Greetings LQP People!
For the second time this month. Again, I apologize for the delay in sending the newsletter. But now that you are here, let's get down to the nitty gritty. I am very happy to report that more than half of the quilt top for Quilt II has now been completed. Literally we simply have to make the middle section and this quilt will be on its way to the machine quilter. We've written grants to cover the costs of machine quilting both Quilt II and Quilt IV, so send positive energy this way so we secure those grants.
At the pace we are going, I am hoping to start scheduling exhibits of at least 4 of the quilts in 2014 and adding the others as we go. So, please start spreading the word in your communities and looking for great exhibition spaces, especially those that have a community-based bent. In addition, I must thank the Indy Connection Quilters for the dedication to getting the Quilt II top assembled. That's 144 blocks assembled with some requiring modification as well.
Keep in mind, that while we may not all be together in the same room, our virtual community stretches from coast-to-coast and includes a few international enclaves also. As such, gathering as much input as possible from those of you scattered across the globe is appreciated as this is a COMMUNITY project and all voices are valued, wanted and most importantly NEEDED to create the space and place for racial healing.
You'll find this month's newsletter loaded with lots of information on articles I've gathered over the past few months, community resources for conflict resolution and so much, much more. If you read nothing else in the resource section, make sure to check out The Implicit Project to learn more about your own hidden bias. Very, very interesting. Or check-out this controversial use of lynching photography to rock the vote. (I drove by this a week ago and then was shocked to see it appear in the news feeds.)
Before we dive into this month's newsletter, I want to humbly say THANK YOU all for your continued support and for helping to build new roads towards a more tolerant and healed society.
So with that said, let us begin.
Quilt II: RedRum Summer 1919. Updated as of
September 15, 2012. Quilt top more than half completed.
Each section is approximately 24 x 144 inches.
Root Workin' in
the Asphalt Jungle
These words are spoken by the main protaganist in Frank Herbert's epic and prophetic novel DUNE. If you've never read it I would highly suggest that you do. I'll relate to you how this story of gardens, violence (past and present), lynching and healing are related. Until then, just bask in the glow of my tale.
"There is no escape;
We pay for the violence of our ancestors."
- Paul Muad'Dib
For the past 4.5 months I have spent much of my time working within a community garden. To say that the experience was overwhelming (at first) is an understatement. To say that I was completely clueless when I started is to liken me to a new born babe trying to figure out what to with hands waving in the air all the time.
Here I was at the start of June, shortly after returning from my journey in Tula, OK and asked to help bring life to a garden built in the middle of a mall parking lot. Big Car Service Center is a bad a** place, converting an old abandoned Firestone garage into a place of hope and healing. But with all that metaphorical beauty built into this symbolic place, my initial entry into this world of gardens, reclamation and asphalt was baptismal by fire as my first task was to harvest wheat with a pair of scissors. Yes folks . . . wheat! Amber waves of grain, waving in the middle of parking lot not to the backdrop of purple mountains of majesty, but a 4 lane road full of load honking vehicles, angry commuters and an art mural.
Day 1, I broke out in hives from the contact with the oils from the plant. The morning of Day 2 my forearms were covered in welts as I had to pull wheat splinters from my skin. (Hint: The beautiful spikes sticking out from the top of wheat are called beards and are very, very prickly. They hurt like heck when they get under your skin. And they slide there easily like a hot knife through butter.) Day 3, I wore a long sleeved shirt, pants, hiking boots and a headscarves and was on the verge of a heat stroke as it was 95+ degrees outside with high humidity.
It was an inferno.
I was in my own personal Easy Bake Oven!
And a part of me LOVED every minute of it. Despite the struggle to understand crop rotation, cascade planting schedules, good bugs vs. bad bugs, how to water a garden in the middle of a drought when watering bands hit. Trying to figure out when are the veggies ripe enough to pick and what the heck do you do with all that bounty once it starts coming in? On and on and on; the learning curve was and continues to be tremendous.
