#FunFriday has become a sort of riddle-me-this day. It’s when WomanScape considers the central themes from a week of inspiring women and adds a little more food for thought.
So riddle-me-this: what would happen if America moved past our horrific slave narratives – stories about the Underground Railroad escape routes for enslaved Black America – and created a new narrative?
We would hold up the past, respect the lessons learned and move ahead. It would mean focusing less on pain and injustice, and more on a hopeful resolve and creating positive changes in the world?
Understand however that I’m not suggesting we forget the past. Nor should we tear it down because it is a vile reminder of what was wrong with our country, our leaders, and our insane way of seeing color, race, and humanity.
That would be like forgetting what pained me most in life – the death of my son and the loss of my younger brother to suicide. This pain will forever haunt me but it is mine to hold and to use.
Maybe the comparison is weak, given the sheer number of Blacks who suffered at the hands of white people for generations. But does it change my point? What should we do with our legacy of pain and Black slavery? Pain shapes our future, our family and our communities of friends and supporters. But the beauty is that we decide – we choose – how we shape our future.
What strength does grief and injustice offer? I’m in good company when it comes to believing these wounds are powerful change agents. They can foster change – like failures that are really lessons learned. Ask Lisa Nichols, an incredible motivational speaker who will bring you to tears with her story of adversity. She shows us understanding, forgiveness, empathy, and hope. (Photo credit for Lisa Nichols, pictured above, is MotivatingtheMasses.com)
This week we shared German Kent’s Handbook of Hope and You Are What You Tweet. Both books offer rich lessons around setting new pathways for building opportunities and optimizing happiness. Don’t wait to lay new tracks for building a brighter future beyond anger and resentment. Why should grief and disappointment hold you back? Harriett Jacobs and Louisa “Lulu” Jacobs showed us, like Nicols and Kent, how to do the impossible when they built schools for Black children.
Or how about Harriet’s slave narratives? They fueled a revolution of sharing that inspired other slaves to take courage and to feel they could share their own stories. Harriett’s book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave, created a groundswell of solidarity among feminists and abolitionists by exposing the cruel, unimaginable acts of violence perpetrated against her. Her story is also part of Women’s Slave Narratives, which documents four other stories – Mary Prince’s account in the West Indies, Mattie L. Jackson, Kate Drumgoold and Annie L. Burton.
Ruby Bridges, the first Black child to cross color lines by attending a white school picks up where Lulu and other slave narratives end. Ruby never gave in to fear or threats. Either did Martin Luther King, who had a dream, or Maya Angelou, who started talking about why the caged bird sings. They were like Josephine Baker and chose the life they wanted to live. Each moved beyond the confines of Black and built a life around strength and the kind of audacity that changes old narratives.
After combining through some Toronto archives looking for popular underground railroad locations, I discovered a soul food restaurant aptly named, The Underground Railroad.
Established in 1969, owner Henry Jackson said he wanted to bring the homegrown flavors of southern-style cooking to the people of Toronto so they could experience “some real color”.
The menu was limited but promised, “Pig’s feet boiled to tender perfection and drenched in mushroom sauce… annamae salad, colorful cabbage slaw with apples, pineapples, and nuts tossed with mayonnaise.. and mouth-watering barbecued ribs, collard greens, and black-eyed peas”. (Torontoist.com)
As one of the first Black quarterbacks to play professional football, Jackson missed the homegrown tastes of his Georgia birthplace. The Underground Railroad became a Toronto hotspot for celebrities, politicians, music-industry giants and regular folks. At its peak, people came from Chicago and New York to experience Jackson’s food and maybe a sighting of BB King or Stevie Wonder!
Patrons dined to jazz, soul, and smooth blues sounds piped through old black style stereo speakers that hung next to sugar sack curtains and antique railway lanterns. The music was from a collection of 3,000 Black music albums, and wooden railway beams that hung overhead helped to make this place a “symbol of light” because people from all colors broke bread together.
Jackson’s Underground Railroad speaks to a new kind of emancipation based on healing racial tensions and moving beyond slavery. Sadly, for all the light we can see, we need to keep building Underground Railroads to combat new forms of slavery. Under the railroad overpass by Canal Street in a place where I used to live there are state-allowed “hassle-free zones” where contractors hire immigrant workers well below minimum wage.
Many of them work in abusive conditions despite laws and the same is true for undocumented laborers from Mexico and South America. Sex trafficking is perhaps one of the worst forms of modern-day slavery in what is a $99 billion dollar industry, globally.
But here’s what I know. Change and perspective begin with me and sharing my beliefs. I have a book by Gwendolyn Brooks (photo above by Goodreads.com) that sits next to my bed stand. Her story Martha Maud captures the essence of what it was like to grow up in the south side of Black Chicago. Brooks is a Pulitzer Prize-winning African American poet. I can’t wait to open the pages and learn from her.