Our Women Who Make Us Proud

Since the month of March has been designated Women’s History Month, allow me to take this opportunity to brag on some of the very outstanding women of color that we have right here in San Antonio, Texas. Now I don’t mean to offend my fellow brothers of color, but we have to admit that over the centuries we’ve had some awfully dynamic sisters. As far back as Phyllis Wheatley the great 18th Century poet through the 20th Century, our women have always been out front in our struggle to overcome prejudice, racism and bigotry. I’ll refrain from trying to name them all, for fear I might leave out too many.

ObamasWith the advent of the 21st Century that trend of strong, charismatic women continued. First Lady Michelle Obama has given this country a real lesson in class, dignity, brains and a compassion for all people. And I am proud to proclaim that we do have a number of women who emulate First Lady Obama right here in San Antonio. Allow me to share with you, the reader, a few of those outstanding women.

PierceThe two matriarchs of the Black culture in San Antonio are Aaronetta Pierce and Ruth Jones McClendon. These two pillars of the community have been leaders in the arts and in politics respectively for over thirty years in this city. Ms. Pierce has been a strong advocate for arts and has served on numerous boards over the years. She was a very close friend to the late great Maya Angelou, who loved to come to San Antonio to write. Ms. Pierce was the first Chair of the Martin Luther King Commission that organizes the march every year on the great man’s birthday. Because of her outstanding leadership on that committee, San Antonio has the largest and most effective King Day March in the country.

Former State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon has been the premiere Black office holder in the city. She served on the local city council for two terms and has been State Representative for District 120 of the Texas House of Representatives since 1994. In those years she established an impeccable record as an effective legislator for the Eastside of San Antonio, which encompasses a high percentage of the Black population. She recently retired because of failing health.

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Following in the footsteps of these legendary women are two new and refreshing Black women ready to take over the helm of leadership, both acknowledging that they follow on the shoulders of giants. Mayor Ivy Taylor accomplished the unthinkable when she won the office of Mayor in a hotly contested race in a city with only a 7% Black population. I have written about her accomplishments in a previous post on this blog in which I pointed out how proud she made us with her victory.  Mayor Taylor has an excellent career in front of her that could possibly lead to the governor’s seat in Austin.

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Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, sister to the legendary great NBA Basketball star, George Iceman Gervin, is the other woman of color who is a rising star in the political world. She is now in a two-person runoff for the vacated Legislative seat previously held by Ms. McClendon. Her opponent is an ex city councilman who has been removed from the political scene in the city for many years. You might call it his “last hurrah” for notoriety. Ms. Gervin-Hawkins has a proven track record as an effective organizer of a number of successful operations that have been of great help to the residents of the district. She is the Executive Director of the George Gervin Academy, a school that has welcomed young people who have been removed from the public school system, and need a helping hand to get their life in order. The Academy has graduated over one thousand students with high school diplomas and now these young people have gone on to build productive lives.

Mayor Taylor and Ms. Gervin-Hawkins are only two of a larger number of women of color in San Antonio who are making a difference in the lives of the young people in the African American community. Hopefully, as these two new dynamic leaders move forward in their careers, they will never forget that they are the recipients of the dedicated work by such women as Fanny Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Shirley Chisholm and of course Barbara Jordan. If they prove to be as competent leaders as these stellar women of color, then we all can be assured that our communities are in good hands.

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Sanitizing History

Recently when a young ninth grade student in Pearland, Texas noticed that his World Geography textbook referred to Blacks, forcibly taken out of Africa, as immigrant workers voluntarily coming to this country to work in the fields in the south, he alerted his mother. She immediately exposed that distortion of the truth on Facebook. It created uproar of protest. The textbook publisher, McGraw Hill, then went public and announced that they would correct the error on their digital format and also begin to replace the textbooks if requested by the various school districts.

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The most surprising aspect of this fiasco was the publisher’s suggestion that the error was not deliberate and they actually displayed a degree of contrition, almost apologetic. There is no way that the ultra-conservative Texas State Board of Education, the seventeen member body that reviews and adopts instructional material for the public schools throughout the state, was not aware of that particular distortion of the truth. It was just another attempt to sanitize the country’s history of all its blemishes.

