Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Home, Sweet, Home. Part 1

First, thank you to all who send messages of love, support and prayers to Mark, Monti and I. Especially those who continued to donate to penpal, despite the post here and there, but knowing all we have gone through.
The beginning of February, we lost internet usage where we lived. This alone almost pulled the plug of this blog, but Mark found various cafes that had free Wi-Fi, so I could keep it up somewhat. We were also in the middle of looking for an apartment. Thanks to the VA, we had a Section 8 voucher in order to get us a place of our home.
While we received it in October, we began to hit walls when we learned that, even with a voucher that means, the land lord would receive their rent, because of the eviction in October 2012 still on record, no one would rent to us.
And then the middle of December, a dear lady from Missoula, the city that the VA wanted to move us to, stepped in and began to help us break down walls. So many people say "support our veterans," but this lady came beside us and began to kick in door. It was this dear lady who went to very door of the Missoula Housing Authority and asked the director to consider helping is get a apartment, to be willing to give us a second chance.
Bless her sweet heart and the director of Housing, they did meet us, talk to us and was willing to work with us.
Mark and his VA social worker wrote a letter to our former landlord, asking if he was willing to work with us as we began to off the past-due rent. He was not only more than willing, but gave us a very nice recommendation, saying we were very good tenets and the only problem was that we couldn't pay the rent. A  copy of this agreement was send to Housing, so they could see we were indeed working off the eviction. But the progress is slow and it meant a long wait.
The beginning of January was a dark period for us. We really needed a place of our own and yet we could not find a place that would overlook the eviction. Mark and I worked hard not to take our black mood out on each other, but sadly angry words would be exchanged. But more often than not, we hung on to each, and to G-d.
There were so many times we wanted to give up, but we knew there where wonderful people praying for us as well as with us. Having not heard from Housing, we were beginning to think this application had also had been turned down.
Thus, I began once again looking for Section 8 apartment that would take the voucher and overlook the eviction.
But renewed hop came the second week of February when, after many teary phone calls, we finally began to get answers. There were a few forms (back ground checks from Virginia, etc.) that Housing was waiting from. But Missoula had indeed approved our application and was willing to give us a home.
Finally! Our own home.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Fire Tower Coffee House

It has been a few days since I'd been here. And we are without internet, so I whenever we are about, I grab a few minutes.
The nice thing about going to coffee cafes is Mark and I are beginning to meet people in Helena and in Butte. While we are still planning to move to Missoula, it is nice to have friends in other cites.
Such as Fire Tower Coffee.

Right in the heart of the downtown Helena area, Fire Tower is an excellent coffee shop in downtown, with super friendly folks behind the counter. Wide variety of options. Mainly a coffee house, but good breakfast and lunch items. We have enjoyed the amazing grilled cheese sandwich, chicken soup with wild rice and my personal favorite, the tomato-basil soup.
And you have to understand; I can't stand tomato soup.
Mark and I found Fire Tower about two months ago and it has become our favor coffee house.
Pity we can't take Fire Tower with us to Missoula.
Locality own and run, it has a laid-back, down-to-earth warmth, reflects its owner, Nord Johnson, who is as warm and inviting as the coffee house itself.
So now, whenever Mark has an appointment at the VA hospital, I hang out at Fire Tower, enjoying a bowl of soul (one of Nord's special coffees) and either work on the blog or now even paint.
Fire Tower in many ways is a slice of Montana, the warmth and openness of the people Mark and I have been blessed to meet.
Montana still doesn't feel like home.
But Fire Tower has gone a long way in making us feel welcome and wanted.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

I am So Over Snow

Well, I can at least report, that since my last post. There has been no more snow.
But it is still March.
Yes, the snow is beautiful, but all you look at after day, after day....for weeks on end, it grows old rather quick.  
The past few days, we have actually had almost Spring type weather. We are even walking about without jackets, though they are always handy. This afternoon, while driving home from an appointment, Mark and I actually spotted Elk.
Have to keep my camera handy.
Here is Montana, that is a clear sign of Spring; the Wild Life coming out once again, looking for food. Which includes Bears. So now I have to add a can of Bear Mace to warn off any attack from tall, furry beings.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

March 2; Snow, Oh Joy

Every once in a while, in my declaration that I hate snow, I am reminded that I now live in Montana.
Snow Country.
This is the snow fall this morning, as I was on the phone with my sister in Boston.
Who reminded me she and her husband will be out to visit us around August.
When there is no snow.
I understand fully.
And it is hard on this Bipolar human, I can only imagine the thoughts going through my little guy's mind....
This picture was taken a few days ago. The snow would cover him now.
I am blessed with friends and family who ask how I am doing, referring to my mental state. The dark, snowy months of Montana are crude on those of us who suffer from any form of depression and there isn't enough vitamin D in the world to counteract the depression. For me, the added stress of waiting for Section Housing as well as not getting out much, only adds to my dark moods.
Dark moods I fight full-time to keep under control.
Mark is great. He gets me out of the house as he cans. He allows me to vent when I feel the walls close in.
And then there is the love of our little dog.
I have also started a daily reading from "GateWays To Torah," by Rabbi Russell Resnik. Mar and I had the honour of meeting Rabbi Resnik several years ago and when the book was release, he not only gave us a copy, but signed it.
I shall share from the book in the days to come.
Soon it will be time for me to go upstairs and make Mark's lunch and send him off to work.
In the snow.
Oh joy.

