The American Academy of Arts and Lettershas announced the recipients of its highest honors for excellence in the arts, to be presented at its annual ceremony in May. Toni Morrison will be awarded the Gold Medal for Fiction. The Gold Medal is awarded to those who have achieved eminence in an entire body of work.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Early members included Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. The Academy’s 250 members are elected for life and pay no dues.
There is an article by Ginia Bellafante in the New York Times this morning about inspiring Bronx native Noëlle Santos, who is opening The Lit. Bar, the Bronx’s first general bookstore since Barnes and Noble shuttered its store there in 2016.
According to the article, Santos, a self-described millennial Afro Latina who was working in human resources at the time, came across a petition on Facebook in 2014 to save the Bronx’ Barnes and Noble (which it managed to for two more years). The petition pointed out how alarming it was that the Bronx was getting more and more cellphone stores and chain restaurants but would be left without a place to buy novels or training manuals or SAT preparation guides.
Santos, who grew up and went to college and graduate school in the Bronx, suddenly felt a radical need to do change things.
“Up to that point I had measured my success by how far I could get away from the Bronx,’’ she is quoted as saying. “I was disappointed in myself for thinking about leaving a community in no better condition that I had found it,’’ she said.
“I had never been inside an independent book store before I decided to open one.”
Santos took that inspiration and worked to make her dream real by calling the American Booksellers Association to learn how to do just that. From ABA Santos learned about a course called “Owning a Bookstore” – which was held in Florida. Undeterred, Santos pooled her vacation days and sick days to fly there and take it. In that course, she learned how to calculate sales projections, negotiate a lease, think about layouts, floor plans, foot traffic, etc.
When Santos returned to New York, she furthered her education by volunteering at small bookstores around the city in exchange for mentorship, and entered a statewide competition for entrepreneurs with promising business plans. She won, and with that prize money, opened a pop-up bookstore in the Bronx Museum of the Arts.
To open an actual store, however, Santos needed much more capital, so she started a crowdfunding campaign and called it, “Let’s Bring a Goddamn Bookstore to the Bronx.’’ With it, she quickly raised $170,000.
It’s February 1st, which means it is now officially Black History Month! Although we here at Good Black News celebrate the achievements of Black people every day of the year, it is always lovely when the rest of the U.S. joins in to do the same for at least 28 of them. So, for #BHM2019, GBN will be highlighting the achievements of black women, past and present, who have and are paving the way to a better future.
And what better person to start with than today’s Google Doogle, abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, who, with “Ain’t I A Woman?” gave one of the most powerful and unforgettable American speeches of all time on what we now call intersectionality?
In 2014, Sojourner Truth was included in Smithsonian Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time” – yet the majority of Americans don’t know who she was, what she did, or they confuse her with Harriett Tubman.
Born Isabella (“Bell”) Baumfree circa 1797, Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, Ulster County, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son, in 1828 she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.
She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 after she became convinced that God had called her to leave the city and go into the countryside “testifying the hope that was in her.” Her best-known speech was delivered extemporaneously, in 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.
The speech became widely known during the Civil War by the title “Ain’t I a Woman?,” a variation of the original speech re-written by someone else using astereotypical Southern dialect. Truth was from New York and grew up speaking Dutch as her first language, and had a Dutch accent. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black troops for the Union Army; after the war, she tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sojourner_Truth)
There are a lot of other events and details in Truth’s life, of course, including collaboration with Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, President Abraham Lincoln and varied suffragists and women’s groups – Truth was known for her persuasive speeches against slavery as well as sexism – she even once defiantly opened her top and showed her breasts during a speech when she was accused of being a man.
But what is remarkable and often not mentioned is that she is likely the first black woman in the U.S. to attain national fame (she sold photos and autographs of herself at events to make money “I sell the shadow to support the substance”) and the first to have her voice heard in America. It is also rather ironic that many of the records of her speeches were written by white men, and thus often altered to their perception of a black, female, former slave.
Some would quote that she had 13 children who were sold away from her (she had 5 and raised most of them) or say she was raving when she was calm. Truth’s was a 19th-century case of what is all too familiar today – media distortion by the dominant culture trying to make sense of “the other”- and in her instance, white men trying to process the experiences and truths of black women.
However, Truth was self-possessed – she claimed her ownership of herself by renaming herself and writing her own Narrative in 1850. Truth traveled and spoke to hostile, indifferent and embracing crowds, fought for women’s rights and black women’s right to vote, fought for land grants and reparations for former slaves, prison reform and the end of capital punishment.
Truth was in her 80s when she died at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan. In 1999, a 12-foot high monument was built in Battle Creek to honor her. The calendar of saints of the Episcopal Church remembers Truth annually, and the Lutheran Church calendar of saints remembers her on the same day as Harriet Tubman.
In 2009, Truth became the first black woman honored with a bust in the U.S. Capitol.
