Breathing Room - Creative Coalition
In acknowledgement of Happy Black History/Liberation Month, I want to share the powerful and stunning work of Breathing Room
. Many folks involved in founding and creating Breathing Room are artists, activists, and educators based right here in Oakland and SF. "Breathing Room is Black-led creative coalition of volunteers that designs space for Black people to live without limits. We bring the Black community together with allies to respond to America's historical challenges with unexpected and equitable solutions through art, design, and activism."
Breathing Room's first project, The Necessary Trouble Toolkit
, launched this past Martin Luther King Jr Day. "The Necessary Trouble Toolkit is your toolkit for action, designed for the Black Community and allies who are ready to take a stand." Please take some time to explore this beautiful and thought-provoking work. And, make sure to check out Breathing Room's Act in your city-Oakland
for concrete ways to get involved and ACT locally!
(Contributor: Counseling and Health Education Staff Member)
Baseball and Black History
You may have read that in December 2020, Major League Baseball formally recognized
several of the Negro baseball leagues that operated between 1920-1948 as "Major League Baseball." With the change, more than 3,400 players from seven distinct Negro leagues that operated between 1920 and 1948 will be recognized as major leaguers. And the statistical records will be updated. (NYT
) Negro league players, historians and fans of the game have long recognized that the Negro leagues were in every way "major league baseball," but had been long-denied their rightful standing by racist policies.
They did not “choose” to play separately from their white counterparts in the “majors,” but they did choose to play. Black players were effectively banned in the 1880s, thanks to a “gentlemen’s agreement” that brought Jim Crow to baseball. The Negro Leagues were not only a testimony to a bunch of athletes who wanted to play baseball, they also spoke to the business acumen of the African American community to put a quality product on the field. Black teams were formed and flourished from the late 1800s onward and by 1920, thanks to Rube Foster, himself a Black entrepreneur and the owner/manager (and one-time player) of the Chicago American Giants, a critical mass of teams came together to form the Negro National League. (The Undefeated
While the "official" MLB records will be updated as baseball aficionados and historians present more evidence, here are just a few stats and records that are likely to be updated:
Josh Gibson - who played for several Negro league times in his career, will finally be recognized by MLB as one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game. He will likely now be recognized as
The all time single-season batting average leader - he hit .466(!) in the 1943 season.
Second in career batting average: .361
Second in OPS+: 200 (on a list that reads, in order: Babe Ruth, Josh Gibson, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig, and Mike Trout)
Both Josh Gibson (1943) and Artie Wilson
(1948) will hold the most recent .400+ batting average seasons, supplanting Ted Williams (1941) as the most recent players to do so.
- already one of the greatest pitchers in the baseball history (so good the legend goes, that he sometimes had his infielders sit down while he pitched) will add at least 2 no-hitters, 115 wins and 1,524 strikeouts to his official career totals
Only the second person to throw a no-hitter on opening day - Leon Day
The first, and only one of three ever, postseason no-hitters - "Red" Grier
(in Game 3 of the 1926 Negro World Series no less!)
While this was long-overdue and welcome news, MLB continues to overlook some of the other great accomplishments of Negro league ballplayers
, particularly those who played after the National League began to integrate in the 1948 season (after Jackie Robinson's pioneering 1947 season). While many Negro league players were signed by the National League beginning 1948, the Negro leagues remained vibrant both in terms of competition, and as Black businesses and bulwarks of local Black communities. In particular:
If added, Hank Aaron's home runs in the 1952 season for the Indianapolis Clowns would place him above Barry Bonds for the single-season all time home run record.
Willie Mays's many league-leading statistic would increase with the addition of his 1948 and 1949 Negro league seasons.
- the first Black woman to play in the Negro leagues. She played 50 games and batted .243 in the 1953 season for the Indianapolis Clowns (one year after MLB formally banned teams from signing women).
and Mamie Johnson
(the first pitcher) followed close behind and are the first three women to play professional baseball with men in the Negro leagues.
Black women owned Negro league teams as well. Effa Manley
(inducted into the Hall of Fame), Olivia Taylor, and Minnie Forbes
all owned teams.
If you're going to enjoy watching the Super Bowl tomorrow, consider all of the accomplishments and trailblazing efforts of Black American athletes from Moses Fleetwood Walker
to Lucy Diggs Slowe
to now. But remember, “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.
” - Jackie Robinson.
