Celebrating 14 notable Black Philadelphians of the Twentieth Century

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase BLAM! Black Lives Always Mattered, a graphic novel project coordinated by the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University and distributed by Temple University Press.

BLAM! Black Lives Always Mattered! Hidden African American Philadelphians of the Twentieth Century is a graphic novel that combines vivid illustrations and compelling text to create a groundbreaking, exciting, and accessible book. BLAM! highlights the lives of fourteen prominent African Americans.  They are: Julian Abele, Dr. Ethel Allen, Marian Anderson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Crystal Bird Fauset, Ruth Wright Hayre, Alain Locke, Walter Lomax, Frederick Massiah, Cecil B. Moore, John W. Mosley, Christopher Perry, Reverend Leon Sullivan, and Father Paul Washington.

With a Foreword by Lonnie G, Bunch, III, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, BLAM! contains an Introduction by the Curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Dr. Diane Turner, and the Collection’s Librarian, Aslaku Berhanu, as well as statements by the writer, Dr. Sheena C. Howard, Associate Professor of Rider University, and by Art Director, Eric Battle, a renowned artist and illustrator.  Published by the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, BLAM! was created through the efforts and input of many people. It is a striking and powerful graphic novel which has the potential to have great educational impact on students, teachers, administrators, and on all those who read it.

BLAM! can be used as an important teaching tool in and of itself, yet also can be utilized in combination with other educational methods by educators in their classrooms. At the end of the graphic novel, there are pages of Assignments and Activities for Students, as well as Ideas for Research Projects that individual students or a whole classroom of students can pursue. Moreover, many teachers will want to develop their own lesson plans and assignments around each chapter of this graphic novel. BLAM! will engage and excite students, setting them on a path to a deeper understanding of African American history. BLAM! also encourages its readers to use critical thinking and analytical skills. All levels of students, as well as the general public, can benefit from BLAM! For those students with limited reading abilities, the book will help them develop and strengthen literacy skills. All readers of BLAM! will be able to expand their ability to discover and continue to learn about African American history in terms of the lives and experiences of the individuals profiled in its pages. BLAM! also has the potential to inspire readers to learn about other individuals and ethnic groups who have been hidden from history. BLAM! will also pique the interest of readers to learn more about the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection and its vast holdings on African American history and culture. They will find added value in visiting the collection and accessing the materials.

In this time of systemic racism, discord, disharmony, and racial misunderstanding, there are now efforts underway and laws enacted in some states to suppress the teaching of the difficult racial history of the United States. BLAM! is able to serve as a beacon of enlightenment, casting a light on the struggles and triumphs of the fourteen, prominent African Americans of the last century that are profiled in the book.  In its beautifully illustrated pages one learns about how these individuals contributed greatly to their communities, to their nation, and in some cases to the world. These individuals, whose legacies continue now and into the future, serve as sterling examples for all readers of BLAM! Their stories will inspire generations to come.

Caring Beside: Metaphors of Solidarity at the Bedside

This week in North Philly Notes, James Kyung-Jin Lee, author of Pedagogies of Woundedness, writes about “the horizontal ethics of care and politics of resistance” as well as the power that can come from the person lying on the bed.

            

In the epilogue of Pedagogies of Woundedness, I cite the opening scene of Johanna Hedva’s “Sick Woman Theory,” in which they describe listening to the sounds of a 2014 Black Lives Matter protest taking place outside their apartment, while Hedva was consigned to a bed because of a chronic illness: “Attached to the bed, I rose up my sick woman fist, in solidarity.” They then wonder what role ill/disabled people might play in revolutionary activity: “How do you throw a brick through the window of a bank if you can’t get out of bed?” Such a question resonates with a corresponding image that Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha conjures in her essay “Crip Superpowers,” that implores her readers and fellow activists to imagine, “We can community-organize flat on our ass in bed—as what the movement needs most.”

