Monday, February 16, 2015

Get Ready to "Read All About It!"

Since the first slaves were brought to America in 1619, black men and women were denied even basic education. Due to widespread fear of slave insurrection, many states even passed laws prohibiting teaching African Americans to write and read. Slave owners believed that by denying slaves access to potentially radical ideas of freedom, reflection, community building and communication, they were protecting themselves. However, through a determination to preserver and prosper, African Americans began sharing through voice. Thus, the tradition of oral story telling has arisen as one of the primary means of preserving African American history and values.

In our “Read All About It 2015” program, we will be honoring and celebrating story telling with “The Oral Tradition in African American Culture.” The February 22nd program will feature writer and historian, Dr. Michelle Johnson, who will discuss the work of Zora Neale Hurston. Johnson is the Co-Founder and Executive Director Associate of Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative. As a public scholar, she has done extensive research on the Underground Railroad, creating curriculum and programs for 3rd, 4th and 8th grades as well as compiling a curriculum series on the Underground Railroad and resistance to slavery for the First Congregational Church of Detroit. Johnson has led a community project in Loughman, Florida, researching, interpreting and producing the work of Zora Neale Hurston.

The program will also feature husband and wife duo, Von and Fran Washington, who will perform an Underground Railroad presentation based on a story from the Hackley family, early African American settlers in southwest Michigan. The Washingtons, who have distinguished themselves as writers, educators, directors and producers, operate Washington Productions Incorporated, an organization that exists to “provide an accurate, in-depth view of the African American experience through the performing arts.” Von and Fran have been story-telling together for over 18 years and have performed their stories—most of which present some piece of black history—to over 150,000 children and adults. You can visit their site and learn more about booking them by clicking here.

Mark your calendars for the annual “Read All About It” program scheduled for this Sunday, February 22, 2015 at the Portage District Library, 2:00 p.m. It is free, open to the public and we are so excited to see you!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Let's Chat

"Ugly pockets of conscious bigotry remain in this country, but most discrimination is more insidious. The urge to find and call out the bigot is powerful, and doing so is satisfying. But it is also a way to let ourselves off the hook. Rather than point fingers outward, we should look inward — and examine how, despite best intentions, we discriminate in ways big and small."
-Sendhil Mullainathan

Happy Monday, Kalamazoo. It's a brisk and chilly, chilly day out there! However, the sun is shining, I'm drinking my favorite cup of coffee in town, and all is well. Our Lunchtime Film Showing of "Race--The Power of an Illusion" went well on Thursday. A thanks to all who came out. We had around 35 community members join us for the showing and participate in the dialogue. If you were unable to come, no worries! The Racial Healing Initiative has more conversations coming. Co-sponsored with the Kalamazoo Valley Office of Student Activities and Diversity and Inclusion Committee, we've got four chats scheduled. 

Mark your calendars. All discussions are free and open to the public, and we'd love to have you join us! Acknowledging racism as a systemic problem into which we all play a part is difficult, but necessary. Until then, here's a quick article to get your week rolling. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Race, the Power of an Illusion Showing

Race--The Power of an Illusion
Thursday, January 22
Kalamazoo Valley Museum
Free and open to the public!

Looking for growth? Looking for a chance to connect? Looking for a place to eat your lunch among good company while having a stimulating dialogue about issues that affect you and your community? Well, look no further! 

Please join us this Thursday, January 22 at Noon at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, for a free film showing followed by a facilitated discussion. Presented by the Racial Healing Initiative of the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society and Kalamazoo Valley Community College's Arcadia Campus Committee for Cultural Understanding, we will be showing a segment of the three-part film "Race--The Power of an Illusion,"  a compelling and influential documentary that questions the idea of race as a reality.

The film explores the ways that race has been built up and how it has shaped the way we related to ourselves and each other.  The documentary shows us that although race is only a social construct, it is a very real system and foundation on which our society has been structured and built. And the consequences of this imagined identifier have been catastrophic for our humanness on a whole--wounding and damaging our humanity in the lingering legacy of centuries of oppression and cruelty. As a social construct, race still exists as the foundation for discrimination and oppression, giving white populations more freedom and access to resources and opportunities, while creating incredible barriers to attaining these same resources for folks of color. 

