A Pledge To Honor & Cherish – A Memorial Day Tribute

Annual Flags-In ceremony in advance of Memorial Day - Arlington Cemetery

Honoring America’s Fallen – Baltimore Sun

IMG_1177

Staff Sargent and Son honor a fallen soldier – http://www.riley.army.mil

IMG_1178

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – pbs.org

090524-N-0696M-143

President Obama places wreath at tomb of Unknown Soldier – military.com

Dear Readers,

Today we join our fellow Americans to celebrate Memorial Day.  Many community leaders and 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

___________________________________________

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.

***

 

 

A Salute to Elegance – Mrs. Eunice Johnson & Ebony Fashion Fair

Eunice Johnson, 1991, Ebony Fashion Fair via Ebony.com

Eunice Johnson, 1991, Ebony Fashion Fair via Ebony.com

Dear Readers,

I am pleased to join my friends and colleagues in honoring Black History Month. While everyday is a great moment in history, I must acknowledge our longstanding struggle for equality and justice against enormous odds. For every accomplishment there are several stories to tell and we are obligated to continue to write the narrative.

Today I am proud to salute Mrs. Eunice W. Johnson, creator of Ebony Fashion Fair, a highly celebrated fashion extravaganza that traveled to nearly 200 cities each year. This eagerly anticipated show featured haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion for a mostly African-American audience throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.

Ebony Fashion Fair Ad via Flickr 1958

Ebony Fashion Fair Ad via Flickr

Ebony Fashion Fair started in 1958 when Mrs. Johnson responded to a friend’s request to raise money for a hospital in New Orleans.  For the next fifty years Ebony Fashion Fair would become an iconic fashion show that also served as a major fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund, several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), sickle-cell research and hospitals. Mrs. Johnson exposed audiences to the latest designs from major fashion houses including: Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Pierre Cardin, Valentino and Emanuel Ungaro.

Eunice Johnson, Yves Saint Laurent 1972 Johnson Publishing Co.

Eunice Johnson, Yves Saint Laurent 1972 Johnson Publishing Co.

Mrs. Johnson also used Ebony Fashion Fair as a platform to introduce emerging Black designers including: Lenora Levon, Quinton de’ Alexander, L’Amour, Patrick Kelly and Steven Burrows. African-American models Pat Cleveland, Judy Pace and Terri Springer were also featured in the show.

Ebony Fashion Fair, Pat Cleveland in Valentino - via splendidhabitat.com

Ebony Fashion Fair, Pat Cleveland in Valentino – via splendidhabitat.com

Ebony Fashion Fair Itinerary, Ebony Magazine, Tias.com

Ebony Fashion Fair Itinerary, Ebony Magazine, Tias.com

As a girl, I remember attending Ebony Fashion Fair at the Hilton New York Hotel (then the New York Hilton Hotel & Towers) and the Savannah Civic Center. I loved to see the models strut down the runway in their fabulous outfits. When I attended Audrey Smaltz was the commentator and she ran each show with great style and precision. For me, the highpoint of the evening was the wedding scene. Once I saw the bride walk down the runway in her trendy gown I was ecstatic.

Ebony Fashion Fair, Bob Mackie Wedding Gown, splendidhabitat.com

Ebony Fashion Fair, Bob Mackie Wedding Gown, via splendidhabitat.com

Ebony Fashion Fair - Guardianlv.com

Ebony Fashion Fair – Guardianlv.com

Ebony Fashion Fair - Museum of Design Atlanta - via splendidhabitat.com

Ebony Fashion Fair – Museum of Design Atlanta – via splendidhabitat.com

Mrs. Johnson died on January 3, 2010 in Chicago at the age of 93 years old. She was among the first business owners to create and market a line of cosmetics for women of color.  I still remember purchasing my first foundation from Fashion Fair Cosmetics.  When I opened the pretty pink case, I knew that I was on my way to becoming an adult.

