A New Year’s Eve Tradition – Watch Night Service

Dear Readers,

Recently I shared with you some popular New Year‘s Eve celebrations that many will observe.  For this post, I will focus on Watch Night, a tradition that is deeply rooted in the history of people of African descent throughout the United States.

As a child growing up in Savannah, Georgia, I remember my grandparents would make their way to church every New Year’s Eve.  This was a solemn time for them.  Looking back on those days, I also remember how their voice would change as they recounted the painful stories their parents and grandparents shared.  I would also grow to appreciate how they were able to quiet their spirits whenever they heard the song “How I Got Over”.  When I look at my life, I have so much to be thankful for.  There has never been a day when I have not said I’m grateful!

The summary below is reprinted from the African-American Registry.  This site is a wonderful resource for African-American history and culture.  I am including the link to the site for your reference.

Date: Wed, 1862-12-31*
* On this date in 1862 the first Watch Night Services were celebrated in Black communities in America.

The Watch Night service can be traced back to gatherings also known as “Freedom’s Eve.”  On that night, Black slaves and free Blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law.  At the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863; all slaves in the Confederate States were declared legally free.  When the news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as many people fell to their knees and thanked God.

The article goes on to explain that Blacks have gathered in churches annually on New Year’s Eve ever since, praising God for bringing us safely through another year.  It’s been over a century since the first Freedom’s Eve and tradition still brings us together at this time every year to celebrate “how we got over.”  This celebration takes many African-American descendants of slaves into a New Year with praise and worship.  The service usually begins anywhere from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and ends at midnight with the entrance of the New Year.  Some people come to church first, before going out to celebrate, for others, church is the only New Year’s Eve event.

There have been instances where clergy in mainline denominations questioned the propriety of linking religious services with a secular holiday like New Year’s Eve. However, there is a reason for the importance of New Year’s Eve services in the black experience in America.

Wishing you peace and joy in 2015!

Monique

________________________________

Reference:
The African-American Desk Reference, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Copyright 1999 The Stonesong Press Inc The New York Public Library John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Publishing

Reflections – As We Approach the Holidays

Square headingDear Readers:

I hope that you enjoyed Thanksgiving with your family, friends and loved ones.  In a few weeks we will celebrate Christmas throughout the world and I am truly excited.

I find Christmas to be one of the most magical times of the year.  Perhaps it is my overall disposition, but I sense that most people are gentler and kinder.  While tragic, recent events have taken their toll, I do feel that people are trying their best to welcome the holidays.  I am not suggesting that “all is calm,” but I would prefer that you take this as my prayer for peace and my hope for reconciliation.

As you might have noticed, it is very easy for me to get caught up in the joy of Christmas.  I am looking forward to the holiday decorations I have selected; exchanging gifts with my husband, friends and family; attending several of the holiday concerts I have been invited to and watching Disney’s A Christmas Carol – which is one of my favorite holiday rituals.

At the same time, I cannot forget those for whom the holidays are filled with reminders of what they currently do not have.  If you walk the streets of New York City, or take public transportation, you will encounter those who are in need in everyday.  However, in addition to those I encounter daily, there are hundreds of individuals that I would never see or know about if it were not for the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.

A Brief History of The Neediest Cases Fund

IMG_0129On December 25, 1911, New York Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs went for a walk after dinner.  He met a shabbily dressed man who received Christmas dinner at the Y.M.C.A., but he had no place to sleep.  Ochs gave him a few dollars and his business card.  He told the stranger, “If you’re looking for a job, come see me tomorrow.”

This chance encounter left Ochs feeling charitable and curious as to whether or not this feeling could be the basis for a city’s goodwill.  The next year he sent a reporter to several of New York City’s private welfare agencies to collect stories about the poor.  His objective was to publish articles about the Hundred Neediest Cases in New York.  The appeal would be made not with a direct request for donations, but with the facts of their lives.  As it turned out, these stories sounded a powerful call.  The campaign, which began on December 12, 1912, was soon adopted by other publishers in the United States and abroad.  The idea was brilliant in its simplicity – a newspaper would make a general appeal for the needy and help the City’s welfare agencies solicit funds.

How You Can Help

After reading the profiles of Emie Payen, a 55-year-old woman who has defied a short life expectancy for decades; Roderick Bradshaw, a father who found a path to success while raising his 5-year old son; Ana Miguel, a woman who overcame surges of addiction and instability, and is now encouraging others to do the same; Anna Reifman, a woman who for many years was trapped within her own anxieties before learning she was not alone; Natasha Mohammed, a mother who is praised for stoking her children’s creative tendencies while struggling to say warm and Linda Malloy, a grandmother who is savoring sobriety and working to rebuild her life, it is clear that New Yorkers need help year-round.

