The Locals and Legends Wall Mural

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That Saturday while in Jacksonville, I walked down A. Philip Randolph Boulevard and saw some amazing wall murals.

This was my second time in Jacksonville but my first time venturing places alone and learning of the city where James Weldon Johnson and Zora Neale Hurston once lived.

Every block I walked, I inhaled the amazing culture. I took in the sights of my people Bar-B-Queing on their front lawns and of them walking in and out of shops owned by them. I took in the sounds of R & B, Hip-Hop, Jazz, and Gospel all hovering under the hot still sun. Each couple of blocks I walked, it was a new sound track. I took in the southern hospitality, the smiles and how-do-you-do’s.

I did not expect to see much art though and was surprised when I looked on the side of the Man Cave Barbershop building on the corner of A. Philip Randolph Boulevard and Pippin Street! I saw a colorful wall mural with seven figures. My first instinct was to try to connect with the historical figures. I could only name two.

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I knew who Zora was from her trademark hat and I knew James Weldon Johnson. But the rest… I was struggling with. I photographed the mural in different angles. Trying to get past the two cars in the lot.

I found out later through WJCT.org that the mural was painted by the locals, students and artist together.  It’s called the “Locals and Legends” mural and it features famous African American’s celebrated throughout history as well as local African Americans celebrated for their work in Jacksonville.

  1. The first subject on the left, Asa Phillip Randolph, is who the main street  is named after. He is known as A. Phillip Randolph and is a natural born leader. He was a civil rights activist, one of the few men who headed the March on Washington, and organized the first African American labor Union (just to list a few).

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2. The second one is my heroine Zora Neale Hurston, a writer and anthropologist who is best known for the novel, Their eyes were watching God. I love how she traveled through the south collecting stories from everyday people so that our rich culture would not be lost. She even recorded the southern vernacular.  ( I am looking forward to reading her  new book that  just came out this year Entitled Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave, it tells the true story of the last known survivor of the slave trade…  it’s on my birthday list).

3. The third figure is someone named Clarence Williams, who once owned the building where the art lies.

I had to call around to find out more information about him and spoke to Ms. Pickett who is the curator of street art in Jacksonville (isn’t that a hot job title?) She told me the purpose of the wall murals is to bring in visitors into the East Side of Jacksonville. One of their goals after the painting is done is to set up wall mural tours.

She told me that Clarence Williams was a citizen of Jacksonville in the Eastside. He was an entrepreneur and business owner and  passed away a few months before the mural was completed.
4.The fourth figure is Pearlie Graham, the long time owner of nearby Spot Rite Cleaners and the only living subject in the mural. She also owns the building that has the mural of the girls graduating.

5. The fifth figure is James Weldon Johnson, a writer, actor, activist, and most popular for writing the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing.

I just finished one his books, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man. This book should be placed on every high school summer reading list or read closely during the school year. After visiting his city I found myself reading more of his work to figure out who he really was. I love love Johnson. If you don’t have much time to read, then you should start with his poetry. His poem, ‘The Creation’, sits on the wall in The Ritz Museum in Jacksonville. It is a lyric that retells how the world came to be. The fourth grader who was with me named MJ had just as much fun as I had reading it aloud.

6. The sixth figure is Bullet Bob Hayes, an athlete….I read about him on wiki.

7. The last figure, A.L Lewis, was the president of the (Afro- American) Life Insurance Company, and he also started American Beach, a Nassau County vacation spot for African-Americans during segregation.

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And down the street there’s another mural (which I already posted) in progress depicting an old school in Jacksonville for African-American girls which I learned a little history about.

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This building is owned by Pearlie Graham. However, the school that this mural represents is closed. It was called The Boylan Haven Mather School and was the first school for African American girls on the East Side. It started out as a school to train girls to be servants.

