Tag Archive: freedom


Enough.

I have a question. If you lived during the 1800s, would you have been an abolitionist? Could you have risked your way of life to save the life of others? Most of us would quickly, without much thought, say yes. We would have been abolitionists (or maybe, those are just my hopes).

But, recently I read an article by Amanda Kloer on CNN.com discussing modern day slavery on tomato farms and realized that we are less likely to be the Harriett Tubman-like characters that we envision ourselves to be. As I began to research this issue, I realized it doesn’t take much from each person to not just stand for something, but to act on it. In this age of technology that we are living in, a Facebook post, a tweet or any of the many different communication outlets that we have can be used to simply say, “Enough is Enough”. Today, I am asking you to really become that abolitionist that you think you are for just a few minutes and speak out against modern day slavery. Because today’s slavery, just like yesterday’s slavery might only be one degree away from you and if you couldn’t make your own choices, you’d hope someone would speak up for you and use the voice that you are not allowed to use.

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Troy Davis

I feel like it’s necessary to acknowledge the name Troy Davis. Not simply to remember a man who was executed, but to acknowledge the courage we can find in what we perceive as our weakest moments.

Troy Davis was executed last night because he was convicted of murdering a police officer in Savannah, Georgia. He was convicted based on eyewitness testimony and in years since, most of the eyewitnesses have recanted their testimonies. As desperately sad as it is to think that an innocent man may have lost his life, it is harder for me to grasp that our judicial system, has big enough cracks to allow an execution under such a heavy veil of doubt. My heart is heavy today, but within that heaviness courage, strength, empowerment and responsibility are born. We, as humans, have a fundamental, m oral responsibility to protect each other. We cannot keep turning the other cheek and expecting someone else to stand up. We cannot wait for our neighbor to speak up and publicly rebuke those actions that we vehemently disagree with.

This situation is bigger than a man named Troy Davis. This is about what will it take for you to stand up. What do you feel so strongly about that you can no longer sit behind a virtual curtain? One man’s case has caused a huge uproar and one man, ultimately, is who gave the final permission to execute what may have been an innocent man. So, don’t tell me that your one voice doesn’t matter. Your voice is your power. Your power that only you control.

Today, as we remember Troy Davis, I implore you to not simply mourn a life lost, but to find your voice, find your fight and speak your mind. Immorality is bigger than one person, thank one group, but one voice, one person can make a change and ultimately, a difference.

Clara* never went to college. She’s had a successful career, but Clara has always felt a sense of incompletion when it comes to her education. She also feels as though she has had some missed opportunities because she did not go further in her education. Right now, Clara has a chance to return to school part-time. The schooling would be paid for by her employer and certain classes would positively affect her role and responsibilities at work, yet she keeps finding reasons not to go. She doesn’t have time. She has too much work to do. When she brought this up in conversation and I listened to her tell me why she could not do it, although she really wants to and knows that she needs to, I finally just asked her what was she afraid of. Clara told me that she wasn’t afraid of school, just that she would be tired and didn’t have the energy for it. When I pressed, she said that she just didn’t really understand the importance and did not feel the need to make it a priority. I asked her what was at the root of all of these excuses and she just looked at me. I asked her if she thought she was smart enough to go to school? Did she think that others would do better than her and she would be laughed at? Would people whisper behind her back about how old she was and in a class that she should have taken years ago? Would people assume she must have flunked the class earlier so that is why she is at this level  in school? Would she fail? Would she be humiliated, embarrassed and downright disheartened? It was at that moment I saw a light bulb go off in Clara’s head and her mindset begin to change.

Our biggest enemy is our self.  We don’t truly believe in our powers, our abilities, our strength. We look to others to build us in all of our relationships. We wait for our bosses to positively reinforce us and promote us. We wait for our significant others to tell how special they think we are or how much they need us. We wait for our parents to tell us that we are exactly what they’d hoped for. We wait for the waitress to say thank you before we tip her. We wait for our friends to tell us how great we look and how we inspire them. Even in our relationship with God, we wait for Him to act in our lives. We pray HARD waiting for God to make something happen, but God gave us a mind and free will. Whenever I realize that I am avoiding a situation, when I keep hearing myself come up with excuses why I can’t, I think back to one of my favorite stories in the bible. In Genesis 12, God tells Abram to “leave your country, your people and your father’s household”. This passage strikes me because Abram had no idea where he was going, but he believed so strongly in God’s path for him, that he did not question, he just moved in faith. Can you imagine having so much faith in something that you give no regard to what may happen or what people may say? Everyone has heard the question, “What would you do if you could not fail?” Well, I think it is time to really have that honest conversation with yourself? How are you self-sabotaging by giving your power, which is your strength, courage and love, to your fear? As Joel  Osteen asks, “What is your mountain? Are you telling that mountain to move?” As much faith as Abram had, God wouldn’t do anything without him taking those first steps. Who are you affecting by not moving? Are you not fulfilling your dreams because of fear? Recognize that fear is the opposite of courage, love and you cannot be successful without courage and love.