(Contributor: History Faculty Member)
Arturo Schomburg - Activist, scholar, historian, and archiver
Schomburg was born in Puerto Rico in 1874 to a Black Cruzan mother and a Puerto Rican father of German descent. In 1891 he moved to Harlem, New York. As a young student, he questioned the lack of African history taught in his classes. In fifth grade he was told by his teacher that “Black people have no history, no heroes, no great moments.” This inspired him and later became a collector and a self-taught bibliophile who dedicated his life to document the contributions of Afro-descendants in the arts, politics and pop culture as well as to make visible the struggles and culture of Latin Americans of African heritage. He is considered the pioneer of Afro-Latinidad, although ironically forgotten by the Latin American community.
(Contributor: World Languages Faculty Member)
Maya Angelou - Author and Poet
In celebration of Black History and Liberation month, I thought I would share how I discovered author and poet, Maya Angelou
, during my junior year in high school. I don't remember how, but I chose to read the book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou. Wow. I devoured the book. I was enrolled in AP English at the time, and I decided to write an essay about the book. Unbeknownst to me, my teacher submitted my essay to a UCSB literature contest, and I placed second, earning a scholarship to the school's writing program. Stay with me here, I know this is supposed to be about Maya Angelou and not me. I recall sitting in front of the panel of UCSB writing professors who judged the contest, and turned down their offer of a scholarship.
You see, I had the worst case of imposter syndrome when accepting my award and scholarship. I felt like an imposter and that I did not belong in that group of winning writers. Back then, I struggled in AP English, I struggled to write, and I really did not enjoy the writing process. I was certain that my essay on the book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was a fluke, brought on by the divine intervention that is Maya Angelou. I was certain that I could never repeat that level of writing, and I would be damned if I accepted a scholarship to write. I really did believe that Angelou's writing inspired me to a level of writing that I could not sustain, and that it was the book, and not me, that was responsible for the essay.
Since then, I have explored the poet, Maya Angelou, more than the author. She has been a part of my life, on and off, since my junior year in high school. When YouTube started to become a thing, I finally got to hear some of Angelou's poems, spoken in her own voice. Wow. I hope my sharing this story will inspire some of you to pick up a Maya Angelou book, or read one of her poems. In celebration of Black History and Liberation Month, I leave you with a video
of Maya Angelou reading her poem, When I think About Myself
, in 1988 (my junior year in high school!).
(Contributor: Recreation, Health, and Fitness Faculty Member)
Kara Walker - Visual artist
Kara Walker is a contemporary visual artist who explores the complex narratives of race, gender, and sexuality of the Black, African-American experience. Walker, fairly local, is a native of Stockton, California, who eventually moved to a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia as a teen. The move proved pivotal as she experienced cultural shock from living in a city that is multicultural to moving to an environment that was still holding KKK rallies at the time (early 1980s).
A post graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Walker is particularly known for her paper cuts, and came to the forefront of the art world in a group exhibition in 1994 called Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart
. Evoking the Victorian era silhouettes, Walker installed large black paper silhouettes in the shape of antebellum figures depicting various abhorrent, disturbing interactions. These silhouettes filled the walls of the exhibition space, and for the viewer, the experience suggested the historical cycloramas popular during the post-Civil War era depicting battle scenes.
Walker’s work is not just limited to paper cuts. She works in multimedia (film and video), paints, and sculpts as well. Notably, in 2014 Walker created a sculpture installation
in Brooklyn, at an old Domino Sugar factory site. A large-scale main figure (a combination sphinx-Mammy image) and other small scale figures were made from polystyrene and 80 tons of white sugar (donated by Domino Sugar). The installation garnered attention for its subversive commentary on the history of sugar plantations. Typically monochromatic, the daunting imagery, and large-scale art of Kara Walker challenges viewers to contend with uncomfortable narratives, and makes her a force in the art world.
A short video
on her paper-cut installation
Kehinde Wiley - Visual Artist
Born in Los Angeles, but currently based in New York, Kehinde Wiley’s realistic, yet stylized portraits capture attention through color, pattern, and gaze. Wiley’s most famously recognized piece is of President Barack Obama
. Wiley’s first portraits were based on photographs of young men from Harlem. As his artistic career grew, his perspective also grew more globally by seeking models, strangers that he meets on the street, from various places like Senegal, Dakar, Rio de Janeiro, and Mumbai. The result from this endeavor is a series called The World Stage.
The basis of Wiley’s work is drawn from old portraitures of the Western European aristocratic style, but he replaces the European aristocrats depicted in those paintings with contemporary black subjects, highlighting the absence of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives. The models are often wearing contemporary clothing, oftentimes casual, streetwear. The subject is set in front of an elaborately designed background, usually consisting of bright, bold colors consisting of floral motifs, or of some other eye-catching pattern. The pose struck by the model can be viewed as confident, if not regal. Not one to shy away from complex socio-political narratives, Wiley addresses many of these issues while figuratively uplifting the subject through composition, pose, and color combinations. Kehinde Wiley's conceptual and expressive approach to portraiture is what makes his art so impressive.
