Brooklyn sky

Clean slate

Brooklyn sky
Brooklyn sky in Williamsburg

Having a clean slate is the beauty of a New Year. The slate has been wiped clean of last year’s junk. A clean, new day has dawned. I spent the first day of the New Year immersed in art at a friend’s housewarming party in Brooklyn. The bright sky made me reflect. I used to sit on my stoop, look at the sky and dream of flying away. I did move away for 30 years. But I came back. I’m thrilled that Brooklyn’s still here in all its quirky glory. But Brooklyn has changed. It’s now a brand. What new changes does this New Year hold for you? Will you: Be the change you want to see, a wise person once advised?—(not Gandhi)

Word of the year #WOTY – I chose ‘hope’ as my word because I’m always hopeful. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary the word ‘hope’ means: “to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true.”

Bleeding Flad by Faith Ringgold
‘The ’60s was rough. Most artists were not telling the story of what was going on in America and I thought I wanted to be that person.’ -Faith Ringgold, artist ‘Bleeding Flag’

The past year held setbacks and challenges for many. I believe that life is about learning and being active. People of color, especially Black Americans, still face incredible hardships–racism and exploitation. We overcame unbelievable obstacles because we are America’s activists. Yes, we are losing hard-fought ground. But we are still fighting. More on how some black families are losing and holding their ground, land and properties, in a future edition.

Karma- It seems that we are gaining and losing all the time. Happily, we re-gained a little power in politics, culture, and the arts. From a review of some of my 2018 photographs, film, art, and theater remained an important focus for me. Some of my white friends were shocked by social media posts of how bad things are for Blacks and Latino/a/s in America. Thankfully, they are waking up about the harms of racism and slavery that are so prevalent today. I’m glad that America’s future no longer looks white, old, and male. The browning of America is real. Karma is a bitch.

 

Colonialissm
‘Colonial Can of Soup’ by Luis Cordero Santoni, displayed at #PRHeritageMonth, #TallerBoricua, NYC tribute.

We saw oldsters and youngsters of all backgrounds marching for fairness and justice. I personally participated in more marches during 2016-2018 than I have in years! We agitated for women’s rights, peace, immigration, and fair wages.

#Ageism – I will be protesting more in 2019–especially about racism, sexism and ageism. Speaking of age, my 1970s sisters and brothers held a black alums reunion that was the bomb! Over 200 black alums from multiple generations attended in Washington DC. To see me and my ’70s classmates and others in photographs from the Black Alums of Smith and Amherst College, click here.

My mother once told me: “All women of color in America are political, whether they realize it or not is important.” Being a WOC (woman of color) who is 60+ years old, I definitely feel her.

Being #political

Some political candidates for governor that I supported did not win—Cynthia Nixon, New York; Stacey Abrams, Georgia; Ben Jealous, Maryland; and Andrew Gilliam, Florida. But, I’m still hopeful.

Ben Jealous, candidate for Maryland governor, in NY with Sylvia & Byron Lewis
At ‘meet greet’ event for Cynthia Nixon, NY Governor, candidate, with Sylvia, Byron Lewis, Brielle Peterson.
Stacey Abrams, Georgia Governor candidate in Harlem

To see me and others from our Women of Color and Allies for Cynthia Nixon event, click here.

To see our political organizing hub page for Cynthia Nixon, click here.

 

 

 

 

The recent Midterm elections provided the most hope. Washington’s newly elected officials may be the most diverse in history with forty-two women sworn into Congress this year. Twenty-four women of color comprise the freshman class. This year (2019) opened with a clear shift for women’s political power.

Fun plant art at Tribeca farmer’s market

On hope

Choosing a word of the year #WOTY was new for me. I decided to do it because it’s supposed to help guide your thinking, especially when life gets cluttered. Thinking about your word should make life easier and more flexible. Instead of feeling guilty about a New Year’s resolution, your word is supposed to help you adjust your goals and plans anytime. We shall see.

 

 

Actually, ‘hope’ was always my word. Certainly my gardening and creative media projects started with hopes and intentions. But ‘hope’ is a legacy word for me. I believe my ancestors, who migrated and immigrated, handed this word down to me from their ancestors in China, Africa, Mississippi, Louisiana, Trinidad, Guyana, and Venezuela. Because of them, we can, and still do. No one knows what will happen in the future. But we always have hope!

Afro-Asian vegan dinner bowl!

Whatever paths we take let’s hope that we will continue to eat more plants (less meat and fish), honor our ancestors, be the artists that we were born to be, and build community with all people of good will. This year, Madame Tempy, a radio drama with BBC Radio about my paternal grandmother, is coming to life at this writing. Auntyland, my new media tech platform is back on track.

 

 

Purple cabbage in the winter garden!

Stay tuned for more posts from this blog space. What will you create with your clean slate this year! Maybe new pathways, gardens and some great pies! Do you have a word of the year 2019?

 

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Transformation in Autumn

Transformation is the spirit of autumn. Everywhere you look there is change. While Autumn has its own unique colors I’m excited to move on. It’s time to fall back to Eastern Standard Time and vote.

