Archive | February, 2013

Closing Black History Month 2013

28 Feb

Black-History-Month-20131-e1361831330607My hope this year, as it is every year, is that I have sufficiently proven how we still need to celebrate Black History Month in the United States; that racism is sadly alive and well and living in every state. Hopefully, TSM has celebrated many folks who have been relegated to corners of history and are rarely celebrated.  I have to confess what a pleasure it was to celebrate so many African Americans who dedicated their lives and continue to dedicate their lives to civil rights and social justice.

Some of my favorites this month (none will surprise the TSM audience) were:Martha Wash — talk about a true example of working for civil rights and social justice?  Gordon Parks was another great article — I hope he becomes integrated into history books. As we can see there are too many African American voices who are missing from American textbooks.

The most personal and the most painful life to celebrate for Black History month, was Bonnie Sanders.  I so want her to have her place in history.  I love and miss  her so very much.

I hope you got the chance to learn about some new people and were able to rejoice in names you already recognized.  Chime in and let me know who were some of your favorites and tell me some people you would like me to add to the list.  I suppose one of the “take-aways” from this series is that until we see African-Americans being represented in all history books and American culture values Black History, we will continue to have the need for Black History Month.

Black History Month 2013: Loretta Long

27 Feb

LorettaLongToday we honor and celebrate a woman who has been a key part of the lives of millions of children, Dr. Loretta Long. As Susan, Long has been a member of the cast of Sesame Street longer than anyone but two colleagues: Bob McGrath and Caroll Spinney (the puppeteer who portrays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch).

Born in Paw Paw, MI in 1940, Long pursued a degree in Education, determined to make a difference in young lives. She was also interested in entertainment, and began co-hosting the WNET show Soul! while substitute teaching. The show mixed musical variety (including performances by Stevie Wonder and Patti LaBelle) with frank political commentary, appealing to all Long’s interests. One day she saw the set decorator preparing scenes for a new program and asked for more information. The show was Sesame Street.

[It] wasn’t Dick and Jane’s old neighborhood with the picket fence. That intrigued me.

Impressed by the educational and multicultural goals of the program, Long went to audition. What she didn’t know was that the creators were looking for a “Joan Baez type” for the female lead. All the other performers were there with guitars; Long had expected a pianist. Improvising, she sang “I’m A Little Teapot” to the children in the test audience, engaging them to join in. Her infectious good humor and way with the kids won her the part.

So that–I have some 4-year-olds to thank for a career!

Long taped the show, substitute taught (much to the confusion of students who saw her in the classroom and on TV), and pursued her PhD in Education from the University of Massachusetts all at the same time. She wanted to be sure to have the tools to make education meaningful and fun both. Her dissertation was entitled “Sesame Street”: A Space Age Approach to Education for Space Age Kids.

While educating generations of children on fair play, diversity, and basic skills, Long has also been a strong voice for social justice. She is dedicated to creating true equity and challenges people to think outside their comfort zones.

In 1998, she wrote the children’s book Courtney’s Birthday Party, about two girls who are best friends, one white and one black. When Courtney, the white girl, has a birthday party coming, her mother doesn’t want to invite Dejana, her African-American friend. The girls work together to solve the situation, promoting diversity and cooperation. Long faced some criticism for the book because people felt it wasn’t realistic in 1998. She demanded otherwise (quite accurately) and provided kids, parents, and teachers with a marvelous tool.

We seldom know about the backgrounds of the entertainers who create educational programming. As Long observes,

TV is like fire. It’s good when it keeps you warm and bad if it burns your house down. TV is very popular and you need to be aware of what your children are watching.

The cast of Sesame Street were all dedicated to true educational and social justice principles (including the late Will Lee, better known as Mr. Hooper). Thank you Dr. Loretta “Susan” Long for providing your voice and passion for so many years.

(For a wonderful, lengthy interview with Dr. Long, visit the Archive of American Television.)

