Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Uncrowned Queens Celebrates Karima Amin

Our sister, Uncrowned Queen and member of the Go, Tell Michelle Sisterhood Network Karima Amin is doing extraordinary work with her long standing Buffalo project, Prisoners are People Too. She is to be commended for this work to give voice to those incarcerated humans behind bars who have few if any to speak for them. We are so proud of Karima and extend our support as we feature her work on the www.GTMsisterhoodnetwork.blogspot.com

"Prisoners Are People Too!" is a monthly documentary film and speakers series that meets on selected dates at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, Buffalo, NY 14204. For more information call: 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.

Originally created in 2005 to enhance the general public's awareness of prison issues, the program has grown to include networking, referrals, community building, action organizing, and camaraderie as well as community education. Through films, guest speakers and follow-up discussions, the program promotes the growth of the community's knowledge and understanding
of the Prison Industrial Complex, the plight of prisoners and prison families, and the challenges of re-entry.

The program operates on the premise that, "Prisoners are people too; to deny their humanity is to deny our own."Monthly programs are sponsored by The Circle ofSupporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of Baba Eng.

I remember almost five years ago on June 23, 2005 when I received an email from Karima with the following paragraph:

“last night I held my first "prisoners are people too!"
event...it was a BIG success! ...even my 88 yr.old dad
came out to support me and my daughter, sabriyah, was
a lifesaver.....i am conducting a monthly documentary
film and speaker series which i hope will open up the
minds and the hearts of the general public to the
plight of the incarcerated....50 people showed up last
night!.......i was delighted!........
the film was moving and my two speakers were

Since then, Karima has held meetings each Monday night without fail. To inform the public she has had speakers from around New York State and the country present; she stages informational/educational forums; she searches out and features outstanding films depicting the plight of our prisoners; she participates with a prison ministry so that the incarcerated will remember that they are not forgotten and she has single-handedly taken on the plight of Baba Eng who hopes to be released on parole shortly.

Meeting are held at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo from 6:30pm - 8:30pm. The program is sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Kudos and much appreciation to Dr. Arlette Miller-Smith, St. John Fisher professor and “Go, Tell Michelle” contributor for organizing an extraordinary program last Wednesday evening (October 21st) entitled, “SUMMIT of SISTERS”. This special symposium, an extension of her Women and Gender Studies Senior Seminar – Assumed Positions: Re/dis/uncovering Resistance & Resilience in the Black Female Body – brought community members and students together to identify and analyze the issues, challenges, achievements, experiences and resistance strategies used by herstorical (sic) and contemporary African American women. Nearly 85 women and men attended the program and I was particularly pleased and impressed by the 15 young women and their advisor, who drove two hours from SUNY Courtland to attend the symposium. Mrs. Donald E. Bain, wife of St. John Fisher College’s President as well as the official Monroe County Historian also attended this special event.

Dr. Miller-Smith set the stage by offering the background for the course. Dr. Margie Lovett-Scott and Rev. Iris Banister, guest presenters, addressed the issues of health and the significance of religion in the lives of Black women. Dr. Miller-Smith’s students presented the outcomes of their oral history interviews with three “community torch bearers”. We would call them “Uncrowned Queens” and in fact, the biographies of these women will be submitted to the Uncrowned Queens Institute for our digital archive. Again, I want to acknowledge the importance of these students’ research and to thank them and Dr. Miller-Smith for designing this course, which has such a positive impact on the community as well as the students. Through their oral history interviews and papers, the students are preserving the biographical histories of women, who might not otherwise have their histories documented.

I’m pleased and proud to have been invited to participate in this major educational presentation as a guest speaker also. The topic of my presentation was the Phyllis Wheatley Club, Buffalo’s oldest affiliate of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. Founded in 1899, the members of the Club exemplified the strategic resistance, representation and resilience approaches that have sustained Black women in this country. Together, with the other presenters, I think we fulfilled the goals and objectives of this symposium. Although the program was slated to end at 8:30pm, people did not want to leave and we continued the discussion for at least a half hour past the official end of the symposium.

It was a full evening! Prior to the symposium, a reading from “Go, Tell Michelle” was held from 5:30 to 6:30pm. Dr. Miller-Smith and I were joined by fellow contributors, Janeen Ceparano Wilkins and Dr. Sharon Amos, who also drove to Rochester from Buffalo. Over sixty women attended the reading and although we had little time to chat following this session, a number of women purchased the book and said how excited they were to hear us read the letters and to learn about the history of this publication.

(artwork - courtesy of Cheryl Olney)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thank You, ABWH!

On October 3rd, we received the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Award for edited volumes from the Association of Black Women Historians. We want to thank the ABWH for honoring our work on "Go, Tell Michelle" with the coveted recognition. Special thanks to Dr. Ida Jones and Dr. Elizabeth Clark Lewis. An earlier post provides a detailed description of this award and the ABWH. (Pictured at left, Dr. Jones and Dr. Nevergold)

Monday, October 12, 2009

A New Poem from Shirley A. J. Hanshaw

On October 3rd I had the pleasure of meeting two GTM contributors, Shirley A. J. Hanshaw and Adah Ward Randolph (pictured at left with me) . We shared a great panel discussion on Go, Tell Michelle at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History in Cincinnati. About 25 individuals attended the session which I moderated and shared the "back story" of the book's inception and the experiences that Peggy and I have had as we've talked to audiences throughout the country. Both Adah and Shirley offered the context for their letters and read their contributions. Adah's anecdote of the Mother's Day situation that inspired her letter brought many of us to tears and was a graphic illustration of the deep well spring of experiences that Black women confront on a daily basis. Shirley read another poem that she'd authored that was too late for the original publication. She asked that it be shared on this blog and we are pleased to have the honor!

