Kwanzaa a Joyful Light in the Holiday Season

As we look forward to celebrating the holiday season each in our own way we can look at a newer holiday tradition in one that may not be as familiar to us. That tradition is Kwanzaa and the following excerpt from Wikipedia article tells us more about this fascinating winter holiday. From Wikipedia—

“Kwanzaa (/ˈkwɑːn.zə/) is a weeklong annual celebration held in the United States and other nations of the African diaspora in the Americas to honor African heritage in AfricanAmerican culture. It is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in gift-giving and a feast. Kwanzaa has seven core principles (Nguzo Saba). It was created by Maulana Karenga and was first celebrated in 1966–67. History and etymology— American Black Power activist and secular humanist Maulana Karenga, also known as Ronald McKinley Everett, created Kwanzaa in 1966, as a specifically African American holiday, in a spirit comparable to Juneteenth. According to Karenga, the name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning “first fruits of the harvest.” A more conventional translation would simply be “first fruits.” The choice of Swahili, an East African language, reflects its status as a symbol of Pan Africanism, especially in the 1960s, although most of the Atlantic slave trade that brought African people to America originated in West Africa. First fruits festivals exist in Southern Africa, celebrated in December/January with the southern solstice, and Karenga was partly inspired by an account he read of the Zulu festival Umkhosi Wokweshwama. It was decided to spell the holiday’s name with an additional “a” so that it would have a symbolic seven letters. Kwanzaa is a celebration with its roots in the black nationalist movement of the 1960s. Karenga established it to help African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage by uniting in meditation and study of African traditions and Nguzo Saba, the “seven principles of African Heritage,” which Karenga said “is a communitarian African philosophy.” For Karenga, a major figure in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the creation of such holidays also underscored an essential premise, “you must have a cultural revolution before the violent revolution. The cultural revolution gives identity, purpose and direction.” During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said it was meant to be an alternative to Christmas. He believed Jesus was psychotic and Christianity was a “white” religion that black people should shun. As Kwanzaa gained mainstream adherents, Karenga altered his position so practicing Christians would not be alienated, then stating in the 1997 Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, “Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday.” Many African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in addition to observing Christmas.

Principles and symbols— Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba–the seven principles of African Heritage), which Karenga said “is a communitarian African philosophy,” consisting of what Karenga called “the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world.” They were developed in 1965, a year before Kwanzaa itself. These seven principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili word meaning “common.” Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles, as follows: • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for ourselves • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together • Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness • Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it • Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle Kwanzaa celebratory symbols include a mat (Mkeka) on which other symbols are placed: a Kinara (candle holder), Mishumaa Saba (seven candles), mazao (crops), Mahindi (corn), a Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) for commemorating and giving shukrani (thanks) to African Ancestors, and Zawadi (gifts). Supplemental representations include a Nguzo Saba poster, the black, red, and green bendera (flag), and African books and artworks–all to represent values and concepts reflective of African culture and contribution to community building and reinforcement. Ears of corn represent the children celebrating and corn may be part of the holiday meal.”

In conclusion let us enjoy our holidays, our homes, our families and friends knowing that none of us are alone in our celebrations. We recognize the diversity in joy of the season. We learn from one another and can imagine the common roots that we share. The darkness of winter is dispelled by lighting up the season each in our own way. Wishing you all a joyous holiday season. Fondly, for the diversity committee. Feel free to comment on this article at our Diversity Blog, AAUW Diversity Policy: AAUW values and seeks a diverse membership. There shall be no barriers to full participation in this organization on the basis of sex, gender identity, race, creed, age, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, or class.

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The Many Roads to Greatness

Maya Angelou, a gifted and highly recognized author and poet, had a challenging road to greatness. Given her life challenges how many of us would have imagined her to become a talented and highly acclaimed author. Hers was not a story of early success and recognition, leading to social and economic security. Her story was one of a challenge, hurt, trauma and the finding of redemption in writing. Please read below an excerpt of her biography. Imagine yourself going through her travail. How would you have been affected? Would you have shut down, withdrawn or lashed out? Clearly none of us know the answers to how we might have responded to Maya Angelou‘s challenges. What we see in her is her strength and ability to overcome adversity while recognizing that her trauma left a mark, but could be shared with others to let them know that trauma does not inevitably lead to the destruction of self but can lead to an enhanced awareness of life with all its richness and sorrow. From Wikipedia—