March 1, Memories and Snow

Well it's March 1.
Not really; I write my post on a Word Document and cut and paste it to the blog when I get a chance to get on line.
I just looked outside my bedroom window and it is snowing.
But this is Montana and snow is part of the course here.
However, the state of Montana hasn't had this much snow in five years, so it is somewhat of a record.
We literally have to clear a patch for Monti to "do his business." It is so cold, he has to wear a Parka outside to visit his little Out House.
Harder is spending Mark out in this stuff to go to work. Not only does the temps drop, but the roads are slick.
I am thankful Mark has a job, but I will be even more thankful when he doesn't have to work nights, let alone travel in this weather.
Today was a quiet day, my thoughts on my dear friend and big brother David Walton. He would have been 57 years old today if he had lived. I give thanks for the memories I have and rejoice he is in heaven, his suffering over. The pain is less, but it still hurts.
Last week, we looked at an apartment. It was an "Green Apartment" everything recycled. It took a few minutes for it to grow on us, but we came to really like it. It is dog friendly and has several doggie walk paths as well as parks to take the little guy.
It's small, yet cozy and welcoming. Once it passes inspection and we sign the lease, I shall post pictures.
But until then, we still live in a small mountain town, waiting to hear if this place will be ours or not.
I am so thankful to those who opened their home to us, but there is nothing like having a home of your own.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Black History Month: Emily Jazmin Tatum Perez

The story I share today, comes from Brown Girl "Herstory" on face book. I love this site. So many wonderful, inspiring stories of women of colour. Some stories I know, many I don't, but each has encouraged me in some form.
Today's Brown Girl 'Herstory is about  2nd Lieutenant Emily Jazmin Tatum Perez was born on February 19th, 1983.

Perez was born in Heidelberg,West Germany. The daughter of African American and Hispanic parents in a U.S. military family, she graduated from Oxon Hill High School in Maryland, where she was she was wing commander of Junior ROTC.  the first female of colour Cadet Command Sergeant Major in the history of the United States Military Academy at West Point, she was wing commander of Junior ROTC. 
From what I have read about this remarkable young lady, who only walked amoung us 23 years, she was the apple of not only her parents, Daniel and Vicki's eyes, but to her big brother, Kevyn, loving known to her as Bubba. It seems that little Emily was Bubba's shadow.
She also had a love of G-d at an early age. Loved attending church and at age six, was baptized along with her family. She sang in the children's choir and then the youth, helping with ushering and even tutoring. What an shining of a g-dly young woman. This g-dly spirit extended to her turning her attention to the suffers of the HIV-AIDS virus. 
 In 2000, while in high school Emily focused her passion on the ministry of HIV/AIDS due to her love for Mr. Teddy, an extended family member.  She met with her godfather to discuss the need for a HIV/AIDS ministry which resulted in the beginning of the Peace Baptist Church Shekinah Ministry.  She also became an HIV/Aids peer educator with the Alexandria Red Cross Chapter and the Red Cross National Chapter.  In 2001, she was honored by the Red Cross Board of Governors for her endeavors and contributions to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
As one who use to be a Care-giver to those with AIDS, Emily is truly one of my heroes.
Upon graduating from high school, Emily entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, where she was an exemplary student and talented track athlete. 
Following her graduating from West Point, she was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the 204th Support Battalion, 3nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division of the Untied States Army.
 Emily would be deployed to Iraq in December 2005 as a Medical Service Corps officer. Sadly She was killed when a makeshift bomb exploded near her Humvee during combat operations in Al Kifl, near Najaf, in September 2006.
Lieutenant Perez's military awards include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, and the Combat Action Badge. She posthumously received the NCAA Award of Valor in 2008.

For one so young, she touched and inspired so many lives, so many who mourn her passing, but give thanks for her life.
Mark and I both gave a quick prayer of thanks for this remarkable young woman and pray G-d's comfort to her parents, big brother and his family as well as those who knew and loved her.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Black History Month: Bill Clemons

I had planned another post for today. However, a few hours ago, I learned of the passing of a dear friend,

Captain William (Bill) Melvon Clemons, Retired, US. Marines.

Bill was proud to be An American, and served his nation in the Marine Corp. A Sax player, he also had an amazing voice. I loved hearing his stories about his days as a Marine band officer. However, I also loved hearing the stories of how he met his beloved Trish and stories about their family.

We attended the same church for years, I watched his children grow up, loved watching Bill with his wife Trish. We were in choir together and he was a role model to many a young man coming up in the church. Bill and his children often sang together, my favorite song the family sang was "G-d Bless the USA."

I am getting teary in memory….

When he retired from the service, he went on teach music at the Governor's School in Virginia, where he continue to touch lives with his gift of music.

However, the most important thing about Bill, next to his love of his wife, children and grandchildren, was his faith. A humble, sweet man, his love of G-d and His Word was not only well known, but an encouragement to all who known him. Perfect by no means, there was a Holy light, the Light of G-d that shone in his eyes as well as his smile.

By the time I married Mark, the Clemons had moved out of state. There were so many people I wanted Mark to meet; Bill and Trish were close to the top of that list. Sadly, it was at the funeral for Bill's mother that I was able to introduce my husband to Bill and his family. What a proud moment to introduce "Captain Clemons" to "Captain Reel." Even in his own moment of sorrow, Bill took time to pray with Mark before his upcoming deployment.

On 4th February, there was a fire in the Clemons home. A neighour manage to drag Bill out of the house. Suffering burns about 70% of his body, the doctors fought to save his life. However, despite their efforts, G-d saw fit to end Bill's suffering and take him home. 

