the second one

Pretend unknowing

of the original sin

is the second one.

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The other day I visited one of the few slave-era cemeteries of African-descent people in Charlotte. Known as the McCoy Slave Cemetery, the site has about 25 plots that date back to the 1840s.

I, like that morning, was still and reverent in that place. This haiku came home with me that day.

The Family Collage

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Next in the Heritage & History series is “The Family Collage,” which is an assembling of stories about kinship and friendship featuring Journalist and Madam CJ Walker descendant A’LELIA BUNDLES. It is one of several programs I’ve had the joy of creating and working on as project manager with the Gantt Center. Stories on past programs in the series can be found here and here.

A’Lelia is a writer, public speaker and entrepreneur, and she was the guest speaker at the inaugural opening of my exhibit The Soul of Philanthropy. “The Family Collage” is inspired, in part, by recent commemorations of the 105th birthday of Charlotte-born artist Romare Bearden. Bundles interviewed Bearden in the 1980s and their maternal ancestors were close friends. President of the Madam Walker and A’Lelia Walker Family Archives, A’Lelia will share fascinating stories of both the Walker and Bearden families.

A’Lelia has written extensively about her illustrious family—from the biography of her iconic great-great-grandmother, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker, to stories about her great-grandmother A’Lelia Walker, known as “The Joy Goddess,” whose parties, friendships, global travel and arts patronage made her a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance.

Come gain new insights on these high-profile Black American families and bold American history-makers. You’ll also take away ideas for collecting your own family history and keeping your family’s roots alive.

You can buy your ticket here: The Family Collage

The Heritage & History series features nationally noted artists and scholars who are preserving Black culture through an array of disciplines and media. In hosting each culture keeper, the Gantt Center invites public participation in special events and experiences that illuminate important stories and engage audiences.

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture celebrates the contributions of Africans and African-Americans to American culture and serves as a community epicenter for music, dance, theater, visual art, film, arts education programs, literature and community outreach. The Gantt Center partners with Duke Energy in presenting the Heritage & History series.

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Feast on Culture!

Food for thought and for your palate with Culinary Historian Michael W. Twitty

Michael Twitty Image_IMG_6500My work continues with the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture on its Heritage & History series. Next month, the Center will host Michael W. Twitty, a 2016 TED Fellow, chef and independent scholar on African American food, folk culture and culinary traditions of the African Diaspora.

Michael first came to my attention in 2013 while watching the documentary “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” with Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Soon after, I began following Michael’s popular blog Afroculinaria.com, the first website devoted to the preservation of historic African American foods and food ways. He’s a living history interpreter who “re-constructs early Southern cuisine as prepared by enslaved African American cooks for tables high and low.”

As a Southerner, ridiculous foodie, descendent of enslaved African Americans and forever-eager student of a long line of housekeepers and cooks who were my elder kin, I found Michael’s work fascinating and resonant. A seasoned presenter, Michael has delivered talks and cooking demonstrations at the Smithsonian, Monticello, Williamsburg and Oxford. His public talks, writing and meals stir dialogue about Black identity, the South, the African Diaspora, cultural appropriation and the racial legacy of America.

I reached out to Michael about 18 months ago to inquire what it would take to bring him to Charlotte. Admittedly, I fanned-out when he responded immediately and personably to my email. My giddiness increased when we spoke by phone and synched up our thinking to create a vision for a Charlotte food event. We gravitated to the idea of a talk and tasting of authentic recipes, informed by WPA narratives of formerly enslaved people from the Carolinas. Wow! Both my mouth and my eyes watered at the thought.

After much anticipation, Michael will present in Charlotte this summer as part of the Gantt Center’s Heritage & History program. It is a programming series that I’ve had the joy of conceiving, naming and shaping to spotlight nationally noted artists and scholars who are preserving Black culture through an array of disciplines and media. In hosting each culture keeper, the Gantt Center invites public participation in special events and experiences that illuminate important stories and engage audiences. Duke Energy is the Center’s sponsoring partner on the series. The inaugural Heritage & History program took place in March.