As time moved on, I realized how completely and utterly divorced I was towards from my agrarian roots, even though I have lived in very rural areas in my life. How odd, that I, a descent of sharecroppers, someone whose great grandparent's kept chickens in their backyard and canned their own veggies in the middle of the inner city, knew very, very little about what that life entailed. Or did I?
A few days ago, I espoused to an older black woman, who happens to be a Master Canner and Preserver, that I did not understand how and why I was not taught these "basic survival skills." Why didn't my grandmother teach me, why this, why that . . . yadda, yadda, yadda. She simply pointed out. That for many from the older generation they thought they did not need to teach these skills to their children and children's children because they would do better in life.
That got me to thinking, what else where these generations of individuals trying to leave behind? Many left the rural south to flee the oppressive world of Jim Crow and the violence of lynching. In doing so, these actions to seek peace and freedom ultimately turned the vast majority of the African American population into an urban dwelling community divorced from the land.
Don't get me wrong, there is an Urban Ag Renaissance going on and Detroit is a testament of what can be when rethink land use (Imagining Detroit). But what will a persistent disconnect from the land mean generations down the line? And how complex is this discussion about the relationship between land, healing, race, violence and history?
Agrarian life was something to be left behind to work in factories to keep "movin' on up." The countryside was synonymous with violence in many communities. Rural life viewed as backwards. After a tour of relatives in the south last summer, I could see quite clearly how living on a farmstead in the middle of rural America, put many blacks at risk. If there are safety in numbers, living off a dirt road 2-3 miles from your closest neighbor could be a potential death sentence. And keep in mind there was no 911 dispatch or cell phones then.
Throughout that visit, I developed a better understanding of how agrarian life was not a good thing for blacks for many generations. From the horrors of King Cotton to the plight and terror of running to freedom through thousands of acres of woodlands (or swamps in the case of my Louisiana and Florida relatives). From the continued hardship of sharecropping to the injustice and violence of Jim Crow. Ultimately, the connection to land, rural life and agriculture / natural surroundings is complex and in many cases painful. So for millions, the north and cities were the best options.
Now fast forward 150+ years since this migration began and violence of a new sort now plagues many inner cities in general and by proxy the lives of African Americans. Is the violence a mirror of what happens when populations are divorced from the land - the very thing that feeds us spiritually, mentally and physically? Detached and separated from the very thing that in essence gives birth and life to us all?
Articles and organizations abound touting gardens as the key to anti-violence ( Transforming Violence, A Garden Becomes a Protest or Urban Garden as Crime Fighter ). My own garden dances in the shadow of a major local gun dealer. And today the neighborhood unfortunately bore witness to what happens when violence erupts as this store faced a senseless act of violence leaving one dead and one wounded.
For myself, I have found that in recent years there is a need for a counter balance. Years of reading and researching lynching, spending hours upon hours consuming some of the vilest acts of violence one can imagine eventually start to wear on a person. This past year I have had to put those books down more and more. Some I have been trying to read for months now and literally feel revulsion at the thought. In some ways that is a good thing, as it means I have not become desensitized to these horrors.
But it is interesting that it is through gardening that I found the necessary counter balance. In recent years much of my creative life has been devoted to exploring and remembering death, death, death and more death. So, the very act of taking a seed, putting it into the ground and watching it grow into cucumbers, beets, pumpkins, moon and start melons, sweet potatoes, collards and so much more . . . is an act of healing. It is through this process of creating life that balance occurs with death. (And did I mention we have chickens too!) That by returning to the land and embracing agrarian ways, which my ancestors fled and in some ways forcibly removed from their descendents, I have come full circle.
An elder told me recently that the true spiritual power of life is found in the acts of everyday living. The cooking, the cleaning, the caring, the loving . . . basically living out loud those very things that make us human and build community. And now, just as quilts and quilting are acts of reclamation and healing through fabric, so too is the transfiguration of turning black top into gardens.
So exactly how do we pay for the violence of our ancestors? In lots of ways, but the reality is that we don't have to.
You see? It's all in the hands baby.
And we can choose to build a new future . . . one garden at a time.
Wheat on top during late spring/early summer and sweet potatoes on bottom at present.
Here chick, chick, chick.