The horizontal body in space and time is the prevailing image of the patient consigned to the hospital bed that animates so much of the crucible of experience that animates physician memoirs, the contrast between the standing, able-bodied doctor hovering over, caring, surveilling, and enacting on the prone one in need of care and thus submitting to such diagnostic colonization. It is this asymmetry of power exemplified in bodily position that motivates both Hedva and Piepzna-Samarasinha to see the bedridden Asian American sick woman as nonetheless agentive. Here, I also take to heart Mel Chen’s meditation on Piepzna-Samarasinha’s insistence on a politics enabled “flat on our ass in bed” by their subtle but trenchant critique of the most widely used phrase to demonstrate solidarity with a cause or community or condition: “The grammar of ableist liberatory fervor is succinctly captured, for instance, in the widespread use today of declamatory campaigns that urge one to metaphorically ‘stand with’ various populations or politicians. Such a metaphor is constructed on the figurative imagining of a literal standing. The question becomes what might it mean to ‘stand with’ a figural group, when standing for wheelchair users, or those chronically ill ‘flat on our ass in bed,’ cannot readily invite such ‘politically aligned’ embodied action.” At the time of this writing, my social media feed is filled with posts that stand with the people of Ukraine, stand with LGBTQ+ kids in Florida and trans children in Texas, and of course all through the pandemic we were ostensibly standing with health care workers toiling in the desperate days and weeks of the worst of the COVID pandemic. I suppose that the lack of shortage of people standing with others is a small testament that wounded, vulnerable people receive some modicum of compassion that isn’t tethered to market forces or transactional expectation.

But Chen’s, Hedva’s, and Piepzna-Samarasinha’s insistence on a horizontal ethics of care and politics of resistance have hit home in ways that exceeded my imagination once the final draft of Pedagogies of Woundedness was locked. The following is a story which I have permission to disclose: a year ago, our older teenage daughter attempted suicide and in doing so revealed that she had been suffering from severe mental illness and associated trauma for years, unbeknownst to me and her mom. What followed was a long flight of various treatments, both outpatient and residential, and our family’s baptism into the world of mental health care. There have been and continue to be moments of crisis that punctuate periods of relative mental and emotional stability, and some rare moments of happiness for my daughter, and for the other members of the family. Early on, I clung to a restitution narrative, but we’re late into this story and I recognize now that my daughter is living a different genre. Early on, I stood over her bed desperately wishing she could join me, despairing that the aggressivity of her depression prevented her from even remaining conscious for hours at a time. Over time, I came to understand that standing with my daughter when she couldn’t get out of bed wasn’t all that much different from the physician’s diagnostic colonization of his patient.

So I’ve tried to shift my body and my metaphor to align with where my daughter is on any given day. On really tough days, as she lies in bed, I’ll sometimes lie on the floor and listen to the quiet sounds of her breathing. At moments when she is able to sit at her desk and is willing to let me into her space, I’ll pull up a chair: sometimes we sit face to face and at others side by side, as if we’re facing the world together. Stories of illness and disability, and the politics and ethics that emanate from these stories, the power that can come from the person lying on the bed, have taught me that there is and must be always more room to imagine solidarity with the vulnerable. Nowadays, I will only stand with people, like my daughter, if they want to stand, and if they give me permission to rise with them, if they let me take their hand into mine.

Political Mourning Delayed, but Not Denied

This week in North Philly Notes, Heather Pool, author of Political Mourning, writes about the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Earlier this month, for the first time ever, an American president visited Tulsa to commemorate the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

I was born in Oklahoma and was subjected to the state-mandated semester of “Oklahoma History” in the 1980s. In that class, we cursorily covered the forced removal of indigenous peoples to Indian Territory via the Trail of Tears and the evolution to statehood. That history was taught, but it was taught as history, as if the oppression suffered by indigenous people was something that happened long ago. In Oklahoma, about a third of the population are native even if they don’t have a roll number, live on a reservation, or identify with a tribe; thus, there was no way to avoid that history, even if the curriculum in no way did justice to it. And Oklahoma as a state has come to embrace its ties to native peoples; the state seal and flag prominently display symbols drawn from or referencing indigenous people, and, for years, its license plates proclaimed “Native America.” This does not mean that native peoples in Oklahoma are free from present oppression, by any means, but at least it is discussed.

But I learned next to nothing in that class (or in any history class during my public school education) about Black Oklahomans. It wasn’t until years later that I realized my hometown had probably been a Sundown Town; the silence about Black history, then, was not surprising. I didn’t learn about the Tulsa Massacre until I ran across a book about it in a public library in New York in the early 2000s. I distinctly remember pulling Riot and Remembrance off the shelf and holding my breath as I read the blurb on the back, stunned that I knew nothing about this event.