The school was founded in 1886 and was named for a benefactor, Ann Boylan DeGroot, treasurer of the Newark Conference. She’d hoped to atone for, and change the image of, her family, which had operated two large plantations. In 1901, the school established a nurse training department, which later became Brewster Hospital – the first for African Americans in Jacksonville. (taken from Wikipedia)

I must say here that their modest dressing was what made me take the photo. Believe it or not, this is how I dressed in high school. My mother got the uniform company to make my sisters and I long skirts. Can you spot me in the photo below?

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Black Women: Power and Grace

Deborah Willis

Ms. Willis and I at a Herman Leonard photo event

In 2009, right before I graduated college,  I remember sitting in my photography class, annoyed. I was bored. The class seemed to be similar to my music classes where I saw myself and my people very little in the material we covered. I had began to trick myself in thinking we would come next in the syllabus. But, if that time came, it came quick.

My only solace was the library where I educated myself. One day I came across Black: A Celebration of Culture by Deborah Willis. I was sitting in Rose Hill’s library on the floor in a criss crossed position with a couple of books with images by black photographers. As someone who is always concerned about how I carry myself in public, I knew no one was going to walk into the aisle, so I stretched out my body and opened the book.

After flipping the pages back and forth, I looked for more work by Willis and checked the books out. I brought the books to my professor with the intention of simply talking about the images. However, I never imagined how I was going to start the conversation. I did not know how to ask him straight forward if we could jut talk about African American photographers and their work. So, what I said, came out childish and sounded like I just happened to find anything.

Look what I found in the library.

He smiled at me. I did not know if he understood what I was trying to say but his response surprised me.

Lystria, this is work by Deborah Willis. She’s coming to campus today.

Really?

Yes.

I stuck around for the event and when I arrived the room was packed. It was hard to find a seat. I stood by the door.

As she spoke about her work and the power of images, I imagined what it would be like to take up this important job of photographing my community. I hung on to her words of inspirations.

After the discussion, I introduced myself. I spoke to her about some of my wildest goals (of traveling America and taking pictures of Black people) and simple dreams (of taking pictures of people in the Bronx). I remember her soft response. Just do it. Just do it. She kept telling me. Start small.  Keep practicing. Then she told me her testimonies and how she started projects.

When we were about to part, she said, this is my last copy but I want to give it to you. And she took out her new book (at the time) Obama: The Historic Campaign in Photographs  and signed it for me.

I was extremely shocked. I thanked and hugged her tightly.

Now, as I look back over my experiences at Fordham. Those four hard years of coming to terms with myself as a black woman in the world and still grieving the loss of my mother. I am so grateful for all the people God allowed to be kind to me. The small gestures of kindness was what made me feel invincible. That feeling of I can live in this world and be happy. 

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Photographer Russell Frederick

That feeling was what I felt when I went to Kamoinge’s event, Celebrating the Grace of Black Women, three months ago. Only this time, I did not engage in much conversation but mingled and watched.

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Photographer Terrance Jennings

 

I knew a few faces in the crowed space. Okay, only four faces! Friend and Photographer, Terrence Jennings, Deborah Willis and of course my two sisters (who don’t count…) However, I was excited to place faces with names like Jamel Shabazz whose books I also came to enjoy. He asked me if I was a Hebrew Israelite….I think it was because of the hat I wore. I also placed a face with Jules Allen, the photographer whose work I studied after I graduated. His Hats series was what inspired me to start the Hats or Hats Not chapter of my blog.

Later I looked up the meaning of Kamoinge on their website.

“Kamoinge exists as a forum of African-American photographers, to view and critique each other’s work in an honest and understanding atmosphere, to nurture and challenge each other to attain the highest creative level. The name comes from the Kituyu language of Kenya, and means a group of people acting together… The intention [of Kamoinge] was to help make up for the absence of works by African American artists, so history could not say we did not exist.”

Something about reading their history and intentions mixed with knowing my own personal history of why I enjoy taking pictures and being at their event titled, The Black Women: Power and Grace, made the significance of my attendance even more vital for myself.