Maya Angelou born Marguerite Annie Johnson; April 4, 1928–May 28, 2014) was an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim. She became a poet and writer after a series of occupations as a young adult, including fry cook, sex worker, nightclub dancer and performer, cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess, coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa. She was an actress, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs. In 1982, she was named the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Beginning in the 1990s, she made around 80 appearances a year on the lecture circuit, something she continued into her eighties. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” (1993) at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton, making her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961. With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou publicly discussed aspects of her personal life. She was respected as a spokesperson for black people and women, and her works have been considered a defense of black culture. Her works are widely used in schools and universities worldwide, although attempts have been made to ban her books from some US libraries. Angelou’s most Diversity—Cindy Goldberg, Co-Chair celebrated works have been labeled as autobiographical fiction, but many critics consider them to be autobiographies. She made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing and expanding the genre. Her books center on themes such as racism, identity, family and travel. Marguerite Annie Johnson was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928, the second child of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and navy dietitian, and Vivian (Baxter) Johnson, a nurse and card dealer, Angelou’s older brother, Bailey Jr., nicknamed Marguerite “Maya”, derived from “My” or “Mya Sister”. When Angelou was three and her brother four, their parents’ “calamitous marriage” ended, and their father sent them to Stamps, Arkansas, alone by train, to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson. In “an astonishing exception” to the harsh economics of African Americans of the time, Angelou’s grandmother prospered financially during the Great Depression and World War II because the general store she owned sold needed basic commodities and because “she made wise and honest investments” Four years later, the children’s father “came to Stamps without warning” and returned them to their mother’s care in St. Louis. At the age of eight, while living with her mother, Angelou was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend, a man named Freeman. She told her brother, who told the rest of their family. Freeman was found guilty but was jailed for only one day. Four days after his release, he was murdered, probably by Angelou’s uncles. Angelou became mute for almost five years, believing, as she stated, “I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone.” According to Marcia Ann Gillespie and her colleagues, who wrote a biography about Angelou, it was during this period of silence when Angelou developed her extraordinary memory, her love for books and literature, and her ability to listen and observe the world around her. Shortly after Freeman’s murder, Angelou and her brother were sent back to their grandmother. Angelou credits a teacher and friend of her family, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, with helping her speak again. Flowers introduced her to authors such as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Douglas Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson, authors who would affect her life and career, as well as black female artists like Frances Harper, Anne Spencer, and Jessie Fauset. When Angelou was 14, she and her brother moved in with their mother once again, who had since moved to Oakland, California. During World War II, Angelou attended the California Labor School. At the age of 16, she became the first black female cable car conductor in San Francisco. She wanted the job badly, admiring the uniforms of the operators—so much so that her mother referred to it as her “dream job.” Her mother encouraged her to pursue the position, but warned her that she would need to arrive early and work harder than Minority Transportation Officials as part of a session billed “Women Who Move the Nation.“ Three weeks after completing school, at the age of 17, she gave birth to her son, Clyde (who later changed his name to Guy Johnson) Angelou met novelist John Oliver Killens in 1959 and, at his urging, moved to New York to concentrate on her writing career. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild, where she met several major African American authors, including John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy, Paule Marshall, and Julian Mayfield, and was published for the first time. In 1960, after meeting civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and hearing him speak, she and Killens organized “the legendary”[ Cabaret for Freedom to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and she was named SCLC’s Northern Coordinator. According to scholar Lyman B. Hagen, her contributions to civil rights as a fundraiser and SCLC organizer were successful and “eminently effective.” Angelou also began her pro-Castro and anti-apartheid activism during this time. In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. asked Angelou to organize a march. She agrees, but “postpones again”, and in what Gillespie calls “a macabre twist of fate”, he was assassinated on her 40th birthday (April 4). Devastated again, she was encouraged out of her depression by her friend James Baldwin. As Gillespie states, “If 1968 was a year of great pain, loss, and sadness, it was also the year when America first witnessed the breadth and depth of Maya Angelou’s spirit and creative genius”. Despite having almost no experience, she wrote, produced, and narrated Blacks, Blues, Black!, a ten-part series of documentaries about the connection between blues music and black Americans’ African heritage, and what Angelou called the “Africanisms still current in the US” for National Educational Television, the precursor of PBS. Also in 1968, inspired at a dinner party she attended with Baldwin, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, and his wife Judy, and challenged by Random House editor Robert Loomis, she wrote her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969. This brought her international recognition and acclaim. In 1977, Angelou appeared in a supporting role in the television miniseries Roots. She was given a multitude of awards during this period, including over thirty honorary degrees from colleges and universities from all over the world. In the late 1970s, Angelou met Oprah Winfrey when Winfrey was a TV anchor in Baltimore, Maryland; Angelou would later become Winfrey’s close friend and mentor. In 1981, Angelou and du Feu divorced. She returned to the southern United States in 1981 because she felt she had to come to terms with her past there and, despite having no bachelor’s degree, accepted the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she was one of a few full-time African American professors. From that point on, she considered herself “a teacher who writes.” Angelou taught a variety of subjects that reflected her interests, including philosophy, ethics, theology, science, theater, and writing. In late 2010, Angelou donated her personal papers and career memorabilia to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. They consisted of more than 340 boxes of documents that featured her handwritten notes on yellow legal pads for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, about, even traumatic experiences such as her rape in Caged Bird, in order to “tell the human truth” about her life. Angelou stated that she played cards in order to get to that place of a 1982 telegram from Coretta Scott King, fan mail, and personal and professional correspondence from colleagues such as her editor Robert Loomis. In 2011, Angelou served as a consultant for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. She spoke out in opposition to a paraphrase of a quotation by King that appeared on the memorial, saying, “The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit,” and demanded that it be changed. Eventually, the paraphrase was removed. In 2013, at the age of 85, Angelou published the seventh volume of autobiography in her series, titled Mom & Me & Mom, which focuses on her relationship with her mother. Beginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou used the same “writing ritual” for many years. She would wake early in the morning and check into a hotel room, where the staff was instructed to remove any pictures from the walls. She would write on legal pads while lying on the bed, with only a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards to play solitaire, Roget’s Thesaurus, and the Bible, and would leave by the early afternoon. She would average 10–12 pages of written material a day, which she edited down to three or four pages in the evening. She went through this process to “enchant” herself, and as she said in a 1989 interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, “relive the agony, the anguish, the Sturm und Drang.” She placed herself back in the time she wrote enchantment and in order to access her memories more effectively. She said, “It may take an hour to get into it, but once I’m in it—ha! It’s so delicious!” She did not find the process cathartic; rather, she found relief in “telling the truth.” Angelou died on the morning of May 28, 2014.

