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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Ginsburgby Irina Carmon and Shana Knizhnik The Notorious R.B.G. was a great beginner’s guide to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, our oldest Supreme Court Justice. The origins of the book came from a Tumblr account of the same name created by Shana Knizhnik who loved the R.B.G. Knizhnik and Carmon go through R.B.G.’s entire career progression up to her appointment as the 2nd ever female Supreme Court Justice. My favorite story interwoven throughout the book, is Ruth’s marriage/partnership with her husband Marty. They had a radical (at the time) relationship of 56-ish years. They shared career sacrifices as well as household duties to the benefit of one another. Marty was a well-known tax law expert who spent his later years as a master chef, giving up a lot of his own career goals as Ruth ascended the ranks. #realrelationshipgoals. The idea of a book about a Supreme Court Justice may not sound enticing to many, but The Notorious R.B.G. was great. (http://amzn.to/2kUUgtP)
We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“If we do something over and over, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal.” – in reference to a boy chosen as a classroom monitor over 9-year-old Chimamanda. The teacher said the student with the highest test score would be monitor (which Chimamanda had acheieved). “If only boys are made class monitor, then at some point we will all think, even if unconsciously, that the class monitor has to be a boy. If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, it starts to seem ‘natural’ only men should be heads of corporations.” Chimamanda describes many other examples of how we have normalized our youth on how to act that result in the impedance of equal rights for women. This was a quick short read (48 pages long) that’s a useful for someone who may not understand the importance of intersectional feminism. (http://amzn.to/2kZFRwj)
All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister
Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies proclaims the rise of the independent, single woman in the 21st century. She explores how society has evolved from a “marriage as a mandatory part of life for women” to marriage as one of many options. Traister showcases the various relationships of today’s single woman through interviews & stories. My favorite example: Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow’s BFF female-to-female relationship. She also touches upon about the the diversity of women through the lens of race, economic status, and sexual orientation aka intersectional feminism. This book gives a positive perspective on the future of human relationships that doesn’t necessarily have to include marriage and also gives an encompassing overview of the history social progress of the American woman.(http://amzn.to/2kZHxpE)
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Raceby Margot Lee Shetterly
The story of African-American women contributing to NASA’s space race is impressive and provoking. Hidden Figures, the book, was released in October, 2016 and the movie came out this past holiday season. I first listened to Hidden Figures in October and thought it was OK. Then I watched the movie and loved it. I immediately listened to the book again and loved it. The story revolves around three women who worked at NASA at the peak of the space race. Dorothy Vaughan was the leader of the West Computing Room for the African-American “computers”. Katherine Johnson was a mathematical whiz who gained the trust of John Glenn with her computing expertise. Her calculations and work played a pivotal role in Glenn’s first orbit around the earth. Mary Jackson was a teacher turned engineer after getting to take night classes at an all-white school. The film helped provide a context while the book went deep into each woman’s personal histories as well as tying in their impact on the larger civil rights movement. (http://amzn.to/2lxnpJ5)
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. Bonus: Katherine Johnson receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIWJFNAN4XI
My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King as told to Barbara Reynolds
Coretta Scott King is always portrayed as the widow to a legacy, Martin Luther King Jr. Rarely is she given the appreciation or recognition that she deserves. This book is her perspective on an important era in American history. My Life, My Love, My Legacy is like a three part saga on Coretta’s various stages of life. Before meeting Martin, Coretta is a well-educated woman who dreams of being a musician. After graduating from Antioch College, Coretta receives a fellowship to attend the New England Conservatory of Music. Boston is where she meets Martin and so begins the journey of her next phase in life as Mrs. King. You can tell she has a very strong adoration for him through her stories of unwavering support during Martin’s peak events. I’ve always heard rumors on MLK’s infidelity to his wife, but several times in the book Coretta denies he was ever unfaithful. The final phase of the book is post-MLK’s assassination and Coretta’s impactful role building the MLK legacy. Her role in advocating for turning Martin’s birthday into a national holiday has institutionalized his legacy for society. It’s interesting to see her role transform from supporter to leader after Martin’s death. (http://amzn.to/2kZGuFS)
If you have comments, books to recommend or any feedback, hit me up! If you want to subscribe just sign up here or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!
This Here and Nowinterview (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.
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.