By Mark Naison, professor of history and African American history at Fordham University.
Anyone who thinks immigrants from Muslim countries are here to wage war on Christianity, or that Islam is a “terrorist religion,” would have left yesterday’s “Young African Immigrant Voices” panel at Fordham, organized by the Bronx African American History Project, with their belief system shaken to the core.
On the outside, the panel looked like White Conservative America’s worst nightmare. Five of the seven young women on the panel wore hijabs and both of the men–and one of the women–had “Muhammed” in their names.
But once they started speaking, every stereotype started to shatter. One young woman, a recent immigrant from Ghana who attended Kappa International High School across the street from Fordham, wore an Army ROTC sweatshirt along with her hijab, and spoke how much she loved the military and of her plans to pursue a career in the United States Armed Forces.
One of the men on the panel, an artist and teacher whose work promoting peace and gender equality has taken him all over the world, spoke of how his father, an Imam in Ghana, sent him to a Catholic boarding school, allowing him to sing all the same songs as his Christian friends and endowing him with a lifelong commitment to bringing people of different nationalities and faiths together.
A young women recently arrived from from Nigeria, now a student leader at Lehman College in the Bronx, spoke of how her Muslim faith did not separate her from her Christian siblings and spoke proudly of her family as a model of mutual understanding between people of different faiths.
And finally, three of the elders in the group–two Muslim, one Christian, who had worked for groups ranging from the Mayor’s Office to the City Commission on Human Rights to the offices of Bronx City Council members and Congressman Serrano, spoke of how you could not work effectively in the African Immigrant communities of the Bronx by dividing people along religious lines. They said Christians and Muslims faced the same issues and lived and worked in harmony.
On a panel that was diverse in age and experience as well as religion, there was not a single moment where anyone spoke critically of people of other faiths. And when people spoke of their own religious background, they invoked that tradition as something which promoted peace and the building of strong families and communities.
At a time when fear of immigrants, and Muslims, is being promoted in the highest places, the Bronx African American History Project provided an extremely valuable counterweight to misinformation and hysteria.
Special thanks must be given to the organizer of this panel, Jane Edward, Ph.D., a brilliant scholar brought up Christian in South Sudan, who has worked closely with the African Islamic Community of the Bronx since her arrival at Fordham ten years ago, and who has won their respect through her writing, speaking and advocacy.
The young people she brought together exemplified, for all who wanted to see it, the promise of an American future where people of all faiths, and nations and values live together in harmony and mutual understanding.
- Mark Naison blogs regularly at With a Brooklyn Accent.
A wonderful Native American story told at Fordham’s first ever celebration of Native American History Month via Fordham News:
Sheldon Raymore brought stories and dances from the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe.
In introducing his dances, his stories, and his regalia to the crowd, Raymore described how each tradition was “gifted” to him. In each introduction, he credited a specific person. After the performance, as he walked across Edwards Parade to have his photo taken, he explained why.
“In our culture, everything is a give and a take. We don’t just cut down a tree without purpose, or without making an offering in its place,” he said. “It’s always an exchange of energy or a blessing. That’s what we as a people do.”
Host and emcee Bobby Gonzalez, a Bronx-based community organizer, said most of the dancers that came to Fordham had volunteered to share their culture. It was in that same spirit that Raymore gifted a story, “How the Crow Became Black,” to all those gathered.
“It’s a story that reminds us not to judge each other, that we each have a gift that was given to us by our Creator, and that we’re here to share that gift with each other.”
How the Crow Became Black
A long time ago, Mother Earth’s shawl was covered in snow, so much snow that the animals were freezing. The animals held a grand council to decide [who]should visit the Great Spirit [to ask for help].
Rainbow Crow was the most beautiful of all the winged birds. His feathers had many colors, some not even from this world. Those colors don’t exist anymore. And Rainbow Crow had the most beautiful singing voice out of all the winged birds. And so, Rainbow Crow was chosen.
He flew to Great Spirit to ask for the snow to stop. Rainbow Crow flew past Mother Earth, past Grandmother Moon, past Grandfather Sun, finally reaching Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka. To catch the attention of Great Spirit, Rainbow Crow sang the most beautiful songs, and he caught the attention of Creator.
Creator asked Rainbow Crow, “What can I give you for this gift of that beautiful song?” Rainbow Crow said “Everyone is freezing on earth, can you make it stop?”
But once Creator thinks about something it cannot be unthought—that’s the power of thought.
So, he told Rainbow Crow, “I’ll give you this gift of fire.” Creator stuck a torch into the sun and gave it to Rainbow Crow. But being a winged bird, the only way he could carry this gift of fire was in his beak. Rainbow Crow flew back as fast as possible, past Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon, finally reaching Mother Earth. When Rainbow Crow put that fire down, all the animals of earth rejoiced. They were dancing and they were excited because life would go on.
But, for Rainbow Crow, his once beautiful feathers had been scorched black from carrying the the fire back to earth. And the beautiful singing voice that he once had was gone. It sounded like what you hear from the crows just outside: “Craw! Craw!”
Creator noticed that Rainbow Crow was sad and he said to Rainbow Crow, “Do not be sad. When grandfather sun shines his light upon you, you will see the colors of the coat you once had.” That is why when you look at a crow today they have an iridescent color to their feathers. Creator then said, “Rainbow Crow I will make it so that when the humans come they won’t hunt you because I’ll make your meat taste like burned flesh. And they won’t cage you for your beautiful singing voice.”
That was enough for Rainbow Crow. And that is how the crow became black.
Watch a video from the event here.
In light of the daily debates taking place on social media and beyond about crime, drug use/abuse, and protests about police in inner cities, it’s nice when you see someone actually walking the walk behind the talk.