Fashion Fair Cosmetics, Aretha Franklin, 55Secretstreettypepad.com

Fashion Fair Cosmetics, Aretha Franklin, 55Secretstreettypepad.com

In 2013, the Chicago History Museum curated a special exhibition, Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, as a tribute to Mrs. Johnson’s life and accomplishments. Presently, the exhibition is on view at the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester now through April 24, 2016. For further information, please access this link to the exhibition.

Ebony Fashion Fair exhibit via chicagohistorymuseum.org

Ebony Fashion Fair exhibit via chicagohistorymuseum.org

Brooklyn Legends is pleased to join the world in saluting Mrs. Eunice W. Johnson for breaking down barriers and creating opportunities in the fashion and cosmetics industry.

Fondly,
Monique

Credits:
New York Times – January 9, 2010 article by Dennis Hevesi
Huffington Post – May 29, 2012 article by Julee Wilson, Senior Fashion Editor
Ebony.com – Additional information regarding Mrs. Johnson and Ebony Fashion Fair

 

 

 

 

Commemorating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Letters of Support

Dr. King in his study, Atlanta GA

Dr. King in his study at home in Atlanta, GA

Dear Readers,

Brooklyn Legends is proud to commemorate the life and accomplishments of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929 at his family home in Atlanta, Georgia.  This year he would celebrate his 87th birthday.

From December 1955 until April 4, 1968, Dr. King was the leader of America’s Civil Rights Movement. By all accounts this was among the most tumultuous periods in our history. Yet despite the many acts of hatred and violence,  Dr. King remained steadfast in his commitment to lead a non-violent campaign. He received support from men and women worldwide.

Here in the United States, there were many who stood with Dr. King and the architects of the Civil Rights Movement. These men and women gave their time, legal and professional services and money. They would join thousands of African-Americans in this fight for equal rights. While today many challenges persist, we cannot deny the progress that was achieved. These life-changing events have shaped my life and my ancestors.

As I was preparing for this post, I spent some time looking through the archives on The King Center’s website. In addition to extensive historical information, there are many photos, letters and telegrams for visitors to see. All information has been digitally preserved through the generosity of JP Morgan Chase. Today I would like to share few letters sent to Dr. King from children thought the world. I have also included a few condolence letters sent to Mrs. King shortly after Dr. King was assassinated.  When you have a moment, I encourage you to visit the site which can be found by following this link.

Fondly,
Monique

A student sends greetings on Mahatma Ghandi's birthday

A student in India sends greetings on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday

Students in France requesting an interview of Dr. King

Students in France requesting an interview of Dr. King

A student in Chicago requests information about Dr. King's Church

A student in Chicago requests information about Dr. King’s Church

A student who wants to be a Pediatrician references Dr. King's book "Strength to Love"

A student who wants to be a Pediatrician references Dr. King’s book “Strength to Love”

Via Bauman Rare Books

Via Bauman Rare Books – referenced in Gregory William’s letter to Dr. King.

Letter sent to Mrs. King after Dr. King was killed.

Letter sent to Mrs. King after Dr. King was killed.

Sent to Mrs. King from a student in NYC after Dr. King was killed.

Sent to Mrs. King from a student in NYC after Dr. King was killed.

Sent to Mrs. King from PS 32 in NYC after Dr. King was killed

Sent to Mrs. King from PS 32 in NYC after Dr. King was killed

Sent to the SCLC in Dr. King's honor with a donation from a high school in Beverly Hills, CA.

Sent to the SCLC in Dr. King’s honor with a donation from a high school in Beverly Hills, CA.

Credits:
All information obtained from The King Center’s website – Thekingcenter.org.

Commemorating A New Year’s Tradition – Watch Night Service

Dear Readers,

Watch Night, Dec. 31, 1862 - the Clayton Museum

Watch Night, Dec. 31, 1862 – the Clayton Museum

Soon we will bid adieu to 2015 and welcome 2016.  This year has been filled with many highs, but there have been some sad days too. Dear friends who started this journey with me have since made their transitions. I firmly believe they will always be with us as long as we love and honor them.

