As part of our viewing and savoring The Notion of Family Together, several Politics for the People members are selecting a favorite photo and sharing their thoughts about that image. Today we hear from Sue Davies, Pei Ying Spirito, and Jarell Corley.
Aunt Midge and Grandma Ruby, 2007, pg 131 (the night table)
A pack of cigarettes
An ashtray and a lighter
Three framed photos—a baby, a child and a young woman
A night table
And the edges of two beds
Aunt Midge and Grandma Ruby. We walk into someone’s world. Braddock, PA.
The home of Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill. It was also the place the Carnegie open the first of nearly 1,700 public libraries across the country.
Once a booming steel town. Now population of 2,139.
One of thousands of abandoned cities. Poor African American communities that have been used up and thrown away.
And yet, the photo shares love, generations, life in the midst of that. People live and love. Brush their hair and sleep. Raise children. Get Sick. And take photographs that invite you but also challenge.
In 1988, I spent time in Pittsburgh doing grassroots organizing for Dr. Lenora Fulani’s first campaign for president. The first woman and first African American on the Ballot in all 50 states. The old steel mills haunted the town. Driving through town, we saw hundreds of men, mostly white, standing around. No jobs. No hope. The mayor was intent on turning Pittsburgh into the next Silicon Valley. None of those guys on the street corner would belong in the new Pittsburgh of Apple and Google and Carnegie Mellon University.
There would be no second act for Braddock. 10 miles away. Just like Philadelphia and Chester, PA. The miles are short but the worlds are very far apart. And the towns have been left.
But not by us. Not by Dr. Fulani. Not by Ms. Frazier. Not by the thousands of independent and progressive activists that still work in their own ways to create an world that gives Aunt Midge and Grandma Ruby’s children and grandchildren a voice, a chance to develop and to create new stories and futures for themselves and their communities. L’Chiam to Braddock.
Sue Davies has been an independent political activist for nearly 30 years. She worked on both of Dr. Lenora Fulani’s campaigns for President (1988 and 1992). She is currently on the National Board of Directors of the All Stars Project which transforms the lives of youth and poor communities using the developmental power of performance, in partnership with caring adults. Sue is the Associate Vice President for Development at Montclair State Univeristy and is an Adjunct Professor at NYU.
Forward the world keeps moving,
leaving more and more people behind struggling in the poverty.
Deep in fear I care and hope to see the sweet light of better humanity.
Pei Ying Spirito is the Director of Website Development, Studio Spirito. In addition she has been a volunteer with the All Stars Project since 1997 and the Assistant House Staff Director at the Castillo Theater.
My photograph of choice was “The World is Yours” on page 72. This photograph represents an empowering message of hope in a desolate area of hopelessness. To the inhabitants of Braddock, this message is written off; it is a joke. The members of this community are the exploited victims of a power structure that has written off the poor black working class. Most of the residents in this town see no hope in this message. To them, this message is a reflection of what most see as the lies of an American Dream lost. An American Dream, that is just that, and in most cases something that can’t even be obtained in a dream.
To me, this photo reinforces something I believe, something I know all too well, is attainable. What will be achieved is the result of a mindset some are unable to reach. Those unable to reach this mindset are victims. Are they dually victimized through the efforts of others as well as their own efforts? Who is indefinitely to blame is subjective; it depends to whom you are speaking.
The role of the victim is a segment of the black experience unknown to me and this is why I see – how I see – what I see. Do I suffer a plight resulting from my Blackness? Yes. And, yes, it is different from the popularized images of the black plight, however, it is not to be discounted, as every man’s plight is nevertheless a burden he must deal with. Although one looking from the outside in may say it’s nothing, that does not give them the right. Do I think I’m better? No. Do I know I am different? Yes.
My sympathies extend to the victims of this devastated community and it would be rewarding to lend a helping hand, however, that hand comes at a price. My hand is not one to be clenched into a fist and dapped, but one that is to remain open, seeking that of another similar to it. One looking for another like it to grab hold of, to grasp. One with the understanding that together, we can work to make “The world, Yours.”
Jarell Corley is a student at The University of Chicago in the Masters of Liberal Arts program. He is an Administrative Assistant for the Six Grand Corp and a community organizer and activist with Independent Voting.