I was at a coffee café, just getting online when I saw the post about Bill's services and dropped my coffee cup. It wasn't the news I expected. However, I rest in the fact that he is not in pain and with the G-d, he loves and encourages others to know.

"I am proud to be an American. In this country, we have the freedom to marry the one we love." Bill Clemons.
I mourn the death of my friend and spiritual big brother. One of this nation's heroes, husband, father, grandfather.
Faithful man of G-d.


Thursday, 20 February 2014

Black History Month: Good Times.

It was the 1970s. It one the Golden age of Black TV. In no time, before or since, with the exception of the 1980s, African Americans from all walks of life entered into American living rooms. Amoung them, my personal favorite, Good Times.
Good Times was the story of James and Florida Evans and their three teenage children, an 1974 Walton family, living in the Projects.
 The series starred the late Esther Rolle as Florida Evans and the late John Amos  her husband, James Evans Sr.
We first meet Florida in the sitcom Maude, the housekeeper of Maude Findlay, in Tuckahoe, New York. Her husband, then known as Henry Evans was employed as a firefighter. Florida's character was so popular, the show's  producers decided to feature the Florida character in her own show.
But there would be several changes to the Evans family history. Henry's name would become James, there is no mention of Maude Findlay, and the couple now live in Chicago.
Florida and James Evans and their three children live in a rented project apartment, 17C, at 963 N. Gilbert Ave., in a housing project in a poor, black neighborhood in inner-city Chicago. A life known to many of the show's fans.
 Florida's and James's children were James Jr, better known as "J.J." Thelma and Michael. When the , J.J. and Thelma are about a year apart in age, seventeen and sixteen years old, respectively, while Michael, called "the militant midget" by his father due to his passionate for his "people's rights" is eleven years old. Florida's best friend is the lively, exuberant Willora Woods, a divorcée who works at a local boutique. A few years later, Willora later go on to adopt an abused child, Penny (played by Janet Jackson)
As was the case on other Norman Lear sitcoms, Good Times was   a breakthrough for American television. Never before had a weekly series featured black characters living in an city setting.
 Good Times deal with the Evans family attempts to survive in a high rise project building in Chicago, despite their poverty. When he is not unemployed, James Evans is a man of pride who often stated he would not accept charity. He usually works at least two jobs simultaneously, from a wide variety such as dishwasher, construction laborer, etc. When he has to, he plays pool in order to hustle money, though Florida, a righteous woman, disapproves of this. JJ, a budding artist, "finds" (steals) his art supplies, something his parents do not approve of. Thelma, as smart as she is beautiful, tries her hand at several fields as she seeks her life path. Whereas Michal is headed for the Supreme Court as the nation's first black Supreme Court Judge.
I could relate to the Evans family; a strong mother who booked no nonsense. Like JJ, I painted and dreamed of seeing my painting admired by the world. Like Thelma, I love music, books dance and writing. Like Michael, I had to make do with a sub-standard education, with second hand, dated books that made me seek more.
The show dealt with serious topics, such as drugs, gangs, education and race, in a comedic way, while along the was providing positive characters for viewers. Sadly, many a project home, there is no father, and James role as a strong, firm, yet loving husband and father was showcased almost weekly until John Amos's character was killed off in a car accident. Then Florida, stepped up to the plate as a single mum, carrying that weigh too many single mothers know.
While the show was to really to showcase the talents of Esther Rolle and John Amos, the character that quickly over shadowed was JJ Evans. As the series progressed, Ms. Rolle and  Mr. Amos grew increasingly disillusioned with the direction the show was taking, especially with J.J.'s antics and stereotypically buffoonish behavior in the storylines. By season three, Good Times became the JJ Evans show.
But with his father's death, JJ began to grow up and become the man his father knew he really was. By the end of the run, Florida had remarried, but was widowed once more. Willora Woods had gone a much better job and was moving out of the projects. JJ also was leaving, his comic character, based on his little sister was a success and he too was moving out. Michael, now in college was ready to experience college life. And Thelma, now married, expecting her first child was moving out as well, offering for Florida to move in with her and her husband. Turns out that Thelma's husband has brought a Condo, in the same building as Willora, so the women remain neighours.
I taped the last season and still have it, for it was my favorite. Yes, the Evans handled their state with grace, class and laugher. But with hope. Hope that their lives would one day improve. James Evans dreamed of moving his family out of the projects.
And while he could only witness that dream come true from TV heaven, The Evans dream is a dream many Americans also share in.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Black History Month: Hattie MacDaniel

Today, I decided to update a post I did a few years ago about Hattie McDaniel.
The past few days, I have really been trying to struggle my way reading through "Gone With the Wind." Yes, I know the period of time it covers and to be true to history, there are ugly truths about class different, slavery, the Civil War and the like has to be included.
Still as I read, I can't help but smile whenever I come to a scene where Mammie is included, because I can clearly see Miss McDaniel's face.
Miss McDaniel is what as known as a "handsome woman"
A beautiful, graceful woman, soft-spoken and classy, Miss McDaniel worked hard at her craft as an actress. She didn't just open door for black actors and actresses today; she kicked them wide open.
It is easy to be critical of the roles Hattie McDaniel played in the movie Gone With the Wind; Slave. Maid. Mammy. But during the Golden Age of Hollywood, these were the only roles to be had.
Miss Hattie, as an actress was in great demand.
On Feburay 29th, 1940, Miss McDaniel was the first black actress to win the Oscar for the Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy, in Gone With the Wind.
I remember reading about this lovely lady in school. And whenever I took a role in a play, I always had it in the forefront of my mind, "how would Hattie McDaniel played this?"
Married four times, but never had children, she was the role model for so many of us who dreamt big dreams and encouraged us to reach for them.
For me, Hattie McDaniel was the only reason why I would even watch Gone With the Wind.
My favourite scenes when Rhett confronts Mammy, after hearing the rustling of her red petticoat under her skirt. The one he brought back as a gift for Mammy. She puts us her skirt slowly, just a bit for him to see.
My Grandmother was a Cook. This path the way for a better life for her children. My mother was a Legal Assist to some of the finest Lawyers in the Untied States. This enabled me to pursuit my dreams as a writer.
Hattie McDaniel did the same thing with the roles she portrayed. For being a maid, she path the way for another actresses to go on to pro tray teachers, lawyers, and even Bond Girls.
Sadly, we lost Miss McDaniel to Breast Cancer in 1952, at the age of 57.
G-d bless you, Miss McDaniel and thank you.