Each year on New Year’s Eve, I share this post commemorating Watch Night, a tradition that is deeply rooted in the history of people of African descent throughout the United States, in memory of my grandparents and the many elders who helped raise me.

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 2016!

________________________________

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

Meet FDNY Firefighter Regina Wilson – ‘The Hero of My Own Story’

FDNY Firefighter Regina Wilson - NYDailynews.com

FDNY Firefighter Regina Wilson – NYDailynews.com

Dear Readers,

Welcome to Brooklyn Legends Tenacious Tuesday and thank you for spending time with us. We invite you to visit our Facebook page for today’s words of encouragement. Connecting with us is as simple as clicking on this link.  We want this to be an interactive process and we encourage you to let us know if a particular post inspires you along your journey.

Today we are excited to introduce FDNY Firefighter Regina Wilson, one of our newest generation of trailblazers.

Firefighter Wilson is a Brooklyn native and graduate of Samuel J. Tilden High School where she joins a list of distinguished alumni including: Nelson George, featured in our recent post Brooklyn Legends Brunch with the Arts – A Ballerina’s Tale, Lucille Roberts, the businesswoman and founder of health club chain bearing her name and the Reverend Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC’s weekly talk show PoliticsNation. When she joined the FDNY in 1999, she was only the 12th African-American woman to achieve this distinction. During the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, she was among the first responders at the scene. Tragically, seven members of her firehouse – Engine 219, Ladder 105 in Brooklyn, New York – died that day.

This is a career that Firefighter Wilson never imagined that she would have. After attending a job fair at New York City’s Javitz Convention Center members of the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of African-American firefighters with an exemplary 75-year history, spoke with her and presented the FDNY as an option. That was 16 years ago. Since that time she has created a distinguished career with a very promising future. In addition to serving with Engine 219, Ladder 105, she is also an instructor at the Fire Academy on Randalls Island. A high-point of her career occurred earlier this year when she was the 1st woman elected President of the Vulcan Society.

Recently Firefighter Wilson was featured as a part of Makers – Be The Hero Series. During the opening you will hear Firefighter Wilson’s strong voice clearly articulate why she is a hero. To view the video, please follow this link.

I became the hero of my own story when I graduated from the Academy.  No one could ever tell me that I couldn’t do something again.
Regina Wilson

Brooklyn Legends is proud to salute Firefighter Wilson’s tenacity, strength and commitment to the people of New York City.

Fondly,
Monique

_________________________________________

Credits:
Makers – Be the Hero Series – Meet Regina Wilson – Aug. 24, 2015 Makers.com
First Woman Picked to Lead Vulcan Society – New York Daily News – Jan. 16, 2015

 

 

With Gratitude – A Memorial Day Salute

Dear Readers,

On Monday, May 25th we will proudly celebrate another Memorial Day. There will be special programs honoring the women and men who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

As we honor our fallen heroes, I would like to salute the women and men who are presently in the armed services. Soon they will return home eager to pick up their lives from the point where they left off. While this will be a seamless transition for some, others will be forced to navigate challenges their fellow Americans now face — unaffordable housing, inadequate heath care and low wages. Sadly many veterans may not be able to make ends meet and could end up homeless. They could also face serious physical and emotional health challenges that will impact them for years to come.

I do not claim to have the answer for these problems, but I firmly believe our unwillingness to acknowledge them is a major impediment. Annual celebrations are wonderful for they allow us to connect with each other, but they are not the answer. What happens once the music stops? How many veterans will be able to say, I must now go home and prepare for work tomorrow?

On Monday, when we greet each other with a cheerful “Happy Memorial Day” let’s keep in mind this sentiment will have a different meaning for many of our veterans. We must honor and cherish our heroes who are no longer with us and those who are after long after Memorial Day is over.

