Monday, May 25, 2009

Memory Monday-- Books, the Gift of Life

As you all know, I am a voracious reader. Always have been; it’s in the blood. As far back as I can remember, books and reading have been a vital part of my life. There was always a book case in my house and I was allowed to read anything that I was able to. Two memories stand out. Walking to the library with my mother and siblings every Saturday and the day I learned to read in one day.

In my kindergarten class at Garfield Elementary school, we were each given a book and told to take it home and have our parents help us learn to read. I think back then, they did not actually teach reading until the first grade. So, I happily presented my schoolteacher mother with the book and we sat down and I learned to read. The next day, the teacher, I have forgotten her name, called each student to sit down beside her desk and read what they had learned. I vaguely remember kids reading slowly or one or two words they recognized. They were encouraged and praised. It was finally my turn and I confidently walked up to the teacher’s desk and sat down. I opened the book and proceeded to read the entire book. I remember the teacher looking at me with her mouth open. She left the room and came back with another teacher, or maybe it was the principal, and they set up a tape recorder and asked me to read some more. That is all I can remember.

When I have told this story, I have always presented it as my learning to read in one day. But, in retrospect, I have long realized that this was not an overnight achievement and I was not some wonder child--- not really.  The foundation of learning to read had been laid for quite some time. I realize that I was slowly learning sounds and recognizing familiar words from all the books I had been “reading” and had read to me by both my mother and father. Every Saturday we walked to the library from our 24th Avenue home. I cannot remember the name of the branch; it is no longer there but it was not far from Garfield School, a couple blocks over from 23rd Avenue. I obtained a library card at three or four years old, when I was able to write my name. I checked out the maximum five books back then and “read” them or had them read to me. The gift of books and reading to your child is the best gift you can give them. It is economically feasible. A library is still free as far as I know, and reading is something that cannot be trampled on, destroyed or lost. It is a gift for life.

I was able to find a picture of a picture from the 50s of the Lakeside branch in Oakland. It is pretty standard from what I remember of the libraries back then.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Why a Black Graduation?

Saturday I attended the first Black Graduation for students of African descent in the Peralta Community College District which consists of four campuses, College of Alameda, Berkeley City College, Laney College and Merritt Colleges (my employer) in Oakland. Immediately when it was announced that there would be such an event, there were naysayers throughout the District. You heard things like “Why a Black graduation?” “Why are we segregating ourselves?” And this was coming from black folk.

Now, I have to admit, my reaction was one of hmmm, isn’t Merritt College and our graduations already predominately black? I mean, we were able to obtain a federal grant to improve black male retention based on our more than 50% black population. We have long heard complaints that our guest speakers at past graduations are almost always black—this year we are having the honorable Congresswomen Barbara Lee-- as well as the entertainment. And we have consistently had a black president for the past twelve years. But, I decided to brush the chatter aside and support those who initiated the idea and especially our students. Dr. Van Hook, an African American studies instructor at Merritt and Laney and his wife, Patricia Van Hook, took this on and my hats are off to them. They pulled it off and did a fabulous job. The well-planned and organized graduation was held at the North Oakland Missionary Baptist Church where Dr. Van Hook holds services.

Why a Black Graduation? It was clear to me the moment I walked through the church vestibule. First, the fact that it was being held at a church was telling in itself. As a public college district, Peralta adheres to the separation of church and state mandate. But the house of worship is a vital part of the African American community, no matter what religion is practiced. Celebrating our successes and accomplishments goes hand in hand with giving honor and praise to a higher power. To God be the glory. There was a prayer by Rev. Rutledge, the church pastor after opening greetings. The tune, There’s a Sweet Spirit in this Place today kept going through my head. This is why.

Why a Black graduation? A former, highly esteemed Black studies instructor, Dr. Cecelia Arrington, was honored as well as the first Black chancellor of the Peralta College District, Dr. Donald Godbold, and the first Black Trustee, Dr. Booker Jackson Jr. Jason Hodge, a former Oakland school board member, and his son called on the ancestors with their drums and libation ceremony. This is why. The graduating students ranging from ages early 20s to 60s who so desired, felt free in expressing their gratitude for their blessings. And they did so as they introduced themselves, draped in their beautiful Kente cloth. They announced their degrees received and thanked those who encouraged them on their journey. That is why.

Why? Because we had a keynote speaker, Davey D, radio commentator, journalist and community activist who felt free to speak truth to power where the audience could relate and receive. Because as a people, we have an oral tradition; we felt free in agreeing with the various speakers in a call and response format that dates back to Africa. Because every ethnicity has their traditions and celebrations and this is our way or as the kids say, this is how we roll. Because the sense of pride and joy on the faces of the family of the graduates were evident at hearing Dr. Siri Brown juxtapose the scholars of ancient Africa and the scholars of African descent today. That is why there is a Black Graduation.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Memory Mondays-- Coming of Age in 1963

I saw a couple of blogs that are titled Memory Mondays or Monday Memories as a theme and I like the idea of going down memory lane. I had been blogging fine the last few months almost four times a month and then I got backed up this month. So by my joining the Memory Mondays blogging bandwagon, it will guarantee a blog at least once a week. This serves as a two-edged deal as I am compiling a book of childhood stories that I hope to publish. Southern Roots/Cali Girl: My Coming of Age Story centers on my growing up in Oakland and the influence of my Southern born roots. I want to present excerpts and thoughts on these stories to give readers a taste of what is to come. As the family genealogist, this is a way of documenting my own history as well.

We have been experiencing a hot spell in the Bay Area in the last few days. This time of year brings back memories of summer vacations going back south to Arkansas. It was 1963, the last day of school and all over Oakland, Gary U.S. Bond’s song; School is Out—“School is out at last and I’m so glad I passed….” was blasting from cars. I was excited to be going down to see Grandmother, Uncle John, Aunt Esther and Gladys Marie, Barbara Ann and all the rest of my cousins down in the country. I knew that later on we would go to the big city of Little Rock and hang up with Uncle Raymond’s kids, eat bar-b-que and watermelon and watch the 4th of July fireworks.

Little did I know as we left in the wee hours of the morning in our new Buick in mid-June that this trip and this year would change me and that way I saw the world going forward. I express this momentous experience with a story that was published by the Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD) anthology, I’ve Know Rivers.

Coming of Age in 1963

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tuesday's Just as Bad

It is the May 5, Cinco de Mayo and it has been raining since Friday, the first. It is dark and gloomy outside and I want to be home. I feel kind of blah. I feel like I am coming down with something, a cold, I hope nothing worse. No, I am not panicking that it could be Swine Flu or the official name, H1N1. Part of what has me feeling the blues is the news and the hourly reports on the H1N1. Schools closing, vacations canceled, people avoiding crowds. I understand the side of caution, but it seems things are being blown out of portion.

I need to be at home with a good book. I have been reading Mixed Blood by Roger Smith, a suspense set in Cape Town, South Africa. I’m learning a lot about the culture there, the interactions among the races in the new South African post Nelson Mandela.
The characters include Jack Burn, an American, running away from a crime he committed in Virginia, a corrupt racist Afrikaner cop, Barnard, a “half-breed” ex-con trying to go straight, Benny Mongrel, and a police investigator, Disaster, that’s right, Disaster Zondi, and a proud Zulu who is out to see that justice is met.

This was part of the Amazon Vine book program-
which is nice because you get a first chance at books that might be of interest but may not be aware of? So far, so good. It’s kind of exciting but I wish I were home in my cozy bed reading it. They may call stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad.

Mixed Blood: A Thriller