“Each of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world..”
– Nelson Mandela
If only Josephine Baker had felt that way about America. Eventually, she did. But it was years later after she escaped a life of poverty and racial inequality. Only then was her return to America a celebrated one as a successful dancer and actor. Her coming home to march on Washington advanced the civil rights movement in 1950. Her hope: to help others discover what she had long ago.
Josephine was her own rainbow nation. She built it as a young woman, when she left her home in search of a better life. She knew what men like Nelson Mandela and women like Rosa Parks, Bertha von Sutton, and, most recently, Dickey Chapelle, learned. A rainbow nation is built on hope, hard work, and willpower.
It means not giving up despite the trials, the failures, the tragedies of life that befall every one of us. A rainbow nation can exist when every door is closed – the job you didn’t get or the person that said you weren’t smart enough, pretty enough, good enough. It is the peace inside your heart and the inner truth that tells you to stay the course.
It’s a daring concept – the idea that you can be an independent thinker and self-directed. That you are not the sum of your geography and history. It’s why so few of us risk everything for the truth we need and the happiness we desire. It’s bloody scary. That’s why Josephine Baker’s story, as we saw in Yara’s article yesterday, the Woman Who Chose Her Life, has lived on. She was fearless about failing and determined about succeeding.
After Josephine’s return to America, she started adopting children from around the world. She did what Angelina Jolie would do years later working as a Goodwill Ambassador to the UN in 2001. Josephine’s ‘rainbow tribe’ as she called them, were twelve children of different ethnicities and religions. Josephine built her own rainbow nation with her children and fourth husband at Château des Milandes, a beautiful palace she purchased in 1947.
What fascinating and quite possibly true is the idea that Josephine’s rainbow tribe concept may have had a larger ripple beyond the pages of history. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is credited with the rainbow nation concept in 1994 in post-Apartheid South Africa. It’s decades after Josephine’s use of a rainbow tribe. Mandela followed, carrying it forward in his role as President when he delivered his election speech. Was Josephine’s truth big enough to shape an entire nation?
This rainbow of nations, a tribe of people, living in unity and at peace introduces tomorrow’s modern-woman making history, Maya Angelou. In Maya’s collection of poems, Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer, people are their own bordered countries at one with nature and the trees that speak to our human kind. Like Josephine, Maya reminds us to give birth to the dream in the palm of our hands: “Sculp it into self. Each hour, new chances, new beginnings.”