outset that Bethann did not set out to run an exclusively “people of color” agency.  It was always her goal to bring more diversity into the business.  Over time, her roster approached 30 models.  She took an involved role in helping to keep the young men and women focused on the challenging work of modeling.  Following her advice, they learned about finances, how to be professional and the importance of good public relations.

Bethann The Activist

In 1988 Bethann, and her friend Iman, co-founded the Black Girls Coalition, a group of industry insiders working to help clear the path for other African-Americans interested in the fashion industry, both behind the scenes as well as in front of the cameras.  The group tackled important issues such as homelessness.

Paying this forward, earlier this year Bethann launched the Balanced Diversity Campaign to end racism on the runway.  She received support and encouragement from her friends Naomi Campbell and Iman.  In an open letter to the governing fashion bodies of the four major fashion capitols – London, Milan, New York and Paris – she called out the industry’s white-washed model casts, citing a number of designers who had featured zero, or one, model of color in past seasons.  Designers and the public paid attention.  Within weeks, 2014 was hailed as one of the most memorable, and important, moments of the season.

Bethann Talks About The Future 

Last month, On February 5, 2014, Bethann’s push for racial diversity on the runway was featured in the Huffington Post.

In her own words…

“I’m looking forward to seeing what happens – I’m hopeful,” she told The Huffington Post.  “Diversity is just good for the world. And images have much more power than words.  When people start putting those colorful images out, and people of power start standing behind them, it starts to create a paradigm shift.  And I believe it can happen.”

Naomi Campbell, Bethann Hardison, Iman on GMA via ABC News

Naomi Campbell, Bethann and Iman – ABC News

Bethann was able to point to prominent examples of increased diversity in magazines and advertisements.  She praised designer Prabal Gurung, who had just launched his debut ad campaign, featuring black supermodel Liya Kebede.  She also singled out Vogue’s January 2014 issue; calling it a “brilliant example of organic diversity” that featured several fashion editorials with models of color and stories showing celebrities like Idris Elba and Lupita Nyong’o.  She met with Vogue staff members in November, after the January issue had been pulled together, to discuss the importance of diversity in the fashion world.

A Celebrated Woman

Bethann’s contributions have earned her several awards throughout her career which include: the First Annual Vibe Style Lifetime Achievement Award – 1999, the Magic Johnson Foundation Distinguished Service Award – 1999, The Black Alumni of Pratt Lifetime Achievement Award – 2003, The Black Enterprise Woman of Power Legacy Award – 2012, Frederick Douglas Award for promoting diversity in fashion – 2013.

What’s Next?

These days you will find Bethann living a quiet life in rural Mexico.  She came to a point where she did not want to feel trapped in a big city any longer and is now working to tie up loose ends in her career.  At the same time she is quick to say “that’s not all of who I am.  I need to be among people who reflect more than tangible items proving financial success.  I want to live simply, to experience the preciousness of life.”

Bethann certainly deserves the chance to enjoy the fruit of her labor.  Her career and life’s work exemplifies hard work, integrity, inclusion and compassion.  While this tribute provides a small glimpse into the huge world she has helped to create, I am truly inspired by this courageous woman who, as a teenager in Brooklyn, began to take on the world.

Thank you Bethann for all that you do!  We at Brooklyn Legends are proud to salute you.

____________________________

Credits:
Inspirations: Profiles of Black Women Changing Our World by Crystal McCrary
The HistoryMakers – July 15, 2013
Julee Wilson – The Huffington Post – February 18, 2014
Julee Wilson – The Huffington Post – February 5, 2014

Celebrating African Heritage Month

Dear Readers,

For as long as I can remember, the decision to dedicate the month of February to honoring  the achievements of people from the African Diaspora has been met with mixed emotions.

Many people of African heritage have asked, “Why are the achievements of our ancestors recognized for only one month out of twelve?”  They went on to view this designation as insensitive and inconsistent when compared with the years this history was not taught or recognized.

For others, in February 1976, when former President Gerald Ford extended what was then known as African Heritage week to what would become African Heritage month, this was a major victory.  The month-long celebration was embraced as an important way to recognize the significant contributions our ancestors made to America.

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.  As a nation, we have truly come a mighty long way.

Throughout February, many remarkable Brooklyn institutions will host programs for African Heritage month.  Brooklyn Legends applauds these efforts and receives them in the spirit of celebration.  We embrace the position that the accomplishments of people from the African Diaspora and the Caribbean transcend time.  This is especially true for the heroines you will read about here at Brooklyn Legends.  They embody the grace, determination and hard work which will impact future generations

In honor of African Heritage month, and the first year anniversary of Brooklyn Legends, we proudly salute the phenomenal Brooklyn women we have featured this past year.  The stories that we have shared are archived on our blog.  If you would like to become reacquainted with each one, please use our search browser.

Here’s our salute to another African heritage month, and another year of Brooklyn Legends.  We are proud to have you share this journey with us.  Stay tuned for more highlights of some of Brooklyn’s most dynamic achievers.

Have a wonderful week!

Monique