Posts Tagged ‘black history month’

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Office of the Secretary of State

February 28, 2021

Shenna Bellows

Many people believe that we shouldn’t dedicate one day or one month to something as important as Black History. That may be true but I also note that there are a lot of educators and organizations that take the time to recognize, learn and celebrate the history of black people during February each year. The month sheds light on the importance of what black people have done throughout history. The events of the past year have moved us to a different place and hopefully we are making progress in learning, understanding, and truth and will continue to do so every month. I’m not in the position to measure and nor is it our jobs as educators to do so but it is our responsibility to recognize where we are and incorporate an understanding into our curricula.

Painting of Frederick Douglass by Rob Shetterly, Americans Who Tell the Truth

Shenna Bellows was elected in December by the Maine Legislature to be the 50th Secretary of State. Shenna is the first woman to hold the position and she brings to it a wealth of experience and understanding. Earlier in February Shenna was the guest on a webinar sponsored by Midcoast Women. They provide opportunities for women in the midcoast to find and strengthen their individual and collective voices. Shenna said that when she was a young girl she started carrying a copy of the US Constitution in her pocket, she was so enthralled with it.

Shenna contacted Maine painter Rob Shetterly and invited him to display some of his Amercans Who Tell the Truth AWTT paintings in her Augusta office in recognition of Black History Month. If you’re not familiar with Rob’s paintings he has created over 250 paintings of Americans who are “Truth Tellers”. The portraits and narratives highlight citizens who courageously address issues of social, environmental, and economic fairness. AWTT offers resources to inspire a new generation of engaged Americans who will act for the common good, our communities, and the Earth.

Painting of John Lewis by Rob Shetterly, Americans to Tell the Truth

Message from Rob

The exhibit in the Office of the Secretary of State is about the people and the art and the history of the United States. The intent of the portraits is several fold: by painting historical figures as vividly as I would a contemporary person, I’m trying to convey that each one is in a sense as alive right now as they were in their era. The issues of racism and  Constitutional values are still urgent, what they had to say is as relevant now as it was then. And the importance of a good portrait is that it can honor the person as  words sometimes fail to do. Partly that’s because of the time necessary, the commitment, to create a living person. That is, if I say the name Frederick Douglass to you it elicits a different response than if I show you a portrait which conveys his character and courage. I think this year because of Black Live Matter and Covid, we are realizing how deeply entwined racism is in our history and culture. The portraits are of people who need now as much as ever to be our teachers. It’s important to choose teachers who tell us the most truth. The office of the Secretary of State are where laws are meant to be enforced equitably. The portraits acknowledge the struggle of the past and the present to rout out racist law.

Painting of Frances Perkins by Rob Shetterly, Americans Who Tell the Truth

Shenna has the portraits of Frederick Douglass, John Lewis, Frances Perkins and Sojourner Truth in her office. You might be wondering why Shenna wanted these paintings in her office. Shenna was kind enough to share her reasons along with answering several questions that provide the Maine Arts Education blog readers Shenna’s thoughts on ‘truth tellers’ and the messages that the paintings portray.

What inspired you to want to hang AWTT portraits in your  office?

When I served in the Maine Senate, I sat at a desk with a portrait of President Lincoln behind  me. That portrait inspired my work in the Maine Senate, but I was also mindful that in the Legislature, we were surrounded by portraits of white men, and I thought that sent the wrong message about who can lead, especially to children who came to tour the State House. When  it came time to decorate the office of Secretary of State, I wanted portraits of those great heroes who have shaped social justice and especially voting rights. As the first female Secretary of State, I wanted to be sure women were included.

What message do you want to communicate with the AWTT paintings in your office?

The Office of Secretary of State is committed to racial and social justice, and we’re taking the lessons learned from some of the great heroes of civil rights to carry their work forward. I also want to send a message that some of the greatest heroes in advancing justice in our country have been women and African Americans.

Painting of Sojourner Truth by Rob Shetterly, Americans Who Tell the Truth

Why did you choose the ones she did? Are there any personal stories that connect you specifically to these portraits?

The portraits I chose are my some of my own heroes. When I was a kid growing up in Hancock, I had a copy of the Bill of Rights on my bedroom wall. I was committed to the ideals laid out in that document, but it’s taken me a lifetime to continue to learn some of our country’s hard history. In 2003, I went to work for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Washington, DC, and I was assigned to work on building a national campaign to engage activists in calling for reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.  That was the beginning of my professional work to advance voting rights, and it also marked the beginning of my deeper learning and inquiry into the work of heroes like Hon. John Lewis, Frederick Douglas and Sojourner Truth. In 2009, when I was at the ACLU of Maine where I was Executive Director, the Frances Perkins Center gave me an award as a future woman leader. I received a glass hat modeled in the shape of the one Frances Perkins wore and a copy of her biography. Her work inspired me when I went on to chair the Labor and Housing Committee in the Legislature.

