February is Black History Month, and we couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate and honor it than by sharing some incredible stories from our All Together Now project on civil and human rights. With great admiration and appreciation for all the stories and storytellers in the project, we have selected a few stories to share with you here. To view more stories or contribute your own story to the project, please visit http://cowbird.com/saga/taking-action.
Some reflections on “Surprise Birthday Party”
by Kelly Elaine Navies, Special Collections Librarian, Washingtoniana and Black Studies Divisions, MLK Memorial Library
The memory of this day has lived me with for the over three decades since it took place in 1980. In one shattering night, I was snatched from childhood and thrust headfirst into the murky waters of adolescence. I first tried to write about it as a short story, but it didn’t quite come together as I expected. Participating in the All Together Now workshop brought the trauma of this day back to the surface and once again, I felt compelled to write about it. When I recorded the story, I found my voice shaking and I had to fight to hold back the tears. I was shocked by how visceral the memory still is after over thirty years. Writing it in this manner, as a brief memoir, has had more impact on me than writing a fifteen-page fictionalized account. I believe that now I can revisit this story as either a poem or a piece of fiction, but I had to write it this way first. I had to confront the trauma head on.
When I look back on this day, what strikes me most is the fear that literally gripped my heart as my father’s life was threatened. I can’t help but think about the collective impact of racial violence on the psyche of African Americans and other oppressed people in the United States. Recently, I had the honor of meeting the youngest daughter of Malcolm X, Malaak Shabazz. Malcolm X, of course, was gunned down in front of his wife and small children. This assassination traumatized not only the African American community, but thousands upon thousands of people around the world. However, looking in her eyes, I connected with the depth of her loss on a personal level, as the daughter of a black man who also risked his life challenging the system – in that moment we were kindred spirits. There is so much healing that needs to take place in our communities as a result of racial oppression and violence. Telling these stories is just the beginning.