Keep On: Listen to the Women

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Date: February 28th, 9am PST

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This is a pre-recorded program compiled by the Charter for Compassion staff that presents a sampling of voices of African American women through the ages.  We start with a recitation of "The Hill We Climb," written by Amanda Gorman and presented at the inauguration of President Joseph Biden in 2020.  Reading from the podium on the U.S. Capitol steps she caught the heart of the mood of America, but alerted the world to her message. 

Here follows is background on each of the offerings. The words you are about to hear are searing, powerful, challenging and most of all lessons for us all to hold dear.

Warning: If you take offense of strong language you may want to advance the video of Wanda Sykes' rendering of "Why You Need A Black Friend." 

 

Amanda Gorman: "The Hill We Climb"

In 2017, Amanda Gorman was named the first Youth Poet Laureate of the United States.

“In my poem, I’m not going to in any way gloss over what we’ve seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years. But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal,” Gorman told The New York Times. “It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.”

 

Isabel Wilkerson: Power of a Single Decision

Isabel Wilkerson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, has become a leading figure in narrative nonfiction, an interpreter of the human condition, and an impassioned voice for demonstrating how history can help us understand ourselves, our country, and our current era of upheaval.

Through her writing, Wilkerson brings the invisible and the marginalized into the light and into our hearts. Through her lectures, she explores with authority the need to reconcile America’s karmic inheritance and the origins of both our divisions and our shared commonality.

Her debut work, The Warmth of Other Suns, won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Nonfiction, the Lynton History Prize from Harvard and Columbia universities, and the Stephen Ambrose Oral History Prize and was shortlisted for both the Pen-Galbraith Literary Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

As for her new book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, the venerable U.K. bookseller, Waterstone’s calls it an “expansive, lyrical and stirring account of the unspoken system of divisions that govern our world.”

 

Maya Angelou: Life Advice

Maya Angelou born Marguerite Annie Johnson April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014, was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.
 
 
Barbara Jordan:  Keynote Address to 1976 Democratic National Convention
On July 12, 1976, Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. As Americans sensed a fracturing of American life in the 1970s, Jordan called for Americans to commit themselves to a “national community” and the “common good.” Jordan began by noting she was the first Black woman to ever deliver a keynote address at a major party convention and that such a thing would have been almost impossible even a decade earlier.
 
bell hooks: People Must Resist a "Culture of Fear"

bell hooks, whose incisive, wide-ranging writing on gender and race helped push feminism beyond its white, middle-class worldview to include the voices of Black and working-class women.

Starting in 1981 with her book Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism, Ms. hooks, who insisted on using all lowercase letters in her name, argued that feminism’s claim to speak for all women had pushed the unique experiences of working-class and Black women to the margins.

“A devaluation of Black womanhood occurred as a result of the sexual exploitation of Black women during slavery that has not altered in the course of hundreds of years,” she wrote. (excerpted from bell hooks' obituary, New York Times)

 

Audrie Lorde: There Is No Hierarchy Of Oppressions

A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Lorde was born in New York City to West Indian immigrant parents. She attended Catholic schools before graduating from Hunter High School and published her first poem in Seventeen magazine while still a student there. Of her poetic beginnings Lorde commented in Black Women Writers: “I used to speak in poetry. I would read poems, and I would memorize them. People would say, well what do you think, Audre. What happened to you yesterday? And I would recite a poem and somewhere in that poem would be a line or a feeling I would be sharing. In other words, I literally communicated through poetry. And when I couldn’t find the poems to express the things I was feeling, that’s what started me writing poetry, and that was when I was twelve or thirteen.” (Source: Poetry Foundation)

 

Sojourner Truth’s"  “Ain’t I A Woman” 

Performed by Kerry Washington

A former slave, Sojourner Truth became an outspoken advocate for abolition, temperance, and civil and women’s rights in the nineteenth century. Her Civil War work earned her an invitation to meet President Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

Truth was born Isabella Bomfree, a slave in Dutch-speaking Ulster County, New York in 1797. She was bought and sold four times and subjected to harsh physical labor and violent punishments. In her teens, she was united with another slave with whom she had five children, beginning in 1815. In 1827—a year before New York’s law freeing slaves was to take effect—Truth ran away with her infant Sophia to a nearby abolitionist family, the Van Wageners. The family bought her freedom for twenty dollars and helped Truth successfully sue for the return of her five-year-old-son Peter, who was illegally sold into slavery in Alabama.

Truth moved to New York City in 1828, where she worked for a local minister. By the early 1830s, she participated in the religious revivals that were sweeping the state and became a charismatic speaker. In 1843, she declared that the Spirit called on her to preach the truth, renaming herself Sojourner Truth.

As an itinerant preacher, Truth met abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. Garrison’s anti-slavery organization encouraged Truth to give speeches about the evils of slavery. She never learned to read or write. In 1850, she dictated what would become her autobiography—The Narrative of Sojourner Truth—to Olive Gilbert, who assisted in its publication. Truth survived on sales of the book, which also brought her national recognition. She met women’s rights activists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, as well as temperance advocates—both causes she quickly championed.

In 1851, Truth began a lecture tour that included a women’s rights conference in Akron, Ohio, where she delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. In it, she challenged prevailing notions of racial and gender inferiority and inequality by reminding listeners of her combined strength (Truth was nearly six feet tall) and female status. Truth ultimately ​splits with Douglass, who believed suffrage for formerly enslaved men should come before women’s suffrage; she thought both should occur simultaneously.