Black History Month. Mama Jordan

Today black history's entry is about the most amazing woman I know.
Mama Jordan.
Today is my mother's 80th birthday.
She chose a quiet celebration of Chinese Food and rocky road ice cream. But that hasn't stopped the phone calls from her family and friends wishing her a blessed birthday.
I always thought it was so cool that Mummie was born smack in the middle of Black History Month.
Even better, I can look at my mother's life and see how far this nation has come in terms of race relations and how far we still need to go.
My mother was born in Alabama, the year 1934. A Depression Baby, mummie was the youngest of seven children to Callie and Pink Prude.
An early bird, Mummie finished high school at age seven-teen, going on to business school to begin her career as an Office Administer. This included her position as an office account and later becoming a legal secretary of the Boston Law firm, Hill and Barrow. 
Born Maggie Lee, as an adult mummie changed her name to Margaret, a clear sign that she was in charge of the life G-d has given her. To this day, few, other than nieces and nephews, get away with calling her Maggie.
Marriage wasn't the cards for Mummie, though she did try. She and my step-father separated, but never divorced. She had two children, Elayne and Eileen. Both proved in her words to be: "a delight and a challenge."

During her growing up years, we were known as "Negros" and "Coloured." By the time my sister and I were growing up, we were "Blacks" and today "African American." But she always made my sister and I aware of who we are, as Americans as well as women of colour, for she has always been proud of both. She made sure we knew our culture as Blacks and as Americans, making sure we knew that the two were interwoven.
I remember the summer day in 1968, when the afro was beginning to take hold. Black men and women alike were embracing the ethic look that was our own. Dad had already gotten his afro and cut and framed mummies'. Eileen was need and then I. Mummie sat me down and we had a heart to heart about this. I loved my long hair (it was down my back) and getting my hair cut that short was a huge step. Once it was gone, it couldn't be glued back on. But I really thought I wanted it and when Dad was finished, I cried buckets, holding my hair. Only Mummie could comfort me, reminding me it was my choice, that she warned it was going to be a drastic change, not only in my looks, but just losing so much hair. How wise she was, to allow me to make that choice, making clear I knew the consequences of that choice.
I look back and see how many times my mum warned me of an course of action; sometimes I listened, sometimes, I didn't. These days, I have learned to not only listen, but to follow her words of wisdom.
One of the greatest lessons from my mother, she never allowed us to blame anyone or anything for our failures or bad choices. The world would be crude; we knew that. There would be people would not like us because of our skin colour, our faith, that we were Americans, women and all the above. But that was no excuse for not trying.
Yes, there were roadblocks, but not like the ones she grew up with. She grew up during a time where her skin colour decided what school she could attend, where she sat on the bus and what church she could worship at. I had no such concerns.
There were places where she could only go through the back door, use the water fountain or washroom marked "Coloured."
And despite all of this, she rose to the top of her chosen career and is today honoured by men and women from all walks of life.
I often tell Mummie I want to be just like her when I grow up. She just laughs.
Living in Montana, I don't see her as I would like, but I am blessed to speak to her very few days, hearing her voice, her laugh lifting my spirits during my struggles.
My role model, my chief cheerleader, my friend, my mum.
I am so truly blessed to have this amazing lady in my life.
I love you, Mummie.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Black History Month: Gwen Kircher

For Black History Month, I have been researching for stories to share. Yes, amoung the famous, but also the not so famous stories of people of colour, stories I believe enrich all of our lives.
This one comes from the New York Times, the story of an African American woman, who like myself, started a new life in Big Sky Country.