If you are looking for a cause to adopt this season, I encourage you to consider the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.  Since its inception more than 100 years ago, the fund has worked closely with several New York City charities and has raised more than $275 million.  The present campaign began on November 2, 2014 and runs through January 23, 2015.  Here is a list of the participating organizations. 

Brooklyn Community Services
285 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, New York

Catholic Charities of New York
1011 First Avenue, New York, New York

Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens
191 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn, New York 11201

The Children’s Aid Society
105 East 22nd Street, New York, New York 10010

Community Service Society of New York
105 East 22nd Street, New York, New York 10010

Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
281 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10010

UJA Federation of New York
Church Street Station, PO Box 4100, New York, New York 10261

It is in this spirit of reflection that I write today’s post.  I know that there are thousands of organizations, not featured on this list, that are making a difference in the lives of New Yorkers everyday.  We at Brooklyn Legends salute these organizations and extend our best wishes to the people they serve.

Happy Holidays.

Monique

The People’s Champion and The Fight to Save Brooklyn’s LICH

LICH - Archpaper.com

LICH – Archpaper.com

Dear Readers:

Last month, I introduced to some (and re-introduced to others) New York City’s Public Advocate Letitia James. At that time I provided a broad overview of the important items on her agenda: good work for fair pay, access to healthcare, a common sense public education policy, universal school lunch and a constituent services plan.

Brooklyneagle.com

Brooklyneagle.com

Today I will focus on Public Advocate James’ determination to preserve one of Brooklyn’s venerable health care institutions – Long Island College Hospital (LICH). This has been a public fight and some New Yorkers have been critical of her stance around this issue. The plea was to keep the hospital running as a full service medical center – a noble aspiration but one without any real takers.

LICH was a financially troubled institution for many years.  In 2011 when SUNY raised its hand, and agreed to partner with the medical center, there was a collective sigh of relief and another health care crisis seemed to be adverted.

IMG_0084All of this changed in 2013 when SUNY decided to sell LICH, which was losing anywhere from $6 million to $10 million per month. On October 9, 2014, after a lengthy RFP process and many setbacks – including a labor dispute with the New York State Nursing Association (NYSNA) – Fortis Property Group would be successful.

What does this all mean?  Fortis has been given the green light to redevelop the site to include condominiums and a state of the art medical center to be operated by NYU Langone Medical Center.  In 2018, if all goes according to plan, a new housing development will be on the market and the residents of south Brooklyn will have a free-standing emergency room department. This is not the deal community residents and public advocates originally lobbied for, but sometimes success comes in small steps. Here is what the structured settlement will call for:

  • $5 million to upgrade the interim emergency department that NYU Langone Medical Center will operate until the new facility is complete.
  • $175 million to build a new facility with 125,000 square feet of space.
  • A medical treatment plan that will employ 70 doctors.
  • A total staff of 400.

I must admit there were times when I felt this would be a hopeless fight, and the residents would end up with little or no hope for quality health care.  In the early stages it was easier to call for an all or nothing proposition, but as we all know life is rarely this simple.  There are always challenges seen, and unseen, that further complicate financial deals of this magnitude. Not to minimize the daunting challenge of operating LICH, but my sense of why this fight was so important for James, and former Public Advocate now Mayor Bill DeBlasio, comes down to one word – ACCESS.  This was their way of ensuring an open dialogue around access to health care, during a time when the need is so great.  Perhaps, one day plans for a full-service hospital will show up in another form.

Outlining her agenda - wn.com

Outlining her agenda – article.wn.com

For me, this does not mean that Public Advocate James’ fight was lost or not needed.  I’m glad to know that we have elected officials who want to win for the people they represent.

While standing in opposition to a huge business deal such as this was may not always be practical, it is indeed admirable. This was not an easy process for Public Advocate James but she stood by the community and saw the debate through to the end.

To me, she still a champion and, from time to time, everybody needs one.

Have a great week!

Monique

_____________________________

Credits:
SUNY, Fortis reach agreement on LICH – Crainsnewyork.com
The End for Long Island College Hospital – New York Time – nytimes.com
LICH Deal Collapses After Hiring Dispute – Crainsnewyork.com
University Hospital of Brooklyn at Long Island College Hospital – wikipedia.org
LICH History – Dr. Hugh Gilgoff, LICH Pediatrics, Brooklyn, New York

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!

_____________________________________________

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