In conclusion when we read of Maya Angelou overcoming her great struggles and also her being aware of their mark on her, we realize that all human beings have tremendous capacities to endure and overcome life’s challenges, but those capacities must be nurtured either from within the individual through their own strength and courage but also through the support of those around them. The role the larger society plays in either supporting or traumatizing the individual, or an entire gender or culture cannot be underestimated. Here we might give thought to how we treat one another and in what ways on a daily basis we affirm or deny the humanity that all of us share.

Fondly submitted for the diversity committee.

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This summer we lost a great poet

This summer we lost a great poet. A true artist who painted in words. She will not be easily replaced. That poet was Toni Morrison. I would like to share with you the story of her life which speaks to all of those who dedicate themselves to personal achievement and the expression of their social voice. Here is part of the story of Toni Morrison. From Wikipedia: Chloe Anthony Wofford “Toni” Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford; February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019) was an American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher, and professor emeritus at Princeton University. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon (1977) brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1988, she won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for Beloved (1987). Born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, Morrison graduated from Howard University in 1953 and went to graduate school at Cornell University. She later taught English at Howard University and also married and had two children before divorcing in 1964. In the late 1960s, she became the first black female editor in fiction at Random House in New York City. In the 1970s and 1980s, she developed her own reputation as an author, and her perhaps most celebrated work, Beloved, was made into a 1998 film. Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. In 1996, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected her for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Also that year, she was honored with the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. On May 29, 2012, President Barack Obama presented Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, she received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. Early years Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio, to Ramah (née Willis) and George Wofford. She was the second of four children in a working-class, African American family. Her mother was born in Greenville, Alabama, and moved north with her family as a child. Her father grew up in Cartersville, Georgia, and when he was about 15, white people lynched two black businessmen who lived on his street. Morrison said: “He never told us that he’d seen bodies. But he had seen them. And that was too traumatic, I think, for him.” Soon after the lynching, George Wofford moved to the racially integrated town of Lorain, Ohio, in the hope of escaping racism and securing gainful employment in Ohio’s burgeoning industrial economy. He worked odd jobs and as a welder for U.S. Steel. Ramah Wofford was a homemaker and a devout member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Morrison’s parents instilled in her a sense of heritage and language through telling traditional African American folktales and ghost stories and singing songs. Morrison also read frequently as a child; among her favorite authors were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. She became a Catholic at the age of 12 and took the baptismal name Anthony (after Anthony of Padua), which led to her nickname, Toni. Attending Lorain High School, she was on the debating team, the Diversity—Cindy Goldberg, Co-Chair yearbook staff, and in the drama club. Adulthood and editing career: 1949–1974 In 1949, she enrolled at the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C., seeking the company of fellow black intellectuals. It was while at Howard that she encountered racially segregated restaurants and buses for the first time. She graduated in 1953 with a B.A. in English and went on to earn a Master of Arts from Cornell University in 1955. Her master’s thesis was titled “Virginia Woolf’s and William Faulkner’s treatment of the alienated.” She taught English, first at Texas Southern University in Houston for two years, then at Howard University for seven years. While teaching at Howard, she met Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect, whom she married in 1958. She was pregnant with their second son when she and Harold divorced in 1964. After the breakup of her marriage, Morrison began working as an editor in 1965, for L. W. Singer, a textbook division of publisher Random House, in Syracuse, New York. Two years later she transferred to Random House in New York City, where she became their first black woman senior editor in the fiction department. In that capacity, Morrison played a vital role in bringing black literature into the mainstream. One of the first books she worked on was the groundbreaking Contemporary African Literature (1972), a collection that included work by Nigerian writers Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe and South African playwright Athol Fugard. She fostered a new generation of African American authors, including Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, Black Panther Huey Newton and Gayl Jones, whose writing Morrison discovered, and she brought out the autobiography of boxer Muhammad Ali in The Greatest. She also published and publicized the work of Henry Dumas, a little-known novelist and poet who was shot to death by a transit officer in the New York City Subway in 1968. First writings and teaching, 1970–1986 Morrison had begun writing fiction as part of an informal group of poets and writers at Howard University who met to