One rainy Saturday evening in early August, warmth and fellowship welcomed complete strangers, relatives and old friends of Facilitator and Founder of HeadSpace NC, Angella Fraser. She greeted each guest with an energetic embrace as she reminded them of what has come to be a ritual as one enters her home: shake, beat, pluck or twirl one of the available hand instruments to announce their arrival while leaving anything unworthy of entering ‘at the door’. Mothers accompanied by their daughters, sons assembled in support of their mom, professionals, creatives, retirees, college and high school students of different ethnic backgrounds filled the room eager to lend their voices. Before long, strangers became acquaintances and laughter and learning could be heard throughout as everyone gathered to engage in “Courageous Community Conversations.”
Every 4-6 weeks, HeadSpace NC hosts HEAD Talks which is an eclectic community forum that provides a comfortable space to “highlight, embrace and advance diversity”. On August 11th, the conversation centered around TED Talks: The Great Migration and the Power of a Single Decision. Pulitzer-winning journalist and Author of “The Warmth of Other Suns” Isabel Wilkerson delivered a riveting account of the migration of 6 million African Americans from the Jim Crow South in search of liberation in the North and West between World War I and the 1970s.
“Imagine with me a scene. It’s a scene that played out in nearly all of our families. It’s a scene in which a young person somewhere in our family tree, somewhere in our lineage had a heartbreaking decision to make…to leave all the people that they had loved and set out for a place far, far away that they had never seen in hopes that life may be better.”
She went on to describe how in some families, the journey began with boarding a ship to cross the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean, others across the Rio Grande by truck and those of The Great Migration, by train across “rivers and mountains out of the Jim Crow South to what they hope will be freedom in the North.”
The group discussion began after an ice-breaker and viewing the TED Talk. Wilkerson connected them to their own immigrant past while introducing, for some, the fact that African Americans who left the South for the North had the same desires as those migrating from another country. Whether from Mississippi to Chicago, Jamaica to Florida and Brooklyn, South Carolina to Maryland or Cuba to Jamaica, there were several resonant stories:
- Outside-in and inside-out pressure on first generation immigrants to give up or hold on to customs, dialects, foods.
- Decades old trauma and secrecy associated with how families separated and re-grouped (or not) that continues to affect family dynamics.
- Racial tensions between migrants from different places and countries within Black communities (e.g. American South & Caribbean) and between different races
There was also a probing of what gave migrants the strength and stamina to survive and thrive.
The younger group members moved the conversation to challenge the more ‘kumbaya’ comments equating European migration with that of Black & Brown people. One of the most profound voices in the room was an insightful 21-year-old Political Science student. After grabbing everyone’s attention with “…yeah, but when they come to the America, they get to be white”, he continued to explain that the categorizations on Census forms changed over time to allow “whiteness” to become more inclusive. Italian and Irish immigrants, for example, were eventually simply ‘white’ with the all the social and political privileges of the majority over minority groups.
HEAD Talks are conversations that are safe, respectful, often uncomfortable yet always a place for learning and stretching one’s perspectives. This gathering met its goal for sure!
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