And speaking of falling back, here’s an excerpt from my past blog post on some seasonal rituals that I fall back on during this time of the year:

“Do you have Autumn rituals? I do. It’s about accepting change in mind, body and soul. Nature changes with each new season. So must we. I believe that we all follow seasonal rituals whether conscious or unconscious that were passed down or learned along the way. I wonder what could be in an autumn ‘tool kit’? What do we need to do to open our hearts for this new season? What do you do to indulge your senses with sights, sounds, and scents of Autumn?”

Click here to read about my Autumn season rituals.

Yes, it’s been awhile since my last post. Here are some highlights:

Vegetables and flowers are still growing on my New York City roof. But the big surprises from my urban roof garden were the beans, squash and corn, a nod to my Native ancestors’ ‘Three-Sister Garden’ tradition. It was an experiment to grow corn. Actually, life as an urban gardener is a total experiment and an amazing journey.

Winona LaDuke, noted Native American environmentalist, political activist who keynoted the Community Food Systems Conference in Boston that I attended in 2017, inspired me. She recounted a story about a cousin who grew corn in a wooden crate. I copied what she said he did. It worked!

Mostly though, LaDuke’s message stayed with me. It was a message I heard before: “Listen to our ancestor’s. Prepare for the next seven generations. Protect and care for Mother Earth. Stop this culture of consumption! It’s totally not sustainable!”

 

And speaking about consumption—what are we consuming? A lot of bad news! My remedy is to unplug from social media. Once I’m unplugged, I become more intentional about caring for others and myself. It happened organically.

Gardening is my mindfulness meditation. But I did not know it when I first started. By caring for my garden, I noticed that I felt calm and connected.

My gardening experiences were very transformative for me. As a city girl, to intentionally plant a seed, hand-mix the soil, nurture and witness growth and reap a harvest—all of these gardening stages changed me. Like magic, I felt strong. I began to feel more strength between my mind, body and soul connections. Slowly, I began to reclaim artistic parts of me that I had neglected. Sometimes, I know I am channeling my ancestors.

What are your autumn transformation reflections?

 

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Memorial

Memorial Day roots

Memorial Day weekend is when I wake up my garden on the roof. That’s where I channel my farming ancestors. I plant vegetable seedlings that germinated in my kitchen. I decorate my home with flowers fresh from the local farmer’s market. I meditate. I am at peace with memories of my military father, brother, family and friends long gone. But we are not at peace. The world is at war. The fallen is rarely remembered. We need love and peace. Maybe there’s a special tea for that. Maybe gingko memory tea can help. Memorial Day is a mixed bag of facts. What are the roots? Over 20 states claim they started it. Major credit has been given over to ‘fake news’ and whitewashed memories. I have written about Memorial Day several times over the years. This year I’m offering just my favorite Top 3 facts.

Memorial

Top 3 Memorial Day Facts

  1. The earliest war memorial events have ancient roots. “Events weren’t held in the United States until the late 19th century, the practice of honoring those who have fallen in battle dates back thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans held annual days of remembrance for loved ones (including soldiers) each year, festooning their graves with flowers and holding public festivals and feasts in their honor.”

To read more amazing Memorial Day facts, click here.

  1. Formerly enslaved African Americans in South Carolina started it in America. I wrote about the holiday’s African American origins in a past blog post. Here is an excerpt.

“Thank you South Carolina Sisters and Brothers! Like most Civil War topics, this holiday has a lot to do with memories lost and whitewashed. Even on mainstream websites, false credit is given to women’s history—that Memorial Day was somehow an idea created by a military officer’s wife.”

To read more, click here.

  1. It began as ‘Decorations Day.’

Officially, as a national holiday, Memorial Day emerged in 1868 when General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans organization, called on all former northern soldiers and their communities to conduct ceremonies and decorate graves of their dead comrades.”

To read more, click here.

What are your top 3 Memorial Day facts?

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Auntyland!

Auntyland affirms and honors Black, Indigenous, and People of Color aunt narratives, artists, and businesses through our annual holiday – Real Aunties Day. Because of COVID19, we shifted all activities online. We believe in scholarship and community. We aim to disrupt stereotypes about aunts and mature women of color with events, programs, and a new holiday called ‘Real Aunties Day’ set on March 8.

Decolonize Women’s History Month

“In our world, the word ‘Auntie’ and the ‘aunt’ role present complex historical and cultural meanings. Today, in 2021, colonialism and racism still impact our lives. Auntyland is an intersectional place where race, gender, and age meet. With ‘Real Aunties Day’ on March 8, we want to bring together some realness, to decolonize some national holidays starting with Women’s History Month,” said Sylvia Wong Lewis, Auntyland founder, and proud auntie.

Aunt-Centered

Aunt stories will take center stage for the first time. Mothers and grandmothers have been studied and celebrated for eons.  But few understand the world of aunts. That’s where we come in. We will bring more creativity, scholarship, and rigor to teach about the aunt world.

