For Patsey and Her Descendants

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Activists, Allies, Artists, Black Resistance Screening List, Field Notes, Prisoners, Students, Teachers, Uncategorized
(L.) Patsey from 12 Years a Slave Francois Duhamel/Fox Searchlight (R.) Lupita Nyong’o Kevin Winter/Getty Images
(L.) Patsey from 12 Years a Slave Francois Duhamel/Fox Searchlight
(R.) Lupita Nyong’o Kevin Winter/Getty Images


Happy Women’s Empowerment Month!
In Lupita Nyong’o’s inspiring speech accepting the 2013 Best Supporting Actress “Oscar” for her impressive performance in 12 Years a Slave, she acknowledged the presence of the true life Patsey (whom she portrayed in the film) and asserted powerfully “no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”  Her Academy Award show statements culminated an overwhelmingly successful international run on red carpets and award show stages in which she wowed the world with her graceful beauty, impeccable style and stunning intelligence.  Joyful, cosmopolitan, and Ivy League educated, Ms. Nyong’o fulfills a durable wish we have as the descendants of Patsey and the vicious dehumanization by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade that her character embodies.

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The Combahee River Collective

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A picture of the Combahee River from the realtor Plantation Services which sells property along the river.
A picture of the Combahee River from the realtor Plantation Services which sells property along the river.

As Black feminists we are made constantly and painfully aware of how little effort white women have made to understand and combat their racism, which requires among other things that they have a more than superficial comprehension of race, color, and Black history and culture. Eliminating racism in the white women’s movement is by definition work for white women to do, but we will continue to speak to and demand accountability on this issue.

From The Combahee River Statement

Throughout the mid-70s and early 1980s, a group of Black women gathered for weekly meetings in Boston to discuss Black feminism. Their Combahee River Statement has become a key document in the principles of contemporary Black feminism. While reading the statement, I was reminded of the poem And When You Leave Take Your Pictures With You by Jo Carrillo.

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Why Bury The Ratchet?

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Image Activist Michaela Angela Davis encourages us to "bury the ratchet."
Image Activist Michaela Angela Davis encourages us to “bury the ratchet.”

What is “ratchet” and why is there a campaign to end it? The phrase “ratchet” gained its popularity when the Ratchet Girl Anthem–an original song that was created by two young men–went viral in the spring of 2012. The word “ratchet” is a disparaging term used to describe “ghetto” women. According to Urban Dictionary “ratchet” is,

A diva, mostly from urban cities and ghettos that has reason to believe she is every man’s eye candy. Unfortunately, she’s wrong.

Image Activist Michaela Angela Davis is spearheading a campaign at Spelman College to increase consciousness and decrease the negative messages generated by many reality television shows and have become synonymous with women of color. In the process, “ratchet” has been launched into another realm as Davis moves forward with her campaign which has the goal of publicizing how people of color feel about the ways they are portrayed by large media corporations. Davis will be hosting a talk at Spelman College with community leaders and scholars on topics around African American women, culture and society this month. To learn about the various events that are planned, check out #MADFREE, Davis’ monthly newsletter.

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Claudette Colvin’s Revolution

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Teachers
Claudette Colvin at age 15. This undated file photo was taken around the year 1953. Courtesy of AP/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Claudette Colvin at age 15. This undated file photo was taken around the year 1953. Courtesy of AP/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

As a substitute teacher at a New York City Charter School, I have the privilege of teaching a variety of subjects for 5th-8th graders. This week my coverage involved a 6th Grade History class. Once my scholars were working on their assignment, I took a break and asked the class, “Does anyone know who Rosa Parks is?” All twenty-two students raised their hands with confidence. I then asked the class, “Does anyone know who Claudette Colvin is?” One boy shyly raised his hand and questioned if it had anything to do with Black History. One girl raised her hand and stated, “She was a 15-year old girl who sat in the middle of the bus during the Civil Rights Movement and was arrested before Rosa Parks.”

If so many of our students are aware of Rosa Parks’ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, why are so few familiar Claudette Colvin?

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Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Black Resistance Screening List, Parents, Students, Teachers
Screen shot from the film Just Another Girl on the IRT.
Screen shot from the film Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.

As a young Black woman living in a low-income neighborhood in New York City with dreams of becoming a doctor, Chantel Mitchell had a lot of obstacles to overcome. The 1992 film Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., written and directed Leslie Harris, explores some of these challenges. Chantel is an outstanding student and outgoing woman who loves to speak her mind freely of the social injustices of African American people in her history class but her sharp tongue gets her into trouble in high school. She becomes romantically involved with a young man named Tyrone and the two teenagers become sexually active. Unfortunately, Chantel does not use her birth control properly and several weeks later she realizes she’s pregnant.