I’ve known Febo (though, virtually, not in person!) since 2013 through my college sorority network. (My sorority, Mu Sigma Upsilon has a brother fraternity (Lambda Sigma Upsilon), which Febo is part of.)
He founded Guazabera Insights in 2010 as a health and educational services provider whose mission is to raise social consciousness and uplift communities. They do this through the dissemination of cultural and social consciousness education in communities of need, while addressing the social issues that affect communities through organizing and action.
Most of the work is done in Jersey City, a large and diverse city right outside of Manhattan in which 52% of its population speak another language other than English in the home, and, in some wards, citizens still struggles with crime. The organization also provides employment and internship opportunities in Jersey City and Paterson, N.J.
Each weekend, Febo and others from Guazabera Insights hit the streets to educate the public on healthier lifestyles. He explains why in this video, which was shot recently while engaging with the public in Jersey City’s Journal Square.
But the work doesn’t stop on the streets. How about helping the incarcerated at Hudson County Correctional Center, which many wrongly assume are beyond change, with a reintegration program? Febo, a fantastic public speaker, does that, too, as illustrated in the video below.
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Get an inside look into Guazabara Insights Community Reintegration Program at Hudson County Corrections. We have been working with inmates teaching Cultural and Social Consciousness Education. #guazabara #warriors #incarcerated #endthepipeline #culture #consciousness #awareness
You can watch a more comprehensive video of Guazabera Insights’ work at the Hudson County Correctional Center here.
A Brooklyn native, Febo graduated from the University at Buffalo with a master’s degree in Humanities Interdisciplinary: Caribbean Cultural Studies, studied in Havana, Cuba and Bahia, Brazil. His master’s thesis, “Sazón Batería y Soberanía: Puerto Rico in the Dance for Self-Determination,” is a documentary regarding Puerto Rican Sovereignty. He also attained a bachelor’s degree in Latino Studies, concentrating in history and politics.
Learn more about Guazabera Insights here.
Via friend and amazing person behind Building Beats (an organization that provides DJ and music programs that teach entrepreneurial, leadership and life skills to underserved youth), Phi Pham. He sent this in an email and it’s too good not to share:
Welcome to the very first issue of Build Your Knowledge. I started this project mainly because I was inspired by all the books I read/listened to and wanted to motivate friends to always be learning. Each month, I’ll send reviews on 5 books on a specific theme or topic. If you want to unsubscribe, just click here.
This month’s theme is feminism, women’s rights and several heroines that have led the social progress of women in history.
I hope my reviews inspire you to read a book or dig deeper in your learning journey. And don’t forget to pass on the knowledge to a friend!
The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irina Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Cool fact I learned in the book: Martin Luther King Jr. was a huge trekkie and convinced Nichelle Nichols to continue her role as Lt. Nyota Uhura on Star Trek.
My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King as told to Barbara Reynolds
I’m so #TeamNun. No matter how strict they were when I was in elementary school, one thing was always clear: they cared about us. Also, they cared about their student’s families: They’d let my parents pay tuition late when times were rough, as they often were. And they taught me EXCELLENT grammar and writing, and a most important forgotten art: penmanship!
Over the weekend, Pope Francis reportedly became the first pontiff to meet with a transgendered person, meaning he’s much more open to gender inclusivity than any Catholic leader before him. But what of women in the church?
This Here and Now interview (on WBUR) of Sister Joan Chittister proves women religious aren’t just your kid’s disciplinarian anymore. Of course, most of us knew this already. But it’s good to see the discussion out there. Radical feminists? I think not. #TeamNun is in a class by themselves.
I’ve teased out some of my favorite parts, but you can listen to the whole AUDIO interview here.
Sister Joan Chittister: I would not deny that in every dimension of the church there is a great respect for the sisters. Since Vatican II, sisters have grown up too, just like women everywhere, and they basically highly educated and very committed people. When they began to function with confidence as full adults, that threatened an old church. The image of women religious by churchmen themselves was the eternal silent servant. Now you have a body of intelligent educated adult women and you’re facing a new climate in the church with a Pope who is apparently not afraid of difficult topics.
I mean, they have a word for it that’s embarrassing; they call it radical feminism, which means they don’t even know what radical feminism is. What they mean is that a thinking, articulate woman with an agenda and intends to pursue it for the sake of women everywhere, as well as the families and the children we serve.
HOST: Women cannot be priests still in the Catholic Church. Why is that door still closed?
Sister Joan Chittister: This anti-female attitude—they don’t want to call it that—‘We respect you, we love you, look at how we put you on a pedestal,’ meaning, as long as you’re on a pedestal, you yourself can’t move anywhere. This is very, very ingrained in churches in general, and in the Catholic Church, especially. This pope has said feminism is about allowing every member of the human race to become a fully functioning human adult. He has talked about the fact that until we really look at the feminist issue, he says, quote, ‘We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step, will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church.’
Now, I think we could just start with the profound theology of the human, and we wouldn’t necessarily be starting on the same foot we always have, as in women are different as men, women are not as fully human as men.. there’s no sense in that. This Pope, however, has opened the door to the question. If ti’s still a question for men, we’ll help them answer it, but it has to be addressed.
You have to remember, too, that as much as we don’t want to admit it, the church has also taught racism, anti-semitism, and slavery, just as well as they teach sexism yet today. If this Pope, with what I see as a powerful and graced openness to the questions in our society, really pursues this question, we will all have a new consciousness of what it is to be human, to be female as well as male, and to be a church that’s really a church.
HOST: What hope do you have of that?
Sister Joan Chittister: I’m not even sure it’s hope anymore because we’re on the wrong side of history. Every single thing that we have dealt with this way has fallen. And this will fall, too, because it is so wrong. It’s theologically untenable, it’s psychologically ridiculous, and scientifically bizarre and bankrupt.