A Web Portal For Lesbians Of Color
This month, we celebrated
both Dr. Martin Luther King’s actual birth date and a national
holiday in his honor. I must say my life, since I was 9-years
old (going on 40), has been lived trying to realize the dream of
not being acknowledged by the color of my skin, but by the
content of my character. Excellence, in my book and as the kids
would say; RULES! I have long contemplated and have never
forgotten Dr. King’s final speech on April 3, 1968, when he
spoke about Pharoah:
Now what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. (Yeah) We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. [applause] But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. [applause] Now let us maintain unity.
This powerful statement has remained with me for many, many years. The need to stick together and maintain unity is just as important today as it was when he uttered these words at the rally at Mason Temple in Memphis. On April 9, 1968, while watching the funeral procession for Dr. King, I vowed I would live the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King; no matter what happened in my life, I would always move forward, in the words of Dr. King, with “honor, dignity and respectability.”
From that day forward, whenever I entered into talent shows, I would sing the songs of the time that kept the message of hope and freedom alive. Some of those songs were Bill Withers Lean on Me, or Edwin Starr's Stop The War, Now! For Edwin Starr’s song, I grabbed many of my elementary school friends and we marched into the auditorium carrying our homemade signs of protest against the Vietnam war. I did not want people in attendance to only hear the words of a song, I wanted them to know why the song was being performed and understand its meaning. Whenever I did performances of my works I would incorporate snippets of our history as well in order to keep our regal history alive. My last performance was the summer of 1976 at the Carter G. Woodson Library. After giving such a powerful reading and performance and feeling the rush from the audience, I walked outside and while on my way home, I found a community of folks who had transformed from people of power to victims of an imported culture – Superfly and The Mac. That afternoon, as I entered a store I heard a sister remark to another – “that’s my nigger, girl.” Needless to say, I was devastated. We had gone from a people moving with “dignity, honor and respectability,” to a people traveling fast down a slippery slope of complacency. Dr. King please:
We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles; we don’t need any Molotov cocktails. (Yes) We just need to go around to these stores (Yes sir), and to these massive industries in our country, (Amen) and say, "God sent us by here (All right) to say to you that you’re not treating His children right. (That’s right) And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment where God’s children are concerned. Now if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you." [applause]
King speech, April 3, 1968.
It was equally exhilarating to see a nation rise up last week, come together, and protest in unity, against the war, or rumor of war, planned on Iraq. It gave me hope that as a nation, Black men and women along with White men and women, can come together and reject the blank check our government is trying to write on the people of Iraq – and for what purpose this war? In 1968, there was the war in Vietnam and Civil Rights. Today, we have a potential war on Iraq and Affirmative Action. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In 1963, Bayard Rustin, an openly gay man, was the chief organizer of the March on Washington, a massive demonstration to rally support for civil-rights legislation that was pending in Congress. In 1964 he directed a one-day student boycott of New York City's public schools in protest against racial imbalances in that system. Rustin subsequently served as president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a civil-rights organization in New York City, from 1966 to 1979. This Black gay man was barely recognized for his work for civil-rights – not because he was Black, not because he was a man. He was never given proper credit because he was homosexual. How many gays and lesbians marched with Dr. King in Selma, Montgomery, Memphis, or Chicago? The answer is many. How many Black gays and lesbians started breakfast programs, after school programs, marched, directed rallies, drove folks to and from work during the bus boycott? The answer: too numerous to count – a house divided cannot stand. I reflect again now upon the words of Dr. King regarding Pharoah and the words of Willie Lynch regarding slavery: Divide and conquer.
This year, another historic event will take place here in Los Angeles: The National Black Lesbian Conference. We as Black Lesbians need to come together this year to form coalitions, share ideas, converse, form alliances, network, and show our support for one another. Not all of us are political, not all of us are into roles, not all of us are Republican or Democrat, not all of us are activists, not all of us are out, some of us are older, some of us are younger – let that not be the division wedged between us. We need to come together as sisters, sorors if you will, to share experiences because some of us have experiences to share that may prove helpful to someone else. In this way, whatever problems or successes you encounter upon leaving the conference, you can share with a fellow soror – whatever you’re dealing with, wherever you are. Let’s join forces and work together in unity.
Zuna Institute in partnership with Progressive Research & Training for Action (PRTA) and The Lesbian Health Research Center University California San Francisco will conduct The Black Lesbian Elder Speak Project. This project is designed to attract 100 black lesbians who are 55 and over. An Elders Life History Review will be conducted with the women who attend. The purpose of this review is to obtain information on their past and current life experiences, and to document the health status of these women. It is their hope that by bringing these women from all across California and other parts of the United States together; it will diminish the sense of isolation and start to build a national older black lesbian community network. We need this. Listen to the words of Ruth Ellis when she asks for the young to visit the old, take them out to dinner, visit with them – these women have fought the good fight and one day, those of us under 55 will be 55. Let’s set precedence and develop a model for others to follow.
If you cannot make it to the conference, help get someone there. Support Zuna by contributing to the scholarship fund established to get women to the conference. Support women under and over 55, support our college and university students, support those women who lack the means to get there but want to go. Support someone you know. The clichés are numerous, but together we can make a difference.
I will end this mid month commentary with the words of Vallerie Wagner, Chair of the Los Angeles NBLC Committee and final words from Dr. Martin Luther King's last speech. Some of you may have seen Ms. Wagner’s words in an email I sent addressing concerns about whether you need be political in order to attend. The answer is no. You don’t have to be “Out” in your communities or home town. You just need to be there and be counted among our diverse community of women. At this time in our nation’s history, we need to come together to form the bonds necessary to keep moving forward, “let nothing slow you up. Move on with dignity, honor and respectability.”
Vallerie Wagner . . .
I remember having a conversation with a group of friends discussing being 'out' and what it meant to be politically active. At one point, the conversation got pretty heated as women weighed in with their personal beliefs. Several things remain with me from that conversation:
· once you begin the coming out process, it never ends; there is always going to be someone new to come out to;
· not all of us have to be out; but those of us who are have an obligation to provide voices for those who haven't been able to find theirs (and may not ever find them)
· just being in a relationship with another person of the same gender is a political statement even if you're not politically active
I say all of that to say that the conference is for Black Lesbians; however they chose to identify those terms for themselves. No one is going to stand at the door and ask for a card certifying that the attendee is a bona fide lesbian (as if there is such a thing). I hope women will come to the conference with an open mind because a closed mind is the only thing that can and will guarantee they won't feel comfortable or safe just being themselves.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s last speech . . .
Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. (Amen) But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. (Yeah) [applause] And I don’t mind. [applause continues] Like anybody, I would like to live a long life—longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. (Yeah) And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. (Go ahead) And I’ve looked over (Yes sir), and I’ve seen the Promised Land. (Go ahead) I may not get there with you. (Go ahead) But I want you to know tonight, (Yes) that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. [applause] (Go ahead. Go ahead) And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. [applause]
Let's not diminish our power, potential or the valuable contributions we can all make in our respective communities.
To see the full-text version of Dr. King's last speech, or to hear the last paragraph of this speech, follow the links below:
I've Been To The Mountaintop - 3 April 1968 (PDF version of
King's last speech.
Acrobat PDF | Quicktime | Realmedia
Courtesy of: http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/
 From http://search.eb.com/blackhistory/micro/710/45.html . Photo UPI/Corbis