Photo Exhibit: As We Rise

Over the past few weeks, I’ve posted about my day trip to Salem. Strolling around the city during the holiday season and enjoying a local cafe.

The reason for the trip was to see the photography exhibit, As We Rise, before it left the Peabody Essex Museum. It was wonderful and I’m so glad that I got to see it before it ended on December 31st. The description of the exhibit on the website truly intrigued me.

“Explore Black identity through a compelling compilation of photographs from African diasporic culture. Drawn from Dr. Kenneth Montague’s Wedge Collection in Toronto, a Black-owned collection dedicated to artists of African descent, As We Rise looks at the myriad experiences of Black life through the lenses of community, identity and power.

Organized by Aperture, New York, the exhibition features more than 100 works by Black artists from Canada, the Caribbean, Great Britain, the United States and South America, as well as throughout the African continent. Black subjects depicted by Black photographers are presented as they wish to be seen , recognizing the complex strength, beauty and vulnerability of Black life.”

The exhibit shows ordinary Black people living their lives and reminded me of my own family photos. The exhibit acknowledges the importance of these pictures. Yes, we as a people have been through a lot. There has been struggle. And the struggle continues.

But we are just like any other people. We live our daily lives and have families and friends. We take pride in our work.
We enjoy the simple things and glamour. We are bold and beautiful.


It feels wonderful to see these people just being themselves and living their lives, just like me. It means something to see oneself, depicted in this way. It means something to see oneself portrayed at all. To show that we existed and continue to exist. And that we will exist.

I remember as a kid watching TV shows like Star Trek and being happy that there were Black people in the future. To a certain extent, it’s silly. It wasn’t real. Even so, it mattered.

The text in the picture above, “Identity as Seeing Ourselves” resonates with me in a similar way.

“These photographs are not only about seeing ourselves and our place in the world, but also picturing where we are going.”

This picture above, which represents refusal, is quite interesting. Not something I would display at home. But I like the idea of us as a people being able to have control over whether we are seen or not and how we choose to be seen.

And last, but not least, As We Rise shows Black people at rest and leisure. I loved this portion so much! What’s the point of life if not to enjoy ourselves and relax at least some of the time? Have we not toiled enough?!

An Instagram post by The Nap Ministry for the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says it best.

“The teachings of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have been a North Star in my life since I was in elementary school and obsessively wrote every paper for any class on him until college. I’ve read everything he has written and his work grounds my ethos as a Black Liberation Theologian. As the country honors his legacy and celebrates his birthday, I am deep in meditation about leisure for Black People.

Leisure and the right to simply exist without the constant weight of having to be a tool for production is something Black people have been denied for centuries. It is our divine right to simply be and embody leisure as a human right. These photos of MLK, Jr. on vacation in Jamaica in 1965 are a balm and deep breathing. Radical inspiration for our rest practices. We Will Rest!!”

Community, DNA, Kin & Black History

DNA description and genetic community

“Your ancestors are always your ancestors. But their communities may not be your communities.”

                                                                                              ~ Matt

The quote above is from an article called “To Be Good Kin” on the website Midnight Sun and it makes a lot of sense.

Just because our DNA says one thing, doesn’t mean that’s our community — regardless of the percentage. The article is an excerpt from the book, Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future, by Patty Krawec, which will be released this September. The author is Anishinaabe and writes about how settler colonialism tried to change Indigenous ways of life and the idea of kinship.

Kin & Community

I feel like I sort of understand the big picture idea of kinship. But not so sure I understand the exact detailed meaning. There are many definitions for it.

Merriam-Webster says it’s a group of persons of common ancestry or clan; one’s relatives. According to Oxford, it’s our family and relations. Vocabulary.com says it’s a group of people related by blood or marriage. However, I would also add that it should include people related by adoption. But I don’t think these definitions cover everyone.

What about a neighbor who takes in someone who is unrelated and there is never a formal legal proceeding to make them family? What about close friends who are like family? We all have “aunts” and “uncles” who aren’t blood relatives, but they are part of our families. Are they kin? They’re definitely part of our communities.