I always seek self representation. When Black women are represented as leaders (whether on a small or large scale) this reinforces, for me, the lessons I’ve learned as a child. Those lessons of positivity and determination. The same sense of self-fulfillment and happiness I felt when I was in college I felt at the event (but on a difference scale) And, now as I sit and write about it three months later, I realize that it was needful for me to attend The Black Women: Grace and Power.

 

 

Aisha

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I ran into one of my college mentor’s, Aisha (pictured here in the grey sweatshirt). At Fordham,  we kind of connected even though she was three or four years ahead of me. She always took time to talk to me about continuing my education and keeping a head on my shoulders.

One of my fondest memories of her is after we had a talk about hair and food (she had just cut her’s short and to me that move was very daring) she took me to an Indian market off Fordham Road to show me where she brought her spices.

While making friends was never hard for me, I think during college I felt lonely sometimes (as we all do!). Nonetheless, one of the things about the atmosphere at Fordham (Rose Hill Campus) is there is some type of unspoken rule that us Asili folks will look out for each other and without being told to, that’s what Aisha did. I am always grateful to her and the other upper class- (wo)men for taking me under their wings.

 

Going to see the Amish

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For the end of the year trip, the third grade went to Pennsylvania to continue their studies about the Amish people.

The tutor guide, Ms. Ellen, was very down to earth and had a clear understanding about the Amish and their way of life.

Before we went, I searched for children books about the Amish but only found cookbooks. The New York Public Library told me there were no Amish children books in their database. I asked my brother who is in graduate school to see if his school had any books about the Amish. That night he came home with  a thick but easy read book titled: A History of the Amish. It was worn and someone had highlighted all the important material so it was easy for me to use the book to teach my class.

During the trip I took notes worth sharing:

The Beginnings: Menno Simon, who was a priest, objected the idea of taking babies and baptizing them. He argued with the Pope and left the church with a lot of members. They now call themselves the Mennonites as oppose to Catholic. They believe people should be baptized as Adults and not as babies. Everyone should be given the choice to decide whether they want to be apart of the church. They were kicked out of Switzerland, Germany, France and other European countries because of their defiance.

Another Breakaway: Then in the 1690’s the Mennonites begin to argue among themselves about people not following rules. Jakob Ammann argued that the rules needed to be stricter, such as, if you don’t obey the rules in the church, well, then you will be thrown out. You will be shunned. The Mennonites then split in half. Those who wanted things more strict, became Amish and those who were satisfied stayed Mennonites.

William Penn: These two groups heard about an American, William Penn, who started the colony of Pennsylvania. He told both groups that they were welcome to come to Pennsylvania. Thus, both groups came to Pennsylvania. Today the Amish is in 23 states and in 3 Providences in Canada- but none are in Europe. On the other hand, the Mennonites are everywhere. They are in a lot of states, South America, Africa, and Europe. There are so many of them because they have missionaries and want to bring more people into their church. Meanwhile, the Amish are satisfied with the members they have.

(The man who gave us a buggy ride was a Mennonite).

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The Amish House: They do not have electricity so they use an oil lamp or propane tank. They do not use rugs because you need a vacuum to clean the floor.

Church: They also do not have church buildings. They have church in their homes. Every other week, they attend someone’s home for service. Each member should have room in their house for the church members to attend.  During church their will be singing and a sermon. Then Brunch follows and the ladies are the ones who fix the meal. The men eat first. After they eat, the ladies and kids eat. After they all eat and clean up, then it’s time for sports.

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They have bishops and minsters, all of whom are elected by each other. They do not get a salary because they already have an occupation as a farmer or carpenter. Everyone gives ten percent of their money to the church which goes into a bank account and if one of them has a problem which result in huge expenses, the church steps in and pays. For example, if someone has a huge hospital bill and can only pay half, the Bishop has the power to pay half of the bill.

They take care of each other. No one goes into an institution and no one gets sent away. If someone has alzheimers or if a child is born with physical problems. Everyone in the church, helps you out. Very little crime. If you committed a crime and the Bishop heard, he would come to your home and take you to the police. They do not hide anyone. If you get arrested for a crime, you are also shunned.