The Time Has Come, and I Can’t Wait

Lines written in anticipation of the Inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama and

First Lady Michelle Obama, 11/08

The time has come for

A new chapter to be written in American his-/herstory

For bells to be rung and

Songs to be sung

Heralding the fruition of

Hopes and dreams.

The time has come, and

I can’t wait for the Presidential Inauguration,

Bearing witness to the celebration of our

First Black First Lady

Strolling arm in arm and bumping fists with our

First Black President;

Our Bronzeville King and Queen, beaming to the

Screaming of the crowd.

I can’t wait for

President Barack Hussein Obama to be

Sworn in with the oath of office,

Taking his rightful place,

Perched on the precipice of time;

On the 55th anniversary of Brown v. Board

On the 100th anniversary of the NAACP

On the 200th anniversary of President Lincoln’s birth.

I can’t wait for your two little Black princesses,

Malia and Sasha, to inhabit their castle, with

Sleepovers and ice cream socials,

Scampering around the White House grounds with their promised puppy,

Playing make-believe in a real Dream House.

Like you, Michelle,

I am proud, for the first time, to be an American

Fulfilling the dreams of our fathers, mothers, and

“Other mothers”—sisters, babysitters, grandmothers, aunts, friends, neighborhood women—

Who cared for our children while we

Pursued careers, became co-breadwinners and breadwinners,

Walking in the proud ancestral footsteps of

All the nameless sheroes whose indomitable strength, hard work and

Belief in God brought us “thus far on the way.”

I can’t wait, Michelle, to see you and Barack

Striding, hand in hand, into

Our futures;

While the world gazes in wonderment

At your beauty and intellect;

Resplendent, radiant,

Reassuring the world that it is now in good hands.

I can’t wait, Michelle,

I can’t wait,

The time has come



Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to the Convention Center

Taxi cab drivers are an interesting group. We often talk to cabbies we meet in the course of our travels. On September 24th, we were in Washington, DC on our way to the Walter Washington Convention Center for the Congressional Black Caucus' Author's Pavilion. Our driver asked what we were doing in DC and we jokingly replied that we were authors and that we had written "Go, Tell Michelle". Oh, he replied, I've heard of that. I have to admit that we were somewhat skeptical, so we asked him what he'd heard. "Oh, I know all about it", he replied. "A group of women sent Michelle Obama letters of advice." Hey, we replied, how did you know that? "I heard you all on NPR.", our cab driver responded. He added, "it was a great program. I enjoyed listening to you."

Well, we have learned our lesson. Never underestimate the man who is driving you around in his cab. Not only was our driver an NPR listener, but he was a musician, who had played with some of the greats including Coltrane and Miles Davis. Like I said, taxi cab drivers are some of the most interesting people.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

GTM Sisters: A Model in Networking

On September 23rd, we returned to Baltimore and Washington, DC for two events: a reading and signing at the Robbye Apperson Home Gallery and a book signing at the Author’s Pavilion at the Congressional Black Caucus. We first met Robbye via a telephone conversation. She called to say that she loved “Go, Tell Michelle” and to ask if we would consider doing a book signing/reading in Baltimore at her Gallery. Over several months after her initial call, we e-mailed and worked out the details for our visit to Baltimore. Robbye enlisted the help of a friend, Cash Hester, who took over the planning and making the arrangements for this event. When we got to the Apperson Gallery, we could hardly believe the beautiful artwork that is tastefully arranged on the walls and floors of the three story Apperson home. The first two floors are used for the art displays and the third floor is used by the Appersons for their living quarters. Together, Robbye, Cash and Michelle, Cash’s assistant, put together a wonderful reception, attended by about 25 guests. We had a great reading and conversation with the guests; a diverse group of women and men. To say that Robbye is the “hostess with the mostess” is an understatement! The food was great, the ambience was great, and the company was great! We extend our sincere thanks to Robbye, who is another example of the extraordinary women that we have met in our journey with GTM.

As we recount the experiences that we’ve had and are having as a result of the readings/book signings and interviews since Go, Tell Michelle was published nine months ago, it might seem to some that these events are merely nice, social/sociable activities. They are, in fact, much more than social events, much more than promotional events and much more than mere book signings. In our travels from city to city; coast to coast, we are witnessing and participating in the development and expansion of the GTM Sisterhood Network – emphasis on sisterhood and network. The sisters we are meeting are kind, generous, supportive, encouraging and giving. They have extended themselves to help us expand our outreach to others and by extension to expand our network. They have shared their resources, their ideas and their contacts. They have organized programs for GTM readings; spread the word about GTM via e-mail, snail mail, telephone, word-of-mouth and other communication vehicles. They have modeled, in every definition of the expressions, what it means to be sisters and to network with each other.

In short, they believe that what we’ve done and are doing is important and resonates with their values and beliefs; identify common threads that unite us and strengthens us individually as well as collectively; focus their energies to bolster each other; encourage agency; make a significant statement about issues that Black women note as important in the 21st century and offer a leadership model that is unique yet exemplary.

Since the publication of Go, Tell Michelle, we have now personally met nearly 50 of the 100 contributors. With each meeting we are confirmed in our assessment of the network and the women who are contributing to it. In addition, we have met women like Robbye Apperson and Cash Hester in Baltimore, Mary Ann Braithwaite and Sigrid Williams in Berkeley, Sandra Finley in Chicago, Jennifer Parker of Buffalo, for example, who have joined and enriched our network. Thanks to these women the GTM Sisterhood Network stands as a dynamic example of a vibrant network!

(Photos: Barbara at the Gallery; Peggy, Cash and Michelle outside Apperson's; inside the Gallery)