December 31, 2014

Happy Kwanzaa: Kuumba ('Creativity')

Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah): Creativity - Using creativity and imagination to make your communities better than what you inherited.

December 25, 2014

OURstory: Michael Anderson, NASA African American Astronaut

OURstory must be shared at all times of the year, not just in February. I think it is important that our young people challenge themselves in K-12 with science and math classes. Perhaps it will help if this blog shares examples of African American role models who used their knowledge of science and math to create exciting futures for themselves.

For example, Did you know that a young brother named Michael Anderson was born December 25, 1959, in Plattsburgh, New York. He graduated from Cheney High School in Cheney, Washington in 1977. He received a bachelor of science degree in physics/astronomy from University of Washington in 1981. Later he earned a master of science degree in physics from Creighton University.

He successfully got a job with NASA in December 1994. Anderson flew for over 593 hours in space. One of his spaces flight was in January 1988 on the Shuttle Endeavor.

His last flight was in 2003. Anderson was part of a 7-member shuttle mission launched by NASA on January 16, 2003. Space Shuttle Columbia was on a 16-day mission to research microgravity and other Earth science related experiments.

The seven member crew, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Rick Husband, Kalpana Chawla and William McCool died on February 1, 2003 when Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart during reentry.

It was later determined that a piece of foam broke free and struck the shuttles wing during launch, damaging the thermal heat tiles which protect the shuttle from extreme temperatures during reentry into the atmosphere.

Michael Anderson was a hero. He was a role model for all of us. May he rest in peace.

Rest In Peace: Eartha Kitt (1927-2008)

81-year old Eartha Kitt passed away on this date in 2008. She was an international superstar who performed in over 100 countries and sang songs in 10 different languages.

She performed on stage, film and television for six decades. I was introduced to Eartha Kitt when she played the role of 'Catwoman' in the weekly 'Batman' television series. There weren't many Black actresses on television back in the day. I'm hard pressed to think of anyone besides 'Julia' and one of the teachers in 'Room 222' ... and most villagers don't remember either one of those shows.

My kids are too young to realize that they were listening to Eartha Kitt whenever they watched the movie or cartoon series, 'The Emperor's New Groove'. She played the role of the villain, Yzma, in that show.

Later, I saw Eartha Kitt in a Eddie Murphy-Halle Berry film called 'Boomerang'. Admittedly, she scared me a little bit in that movie. I'm sad to learn of her death. It's fitting that she went to the other side on December 25th. After all, one of her most popular hits was 'Santa Baby'.

December 21, 2014

Happy Birthday: Florence Griffith-Joyner (1959-1998)

My favorite female athlete of all times is Florence Griffith-Joyner ... or Flo-Jo. Flo-Jo was born in Los Angeles on this date in 1959.

She was a dominant track star in the 1980s. In fact, the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul Korea is forever imprinted in my mind as the Games of Flo-Jo. In the 1988 Seoul Games, she won gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and in the 400-meter relay. For these accomplishments, she received the Jesse Owens Award, given to the year's top track and field athlete, and the Sullivan Award, given to the year's most outstanding amateur athlete.

Only us villagers from a certain generation can remember her flashy one-legged uniforms as well as her long and extravagantly painted fingernails. Check out this video to gain an appreciation of this powerful female athlete:

Flo-Jo retired from track in 1989 to devote more time to endorsement activities, modeling, writing, and coaching her husband. President Bill Clinton appointed Griffith-Joyner co-chairperson of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in 1993.

Some, like Marion Jones, tried to emulate her without success. Florence Griffith-Joyner died of an apparent heart seizure in 1998.

Do you remember Flo-Jo? What female athlete do you think can challenge her as the greatest of all times?

December 18, 2014

Happy Birthday: Ossie Davis (1917-2005)

Ossie Davis was born on this date in 1917. He was an African American actor, writer, producer, director, and a "giant of civil rights." It is hard to think of Ossie Davis without thinking of his wife, Ruby Dee. The two of them demonstrated the power of a committed love between a married couple.