The dominant culture has no qualms distorting its past, in order to protect its image for their young. The truth is that cultures exist for the future, but they are built on the past. With that being the case, those responsible for perpetuating the history of the American culture are strapped with a very serious problem. In today’s contemporary world, if their children knew the truth about their ancestors, chances are good they would dislike them. The way to solve that problem is to make the bad guy look good, and they can do that since they write the history books. Both the Americans and the British have been extremely competent in practicing that deception.

Immediately following the end of slavery there was a deluge of plantation novels, written for the purpose of justifying slavery, or an attempt to sanitize an ugly period in the country’s history. Popular author Thomas Nelson Page fictionalized the content slave, who bemoaned freedom and longed for the days when “Dem wuz good ole times, marster de bes’ Sam ever see.” What Page wanted to remember and celebrate in his dialect stories was, “that relation of warm friendship and tender sympathy” between the races. (Leon F. Litwack, Trouble In Mind, Vintage Books Edition, New York 1998, pg. 187) The author Joel Chandler Harris created the Uncle Remus character, which willfully entertained generations of white children with his stories of the simple but happy slave. Harris perpetuated myths about the character and contentment of Blacks, and their enduring love of the white folks they served. (Ibid, pg. 187) There were many more writers who attempted to change the country’s perception of slavery. In another work, Martha S. Gielow published her collection, Mammy’s Reminiscences, in 1898 that glamorized life in the slave quarters. Finally, in the most blatant attempt to interpret the history in a distorted way, Thomas Dixon wrote two novels, The Clansman (which was adapted to the screen play Birth of a Nation) and The Leopard’s Spots.

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To his dismay and disappointment, Paul Robeson got caught up in that trap while living in England. He was offered the role of the African Chief Bosambo in the film, Sanders of the River. Robeson was excited about his role because he believed the movie would represent an important milestone, as the first comprehensive film on the African culture. However, what it turned out to be was a glorification of British colonialism and imperialism. The message in the movie suggested that the British occupation of Africa was necessary in order to curb the savage nature of the Africans on the continent. Sanders of the River made money, perhaps because it glorified the white man’s Empire, but proved to be an embarrassment to Robeson. (Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson: A Biography, New Press, New York, 1989, pg. 180.

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This practice of deception has been a constant throughout the history of this country. The method may be much more sophisticated today than in the past, but it still exists. Proof is in the description of Africans as workers and not slaves in the McGraw- Hill Geography book. The problem in the state of Texas is that the approved textbook material comes from a contingent of conservatives, determined to protect the positive image of this country that has prevailed over the decades. However, we are not without recourse. What we must do is write our own interpretation of history, and make it available to our young outside the boundaries of the classroom. This calls for parents to take a more active interest in their children’s education. It calls for the ministers to have culturally related classes in their churches on Saturdays. It calls for more of our writers to produce works that tell the truth about our past. It calls for those million Black men who took the time out of their schedules to congregate on the mall in Washington, D.C. to also congregate at home with their child and share with them their history. It calls for all of us to read, study, and become more knowledgeable about our past.

A Great Brother and Great Writer Moves On

clackLast Thursday, I was surprised to read a Facebook posting by one of the most respected men in the San Antonio literary community. Cary Clack, who had served for the past year as Communication Director for Mayor Ivy Taylor, agreed to resign from his position. Cary is a native of San Antonio, who as a young intern at the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, wrote a number of commentaries for the late and great Coretta Scott King for her appearances on CNN. He was a columnist for the San Antonio Express News for over seventeen years and served as District Director for the office of Congressman Joaquin Castro until he gave up that position to serve with Mayor Taylor. Cary is a brother who cares very much about his community and has always been one of the most principled human beings that it has been my privilege to know; and also a very polished and professional writer and communicator. Why he decided to leave the mayor’s office right at the beginning of her term is a discussion and subject he does not want to engage in publicly, because he does not want to become fuel for the fire of the Taylor haters and there are a lot of them in the community.

