Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Black History Month and African Clothes

"Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others."
Rosa Parks

What do black history month and the SHONA women have in common?

Quite a lot actually.

While living in Congo, and working with the SHONA women I taught them about Harriet Jacobs. We talked about this courageous young slave woman, who ran away from her "master" and hid in a crawl space above a house for 7 years. She hid in a space where she could not stand upright, literally depriving herself of the ability to stand or walk.

The SHONA women too have been deprived of the ability to stand and walk. For Argentine, Riziki, and Solange growing up with polio meant that they could only crawl. Today, finally, with the help of the handicapped center in Goma, they can stand with metal braces and crutches. But for a long time that was impossible.

They have also all had the experience of hiding. Growing up in the midst of war zones, and even today when they return to visit their families in rural areas, they are only too accustomed to the sound of gun-shots, the bolting of doors, and the hunkering down.

Harriet Jacobs' story resonated with the SHONA women.

But perhaps what struck the SHONA women most was the book itself. I showed them Harriet Jacobs' book, with her own words inside. Harriet Jacobs came out of slavery to write her own story. You could see the glimmer in the ladies eyes as they passed their hands over the cover.

Sometimes, as an American living abroad I have deeply regretted so much of the American "example" to the world...the war in Iraq, the corporate greed, the growing gap between rich and poor...

And surely slavery is one of those terrible examples. But I am thankful for the countless African-American lives who have reclaimed that story, and turned it into one of struggle and triumph. Surely those many African American voices are some of America's greatest strengths.

I am thankful for black history month. For the opportunity it gives to reflect on the struggles that have been fought over generations, and the powerful voices that have been forged in the midst of those struggles.

If you wear African clothing as part of your celebrations, or simply as part of your life, would you consider wearing clothing sewn by the SHONA women, women who are still struggling to find a way to make their voices heard, but who definitely have a story to tell. Your purchases make a huge difference to them.

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