As we reflect on the film together, we'll be asked to think about race and racism in ways that go beyond individual stereotypes and prejudices, and address the systems, policies and procedures that allow oppression and disparities to thrive between people of different skin colors. 

Until Thursday, check out the website, where you can explore some of these ideas and analysis about race before the showing. The PBS site for "The Power of an Illusion" is a very interactive site where you can look at definitions of race, discover how race is a social construct and not a genetic code, see how people are sorted into races (rightly or wrongly), view the variety of shared traits such as skin and blood type between races, explore a timeline of how American ideas of race have changed over time based on shifting political priorities and much, much more. I highly recommend taking a look at this resource.

See you there!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Dust Tracks on a Road

“Why fear? The stuff of my being is matter, ever changing, ever moving, but never lost; so what need of denominations and creeds to deny myself the comfort of all my fellow men? The wide belt of the universe has no need for finger-rings. I am one with the infinite and need no other assurance.”

Okay, okay, I'll be honest. I haven't read it yet. But, geeze! It sure does look good! 

This month for our Racial Healing Book Club meeting, we will be reading and discussing Zora Neale Hurston's well-loved autobiography "Dust Tracks on a Road." First published in 1942, at the peak of her popularity, this book chronicles Hurston's childhood of poverty in the rural South on to her success as one of the most prominent artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Renowned for her wit, wisdom and audacity, Hurston is routinely considered a pioneer of her time, and one of the greatest geniuses of anthropology and writing in the United States

The Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society holds this Book Club meeting every other month throughout the year. The Race Initiative Book Club is founded out of the SMBHS’s Racial Healing Initiative, which is a program that maintains that the “lingering legacy of historical injustices must be addressed through” four steps: facing history, making connections, healing wounds and taking action. The Book Club is a drop-in club that fits into this structure by opening up a space for people to read and discuss books that promote racial healing and reconciliation. 

Please join us on Thursday, January 15th from 6:30-8:00 pm at Kazoo Books to discuss this historic piece. It is free, open to the public, and we would love to see your face! The book is available at the library or at Kazoo Books for purchase. 
Kazoo Books
2513 Parkview Avenue
Kalmazoo, MI

For more information on our Book Club, check out this article

Friday, January 2, 2015

There's Still Time to View Voices For Social Justice!

voices for social justices

If you're looking for something to do in the chill of the new year, why not visit the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and hear a little bit of wisdom from some local residents who are working to create change?

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum and the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society are working together to continue the community conversation about race, equity, and social justice in a new project based on oral histories with contemporary residents of Kalamazoo. The project, “Voices for Social Justice,” opened at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum on October 5, 2014 with a panel question and answer session moderated by Earlene McMichael from WMUK Radio, and featured five local social justice activists who were interviewed and highlighted for the project.

The engaging conversation between the panelists and the audience stressed the importance of continuing to fight racism consciously and with full commitment. Despite the often remarked sentiment that we live in a post-racist society, Chéree Thomas, Program Director at Douglass Community Association​, reminded the audience that racism “hasn’t gone anywhere; it just looks different.”

The panel was unanimous in the sentiment that racism is still alive. “No one can  survive in this society without being poisoned,” said Jo Ann Mundy, Executive Director of ERAC/CE.​ Racism wounds not only the oppressed, but also the oppressor. However, according to JR Reynolds, anti-racist activist and columnist for the Battle Creek Inquirer, racism is but one facet of the problems that we face in society. He argues that in order to address social justice issues and fight for equality, one cannot focus on only one of the “isms.” Racism, sexism, able-ism, et cetera are all part of the equation that adds up to injustice and inequality in America. Reynolds says that one cannot work against one ‘ism’ and not be affected by the other issues, and this sentiment was repeated by every panelist. “The crux of justice” is “anti-oppression” as a whole, said Lisa Brock, Academic Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at  Kalamazoo College. We must do it together and “it’s going to take all of us.”

“Voices for Social Justice” can be viewed for free at the KVM now through January 19, 2015. Stop by the Museum to listen to excerpts of interviews in which several local residents speak about their work, ideals, hopes, and dreams for a Kalamazoo community that fully embraces social justice. What does an equitable  society look like? See what a few of your neighbors think, and participate in the conversation.