Sports: Everyone participate in sports after church. They might play: volleyball or baseball. We saw a pair of skates near the bed, in which we were told everyone had skates and scooters. Some have bikes that they ride on the farm. Everyone plays together.

Holidays: They celebrate all the traditional Christian holidays such as Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. They also celebrate birthdays. They do not celebrate memorial or labor day (which celebrate soldiers). But they celebrate July 4th.

Citizens: They vote only if the issues is important to them. So they vote sometimes. They do not take part in elections. They pay their taxes and are good citizens. If you lived by them as a neighbor and needed help, they will help you.

Daily Life: Everyone eats together. Breakfast and Dinner. The mother and daughter are up early in the morning to prepare the food for everyone. The men do a lot of physical work. They are farmers or construction works. No one eats a piece of toast or fruit for breakfast. They all have big hearty breakfast (eggs, sausage, pancakes). Then, the kids go to school and Dad goes to work while mom does house work. Like, tending the garden, canning, and making quilts for themselves and tourist.

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Fun Fact: The Amish calls us Englishers because we speak English. To the Amish people their are three types of people: The Amish, The Mennonites and the Englishers. They call themselves the plain people. They dress the same, they want to look like a community of people. The individual is not important. The community is important. The look and live different from Englishers. When they are growing up, they are not Amish. They only become Amish when they grown up and choose to become Amish as adults.

They are taught from the time they are very little that their are three very important things in life. They are very religious and teach their children the acronym JOY. Because they are very religious, it’s more important to learn about JESUS, be a good person and get to heaven. The O is for OTHERS. Others are your community and family and church group. The Y stands for YOU. You as an individual come last.

Marriage: This one I wasn’t really clear on…but it seems as if the Amish date before joining the church. It’s only when they decide to marry when they must join the church. The soon to be bride, makes a plain dress for her wedding. Her dress will be either blue or purple. The dress she makes for her wedding is the same dress she wears to church every other week. She wears the dress all her life. And when she dies she is buried in the dress. The bride also wears her prayer cap on her wedding day. The day she marries, she will wear very old-fashion high top shoes. The rest of the time, she wears high top black shoes and black stockings.

The Wife: The ladies have very long hair. Their hair is parted in the middle and pulled back into a bun. All ladies have the same hair style. They want to look alike. They wear a prayer cap. Like the Mennonites and the Muslim,  the Amish follow the scripture closely about a women’s hair being her crown and glory and should be only seen by her husband. Thus, they cover their hair.

When the women work, they dress plain. Unlike the Mennonites who believe in wearing bright colors and prints on their clothes.

The main job of the women is to be a wife and mother.

The Little Girl: When a child, the child dress exactly like the mother (kind of like having your own American Girl Doll). The little girl wears a plain dress and a black apron. However, she will not wear a prayer cap. She will part her hair in the middle and wear braids with a scarf for covering.

The Husband: He wears black slacks without cuffs or buttons. He also does not wear a belt. He wears suspenders. He may wear a shirt from Walmart (this comment aroused a lot of questions…as my students had learn that they make their own clothes…). All Amish men wear their straw hat  or his black wide church hat (which my students declared: ‘That looks like Ms. Hurley’s hat!” ) and construction boots.

When the men attend church, they wear hand made suits which have no buttons. He wears a white shirt and not tie and a vest.

The Little Boy: The kids are taught to work from very little. They are not out playing, they are working. The little boy sits on the back of the plow (he’s 5) and helps his dad (who maybe a farmer) plant tobacco. When the  dad puts the plow through the ground, his son is sitting on the back with the plants and he’s leaning over placing them in the grown.

In conclusion, the Amish are a happy people who are not interested in violence or war. They have a different culture.

