Dr. Melissa Harris Perry host of MSNBC’s weekend talk show was the opening keynoter. In a conversational styled interview, Melissa a Wake Forest University alumni, told the audience about her first library job here in the ZSR stacks, her steep learning curve as an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, her life as a black college student, woman and mother, and her work with Michele Obama in Chicago prior to the Obama election as President. Melissa shared the story behind how she became the Obama political expert. There was one statement she made that took me by surprise. When asked about her work as a student of theology she replied, I am searching for an answer. How is it that a people who have never known anything but generational bondage and inequality, would think that God loves them? The answer Perry says is not addressed in moral academic channels. Thanks to my colleague Julius Jefferson, I was able to have this photo taken with Dr. Harris Perry.
Conference programming planners gave attendees about two choices of workshops per schedule segment. Sometimes my choices were somewhat limited and focused heavily on the value of preserving African American heritage, culture and people. Empowering the Past: Telling Your Stories, gave examples on how one could take on the role of historian by collecting photographs and archives from their families to document the family history. An historical genealogy might include the political, the social, the sports great, the arts and entertainment and any other oddities that may have had an impact on the family and the life choices they’ve made. The example the presenter used detailed the life of her step father, a black plumber who worked on the “Hill District” a one-time thriving black area in Pittsburgh. Her photos and archival documentation depicted him as an ordinary man, a slave descendent, living through the Jim Crow era, raised as a sharecropper son, a World War II veteran, a worker in the steel mills and a black plumber who made weekly trips to the local Union requesting permission to join.
Giving Voice to Our Stories: Oral History as Integral to the Documentation and Preservation of African American History, was the title of the presentation given by Kelly Navies, Special Collections Librarian, District of Columbia Public Library. Her work focuses on collecting stories from the North Carolina Asheville area. Oral history is of particular importance to the African American community. It gives voices to members of the community who most would consider not worthy of historical documentation. We as Librarians are in a unique position with an opportunity to document gentrification and the closing of those schools valued by the African American community, racial profiling, return migration and incarceration. Generations of students will return again and again to hear these stories. They need to be captured. I regret not having my father tell me more about his service in World War II. I know he was stationed in Germany and that he was responsible for bringing ammunition to the troops, but little else. I seem to know more about the mistreatment he received upon his return to the United States. Perhaps that’s what stood out the most to him.
And yes there were numerous sessions on health and wellness efforts in the black community. One session encouraged attendees to pursue a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being. Pursuing wellness is not only a personal benefit but also one that will advance and preserve a community of people. The author also addressed the implications of mental health and how it is responded to within the black church. Added stress levels which studies have shown have a direct correlation to cultural identity and all the “stuff” that comes with that. Documented incidents of invasive and horrendous treatment of African Americans and test subjects compel many African American to question the safety of clinical trials. A panelist of doctors shared insight coming from both angles. To see the worst of what can happen in clinical trials, check out this sight. http://www.holeinthehead.com/
To end on a much happier note, let me share how pleased I am about Lynn’s plan to implement the “Sutton Rule” (after the NFL’s Rooney Rule). As we search to fill future position vacancies, at least one of the candidates brought to campus must be a minority. I am very optimistic. It is so cool and worthy of duplication across the state within our North Carolina libraries. There we go again, leading by example!