discuss their work. She attended one meeting with a short story about a black girl who longed to have blue eyes. Morrison later developed the story as her first novel, The Bluest Eye, getting up every morning at 4 am to write, while raising two children alone. The Bluest Eye was published in 1970, when Morrison was aged 39. It was favorably reviewed in The New York Times by John Leonard, who praised Morrison’s writing style as being “a prose so precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry … But The Bluest Eye is also history, sociology, folklore, nightmare and music.” In 1975, Morrison’s second novel Sula (1973), about a friendship between two black women, was nominated for the National Book Award. Her third novel, Song of Solomon (1977), follows the life of Macon “Milkman” Dead III, from birth to adulthood, as he discovers his heritage. In 1983, Morrison left publishing to devote more time to writing, while living in a converted boathouse on the Hudson River in Nyack, New York. She taught English at two branches of the State University of New York (SUNY) and at Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus. In 1984, she was appointed to an Albert Schweitzer chair at the University at Albany, SUNY. The Beloved Trilogy and the Nobel Prize: 1987–1998 Morrison published her most celebrated novel, Beloved. It was inspired by the true story of an enslaved African-American woman, Margaret Garner, whose story Morrison had discovered when compiling The Black Book. Garner had escaped slavery but was pursued by slave hunters. Facing a return to slavery, Garner killed her two-year-old daughter but was captured before she could kill herself. Morrison’s novel imagines the dead baby returning as a ghost, Beloved, to haunt her mother and family. Beloved is the first of three novels about love and African-American history, sometimes called the Beloved Trilogy. Morrison said that they are intended to be read together, explaining, “The conceptual connection is the search for the beloved – the part of the self that is you, and loves you, and is always there for you.” The second novel in the trilogy, Jazz, came out in 1992. Told in language that imitates the rhythms of jazz music, the novel is about a love triangle during the Harlem Renaissance in New York City. The third novel of her Beloved trilogy, Paradise, about citizens of an all-black town, came out in 1997. The next year, Morrison was on the cover of Time magazine, making her only the second female writer of fiction and second black writer of fiction to appear on what was perhaps the most significant US magazine cover of the era. Before Morrison published the third novel of the trilogy, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Her citation reads that she, “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” She was the first black woman of any nationality to win the prize. In her Nobel acceptance speech, Morrison talked about the power of storytelling. To make her point, she told a story. She spoke about a blind, old, black woman who is approached by a group of young people. They demand of her, “Is there no context for our lives? No song, no literature, no poem full of vitamins, no history connected to experience that you can pass along to help us start strong? … Think of our lives and tell us your particularized world. Make up a story.” Final years: 2010–2019 In May 2010, Morrison appeared at PEN World Voices for a conversation with Marlene van Niekerk and Kwame Anthony Appiah about South African literature, and specifically van Niekerk’s 2004 novel Agaat. Morrison wrote books for children with her younger son, Slade Morrison, who was a painter and a musician. Slade died of pancreatic cancer on December 22, 2010, aged 45. Morrison’s novel Home was half -completed when her son died. In May 2011, Morrison received an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Rutgers University–New Brunswick during the commencement ceremony, where she delivered a speech on the “pursuit of life, liberty, meaningfulness, integrity, and truth.” Morrison debuted another work in 2011: She worked with opera director Peter Sellars and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré on a new production, Desdemona, taking a fresh look at William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello. The trio focused on the relationship between Othello’s wife Desdemona and her African nursemaid, Barbary, who is only briefly referenced in Shakespeare. The play, a mix of words, music and song, premiered in Vienna in 2011. Morrison had stopped working on her latest novel when her son died. She said that afterward, “I stopped writing until I began to think, “He would be really put out if he thought that he had caused me to stop. ‘Please, Mom, I’m dead, could you keep going …?'” She completed Home and dedicated it to her son Slade Morrison. Published in 2012, it is the story of a Korean War veteran in the segregated United States of the 1950s, who tries to save his sister from brutal medical experiments at the hands of a white doctor. In August 2012, Oberlin College became the home base of the Toni Morrison Society, an international literary society founded in 1983, dedicated to scholarly research of Morrison’s work. Morrison’s eleventh novel, God Help the Child, was published in 2015. It follows Bride, an executive in the fashion and beauty industry whose mother tormented her as a child for being dark skinned – a childhood trauma that has dogged Bride her whole life. Morrison was a member of the editorial advisory board of The Nation, a magazine started in 1865 by Northern abolitionists. Morrison died at Montefiore Medical Center in The Bronx, New York City, on August 5, 2019, from complications of pneumonia. She was 88 years old. In closing, we can learn a lot from the life of Toni Morrison and from her poetry. Her voice has not been silenced but lives on through her writing to be heard by generation after generation after her passing. Fondly submitted for the diversity committee, Feel free to comment on this article at our Diversity Blog, Biographical material from Wikipedia

