28 Days of Black History, Our Way
Yesterday, when asked to participate in “Black History Month” as a company, I was divided. Knowing that I did not want to spew gray-haired importance or perpetuate an idea that I do not completely understand, I grew hesitant. Unsure of where the idea of having a “Black History Month” came from or why it should be celebrated in February is beyond the knowledge of most. However, taking the opportunity to share the importance of people that we believe in is important. This morning, we wrote a list of deserving individuals.
Astonished at the valor 15-year-old and what she means to the country that I live in, I stared at her for a long time when I listened to her story. Claudette Colvin was the first — yes, the first person to resist bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama — and somehow, the world knows nothing or very little about her. This is probably your first time hearing about her for a multiplicity of reasons.
I will not surmise, but I will share what I know.
Nine months prior to Rosa Parks and the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott, history has it that scores of teenagers went against the orders of the land. Instead of it being “important enough” to stream on television or garner attention to popular circulated periodicals (like it is often treated in the ‘hoods of North America today), they were “quietly fined, and no one heard much more.”
In Colvin’s case, it was the Montgomery Black leaders who decided not to publicize her story because she was an unmarried pregnant teenager. Unfortunately, she did not fit the image, or description, of what they had in mind for media. They (the NAACP) believed that Parks was best for a court challenge.
Luckily, Colvin is still alive and shared her story with NPR. Unexpectedly, she lives in the Bronx. Sadly, I could have walked past her or rode the train with her many times and I would have no clue.
Besides, I wonder why “Black History Month” is not celebrated in Africa.
In the time taken for the Earth to make three or four revolutions around the sun, stumbling upon beautifully raw images belonging to the South African based photographer and visual activist, that year, was one of the best things to discover. In the instance of finding her, I wanted to properly feature Muholi, but the opportunity did not arise. We talked a few times and I set up interviews with former contributors, but our timing was never right. During my last attempt, she was just robbed. If my memory allows, her equipment was taken. In addition, she’s a very busy woman. Perhaps, just maybe, it — this — was saved for this moment.
Often in black and white, her controversial and heavily scrutinized photography focuses on Black Lesbians in post-apartheid South Africa. Without spoken words, her subjects do a swell job at evoking rare emotions. What started out to be a visual map and archive of this specific group of people, touched many around the world.
I believe Muholi’s work contributes confidence to her subjects. Muholi’s work has been featured in many galleries, published in books and promulgated at home, but not enough worldwide. Later, I understood that the work I fell in love with was just apart of her thesis. That year, she was awarded a Master of Fine Arts degree in Documentary Media. I’m hoping you will help us tell her story by sharing this article with a fellow woman, someone who can identify with her subjects or someone who just enjoys photography. For more about Zanele Muholi, kindly visit this link.
*Update 3 February (12:15AM): I just learned that Zanele had an online campaign, too. She explains exactly what happened to her work.
From filmmaker to vegan tattoo artist, James Spooner is the voice and vision for droves of African-American, biracial and multiracial young adults worldwide who often were coined “the only Black kid at the [punk] show”. Often, I am still the only “Black” person, or “Black” woman, at functions that I cover or attend.
During my time at Cornerstone-Fader [Magazine], opportunely, I was introduced to “Afro-Punk” as a company and a lifestyle. Soon after, moshing at Game Rebellion shows (and bands alike) in the Lower East Side (with the tall and lanky Spooner present) became the daily round.
Plainly, I was not “normal” and neither was he. Born in St. Lucia and growing up in America on both coasts with a White mother and a Black father, Spooner experienced his share of racism from his siblings and others. Instead of allowing revilement to dominate him, he wielded those experiences and emotions into the business we know today.
Though, his film dealt with race identity in the punk scene, Afro-Punk has unquestionably transcended its intention. Frequently, him or his film was featured on MTV (see website redesign by yours truly at 1:07) and other television stations around the world. Spooner also achieved a role in an iPod commercial and produced a second film called “White Lies Black Sheep”. (See trailer below)
“As a DIY effort, he rigorously toured the film across the country like a band, showing it as many venues as possible, and rapidly amassing a devoted cult following, largely among minority punks centralized around a message board on his website afropunk.com”
Spasmodically, change doesn’t necessitate orthodox training to get the message across. Starting and making it happen is all it takes.
*All citations and image credit will be available in March.