Some of us started celebrating Black History Month last November. Oh yeah! I came of (voting) age in the Reagan era. My years of experience with the democratic process taught me: voting is one of those pointless, painful things that are supposed to be good for you like a mammogram or dental exam. Victory and hope weren’t in the equation. Until now!
So in the spirit of the Roman Caesars and early Church fathers, I’m counting my “month” to include as many days as I need to celebrate this year’s good news in Black History. The timeline for my Black History Month starts with waiting for election results in November. See me crying with and hugging strangers! Then weeks of watching celebrities share stories of how they celebrated (crying with and hugging strangers!) December is for Kwanzaa and more Obama watching. Also for thanking Santa or baby Jesus (or whatever you believe in) for giving us what we really wanted for the winter holidays: hope and leadership. January is for MLK day and Inauguration Parties. Then comes the celebrating of the officially sanctioned Month of Black History: February 2009.
What follows is a small sampling of exceptional Oregon events.
In Salem, Oregon
On Jan 31, OREGON ASSEMBLY FOR BLACK AFFAIRS (OABA) is hosting the 2009 Call-to-Action Leadership Conference in Salem at the Red Lion Hotel. For more info: email@example.com
January 30-March 15 Black History Exhibit: Stories from the Peculiar Paradise. Salem Multicultural Institute in the Reed Opera House (2nd floor), Salem. Tuesday-Friday 10-2 and Saturday 12-4. Free. Opening reception and historical program: Jan. 30, 6pm/7pm, in Reed Trinity Ballroom. “This exhibit highlights six stories of men who lived in the ‘peculiar paradise’ called Oregon; a beautiful eden like place where the peculiar institution of slavery cast a shadow and yet the human spirit prevailed.” Presented by the Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers and the Salem Multicultural Institute. For more info: Erin@salemmulticultural.org
January 31 Salem Youth Symphony Concert: Musical Enchantment: “A Night to Remember: A Tribute to Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald.” Corban College, Psalm Performing Arts Center. 7pm. Free. For more information: 503.588.6088.
February 13-22 Portland Jazz Festival. If you don’t know what Jazz has to do with Black History, Wake up and smell the quarter-notes. Get details at http://www.pdxjazz.com/
February 14-May 29 Commemorate Black History and Oregon’s 150th birthday at Mission Mill Museum, Salem. The Facing Statehood exhibition is “interactive time travel”. Walk through the stories of the Kalapuya Native peoples, the trappers, missionaries, and early settlers’ migration. Hear the multicultural voices of those who were ineligible to participate in this democratic experience: women, Native Peoples, and Blacks. Finally, you will be asked contribute your own hopes and dreams for Oregon’s future. 503.585.7012 or http://www.missionmill.org.
February 17, 2009 Willamette University celebrates Africa Week with a number of free events beginning with “Examining The Heart of Darkness” Willamette University, Cone Chapel. 11:30am-12:30pm. A panel discussion of Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella, The Heart of Darkness. Africa Week Keynote Speaker: Grace Kuto. Willamette University, Hudson Hall. 7-8pm. Free. “Grace Kuto is a Kenya native living in Portland is a founder of the Harambee Center, which works to connect the people of the Pacific Northwest and of Africa for the good of the global community.”
February 18, 2009 Africa Week Film: La Raiz Olvidada. Willamette University, Cat Cavern. 8-9:30pm. “La Raiz Olvidada, meaning ‘The Forgotten Root,’ will be shown. This film reveals the often ‘forgotten’ African ancestry in Mexican culture.”
February 21, 2009 Africa Week Celebration: Music, Dance, Crafts & Food. Willamette University, Cone Field House. 10am-4pm. Free.
February 21-22, 2009 In celebration of Black History Month, the Willamette Master Chorus will present ‘Sacred Service’ by Duke Ellington.Willamette University, Smith Auditorium. Feb. 21: 7pm. Feb. 22: 3pm. $15/$12. For more info: 503.370.6929.