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Everyone Into The Pool

It is hard to believe summer is on the way and for some
of us, it’ll mean time spent around the neighborhood or
community pool. For many this brings good memories of
childhood. But for others there is a different story. It is the
story for some of racial discrimination which was reflected
in and today reflects tensions in our society that need to be
recognized so they may be dealt with. For many of us being at the water in
the summer meant going to the beach. Often this was a more egalitarian
environment. Beach blanket space and boardwalks somehow seemed to be
for all. There was often an informal sense of who settled where, but in post desegregation years, no hard and fast rules, at least we thought so. The
pool was a different reality altogether.
The following article casts a light on the issue of racial discrimination at
the pool in the past and today.
By Jeff Wiltse, June 10, 2015 , The Washington Post
America’s swimming pools have a long, sad, racist history
They’ve long been contested spaces where we express prejudices that
otherwise remain unspoken.
Last weekend, a harrowing scene unfolded at a private community
swimming pool in McKinney, TX. Several white adults taunted a group of
black teens, telling them to “go back to your Section 8 homes.” Another
reportedly referred to one of the teens as a “black effer.” The police were
eventually called in, responding with aggressive and unreasonable force.
Americans were shocked by the scene, which was caught by camera
phones. But I wasn’t surprised.
Swimming pools have long been contested spaces where Americans
express social prejudices that otherwise remain publicly unspoken. (Though
the McKinney pool isn’t open to the general public, it was being used by a
resident to host a party with friends from outside the neighborhood, like
someone might do at their own neighborhood pool.) They provide insight
into the state of social relations in America, both past and present.
The earliest public pools were built in large northern cities during the late
19th and early 20th centuries. They served mostly poor and working-class
boys (both black and white), and reveal the class prejudices of the time. In
1910, for example, the proposal to build a large municipal pool in New
York’s Central Park generated intense opposition from the city’s middle and
upper classes, because it would attract large numbers of immigrant and
working-class kids into their oasis of genteel recreation. “I should consider it
disastrous if the only swimming pool belonging to the city was put [in
Central Park],” one critic told the New York Times. “It would attract all sorts
of undesirable people.” The paper agreed and recommended that municipal
pools be located underneath the Manhattan and Queensboro bridges.
These locations would have effectively secluded working-class swimmers,
protecting the city’s class-segregated social geography.
The design of pools and the social composition of swimmers changed
during the 1920s and ’30s, when cities across the country built large, resortlike swimming pools and allowed males and females to use them together
for the first time. In northern cities such as Chicago, New York and
Pittsburgh, gender integration brought about racial segregation. Public
officials and white swimmers now objected to the presence of black
Americans because they did not want black men interacting with white
women at such visually and physically intimate spaces. And so, throughout
the North, public pools became racially segregated during the interwar
In some cases, white swimmers imposed de facto segregation through
violence and intimidation. At Pittsburgh’s Highland Park Pool, for
example, white swimmers attacked black swimmers —
sometimes with rocks and clubs — to prevent them from
entering the pool. Police officers encouraged these attacks and
typically arrested the black victims, charging them with “inciting
to riot.” In attempting to explain why black swimmers were
being attacked at Highland Park Pool but not at other city pools,
the Pittsburgh Courier wrote: “The whole trouble seems to be
due to the way Highland Park Pool is operated. It is the only city
pool where men and women, girls and boys swim together. This
brings the sex question into t he pool and trouble is bound to
arise between the races.
The same type of trouble had no chance to arise at public
swimming pools in the South and Mason-Dixon line cities such as
St. Louis and Baltimore, because public officials mandated racial
segregation, explicitly barring blacks from entering “whites-only”
Across the country, public swimming pools were racially
desegregated after World War II, but that was met with
widespread opposition from whites that again exposed their
social prejudices. Southern cities typically shut down their public
pools rather than allow mixed-race swimming. In the North,
whites generally abandoned pools that became accessible to
blacks and retreated to ones located in thoroughly white
neighborhoods or established private club pools, where racial
discrimination was still legal.
Warren, Ohio, for example, was forced by a pending court
order to desegregate its municipal pool in 1948. The local
newspaper covered the first day of interracial swimming by
printing a front-page photo showing a dozen children waiting to
enter. The last two children in line were black; the caption read:
“Last one in the water is a monkey.” The racial antipathy
expressed in the newspaper was shared by many local whites,
who stopped using the pool when they realized black residents
intended to use it. Similarly, in 1962, several years after
Pittsburgh’s municipal pools were desegregated, a sign posted
outside a city pool still used exclusively by whites read “No dogs
or niggers allowed.” Public pools were racially desegregated, but
that did not mean blacks and whites started swimming together.
Even today, there are examples that things haven’t changed
that much. In 2009, 65 black and Latino campers from the
Creative Steps day camp in North Philadelphia arrived at the
Valley Swim Club in suburban Montgomery County to play for an
hour and a half. Camp director Althea Wright had paid the
private club $1,950 to use the facility Monday afternoons
throughout the summer. As the campers entered the water,
some club members reportedly pulled their children from the
pool and wondered aloud what all these black and Latino kids
were doing there. A few days later, the Valley Swim Club
canceled the lease agreement. When pressed to explain, the club
president stated, “there was concern [among the members] that
a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere
of the club.
We do not see this type of behavior in other public spaces
such as parks. Why do swimming pools bring out the worst in
Part of the answer has to do with the uniqueness of swimming pools as physical spaces. They are visually and socially intimate.
Swimmers gaze upon one another’s nearly naked bodies, lie in the sun next
to one another, navigate through crowded water and flirt. This type of
contact and interaction piques social anxieties and exposes the lack of trust
and understanding between people of different social classes.
Swimming pools have also been intensely contested because they are
places at which people build community and define the social boundaries of
community life. Swimming pools are primary summertime gathering places,
where many people come together (often for several hours), socialize, and
share a common space. Swimming with others in a pool means accepting
them as part of the same community precisely because the interaction is so
intimate and sociable. Conversely, excluding someone or some group from a
pool effectively defines them as social others—as excluded from the
For these reasons, swimming pools serve as useful barometers of social
relations. If we as a nation want to know how we relate to one another
across social lines, how we structure our communities socially, and how we
think about people who are socially different from ourselves, just look at our
swimming pools. The answer will be obvious.
In sum, the lazy hazy days of summer have been and are more
complicated than we may realize. Have a happy and inclusive summer.
Fondly submitted for the Diversity Committee

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What Are Minority Groups?