Deep in the Heart of Montana, a Black Woman Finds Home
Published: September 27, 1992
Not long after Gwen Kircher, a black woman, moved to a small town in Montana, she stopped in a rural bar.
The white people all seemed to be looking at her. Some customers huddled and whispered. The bartender picked up the telephone. She became nervous.
A few moments later, the doors of the bar swung open and a black man walked into the place.
"It turns out, there was this black bachelor living out in the country," Ms. Kircher said with a giggle. "And when I came in, the people got so excited that they hurried to the telephone, called him and said, 'Quick, get down here, there's a black woman in town.' "
It is not easy for people like Ms. Kircher, a 42-year-old United Parcel Service worker, to keep a low profile here in Big Sky country, where whites outnumber blacks by nearly 400 to 1. But she said she felt more welcome here than among whites in big cities. 'Ignorance, Not Hate'
"Where there is prejudice here, it's based on ignorance, not hate," said Ms. Kircher, who lives in Worden, population 300, about 30 miles from Billings. "And that's a whole lot easier to overcome."
Experts on race say that barriers of discrimination are smaller in rural regions, at least outside the South, than they are in urban centers. And they note that the income gap between whites and blacks in places like Montana is much smaller than those in urban areas.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the incomes of black households in 1989 came within 80 percent of the income of white households in 7 states, all of them rural and overwhelmingly white: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
In North Dakota, for example, the incomes of blacks were 89 percent of the incomes of whites. Blacks in New York, meanwhile, earned 67 percent of the income of whites.
In metropolitan areas, whites often resist inroads by blacks because they see even small gains as a precursor to wholesale change. But in places like Billings, where the black population is less than 2 percent of the total population of 81,000, whites can remain devoted to equal rights without any real sense of threat that blacks will come to dominate jobs or neighborhoods, said Douglas Massey, a sociologist at the University of Chicago.
There were no venomous letters or threatening midnight telephone calls when Ted Warren, a black firefighter, moved into the all-white Sunnyside subdivision here. "I don't think anybody much cared," the 43-year-old Mr. Warren said with a shrug. "Blacks live in every neighborhood of the city."
On the South Side of the city, a poor area known as "across the tracks," blacks are outnumbered by whites and American Indians. The African Episcopal Methodist Church has nearly as many whites in its congregation as blacks.
"No place in America is free of racism," said the Rev. Robert Freeman, the pastor of the church, who is black. "But I do think it's less here than in big cities. For one thing, people know you as a person, not a symbol."
Leo Miller, a white man who runs the Lewis and Clark Tavern in Pompey's Pillar, a town about 30 miles from Billings, said he had known only a few black people in his life.
"But I really know them," he said. "It's hard to be prejudiced when you know somebody's name, their family, their history." Indians May Have It Worse
Only 2,000 blacks live in Montana, out of a population of nearly 800,000. American Indians represent the largest minority in the state, about 48,000, and they seem to face more racism than blacks here.
Ms. Kircher said some blacks here joke about the bigots. "They dislike the Indians first, and then come the Mexicans," she said. "By the time they get around to us, they're just too tired."
A few years ago, tiny bands of white racists like the Aryan Nation came to the Northwest hoping to find fertile ground for their views. Most people here use the strongest language in talking about their distaste for the white supremacists, noting they are mostly outsiders.
The efforts by the Aryan Nation and other hate groups to establish a base in the Northwest have largely faded, said Joe Roy, an investigator for Klan Watch, a Birmingham, Ala., group that monitors hatemongering.
Despite the Hollywood version of the blue-eyed cowboy, blacks have been living in the West as long as whites. Clara Brown, the famous grubstaker in the mining town of Central City, Colo., became so wealthy that she returned to the South to buy the freedom of her relatives. Ben Hodge was a black deputy to Sheriff Wyatt Earp. Bill Pickett was a rodeo star who invented the sport of "bulldogging."
Blacks were among the famous outlaws, too. Nat Love was a legendary cattle rustler. And experts on the Old West say that pictures of Deadwood Dick, the outlaw, show clearly that he was of African ancestry.
When the mines were thriving, the number of blacks in the West was much higher than today. But some black cowboys still trail cattle and break horses.
A black man named Adrian Wilson, for example, who lives near Billings, is known as one of the best ranch hands and horseshoers in Montana.
Ms. Kircher, who plans to write a book on black pioneer women of the Old West, said three black newspapers were thriving in Montana at the turn of the century.
Ms. Kircher knows something about being a pioneer. A native of Lexington, Ky., she was one of 22 black students in an enrollment of 25,000 at the University of Kentucky in 1968.
But being in the minority in Montana in the 1990's is nothing like her experience at Kentucky. "I had an anthropology class at 8 A.M. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday," she said, "and every single, solitary morning the professor began his class by cracking a joke" with a racial slur.
As a fifth grader in the all-black Russell Elementary School in Lexington, she recalls learning about these wild, untamed lands of the West, where the mountains were magnificent and the plains were open for roaming. She said she decided that one day she would go there.
After earning a computer science degree at Kentucky in 1972, she started to raise a family in Lexington. But she said her two boys were becoming "too street-smart," so she decided to move.
Her boys were the first black students at Worden High School. When it came to dating, she said, the fathers of some girls became unhappy. "I told my boys they could date whoever they wanted," she said. "But I had one rule: You will not sneak around. You don't need to do that."
Shortly after graduation from high school, the boys decided to return to a more urban life in Lexington. Like many of their white classmates, they searched for the bigger opportunities a city would offer. Ms. Kircher's older son, Tim Perdue, now 24, said it was not always easy being different.
"Sometimes you felt like you were a specimen," he said, "that you were always being looked at."
In her years in Montana, Ms. Kircher said she had faced only one ugly incident of racism. After a dispute with her landlord in a restaurant, the man threw a $100 bill at her. "Take this and take the next bus out of here," he told her. "Nobody around here wants you here anyway."
Ms. Kircher struck a match and started to burn the bill. He grabbed it back and stalked off.
When she went home that night, Ms. Kircher said, she was depressed about his comment about the other townspeople. She thought they were her friends. She pondered whether to move.
Early the next morning there was a knock on the door. A "committee" had come to see her to speak for the town. There was a janitor, a farmer, a telephone worker and many others.
"We don't want you to leave," one said. "We think you're great."
As she recounted the story, Ms. Kircher became a bit misty. She took a sip of coffee as she sat at an outdoor cafe in downtown Billings. Her reverie was interrupted when a bearded white man, wearing boots and a horseshoe belt buckle, came walking by.
"Gwen," he shouted, "great to see you."

