In 2010, ten years ago, Bill, Natalie (age 13 then) and I took a trip to Charlottesville, Virginia; Charleston, South Carolina; and St. Helena Island, South Carolina. We were immersing ourselves in history. It was a two-hour drive from Charleston to the Penn Center, one of the places we wanted to visit. We had to rent a car to get there. As we got closer, we drove on a long road with sea waters lapping up almost to the edge of it. I couldn’t believe how we were almost level with the water. My head was hanging out the window like we see dogs do, mesmerized by the water so close it seemed like if my arm were just a little longer, I could touch it. The Penn Center is the former site of the Penn School, one of the country’s first schools for formerly enslaved individuals. Founded in 1862 by Quaker and Unitarian missionaries from Pennsylvania, the first three teachers included Laura Matilda Towne, an abolitionist missionary from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Ellen Murray, a Quaker teacher and Charlotte Forten, born into a wealthy free black family in Philadelphia. We also knew it was where Dr. Martin Luther King found a safe haven in 1964, to rest and write, after one of many arrests/jail sentences. No road existed at that time, so he was transported by rowboat to the Penn Center in the middle of the night. No one knew he was there. This was during a time when the KKK would have been active in the area.
When we arrived at the Penn Center, I stepped out of the car and stopped to notice the ancient oaks, the sound of birds, and the quiet. I had walked only a few steps before I saw a magical sight. A pile of leaves started to gather in a circle and then they began to swirl around and around. It was as if they had turned into a beautiful long brown skirt. I didn’t move. It felt like a message. This is what I heard: This is a place of peace and faith. We see you. Learn our story so that you can share it with others.
The Penn Center became part of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor established by the U.S. Congress in 2006. The Gullahs are descendants of African slaves who were brought to the region as early as the 1600s. They are now recognized as the oldest African American group to successfully preserve their language, religious customs, and cultural identity within the United States of America. The Penn Center is one of three National Historic Districts in South Carolina, and the only one that is African American. The Penn Center continues to be a vital part of its surrounding community, continuing in its legacy of cultural preservation. This week, my donation to help fill in the holes of history goes to the Penn Center.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Wednesday the agency’s headquarters building in Washington, D.C., will be named after Mary W. Jackson, the first African American female engineer at NASA. Jackson started her NASA career in the segregated West Area Computing Unit of the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Jackson, a mathematician and aerospace engineer, went on to lead programs influencing the hiring and promotion of women in NASA’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. In 2019, she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
All these wonderful changes/recognitions that are happening (and will continue to happen) if we vote for Biden in November… How I wish they had occurred when I was a little girl. The world would have seemed a fairer and safer place. I wouldn’t have had to read so many Holocaust novels as a teen, to try to figure out the difference between awful people and good people. I wouldn’t have read the final pages of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and looked up (I remember exactly where I was) and seen the world from an entirely different perspective. I wouldn’t have moved from Japan in 1968, right after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King and before the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy, and felt I had landed in a crazy place.
It’s time for us to be better than we’ve been. So that a child who moves here doesn’t feel like they’ve landed in a crazy place. So that an adult who lives here and has accomplished so much is given the recognition she deserves. So that any discounting of accomplishments due to the color of a person’s skin or gender is not just crazy, but illegal.
Watch the wonderful movie “Hidden Figures” to learn more about Mary Jackson.
One person can make a difference. Each of us can make a difference. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t powerful enough, wealthy enough, fancy enough, strong enough… to make a difference. The biggest differences are usually simple acts of kindness or justice.
Two years ago, I read an article about Irmela Mensah-Schramm, who lives in Berlin, Germany. She is a retired teacher, who taught children with severe disabilities. She was born in 1945, at the tail end of World War II. In the early 1980s, when she was in her mid 30s, she visited a concentration camp for the first time. Then in 1986, she saw a sticker at her bus stop that demanded the release of Rudolf Hess, the imprisoned Nazi war criminal. All day she thought about the sticker. Then when she was going home from work that day, she saw that the sticker was still there. She used her keychain to scrape it away and she noticed she felt better. A few days later, she spent an entire night walking her Berlin neighborhood, scraping away far-right messages she found. Twenty years went by. By the time Sally McGrane wrote her article, Irmela had erased 72,354 Neo-Nazi symbols and anti-immigrant sentiments. She continues to do so several days a week, carrying her supplies in a canvas bag with the handwritten message “Against Nazis.”
She has been assaulted three or four times. But she has also been hugged by strangers. As tensions rise over the refugee issue in Germany, others are following in Irmela’s footsteps, scraping, dissolving and painting over far-right slogans. Two years ago, Ibo Omari, owner of a Berlin shop that sells graffiti paint and other related items, founded an organization that has sponsored artists to convert swastikas into street art: Rubik’s Cubes, mosquitoes and owls. He considers Irmela Mensah-Schramm the “grandmother” of the project.
The story of Irmela Mensah-Schramm reminds me to pay attention when the voice inside me says something I see isn’t fair or just. I will follow Irmela’s example and whenever I can, I will try to scrape away injustice and turn it into justice.
Gabriele Münter’s “Breakfast of the Birds” (1934) has long been one of my favorite paintings and I like it to visit it in person whenever I am in Washington DC at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Right now, I feel so much like the woman in the painting: looking out at the world, watching, waiting, wishing, wondering…
Today, for the first time, I wonder: Why is the title “Breakfast of the Birds” instead of “Breakfast with the Birds.” What do you think?
