golden lady writes!
golden lady writes!
The first time I played my very own djembe was the day before Mother's Day this year. I had a chance to do it again on Father's Day. After an event I had planned to attend that day got canceled without notification, I decided to join in on the 63rd Street Beach Drum Circle, which has come together at the same spot for over 40 years. I was excited since I missed the chance to play the day before at a Juneteenth event. Thankfully, I still had my djembe in the car.
What was only supposed to be a few minutes of drumming for me turned into 4 hours. I was having so much fun that I lost track of time. I had been watching the drummers for years, and that day I got to be part of something special while learning from the elders who are also fathers.
I will never forget the words of wisdom from an elder and drummer named Lorenzo not long after I started drumming that afternoon: "The more confidence you have in yourself, the better you will become." I took his advice and saw results. So, I will carry those words with me everywhere.
Friday, June 18
For the second year in a row, I had the honor of joining the Juneteenth Holiday Citywide Caravan, a collaboration between the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, The Black Mall, and Black Culture Week. Participants took a historic tour through Black Chicago neighborhoods from the westside to the southeast side. According to David Peterson, the museum’s President and Executive Director, Juneteenth means acknowledging the atrocities of slavery; the need to celebrate our history and culture; and the fact that American descendants of slavery are due reparations. “This is an opportunity for us to remember, respect, and move forward,” Peterson said. Partnerships are in the works within the Pullman district and with other organizations to strengthen the impact.
Saturday, June 19
DuSable Museum Reopening
“Freedom is a tradition that shouldn’t be for sale, but our ancestors have paid with their lives, careers, and reputations,” stated visual artist Kwame Akoto Bamfo during his speech at DuSable Museum’s Juneteenth reopening ceremony. “You are enjoying Juneteenth as a federal holiday because you are benefiting from that tradition. Bamfo ended his speech by having the audience raise fists and proclaim, “I am the embodiment of the freedom tradition!” His Black Slate Monument, a sculpture with an ever-changing digital message, was unveiled at the close of the ceremony.
Harold Washington Cultural Center
M.A.D.D. Rhythms, Blu Rhythm Crew, and The Happiness Club entertained the crowd outside during Harold Washington Cultural Center’s Juneteenth celebration., M.A.D.D. Rhythms Assistant Director Star Dixon presented a demonstration with students from Tap for Tots. She created the program to teach the little ones to “express themselves by speaking through their feet using tap dance.” Speaking of the designation of Juneteenth as a national holiday, Bril Barrett, Executive Director of M.A.D.D. Rhythms stated, “It just validates what we already knew in the community. Juneteenth is a special day.” Still, the fight continues to pass bills that address justice in policing, voter suppression, and other issues
Black United Fund of Illinois (BUFI)
I ended my day in South Shore at the Juneteenth celebration presented by BUFI, an organization that works to improve the quality of life for African Americans through self-sufficiency. I sat back and relaxed in my lawn chair while listening to smooth jazz sounds until it was time to go.
As America prepares to celebrate its independence day, July 4, 1776, more and more African-Americans have chosen not to acknowledge this holiday, as our ancestors did not realize their freedom from slavery until almost 90 years later. Instead, we celebrate Juneteenth, a day to commemorate the end of slavery as we knew it on June 19, 1865.
Juneteenth 2020 and worldwide protests, marches, demonstrations, and other activities, collectively breathed new life into and significantly strengthened the movement demanding racial justice and equality for Black people. A movement in itself, Juneteenth 2020 was a celebration like never before and a special day for African-Americans all around Chicago and everywhere.
Juneteenth 2020 celebrations helped propel the holiday into a movement that has sparked an even greater movement for racial justice. Last year, I enjoyed two distinct Juneteenth celebrations on opposite sides of town. My first stop was the Harold Washington Cultural Center in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago's southside for Juneteenth: The Celebration. M.A.D.D. Rhythms took it to the streets while people enjoyed a rousing and uplifting tap dance performance, giveaways, children's activities, vendors, etc. Later, I headed to the westside of Chicago for a commemorative ceremony followed by the 1st Annual Juneteenth Holiday Citywide Caravan. This collaboration between the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum and The Black Mall kicked off Black Culture Week.