Friday, 7 February 2014

Langston Hughs Part 2

The Harlem Renaissance was a phase of a larger New Negro movement that had emerged in the early 20th century and in some ways ushered in the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was the hay day of Black culture; where people from all over America came to celebration African American culture.

 The social foundations of this movement included the Great Migration of African Americans, including my grandmother and her children from rural to urban spaces and from the South to the North; dramatically rising levels of literacy; the creation of national organizations dedicated to pressing African American civil rights, “uplifting” the race, and opening socioeconomic opportunities; and developing race pride, including pan-African sensibilities and programs. Black exiles and expatriates from the Caribbean and Africa crossed paths in metropolis such as New York City and Paris, after World War I and had an invigorating influence on each other that gave the broader “Negro renaissance” (as it was then known) a profoundly important international cast, including black artists, writers, plays, books and music.
Amoung these artist, was the poet-writer, Langston Hughs.
When one thinks of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hugh's name is usually amoung the first to come up.
As stated in part one on this post about Hughs, Langston was a proud black man, proud of his heritage and of his people, a pride reflected in his work. He identified unashamedly black at a time when blackness was démodé. He stressed the theme of "black is beautiful" as he explored the black human condition in a variety of depths.  His main concern was the uplift of his people, whose strengths, resiliency, courage, and humor he wanted to record as part of the general American experience.
His poetry and fiction portrayed the lives of the working-class blacks in America, lives he portrayed as full of struggle, joy, laughter, and music. Permeating his work is pride in the African-American identity and its diverse culture.
"My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all human kind," Hughes is quoted as saying. He confronted racial stereotypes, protested social conditions, and expanded African America’s image of itself; a “people’s poet” who sought to reeducate both audience and artist by lifting the theory of the black aesthetic into reality. He wrote novels, short stories, plays, poetry, operas, essays, and works for children. With the encouragement of his best friend and writer, Arna  Bontemps  and patron and friend, Carl Van Vechten, he wrote two volumes of autobiography, The Big Sea and I Wonder as I Wander, as well as translating several works of literature into English.
Hughes wanted young black writers to be objective about their race, but not to scorn it, be ashamed or flee from it. He understood the main points of the  Black Power movement of the 1960s, but believed that some of the younger black writers who supported it were too angry in their work, while many young black writers thought him a sell out. Hughes's work Panther and the Lash, posthumously published in 1967, was intended to show solidarity with these writers, but with more skill and devoid of the most virulent anger and racial chauvinism some showed toward whites.
Amoung his discoveries was author Alice Walker, who hails Mr. Hughs as one of her heroes.
Author Loften Mitchell observed of Hughes:
"Langston set a tone, a standard of brotherhood and friendship and cooperation, for all of us to follow. You never got from him, 'I am the Negro writer,' but only 'I am a Negro writer.' He never stopped thinking about the rest of us."
The month before my 10th birthday, May 22, 1967, Mr. Hughs died from complications after abdominal surgery, related to prostate cancer at the age of 65.
 His ashes are interred beneath a floor medallion in the middle of the foyer in the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harem. It is the entrance to an auditorium named for him. The design on the floor is an African cosmogram titled Rivers. The title is taken from his poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." Within the center of the cosmogram is the line: "My soul has grown deep like the rivers".
A river that continues to flow and enrich the lives of all Americans today.


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Black History Month: Langston Hughs Part One

Today I share about one of my favorite poets, Langdon Hughs.

James Mercer Langston Hughs, better known to his readers as Langston Hughs was born on February 1, 1902. His family history alone is a American story.
Like most African Americans, Langston Hughs came from a multicultural background made up of slaves and slave owners. Both of his paternal great-grandmothers were African-Americans and both his paternal great-grandfathers Kentucky were white slave owners.
 One of his great-grandfathers was Sam Clay, a Scottish-American whiskey distiller of Henry County and supposedly a relative of Henry Clay. The other was Silas Cushenberry, a Jewish-American slave trader of Clark County. Hughes's maternal grandmother Mary Patterson was of African-American, French, English and Native American descent. One of the first women to attend Oberlin College, Mary Patterson  first married Lewis Sheridan Leary, also of mixed race. Lewis Sheridan Leary subsequently joined John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry in 1959 and died from his wounds.
Ten years later, the Widow Leary, married again, this time into the elite, politically active Langston family. Her second husband was Charles Henry Langston,  of African-American, Native American, and Euro-American ancestry. He and his younger brother John Mercer Langston worked for the Abolitionist cause and helped lead the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in 1858. Charles Langston later moved to Kansas, where he was active as an educator and activist for voting and rights for African Americans. Charles and Mary's daughter Caroline was the mother of Langston Hughes.
Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, the second child of school teacher Carrie (Caroline) Mercer Langston and James Nathaniel Hughes. He grew up in a series of Midwestern small towns. Hughes was a young child, when his father left the family and later divorced Carrie, going to first Cuba and then Mexico, seeking to escape the enduring racism in the Untied States.
After the divorce of his parents, while his mother traveled seeking employment, young Langston was raised mainly by his maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston, in Lawrence, Kansas. Through the black American oral tradition and drawing from the activist experiences of her generation, Mary Langston instilled in her grandson a lasting sense of racial pride as well as a love of words and story telling. A great story teller herself, it was Mary who transferred to him her love of literature and the importance of an education. His childhood in Lawrence, Kansas was a lonely one, save his friends, his books.
After the death of his grandmother, he went to live with family friends, James and Mary Reed, for two years. In Big Sea he wrote, "I was unhappy for a long time, and very lonesome, living with my grandmother. Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books — where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas."
Having remarried, Langston went to live again with his mother Carrie in Lincoln, Illinois, eventually the family settled in Cleveland, Ohio where he attended high school. 
While attending grammer school in Lincoln, Hughes was elected class poet. Hughes stated that in retrospect he thought it was because of the stereotype that African Americans have rhythm.
"I was a victim of a stereotype. There were only two of us Negro kids in the whole class and our English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows, except us, that all Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me as class poet."
During high school in Cleveland, he wrote for the school newspaper, edited the yearbook, and began to write his first short stories, poetry, and dramatic plays. His first piece of jazz poetry, "When Sue Wears Red", was written while he was in high school.
The relationship between Hugh and his father was poor. He never understood why the elder left his family, his country, even had a dislike of his own people.
Langston Hughs once said about his father:"I had been thinking about my father and his strange dislike of his own people. I didn't understand it, because I was a Negro, and I liked Negroes very much." He did live with his father in Mexico for a brief period in 1919. His father was willing to  he was willing to provide financial assistance to his son but did not support his desire to be a writer. The two men came to a compromise; Hughes was to study engineering, and as long as he would attend Columbia. His tuition provided; Hughes left his father after more than a year. While at Columbia in 1921, Hughes managed to maintain a B+ grade average. He left in 1922 because of racial prejudice, and his interests revolved more around the neighborhood of Harlem than his studies, though he continued writing poetry.
More about Langston Hughs in the next entry.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Black History Month; The Story of Jamila Gomez

