Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind

Gratitude: The Barnard Library Wall

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unnamed-1I was in the Barnard library at a desk facing the window when I decided that was where I wanted to go to college. I wrote my first paper at another desk facing the window in the library. It was about June Jordan and Phillis Wheatley (I handed it in, but clearly I never stopped writing it.)

When the Barnard College archives used to be one room in the basement I spent hours and days in there looking for pictures and information about Black women at Barnard to share and remember. That library was always my favorite, even while it was in deep need of renovation.

I always visit the library when I return to Barnard’s campus. One time I even visited the alumae authors shelf and imagined where my book(s) would go someday. https://www.instagram.com/p/atE-hNCTA4/

All that is to say, that being honored this way on the wall of the Barnard Library, with my words about how we can love each other to liberation alongside Zora Neale Hurston, Grace Lee Boggs and Ntozake Shange is making me cry because it is a physical manifestation of something that has been true for a long time. I am always in the Barnard Library. When I first saw it, I knew I had been there before.

The Barnard students who decided to put this on the wall did not do it because of the feelings it would make me feel. They put it there because they know what I know. We create sacred space with words, and we must create sacred space for words. We need desperately to see writers, because we need urgently to be writers. They put this there because they thought it would make their own words and worlds more possible.

And that’s why I’m feeling it all. Everything.unnamed-2

My mom gave me my first copy of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls…” She said: “This is important to me.” I read it as a sacred text. That text, Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo and Betsey Brown were books that shaped my experience and understanding of my own black girlhood. Ready or not.

When I was a first-year at Barnard College I went to the archives to make a timeline of the presence of Black women at Barnard for BOSS’s celebration of Black Womanhood Week. I looked through the year books of the time when Ntozake Shange and Thulani Davis were at Barnard and the beautiful poetic spreads they made in protest of the limits of the institutions and in brave celebration of themselves and other Black women. I plastered my dorm room wall with quotes from “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, When the Rainbow is Enough.” In the summer I went home and looked at Thulani Davis‘s papers at Emory to see how she and Ntozake documented their time doing the same things I did at Columbia. Fighting for black studies and ethnic studies, using poetry as a tool for clarification, struggling to build unity between black folks at the different colleges within the university, loving each other as sisters and comrades.

The summer before I graduated from Barnard I went to Berkeley’s Bancroft Archive to write my writing sample for my grad school applications, a study of the dynamics of Ntozake Shange’s early work with Shameless Hussy Press and other experimental groups in California. (It worked! I got into grad school!)

In Durham, when brilliant Black girls asked me to create an afterschool program where they could cultivate their magic together, I knew that Ntozake Shange’s character Indigo would be our spirit guide. When grown black women needed ritual space to gather, when it was time to create a week long gathering of warrior healers, I turned to Shange’s work again and again.

I came back to Barnard the year that Africana Studies dedicated to Ntozake Shange to be part of the beautiful conference in her honor:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9XMBgIm3-4
and to contribute to this video about her legacy:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9XMBgIm3-4

Really these are just the highlights. The point is, I am overwhelmed with gratitude to have my words, name, picture on the wall of the Barnard Library alongside Ntozake Shange. Not just because she is one of the most influential artists of our time, but because her work has shaped my relationship to myself, my relationship to Barnard, my relationship to my work and my relationships to spirit and possibility so deeply.

The fact that current Barnard students looking for affirmation and reflection would put me in the same sphere with Shange, lands on me like a sacred trust. If my work can offer them a fraction of what Shange’s work has offered me, then I am keeping my agreement. Gratitude unending.

unnamedMeeting Grace Lee Boggs was one of the best things that has ever happened in my life. I didn’t know about Grace when I was at Barnard, but after I graduated I met her in Detroit at my first Allied Media Conference. Grace was in her 90s and just went to the sessions and was as eager to learn as anyone. What Grace said about education in the first session of the AMC that year inspired me to create Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind as an intergenerational solution-based learning space. I am grateful for ever.

I am grateful to Grace’s family of mentees especiallyJenny Lee, Invincible Ill Weaver, Adrienne Maree Brown, and Mike Medow for giving me so many opportunities to listen to Grace, to be with Grace, to celebrate GRACE!

It wasn’t until I watched the documentary “American Revolutionary” that I learned that Grace was a Barnard alum. I excitedly shared the info and the link to the film with my sisters in the Fierce & Fabulous {Barnard College Alumnae of Color} group. And I played the recording that I heard in the film over and over again where Grace matter-of-factly tells a group of white liberals that black people don’t want to be like white people.

When Grace became an ancestor, I knew immediately that it was up to all of us to embody the values that Grace carried for us for more than a century. Every day for the month after Grace passed I started my day by Embodying Grace. I meditated to the sound of her voice. Those of you who are connected to me on social media might remember, I shared a different piece of her writing or speaking every day.

I refuse to live in a world without GRACE (or a world without CHARITY for that matter.) At this time Grace is called for, Grace is called on daily by those of us accountable to the evolution of this species.

The fact that Barnard students would put me in conversation with Grace by putting my words and face on the wall of the library alongside her is a gift, transcended only by the original gift of Grace’s revolutionary life and the gift of my comrades in Detroit who brought me into her world. I am honored to be part of the necessary multitude embodying Grace right now.

unnamed-3I was reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God when I decided I HAD to be a writer. That book showed me how with words, the dead can move the bodies of the living. That connection, through language beyond life and death shapes every moment of my work.

At Barnard, I quoted Zora Neale Hurston almost everyday. I reminded my classmates about her reflection on tokenization: “I became Barnard’s sacred black cow,” she once said. I said it so often that my friend and comrade Elodi Dielubanza (CC 04)  would quip back “How now?” I had her words all over my dorm room walls.

I was honored to be part of a dramatic rendition of Hurston’s short story collection Spunk. I was blown away when I heard Valerie Boyd speak on campus about Hurston’s life and the ancestral communication and presence she felt while writing the biography Wrapped in Rainbows. I was humbled when my advisor Monica Miller asked me to introduce Hurston’s longtime champion, archeologist and legacy builder Alice Walker at a huge gathering celebrating 75 years since Hurston’s time at Barnard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUyOQ3DpqzM

When Ebony Noelle Golden taught at North Carolina Central University and when Zelda Lockhartannounced she would be teaching there, I thought right away YES. In the legacy of Zora Neale Hurston. I am so honored to learn from sisters who teach and have taught in her legacy right here in Durham.

Even now, today I am writing about Alice Walker’s relationship to Zora Neale Hurston’s legacy and the actual digging it required in preparation for the Dig: Womanist Archeologies Intensive next week.

I am so honored that my words, name, face appear on the wall at Barnard College alongside Zora Neale Hurston’s. Not because it means I have arrived, but because through their knowing, the current students at Barnard have manifested one of my oldest and most consistent desires.

I just want to be with Zora.

And the beautiful thing is that the students have taught me that, in a way, I am.

 

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