Raiford Chatman Davis (his birth name) was the oldest of five children born to Laura Cooper and Kince Davis in Cogden, GA. He picked up his nickname others mistook his mother's articulation of his initials, "R.C” as "Ossie." He headed for Howard University, where he studied under drama critic Alain LeRoy Locke, the first Black Rhodes Scholar. Davis began his career as a writer and an actor with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem in 1939.

Davis and Ruby Dee were married in 1948, and are the parents of three children. In 1961, Davis wrote and starred in the critically acclaimed “Purlie Victorious.”

He wrote and directed many films, including “Cotton Comes to Harlem” (1970) and “Countdown at Kusini” (co-produced with his wife, Ruby Dee, 1976), the first American feature film to be shot entirely in Africa by Black professionals.

Davis wrote a number of books and received many honors and citations, including the Hall of Fame Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement in 1989; the Theater Hall of Fame in 1994; the U.S. National Medal for the Arts in 1995; the New York Urban League Frederick Douglass Award; the NAACP Image Award and more. Dee and Davis were joint Kennedy Center honorees in December. They were cited not only for their "theatrical and film achievement," but because they opened "many a door previously shut tight to African American artists and planted the seed for the flowering of America's multicultural humanity."

Davis and Dee were eloquent voices and fundraisers for civil rights issues from the McCarthy era in the 1950s. They were blacklisted because of their activities, and well into the 1980s and '90s, Davis continued as a spokesman for numerous causes of equality.

Ossie Davis was found dead on February 4, 2005, in his hotel room in Miami Beach, FL, at the age of 87.

I enjoyed watching Ossie Davis whenever I could. I thought that he was great in two Spike Lee movies, 'Get on the Bus' and 'Do The Right Thing'. However, my most powerful memory of Ossie Davis comes from somthing that I heard many years after the fact ... his eulogy at the funeral of Malcolm X.

Villagers -- what is your favorite memory of Ossie Davis?

December 13, 2014

OURstory: Underground Railroad (1780-1862)

I believe in the Nguzo Saba, especially the Umoja (unity) principle. Umoja calls for us to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.

One of the best examples of 'umoja' in American history is the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad, a vast network of people who helped fugitive slaves escape to the North and to Canada. This network was not run by any single organization or person. It effectively moved hundreds of slaves northward each year -- according to one estimate, the South lost 100,000 slaves between 1810 and 1850.

An organized system to assist runaway slaves seems to have begun towards the end of the 18th century. In 1786 George Washington complained about how one of his runaway slaves was helped by a "society of Quakers, formed for such purposes." The system grew, and around 1831 it was dubbed "The Underground Railroad," after the then emerging steam railroads. The system even used terms used in railroading: the homes and businesses where fugitives would rest and eat were called "stations" and "depots" and were run by "stationmasters," those who contributed money or goods were "stockholders," and the "conductor" was responsible for moving fugitives from one station to the next.

For the slave, running away to the North was anything but easy. After the initial escape for a slaveholde, the fugitives would move at night. They would generally travel between 10 and 20 miles to the next station, where they would rest and eat, hiding in barns and other out-of-the-way places. While they waited, a message would be sent to the next station to alert its stationmaster.

The Underground Railroad had many notable participants, including John Fairfield in Ohio, the son of a slaveholding family, who made many daring rescues, Levi Coffin, a Quaker who assisted more than 3,000 slaves, and Harriet Tubman, who made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom.

Ohio was crucial to the Underground Railroad saga. It has been estimated that 40,000 runaway slaves escaped to Canadian freedom through Ohio. A secret and successful network of over 700 safehouses and “depots” waited for those fugitives fortunate enough to make it to—and across—the Ohio River.

Although a “free state,” a designation indicating only that its residents could not own slaves, Ohio was a distinctly dangerous host to the escapees. Bounty hunters criss-crossed the state. Pro-slavery factions existed in many villages and cities. The Ohio Black Laws rewarded those who turned in or reported runaways. Lake Erie was a formidable obstacle to attaining Canadian freedom. Vigilante groups scoured the state, targeting all African-Americans. Law officers were aggressive, particularly following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

I live in greater Cincinnati area. We are home to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Museum. I hope that all villagers have a chance to visit this remarkable museum.