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My Classroom Door

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The theme for this year was based on Javaka Steptoe’s book, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

I got foam like crowns and pieces of foam for the frame from the dollar store. The radiant stars had to write one radiant thing they learned so far in the third grade.

Kweli Literature Conference

 

Over the spring break, I attended Kweli’s book conference (the third annual Color of Children’s Literature Conference) held at CUNY graduate center in Manhattan.

I was super excited about going to the conference because I enjoy reading and writing stories for children.

The Kweli conference keynote was given by author, Angela Johnson. A trendsetter for children books and an admirer of mine. It was my first time meeting her and hearing her speak.

Her speech set the tone for the conference.  It was full of purpose, yet very comical and light. She began with short funny anecdotes about her book tours at schools. The following story (paraphrased) is one story she told that was my favorite. It made me think of a little girl in my class:

She began, Every elementary school has a little third grade girl who just knows everything. When I arrived at this particular school, I was assigned THAT girl. Her name was Ashley. When I told Ashley I needed to use the bathroom, she replied, I’m going to take you to the bathroom no one knows about; and she took me up to the third floor…I stayed in that bathroom for about a half hour or more locked in! Finally, when Ashley returned. She asked, Ms. Johnson, are you ok? Yes, I replied, I’m locked in. Ms. Johnson, she asked, did you push or pull the door?  

I laughed out loud at this story as I could see and hear the little girl in my class asking the same question.

As she continued her speech, the theme of memory and high expectations kept recurring. Even though she spoke about serious topics like race and acceptance,  the mood was very settle and light.

She spoke of her traumatic experiences as a first grader in 1967. It was interesting to hear how her parents did their best to prepare her for a world that was not welcoming to people of color and at the same time, her parents also seemingly managed to keep her sheltered enough so she could enjoy her childhood and the skin she was in.

“I had been told earlier on, she said, that the world would expect a little bit more of me”. Many parents of color often tell their children even today, that they have to work extra hard. However, her father put it in a more subtle way.

“My father, she continued,  “had told me I couldn’t be ordinary and I didn’t understand that…I been told gently by my father that some people wouldn’t accept me…I knew it had something to do with maybe the color of my skin. He never came out and said it”.

It seems like Ms. Johnson was given an opportunity (as most children) to look past people skin tones and treat everyone equally and expect the same fairness back, because her parents guarded her innocence.

Nonetheless, in first grade, she begin to understand the the world wasn’t all it was cut out to be.

On the first day of school during roll call, her teacher escorted her out of the classroom, pinned her against the wall then proceeded to ask her why was she there.

She continued, “I ached to be in the first grade…I always felt like I belonged in my world…they had showed there was no difference in all of us…so why was this teacher who was suppose to be my first grade teacher asking me why I was there?”

‘As a first grader, I  understood very little of what was going on’.

Eventually, she was moved  to another first grade class. Nonetheless, the memories stayed.

In her story, I learned that the person who placed her in the first- first grade class was seemingly a daring person. She was painted as a hippie, someone who believed in change and taking chances. However, this hippie teacher, an adult,  had to know how this other teacher was. As Ms. Johnson spoke about this hippie character, she praised her. But, I wondered, was she really praiseworthy and fully innocent?  She probably could have saved Johnson the trouble of experiencing this trauma as a little girl by not placing her in this prejudice teacher’s class altogether.

Johnson went on to explain how much [we] are responsible for children and I would even say, their memories. True we do not control how children perceive experiences but if we work really hard to give them great ones, (and we know when they are great because a happy adult makes a happy child) then we have met them half-way.

I relate this story only because it was one of my earlier memories, I relate this memory because it was one of my earliest traumas, I relate this trauma because it’s gone a long way in my understanding children and those people that are responsible for children and how we treat them on this planet. 

I am very happy I was able to attend the Kewi book conference. It was like a breath of fresh air to hear many authors and illustrators speak about their work! Ms. Johnson’s welcoming and friendly tone set the mood for the rest of the conference. I walked away with a strong sense of who my work was for and why I am responsible for their experiences and memories.