In the painting, a woman sits indoors at a table arrayed with a meal. We share her view of snowcapped trees and a host of birds through the window. The heavy looking draperies that frame the window add an element of cosiness or claustrophobia, depending on one’s perspective. This interior has been interpreted alternately as indicative of solitude and quiet reflection or entrapment and emotional isolation. With her back to the viewer, the woman portrayed here has been identified by some scholars as the artist herself. In 1911, Münter and other artists, including Franz Marc, Alexei Jawlensky, and Münter’s then-partner Vassily Kandinsky, founded Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a progressive group based in Munich. Münter’s work is often associated with the expressionist style practiced by members of this group, but she demonstrated a sense of self-awareness and individuality that she applied passionately to her vivid canvases. In the midst of the Nazi era, Münter ignored the limitations imposed on her as a radical artist and continued to produce still lifes, portraits, landscapes, and interior scenes, such as “Breakfast of the Birds.”
During Quarantine, we place little treats atop our Free Little Neighborhood Library. The king delighted someone today and went home with them. Also a Play-doh. We also place stationery note cards with stamped envelopes for anyone who wants to easily write a letter. Those are so popular!! Do you see the coffee sachets (like tea bags)? I thought they might be appreciated. We discovered SteepedCoffee.com in October in our Chicago hotel. They make a tasty and easy cup of coffee. They’re quite popular. I ordered more today and gave a box to the nurses at the hospital.
My letter to the Los Angeles Times Editor about singing this song while hand washing at home and in public was printed in the March 13, 2020 newspaper. Here’s my Letter to the editor: I’ve read so many versions and variations on hand-washing songs that help people make sure they are really and truly spending the necessary 20 seconds washing hands with soap and water to protect against spreading the coronavirus. I’ve decided to embrace my public hand washing to spread a message of hope that we can work together, not only to face this virus, but to embrace a healthier future with a strong sense of responsible and caring leadership back in place. So when I wash my hands in public, I am singing out loud “This Little Light of Mine,” a gospel song that came to be an anthem of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. People sang this and other spirituals during the civil rights movement as a way of expressing unity as they fought for equal rights and freedom for everyone.
I’ve started to sing it quietly as I do my mindful walk around the block and I can tell it helps me breathe into my tummy, which feels really good.
And this is a very fun version we sometimes play at highest volume 🙂 with Bruce Springsteen’s band performing in Dublin a year ago.
It is time for me to make a confession: When I noticed in my public library a slick “everything is okay” children’s biography of the current president shelved between Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, I pulled it out and hid it in the library where it will never be found. This president is a soul killer. Neither Harriet nor Sojourner deserve to have him divide them. Nor do our children deserve to be lied to.
I checked out the biographies of Harriet and Sojourner and thought about the issue of “electability” we keep hearing about. The United States is so ready for an intelligent, wise, forthright, caring woman president and we have someone like that in our midst. We need to shift the “electability” (We Aren’t Ready) discussion to WE ARE READY.
87 countries have or had women elected as heads of state or government, as of 29 November 2019. WE ARE READY.
WHAT IF: Each of us, once a day, says to someone/anyone/everyone: The U.S. IS READY FOR A WOMAN PRESIDENT.
Say it for Greta, Ruth, Dolores, Harriet, Sojourner… Say it for the sake of your daughters and grand-daughters. Say it for the sake of the country.
Do not allow “We aren’t ready” to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. WE ARE READY.
The foundation for the downstairs garage/upstairs library has been poured and our message to ourselves and any future inhabitants has been permanently recorded via a nail as my writing instrument. Bill realized that once the walls go up, we will have to read our message upside down, because it’s in the front corner facing the street. Well, maybe that is okay. It will add an extra detail to the story, plus a bit of laughter.
In the meantime, our Little Neighborhood Library is as active as ever, with readers picking up and dropping off books each day. Sometimes, we even find a note like this one with a new book deposit.
A retired teacher in Italy converted this charming truck into a mobile library and drives it to rural villages so that children who don’t have easy access to libraries can check out books.
When I told Natalie I would love to convert a vehicle into a Mobile Bookshop/Tea Shop that could visit homebound older people—to check on them over a cup of tea, distribute books, and perhaps sell a small selection of food items—she reminded me that I could turn a teardrop trailer into a traveling tea shop. I am pondering the idea. In the meantime, I found these two examples.
We are building a library because we love books and we love to read so much. While this space will most often feature stories and discoveries we make in the process of building our library, I will occasionally write about a book that I love too much not to share with you.
is a book I recently found and I LOVE it.
This elegant picture book would make a lovely gift for any child or adult (picture books are not just for children; I will write more about this idea in a future post). It is the perfect book for anyone who you think would be interested in a moving story (written by Kyo Maclear), beautiful illustrations (by Julie Morstad), and learning about another brave woman who changed history.
A biographical picture book, it includes moving moments in the life of Gyo Fujikawa, a groundbreaking Japanese American hero who spoke up for racial diversity in picture books.
Growing up in California, Gyo Fujikawa always knew that she wanted to be an artist. She was raised among strong women, including her mother and teachers, who encouraged her to fight for what she believed in. During World War II, Gyo’s Japanese-American family was forced to abandon their home and belongings and imprisoned in an internment camp in Arkansas.
In the meantime, Gyo was living in New York working as an illustrator. This was such a difficult time for Gyo. Seeing the diversity around her and feeling pangs from her own childhood, Gyo became determined to show all types of children in the pages of her books. There had to be a world where every child saw themselves represented. Her book Babies, initially rejected, was published in 1963 and stands as a landmark: it was the first children’s book to depict infants of different races and nations sharing growing experiences. Two million copies were sold. Fujikawa’s books have been translated into 17 languages and are read in more than 22 countries.
This exquisite book includes additional information on Gyo Fujikawa, a bibliography, a note from the creators, a timeline, and archival photos.