This is your time. You will only have this one time and instead of letting other’s determine what we will do through fear, let’s wake up and move. Even if you don’t know where those steps will lead you, just move. All of us have our own Big Bad Wolf. In fact, we have many, but if you believe more in yourself than what you think might happen, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life that you’ve imagined (Thoreau).”

*Name was changed.

As a francophile, I am nothing less than excited to celebrate Bastille Day today. Also as a historian, I enjoy learning about other country’s way of celebrating their culture and why they’ve chosen a particular date. The French National Day celebrates the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, which was a fortress-prison that typically held people jailed for royal crimes that could not be appealed.

The movement away from King Louis XVI and the royal government began with an economic crisis. France faced financial woes in 1789 due, in great part, to their regressive tax policies. These are tax policies that decrease as the wealth increases; therefore, the poor are paying higher taxes than the wealthy. The Estates-General, a general assembly that represented three parts of the government: the church (The First Estate), the nobility and 2% of France’s population (The Second Estate) and the common people (The Third Estate), met in May 1789 to offer and define solutions for the government’s financial issues. When they continually came to a standstill throughout May and June, due to the conservatism and old standards of the The Second Estate, the Third Estate created their own National Assembly on June 9th. This was one of the first steps toward a revolution against the archaic standards of The Estates-General and the King Louis XVI. Another step was the nobility’s refusal to pay the King any taxes. The third and fourth steps, the storming of the Bastille and the subsequent Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen occurred on the morning of July 14, 1789.

Support of the National Assembly grew in popularity and political debate spilled into the public conversations and the commoners grew more and more impatient with the Royal Court. The final straw came when King Louis XVIon July 11th, under advisement of  the Privy Council (his advisers), dismissed and banished the country’s Finance Minister, Jacques Necker. Necker was a sympathizer of the Third Estate’s new government, therefore, causing an uproar in the public’s opinion as the news traveled around the country. On July 12th, the people began to publicly demonstrate against the King and fight the French troops that had been stationed around Paris and Versailles. The public believed that the troops were sent to Paris to disband the National Assembly. Also, people in and around Paris, frustrated with the increase of food and wine prices, attacked the customs posts that they believed were responsible for the costs of such items. On July 13th, the people began to plunder all of the areas that they knew held weapons, including Saint-Lazare, a property of the clergy. Concerned about unnecessary bloodshed, the Royal Troops did nothing to stop the people from attacking and destroying.

On the morning of July 14th, the Bastille was practically empty of prisoners, having been shut down to save money right before the insurrection began. The Bastille was stormed by the angry and determined demonstrators whose  purpose was to gather the large quantity of guns and ammunition, however, this invasion was a huge moment in what would be known as the French Revolution because of the Bastille being considered a symbol of France’s royal tyranny. Two of the demonstrators were called into the Bastille to negotiate and a third was allowed in later to give the definite demands of the demonstrators. After several hours, the demonstrators grew weary and impatient. They took control of an outer courtyard and cut the chains of the drawbridge. Firing began and the demonstrators surged forward into the Bastille. After several hours of fighting, Bernard-René de Launay, the Governor of the Bastille, ordered a cease-fire and opened the inner gates for the demonstrators. They captured the Governor and as his captors discussed his fate, de Launay shouted, “Enough. Let me die!” and kicked a pastry chef in the groin. He was killed immediately. de Launay’s head was cut off and placed on a spike and carried around town, to show the demonstrators’ victory. It was reported that 98 demonstrators and one defender were killed in the actual battle. There were other subsequent deaths. Paris was turned over to the Third Estate and the French Revolution and the empowerment of the French’s working class began.

As I reacquainted myself with the story of the Storming of the Bastille, I am reminded of how cyclical history is and how if we don’t maintain knowledge of our and other’s histories, we will forget where we’ve been as a culture and remember the lessons of how to move forward. So, Happy Bastille Day. What are you going to do today to celebrate freedom?