Each of us has more than one community. But sometimes, because they are so intrinsic to our identities, we may not really think about it. We may take these different groups of people for granted. One group might center around our work or school. Another may revolve around our spiritual life. Another may revolve around a sport or hobby. One of the most central is based on blood relatives. Friends who enter our lives through one or more of these groups also play vital roles in our lives.

Maybe depending upon how close we get to certain individuals in these groups, any of them could be considered kin. Maybe all of them. I’m not really sure. What if you don’t spend holidays or other special occasions with your blood relatives, but with members of your church or your book club? What if you combine all of them?

The idea of kin and community is fascinating and worthy of much discussion. Thinking about the quote above made me think about my DNA results. They are all over the map, but heavily concentrated in West Africa. While I don’t know the names of the individuals, the blood in my veins is from my ancestors. The majority who hailed from Cameroon, Congo, Nigeria, Benin & Togo, Ivory Coast & Ghana.

Black History Month

I hadn’t planned on writing a Black History Month post. Often the celebration feels forced and fake. Like when conservative Republicans have the nerve to say they are celebrating it on Twitter at the same time they are doing everything possible to prevent Black people from voting.

Anyway…. The countries that my ancestors are from reveal a pattern showing the history of this country. A horrible and frightening trend by many states and localities seeks to prevent teaching American slavery and the history of Black people in this country.

My DNA connects me to three specific genetic communities: Early North Carolina African Americans (1700 -1800); Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama & Mississippi African Americans (1775 – 1950), Mid-Atlantic Coast African Americans (1750 – 1950). Where certain Africans were taken from and brought to in the United States is evident in my DNA now and in the DNA of all of us who descend from Africans enslaved in this country. No matter the attempts to erase what happened, it shows in the science.

Slavery severed generations of families and communities in countries all over Africa. It contributed to the growth of the African diaspora and the creation of African Americans. These ancestors’ communities may not be mine, but at least knowing the countries lets me be curious in a more specific way. And maybe I can learn more about these communities in the future.

If you’re interested in learning more about Black History, during the month of February, you can stream for free a three-part class: Black History, Black Freedom and Black Love on MasterClass.com.

Condemning Trump’s Comments Regarding the African Diaspora

A few months ago, I did an Ancestry DNA test. Now for the first time, I have the names of African countries where my ancestors came from: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, Mali, Benin, Togo, Senegal. It’s an amazing feeling to have that information.

In direct opposition to that feeling, each day Donald Trump’s increasingly racist comments are an assault on my mind and soul. He is morally repugnant. Ignorant and hateful. I condemn him and all that he represents.

The most recent abhorrent statements by Trump referred to Haiti and African countries in general as “s***hole” countries. The context of these statements were in regards to immigration policy. He then went on to say that he’d prefer that people come to the United States from countries like Norway.

Many have since denounced his comments. The Government of Botswana issued a statement asking if they are considered one of those countries and further stating that they “view the utterances by the current American President as highly irresponsible, reprehensible and racist.”

The African Group of Ambassadors to the United Nations met in an emergency session yesterday to consider Trump’s remarks. They issued a statement demanding a retraction and an apology.

Among other things, they said they are “extremely appalled at, and strongly condemns the outrageous, racist and xenophobic remarks attributed to the President” and further stated that they are “concerned at the continuing and growing trend from the US Administration towards Africa and people of African descent to denigrate the continent and people of colour.”

In the wake of all of this, there are a few things that I would like to state.

There are 54 countries in the African continent.

The birthplace of human kind is in Africa.

Africa is brimming with precious resources. Called a new form of “colonial pillaging,” African bio-resources are exploited by the West.

In September 2017 at the United Nations General Assembly, Trump stated, “Africa has tremendous business potential, I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich. I congratulate you, they’re spending a lot of money. It has tremendous business potential, representing huge amounts of different markets. … It’s really become a place they have to go, that they want to go.”

Donald Trump Jr. has a history of visiting Africa to kill wildlife.

The conversation around Trump’s comments has degenerated into talking about “s***hole” countries that people have left to come to the United States. I hate the focus on that word.

Instead, I wish the conversation would elevate to how the Continent is rich with resources and beauty that everyone wants.

Further, the people from this magnificent continent make-up the African Diaspora, who have shown unshakeable resilience and bravery in the face of terror and horror over centuries and brought beauty and culture throughout the world.

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Image: Public Radio International