Diversity and minority status are words in such common use it is easy to lose track of their meaning or at least the meaning we wish to convey. When we speak of groups showing considerable diversity, implicitly, we are saying that there is a considerable mix of people. Here is the technical definition of diversity: “(1) the condition of having or being composed of differing elements; variety, especially the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization. (2) an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities; an instance of being diverse.

When we say an individual represents a minority we often are trying to say they represent a disenfranchised minority. That is not always the case but in discussing diversity issues it often is. Here is the discussion of the issue of minority status. Hopefully it will prove interesting and informative.

“What Are Minority Groups? Sociologist Louis Wirth (1945) defined a minority group as “any group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination.” The term minority connotes discrimination, and in its sociological use, the term subordinate group can be used interchangeably with the term minority, while the term dominant group is often substituted for the group that’s in the majority. These definitions correlate to the concept that the dominant group is that which holds the most power in a given society, while subordinate groups are those who lack power compared to the dominant group.

Note that being a numerical minority is not a characteristic of being a minority group; sometimes larger groups can be considered minority groups due to their lack of power. It is the lack of power that is the predominant characteristic of a minority, or subordinate group. For example, consider apartheid in South Africa, in which a numerical majority (the black inhabitants of the country) were exploited and oppressed by the white minority.

According to Charles Wagley and Marvin Harris (1958), a minority group is distinguished by five characteristics: (1) unequal treatment and less power over their lives, (2) distinguishing physical or cultural traits like skin color or language, (3) involuntary membership in the group, (4) awareness of subordination, and (5) high rate of in-group marriage. Additional examples of minority groups might include the LBGT community, religious practitioners whose faith is not widely practiced where they live, and people with disabilities.

Scapegoat theory, developed initially from Dollard’s (1939) Frustration-Aggression theory, suggests that the dominant group will displace its unfocused aggression onto a subordinate group. History has shown us many examples of the scapegoating of a subordinate group. An example from the last century is the way Adolf Hitler was able to blame the Jewish population for Germany’s social and economic problems. In the United States, recent immigrants have frequently been the scapegoat for the nation’s—or an individual’s—woes. Many states have enacted laws to disenfranchise immigrants; these laws are popular because they let the dominant group scapegoat a subordinate group.”

In closing which seems simple and straightforward in fact but may not be. Other concepts which may complicate our thinking but are important include the idea of insuring diversity and inclusion. Someone might say our group must be diverse. Is that an artificial concept and doesn’t really address the issues of full inclusion? Inclusion is another complex concept. To include suggests there is one who includes and is the subject of the inclusion. Basically we’re saying Group A will let Group B in. The implication is that the dominant social group has the power to let in a subordinate group. This perpetuates the power of the group which acts as gatekeeper. In the area of minority relations this is a very problematic concept. Without in anyway trying to totally elucidate the issue one needs to reflect on these complex issues and not assume that if we have fostered diversity and inclusion we have really addressed the problem of systemic racism at hand.


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African American Women Leaders in Social Work

What do you think of when you think of social work month? Social work month? There is one? Yes, and it’s in March. What do you think of when you think of professional social work? Do you think of a child being forcibly removed from a home? Do you think of well-meaning “dogooders” who just don’t get the life on the streets? Do you have other misconceptions and stereotypes which are rampant in our society?

In a world where we often feel helpless to deal with poverty, crime, and discrimination social workers have been seen as both part of the solution and part of the problem.

The truth is more complex. There are many sorts of social workers, the title is not universally protected. When you say someone is a social worker it may or may not mean they are a trained professional social worker. You have to look into the situation more closely. When you say the social worker and the court are acting in the best interest of the child there are often many legal and social barriers to effective action.

One classic stereotype is that social workers represent the values of the dominant culture acting to influence and control minority populations. In fact social work and social service have a long proud history in minority communities. In the following article we learn about African American leaders in social work whose impact has been positive and far-reaching. This is not a case where the dominant culture controls or judges minority communities. These leaders speak for minority communities with strength, resolve and commitment.

Honoring the African American Women Who Have Changed Social Work—(USC, School of Social Work, 2019)—From women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement to contemporary issues of race, class and beyond, these seven women have dedicated their lives to changing their communities—and the world.

1. Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)—Mary Church Terrell accomplished many firsts in her lifetime. After graduating from Oberlin in 1884, she became the first African American woman to earn a college degree. She and her husband then moved to Washington, DC, where Terrell worked tirelessly toward women’s suffrage. Terrell was particularly dedicated to combating the exclusion of African American women from the women’s rights movement.

In l896, Terrell co-founded and served as president of the National Association of Colored Women, and then went on to become a charter member of the NAACP. Terrell fought for civil rights all the way to the end of her life. Her 1950 lawsuit against a restaurant that refused a serve her ultimately brought about the desegregation of restaurants in Washington, DC.