Kehinde Wiley talks
about his art practice, and a new exhibition
(Contributor: Arts Faculty Member)
Celebrating Black Authors: Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Here's my book list
celebrating Black authors who write sci-fi and fantasy, with some newer authors and books and some amazing classics. As always, they're all available in our ebook collection!
(Contributor: Library Staff Member)
The Freedmen's Bureau Project - Black Family History/Genealogy
If you have ever done any genealogy or family history work, you may have heard of indexing or transcribing. This is the process by which paper census records are digitized so they can be digital and searchable. The Freedmen's Bureau Project began on Juneteenth (June 19) 2015, and with the help of more than twenty-five thousand volunteers, was completed on June 20, 2016. The names of nearly 1.8 million men, women and children are now searchable online because of this work. This means that millions have access to the names of their ancestors, allowing individuals to build their family trees and connect with their heritage.
If you are interested in volunteering to support Black genealogy and family history, a follow-up project is being done through a collaboration between the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center. While the first project focused primarily on names, places, and dates, in the new project they are transcribing word-for-word every document in the Freedmen's Bureau collection (almost 2 million items). From their site: "Once completed, the Freedmen’s Bureau Transcription Project will allow full text searches that provide access to both images and transcriptions of the original records. Family historians, genealogists, students, and scholars around the world will have online access to these records. In addition, these transcribed records will be keyword searchable, reducing the effort required to find a person or topic. Transcribing these original documents will increase our understanding of the post-Civil War era and our knowledge of post-Emancipation family life."
National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC
Black family/ancestor history search hub
(Contributor: College Counseling Staff Member)
George Washington Carver and Leah Penniman - Black Farmers, Soil Scientists, and Food Justice Activists
How many of you remember reading about George Washington Carver
, perhaps in middle school during an earlier Black History Month? I vaguely remember learning about him as the “peanut man” famous for inventing peanut butter. That history was erroneous and incomplete. While he didn’t invent peanut butter (our earliest references of peanut butter come from the Incas and Aztecs), he did come up with hundreds of inventions for it. Why? Because it, as well as other crops like sweet potato, grew well in the soils of Alabama, where he worked with recently freed black farmers to sustain themselves and their families. These legumes also served as an excellent, nitrogen-rich cover crop for nutrient-hungry cash crops like cotton. Not only did he help improve the lives of many black families and communities by increasing their crop yields, but he also introduced them to traditional forms of farming, such as crop rotation, that are actually better for the long-term health of the soil. These practices (the use of organic fertilizers, cover crops, and crop rotation) are now common practice in what’s known as regenerative farming.
I first heard about Leah Penniman and Soul Fire Farm
while reading All We Can Save
, a collection of essays on climate solutions. Penniman is the founder of Soul Fire Farm in New York, which practices regenerative farming while also tackling criminal justice reform through their restorative justice program, Project Growth. With some estimates showing that farming can contribute as much as 23% of total greenhouse gas emissions, Leah and so many other black and brown leaders and food justice activists are making waves in both the food justice and climate justice arenas by showing (a) just how essential regenerative and indigenous farming practices are to fighting global warming (they keep carbon in the soil for one!), and (b) how communities of color (which are often disproportionately impacted by climate change) are and have always been at the forefront of finding climate solutions. You can read more about farms like Leah’s in the resources below, including ones in the Bay Area that you can support.
of Bay Area Food Justice Organizations
(Contributor: Science Faculty Member)
Chloe and Maud Arnold - Tap Dancers
When we think about tap dancing as an art form, perhaps the figures that most often come to mind are either white and male (think Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire) or Black and male (think Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr.). I realized when I went to the American Tap Festival for the first time four years ago that for an avid tap dance fan, I didn’t really know that many female Black tap dancers. I was fortunate to take classes from some incredible Black women in the field of tap and would like to share my love and admiration for them with you.
First, there’s Chloe and Maud Arnold. This dynamic duo founded Syncopated Ladies
, a group of gifted tap dancers who have performed internationally and might be recognizable for their appearances on So You Think You Can Dance
. Their work has appeared on television, film, in music videos, and online, and they offer workshops in tap as well as inspirational workshops. Their foundation works to bring tap to communities with diminished or non-existent arts funding, and they regularly feature the phenomenal work of new and rising tappers. A graduate of Columbia University, Maud Arnold has her own Maudcast
, a program that features Black women and celebrates Black joy. For the past twelve years they have co-directors and produced the DC Tap Festival, holding this past year’s festival online. There are too many performances to highlight, honestly, but this link
features their Dance for Justice at Folsom Prison.
Chloe was nominated for an Emmy for her choreography in 2018.
(Contributor: English Faculty Member)