Michael’s talk will take place at Founders Hall, located at 100 North Tryon Street, smack dab in the center of Charlotte—the city’s historic heart and centuries-old trading crossroad. The irony of the event’s venue isn’t lost on me. How can you not marvel at the juxtaposition of a program centered on the antebellum stories and foods of enslaved Black cooks relegated to lowly hovels and a venue characterized by an expansive vaulted atrium, marble floors and 21st-century modernity. Further, Founders Hall sits in Charlotte’s tallest building—headquarters of the nation’s largest bank. The symbolism and seeming incongruity are remarkable yet representative of the curiously tangled American story. I trust the Ancestors will smile upon us as we remember them, learn about their lives and lift up their stories in one of our grandest  and most relevant places.

On Thursday, July 28, please come meet and experience Michael. And you can sample food of our collective ancestral roots. Buy your tickets here.

— VF

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Michael W. Twitty and me

‘Strong and Able To Fight’

“… I prayed to God to make me strong and able to fight, and that’s what I’ve always prayed for ever since.”  — Harriet Tubman, 1865

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Last night’s performance of Harriet’s Return, a one-woman play about Harriet Tubman written by and starring Karen Jones Meadows, sold out! And Karen received a spontaneous and resounding standing ovation from the audience of over 400 people.

The play kicked off the “Heritage & History” programming series that I collaborated with the Gantt Center to create this year and that Duke Energy is generously sponsoring. The series will feature “remarkable experiences with renowned culture keepers”. One luminary presenter is scheduled per quarter.

During Karen’s visit to Charlotte, she participated in a “lunch and learn” with about 50 Duke Energy employees last Friday. On Saturday, she led “Culture in the Quarter,” a hands-on workshop with local youth and families.

The lunch talk, workshop, play about Harriet and Karen’s personal story were highly inspiring and proved ideal for celebrating strong, fierce women (praying to be one) during Women’s History Month and on International Women’s Day.

Below are photos from the past week.

— VF

 

Celebrate Extraordinary Women with ‘Harriet’s Return’

I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” Harriet Tubman at a suffrage convention, NY, 1896

Harriet's Return

A favorable aspect of my work is collaborating with an eclectic mix of philanthropic institutions, cultural organizations, arts groups, businesses, schools and fascinating people around the world.

A current project involves the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture and its new HERITAGE & HISTORY series funded by Duke Energy. The program series features nationally noted artists and scholars who are preserving Black culture through an array of disciplines and media.

KAREN JONES MEADOWS (of Karen Jones Meadows Now), an award-winning playwright, actress and educator, kicks off Heritage & History as the featured “culture keeper” in March—Women’s History Month. Once a Charlotte resident, Karen was a regular performer and creative force at the Afro-American Cultural Center (now the Gantt Center). She’s returning to the city to perform her one-woman play, Harriet’s Return: The Legendary Life of Harriet Tubman, which originated as a small project for the Afro-Am in the 1980s. Since then, Karen’s signature theatrical work, in which she plays 30+ characters, has evolved into a critically acclaimed production and phenomenon with stagings throughout the U.S. and internationally each year.

Come experience Karen’s mesmerizing performance in HARRIET’S RETURN at Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, March 8. Get your tix here!

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‘Stick To Love’

“I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. 

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‘LOVE Wall’ of The Soul of Philanthropy exhibition at JCSU

Remembering that Dr. King was assassinated April 4, 1968 and striving to sustain his legacy 47 years later through our work on Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited.

Absalom and Richard

Richard Allen

Richard Allen (1760-1831)

It’s Black History Month, and I must confess a “history crush” on both Absalom Jones and Richard Allen who were co-founders of the Free African Society, an early mutual aid society. I admire their vision and courage. They triumphed over slavery, and their lifetime of accomplishments speaks volumes about how brilliant, charismatic, tenacious, self-determined and generous they were.

Absalom Jones

Absalom Jones (1746-1818)

I first came to know of Richard Allen as a young girl, since my family were generations-old members of Gaston Chapel AME Church. Richard founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church, America’s first independent Black church denomination, when he established Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, PA in 1794. Later in life, I learned of Absalom Jones who also was an influential clergy member in the Philadelphia area.