In the 2012 article version of the Triangle Fire chapter in my book, Political Mourning, I compared the massive publicity generated by the Triangle Fire with the scant publicity accorded to the Tulsa Race Massacre. Fortunately, the past several years – aided by work done by survivors of the Tulsa race massacre to remember the event in the face of a sustained official effort to forget it, the state legislature’s 2001 Race Riot Commission Report, and the massive increase in awareness about racial injustice spurred by rise of Black Lives Matter – have yielded a more honest accounting of the events that took place in the Greenwood section of Tulsa on May 31-June 1, 1921, as well as generated considerable media coverage. Biden’s visit to Tulsa can be read as an effort to educate Americans about the historical violence of white supremacy that has been silenced, obscured, or actively erased.

Death can do that; it can illuminate everyday violence that we know but don’t know. It’s why my work focuses on moments when everyday people die, and the polity pays attention. There are many moments we could attend to – young women being killed by their partners, the disproportionately young deaths of people of color of all varieties, queer youth disproportionately dying by suicide or homicide – and yet we often choose not to see or take up collective responsibility for deaths that do not receive widespread coverage or which, if we took up collective responsibility for them, would require us to make fundamental shifts in our way of life.

Moments such as the Tulsa Massacre, the Triangle Fire, Emmett Till’s lynching, or George Floyd’s death can break through the crust of sedimented privilege to see the unequally borne costs of the status quo. And the costs are so high. But the barriers to seeing are, too: particularly for people in positions of privilege, whose refusal to recognize that privilege makes it difficult for them to see how race has shaped a status quo that is better for whites than it is for non-white people. Charles Mills calls this the “epistemology of ignorance.” White people are rewarded for their cluelessness, just as I was rewarded for not asking more and better questions in that Oklahoma History classroom. White Americans’ refusal to learn our actual history when it comes to race and violence continues to obstruct our ability to build an actual democracy instead of a white one.

It is encouraging that the Tulsa Race Massacre is getting the attention, respect, and mourning it has always deserved; it is a marker of how much things have changed in the past decade that an American president spoke at the 100th anniversary of the terrible events in Tulsa. But it is also a reminder that who we mourn and how we mourn them speaks volumes about who we as a nation are, and that mourning – when linked to conceptions of collective identity and responsibility – can be deeply political. The political mourning denied the survivors of the Tulsa Massacre is being rekindled now and mobilized to call for racial justice, and that is important. But equally important is to ensure – through education, more just political institutions, and reparations – that we do our best to reduce or eliminate similar losses in the present and future, whether the sudden horror of a large-scale, state-sponsored massacre or the slow-motion violence of poverty, lack of opportunity, and incarceration that people of color continue to face disproportionately today. 

Protesting Inequalities across America

This week in North Philly Notes, Heather McKee Hurwitz, author of Are We the 99%?, reveals her findings about the Occupy movement and lessons for contemporary activists:

The nearly constant activism of the 2010’s is one indication that more Americans recognize how profoundly inequalities shape our society. Their protests demonstrate frustration about inequalities and demand social change.

The #MeToo movement exposed the hushed experiences of women in the entertainment and media industries and a range of other contexts. Women tweeted en masse to reveal the harassment they endured, which harmed them and stunted their career advancement.

The Black Lives Matter movement has made undeniable Black persons’ disproportionate experiences of hardship and violence. In neighborhoods across the country, groups are marching against police brutality. They are confronting the racism interwoven in their organizations in order to pursue racial justice.

The Occupy movement, which started in 2011, kicked off widespread conversation about class inequality when people left their houses and camped overnight in their town squares—some for months—to demonstrate for economic change. They revealed how the 1% thrived while the majority of families were suffering from the Great Recession. The movement argued that anyone who was not the 1% had a reason to come together. They advocated stricter banking regulations. They argued for taxing the 1%. They protested for relief from student debt. They popularized universal health care. Striving to create changes toward greater economic justice, they called themselves, “We are the 99%.”

Looking back on the last ten years of activism, and nearing the 10-year anniversary of the Occupy movement in 2021, Are We the 99%? examines the diversity of experiences in the movement by analyzing the stories of especially brave women and genderqueer persons from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. By studying dozens of protests and meetings, and reviewing movement newspapers, flyers, blogs, and other archival materials, Are We the 99%? synthesizes lessons from which anyone concerned about inequalities can learn.

While “the 99%” sought to be an innovative inclusive frame to unify a wide range of people, Are We the 99%? reveals the infighting about this 99% identity. By lumping everyone into one big class, some participants argued that the 99% framing erased the particular experiences of women of color, indigenous persons, and other groups with a history of enduring many kinds of inequality (not just based on class) and who had long been advocating for social change.