Also, the Cincinnati Museum Center hosted a world-class exhibit, America I AM: The African American Imprint in 2010. The Center for African American Decorative Arts lent them a book simply entitled The Underground Railroad to be displayed in the Underground Railroad gallery at the America I AM exhibit. In 1852, a group of Philadelphia abolitionists formed a General Vigilance Committee to assist escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad. William Still was part of this group and kept detailed records of the runaway slaves he encountered. First published in 1872, this book is used to this day in genealogy searches. Many of the stories include references to Cincinnati and the Ohio River.

What are your thoughts about the Underground Railroad?

December 8, 2014

Happy Birthday: Flip Wilson (1933-1998)

On this date in 1933, Flip Wilson was born. He was an African American entertainer and the most visible Black comedian of the early 1970s.

He was born in Jersey City, N.J., the tenth of 24 children. Clerow Wilson (his given name) was a troublesome and troubled child in his youth. His family was extremely poor, he ran away from several reform schools, and was ultimately raised in foster homes. His comedic talents first surfaced while he was serving in the Air Force overseas. While in the Pacific, Wilson entertained his buddies with preposterous routines. Upon his return to civilian life he had to settle for a day job as a bellhop along with part-time showmanship.

Opportunity found him in 1959 when a Miami businessman sponsored him for one year for $50 per week, enabling him to concentrate on the work he loved. For the next five years, Flip Wilson appeared regularly at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The Tonight Show was his next stop. in 1965, he began a series of nationwide appearances, followed by long-term contracts and a number of hit records. With "The Flip Wilson Show" in the early 1970s, he became the first African American to have a weekly prime-time television show under his own name.

I remember watching Flip Wilson when I was a kid. The two catch phrases that stick with me are: "What you see is what you get!" and "The devil made me do it!" Could Tyler Perry have been successful with Madea without Flip Wilson's portrayal of Geraldine?

Wilson died November 25, 1998 at the age of 64. Rest in peace Mr. Wilson!

December 7, 2014

Rest In Peace: Elizabeth Edwards (1949-2010)

Elizabeth Edwards died of cancer on this date in 2010 at the age of 61. She was surrounded on her deathbed by friends and family, including her estranged husband, John Edwards.

From all accounts she was a strong woman and a powerful advocate for her husband when he ran for political office.  There was a time when I thought that she would be in the White House.  I voted for her husband whenever he was on the ballot.   He wasn't on the ballot when the 2008 Democratic Primary was held in my state.

She was a strong advocate for health care reform.  And she battled cancer for a number of years.   The shame of it all was that her personal triumphs were overshadowed in the end by the gigantic ego and irresponsible behavior of her husband.   Anyhow, I join with other villagers in saying 'Rest in Peace' to Elizabeth Edwards.

December 5, 2014

Rest In Peace: Nelson Mandela (1918 - 2013)

Today we mourn the death of international hero Nelson Mandela. His life personifies 'the heart of a lion'. He led the fight against apartheid with extraordinary vigor and resilience after spending nearly three decades of his life behind bars. He sacrificed his private life and his youth for his people, and remains South Africa's best known and loved hero.

Mandela was born July 18, 1918. He was jailed in November 1962 for leaving the country illegally and for incitement to strike. While serving the sentence he was charged with sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In prison Mandela demonstrated his heart by never compromising his political principles. He was always a source of strength for the other prisoners. Nelson Mandela's reputation grew steadily. He was widely accepted as the most significant Black leader in South Africa and became a potent symbol of resistance as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength. He consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom.

More people watched his release from prison on February 11, 1990 than any other prisoner in the history of the world. Some even analyzed the details of his speech he gave on his release! He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He served as president of South Africa from 1994-1999.

Mandela has honorary degrees from more than 50 international universities. Nelson Mandela retired from public life in June 1999 and he currently resides in his birth place - Qunu, Transkei.

Here is my Pinterest board dedicated to Nelson Mandela

Villagers, do you remember your participating in protests against apartheid? Do you remember how you felt when Mandela was finally released from prison? Can you deny that this quite man of peace found a way into your heart?

Rest in peace, Madiba!