2. Thyra J. Edwards (1897-1953)—Thyra J. Edwards began her career as a school teacher in her hometown of Houston, Texas. After moving to Chicago, Illinois she shifted her focus to social work. Edwards held travel seminars around the world, focusing on at-risk populations and women in many cultural contexts. In 1953, she organized the first Jewish child care program to help Holocaust survivors. Edwards was also a skilled journalist, orator and union organizer, and served as the executive director of the Congress of American Women.

3. Dorothy Height (1912-2010)—Dorothy Height, called “the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement” by Barack Obama, was a key figure in some of the most groundbreaking developments of the 20th century. She joined the Harlem YWCA in 1937, where she would direct integration of its centers and establish its Center for Racial Justice in 1965. During her time at the YWCA, she began volunteering for the National Council of Negro Women, and became president of the organization in 1957.

Height played an instrumental role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington, and would go on to help found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. Height was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.

4. Darlyne Bailey—Darlyne Bailey is a professor, dean emeritus, and director of the social justice initiative at Bryn Mawr College. She was one of the first women to attend Lafayette College, and went on to receive her master’s degree at Columbia University. Bailey helped start a community mental health center at Case Western Reserve University, where she later earned her doctorate. In 1994, she was appointed Dean of the Mandel School for Applied Social Sciences at Case Western.

Bailey was recently honored by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) as a Social Worker Pioneer. Her work emphasizes a multidisciplinary, multicultural approach to health and human services, as well as leadership development and organizational behavior.

5. Ruby Gourdine—Now a professor at Howard University, Ruby Gourdine began her career as a probation officer in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of Richmond, Virginia, where she became interested in issues of race and child welfare. After receiving her master’s degree at the University of Atlanta, she became the first professional social worker hired by the Roxbury Children’s Center, where she would develop their adoption program.

Gourdine was then recruited by the Spaulding Group to develop special needs adoption programs in Washington, DC. Her work on behalf of children with disabilities led her to become the State Supervisor for Social Work Services in the DC public school system.

6. Mildred Joyner—Mildred Joyner has been a community activist and a pioneer in teaching, writing and researching gerontology and multicultural issues for 30 years. She began her career as a child welfare worker in the Chester County Children, Youth and Families Agency in Pennsylvania. She went on to establish the first Master of Social Work program in the Pennsylvania state system of higher education.

Joyner has served as a leading member of every social work professional organization, and was named a Social Work Pioneer by the NASW. In 2005, the Mit Joyner Gerontology Leadership Award was created in her honor.

7. Ruth McRoy—Following 25 years of teaching at the University of Texas at Austin, Ruth McRoy now directs the RISE (Research and Innovations in Social, Economic, & Environmental Equity) Program at Boston College. Her research focuses on the history and philosophy of American social welfare, as well as issues surrounding adoption and foster case. McRoy also contributes to the AdoptUSKids project, studying barriers to special needs adoptions.

McRoy has published over 100 articles and 12 books, and has received many honors in her lifetime, including being selected as a fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare in 2010.

In closing, let us celebrate not only February as Black History Month but March as Social Work Month and Women’s History Month, remembering that social work leadership has come from minority and non-minority communities with a great commitment to the welfare of all.

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In Honor of Black History Month: Sojourner Truth speaking for the freedom of African Americans, African American women and all women

