February is Black History Month. I think every school around the US does something special to honor, commemorate and celebrate the rich history and contributions of Black Americans in our society. Most schools have special speakers, put on an assembly – something where family, friends and the community can come and see that their children are being taught diversity, history and a culture (at least in my community) that is not readily available. Our school is no different.
So tonight, I took Blue, Girlie and Gorilla to Professor’s Big Night with History (Racer is STILL gone). Professor’s class was performing a traditional African song and dance. Before I start talking about how we “americanize” so many traditional aspects of other culture and nations, let me say how proud I am of my Professor. He told me beforehand that he didn’t know the song/dance very well, but he was excited and would do his best. I felt such joy to see my oldest son trying to move in the way he was taught, entertaining and educating the families in attendance. The song and dance represented the African tradition of getting strength from God, Ancestors and Togetherness. As his teacher was explaining the movements and symbolism (the God aspect in particular), Professor looked over at me, smiled and gave a big thumbs up! He was so proud that he could sing and dance something from another culture and still represent the God that he knows and loves. That is a major thing for a young boy to grasp. A young boy that lives a fairly sheltered and protected life. A young boy that hasn’t met that many people who are truly different from him.
The program continued with an amazing artist named Kwabena Dinizulu. He is a poet and griot (pronouned gree-oh) raised on 143rd in Harlem and now living in Florida. He played a djembe (a type of drum) and told stories under the old tree. We laughed. We listened. I hope we walked away as better people. Then, in the tradition of so many cultures, we ate together. The school provided a simple menu for those families that wanted to stay and share more time together.
As Baba Kwabena ended his time with us, he reminded us all – particularly the parents and elders in the audience – to tell stories. To pass the stories on to our children and the other children in our villages. Stories pass along information. Stories relay life experience and wisdom. Stories shape who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re headed. Stories are in every culture and every tradition of the world. Today, we are forgetting to tell our stories, thus we are forgetting our history.
So today, I issue you the same challenge that I was issued. Tell a story. Tell just one story of something you did that taught you a lesson. As I put Girlie to bed tonight, I did just that. I told her the story of a time I climbed a walnut tree…
Let me leave you with this video of a wonderful storyteller. Enjoy!