The Modern Bee is a community that highlights the experiences of many and how they collectively play a role in shaping the richness and diversity of the quilt of life. Lately, given everything making headlines these days, I’ve found myself suddenly the recipient of many well-intentioned inquiries from friends and acquaintances about how to be a better ally to Black people. It’s a strange position to be in, because quite honestly, I share my experience throughout the year, well beyond when horrific events and mass protests are making headlines and the calendar flips to February 1st (Black History Month, for all you non-North American people in the circle here). Were you listening?
It’s a strange role to be in, and not one I take lightly, because I do have so much to say. But to be honest, it can be exhausting. When I was little, my mum came home one day with a big, thick encyclopedia and placed it on a prominent, accessible shelf in our playroom. I didn’t pay it much notice, even though I could read. One day, I didn’t know what something was, can’t recall what. As usual, I ran up to her and asked her to explain what X and Y was. Her response? Go look in that encyclopedia over there. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to teach me, didn’t know the answer (which sometimes, she didn’t), it was more that she wanted me to be motivated by my curiosity, to seek out the answers and she wanted me to start making it a habit to do the work. It was another avenue to knowledge beyond me just going to her. I was hooked. I tore through that encyclopedia. Sometimes, just going to it to blindly pick something to read about when I was bored.
My point is, it’s important to do the work, to have the curiosity and the desire to seek out the answers, from reputable sources, of course. My mum and I would talk about things I had learned in that encyclopedia, she’d help me build on topics, challenge my assumptions. It was an invaluable tool of many in my personal quest for understanding.
That said, I do love to share. I do love to help. And in that spirit, I’m sharing seven things that are just a few windows into the Black experience in America, for anybody looking to broaden their view. Again, these are just the tip of the iceberg, there are millions of different experiences. But these are some of the ones that always resonate with me, awaken and re-awaken me and bring me joy and a sense of pride. It’s not always about struggle and hardship, there is so much beauty and joy to learn about and celebrate, please don’t forget that.
Dick Gregory’s speech. Dick Gregory was a comedian and Civil Rights activist. I knew him growing up as the comedian, we’d listen to his sets fairly often at home. I’ve recently been replaying this speech he made after having been arrested for protesting in Birmingham during the Children’s March within the Civil Rights Movement. It’s so timely, you could listen and be convinced the speech was made in 2020 and not 1963.
The Bluest Eye. I re-read this gem by Toni Morrison often. It was Morrison’s first book and famously, a book she wrote because it was one she wanted to read. That right there tells you nearly everything you need to know. I won’t say anything else about this masterpiece, because if you’ve never read it, you need to discover it. It’s hard, it’s necessary.
Crooklyn. I remember being about ten and flipping through the TV channels one day and seeing a little Black girl skipping, maybe running along. I immediately clicked back and was mesmerized; it was one of the first times I had seen a girl who was the same color as me who was not Rudy Huxtable. The movie could have been about how to make cement and I would have watched it. Luckily, it’s not and has a plot that’ll hook you. I will never be able to explain how I felt in the moment that I saw a reflection myself in a movie on TV.
Freedom Summer. A monumental event in the Civil Rights Movement and proof that young people can and will change the world. There are many books about Freedom Summer, but I especially love this documentary detailing it. I’ve watched it several times and it never fails to inspire and re-awaken me. And give me shivers.
The Wedding. I remember the first time going to Martha’s Vineyard and being like, “whoa, this exists? A New England summer colony with a big, historically storied population of Black people?” The island also has a complex history of challenges with the toxicity of colorism and classism. The Wedding by Dorothy West, a lesser known Harlem Renaissance writer, addresses both.
Rebirth Brass Band. Just try to stay seated with your hands down when you listen them, just try. Co-founded by the legendary trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and one of the best live performances I have ever seen, they are just some of the magic that has originated from the Tremé in New Orleans.
Honda Battle of the Bands. I can’t help but add this to the list after listing Rebirth Brass Band and thinking about New Orleans and first lines. It’s in a different city each year, but I was in New Orleans during college football season one year and had the chance to go to this “battle” which is actually a showcase of different HBCU marching bands. It celebrates and shines a spotlight on the magic that is the HBCU marching band and is sponsored by Honda, who awards grants to the participants. It’s like an incredible mix of a concert and a college homecoming.
I hope these favorites of mine enrich your life, open your eyes or both. Love to all, stay connected, stay open and stay curious. – Michaela