During the car caravan, music of inspiration filled the air all over the city as Black people gathered together in love to pay homage to our ancestors and acknowledge the continuing struggle for true liberation. Some onlookers proudly waved their red, black, and green (RBG) flags, while others raised their fists in solidarity. My heart was full as I witnessed so many people outside celebrating this momentous occasion. The caravan grew bigger and bigger as random vehicles, many equipped with RBG flags, began to join in while we proceeded through downtown Chicago. The Isley Jasper Isley song "Caravan of Love" came to mind, as it represents what this movement was all about. By the time we had approached Stony Island Ave. on the southeast side, the caravan had appeared to have grown to a couple hundred vehicles. Imagine taking over all four southbound lanes between 71st and 75th Street until we had to merge into one lane during the final stretch of the caravan before reaching the destination at the historical Pullman Porter Museum on the far southeast side. There were multiple lanes until construction forced the takeover to merge into one on 87th Street east of State Street. I believe this is symbolic and represents taking control of our lives, with circumstances compelling us to come together to achieve a common goal. The caravan was not just a parade but a symbol of real change. Though we had reached our destination, we knew the journey was far from over.
The caravan gave us a chance to slow down, pay attention, count our blessings, and bear witness to the endless possibilities as we passed by numerous Black-owned businesses, many of which are long-standing staples in our community. There was a time when Black entrepreneurs were denied the opportunity to build businesses in certain parts of town, let alone survive. Brown Sugar Bakery is one such business that has broken through this barrier and continues to blaze new trails. The caravan literally passed by all three of its locations, from Chicago Avenue on the westside to the Chatham neighborhood on East 75th Street. Even though we did not directly pass by the downtown location at Navy Pier, seeing the Grand Avenue sign served as a reminder that there are no limits to where we can go. As my daughter, Tif, said, "Being a Black business owner is revolutionary!" The caravan happens again this year.
There is something different in the air forcing widespread change in just about every aspect of life, causing people to rethink their resistance to change. These are interesting times that we are living in, to say the least. We are in the midst of a unique paradigm shift where participation from those outside the Black community is overwhelming, so now is the perfect time for change. Those who are typically outside looking in when it comes to fighting for racial equality and justice realize they cannot brush this off as someone else's problem. They have chosen not to keep silent or impose silence any longer, acknowledging that systematic racism is not just a threat to Black people, but it affects society as a whole. People of all nationalities and walks of life have joined the fight and affirmed that Black lives absolutely matter. Big, bold letters are being painted on streets, buildings, and bridges lest anyone forgets. People are opening themselves up to having difficult conversations about Injustices against Black people. Handwritten and printed signs demanding justice have been displayed all over the world. While you may not be able to walk in someone else's shoes, you can realign your steps to help them heal.
Companies have felt the pressure and committed to change longstanding, racially offensive product images. In a complete about-face, professional sports organizations have responded to the call for necessary change by no longer denying players the right to kneel in protest. They now allow players to openly and visibly express their support of social justice and equality for Black people. On top of that, sports teams have been forced to replace names that insult specific groups of people amid the threat of major sponsors pulling funding. In support of this, retailers decided to pull merchandise from their shelves if teams refused to comply. These are small steps along the long road to resolving major, ongoing issues. The widespread attention and these actions prove the power of the Black voice and the Black dollar.
Juneteenth is now an official federal, state, county, and city holiday. People are consciously taking this historical moment to educate themselves about how Juneteenth came to be and why it is still relevant to this day. It is more than just paying tribute to our ancestors for their faith, resilience, determination, and fearlessness. Honoring their legacy means continuing the fight for freedom.
Never before have we seen times like these when we are fighting for justice while facing a pandemic on a global level. Future generations will look back and know that those who came before them collectively changed the world so that it would be better for them. Here is my message to those who are resistant to necessary change and attempt to set us back several hundred years: You can continue to live in ignorance, or you can choose to educate yourself. The fight continues!