The awards were announced yesterday at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Seattle, Washington and will be presented in Washington, D.C. at the ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition in June.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards. Presented annually by the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee of the ALA’s Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT), the awards encourage the artistic expression of the African American experience via literature and the graphic arts; promote an understanding and appreciation of the Black culture and experience, and commemorate the life and legacy of Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination in supporting the work of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for peace and world brotherhood.
“A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919,” is an exposition of the socio-economic landscape and racial tensions that led to the death of a black teen who wanted to swim, and the violent clash that resulted. In 20 chapters, Hartfield’s balanced, eye-opening account contextualizes a range of social justice issues that persist to this day.
“Hartfield’s nuanced account of unrest between African Americans and white European immigrants in early 20th century Chicago fills a much-needed gap in the children’s literature world,” said Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury Chair Sam Bloom.
In “The Stuff of Stars,” written by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrator Holmes uses hand marbled paper and collage to create a lush explosion of color that brings to life the formation of the universe while distinctly reflecting the essence of the African diaspora.
“Using oceanic waves of color, Holmes employs her trademark aesthetic to carry this creation story to its stunning crescendo,” said Bloom.
The Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent affirms new talent and offers visibility for excellence in writing and/or illustration at the beginning of a career as a published African American creator of children’s books. In the timely thriller “Monday’s Not Coming,” author Jackson examines friendship, child abuse, and family relationships.
“Thank You, Omu!” is a fresh take on a timeless tale of altruism and community-mindedness. Mora’s collage work is skillfully pieced together with acrylic, marker, pastels, patterned paper, and old book clippings, creating a visual smorgasbord. Mora brings to life an amalgamation of many grandmothers and captures the African spirit of generosity and community.
As time passes, it becomes easier and easier to venerate only those we habitually do and forget about those who fought the same fight but perhaps didn’t have as prominent a position in the battle.
So today, a week before we will all – rightfully – celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his significant contributions to the betterment of this nation, I want to focus on one of his brothers-in-arms, the charismatic lecturer, activist, freedom fighter and leader in his own right, Julian Bond.
Horace Julian Bond was born Jan. 14, 1940, in Nashville, Tennessee and passed in 2015 in Fort Walton Beach, Florida at the age of 75. His father, Horace Mann Bond, rose to become the first African-American president of his alma mater, Lincoln University. Though his father expected Julian to follow in his footsteps as an educator (which he eventually did), as a young man, Bond instead was attracted to political activism.
While a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Bond became one of original leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1960, after word spread of student sit-ins at lunch counters in Greensboro, N.C., Bond and others at Morehouse organized protests against segregated public facilities in Atlanta. Bond dropped out of Morehouse in 1961 to devote himself to the protest movement, but returned in the 1970s to complete his English degree.
Among the sit-ins and protests, Bond worked to register voters and in 1965 was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. White members of the House refused to let him take his seat, accusing him of disloyalty, as Bond and SNCC were known for their stand against United States involvement in the Vietnam War.
His case against the House of Representatives went to all the way to the Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision in 1966, the Court ordered the Georgia state legislature to seat Bond on the grounds that it was denying Bond freedom of speech.
Bond served 20 years in the two houses of the legislature and while a lawmaker, he sponsored bills to establish and fund a sickle cell anemia testing program and to provide low-interest home loans to low-income Georgians. He also helped create a majority-black congressional district in Atlanta.
Bond also became a co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal advocacy organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, and served as its president from 1971 to 1979. He remained on its board for the rest of his life.
Bond published a book of essays titled “A Time to Speak, A Time to Act” about politics and the movement, and in 1998, Bond became chairman of the NAACP, serving in that position until 2010. Through the years, Bond also taught at Harvard, Williams, Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania.
While at Harvard, I had the personal honor and pleasure not only from taking a class from Bond, but also in taking him up on his offer to call him for dinner so he could spend time with and speak directly to his students. He didn’t give his office number – I didn’t speak to an assistant – I spoke to his wife, and then him.
Bond came to my dorm and had dinner with me and half a dozen other undergrads. He was kind, patient, thoughtful and wry – he answered all types of questions about MLK, SNCC and anything else we asked. What struck me the most when I wasn’t in complete awe, was how real and unassuming he was. No bluster, no overinflated sense of importance – just a man about the work he had done and was still doing until the day he died.
Julian Bond, thank you for your example, your service and for taking the time to make this then awkward undergraduate feel a little less awkward and that much more empowered. You are not and never will be forgotten.
Libraries, schools and civic organizations across the country and world will host a variety of celebrations to observe the 50th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards. Given annually since 1969, the awards commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honor his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.
The awards are sponsored by American Library Association‘s Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) and are supported by ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services (ODLOS).
