By Staff Writer Busola Awobode
Last week the university participated in the Annual National African American Read-In (AARI). This event was sponsored on campus by the Fredrich Douglass Unity House (FDUH), the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement and Black History 4 Seasons. AARI centers around black literature and was created by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English to be celebrated during Black History Month. Since its inception, it has been celebrated globally and works to lift up the voices of the Black, African American and African writers.
This year Umass Dartmouth students, faculty and staff came together to highlight and celebrate the incredible voices that contribute to and shape black narratives. Members of the Umass Dartmouth community took the opportunity to read literature that impacted them and/or perform original work. Chancellor Fuller was moved to tears during his reading of an excerpt from Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. Likewise, FDUH Director Dr. Saint-Louis closed the event with an original poem recited to the tune of a popular Caribbean song. The university also had the pleasure of hosting Yaw Kyeremateng, a poet who graced us with a performance of a few of his pieces.
Among the many Black voices, we had the pleasure of hearing the words of Maya Angelou, Bell Hooks, Langston Hughes, Amanda Gorman and many others. And through the stream of recitations and performances, we witnessed a profile of the black life. There were, among many emotions, expressions of pride, confidence, happiness, pain, innocence, strife, celebration and more. We saw that to be black is to be born with rhythm in your hips, with music in your lips, with creativity on your tongue, with talent in your veins. Yet, it is also “being the first and last person to love yourself”, to be proud of who you are without forgetting those who stood before you, to honor those backs that broke so you may stand tall, and acknowledge the work is not half done.
Given the theme for Black History Month 2022- Health and Wellness and craving simple peace and joy for the black race, it is tempting to cast aside the stories of strife and pain. Those that fill our guts with twisting discomfort. But at a time when the comfort of the white man trumps the honesty of the black experience, it is important to preserve these discomforting stories and sit in the uneasiness that is the black life. Because therein lies a shared experience of the black race vulgar yet true.
One story that evokes such unease is James Baldwin’s “Going to Meet the Man”. Baldwin in this story details the castration and lynching of a black man by a white mob. He examines the construction of racism and shines a light on the disregard of the black life by the white race. While one might wince as Baldwin describes the disturbing levity with which the white race treats the suffering black man; we must confront the fact that the days of brute racist violence are not behind us. And the pain one ought to feel experiencing that story is not fictional; it lives with people even today as they lose their loved ones and their kin to violence of the same nature. And to disregard Baldwin’s story as violently graphic not only serves to erase the memories of those who were lynched as such, but to also falsely suggest that those days are behind us.
Thus, we owe it to ourselves and those who have suffered to keep their voices reverberating. We must continue to relive these words. We must never forget their pain. And to do so is to embrace the uncomfortable art and recognize the power it holds.