When the movement’s message focused on a gender-blind and color-blind definition of class inequality, individuals left the main movement organizations. They formed separate subcommittees to address a more holistic view of class as grounded in and inseparable from other forms of inequality – especially sexism and racism. Groups like Women Occupying Wall Street, Decolonize, Safer Spaces, and Occupy the Hood put forward ways of understanding economic inequality as intrinsically intertwined with racism and sexism. Detailed in the book, they created unique protests and brought Occupy to new communities. These and other groups that emerged from within the movement—and supported Occupy—but also critiqued and opposed aspects of the movement – advocated feminist and racial justice-oriented changes to the main movement and society broadly.

Even in Occupy, a progressive social movement, activists themselves recreated some of the gender, race, and class disparities that they were seeking to change. Yet, especially feminists acted quickly and used a new (at the time) tool—Facebook and Twitter—to address the disparities.

Although years before #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, some Occupy activists called for an excavation of racism and sexism from within the Occupy movement itself.

As seemingly more Americans than ever before evaluate how inequalities profoundly shape our society, Are We the 99%? and its free companion instructor’s guide and student study guide open up conversations about activism against disparities, when that activism falls short of addressing complex and intersectional forms of inequality, and suggests ways to improve inclusivity and diversity in activist and other organizations.

Activism by Parents of Children with Disabilities and the 30th Anniversary of the ADA

This week in North Philly Notes, Allison Carey and Pamela Block, two of the coauthors of Allies and Obstacles, write about the accomplishments of parents in the disability rights movement as well as how disability activists are coping with COVID and Black Lives Matter. 

July 26th 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). One of the nation’s most important and innovative civil rights acts, the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability across many spheres of public life, including in education, work, transportation, telecommunication, and the provision of public services. In doing so, it also mandates the provision of accessibility and accommodations to enable full participation in society by people with disabilities. Upon signing the ADA into law, President George H. W. Bush declared, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

Allies and Obstacles_smThe anniversary of the ADA calls for reflection on where we were and where we are now. In our book, Allies and Obstacles: Disability Activism and Parents of Children with Disabilities, we detail the struggles of many disabled children and their families prior to the ADA, times when disabled people were systematically excluded from access to transportation, communication, education, and employment. We also document the ways that parent activists worked together with disability activists to bring the ADA into being. Thanks to these efforts, parents raising children in a post-ADA world experience a different landscape—one with far greater attention to access and that is more likely to recognize people with disabilities as full citizens worthy of inclusion.

Despite the incredible efforts of activists, however, we have a long way to go to actually achieve equity and inclusion. Parents are both allies and obstacles along this path. For example, in Olmstead v. L. C. (1999), the Supreme Court drew on the ADA in its finding that people with disabilities have a right to live and receive services in the community and to avoid unnecessary institutionalization. Many parents have fought for deinstitutionalization and to build community services, and they praised this decision. Other parents, though, fought to preserve institutions. Indeed, the language of Olmstead prohibiting “unnecessary” institutionalizations bows to the pressure placed by parents and professionals to leave intact the idea of necessary institutionalization as determined by professionals and parents/guardians with almost no avenues for disabled people to challenge their confinement. Data from 2011 indicated more than 89,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and more than 178,000 people with psychiatric diagnoses still reside in large-scale, congregate settings (National Association of State Mental Health Directors, 2017; Scott, Lakin, and Larson, 2008).

New challenges also continue to arise, built on long-standing inequalities. The spread of the Coronavirus hit the disability community especially hard, exposing stark and persistent inequities. People with disabilities were infected with and died from COVID-19 at higher rates than the general population (Kennedy, Frieden, Dick-Mosher, & Curtis, 2020; Turk, Landes, Formica, & Goss 2020). In New York City, residents of group homes were more than five times more likely than the general population to develop COVID-19 and almost five times more likely to die from it (Hakim, 2020). Despite the high risk for disabled people, medical ethicists created guidelines for medical triage and technology access that restricted access to lifesaving measures to some categories of disabled people. Disability rights groups had to sue, drawing on the ADA, to defend themselves against medical discrimination. Throughout the pandemic, parents have fought for additional funding and clearer guidelines to ensure the delivery of support services in the community, including adequate testing and protective equipment to protect their loved ones and the support staff. But parents-led organizations are also among those that continue to run congregate care facilities and failed to protect people from the risks of congregate care including the rapid spread of disease.

