Black History and Me – 3

DANCE WITHOUT SURRENDER

Black History and Me

3

 I started posting at the beginning of U.S. Black History with an aim to, through an experimental journey in the dance studio with a copy M. L. King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, link my experiences of U.K. Black History Month celebration with that of U.S. Black History Month celebrations. Times and circumstances altered the course to the postings.

As an heir of dreamers, a carrier of legacies of dreaming technology within my body, I am aware of the important commitment necessary to not lose sight of one’s dreams.  Dreams are a technology for individual and community survival, well-being and growth, stored within the cracks, crevices and nuances of the body and bodily experiences can potentially provide access to ancestral dreams that are foundational to being present and whole in the world. With this in mind, it is important to acknowledge that although our dreams may not have borders, the context within which we live, the culturally textured ways in which we are initiated, are, at times also, packed with bodily and dream limitation. Even the spoken and written language we use to communicate our dreams to ourselves and others, influence the articulation of our dreams, and can call (even demands) sophisticated levels of self-monitoring and self-censoring of dreams, and of our ability to dream. Dreams may not have borders, but the varying levels of race, class, caste and gender oppression woven into the structures of most, if not all, contemporary societies ritually work to limit the dreams of all within its folds, some more so than others.   In the mid-to-late decades of the twentieth century, for my parents’, like many Caribbean immigrants, the dream of a better future meant uprooting one’s life from a familiar colonial space (‘home’) to insert one’s self into another colonial space (the adopted homeland). In that time of pre-internet, little of the day-to-day practicalities were known of the adopted homeland beyond the selectively cultivated migration myths and imaginings that float in the air of Caribbean island life. My family immigrated to the United States when I was a young girl. My mother left home first, she was the family pioneer who laid the foundation for our immediate and then extended family members to try at their dreams for a different and better future. Eighteen months after my mother’s arrival to U.S. shores, we, the children (my sister, brother and I), joined her, bordering the plane as unaccompanied minors at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Jamaica and disembarking at John F. Kennedy International airport in New York City. We left the home we had always known, and where we knew ourselves as ourselves and others knew and spoke of us in ways that affirmed our knowings, to become strangers in a land eager to purge itself of our unfamiliar dark bodied presence. My father joined us two years later.

The better life my parents sought was defined as a place/space in which they could actively pursue their present dreams and maybe even dust off some dreams that had gathered cobwebs. Importantly, as they would tell and show us, my parents imagined that life in our adopted home would reveal opportunities for their children to dream and pursue dreams that were hitherto unimaginable. They imagined that their children would have the opportunities and freedom to dream without borders, or at the very least, to dream without the borders that they themselves had experienced in our Caribbean home. And so, my parents set dreams as epistemological, pedagogical, and spiritual grounding on and through which they and their children could learn, grow and thrive, most visually expressed in the three images that guarded over our apartment-home in our adopted homeland, a portraits of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X, and a rendition of Jesus the Christ. These images were for us constant visual reminders that dreaming without borders means dreaming beyond the limitations of one’s initiated or adopted/located society, that dreaming demands courage, tenacity, and the wiliness to be transformed into our better selves, and that the societies in which we dream may be just as dogged about instituting limitations on our dreams as we are determined to dream beyond borders. And to the latter point I take this moment to prayerfully dream for the 223/234/276* schoolgirls were kidnapped from a state school in the town of Chibok, Nigeria. On the night of April 14, 2014, the girls were abducted, a part of a deliberate plight to ignite terror in the heart, mind, and bodies of those who dear to dream. Lethargy and quiet apathy appears to be the concerted response of those in power and it has now been 18 full days and nights since the young schoolgirls’ and their dreams, as well as those of their families, and their communities, were kidnapped.

Black History and Me – 2

Martin Luther King Jr.’ s I Have A Dream speech is as much a call to spiritual arms,  meaning to  connect to something beyond the materiality of the flesh,  as it is a declaration of an embodied presence that must be counted into any conceptions of humanity and justice.  The speech is a call for courage on at least two fronts, the material and the spiritual, and, in this instance, the notions of dreams identify the ground on which we want our feet to walk/dance/run on the future.  To have a dream is to be in possession of a radical tool for deconstructing and epistemologically grounding the present in order to forge a critically creative and productive path towards a future in which humanity and justice are indelibly intertwined.     I recall a conversation, from my much younger adult days, with a young man who was the older brother of a close friend.  In response to my question about what, as a child, he dreamt of being or doing when he grew up, he stated, “I didn’t dream, I just wanted to have money.”   For him, there was no dreaming of becoming a fireman, lawyer, teacher, or president, for in his assessment of his life, he was just trying, in whatever ways he could, to make money and there was no point in wasting precious time and resources on dreams. He was the oldest of six siblings in a large black Latino family (including parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins), living life in the underside of New York City’s lights and glitz.  He knew all too well that a dream made it difficult to live complacently in the grind of socioeconomic and racial disparities, and so, likely quite unconsciously, at an age he could not remember, he had surrendered the fight by surrendering his capacity to dream.

The fight for humanity and justice were spaces to which he could visit on occasion, but not in which he could live.   Less, I lead you astray, it is important to say that his young man directed the passion that could have fuelled dreams into a passion for honour, a type of honour that had somehow escaped the crunch and grind of urban masculinity and misogynistic posturing, expressing itself in compassionate movements towards those he cared for and an obtuse distancing of all he believed could do harm.  At the moment our conversation took place we were preparing a small gathering to celebrate my close friend’s discharge from the hospital.  My friend, then 22 years old university student with 19 year old wife whom he had married a year earlier, had been diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer and has spent three or so weeks in the hospital undergoing a litany of tests and medical interventions.   All who loved were on auto pilot, for nothing in our lives has prepared us for to what to do with such information.  So, we planned each moment with care and prayed that there would be many more moments so that we could eventually once again enjoy the privilege of being occasionally carelessness.  If my friend’s older brother entertained any moments of dreaming such dreaming was directed towards his younger brother, who had excelled in academics and was the first in the family to attend university.  At 22 my friend, had attended undergraduate on full scholarship and was in the final months of completing his master’s degree in neurobiology.  He had met the love of his life when he was 19 and as soon as she turned 18 he proposed to her and they were married three months later.   My friend was a person filled with dreams; he embodied the deepest intermingling of justice and humanity.  With my friend’s discharge from the hospital came good and bad news: first that his young wife was three months pregnant and second, that my friend would not live long enough to witness the birth of his child.  This latter news compelled his older brother made promises that he could keep, taking on a deeper responsibility for his own life as well as the lives of the wife and child of his younger brother.   In this moment of beautiful and horrible news, my friend’s older brother committed himself to a dream.  What ground do you want your feet to walk/dance/run on in the future?

My time in the dance studio with Martin Luther King Jr.’ s   I Have A Dream speech included reading the speech out loud several times while being attentive to the impact the words were having on my feet and pelvis. ‘This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.’ And, I ask myself, in what ways have I not embraced the freedom my foremother and forefathers courageously took up the responsibility to dream for me?

Copyright © 2014 Carol Marie Webster, All Rights Reserved