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

 

 

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.

 

 

Inspired to Lead

Image

Dear Readers,

In the coming days we will salute 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 this field.  From her Brooklyn roots, she has truly traveled the world and has changed a few things along the way.  Stay tuned!

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

A New Year’s Tradition – Watch Night Service

Dear Readers,

A couple of days ago I shared with you some popular New Year‘s Eve celebrations that many will observe.  Today’s post 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 2014!

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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