Black History Month always brings a whirlwind of activities and attention to the African American presence in Hawaii and this year proved to be no exception. Some people lament the fact that our history and contributions are limited to being noted in the shortest month of the year while others bemoan that the need to single out black history is an inherently racist premise to begin with since our history is America’s proud, yet painfully sordid legacy Nonetheless it is what it is. I choose to celebrate it. I choose to share, not lament, our history and rejoice in our culture of creation and faith.
So here in Hawaii, our most diverse state, the interest in other’s culture is a genuine quest for all – February provides the time to ask the questions, eat the food, celebrate the music and dance and learn bits of our history. And, so it was when I presented at Chaminade University’s annual Black History Program at the Mystic Rose Cathedral This was the 10th anniversary of the program and as has been the case for the past 10 years, there was standing room only! And, equally, as has been the case for the last 10 years, it was a predominately non-black audience.
Chaminade Professor (and my editor!) Dr. Allison Francis Paynter, led the audience through a celebration of our history and culture with her poetry. She introduced the audience to Sewa Fare and the joyous dance and powerful drums of West Africa.,
Tim Carney’s Vocal Arts Ensemble and the Chaminade Chorus wowed the audience with moving and rousing renditions of spirituals, gospel and blues. And when he invited us all to stand and join in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, the audience rose in unison and with joined hands, we all raised our colorful voices in one of the most joyously, proud renditions of the song, I have ever heard. People spontaneously hugged and cheered as we sang. . . “let us march on ’till victory is won”! ! A chicken skin moment,
Identifying what is our culture, as distinguished from our history, is part of what we did at Chaminade – at least, that’s what I told the audience in my little talk! I used the experience I had in helping my daughter’s preschool teacher set up for African American Week in her class in the 1980’s .It was an identifying event for us all at that time, to create an exhibition for a multi-ethnic group of 4 year olds, and it worked! Stevie Wonder’s album cover (I still have actual albums!) from his classic 1976 “Songs In The Key Of Life”, formed the backdrop for our display along books, fabrics, and cornbread – yep, the kids made cornbread and danced to “Isn’t She Lovely”!!! That’s culture, y’all!