Bookish Details around Philly

The main reason we went to Philadelphia is because of books….And when you travel because of books you are rarely let down. Stacy and I ended up in  Uncle Bobbie’s Shop, a book store in Germantown after visiting the Lest We Forget Slavery Museum.

Some of the books I came across that I made a note to purchase.

Below, Stacy and I smiling with Mrs. Ragsdale, the director of the Lest We Forget Slavery Museum. She gave us a very informative tour. The tour changed the way I see the world and how I see myself. Learning about the slave trade and the atrocities of it, did something to my joyous spirit for the rest of the weekend. Stacy kept asking me, What happened?

I realize when one begin to dig into history, one have to be ready for the good, the bad and the ugly. That was the first time I visited a museum and actually cried.

 

As mentioned before in a previous blog, we also visited the African American History Museum which was rich with history but a totally different experience.

Philadelphia prides itself in being the forerunner in Black Press. In 1884, Christopher Perry published the  Philadelphia Tribune making it the oldest black paper in the United States.  IMG_2324

The street newsstand…IMG_2315

Right before we ate, we caught the last few hours of the children’s book fair. Where we met authors and Illustrators, Nikki Grimes, Renee Watson, Carole Boston Weatherford, Eric Velasquez, Tami Charles and Floyd Cooper.

 

Our Voice

Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. day weekend, I felt super cold, super bless and super special.

I was super cold because it was super cold! I went to Amherst, Massachusetts to view Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards at the Eric Carle Museum and got caught in a terrible snow storm.

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I felt super blessed for many reasons…

  1. I missed my bus from Boston to Amherst and got to the museum after the event with Onawumi Jean Moss ended…but was just in time to see her!
  2. I really wanted to go to the museum for a while and went on the perfect weekend- (sometimes the cold and snow can be a good thing) not only did I get to view the very informative exhibit but Onawumi Jean Moss stayed at the museum almost three extra hours mentoring my sister and I! Which leads me to why I felt super special.

Okay, now I am beginning to think that  feeling blessed and feeling special are the same feelings…anyways…I felt this good feeling because my sister, April, knew how badly I wanted to visit the Eric Carle Museum and when I told her I was going that weekend, she willingly accompanied me and did everything in her power to make sure I enjoyed myself…minus her trying to keep me from exploring cold Boston alone…that’s another funny story.

I also felt special because the education coordinator  at the museum, Courtney, heard about our long trip there and while Onawumi gave me some lesson plan ideas, she went into the museum shop and got me a free copy of In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson and Jerry Pinkney, which is one of the books Onawumi suggested I use in the classroom.

While we were all conversing,  Ms. Custard, an assistant principal at Ahmerst Reginal High School, came in the room to check on Onawumi and joined the very intimate conversation about race and education in America.

After the discussion, I viewed the amazing art work on the walls (the exhibition celebrated illustrators who won the Coretta Scott King Award. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the children’s book award. ) and  I realized I either owned a copy of the books or knew of the books before hand. However, some I did not have…such as….

Ray Charles by Sharon Bell Mathis and George Ford – Most of the teachers in my school teach the children Fifty Nifty States which is a tune written by Ray Charles. This is a grand opportunity to introduce the Rhythm and Blues singer to the children.

I  purchased The Creation  by James Weldon Johnson and James E. Ransome at the museum. I did not know it was made into a children’s book. If you remember, I had read the poem at the Ritz Museum in Jacksonville, Florida. I shared it with the Little Flock (the children at my church) and the response was lovely.

I was surprised to see Jan Spivey Gilchrist and Eloise Greenfield’s Nathaniel Talking,  which is a poem my sisters and I memorized growing up, on the wall. This poem was in our school readers growing up. Our teachers skipped over the poem which made the poem even more exciting to read. We took the book home and memorized it…just so we could rap.

Most times it is very difficult to teach children about the lives of musicians without a children’s book which is why I plan to buy:

Bryan Collier and Troy Andrews Trombone Shorty, Frank Morrison and Katheryn Russell-Brown’s Little Melba and her Big Trombone and Jerry Pinkney and Bille Holiday’s God Bless the Child .

I should also purchase, Kadir Nelson’s We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball because I was never into sports so I am really horrible when it comes to teaching the history of sports……It just so happens that I have a little boy in my class to loves to talk about baseball since he lives right next to Yankee Stadium.

I also purchased, N. Joy and Nancy Devard’s The Secret Olivia Told Me at the museum. I always thought silhouette art was the bomb and so does my students!

Lastly, I want a copy of Benny Andrews’ Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes. I must admit that I was a bit surprised to see the same artist work in two different exhibits in two different cities for two different reasons. I learned about Benny Andrews at the Brooklyn Museum when I viewed, Soul of a Nation. When I saw his work at the Eric Carle museum, I had to double checked to see if it was the same person, which it is.

 

 

 

Christopher Paul Curtis

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I was super excited to meet Christopher Paul Curtis at the National Book Awards Ceremony this month! I attended without finding out who were on the finalist list. I love surprises…especially if I can control them in some way.

The first thing I would always do when I arrive at the New School (which is where the ceremony is held) is visit the book seller’s table. I do this even before looking at the program. Looking at the books for sell tells me who I will be listening to that night.

When I came across The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis, I asked the vendor if he Mr. Curtis was going to be there that night. Sometimes authors don’t show up to the event.

Yeah, I believe so, he responded.

And, sure enough. He was there!

I was really happy to meet him in person because his writing kept me up at night as a little girl. His books were among the many books my favorite librarian, Mr. Hardy, placed in my hand when I was in middle school.

When I introduced myself to him during the intermission, he looked at me and smiled.

It’s a pleasure meeting you, Lystria. Do you teach?

Yes! I do! How did you know?

I actually didn’t. I didn’t know weather to ask if you taught or how old you were! You look so young.

Thank you, Thank you. I get that I a lot. I teach third grade.

Oh, third grade! I still remember my third grade teacher.

He signed my book and we spoke a little bit about his writing habits. I had remembered some of his habits by reading all of his books closely over and over again as a little girl.

Do you still wake up at 6 to write?

He started smiling. Well, Lystria, it’s getting earlier and earlier.

After we spoke, I met other authors. But meeting him and hearing him speak was by far the most nostalgic and settling for me.

Before I left, he introduced me to his wife Mrs. Curtis and author, Andrea Pinkney. They all looked at me in my eyes and told me how thankful they were that I was teaching.

Thank you for teaching our children.  They told me constantly.

I would be lying if I told you I did not leave that event feeling better then when I walked in. The same feeling I felt after reading  Bud, not Buddy or The Watsons go to Birmingham had returned to me when I met Christopher Paul Curtis in person.

Majora Carter

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Last year after doing a mini lesson on Urban Planning and talking about communities, cities and how they are built, I invited  leading urban revitalization strategy consultant, and real estate developer, Majora Cater, to speak to the students and we all were surprised when she actually came!!

She spoke to the third graders in a language they could understand. She shared with them the power of education and how needful it was as she was growing up. Of course they were more interested in the story about her dog walking in her wedding and how she felt when the Bronx was burning. However, she kept them engaged and informed them of what the Bronx used to be before they were born.

As the teacher who invited her, I was extremely happy and proud! I kept smiling the entire day! Especially when my principal said she enjoyed the presentation.

 

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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.