Award founders Glyndon Flynt Greer, a school librarian in Englewood, New Jersey, Mabel McKissick, a school librarian in New London, Connecticut, and John Carroll, a book publisher, envisioned an award that would recognize the talents of outstanding African-American authors and encourage them to continue writing books for children and young adults.
Winners are selected by the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury and announced annually to a national audience at the ALA Youth Media Awards. The awards serve as a guide for parents, librarians and caregivers, for the most outstanding books for youth by African American authors and illustrators that demonstrate an appreciation of affirm African American culture and universal human values.
The Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream of a pluralistic society.
The first Coretta Scott King Award was presented in 1970 at the New Jersey Library Association conference in Atlantic City. The award went to Lillie Patterson, author of “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Man of Peace.” In 1974, the committee honored an illustrator for the first time. The award went to George Ford for his illustrations in “Ray Charles” by Sharon Bell Mathis. That year, the Coretta Scott King seal was designed by Lev Mills, an internationally renowned artist in Atlanta to identify book jackets of award winners.
Such notable African American authors and illustrators as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Walter Dean Myers, Virginia Hamilton, Jerry Pinkney and Christopher Paul Curtis are just an example of the notable artists who have received the award.
Currently the Coretta Scott King Book Award Anniversary Committee is planning 50th anniversary celebration events to take place during the whole of 2019, with a special Gala on June 21st in Washington D.C. This one-hour ticketed program will feature a host of special guests in the fields of children’s and young adult literature including Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Jacqueline Woodson.
Additional information regarding Coretta Scott King Book Award 50th Anniversary activities will be available within the coming weeks at www.ala.org/csk.
Buamah’s mother Danielle, says the book sparked from an idea she had to help her son fortify his own vocabulary. “I developed the character of Kayla when Nicholas was younger to help teach him expanded vocabulary,” she said in a statement. “After being praised by his first-grade teacher for using the word ‘collaborate’ during his first week of school, I asked Nicholas what he thought about writing a book to help his friends expand their vocabularies. He thought it was a great idea, as long as one of the main characters could be a male figure, and that’s when he created Kyle.”
Buamah had his first-ever book signing in December at Barnes & Noble in Atlanta suburb Snellville. “He sold out in one hour and people kept coming in the store afterward, requesting a copy so much that Barnes & Nobles invited him back,” his mother told Black Enterprise.
Volume 2 of The Walking Dictionaries is scheduled to be released this summer. Buamah wants his book to be available in every elementary school library in the country. He also one day aspires to attend MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and study to become a mechanical engineer.
Lauren Christine Mims is a former assistant director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and a Ph.D. candidate in Educational Psychology at the University of Virginia. She’s also one of the many women inspired by Michelle Obama’s Becoming, a New York Times best-selling book that sold more than 1.4 million copies within the first seven days of its release. Now, Mims is turning Obama’s book into a curriculum for black girls to further their learning and development.
“Reading Becoming was like sitting on the couch with your best friend and having one of those soulful conversations about life,” said Mims.
“Reading about how Michelle Obama felt unchallenged in elementary school, teased for the way she spoke, and noticed a difference in how she was perceived during adolescence was affirming.”
Mims hopes the Becoming curriculum will make space for black girls to thrive in a world that often seems to try and deny their humanity. As part of her doctoral research at the University of Virginia, Mims explores what it means to be a young, gifted, black girl in school.
“I disrupt the traditional practice of talking about black girls in pejorative ways and center them and their unique experiences to study how we can support them. For example, my research highlights what ‘Black Girl Magic’ means to black girls; the role teachers play in supporting or stopping the success of black girls; and more about what they are learning and how it makes them feel.”
“If you follow Jada Pinkett Smith, Adrienne Norris, and Willow Smith, think about my interviews as Red Table Talks where black girls are supported in discussing challenges and designing solutions.”
As part of the curriculum, students read Becoming, and watch films featuring black girls in leading roles. Additionally, “we will have important conversations, like about what it means to feel like your presence is a threat or that you do not belong. We will discuss Maddie Whitsett and McKenzie Nicole Adams; two 9-year-old black girls who died by suicide after being subjected to bullying. At the end of the course, students will apply their knowledge to draft new research proposals, policies, and practices,” says Mims.
Beyond the walls of the classroom, Mims says there are four things we can all do to support black girls:
Create supportive, affirming, and loving environments by listening to their needs and centering their unique experiences of Becoming;
Advocate for, adopt, and enforce school policies and accountability practices that recognize the brilliance of black girls and ensure they are not being pushed out of school.
Address the bullying, harassment, and discrimination of black girls and ensure that all students have access to mental healthcare;
Care for your own mental health and well-being.
Ultimately, Mims wants girls to know that they are enough. As Michelle Obama writes, “Becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim,” yet there is so much pressure in college to define your identity and pick a career path. It can take a toll on you. Know that you are brilliant and never “underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”