25 Feb

This is quite lovely. Thank you Jennifer Carey for sharing this: Library of Congress Electronic Exhibit – African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship

Indiana Jen

In honor of Black History Month, the Library of Congress is hosting the electronic exhibit “African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship.” The exhibit displays more than 240 artifacts, including documents, images, videos, and more.

The exhibit “explores black America’s quest for equality from the early national period through the twentieth century.”

This is a rich, multimedia exploration into the experience of African Americans in this country for over 200 years.

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Black History Month 2013: Nina Simone

25 Feb

Nina Simone in Pink Dress and Gold TurbanToday I would like to honor and pay tribute to one of my personal heroes, Nina Simone. Her 80th birthday was this month and we lost her nearly ten years ago. I remember crying my eyes out on April 21, 2003 when I heard that Nina Simone died. I fell in love with her smoky jazz voice so many years ago.  I can’t drink gin without thinking of our Nina.

Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born in Tryon, NC, and aspired to be a classical pianist. Despite her prodigious talent, she was denied scholarships and admissions and pursued a career in clubs instead. Eventually signed to Colpix, she was boxed into a pop-jazz mode for a few years. She took the standards she was given and began subverting them with her unique style — she was described as being a piano player, singer, and performer, “separately and simultaneously.” Over the years her stage set became famous for her powerful interpretations and righteous original songs.

Simone’s response to the assassination of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the church in Birmingham that killed four children, was Mississippi GoddamIn Mississippi Goddam, we see Simone taking her place in the civil rights movement. Unlike Dr. King, Simone advocated violence if necessary in order to establish a separate state for African-Americans – who could blame her. You can only feel beaten down so much without building up a great amount of rage. I have such a great admiration for Dr. King for sublimating his rage into non-violent means.The song Backlash Blues was written by her friend Langston Hughes. Simone was also friends with Lorraine Hansberry and turned one of her plays, To Be Young, Gifted and Black into a civil rights song.  In 1972, Aretha Franklin did a cover of that song.

Nina Simone you are missed and cherished.

Black History Month 2013: James Baldwin

22 Feb

James-Baldwin-9196635-1-402I would like to honor and pay tribute to James Baldwin. Baldwin was an amazing and courageous writer, civil rights activist, and novelist. Not only did Baldwin work for social justice as an activist, but he was a pioneer writer who grappled with issues of race and homosexuality.  Is it any wonder he became an expatriate and moved to Paris, France? America was not a safe place for blacks or gays.

While most people have read one of my favorites, Go Tell It on the Mountain (his autobiographical coming of age novel), and Notes of a Native Son, it was Giovanni’s Room, that spoke to me. Imagine the courage it must have taken to have written a novel about homoerotic love, I only wish the characters in the novel could have been black, for there is still such a need for positive gay black role models.

I would strongly encourage everyone to read his essay: No Name in the Street, which addresses the assassination of three of his closest  friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Here is part of an interview with Baldwin and his reflections on Malcolm X; very complex interview and one really should listen to all three parts of it. I’m not sure enough people know how much of his time was spent as a civil rights activist and how grateful we all should be to Baldwin!  Baldwin has an amazing understanding of the intersections of oppression and system oppression–if only more people would learn about and read Baldwin’s works.

Hero of the Week Award: February 22, Oregon United For Marriage

22 Feb

OU4M_logoThis week a dedicated group of Oregonians began the official process of undoing a great injustice. In 2004, during the great wave of anti-equality measures across the nation, Oregon voters passed Measure 36, a constitutional amendment denying LGBT couples marriage equality. Although the margin was smaller than in most states, it was a decisive and depressing result.

Oregon United For Marriage (OU4M) is a new group allied with Basic Rights Oregon. Their goal is to place a measure on the November 2014 ballot to overturn the constitutional amendment and create true equality. The initial petition required 1,000 signatures; OU4M gathered over twice that many, including signatories like Gov. John Kitzhaber and former Gov. Barbara Roberts. They must now obtain approximately 100,000 signatures to get the measure certified for the ballot.