Pronoun-defying superheroes

Why Auntyland? Because aunts are pronoun-defying superheroes, who have been overlooked too long! Aunts are chosen kinfolks, sometimes biological relations, second mothers, grandmothers, Godmothers, and more. Aunties play pivotal roles in strengthening Black, Brown, and Tan families and communities. We are especially reaching out to African American, Caribbean, African, and Asia women and siblings to document unique and resilient families and community traditions. This is the first time ‘real auntie’ stories will be collected and archived dynamically.

Activism, Social Justice

Auntyland is also a whimsical place full of joyful and amazing women. We are passionate about life and love. AND activism and social justice are our biggest concerns. Did you see us keeping vigil for the caged children at the borderlands? Do you see us marching and protesting daily for equality everywhere? Didn’t we save American Democracy at an Alabama election? Today more than ever, we need to disrupt the race, gender, and age bias– and take control of our narratives. Our voices and images are too often dismissed and stereotyped. No more!

Aunties Rule!

“When I think about my ‘aunties,’ I am filled with awe and gratitude. My mother’s friends and my parent’s siblings intervened in my life and the lives of my peers in pivotal ways. We hope to bring back some of that positive ‘auntie’ energy. “Where Sisterhood lives, Aunties Rule!’ is our motto. We aim to be a motivational and community-building space. Through our digital platform, events, and e-store, we hope to inspire, educate, and entertain,” Lewis added.

Have you ever been called ‘Auntie’ or ‘Titi’? Do you call anyone Auntie or Titi? These are cultural terms of endearment and respect titles for Caribbean, Latina, African, Asian, African American women, and siblings. But the word and the role can present different meanings depending on the circumstances. Let’s explore Auntyland!

Auntyland

Share your stories

Let’s schedule your interview to be featured on our website, podcasts, or videos. Talk about ‘aunties’ of all kinds. Honor an Auntie by sharing her story for our archives. Share what’s happening in your world! Do you have aunties–related, chosen, or found in genealogy? Are you an aunt or grand aunt? Are you taking care of a niece, nephew, young or old? Are you living with an Auntie?

‘Real Aunties Day’: Our public programs and events, including films, sports, arts, workshops, panels, and festivals, will cover topics and issues for and about aunties and mature women of color. Details to come soon.

Photography/Artists: We are reaching out to mature women writers, artists, and creatives of all kinds: photos, artwork, illustrations, multimedia to be featured in our public programs.

Funding: We are community-based in New York City and independently funded via grants through our fiscal sponsorship with Fractured Atlas. To make a tax-deductible donation, click the direct link here.  https://fundraising.fracturedatlas.org/auntyland.

Contact: If interested, please send an email to info@auntyland.com.

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Otelia Cromwell

Otelia Cromwell Day

Otelia Cromwell
Otelia Cromwell, first African American Smith College graduate.

 Otelia Cromwell Day is a Smith College community-wide celebration. Being first to do something and inclusion are the ongoing themes. Traditionally, Fall classes are cancelled and an annual slate of workshops, lectures, films and entertainment are convened to honor Smith’s first African American graduate. New York City Smith College alums gathered on November 4, 2017 to celebrate Dr. Cromwell’s legacy.

Recent campus keynote speakers have included: Roxane Gay, writer-professor; Sonia Sanchez, poet/arts activist; and Dr. Julianne Malveaux, economist-commentator.

Black Alumnae of Smith College (BASC), the College’s first Affinity group, collaborated with the local Smith College Club of New York City to host the event that attracted over 70 alums. To see photos and video highlights, click here.

Prof. Elizabeth Pryor, keynote speaker.

 This year was New York City’s second Otelia Cromwell Day. We were honored to feature keynote speakers Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor, Smith Professor of History and Dr. Carla Shedd, Smith alum, Class of 2000, Professor of Urban Education, City University of New York. Their book signing was a double highlight: Smith College Professor of History, Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor (daughter of Richard Pryor, noted American comedian) is author of ‘Colored Travelers: Mobility and the Fight for Citizenship Before the Civil War,’ (University of North Carolina Press, 2016); and Dr. Carla Shedd, Professor of Urban Education, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, is the author of ‘Unequal City: Race, Schools, and Perceptions of Injustice,’ (Russell Sage Foundation, 2015). Last year’s (2016) NYC keynote speakers were Smith Professors Paula Giddings and Riché Daniel Barnes.

Dr. Carla Shedd, keynoted Otelia Cromwell Day 2017.

Background: The first ‘official’ Otelia Cromwell Day was held in 1989 to provide the Smith community with an opportunity for further education and reflection about racism and diversity.

However, 1970s black students started the ‘original’ Otelia Cromwell recognition. Their campus activism on racism, recruitment, and retention, are still important issues today!

My classmates in the class of 1974, the largest class of Black students, considered the question: “If we are the largest black group, who was the first? Our research led to the discovery of Otelia Cromwell and other distinguished nineteenth century African American students! The 70s black students were the first to start the ‘Otelia Society.’ We designed and wore T-shirts with imprints of Otelia Cromwell’s photo.

“People who end up as the ‘first’ don’t actually set out to be the first. They set out to do something they love.” Condoleessa ‘Condi’ Rice.

Were you the first to do something? Please share!

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