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Queen Nanny of the Maroons

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Artist Rendering of Nanny of the Maroons, on Jamaica’s Five Hundred Bill, first circulated around 1976 when Jamaica declared her a National Heroine.
Artist Rendering of Queen Nanny of the Maroons, on Jamaica’s Five Hundred Bill, first circulated around 1976 when Jamaica declared her a National Heroine.

As a child, I remember visiting my mother in Jamaica and receiving a $500 Jamaican banknote. I was mesmerized by the elderly woman that exuded strength on the bill. I asked my mother about who she was and learned that Queen Nanny is a national heroine that fiercely fought against British slave owners to free more than 800 enslaved people and helped them relocate to the Maroon communities in the mountains throughout Jamaica. Queen Nanny was an Ashanti woman from Ghana who was captured and brought to Jamaica as a child. She escaped slavery with four men and formed a Maroon community in the Blue Mountains with one of them. These communities led various raids on plantations for weapons and food–often burning the plantations–and freeing the slaves. The geographic location of the Maroon settlements were strategic and deliberate: the rugged hills made it difficult for the British to attack the communities with any success. In 1733, the British government granted Queen Nanny and her community the land where they had settled. The 500 acres of land officially became Nanny Town, located high into the Blue Mountains of Portland. Although it is unclear when or how she died, Queen Nanny’s legacy still lives through Jamaican folklore and storytelling traditions.

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Bring Your Self

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Field Notes

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Happy Women’s Empowerment Month! Officially declared National Women’s History Month by the US Congress in 1987, March is a time for celebrating women’s achievements and discussing social problems that disproportionately impact women and girls in schools, community-based organizations, the workplace and cultural institutions. Of course, these celebrations and discussions should continue throughout the year and include community members from diverse genders, racial backgrounds, economic circumstances and sexualities. Every women’s issue—for example reproductive freedom and wage equality—also impacts men and boys. Problems such as gun violence and school segregation also have life shortening consequences for women and girls although they are not often described as feminist concerns.

According to the National Women’s History Project, this year’s theme is “Imagination Through Innovation.” This month, contributing bloggers will highlight how Black women artists and activists creatively imagine solutions to problems facing women of color in the US and abroad. Whether starting Maroon communities in 19th century Jamaica or creating groundbreaking paintings today, the rich tradition of Black women’s resistance to racial discrimination, gender exclusion and other forms of oppression encourages us to bring all of ourselves in order to envision and build a more just society.

Third World Women’s March, 1981. Photo courtesy of The Knotted Line
Third World Women’s March, 1981. Photo courtesy of The Knotted Line

Of course, we all don’t need to be a dynamo like Florynce Kennedy to help solve problems in our communities. The everyday discussions we have with our families, circles of friends, classmates and colleagues (in person or online) are often where we imagine the changes that can address our concerns about issues that are impacting the women we care about. The next steps are considering which people, organizations or institutions can provide the resources necessary to create that change and how our communities can work together to advocate for it.

I’d love to know what changes you would like to see for Black women in your community.  Also, how is your school, nonprofit or place of worship celebrating Women’s Empowerment Month?

Share with us here in the comments section, on Facebook or Twitter.

Yours in Solidarity,

 

Robin Signature

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robin
Principal Organizer, Progressive Pupil
@PPupil
facebook.com/progressivepupil

Love Black Studies? Then “Like,” “Follow” and “Click”

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Activists, Allies, Artists, Parents, Prisoners, Scholars, Students, Teachers
Ida B. Wells, journalist, editor, Civil Rights activist and suffragist. Photograph by Oscar B. Willis, courtesy of the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Ida B. Wells, journalist, editor, Civil Rights activist and suffragist. Photograph by Oscar B. Willis, courtesy of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Our Social Media Education and Outreach program is a big part of how we make Black studies for everybody. Rarely seen pieces by beloved artists, thrilling performances and fascinating facts about Black history are consistently featured on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.  There is also inspiring information about the work of grassroots organizations that are currently solving problems such as violence, lack of educational access and police misconduct in Black communities around the world.  “Like,” “Follow” and Click to make Black studies and progressive change a part of your everyday life.  It’s an easy way to be part of the solution.

The Audre Lorde Project

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Activists, Allies, Scholars, Students, Teachers
Portrait of Audre Lorde by Robert Alexander, 1983.

A version of this post was originally published on March 19, 2012

Black women from throughout the diaspora have made significant contributions to Black Studies. Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a poet, essayist and activist who created a number of ground-breaking ideas about the relationship between race, class, gender and sexuality. Her most well-known quote comes from her classic collection of essays, Sister Outsider: “…the Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house.” Lorde believed that activists of color needed to address all forms of oppression rather than seek inclusion into the elite for members of their particular group. She also advocated for radical political and cultural changes that would equalize power relations in our society.

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