NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – New York City has announced plans to erect a monument honoring Shirley Chisholm, celebrating a legacy of leadership and activism. The political trailblazer was both the first black congresswoman and the first woman to seek the Democratic presidential nomination. First lady of New York Chirlane McCray and a host of dignitaries…
I ran into one of my high school sisters. Embarrassingly enough, I had to confess to her that I forgot her name. We recognized each other at the same time in the train station. But she acknowledged me first.
Oh, Hi! You look familiar.
Yes. Where did I meet you at? Did you attend Fordham or do you go to…
You forgot me? Really?
No, I remember you. I just forgot your name and…
SJB! We met in high school. You were a year older than me!
Ohhhhhhhh, shucks! Right. right.
Do you remember my name?
No. No. I’m so sorry. What is it again?
Oh…..yeah. Opeyemi! I remember now! How are you?
After a short moment of ohhhing and ahhing to convince Opeyemi that I really did remember her, we embraced and spoke for a long time.
Majority of the conversation was her reminding me about high school. Actually, my memory was depending her hers and vice versa. I could not remember who she hung out with, some of the teachers we shared, and even if we shared friends (which it turned out that she knew all my friends and sisters!).
She kept on bashing me (in a kind way) for forgetting her. “How could you forget me? I’m hurt.” But, I really didn’t forget her. I simply forgot her name….and some high school moments. Or maybe they were replaced by other moments which made other memories dormant? Perhaps they were waiting for Opeyemi to come along and ignite them. Isn’t that’s what memories are, bits of information that sits in our head until time tells us to use it?
One thing I do remember about high school is sitting in Ms. Kurtz’s biology class and zoning out. She was talking to the class about the difference between long term and short term memory. I was staring outside and something she said about long term memory drew me in.
Ms. Kurtz, can you give an example of long term memory? I asked.
Lystria, if a cute boy walks up to you today and tell you that you are pretty and gorgeous, you will remember that for a long time. That’s long term memory. He made you feel good. Your emotions were evolved. But, these notes? you will not remember them. Unless you study, and you still may forget them…..
I kid you not, I did not even pay attention to anything else she had to say. I kept on day dreaming about that cute boy.
When Opeyemi scorned me for forgetting, I blamed it on age but that didn’t work being I was only one year older than her. However, now that I am still thinking about the situation, I think it does have something to do with age. I was Opeyemi’s older sister in high school. She and her friends all looked up to me. I tutored and counseled with them. This made her remember me. I also was an ambassador for my school which meant I was always meeting freshmen. Every year. And being paired with new students. While most of the upper class men were busy with just their friends, I knew students from every year. That’s a lot of people to remember now! Had it been the other way around, she probably wouldn’t remember my full name!
I think how I treated the freshmen and welcomed them into my school, made memories stick with them. I can’t even remember all of my close friends from high school.
The words poet Maya Angelou said are true: …people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel, this good feeling of nostalgia showed up in our ability to pick up our companionship. However, I think the quote should read, people will forget your name too.
At the beginning of the school year, I got an email from the cozy children book store on 18 West 18th street, Books of Wonder, informing me that Judge Sotomayor was coming to town for a meet and greet book signing!!
When I arrived, I picked up both of her children books, the picture book, Turing Pages: My Life Story and the adaptation for middle graders based on her bestselling adult memoir, The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor.
When she asked me who to sign it to, I told her to my third grade class.
Where do you work? she asked.
In the Bronx.
She smiled and replied thank you, thank you. Your job means so much. She asked me what part of the Bronx and spoke to me about how important teaching can be. Then she thanked me again. Knowing she grew up in the Bronx, made her encouragement even more meaningful.
I shared the books with my students during the months of September and October, prior to our career week celebrations. I turned to the page with her signature and showed them that the judge herself, had taken the time to sign the book just for them! Their eyes got big and they sat even more still during the read aloud.The little boy who usually sits at the back, squiggled himself up to the front.
The students were engaged in her life story and I was extremely happy when one of my students declared that she wanted to also become a judge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was super excited to meet Photographer Louis Mendes in person. I was so excited that I didn’t really know what to say. Thank God my sister was there to do most of the talking.
He showed us his multi-durable (is that even a word?) camera that could take color, black and white and Polaroid photographs! He made the camera in his hands to do everything!
His word of wisdom to us: make your photography work for you. Get paid for your work.