Love this picture!
So February has arrived! How can we make the most of the month designated to honor the contributions of the various rays of the African Diaspora? I’ve chosen two ways to commemorate this month. One is personal and the other is a reflection on my work as a Librarian.
Each of us who happen to find our roots springing out of Africa have a celebratory moment found within our family tree. Actually the fact that our ancestors survived and we were born is a celebration in itself. The odds were against those stolen Africans sent to North and South America, but their beautiful descendants are here to testify to the ancestral strength of the first comers DNA. That being said, each of us can look to someone in our family tree and meditate upon their accomplishments. For me I’ve chosen two such people. The first is my maternal grandfather, Guy Van Hackworth Sr. Looking back this Alabama born and raised farmer could have easily found himself cast as a character in a contemporary Coe Booth novel.
His older siblings father was lynched, depending on which story you believe he was killed because he passed for white or he was killed because a mentally disturbed white girl accused him of bad behavior; perhaps it was a combination of both. My great grandmother gave birth to my grandfather after two years of widowhood. Unfortunately, my grandfather was an “outside” child and his already married father did not lay claim to him. Eventually his biological father moved his legitimate family to Birmingham including my grandfather’s younger sister (born months a part) where he was killed in the Marvel mines in 1926. Wouldn’t you agree that this is the makings for a sad story perhaps the cause for my grandfather’s heavy drinking, wife beating, promiscuous ways?
I’m proud to say that Guy Hackworth chose not to become his own tragedy. He married Mary Lucy, my grandmother and raised 10 children. After 10 years he saved up enough money to purchase his own land. He was his own man. More importantly he did not indulge in drink and followed the Bible’s admonition to treat his wife as himself which resulted in a loving marriage. For his children he gave each the option to pursue higher education, which is monumental for Black people living in the Jim Crow south in Alabama. My mother earned her teaching certificate from Selma University as well as one of her younger sisters. Grandfather also lived to see his eldest grandson (whom he raised), my oldest brother accepted to Troy State ( the same school that rejected Congressman John Lewis before integration).
I also want to celebrate my cousin Arthurine Juanita Lucy, the first black student to attend the University of Alabama.
So who will you celebrate from your family history this glorious month?
I could rant and rant about the lack of diversity in literature, especially YA literature. I could write essay upon essay about the irony of how the masses will read anything deemed worthy by Queen Oprah (a black woman straight out of Mississippi) but heaven help us if they choose to read for themselves a book with a person of color on the cover. I’ll save that rant for another day.
I choose to celebrate the successful author’s visit that the teens I serve had with Ayala Dawn Johnson, author of The Summer Prince. This celebration isn’t about the book, which in itself is unique in today’s offering of YA titles. You can find only one or two white minor characters in the story. What?!!? Oh snap! All I’m saying is that it’s refreshing to see a brown, brown world sometimes.
I’m celebrating the teens reaction to Johnson and the message she conveyed to them. I’m paraphrasing, but she told the audience that she made a conscious decision NOT to include white characters in her story. She wanted to write about characters who looked like her and the people in her world. It was a gutsy gamble that paid off. She created a science fiction novel that embraced people of color and Arthur Levine published it. The novel became a finalist for 2013 Book Award. Writing about people of color did not lessen her work, nor did it ghettoize it. Johnson made a connection that night and one of the most reluctant male readers I’ve ever encountered purchased a copy of the book after her program. His mother was almost hysterical with joy when she learned of his purchase.
The author Ayala Dawn Johnson (center) and some of the teen patrons from my library.
This I celebrate.