I believe Cary left he mayor’s office because he was not comfortable with his role. He is a writer and must feel free to express himself as he sees fit. That is what a good writer must do. Working for any politician, you must be willing to relinquish that kind of freedom and be nothing more than the mouthpiece for whomever you may work. One fact, however, is indisputable; Mayor Taylor lost a very good man when she lost our friend Cary. His character is reflected in the fact that just before Mayor Taylor decided to run for a full term in office, Cary was approached by executives from the University of Texas System in Austin about a job as speechwriter for the new Chancellor, General William McRaven, the man who led President Barack Obama’s successful operation to get Osama Bin Laden. He went to the mayor and asked what she planned to do and she then told him that she would run. He felt that his loyalty to her, in what would be a very hotly contested race, was more important than taking the job, and decided to stay put in her office.

Now that he has decided to move on, many in the community are wondering what is next for this man of many accomplishments. No doubt he’ll have a myriad of offers from various newspapers, possibly some national magazines and he already has one from Prosperity Publications. As a fledgling publishing company with limited resources, we are not in the position to offer Cary the kind of salary that his talent demands. But I do know he is the kind of person that we want to have as an associate, partner or maybe just a writer in our company. We want good, honorable people, who will not compromise their principles for financial gain. Writers who want to tell the story about our heritage and culture and in doing so make a positive impact on our race. Cary is that kind of person and the mayor should have done everything in her power to keep him in her office. But since she didn’t, some other literary entity is going to be blessed with a talented Black writer who will do great things for their company.

Striking a Blow Against Illiteracy

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Last Saturday evening, one hundred men and women struck a blow against illiteracy when they gathered at the Club at Sonterra in San Antonio, Texas for a tribute dinner to our local authors and to the memory of the late Dr. David Floyd. School teachers, college professors, corporate executives, business men and women and elected officials came together and offered their support for the establishment of the Dr. David Floyd Writing Project, a proposed 501 c3 foundation dedicated to teaching young men and women the craft of writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screen writing and autobiographies.

sbai5Our guest speaker for the event was Mrs. Aaronetta Pierce, one of the leading cultural giants in our community. She spoke eloquently on the value of one’s heritage and the importance of cultural sustainability as we reach the halfway point of the second decade of the twenty-first century. Mrs. Pierce, a very close friend of the late and great Dr. Maya Angelou, shared some of her cherished memories of that icon with us. Mrs. Pierce reminded us of just how fortunate we were to have a grand lady like Dr. Angelou as a contributor to the grace and beauty of our culture. She also read excerpts from her soon-to-be published, “Letters to My Grandchildren,” which traces her ancestry back to Tennessee and elaborates on her family’s many accomplishments, despite the extreme obstacles they faced in the racist South during their lifetime. Her message was with the love of family and with sheer determination one can realize their dreams despite obstacles. Her reflections on Dr. Angelou as well as her “Letter to My Grandchildren,” will be two of the key essays in the anthology, Black is the Color of Strength, to be released in April 2015 by Prosperity Publications.

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Mrs. Pierce’s remarks segued right into my brief words on Dr. David Floyd. David was a man who graduated from high school reading at the second grade level but despite extreme obstacles, attained a PhD in Accounting in January 2014.  Unfortunately, we lost David to cancer in October 2014. Before he passed away and at the point he knew he would die, he asked me to write his eulogy because I had helped him write his life story. In my remarks, I described a system that failed David when it passed him from grade to grade knowing he could not read. I spoke about a system that had a cell waiting for David in one of its many prisons. About a system that had a gun waiting for David, so that he could take the life of another young man just like him.  About a system that had plenty of drugs waiting for David and a system that had death waiting for David, so that his life would end without any accomplishments at all. But this system did not know David Floyd. He defied all these odds and became an example for other young boys who face the identical pathological conditions in their lives.

sbai3David is no longer here to present to young adults what is possible if you are willing to try. He is a symbol of success against overwhelming obstacles. And that is why the one hundred guests at our dinner, along with our distinguished speaker and many thousands more have made a commitment to create the Dr. David Floyd Writing Project, as a vehicle to spread his story and assist others in their goals to become just as successful as him. Last Saturday evening was our first blow, but stay tuned because there are many more blows yet to come.

You will have the opportunity to read more about David’s fantastic accomplishments in his revised autobiography, Through My Mother’s Tears, to be released in May 2015 by Prosperity Publications. Once you read his story, you will know exactly why we plan to establish our writing project in his name.

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