Archive for the ‘Urban League’ Category

4th Phenomenal Caribbean Women Symposium, January 26th, 2013, Cabrits National Park, Dominica

February 10, 2013
Telling My Story at the Fourth Phenomenal Caribbean Women Symposium, January 26, 2013, Dominica

Telling My Story at the Fourth Phenomenal Caribbean Women Symposium, January 26, 2013, Dominica

Recently I traveled to Dominica, West Indies to speak at VF Inc’s Fourth Phenomenal Caribbean Women Symposium, held Saturday, January 26th, 2013, at Cabrits National Park, Portsmouth, Dominica.

Organized by Dr. Valda Henry, CEO of V F Inc, the 4th Phenomenal Caribbean Women Symposium, in collaboration with the Bureau of Gender Affairs, and sponsored by the Ministry of Social Services, Community Development (among others,) attracted 150 women of all ages and walks of life from Dominica and neighbouring Caribbean islands.

My participation was fully sponsored by the Dominican Bureau of Gender Affairs, which is headed by Ms. Rosie Browne, Director.

With my presentation entitled, “Heeding the call of the Ancestor Spirits to unravel the secrets and shames and heal the wounds of our immigrant mothers, to liberate my inner Maroon Warrioress,” I shared my story of how I, “traveling the wrong way,” came home to my roots – my self – in Jamaica. It was a dynamic, interactive storytelling, in words, music and song, of my spiritual and physical journey and how, with art, creativity and lots of laughter, I overcame life’s obstacles and liberated my inner “Maroon Warrioress,” along the way.

Welcoming remarks were given by Dr. Valda Henry, Rosie Browne, and Vanya David, President of the Dominica National Council of Women, and the Keynote Address was presented by Minister of Social Services, Community Development and Gender Affairs, the Honourable Gloria Shillingford.

Including myself, there were four Phenomenal Caribbean Women Speakers at the Symposium representing three countries. I represented Jamaica,  Karen Hinds, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Mrs. Annette St. Hilarie and Gloria Walsh both represented Dominica. This year’s theme was, “What You Conceive You Can Achieve Because God Has the Power to Deliver What He Promises.” The conference’s main objectives were to:

  • Celebrate the successes of our Caribbean women.
  • Hear Caribbean women tell their stories of success, triumph over adversity, challenges, pain, joy and blessings.
  • Inspire women, especially young women to determine and achieve their life purpose.
  • Show that achieving one’s “Life Purpose” is possible.
  • Prepare a Personal Action Plan towards achieving one’s life purpose.

We Caribbean women speakers recounted different stories, our own stories, in our own words, and yet it was wholly evident that we were telling women’s stories.

I do believe that we all have a story to tell. The ancients, our ancestors, knew this. They were well aware that the need to be heard (to be truly listened to,) is inherent in all humans. To be heard is to belong. To belong is to be loved. I was honoured and delighted to have a rapt audience of so many Phenomenal Caribbean Women listen to my story and I was humbled to hear that my tale and songs – my truth – had touched them deeply and provided them inspiration.

I, and my inner “Maroon Warrioress,” were liberated, and loved, in Dominica.

Here is an excerpt of my talk:

“In truth, only I hear what I hear. Only I know what I know. But do I dare?

They are talking to me, willing me, whispering to me. It is my story they – the ancestors – want me to tell. It is my story they wish me to write, to live. For it is my story that will set them free, set me free; set my mother free (she who left Jamaica for a better life, to become a better person, whitewashed – a proper English lady,) set we phenomenal Caribbean women free. But do I dare? Do I have the courage to walk alone, all one?

I did dare. I did find the courage. And it hurt. And it was lonely. And lonely and hurt entwined and became a physical being, a rough, jagged stone that lodged in my heart, suffocating me, that no matter how hard I tried I could not expel. But as I learned to listen, really listen, and know and trust my truth. As I met each challenge that confronted me, threatened to derail me from my path, but didn’t, that rock became smooth, weathered, beautiful, black, radiant – me.

You must mine your own heart, meet your own self – the good, the bad and the ugly – accept that it is true and love you, all of you. Inside all of the muck is your gift, your purpose, your reason for being here on this earth, at this time. Only you can unearth it, only you can set it free, though the spirits, the ancestors, they are guiding you, cheering you on, encouraging you, supporting you. They live in your imagination, in your creativity, your craft, your art, your voice, your laughter. They live in your loneliness. Embrace them to set you free.”

Rosie Browne, Karen Hinds, Dr. Valda Henry, Gloria Walsh, Sharon Martini, Mrs. Annette St. Hilaire

Sharon Martini proud as punch with Phenomenal Caribbean Woman Plaque

Sharon Martini proud as punch with Phenomenal Caribbean Woman Plaque

Mrs. Esther Thomas, Chief Technical Officer, Ministry of Tourism, Dominica, presents me with a basket of "Made In Dominica" goodies.

Mrs. Esther Thomas, Chief Technical Officer, Ministry of Tourism, Dominica, presents me with a basket of “Made In Dominica” goodies.

The view from Cabrits National Park, Portsmouth, Dominica

The view from Cabrits National Park, Portsmouth, Dominica

OpheliaMarie

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Black Oregon

September 25, 2009

“When times are tough for everyone in Oregon, it is exponentially so for black folks.” This according to Marcus Munday, President of the Urban league of Portland. The Sunday Oregonian newspaper’s July 26th , 2009, headlline screamed: “State of black Oregon: precarious.” The column continued “Unemployment and other miseries troubling the state are multiplied for African Americans and went on to list the litany of ills and misfortunes that continuously befall the black populations in Oregon.

