Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Texas African American History Memorial to White Lives Matter Rally (Road Trip Recap)

To be there in that space at that moment with my children was monumental. On November 19, 2016, the Texas African American History Memorial (TAAHM) was unveiled at the Texas Capitol. This is the second monument dedicated to an ethnic minority group to open on the state capitol’s grounds, and it’s located on the south lawn near other monuments honoring Civil War Confederate Soldiers. I’ll address that tidbit of information later. What made attending this event so special was that I’ve been intentional about educating and exposing my children to black history. During the summer, we embarked on a road trip from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington, D.C. and stopped along the way to tour historic Civil Rights and black history sites. The D.C. Black History Road Trip was also a family affair that included my parents, sister, myself and the kids. We discussed the richness of black history back home, Texas, The only difference between this trip and our summer vacay was this was a quick turnaround trip.

Spontaneity Is My Name

The decision to go to Austin wasn’t exactly spontaneous. Initially, my sister was going to accompany me; however, after we made plans she learned that a forum she was hosting at work was on the same date. Then there was another issue. The day before I planned to leave, I happened to be scrolling through news articles about the unveiling ceremony when I stumbled across an article about a white supremacist group was planning on protesting at the capitol around the same. For a moment, I thought about canceling my plans because I didn’t want to subject my kids to such hurtful rhetoric. Fortunately, I’m quite impulsive and I decided to text a friend to see if he’d tag along with us.

Surprisingly, he was down for the ride. The kids and I slept for a few hours before picking up my friend and his niece  and loading up the car to embark on this historic journey: two car seats (one for my 3 year old and the other for his one year old), a portable DVD player, two small coolers with snacks, and our luggage in the trunk. It's always interesting traveling with kids. Fortunately, for me, the drive down I-35 was stress-free. We left in the middle of the night and the kids, including my friend, slept the entire way. We arrived at our hotel in Austin around the break of dawn. My kids were ecstatic to be free only to have their dreams of playing and watching TV crushed when I told them that I needed two hours of quiet, uninterrupted sleep. Naturally, we slept longer than intended and there was this mad dash to get three kids and two adults ready for the day's event.

Unfortunately, we arrived at the capitol after the commencement of the event. As we were descending down the stairs towards the memorial site, we heard 'white power' chants. Stunned, my friend asked, "Did I just hear 'white power'?" With the last minute planning, I forgot to tell him about the protest. "Oh yeah! A white supremacist group is protesting today," I replied. To which he asked more questions.

Black Man + Baby = Winner

As we continued walking and talking, this middle-aged black woman approached us with tears streaming down her face. Then an elderly black woman saw us and joyously said, "Ooh, look at this beautiful black family!" I smiled and nodded in response. But my 9-year-old son had a different opinion. "Mom, we are not family!" he protested. We repeatedly received praise and adoration for what passersby assumed was a loving black family, headed my a strong black male. A newsperson approached my friend for an interview. I was dumbfounded. I've been a single mom since my son was born and I have never received this level of attention. Honestly, I was unaware of how revered black fathers were. As my children and I were taking pictures, another man approached him with exuberance, "Man, you got your family out here for this historic occasion. I'm so proud of you for taking the time to make sure your children are a part of history." Later, we found out that he and the gentleman belonged to the same fraternity and they exchanged contact info. He was winning left and right.

The Monument

The two-sided bronze sculpture was created by Ed Dwight, a renowned sculptor, to represent 500 years of the African-American experience in Texas.

This was our view as we approached the monument. Breathtaking!

I should have taken pictures of my kids against the sun due to the difficulty of seeing the statues, but they're standing in front of statues depicting Hendrick Arnold and Samuel McCulloch Jr.

This section of the monument represents The Battle of Goliad, Republic of Texas, and Texas Statehood.

The other side of the monument was absolutely stunning. I was amazed to see the story of slavery, emancipation, and present-day black achievement depicted in this level of sophistication.

Photo Courtesy of Dwayne Hills, Sr.
Photo Courtesy of Dwayne Hills, Sr
When I stumbled across Dwayne Hills, Sr.'s photographs, I was truly amazed at the detail on Ed Dwight's work. The enthusiasm, liveliness, and joy depicted by these newly emancipated men and women, the hope for tomorrow, and the prospects of a new day were the emotions of many attendees. People of varying ages, races, and walks of life stood together in admiration of this bronze sculpture that represented our struggles and triumphs and contributions as a people to Texas, the nation, and the world. Despite the disturbing rhetoric that had taken place pre and post our presidential election, despite the racists shouting a few feet away, we soaked up that moment, those images, and the energy from one another. Our legacy was forever solidified on the capitol's grounds. This was our day. Our moment. Our history. Our legacy.

The African American Experience in Texas: An Anthology

Black Texans: A History of African Americans in Texas, 1528–1995

White Lives Matter Rally

I went from the feeling of elation and euphoria to despair when I heard him say, "Hey, let's go over there." My friend was pointing to where the protests were taking place.

The protests were taking place near area's 3 and 4. Unexpectedly, I felt this immense sense of anguish and sorrow. This tightening sensation seized my throat and my eyes began to water. I kept saying to myself, "I will not cry. I will not cry." My son asked, "Mom, why are these people wearing masks? Mom, what are these people doing? Mom, why are we here? Mom, why aren't you answering me?" I felt like if I opened my mouth, the tears would begin to fall. I took a deep breath and simply said, "Right now, Mommy is too emotional to speak." He sighed, clearly disappointed with my response.

Photo Courtesy of Dwayne Hills; Sr.

After regaining my composure, I was reminded of a quote by Mr. Rogers:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
I told my son to read the signs and then I discussed with him how some people don't like black people or other people who may not be like them. He asked what they would do if the police weren't there. I reassured him that someone would have eventually called the police.

As I stated in my personal Facebook post, I'm grateful that my children were able to see far more people opposing hatred than those participating in it.

See You Later, Austin

Overall, the experience was wonderful. Like our trip to D.C., my children now have a frame of reference beyond what they'll read in history books or watch on TV. Which is quite fitting this year since my son is studying Texas History. 

As you know, Everything is Bigger in Texas and a trip to Austin would be incomplete without visiting the largest of all state capitols. Please stop by the Texas African American History Memorial while you're there and share your own experience.

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