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

 

Giving Rooted in History and Culture

Last week, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. came to Charlotte to deliver his lecture “Finding Your Roots” and I was project manager of the nearly sold-out event hosted by the Gantt Center. Luckily I was able to share my book as a gift to him . . . and have a friend snap this photo.

#getyourgiveon

Dr Gates

#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

Shifting from ‘Me’ to Movement of Conscientious Philanthropy

Listen to my recent conversation with Tavis Smiley about Black philanthropy and Giving Back on his nationally syndicated radio program, The Tavis Smiley Show.

During the interview, Tavis questions whether any hope remains in rekindling a spirit of compassion and generosity in a culture that seems to be degenerating and glorifying a me-and-mine mentality. Hear my response . . . and then share yours here.

The book Giving Back is a centerpiece of the Giving Back Project, which aims to ignite a movement of conscientious philanthropy by empowering a generation to recognize their power and responsibility to give back.

The interview airs on The Tavis Smiley Show through Friday, May 25. Tune in and then share the link and your thoughts. — VF

Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

29 Days

Black History Month begins, again.

“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, Ph.D., The Father of Black History (1875–1950)

UPenn Scholar Marybeth Gasman: ‘Beautiful book that masterfully demonstrates the power of African American giving’

Our most recent advance commentary comes from Dr. Marybeth Gasman, professor, University of Pennsylvania and author of Uplifting a People: African American Philanthropy and Education and thirteen other books.

Giving Back is a beautiful book that masterfully demonstrates the power of African American giving. Through riveting photography and engaging vignettes, Valaida Fullwood tells the story of philanthropy at its purest. Giving Back showcases the diversity in giving that has taken place for centuries and continues to thrive in Black communities.  Anyone interested in philanthropy, Black giving, and African American history and culture will enjoy reading this wonderful new book.”

(I sense a new word cloud forming. Check in tomorrow.)

Yes, We Give Back

Appreciative to the fabulously thoughtful and generous Tracey Webb, creator of BlackGivesBack.com, for today’s feature story about Giving Back.

A Gem Indeed

While previewing the manuscript for Giving Back, Ruby Bright, a foundation executive, told me, “I turn each page being filled with pride, hope, joy and love for my people.” That statement was compliment enough, then she sent the extended commentary below, which left me speechless.

Charles W. Thomas, Jr., photographer

“Never again will I frame my conversation on how African Americans give under the guises of ‘Black people give differently—our philanthropy is different because we primarily see giving through our faith.’ We give holistically!

“Valaida Fullwood’s Giving Back captivated me from the cover photo where I connected with the hands—memories of my grandmother’s skin—lined with dreams deferred and the promise of aspirations and achievement. Giving Back is indeed a form of personal engagement as well as deep conversation sharing. It is undeniably the missing formula to the roots of African American philanthropy.

“Simply stated, “Giving Back, through stories of everyday people aided with photography of the moment, is poignant and more of a revelation than any article or research publication on the topic of African American giving.

“Since reading Giving Back, from now on, I will tell my philanthropy story with pride and without excuses or apologies.”

 Ruby Bright, executive directorWomen’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis

When Quiet Hopes Come

Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

Selected advance readers of Giving Back have begun sharing their commentary on the book over the last week. With an easy willingness, both strangers and acquaintances known widely for intense work and demanding itineraries have, one by one, agreed to read my 400-page manuscript. That astounds me. And then, after reading the work, one responds with these words . . .

“Through a rich tapestry of voices and images, including inspirational interviews, stunning photographs, thoughtful commentary, and wide-ranging quotations, Giving Back captures the essence and generosity of African American donors as never before.  No one—including the leaders of non-profit organizations—could fail to be moved and enlightened by these vivid reminders of the potential of African American philanthropy.

“The book is beautiful and so inspirational, I now know what I will be getting everyone as a Christmas present!”

Michele Minter, Vice President for Development, The College Board

Still over the moon.

— VF