In Portland, Oregon
The play Perfection is at the IFCC in honor of Black History Month. There will be a moderated open discussion of this controversial issue following each play. IFCC (Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center) is 5340 North Interstate Avenue. Perfection runs Feb. 05 – Feb. 28 with shows Thursday through Saturday 8pm and Sunday 2pm. $20 general and $16 students. Tickets are available online, by phone 503-205-0715 or at PDX Box Office, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd, Portland open daily 1pm-9pm.
The following information is taken from the play’s promotional material and included because of the potentially painful material the play addresses. Beautiful and meaningful but more in the spirit of a visit to a Holocaust memorial than a casual dinner and a movie date.
“I’ve tried to create a play that contrasts the beauty of true human spirit with the mindless arrogance displayed by the architects of the eugenics movement.” – Helen Hill, playwright
In 2000, Governor Kitzhaber issued a public apology to the thousands of forced sterilization victims in Oregon. This was the first time many Oregonians had ever heard of Oregon’s eight decades of participation in the eugenics movement.
The American Eugenics movement sprang up in the early 1900’s, and it is still with us today. Scientists, religious leaders and social workers throughout America proclaimed that civilization must protect itself against ‘defective germ plasm’ or the human race would not survive. A powerful wave of fanatical public opinion swept the country, resulting in state laws that required the forced sterilization of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. Victims were lumped together, targeted because they were black, poor, native American, criminal, morally ‘degenerate’, handicapped, insane or arbitrarily deemed ‘a probable ward of the state’. It was the American Eugenics laws that provided the ‘scientific’ basis for the rise of Nazi Germany.
Though state sterilization laws have been removed from the books, institutionalized oppression against those who are not wealthy, healthy and white dove underground and still influences social and political policy today. ‘Perfection‘ seeks to put a face and a heart to the continuing legacy of the Eugenics movement.
In Corvallis, Oregon
If you’re hungry for more than history on Weds, Feb 25 from 6pm- 8pm join the Annual Black History Month Dinner Celebration hosted by the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center. The dinner is held on OSU campus (2501 SW Jefferson Way, Corvallis) in the Ballroom of the Memorial Union bldg. The event is free.
In Philomath, Oregon
So much to celebrate. Why not celebrate the addition of our new President by joining the 200th birthday party of an old one? Feb 10, 2009 is the 200th birthday of “the great emancipator” Abraham Lincoln. Benton County Historical Museum is commemorating with a “Lincoln Town Hall” event in the Moreland Auditorium from 7 to 9 pm. Mr. Lincoln himself (portrayed by Steve Holgate) will be on hand to talk about his life and presidency – and yes, they will have birthday cake!There will be songs and music from the Lincoln era, readings from Lincoln in fiction, and a press conference with Lincoln. 1101 Main St. Philomath, Oregon;
In Eugene, Oregon
Now in its 17th year of performing Black History Month plays at Eugene Public Library, Drinking Gourd is well-known for engaging preschool and elementary-age kids, even inviting the audience to join in the show. This year, the Drinking Gourd School’s original student play shares the life story of our new president. “Yes, We Can! The Story of Barack Obama” at storytime on Wednesday, February 18, 10:15am and 11:00am, Downtown Branch of the Eugene Public Library.
There’s a lot of great stuff happening in Oregon. Unfortunately Oregonians love to celebrate but suck at publicizing. A number of events will literally POP UP just days before they happen. How do you find out what’s going on in your area? Check local venues. Yes, their websites but also call and ask what’s on the calendar or stop in and browse fliers. Remember things you’ve loved in the past. Call the venue where they appeared and ask where they maybe happening this year. Last year in Eugene, Tsunami Books did a Musical Tribute to Black History. I intend to ask them if it’s happening again. (Which might inspire it to happen even if it wasn’t.) You are part of your community. Everything you do –whether its volunteering, organizing, attending or asking for info on an event– has an effect on the world, city and lives around you. I know the John Gainer Gospel Choir will be performing somewhere (and the local university will have some lovely speakers… even though their calendar won’t admit it. Yet.) So I’m going to make it my mission to track ’em down. You can find me dancing victoriously in the streets (with the rest of America) and if you’re in Eugene why not stop in at Papa’s Soul Food kitchen and help me celebrate the neverending bliss of Black History.