What inspires you to take action?

My parents inspired me first. We were poor. I grew up without electricity or running water until the fifth grade. But my mom ran for the planning board to save a bald eagle’s nest and won. My dad protested the nuclear arms race and helped create our town’s recycling center. My parents demonstrated the importance of acting upon one’s values to make a difference. People who choose justice and truth sometimes at great personal cost inspire me to act.

What gives you  courage?

Love and friendship give me courage. When I’m embarking on something that is very difficult, I look to the people I love and respect and the hard choices they have sometimes made to advance justice, and that gives me courage.

If you were to choose a “truth-teller” for an AWTT portrait, who would it be?

Chief Clarissa Sabattis, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. I met her through the Holocaust and Human Rights Center where we collaborated on a project to lift up Maine’s black and brown heroes. I then watched her present to the Maine State Legislature on amendments to the Indian Land Claims Settlement Act. She is an amazing leader.

How does being Maine’s Secretary of State enable you to advance the cause of justice?

The Maine Secretary of State oversees Maine State Archives, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions. With Maine State Archives, we can lift up the history of traditionally marginalized communities and restore access to archival documents to Maine’s Wabanaki tribes. With the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, we can reform the laws surrounding license suspension to ensure we’re not criminalizing poverty. We can also advance credentialing and licensing at the BMV to ensure equal access, especially for immigrant and refugee communities, people experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable communities. At the Division of Elections, we can work to reform our voting laws to make voting as convenient, accessible and secure as possible for all Mainers. At every level of the Department, as Secretary of State, I can promote representation in hiring and appointments and inclusion and equity in our policies and service to the public.

This is one of two blog posts about the AWTT paintings on display at this time in the Capitol Complex.

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Black History Month

February 8, 2021

Over the past two weeks I’ve been considering what to include on the blog to recognize Black History Month. I don’t want what I offer to be just for this month but something that can be for every month. Like excellent arts education should be fostered every day in every classroom, black history should be part of our everyday education. One of the questions I’ve asked myself: how do I, a white woman living in a predominantly white state, avoid common errors that white people make when attempting to provide educational resources that support and recognize black and brown people? I’ve been reading many books and articles, checking websites and listening to podcasts to help open my mind, help me better understand, and move out of my comfort zone. I’ve stopped bashing myself over the head about ‘getting it’ and moved to realizing that I need to be patient with myself because the unlearning necessary will take time and its most likely not a place I’ll reach – my learning will be ongoing.

So, what can I offer you at this time and share with you, the Maine Arts Ed blog readers? Some of the educational resources that I access regularly and some of what I’ve read recently. Places I turn to that pushes on my thinking, sometimes making me uncomfortable. I invite you to share what you’ve been learning by commenting at the bottom of this blog post or by emailing me at meartsed@gmail.com.

Credit: Black History-Shenandoah University

PODCASTS

  • Leading Equity – Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D. is an accomplished K-12 educator and administrator and provides the podcast. He has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels during his career in the states of Florida, Louisiana and in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands.  Dr. Eakins also served several years as a school principal in the states of Louisiana and Oregon. His most recent podcast was an interview with Stephanie Gates and is called How to Combat Colorism in the Classroom with Ms. Stephanie Gates. Dr. Eakins faces challenging topics head on and helps us move to a helicopter view as well as down in the weeds.
  • The Cult of Pedagogy – Jennifer Gonzalez is the Editor in Chief and works with a group of thoughtful and knowledgeable individuals to provide the podcast. Jennifer taught middle school language arts in the D.C. area and in Kentucky. She provides the podcast to support teachers through a community approach. The Cult of Pedagogy website includes an overview of podcasts by category. I suggest that you go to the category called ‘Hot Topics’. Jennifer interviewed Dr. Sheldon Eakins for one called Why White Students Need Multicultural and Social Justice Education. You’ll see a variety of ‘hot topics’ there including one called Talking about Race in School: An Interview with Jose Vilson.