During Philadelphia’s Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, for awhile, it was believed that Americans of African descent were immune to the disease and thus members of the Free African Society were summoned as volunteers to help contain the crisis. Absalom and Richard organized and led relief efforts for the sick, grieving and dying in a city of people ravaged by the disease. Soon it was apparent that African Americans could indeed contract Yellow Fever. Nevertheless, Absalom, Richard and their associates persisted with efforts to tend to city residents who were suffering and in dire need of help and compassion. Some time after the epidemic, both men went on to establish and lead independent Black congregations.

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Gaston Chapel AME Church, circa 1945

Even though they have yet to receive the recognition they deserve, I acknowledge these two great men as framers of what we now know as American philanthropy as well as the Black Church. Their Christian beliefs, philanthropic virtue, spirit of social reform and bold action have influenced how many Americans give back for more than 220 years.

— VF

‘Keep going, no matter what’

Today is the last day of Black History Month and I have the pleasure of traveling to NYC for a special event on Black Philanthropy hosted by BlackGivesBack.com and JPMorgan.

“Keep goingno matter what.” — Reginald F. Lewis

For the event I will have the joy of interviewing author Christina Lewis Halpern, daughter of the late business titan Reginald Lewis. Christina recently published her memoir Lonely at the Top about her life and experiences as the daughter of a highly successful and acclaimed entrepreneur, attorney and philanthropist who died too early. You can buy Christina’s book at Amazon and follow her on Twitter at @clewishalpern. More on this event later….gotta catch a flight! — VF

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#GetYourGiveOn

Here’s your invitation!

You're invited!

We’re Bringing ‘Giving Back’ at Poor Richard’s Book Shoppe is a free and family-friendly gathering, centered on Black Philanthropy. The evening of the 23rd will include:

Poor Richard’s, a family-operated business in uptown Charlotte, is a full-service, independent bookstore and multi-cultural venue.

New Generation of African American Philanthropists (NGAAP-Charlotte), a CIN giving circle, comprises member-donors who pursue a mission “to promote philanthropy—the giving of time, talent and treasure—among African Americans in the Charlotte region, with the goal of enhancing the quality of life within our communities.”

We’re aiming to do for philanthropy what Justin does for sexy. Well…we’re certainly trying.

— VF

‘Biography and History’

“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” — Carter G. Woodson

Travel and a busy work week preempted my plan to post a Black History Month story about Black Philanthropy and Philanthropists every day. So…to catch up, here are nine (since my last post was Feb 2) names and stories that are among my favorite.

Each of these biographies is powerful, informative and inspirational. Which one do you find most inspiring?

Catherine Ferguson, who founded a school for child laborers in NYC

Catherine Ferguson, who founded a school for child laborers in NYC

  • Catherine Ferguson (1779–1854)former slave, who despite being illiterate became a pioneering educator and philanthropist in New York and founded a school in the early 1800s.
  • William Leidesdorff (1810–48), a San Francisco’s most prominent early Black citizen and businessman, who became one of the wealthiest man in California.
  • Bridget “Biddy” Mason (1818–91), an African American nurse and a Californian real estate entrepreneur and philanthropist.
  • Lucy Gonzales Parsons (1853-1942), a Black Mexican American, likely born a slave, who became a great orator and activist on class struggles around poverty and unemployment.
  • Madam CJ Walker (1867–1919)entrepreneur and social activist noted for charitable contributions to black institutions, including the single largest gift made by an African American woman to the Indianapolis YMCA building fund)
  • Oseola McCarty (1908-99), poorly educated washerwoman who donated $150K to university for scholarships.
  • Thomas Cannon (1926-2005), Virginia postal worker who lived modestly in order to give to and help others; was known as “The Poor Man’s Philanthropist.”
  • Matel Dawson (1941-2002), a forklift operator with a ninth-grade education who gave more than $1M to universities for scholarships and to charities.
  • Wangari Maathai (1942-2011), Kenyan environmentalist who began paying women a few shillings to plant trees and went on to become the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

— VF (#BHM Day Three – Day Eleven)