March 30, 2020
Dear CBL Friends and Family,
As I continue to witness the endless coverage of this devastating pandemic and think about our future, the signature songs of three artists come to mind: Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” and Pharaoh Sanders’s “Save Our Children”. The words of Marvin Gaye provide a landscape that speaks to the disease that is ransacking our lives and the lives of our families, friends and communities near and far. There are far too many crying and dying, far too much suffering and pain. We need to find a way to bring love, peace, understanding, and hope to ourselves and to those in need. In “People Get Ready,” Curtis Mayfield sows the seeds of hope with words that are uplifting.
People get ready
There's a train, it's coming
You don't need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
Pharaoh Sanders reminds us that we must save our children and not succumb to the despair and despondency we have all around us. His refrain is “All we need is inspiration”.
In this time of despair, we can look to our musicians, artists and writers for sustenance. Our musical and literary artists bring us together and often act as agents for social change. Through their music and lyrics, they highlight critical issues and suggest ways that we can overcome. They are gifted visionaries, who through their insight, give us words and rhythms that feed our spirit and souls.
We will overcome these devastating times. We have many in our cultural history who have who have defied the odds and left a legacy informed by resistance and perseverance. Poet, singer, memoirist and civil rights activist Maya Angelou penned the poem “And Still I Rise”. Novelist, activist and screenwriter John O. Killens reminded us that we are long distance runners.
Writers, activists and luminary leaders such as Frances Harper Watkins, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Cade Bambara, Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler have laid the foundation for overcoming obstacles of racism and injustice. The National Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College has honored many of our literary icons, scholars, public intellectuals, activists, and institution builders whose words and actions document our experiences, inspire us, and effect change. These include among others Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, Edwidge Danticat, Rita Dove, Michael Eric Dyson, Nikki Giovanni, David Levering Lewis, Haki Madhubuti, Toni Morrison, Eugene B. Redmond, Ishmael Reed, Randall Robinson, Sonia Sanchez, Susan L. Taylor, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Quincy Troupe, Derek Walcott, Cornel West, Colson Whitehead, and August Wilson.
Poet and literary activist June Jordan penned the words “we are the ones we have been waiting for” in a poem that celebrated the South African women who resisted and presented themselves in a bodily protest against the “dompass” that Black people in South Africa were forced to carry during Apartheid. Alice Walker’s book We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For provides essays and meditations that remind us that the universe places us in spaces where we have to pause and reflect on ways that we can be the change. Barack Obama ended many of his speeches with the words that “we are the ones we have been waiting for.”
We have no control over what is going on but we should keep the faith and remember our children, loved ones, and community. Look for inspiration among our literary writers and cultural artists. Many artists are streaming listening sessions on the internet. The number of online book clubs has risen. Our cultural institutions are presenting live arts programming. Feed your inner self, stay strong, and practice safety. We are indeed the ones we have been waiting for and we will survive.
Peace and Blessings,
Dr. Brenda Greene
Founder and Executive Director
Center for Black Literature
Medgar Evers College, CUNY
*See “Lighting a Path to Your Dreams” on the CBL Home Page for formal version of letter