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Lamman Rucker traces his roots

2 Mar

My nephew, actor Lamman Rucker was in Barbados last week and was the talk of the town. Several local news outlets and blogs noted his arrival. Nationnews.com did a nice write up on him. Check it out.

He also did a nice video for Amtrak’s Black History month series “My Black Journey.”

Lamman Rucker’s Great Migration Story from MYBLACK JOURNEY on Vimeo.

*Editors note. Lamman mentions in the video that Ebenezer worked for the New York Amsterdam News. He actually spent most of his years in Harlem at the New York Age, the rival Harlem paper at the time. Of course, since this is a continuing journey and we don’t know the whole story, I can’t say definitively that he never worked for the Amsterdam News.

James Browne’s weekend love

17 Jun

It’s the late 60s, and I’m in the backyard of our Pittsburgh home. My mother’s brothers, James and John, and their brother-in-law Frank are back there too.  We’re busying ourselves with summer chores my mother has assigned. But Uncle John and Uncle Frank aren’t having it.  After all, none of this was their idea. One minute they were out carousing somewhere between Newark and the Bronx. The next thing they knew they were on the Pennsylvania Turnpike headed for Pittsburgh, my Uncle James behind the wheel. Continue reading

Lamman Rucker and his mom, Nana Malaya, in conversation

16 May

My sister Malaya Rucker-Oparabea, a dancer and storyteller,  and her son, actor, producer and entrepreneur Lamman Rucker, have devoted their lives to their art. On Sunday, May 15,  they talked about their relationship on an online radio program “Phenomenal Saging Mothers.”

Alma Stone Williams: ‘A Choice to Change the World’

15 May

11/5/2013: Aunt Alma died this morning. She was a brilliant woman and a bright light. I am so glad Zuri and I were blessed to spend some time with her in February. Rest in peace, Aunt Alma. Yours was a life well lived.

Zuri_Aunt_Alma
This afternoon First Lady Michelle Obama will give the Commencement address at Spelman College.

Aunt Alma Stone Williams

Anybody who talks to me for more than five minutes (OK,  two minutes) knows that my daughter, Zuri, goes to Spelman. And if you talk to me for 10 minutes you will hear the story of why,  among many of the good decisions she has made in her life, Spelman has so far been one of the best.

But Zuri is not the first member of our extended family to go to Spelman. There is Andrea Williams, MD; Gabrielle Fouché Williams, and  Janelle Duckett, who with Zuri is a member of the Class of 2012.

And then there is my Aunt Alma Stone Williams.

Aunt Alma entered Spelman at the age of 15. She was valedictorian when she graduated in 1940. She wrote a lovely letter to me with memories of my mom, who was her late husband Russell’s favorite cousin. I’ll share that letter with you in an upcoming post.

After earning her bachelor’s degree at Spelman, Aunt Alma earned master’s degree at Atlanta University.  An accomplished pianist,  she planned to study  at Juilliard during  the summer of 1944 when an opportunity arose that was so compelling she could not pass it up. She was invited to be the first ever and only black student at Black Mountain College, an experimental,  liberal arts college in North Carolina. Though the school was founded in 1933 on the principles of democratic governance and community living, it had no black students or faculty for the first decade of its existence. School officials  wanted to integrate, but weren’t sure how. In 1944 they decided to admit Aunt Alma as a summer student.

“In attending Black Mountain for their Summer Session in 1944, Alma became possibly the first Black student in the 20th century to attend a predominantly white college in the South.  (Most other white colleges did not integrate until twenty years or more later),” her son Russell wrote in a chronology in honor of his mother’s 90th birthday April 26.

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers Spelman College’s 2011 Commencement address

In a 2008 profile on Aunt Alma in the Ashville, North Carolina Urban News, she  is quoted as saying:

“Pioneering did not frighten me. I was accustomed to studying and living with white teachers at Spelman and to reaching for high standards in all areas.”

Aunt Alma’s decision to  take that leap of faith changed Black Mountain College.

“In 1945 the College admitted two African American students to the Summer Session and also two guest faculty members, performers Carol Brice and Roland Hayes,” the Urban News article said.   “That fall the college hired an African American faculty member, Dr. Percy H. Baker, and admitted an African American, Sylvesta Martin, as a full-time student for the regular academic year. In the winter of 1947, five black students were enrolled at the college: two men, both veterans of WWII, and three women.
At this point the faculty voted to declare the experimental stage of its interracial program at an end and to release a public statement to the effect that henceforth “admission will be open to all students of all races.”

Spelman’s theme song is “A Choice to Change the World.”

That is exactly what Aunt Alma did.

Congratulations to the Spelman Class of 2011.  I’m sure anything I say will pale in comparison to what you hear from First Lady Sister Michelle.

So I will let Aunt Alma’s legacy speak for itself.

What’s a mother to do?

7 May

Stanford's Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity sponsored a lecture featuring Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture on May 5.

Recently, Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, gave a talk at Stanford about the challenges he has faced as he develops the museum, which is scheduled to be completed in 2015.  Bunch talked about the “treasures” people often bring him as potential items for the museum’s collection.

Bunch told the story of a pillowcase someone brought him that had been passed among family members for several generations. The pillowcase was embroidered by an enslaved African American woman who had just learned the day before that she would be sold.

The embroidery was a message to her daughter:

“In this pillowcase, you will find a dress, you will find some biscuits, but what you will find is that it’s filled with my love. And though I may never see you again, always know how close you are to my heart. “

According to Bunch, that mother never saw her daughter again.

Bunch’s story put into perspective all the chatter about tiger and helicopter moms. There’s even a new one, snowplow parents  – who try to move all the difficulties out of their children’s lives.  I used to say that most of my black friends thought I was a pushover when it came to parenting and many of my white friends thought I was too tough. I’m not sure what my other friends thought.  In the end, all of our children have made us pretty damn proud.

Kimberly Elise, Oprah Winfrey and Thande Newton in "Beloved." Winfrey is a member of the advisory board of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

In an age when everybody’s got an opinion about how children should be raised, protected, nurtured, etc., the pillowcase story makes it all seem so silly. Who among us would have had the resolve to embroider that farewell before being sold to another slave owner?  Or who would not have been tempted to do what Sethe did in Toni Morrison’s Beloved?

Maybe this is a downer as Mother’s Day approaches.  It’s not meant to be.  It’s intended to be a tribute to mothers who, under the worst and best circumstances, did and do their best with every ounce of what they have.  Here’s to our mothers, who made sure we had clothes on our backs and something to eat and who stitched together a legacy of love that has sustained us through generations.

On a more uplifting note, and speaking of generations, here’s what my father wrote for Mother’s Day in 1937.

The New York Age, May 8, 1937

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