There have been a few topics on my mind. This blog post will discuss three topics around Black History Month, the late Ms. Cicely Tyson, and the Sew Powerful Purse Project. February in the United States is dedicated to time when the nation uplifts the history of African Americans and celebrates Black History Month. The celebration of African American culture does not mean disregard for other cultures. However, it is a time to focus on the efforts and contributions by people mostly of African diaspora whose descendants were enslaved and later suffered under Jim Crow laws. Last week the world lost a legendary actress and activist with the death of Ms. Cicely Tyson. I will share how Ms. Tyson impacted me as a brown skinned girl trying to fit into the world. We will wrap up the blog focused on a project that helps African girls stay in school, something that is not easy for many young girls around the world.
Black History Month
Every year there is a debate and questions about the relevance of Black History Month. The United States has had an African American president and now we have an African American Vice President, therefore, it’s thought that Black people should move beyond the need to celebrate Black history each February. I disagree with this logic and that there is a point in time when celebrating the accomplishments of African Americans should stop. Just like other months such as Hispanic Heritage Month celebrating the culture and accomplishments of those from the Hispanic diaspora. Why is highlighting specific cultures of people important? It’s because these are groups of people who have been disenfranchised and impacted significantly by systemic racism.
Black History Month is a time to remember the contributions of African American inventors, entertainers, entrepreneurs, educators and athletes like the legendary Hank Aaron who recently died. The idea of celebrating African Americans was derived by Carter G. Woodson. The son of former enslaved people, he grew up working in mined and quarries. Carter was concerned that history of African Americans was being omitted from textbooks. This meant much of the numerous contributions of a culture of people were not known. Carter started the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Negro History Week was created in 1926 and in 1976 it expanded to Black History Month. The month of February was chosen because both Frederick Douglass and President Lincoln birthday’s fall in February. The 2021 theme is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” To read more Black History Month including this years theme check out the website for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).
Ms. Cicely Tyson
Legendary actress and activist Ms. Cicely Tyson died on Thursday, January 28, 2021 at the age of 96. She live a long life filled with trailblazing moments including modeling, acting, and civil rights activism. This makes her passing any less mournful. Ms. Tyson’s book Just As I Am was released a few days before her transition from this earthly realm. From all accounts she was upbeat and just as energetic as ever doing press for her book. For many even those close to her were surprised by her death regardless of her age.
I learned of Ms. Tyson’s death from the early evening news. I had been earnestly preparing for an upcoming event and had not looked at my social media accounts. I was ignoring notifications from an app where discussion and the news was shared. While tears flowed and I calmed down, I begin to think back to when I first saw Ms. Tyson in a performance. I encountered her acting in the made for television movie, “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman”, while I was in the 1st grade. Even though I was a young child I have a vivid memory of her performance. The act that Ms. Tyson portrayed a young woman all the way to a 110 year old former enslaved elderly woman was fascinating. From that performance onward, I recall following her career and whenever she was in Jet or Ebony magazines, I loved reading the articles about her.
For this brown skinned girl Ms. Tyson showed how to be dignified and confident. Her small stature was similar to one of my grandmothers who also taught me the importance of self-worth. During her long career spanning seven decades she knocked down barriers for African American actresses to come. Even when told contradictions that you’re to pretty or to dark skinned for certain roles she always knew her worth. Rather than taking parts that weren’t a positive depiction of African American people and life, she passed on certain acting roles.
The lessons Ms. Cicely Tyson left me is to know your worth. Remember there are others coming behind you, so be a guide for the next generations. But the greatest lesson was you are worthy of respect and greatness; don’t sell yourself short. We are blessed to have her words written by her in her autobiography, Just As I Am, which is currently sold out. Check with your local book sellers specifically African American bookstores and business to find our availability. We will all be blessed to live 96 years as regally as this Queen Mother. May she rest in peaceful power.
Sew Powerful Purse Project
Scrolling through Facebook, I came across a former teacher’s post of beautiful hand sewn purses. I inquired about them and was advised they were made to help girls get the supplies they need to stay in school all month. It also helps seamstresses in Lusaka Zambia. You can find out more about the Sew Powerful Purse Project here. Below is content from Donna Moscinski as published on by the Sew Powerful Purse Project. The photos above are of the purse she sent me filled with words of inspiration. Be sure to check them out and consider donating to this worthy cause helping young African girls striving for an education.
So Fiddly but Perhaps Worth It
After 34 years of teaching high school English in Chicago Public Schools, I embraced retirement at 55. In these past 15 years I have been thrilled to describe myself as a quilter. And that is still the title I use to define myself.
But I knew back in 2005 that quilting alone wasn’t going to satisfy me. I needed to find charitable outlets for my sewing. The first project I embraced was More bags – morsbags.com. These are simple, pretty reusable fabric grocery bags. Give people a Mors Bag and ask them to use it instead of accepting a plastic bag from the store. Pretty soon everyone in my family, all of my friends, my doctors and their staffs, and even random strangers had at least one Mors bag.
Every year my guild, The Chicago Modern Quilt Guild, has designated charity – Mors bags for the Chicago Greater Food Depository, quilts for the children of homeless women through Project NightNight, toiletry bags for victims of domestic violence through Sarah’s Home, quilts for veterans through the Road Home Project. Each project is so satisfying. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, an honored poet from Ohio, has said: “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”
Sew Powerful through Jason and Cinnamon Miles has made the girls in the Ngombe compound in Lusaka, Zambia, within my reach. I first learned about Sew Powerful through my quilter buddy Wayne, the same guy who started me in on Mors bags. Wayne learned of SewPowerful and decided he didn’t want to do it but perhaps I might. Why, yes, I was highly interested and had flashbacks to my early teen age years and coping with “womanhood.” I vividly remembered the horrors of trying to get through a school day in a large high school without a visible accident. And this is a first-world country! My heart aches for those who cannot maintain normalcy during menstruation.
I made my first Sew Powerful purse in late 2015 and whined about every single step. I’m a blogger and just reread my post So Fiddly but Perhaps Worth It after doing one purse. I concluded it might be easier to send more to Sew Powerful but I stuck with it and sewed 9 bags by the February 2016 deadline. And then? Hmm, I took a break. What ended my break was a Facebook sew-a-long hosted by Louise Ambrosi from the UK in the summer of 2016. Since then, I have been cranking out purses, doing what I can when I can, and sharing the Sew Powerful mission.
We live in such uneasy and violent times, and I have never been more politically distressed. My solace is my faith and my seeing. This is a perfect time for me to be working on purses for Sew Powerful. We all sleep under the same stars.Written by: Donna Moscinski
Let me know if you enjoyed this post. Do you want to see more multiple topic posts like this one? Share in the comments.