Today, I am sharing the story of a lovely lady I met. A beautiful woman of colour who has an amazing story to share. Her name is Jamila Gomez and this is her story...
Born Beautiful


In Chicago, Ill., my father named me Beautiful. At least, that's how I was brought up to see myself. It didn't turn out that way, though. January 15th, 1982 was the date of my birth. I was told I was born prematurely, but hey, I'm here. The youngest of 3 girls. My mother had a son, but he was also born prematurely. At the time, resources to save him didn't exist. His name was Nathan. I didn't know him, but I love him.


Instant issues arose with my entrance into the world. My spinal cord protruded through my back and one of my eyes was crossed. I had a lot of fluid built up in my head. Turns out the spinal cord defect was Spina Bifida and the fluid build-up was Hydrocephalus. Surgeries to correct my spine, fluid build-up in my head, and my eyes immediately followed. My eyesight was fine after that. I wore glasses for a few years once I was old enough to until I was about 6. I never wore them again until my late 20’s.


Learning to walk was a challenge. When I finally learned to walk on my own, which was around 3 years of age, my right foot twisted inward. I had surgery to correct the twist. During the surgery, a pin was placed in my big toe to flatten it. To this day, I am unsure as to why the toe had to be flattened. Due to the surgery on my foot, I attended kindergarten in a wheelchair for the first half of the year and walker for the second half. I rode the “special bus” and everything. However, I did have one great friend. That was all I cared about. Walking without aid didn’t happen for me until I was around the age of 6. That is when the real problems arose.


Bullying was something my sisters and I were raised not to do. Therefore, we never did. But, oh, was it done to me! All people saw was this short girl who walked with a serious limp who had problems controlling certain things that normal people usually could. I won't go into detail, but I will say that the muscles below the waist were not strong at all. I dealt with laughs and jokes about that until high school. Yet and still, I was the nice one. Some people did like me. I had my close friends, some of whom I'm still friends with to this day. But I could not sit here and name each and every person who made me cry. There are just too many.


Remember I told you about the fluid in my head? To keep that fluid flowing, doctors placed what's called a shunt in my head. In the 4th grade, my shunt malfunctioned. I will never forget this as long as I live. My father was out of town, so it was just my mom, sisters, and myself. I had the most painful headache a person could ever have -- very migraine-like. I woke my mother up in the middle of the night crying. She gave me some medicine for it and let me lie in bed with her, but the pain didn't go away. It got worse, and so did my crying. Therefore, she decided to take me to the doctor. They did X-rays, and found that my shunt was blocked. I had emergency surgery to remove the part that was blocked and have it replaced with another part. The doctor said had I not gotten there when I did, the shunt could have burst and I wouldn't be here to talk about it. Thank you, Lord.


I didn't have another surgery until 6th grade when my right foot began to act up again. This time, though, instead of it twisting inward, it twisted outward. As a result, I had another surgery to correct it. A couple of years after that, the pin that was placed in my toe during the first surgery broke in half, and one half came out of my toe by itself, leaving a hole in my toe that got infected. That called for a third right foot surgery to get the other half of the pin out and clean the infection.


Since then, I've had other obstacles come my way that resulted in a total of 10 surgeries and a blood transfusion. You'd think being able to go through all of that would make a person stronger. I thank God everyday for life, but to be honest, my spirit was completely broken. I've never really been able to live the life I've wanted to live. Not to say that I can't, but fear has always been in my way. I may not be able to walk or run as fast as others, but I should be thankful that I can walk and run at all. So, why aren't I? I have to watch what I eat so certain issues don't flair up. One cannot imagine how abnormal I feel. It breaks my heart to watch other people enjoying things that I cannot. I try to get out of the whole ‘woe is me’ thing, and at times, it works. However, the older I’ve gotten, the more uncomfortable feeling sorry for myself has become.