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

Fondly,

Monique

Saluting Women’s History Month & Dr. Josephine English

Dear Readers,

We are pleased to join the world in celebrating Women’s History Month. Sharing the important contributions of Brooklyn women from the African diaspora, and the accomplishments of women throughout the world, has motivated me to look for ways to make an impact on young ladies in my community.  What will be my legacy for the future?  How can I engage others?

Dr. Josephine English - NY Dailynews.com

Dr. Josephine English – NY Dailynews.com

Today I am pleased to tell you about the historical achievements of Dr. Josephine English – one of the first African-American women to have an OB/GYN practice in New York and one of Brooklyn’s earliest medical pioneers.

Dr. English was a tireless community leader, patron of the arts and philanthropist.  Most important of all, she was a wonderful mother to her children, and earned a reputation as a highly coveted OB/GYN to Brooklyn residents and notables, including Dr. Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X.

Dr.English's home - via www.ohny.org

Dr.English’s home – via http://www.ohny.org

Dr. English was born on December 17, 1920, in Virginia, and she died on December 18, 2011 in Brooklyn, NY, one day after her 91st birthday.  Although she lived in Bedford Stuyvesant for many years, she would spend her last days at the Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, where she was recovering after undergoing a surgical procedure.

Dr. Susan McKinney via Blackpast.org

Dr. Susan McKinney via Blackpast.org

As I was preparing this post, I wondered wouldn’t it be great if Dr. English had an opportunity to meet Dr. McKinney? Picture a room where Dr. English, a recent graduate from Meharry Medical College who was now living in Brooklyn, could sit and talk with Dr. McKinney, the esteemed Brooklyn native who was the first African-American woman to earn an MD degree in New York State and the third woman to earn an MD degree in the United States.  Can you just imagine the stories they would share?  As medical pioneers with their own series of “firsts,” in addition to their personal and professional triumphs and challenges, I envision a conversation filled with many “aha” moments.

Dr. English spent her childhood years in New Jersey.  Her parents were among the first African-American families to settle in Englewood.  She received a B.A. from Hunter College in 1939 and continued her education at New York University where she received a M.A. in Psychology.  After NYU, she attended Meharry Medical College and received her M.D. in 1949.  Dr. English was ready to make her mark on the world.  Her first stop was Harlem Hospital, where she worked for many years until she moved to Brooklyn in 1956.

Dr. English was a trailblazer who reached back to help others who were in need.  She was among our borough’s earliest women philanthropists who championed the importance of health care for women, men and children.  Shortly after moving to Brooklyn, she founded a Women’s Community Health Clinic in Bushwick.  In 1979, she founded the Adelphi Medical Center which provided services for women and men.

On stage at the Paul Robeson Theater via - www.northjersey.com

On stage at the Paul Robeson Theater via – http://www.northjersey.com

Dr. English loved the theater and she was determined to share her passion for the arts with the community.  In 1980, decades after opening many medical clinics, she purchased an abandoned church and converted it to the Paul Robeson Theater for the Performing Arts.

One year later, in 1981, Dr. English turned her sights to services for children and opened Up The Ladder Day Care and After-School Program which included a summer day camp.  In 1986, she became the first minority, and the first woman, to be awarded a license from the New York State Department of Health to develop a free-standing ambulatory surgical center in Brooklyn.

Dr. English worked well beyond what was considered to be retirement age.  She focused intently on her goals and did not let anything stand in her way.  She changed the health-care landscape for women, men and families, in Brooklyn by providing access to health education and empowering her patients to make healthy life-style choices.  She was a guiding force in Brooklyn and one of our brightest stars.  Her achievements are legendary and it is an honor to salute her.

Dr. English will be truly missed.

Fondly,
Monique

____________________________________________________

Credits:
Josephine English, one of the first back, female OB/GYNs not stopping at 89 – nydailynews.com
Dr. Josephine English, 91 via Northjersey.com
Dr. Josephine English, Medical Trailblazer dies at 91 – via www1.cuny.edu
Dr. Josephine English, The HistoryMakers via http://www.thehistorymakers.com