Attention to police violence by Black Lives Matter activism put a spotlight on the fact that disabled black, indigenous and people of color are especially vulnerable to being hurt and killed by the police. Those who should be protecting  the rights of disabled citizens, instead use “unexpected” and “noncompliant” behavior to justify violence and pre-existing conditions to excuse fatality that occurs in the course of that violence. Here too we find parents on the front lines of these struggles.  Activist and blogger Kerima Çevik, for example, recognized years ago the dangers her son, a mixed race, autistic and nonverbal teenager, might face if he encountered the police. She works with a range of organizations to build community capacity to protect him and others. The work of minority activists, however, for too long was overlooked and de-prioritized by national parent-led disability organizations, which have majority white leadership and membership. These organization tended to sideline issues of concern to minority communities, such as police violence and the disproportionate labeling of minority youth in special education, and instead focus on an agenda seen as most politically palatable.

These examples highlight that, although the ADA opened many doors and created many protections, there is still much more to do both legislatively and in regards to resisting and changing societal prejudices and structural inequalities. Parents play a complex role in this struggle. They often ally with disabled activists to fight for inclusion and empowerment. However, continued support for congregate care and dismissing the intersectionality of race and disability contribute to some of the most pressing problems we face today.

Allison Carey, Pamela Block, and Richard Scotch are having a virtual panel to celebrate the ADA’s 30th anniversary on Aug 6th at  7pm. Visit: https://mi-ada.org/ for more information

Highlights from the latest–and past–issues of Kalfou, a Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies

This week in North Philly Notes, we present the table of contents for the new issue of Temple University Press’s journal, Kalfou, edited by George Lipsitz, as well as some links to sample articles from previous editions of the journal.

Please recommend to your library! • To subscribe: click here  

VOLUME 5, ISSUE 2 • FALL 2018

Kalfou_generic-cover_102015FEATURE ARTICLES • From the symposium “Over the Line: A Conversation about Race, Place, and the Environment,” edited by Ingrid R. G. Waldron and George Lipsitz

No Ordinary Time: Indigenous Dispossession and Slavery Unwilling to Die • George Lipsitz

A Precarious Confluence: Neoliberalism, Race, and Water Insecurity • Michael Mascarenhas

Women on the Frontlines: Grassroots Movements against Environmental Violence in Indigenous and Black Communities in Canada • Ingrid R. G. Waldron

Marginalizing Poverty with Car-Dependent Design: The Story of Two Expulsions • Tristan Cleveland

Indigenous Environmental Justice, Knowledge, and Law • Deborah McGregor

Reconciliation and Environmental Racism in Mi’kma’ki • Dorene Bernard

Dismantling White Privilege: The Black Lives Matter Movement and Environmental Justice in Canada • Cheryl Teelucksingh

Community Mobilization to Address Environmental Racism: The South End Environmental Injustice Society • Louise Delisle and Ellen Sweeney

This Sacred Moment: Listening, Responsibility, and Making Room for Justice • Sadie Beaton

IDEAS, ART, AND ACTIVISM
TALKATIVE ANCESTORS Ida B. Wells on Criminal Justice

KEYWORDS Deflective Whiteness: White Rhetoric and Racial Fabrication • Hannah Noel

LA MESA POPULAR The Dependent Origination of Whiteness • John B. Freese

ART AND SOCIAL ACTION Stanton Heights: Intersections of Art and Science in an Era
of Mass Incarceration • Norman Conti

MOBILIZED 4 MOVEMENT The ENRICH Project: Blurring the Borders between  Community and the Ivory Tower • Ingrid R. G. Waldron

TEACHING AND TRUTH Rules and Consequences • Dave Cash

IN MEMORIAM When Giants Leave the Forest, the Trees Carry Their Songs: Clarence
Fountain, Edwin Hawkins, Walter Hawkins, Aretha Franklin • Johari Jabir

Sample articles from past issues

“A Relatively New Discovery in the Modern West”: #BlackLivesMatter and the Evolution of Black Humanism, Juan Floyd-Thomas, Kalfou 4-1 (2017).

A Precarious Confluence: Neoliberalism, Race, and Water Insecurity, Michael Mascarenhas, Kalfou 5-2 (2018)

No Ordinary Time: Indigenous Dispossession and Slavery Unwilling to Die, George Lipsitz, Kalfou 5-2 (2018)

Prophets and Profits of Racial Science, Ruha Benjamin, Kalfou 5-1 (2018)

 

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