Do I wish I were ‘normal’? Yes. But what good is being normal when I was born for a greater purpose? I am not supposed to be normal. I am supposed to be extraordinary. I am supposed to be awesome. I have realized that, through my story, I have the power and ability to uplift and encourage others who may have it much worse than I have could. When all is said and done, I want nothing more than to let people know that there is no limit to where they can go as long as they have air in the lungs and life and their bodies. For every day you live, you have the chance to do ANYTHING you want to do. It all starts with the belief that you can.


Jamila Gomez

Black History Month: Jean-Michel Basquiat

Today I share the story of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

I confess, the very first time I ever heard of Jean-Michel, was on This is Biography, several years ago and found his story both inspiring and sad.
Jean- Michel Basquiat an American Artist, was born in in Brooklyn, NY, December 22, 1960 and died of an drug overdose August, 12 1988. With a Haitian-American father and a Puerto Rican mother, Basquiat's diverse cultural heritage was one of his many sources of inspiration.
He was one of the first African-American artists to reach international stature and wealth in the art world, rising to fame for his fusion of multicultural symbols, for his biting social commentary, distinctive graphic style and like many artist, for his temperamental personality.
A child of the city, Jean-Michel, from an early age, drew and visited museums regularly, many of his childhood interest ranged from cartoons and Alfred Hitchcock films to anatomy, to French and Spanish books, all that would have a influence on his work.
At seven-teen, he dropped out of high school and began creating art, gaining fame for his invented character SAMO ("Same Old Sh*t"), who made a living peddling "fake' religion.
 Jean-Michel Basquiat depicted SAMO’s signature in Graffiti Art with cryptic messages in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and began painting on found materials, buildings, t-shirts, and commercial items. He delved into the urban 1980s avant-garde culture of New York City, creating wildly expressive paintings, which earned him considerable acclaim by 1982, following his first solo exhibition. In 1983 he befriended his idol Andy Warhol (American Artist, 1928-1987), and the two collaborated on several projects. Basquiat combined African, Aztec, Hispanic, and ancient Roman and Greek imagery with his own invented iconography and graphic mark, in works that emphasized the physical and the gestural aspects of the artistic process.
Ever conscious of his identity as an African-American in the art world, Jean-Michel's work was rife with imagery commenting on race relations in America and drawing from culture of the African Diaspora.

However, like many artist of his time, Jean-Michel entered the drug culture and got hooked. His prevalent drug use became a greater concern to his friends and colleagues in the mid-1980s, and the artist’s fiery temper and capriciousness increased, particularly when working with dealers or developing his oeuvre. Andy Warhol’s death in 1987 deeply affected Basquiat, and he painted several final works in a frenzy, full of apocalyptic imagery but with a confident, mature style.
Desperate to kick a heroin addiction, he left New York for Hawaii in 1988, returning a few months later and claiming to be sober. But sadly that demon heroin, won and he died of a heroin overdose in the summer of 1988, ending a brief but brilliant and unique career.
As an Artist, I wish Jean-Michel had lived, not only to create more amazing art work, but so that I can thank him for how his not only bringing the African-American and Latino experience in the elite art world, but how he encouraged artist like myself to pursuit our own place in the Art World.

Why Black History Month?

A few days ago, a friend asked the question," Why was Black History Month in February? Why not in January, when we remember Martin Luther King's birthday?"
A very good question, my friend. And a very good reason why we need Black History Month.
While we as a nation honour Dr. King in January, he isn't the sole reason for the Black History Month.
The celebration of Black History, as we know it, began in 1926. Dr. Woodson chose the second week of February to celebrate Negro History Week because that week included the birthdays of two important men in our history; President Abraham Lincoln ( born on February 12) and Frederick Douglass ( born on February 14). While in school, my mother knew the celebration as Negro History Week. When I started sixth grade, in most black schools, it was known as Black History Week.
Between 6th and 9th grade, the Jr. High school I attended taught Black History as a course, Black History Week would be the highlight of that course.
The year, 1976 Negro History became Black History Month the celebrations during the second week of February expanded to the entire month of February.
Many Americans today don't know about this beginning of Black History Month. Many Americans are still unaware of the roles people of colour have played, not just in America, but the world at large.
 And it is for these reasons, we still need Black History Month.


Baby, it's Cold Outside

So I am sitting in Hastings Coffee Shop (no offend, but much better than Starbucks) enjoying a cold of coffee as I work on the blog.
Right now, we are without internet in the mountains, so I am sitting in a coffee shop in Helena, enjoying some cool jazz while Mark is at a few appointments.
I do enjoy getting out of the house, getting some sunshine, but, baby, it is COLD out here.
This week we are looking at sub-zero temps. Long john, wool hat and mittens weather.
It is so bad, we will be going to Petco to find boots for Monti.
Here in Montana, our Vet has informed us, even the big dogs wears coats and boots. Oh, I know, there are some die hearts out there with the "a dog is a dog...." but seeing my little 11 pound Papillion struggling in the snow, is a bit much.
So, yes, he is getting doggie boots.
I have to confess, the snow is beautiful. But it is also dangerous. In this cold, you can find yourself in danger within minutes.
This is why dressing in layers when traveling, making sure you have a full gas tank, dry food stuff, water, bags of sand, a shovel as well as a first aide kit along with a fully charged cell phone is so important around here.
Even keeping dog food for Monti, just in case.
As I sit here, sipping coffee, I think of family and friends back in the South and East, going through similar difficulties with snow storms kicking up. I think about the fact if we were still living in Virginia, we would be dealing with snowing right now.
At least it would be melting.
The snow does make for some lovely pictures, however...
Like, Laini Hates Snow Picture.