Historical Information from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storming_of_the_Bastille

With today being our celebration of our country’s Independence, I thought it would be fitting to share National Museum of African American History and Culture museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, Lonnie Bunch’s,  review of Frederick Douglass’ keynote address at an Independence Day celebration in 1852. From this overview, I hope a conversation begins about not only our history as Americans, but also how we are affecting our present through our actions toward others. Take a minute today to think about what our Independence Day really means to you. Happy 4th of July, Everyone!

A Page From Our American Story

On July 5, 1852 approximately 3.5 million African Americans were enslaved — roughly 14% of the total population of the United States. That was the state of the nation when Frederick Douglass was asked to deliver a keynote address at an Independence Day celebration.He accepted and, on a day white Americans celebrated their independence and freedom from the oppression of the British crown, Douglass delivered his now-famous speech What to the Slave is the Fourth of July. In it, Douglass offered one of the most thought provoking and powerful testaments to the hypocrisy, bigotry and inhumanity of slavery ever given.

Frederick Douglass, Portrait 1847-1852
Daguerreotype of Frederick Douglass
(1847-1852) by Samuel J. Miller.
The Art Institute of Chicago

Douglass told the crowd that the arguments against slavery were well understood. What was needed was “fire” not light on the subject; “thunder” not a gentle “shower” of reason. Douglass would tell the audience:

The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be denounced.

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery, most likely in February 1818 — birth dates of slaves were rarely recorded. He was put to work full-time at age six, and his life as a young man was a litany of savage beatings and whippings. At age twenty, he successfully escaped to the North. In Massachusetts he became known as a voice against slavery, but that also brought to light his status as an escaped slave. Fearing capture and re-enslavement, Douglass went to England and continued speaking out against slavery.

He eventually raised enough money to buy his freedom and returned to America. He settled in Rochester, New York in 1847 and began to champion equality and freedom for slaves in earnest. By then, his renown extended far beyond America’s boundaries. He had become a man of international stature.

One suspects that Rochester city leaders had Douglass’ fame and reputation as a brilliant orator in mind when they approached him to speak at their Independence Day festivities. But with his opening words, Douglass’ intent became clear — decry the hypocrisy of the day as it played out in the lives of the slaves:

Fellow citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

You can easily imagine the wave of unease that settled over his audience. The speech was long, as was the fashion of the day. A link to the entire address can be found at the end of this Our American Story. When you read it you will discover that, to his credit, Douglass was uncompromising and truthful:

This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn … What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? … a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham … your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings … hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.
Frederick Douglass USPS Stamp (1967)
US Stamp honoring
Frederick Douglass, 1967.

US Postal Service

Reaction to the speech was strong, but mixed. Some were angered, others appreciative. What I’ve always thought most impressive about Douglass’ speech that day was the discussion it provoked immediately and in the weeks and months that followed.

Certainly much has changed since Douglass’ speech. Yet the opportunity to discuss and debate the important impact of America’s racial history is very much a part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Douglass’ words remind us that many have struggled to ensure that the promise of liberty be applied equally to all Americans — regardless of race, gender or ethnicity. And that the struggle for equality is never over.

So, as we gather together at picnics, parades, and fireworks to celebrate the 4th of July, let us remember those, like Frederick Douglass, who fought and sacrificed to help America live up to its ideals of equality, fair play and justice.

Frederick Douglass’ life and words have left us a powerful legacy. His story, and the African American story, is part of us all.

To you and your family, have a joyous and safe Fourth of July and thank you for your interest in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Lonnie Bunch, Director All the best,
Lonnie Bunch
Director

 

P.S. To read the full text Frederick Douglass’ speech of July 5, 1852, click here: http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=162

http://go.si.edu/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=23922&em_id=21781.0

Back Home

After a week of traveling and visiting, I am back home. It feels nice to be back in a place that exudes calm and comfort. Here, I am able to truly be who I am naturally. Not trying to figure out how to act and what to say or how someone may interpret my actions. Here, I am free, but yet, am I really? I am never away from my thoughts and my thoughts are really what cause my actions. This is a key factor in determining how to be who we what to be. Realizing that our thoughts are tied to our actions and our actions translate into our personal brand is really the first step we need to take to develop our brand. So, as I begin to write this daily blog and consider how my daily actions create my brand, I first, start at home and work on my thoughts. What a task!