For example, sixty percent of black children in Oregon live in households with income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This compared to thirty-three percent of white children in Oregon. The percentage of Oregon students meeting the state’s 10th-grade reading benchmark in 2006-2007, was only thirty-eight for blacks as opposed to sixty-eight percent for whites. Also, the Oregon incarceration rate per 100,000 of the black and white populations is thirty-four percent for black compared to sixty-eight percent for whites.

We are constantly bombarded with negative stories in the media of the failings and shortcomings of the black population of Oregon (and America at large.) On Friday, July 24, 2009, the Metro section headline was “Schools confront racial gap.” Occasionally, of course we do hear success stories, but these tales are oftentimes, tempered by the “exception to the rule” insinuation. There is a latent, and insidious, belief within the general population, of the inferiority of black people. I concede that it would be hard not to believe with negativity channeled, unrelentingly, when it’s black people propaganda, whether current, or historical.

What if there is an ulterior motive with this negative press? Extreme? Paranoid? Perhaps, that is your call, but consider this: They say the winners; the conquerors; the dominant ones, get to write history. I understand that. What if that history contained more truths about the losers; the conquered?

What if it was general knowledge that during the formation of Oregon, blacks were not allowed to be here? They were not allowed to own property here. It was the Law. In 1844, Oregon residents passed laws banning slavery and excluding African Americans. An act passed by the Oregon territorial legislature in 1849, provided that negroes that “it shall not be lawful for any negroe or mulattoe to come into or reside within the limits of this territory.” This was precipitated by a fear among the settlers that  the Indians and free negroes would become allies against them. “Whereas, situated as the people of Oregon are, in the midst of an Indian population, it would be highly dangerous to allow free negroes and mulattoes to reside in the territory or to intermix with the Indians, instilling into their minds feelings of hostility against the white race.”

In 1859 Oregon became a state. Its original constitution included an article banning African Americans from residence, employment, owning property or voting. Some might say, that was then, this is now, but could that not have created instability in the foundation upon which a person might ultimately build their “home?

Wealth in America is through home ownership (the acquiring of property) and education. Sixty-eight percent of white Oregonians own their own homes. Only thirty-four percent of black Oregonians own their own homes. Twenty-eight percent of all Oregonians hold bachelor’s degrees, only nineteen percent of blacks hold bachelors degrees.

What if the true story was told to all, of how blacks, after World War II, were denied access to the GI Bill and Federal Housing Authority loans, while whites used this privilege to gain, and maintain, their head start to the American dream in all areas?

Predominantly black schools are constantly failing. The disparities in test scores between African American and white students is ever increasing. We read and hear about it all the time in the news media.

Comparing data on Lincoln High, Portlands most white school, and Jefferson High, Portland’s predominantly black high school, these disparaties are glaringly apparent. Statistics from the Portland Public Schools document, “Source 2008-2009, School Profiles and Enrollment Data,” state that Lincoln’s Talented and Gift students number 26.9%, while Jefferson’s numbers 7.4%. Special Education at Jefferson is 21.4%, and Lincoln’s is only 4%. Tenth Grade students meeting or exceeding State standards in reading (2007-2008) are 16.8% at Jefferson against 85.2% at Lincoln. Average graduation rates and drop-out rates for 2007-2008 at Jefferson and Lincoln are 68.7%, 7.52%, and 94.63% and 1.35% respectively.

What if the history we are taught, told, in no uncertain terms, that the “colored” schools, and resources therein, in the former “separate but equal” public education system, were intentionally inferior?
In 1867 in Oregon, though the Black population totaled 128, Portland assigned black and mulatto children to segregated schools.

In the landmark case, “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka,” the key phrase in the ruling delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren illuminates:

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system. … We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

I highlight the sentence “A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.” What if this knowledge was weapon? Would it not make sense that this “sense of inferiority” could be fueled by the bussing of the colored children to intentionally superior white schools, and the ostracizing melees that resulted? Why didn’t the Government, instead of spending all that money on buses and security, simply improve the tools and resources within the inferior colored public schools? Maybe this is a simplistic question. Maybe everyone’s lives needed to be affected for change to truly be effected. As my father used to say, “If you cannot hear, you must feel.”

Could it be that yesterday, and today, that “sense of inferiority” is the self-loading magic bullet; ammunition that, like the EverReady bunny, keeps going and going and going, and which fills the barrels of the guns that are the various institutions in our society, not least of all the media?

What if it were mandated that everyone know the story of the Code Noir Laws, the Jim Crow Laws, and all the other nameless “Laws” enacted and hiding out within the auspices of “Diversity,” “Multicultural,” and “Tolerance,” programs?

What if, instead of the same old slave stories, the story was told of how the Africans that were brought here, and from whom many black Oregonians (and black Americans) are descended, were Queens, Kings, Princesses and Priests, nobles, regal, revered and innately powerful people? A shaking loose of the inflicted “sense of inferiority” and the gifted “sense of superiority?”

What if the story that the first slaves held in the United States were not black, but white, (and let us not forget the enslavement of the Native American populations) was told. These first slaves were Europeans, mostly British, who died like flies on the slave-ships across, 1,100 out of 1,500 perishing on one voyage and 350 out of 400 on another. Could that suggest at least a superiority of the constitution of the black people?

What if, as an alternative to the stories of the disproportionate incarceration of those criminal blacks, the tale of how there were no prisons in the villages from whence the noble African’s came, the Africans having no need for same? Could that imply that the “statistically proven” criminality of the black population is taint, as opposed to trait?

The state of Black Oregon might still be precarious, but public perceptions might be changed? And what if public perception changes, might that lead to real, physical, spiritual, emotional change? Could it lead to an end to system dependency, claiming your “place” as opposed to learning one’s “place?”

I don’t know, but might it be something to consider?