Oregon was one of the first states to issue same-sex marriage licences. In early 2004, Multnomah and Benton counties decided that the equal protection clause in the state constitution trumped the male/female language in the marriage statutes. That effort resulted in the backlash that passed Measure 36. Even in the wake of that defeat, the Oregon legislature created a “marriage in all but name” domestic partnership law championed by Senator Frank Morse (R – Albany). That separate but equal provision at least creates some basic rights and protections. With polls showing a huge 54 – 40 margin in favor of equality, the new measure should put Oregon on the right side of justice and history with the nine (and counting) other states.

Honorable mention this week goes to former Utah Governor and GOP Presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman. In an article for American Conservative, he makes the case that if his party continues to oppose simple equality it will be “made irrelevant in the marketplace of ideas.”

While serving as governor of Utah, I pushed for civil unions and expanded reciprocal benefits for gay citizens. I did so not because of political pressure—indeed, at the time 70 percent of Utahns were opposed—but because as governor my role was to work for everybody […] That was four years ago. Today we have an opportunity to do more: conservatives should start to lead again and push their states to join the nine others that allow all their citizens to marry. […] There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love.

Well said, Gov. Huntsman, and thank you.

Black History Month 2013: Bonnie Sanders

19 Feb

Michael & Bonnie June 2008This particular tribute is especially difficult for me to write and I only hope I can do Bonnie justice.  Bonnie and I were friends for nearly a quarter of a century.  She would have been 61 years old today, but sadly we lost her all too soon.  Bonnie was born and raised in Akron, Ohio.  She lived the last part of her life in Atlanta, Georgia. Just by the way Bonnie lived her life, she was an exemplar of social justice.

Although she could present a gruff exterior — and we all know she did not suffer fools lightly — she had a heart that embraced all marginalized voices. From the nine turtles she saved and adopted, the many dogs and cats she rescued, to standing in solidarity with the LGBT community and with the aging community, her dedication to civil rights and women’s rights was unparalleled.  Bonnie walked in every AIDS Walk Atlanta since the very beginning. Bonnie’s voice will be sorely missed.

Bonnie was the boss of all of us and inspired everyone to be their best person, although I have to admit she did have a devilish way of making me act out.  Although she was chronologically older than I, she referred to me as her Granny.  Probably because I would just hold her hand, fix meals for her, and fuss at her if she did not go in for her mammogram.  To be honest, she also called me Granny because I can’t stay up past 9:00.

Our traditional New Year’s Eve extravaganza would usually start at 4 and Bonnie, Joanie,  and I would be asleep by 8:00.  Our friends who knew us well knew you had to leave by 8:00 because we would be asleep.  I did wake up at midnight and would wake up Bonnie and Joanie for a quick toast to the New Year and then back to sleep.

I was in my early 20s when I met Bonnie and was immediately in love with her — with her contagious laugh, her irreverent sense of humor.  Over the years we built a life together and have a shared history.  Bonnie knew I was gay before I did, as she was wont to remind me of often.  Bonnie is one of the reasons why I married my wonderful husband, for Robert had to get her approval.

The pain of losing someone so close is at times unbearable; there are times throughout the day that I feel as if I’m choking, or I break into tears.  Other times something funny will happen and my immediate reaction is to want to call Bonnie.  Right now it feels as though a huge part of myself has been ripped out and I cannot retrieve it.  I desperately try to just be grateful Bonnie was a part of my life for so long.  I know she lives forever in our collective laughter and acting out.

A heart is not judged by how much it loves, but by how much it is loved by others; it is obvious how Bonnie’s heart embraced the world and I am all the better for just having been connected to her.  Her light and wonder were contagious and should be shared!

For those that knew Bonnie, please, I invite you to share a funny story that shines as an example of how witty and irreverent she was.

I love you, Bonnie.



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