Sunday, February 14, 2010

Go, Tell It! Students Perform their own version of “Go, Tell Michelle”

Peggy and I often talk about “unintended consequences” related to the Uncrowned Queens Institute. Unintended consequences are those seemingly random and un-anticipated outcomes which result from a project in addition to the “intended” outcomes. As an example, a decade ago when we designed the Uncrowned Queens Project, we expected that we would gather, document and preserve the histories of many “unheralded” African American community builders. We anticipated that our website, which makes this archive of Uncrowned Queens’ histories accessible to the World Wide Web, would create a dynamic, first-of-its kind “techno-pedia” for enrichment of educational curriculum, historical research, oral history research, for example. It has done that and much more. But, we could not have guessed, ten years ago, that thanks to the website, we would also become an “information referral service” uniting long lost relatives or connecting academics; or an informational source for those constructing obituaries, testimonials or personal dossiers and curriculum vitae.

I offer this backdrop to preface my assertion that we’ve learned a few things over the last decade about the creativity and inventiveness of people that usually prepares us (or so we think) for the “unintended consequences” that accompany the work we’ve been engaged in for so long. Over the last year, we have certainly explored, discussed and written about the diverse and powerful lessons that can be found in “Go, Tell Michelle”. We have not been alone in our assessment that the letters in “Go, Tell Michelle” capture and define the historic response of African American women to the election of our first African American President accompanied by our First African American First Lady. Several colleges and professors have incorporated the book into courses that explore issues that impact the lives of Black women and about which we feel passionately. But we also believe that there are other venues by which these issues can be taught, debated and related to current and historic themes.

We took the first step, we think, of collaborating on the creation of a dramatic vehicle (an unintended consequence) so that we could expand the limits of discourse about the significance of “Go, Tell Michelle”. We are just at the beginning of that endeavor but can envision the potential for another exciting educational vehicle as an accompaniment to the text. In fact, this past Friday this belief was re-enforced by a group of high school students, who surprised the hell out of us, took our breath away and “one-upped” us by putting some of our words to music! (another unintended consequence) In a short production they called, “Go, Tell It”, students from the Canisius College Talent Search Program reflected on the lessons of “Go, Tell Michelle” and kept their peers, approximately 125 male and female, spellbound by their performance. The 50 adults in the room were also captivated by the talent and creativity of these junior and senior high school students.

Peggy and I are delighted that these students are reading and finding a way to interpret the messages from “Go, Tell Michelle” in a way that has meaning for them. Peggy and I will be following up with the staff to set up some discussion group sessions as we believe that when a door is open, one should go through it. This group may not be the only group of high school students who have developed a unique way to learn from “Go, Tell Michelle”. If you know of other adaptations of the book, please let us know. We’re interested in adding to list of outcomes for “Go, Tell Michelle” – intended and unintended!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Little Book That Could! The Odyssey of “Go, Tell Michelle”

A year after the publication of “Go, Tell Michelle” and travels that took us and it across this nation and the world, for that matter, we continue to find new opportunities to share the messages from African American women to our First Lady, Michelle Obama. On Friday, the 6th of February, Cornel West paid a visit to our fair city to lecture at the University of Buffalo. I was honored to receive an invitation to a reception that Dr. West was scheduled to attend. Always mindful of “seizing the moment”, I carried a copy of “Go, Tell Michelle” with me in my handbag. Not knowing if I’d have the opportunity to do more than greet Dr. West and not wanting to mess up my book, I carefully wrapped it in tissue paper and placed it inside a plastic supermarket bag before placing it in my handbag.

The reception was great. There were many individuals there, who I already knew and some that I didn’t. They introduced themselves saying that they’d heard of/read the book or seen the play, which they enjoyed immensely! Of course I was very pleased to get this feedback but as time got closer for the lecture and no Cornel West, my hopes of being able to present my copy of the book to him began to dim. And then, almost as if by magic, he appeared. I found myself face to face with Dr. Cornel West!

Dressed in his traditional black suit, a broad smile on his face, brimming with congeniality, he grabbed my hand and greeted me warmly. With no time to waste, I immediately introduced myself as co-editor of “Go, Tell Michelle”, to which he replied, “Oh, that was published just this year.” Well, “No”, I replied, “last year, but we have just turned it into a play.” I pushed on to explain that I’d brought him a copy of the book and mindful that he probably did not want to carry around a book, packaged in a supermarket plastic bag, I asked him if he had an assistant who could carry it for him. He did and if you look closely in the photo at the gentleman in the middle between Dr. West and me, you'll notice the plastic bag. It's my hope that he'll read it and let us know what he thinks. Hope springs eternal!

What’s next? Let’s see who's scheduled to visit Buffalo soon. Considering that we have not lived up to our reputation this year as a snow capital of the country, there might be quite a few who’d love to venture to our “neck of the woods”. Beats going to D.C., Maryland, Virginia and a lot of other places that are experiencing “snow-maggedon” this month.