One of the greatest historic figures in America is clearly
Sojourner Truth. She spoke not only for the freedom of
African Americans and African American women, but she also spoke for the
freedom of all women. The issues she raised which certainly impacted the
African American community most directly, were really universal issues of
freedom and control of oneself and one’s body and one’s life.
Here is a brief excerpt from the Wikipedia article detailing her life and
legacy. We can see that her work is not yet done. All of
humankind still deals with the indignities of racism, subjugation
of women and the inequities which the history of slavery in
America so clearly demonstrates.
Sojourner Truth (born Isabella [Belle] Baumfree; c. 1797–
November 26, 1883) was an African American abolitionist and
women’s rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in
Swartekill, Ulster County, New York, but escaped with her infant
daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son in
1828, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white
She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 after she became
convinced that God had called her to leave the city and go into the
countryside “testifying the hope that was in her”. Her best-known speech
was delivered extemporaneously, in 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights
Convention in Akron, Ohio. The speech became widely known during the
Civil War by the title “Ain’t I a Woman?,” a variation of the original speech
re-written by someone else using a stereotypical Southern dialect; whereas
Sojourner Truth was from New York and grew up speaking Dutch as her first
language. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black troops for the
Union Army; after the war, she tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants
from the federal government for former slaves (summarized as the promise
of Forty acres and a mule).
In 2014, Truth was included in Smithsonian magazine’s list of the “100
Most Significant Americans of All Time”.
Truth was one of the 10 or 12 children born to James and Elizabeth
Baumfree (or Bomefree). Colonel Hardenbergh bought James and Elizabeth
Baumfree from slave traders and kept their family at his estate in a big hilly
area called by the Dutch name Swartekill (just north of present-day Rifton),
in the town of Esopus, New York, 95 miles (153 km) north of New York City.
Charles Hardenbergh inherited his father’s estate and continued to enslave
people as a part of that estate’s property.
When Charles Hardenbergh died in 1806, nine-year-old Truth (known as
Belle), was sold at an auction with a flock of sheep for $100 to John Neely,
near Kingston, New York. Until that time, Truth spoke only Dutch. She later
described Neely as cruel and harsh, relating how he beat her daily and once
even with a bundle of rods. Neely sold her in 1808, for $105, to Martinus
Schryver of Port Ewen, a tavern keeper, who owned her for 18 months.
Schryver sold her in 1810 to John Dumont of West Park, New York. Although
this fourth owner was kindly disposed toward her, considerable tension
existed between Truth and Dumont’s wife, Elizabeth Waring Dumont, who
harassed her and made her life more difficult.
In around 1815, Truth met and fell in love with an enslaved man named
Robert from a neighboring farm. Robert’s owner (Charles Catton, Jr., a
Diversity—Cindy Goldberg, Co-Chair landscape painter) forbade their relationship; he did not want the people he enslaved to have children with people he was not
enslaving, because he would not own the children. One day
Robert sneaked over to see Truth. When Catton and his son found
him, they savagely beat Robert until Dumont finally intervened.
Truth never saw Robert again after that day and he died a few
years later. The experience haunted Truth throughout her life.
Truth eventually married an older enslaved man named Thomas.
She bore five children: James, her firstborn, who died in
childhood, Diana (1815), the result of a rape by either Robert or
John Dumont, and Peter (1821), Elizabeth (1825), and Sophia (ca.
1826), all born after she and Thomas united.
In 1799, the state of New York began to legislate the abolition
of slavery, although the process of emancipating those people
enslaved in New York was not complete until July 4, 1827. Dumont
had promised to grant Truth her freedom a year before the state
emancipation, “if she would do well and be faithful.” However, he
changed his mind, claiming a hand injury had made her less
productive. She was infuriated but continued working, spinning
100 pounds of wool, to satisfy her sense of obligation to him.
Late in 1826, Truth escaped to freedom with her infant
daughter, Sophia. She had to leave her other children behind
because they were not legally freed in the emancipation order
until they had served as bound servants into their twenties. She
later said “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked
off, believing that to be all right.”
She found her way to the home of Isaac and Maria Van
Wagenen in New Paltz, who took her and her baby in. Isaac
offered to buy her services for the remainder of the year (until the
state’s emancipation took effect), which Dumont accepted for
$20. She lived there until the New York State Emancipation Act
was approved a year later.
Truth learned that her son Peter, then five years old, had been
sold illegally by Dumont to an owner in Alabama. With the help of
the Van Wagenens, she took the issue to court and in 1828, after
months of legal proceedings, she got back her son, who had been
abused by those who were enslaving him. Truth became one of
the first black women to go to court against a white man and win
the case.
Truth had a life-changing religious experience during her stay
with the Van Wagenens, and became a devout Christian. In 1829
she moved with her son Peter to New York City, where she
worked as a housekeeper for Elijah Pierson, a Christian evangelist.
While in New York, she befriended Mary Simpson, a grocer on
John Street who claimed she had once been enslaved by George
Washington. They shared an interest in charity for the poor and
became intimate friends. In 1832, she met Robert Matthews, also
known as Prophet Matthias, and went to work for him as a
housekeeper at the Matthias Kingdom communal colony. Elijah
Pierson died, and Robert Matthews and Truth were accused of
stealing from and poisoning him. Both were acquitted of the
murder, though Matthews was convicted of lesser crimes, served
time, and moved west.
In 1839, Truth’s son Peter took a job on a whaling ship called
the Zone of Nantucket. From 1840 to 1841, she received three
letters from him, though in his third letter he told her he had sent
five. Peter said he also never received any of her letters. When the
ship returned to port in 1842, Peter was not on board and Truth
never heard from him again.

The year 1843 was a turning point for Truth. She became a
Methodist, and on June 1, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth.
She told her friends: “The Spirit calls me, and I must go” and left to
make her way travelling and preaching about the abolition of slavery.
At that time, Truth began attending Millerite Adventist camp meetings.
However, that did not last since Jesus failed to appear in 1843 and
then again in 1844. Like many others disappointed, Truth distanced
herself from her Millerite friends for a while.
In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and
Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts. Founded by abolitionists, the
organization supported women’s rights and religious tolerance as well
as pacifism. There were, in its four-and-a-half year history, a total of
240 members, though no more than 120 at any one time. They lived
on 470 acres (1.9 km2) raising livestock, running a sawmill, a gristmill,
and a silk factory. While there, Truth met William Lloyd Garrison,
Frederick Douglass, and David Ruggles. In 1846, the group disbanded,
unable to support itself. In 1845, she joined the household of George
Benson, the brother-in-law of William Lloyd Garrison. In 1849, she
visited John Dumont before he moved west.
Truth started dictating her memoirs to her friend Olive Gilbert, and
in 1850 William Lloyd Garrison privately published her book, The
Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. That same year, she
purchased a home in what would become the village of Florence in
Northampton for $300, and spoke at the first National Women’s Rights
Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1854, with proceeds from
sales of the Narrative and cartes-de-visite titled “I sell the shadow to
support the substance,” she paid off the mortgage held by her friend
from the Community, Samuel L. Hill.
Fondly submitted for the Diversity Committee

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