Ilyasah Shabazz: The Next Generation Will Demand More

Professor Ilyasah Shabazz promotes higher education for at-risk youth, interfaith dialogue to build bridges between cultures for young leaders of the world, and she participates in international humanitarian delegations. She served as a member of the U.S. Delegation that accompanied President Bill Clinton to South Africa to commemorate the election of President Nelson Mandela and the Education & Economic Development initiatives.

She was a member of the U.S. Interfaith Leadership Delegation to Mali, West Africa with Malaria No More, and she received a personal letter of acknowledgment for preserving her “father’s proud legacy by working to secure equality in our time and for generations to come,” from President Barack Obama.

 
 
Lucy Parsons: Speech to the IWW
Performed by Niya Craig

Lucy E. Parsons was a leading figure in American anarchism and the radical labor movement. Born a slave near Waco, Texas, she married Albert R. Parsons who had become a white radical Republican after serving first as a Confederate soldier. In 1873 Albert and Lucy to move to Chicago in 1873 where they became involved in radical labor organizing. Thirteen years later she rose to national fame when she embarked on a speaking tour to raise money for her husband who was one of nine men tried and sentenced to be executed for “speaking in such a way as to inspire the bomber to violence” following the Haymarket Square Bombing which killed a Chicago policeman.

Lucy Parsons remained an activist after the execution of Albert and in 1892 founded the newspaper Freedom which addressed such issues as labor organizing, lynching and black peonage in the South. In 1905 Parsons became the only woman to address the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). In the early 1930s Parsons joined in the defense of the Scottsboro Boys and Angelo Herndon. Parsons died accidentally in a house fire in 1942. 

 

Ida B Wells: A Journalist Who Changed the World
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a prominent journalist, activist, and researcher, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In her lifetime, she battled sexism, racism, and violence. As a skilled writer, Wells-Barnett also used her skills as a journalist to shed light on the conditions of African Americans throughout the South.
Wells-Barnett traveled internationally, shedding light on lynching to foreign audiences. Abroad, she openly confronted white women in the suffrage movement who ignored lynching. Because of her stance, she was often ridiculed and ostracized by women’s suffrage organizations in the United States. Nevertheless, Wells-Barnett remained active the women’s rights movement. She was a founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club which was created to address issues dealing with civil rights and women’s suffrage. Although she was in Niagara Falls for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), her name is not mentioned as an official founder. Late in her career Wells-Barnett focused on urban reform in the growing city of Chicago. She died on March 25th, 1931.
 

Sherrilyn Ifill: The Need to Invest in Racial Justice and Equality

Sherrilyn Ifill is the past President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the nation’s premier civil rights law organization fighting for racial justice and equality. LDF was founded in 1940 by legendary civil rights lawyer (and later Supreme Court justice) Thurgood Marshall, and became a separate organization from the NAACP in 1957. The lawyers at the Legal Defense Fund developed and executed the legal strategy that led to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, widely regarded as the most transformative and monumental legal decision of the 20th century. Ifill is the second woman to lead the organization.

 

Wanda Sykes: Why You Need a Black Friend

Repeatedly called “one of the funniest stand-up comics” by her peers, Sykes brings the genius behind her smart-witted comedy specials and her hilarious characters on BlackishSnatched, and Bad Moms for an evening of laugh out loud stories. Beyond shows she stars in, Sykes produces award-winning comedy gems across television, movies, and live events, keeping us laughing at every turn. With sidesplitting jokes covering parenthood, aging, race, and politics, there’s no question why the Chicago Tribune calls her “remarkably endearing” and “endlessly watchable.”
 
 

Toni Morrison: White People Have a Very Very Serious Problem

Toni Morrison was a Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, editor and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, exquisite language and richly detailed African American characters who are central to their narratives. Among her best-known novels are The Bluest EyeSulaSong of SolomonBelovedJazzLove and A Mercy. Morrison earned a plethora of book-world accolades and honorary degrees, also receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. 
Morrison became a professor at Princeton University in 1989 and continued to produce great works, including Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992). At Princeton, Morrison established a special workshop for writers and performers known as the Princeton Atelier in 1994. The program was designed to help students create original works in a variety of artistic fields. 
 

Alice Walker: I Will Keep Broken Things

Alice Walker is an internationally celebrated writer, poet and activist whose books include seven novels, four collections of short stories, four children’s books, and volumes of essays and poetry.  She won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1983 and the National Book Award.

Walker has written many  bestsellers; among them, The Temple of My Familiar (a wisdom tale that originates in prehistory);  By The Light of My Father’s Smile ( sexuality and forgiveness as paths of healing); Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992), which explores the effects of female genital mutilation on one woman’s psyche as well as her body (she becomes a patient of a fictional Carl Jung). This novel led to the 1993 book and documentary film Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women, both collaborations with British-Indian filmmaker Pratibha Parmar, and We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness. (Meditations on spiritual and political issues).

Walker has been an activist all of her adult life, and believes that learning to extend the range of our compassion is activity and work available to all. She is a staunch defender not only of human rights, but of the rights of all living beings. She is one of the world’s most prolific writers, yet continues to travel the world to literally stand on the side of the poor, and the economically, spiritually and politically oppressed. She also stands, however, on the side of the revolutionaries, teachers and leaders who seek change and transformation of the world. Upon returning from Gaza in 2008, Walker said, “Going to Gaza was our opportunity to remind the people of Gaza and ourselves that we belong to the same world: the world where grief is not only acknowledged, but shared; where we see injustice and call it by its name; where we see suffering and know the one who stands and sees is also harmed, but not nearly so much as the one who stands and sees and says and does nothing.”
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