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BLACK HISTORY MONTH

A Mayor, a Poet, and a Lieutenant on the USS Enterprise

Recognizing African American Trailblazers for #BlackHistoryMonth — Week 2

Click here to read Week 1

This year for #BlackHistoryMonth I am highlighting people who have had an impact on my life, profession and the world. This is a summary of the second week of posts.

Day 7: Those who know me well know that I grew up on the original Star Trek shows and continue to enjoy the most recent incarnations of the show with the first Black female captain on Discovery. When I first saw Nichelle Nichols playing Lieutenant Uhura it was the kind of representation that allowed me to dream about reaching the stars. She became involved with NASA — National Aeronautics and Space Administration and she was encouraged to stay on the show by none other than civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. — she spoke and sang at his funeral in 1968. She will always be one of my guiding lights and I wish her well in her current stage of life. Learn more about her life here: http://uhura.com/

Day 8: one of the books that had an impact on me when I was a young, avid reader is the 1952 book by Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man. We didn’t learn much about Black history or the Black experience in school, so I took it upon myself to read some of the literature, and I’m not sure how I found the book — I might have gotten it from my father, but the story it told about alienation has stayed with me through the years. Ellison was the first African American to win the National Book Award in 1953.

The book begins: “I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

Day 9 : I just happened to be reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower in the Fall of 2016 — I was struck by how prescient she was, predicting the rise of Donald Trump. Her amazing work has inspired new generations of authors and Afro-futurists.

This New Yorker article by Abby Aguirre speaks to her impact: “By writing black female protagonists into science fiction, and bringing her acute appraisal of real-world power structures to bear on the imaginary worlds she created, Butler became an early pillar of the subgenre and aesthetic known as Afrofuturism. (Kara Walker cites her as an inspiration; and, as Hilton Als has pointed out, Butler is the “dominant artistic force” in Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade.”)”

Day 10: I’m going home to Spokane, Washington. In 1981 James Chase was elected as the first black mayor in Spokane by a landslide 62% margin.

Chase proved popular as mayor. He got the city through some tough economic years and instituted programs like the “1% for Art”, which not only put art in city buildings, but lives on in the Chase art gallery outside City Hall. He also helped join the black community and Spokane at large in a stronger sense of “togetherness.” Yet in 1985, after only one term, Chase revealed he would not be running for reelection. He received critical accolades in his retirement. James Chase passed away in 1987 due to cancer. With many institutions bearing his name, such as the Chase Community Center, he left behind a legacy of civic duty and steadfast honor for all of Spokane to remember.

Day 11: It’s Black History Month in Canada, and it’s long-past time every Canadian heard the story of Africville, Nova Scotia.

Black settlers escaping slavery began arriving after the American revolution. Some settled on the south shore on the outskirts of Halifax and created a community called Africville. Despite facing countless challenges and hostility, the tight-knit community managed to thrive for 150 years. They built their own little town from the ground up with stores, a church, a post office, and a school.

The City of Halifax had a habit of placing their most unsightly structures such as a dump, slaughterhouse, prison, and an infectious disease hospital near Africville in an apparent attempt to drive them out.

Despite the problems Africville experienced, it was a beautiful seaside community. Eventually, it became clear that the City of Halifax wanted the land Africville was on to expand Halifax and build new properties.

In 1964, the Halifax City Council voted to authorize the relocation of Africville residents. The demolition of Africville was swift and heartless. Some residents said that their homes were destroyed without their knowledge or they were only given 24 hours notice to move. Other residents and their belongings were removed using dump trucks.

Many residents struggled to afford rent after their displacement from Africville. The small amount of money they were given for their homes was barely enough to cover a down payment on a new home or rent for low-income housing.

Day 12 is inspired by my friend Anne Charity Hudley who shared this poem by Lucille Clifton, one of my favorite poets, in a presentation at McGill University:

won’t you celebrate with me
BY LUCILLE CLIFTON (1936–2010)

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

A prolific and widely respected poet, Lucille Clifton’s work emphasizes endurance and strength through adversity, focusing particularly on African-American experience and family life.

Day 13: I’m honoring two women who have made history. I love watching the #OlympicGames and I’m so glad I was up early to watch Erin Jackson become the first Black woman to win a gold medal in speed skating. I also want to recognize Maame Biney who was the first Black woman to make the US Olympic team in 2018 at the age of 17 and is competing again in Beijing. They are both full of joy and amazing competitors, blazing a trail for young girls to follow.

Erin Jackson
Erin Jackson in the 500M
Maame Biney
Maame Biney

Click here to read Week 1

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Terri Givens

Terri Givens

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Founder/CEO Brighter Higher Ed. Political scientist & consultant. Higher Ed, Radical right parties, immigration politics & European politics