RESOURCES ONLINE

  • Americans Who Tell the TruthMaine artist, Rob Shetterly’s portraits and narratives highlight citizens who courageously address issues of social, environmental, and economic fairness. Paintings of ‘truth tellers’, their stories, and what they stood and still stand for. The paintings communicate all by themselves.
  • Natasha Mayers – Activist artist from Maine and one of Rob Shetterly’s portraits. See film trailer, an Un-Still Life created by Maine film makers Anita Clearfield and Geoffrey Leighton. Website will include many resources in the near future. (blog post later this week with film premiere info)
  • Edutopia – Teaching Black History in Culturally Responsive Ways written by Rann Miller. In this article Rann discusses how Black History is American history, and it should be taught throughout the year across the curriculum—not confined to a single month.
  • Learning for Justice recently changed their name from Teaching Tolerance. Learning for Justice seeks to uphold the mission of the Southern Poverty Law Center: to be a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements and advance the human rights of all people. Visit their site to sign up for their weekly emails and access many free resources for K-high school including downloadable posters that will inspire teachers and learners. They also publish a magazine, this springs edition White Supremacy in Education.
Learn more at https://www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/black-lives-matter-week-of-action.
  • The Art of Education PodcastsCelebrating Black History Month through Art, 17 Black Artists to Know, 5 Black Female Artists You (and Your Students!) Should Know, Where Does Black History Month Stand in the Art room?, 4 Artists that Show Black Lives Matter.
  • Anti-Racism Daily – Since June 3, the Anti-Racism Daily has been sending one email a day pairing current events with historical context and personal reflections on how racism persists in the U.S. (and around the world). You can subscribe and receive an email daily or the weekly archive. The daily information is provided at no cost and was created by Nicole Cardoza. You can subscribe on the website.
  • Teaching for Change – Their website helps connect to real world issues and encourage students and teachers to question and re-think the world inside and outside their classrooms, build a more equitable, multicultural society, and become active global citizens.
  • Inspired Teaching – They provide innovative professional learning programs and help teachers build their practice to engage their students as empathetic, critical thinkers. They have several programs and resources that you can access on their website.
  • Indigo Arts Alliance – Portland, ME and cultivating the artistic development of people of African descent. Mission: to build global connections by bringing together Black and Brown artists from diverse backgrounds to engage in their creative process with an opportunity to serve as both mentors and mentees. An integral aspect of the Indigo vision is to provide Maine based artists of African descent access to a broader range of practicing artists of color from around the world. Website.
  • Holocaust and Human Rights Center – Augusta, ME. One of the educational resources that they have available on their website is called Decision Making in Times of Injustice. A presentation filled with facts to help support educators in their teaching of the injustices in the world.
Located in Montgomery, Alabama

BOOKS

  • Black Like Me written by John Howard Griffin was written over 60 years ago. Griffin embarked on an experiment. He darkened his white skin to become black and traveled through the south, from New Orleans to Atlanta. He wrote the book to share his stories traveling as a ‘black man’ which ended up selling ten million copies and became a modern classic. I was able to purchase a used copy and I was mesmerized. “Black Like Me disabused the idea that minorities were acting out of paranoia,” says Gerald Early, a black scholar at Washington University and editor of Lure and Loathing: Essays on Race, Identity, and the Ambivalence of Assimilation. There was this idea that black people said certain things about racism, and one rather expected them to say these things. Griffin revealed that what they were saying was true. It took someone from outside coming in to do that. And what he went through gave the book a remarkable sincerity.” READ MORE about the book in a Smithsonian Magazine article from 2011.
  • Waking Up White: and Finding Myself in the Story of Race written by Debby Irving. The author tells her true story growing up in a somewhat sheltered upper middle class suburban childhood in Winchester, Massachusetts. Her career focuses on working in nearby Boston in performance art and community based non-profits where she learned that her best efforts were actually doing more harm than good. Her persistence provided lessons along the way and a racial understanding and her white privilege revealed her past.
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption written by Bryan Stevenson. A true story (made into a movie) about the inequities in the justice system. Just out of law school Mr. Stevenson moved to Alabama and established the Equal Justice Initiative. He represented the poorest and most marginalized people in the country: those suffering from excessive or unfair sentences, or facing the death penalty. The stories of the people he represented provides a clear picture of the inequities. In addition to writing this book Bryan Stevenson and a small group of lawyers spent years immersing themselves in archives and county libraries to document thousands of lynchings. From their research a sculpture was created called the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and installed in Montgomery, Alabama. It is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.

In addition to the resources included above on June 8, 2020 I created a blog post called Social Justice Resources that includes nearly 50 links to a plethora of resources. Included are books for young children, middle school, and young adults along with many other resources.

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