By Carole Copeland Thomas
My late mother lived up to her profession as an educator by making sure I knew about the world, my family, and my ethnicity. “You have a heritage,” she repeatedly said to me from childhood until I was a grown woman with children of my own. And a moment wouldn’t pass without Gwendolyn Charleston Copeland making sure that I honored my heritage by respecting myself, my family, and those in my community.
As annoying as it may have been to endure that cultural education from my mother, I would soon realize that she was also fortifying my Blackness from the discrimination I was bound to face in my lifetime. Her lessons, stories, and patient leadership helped me to endure the worst, ignore petty trivialities, value significant moments, and confront injustice on every occasion.
My mother’s teachings helped me to become a proud African American woman. I have never been confused about my ethnicity, my family, and certainly not my heritage. And being an African American has empowered me to pursue opportunities with excitement and enthusiasm, even if layers of discrimination are littered along the way.
Much of my 34 years as a business owner and diversity professional have been spent helping organizations to build better cross-cultural bridges of mutual understanding. I have traveled all over America and to several other countries using that framework with my work. I speak on topics other than global diversity and multiculturalism, including leadership, empowerment, and relationship enhancement.
I also have memberships in several civic and professional organizations and have served in several leadership roles throughout the years. Last week I was asked to deliver a workshop on the importance of accountability, relationships, and reputation to one of the organizations I have enjoyed membership in for many years.
I prepared for the session several days before the event and made a point that my slide deck was racially neutral, inclusive, informative, and educational. The session kicked off on Zoom, and the exchange of information fueled an active dialogue with some 25 participants eager to learn. I was the final speaker in the organization’s six-week summer series, and it felt good to contribute in such a meaningful way.
Near the end of the program, as the breakout room facilitators were sharing the comments from their small groups, one voice blurted out the N-word, loud enough for everyone to hear.
I was the only Black person in attendance, and the word pierced my level of concentration so loudly that you would think I had been hit with a virtual shotgun straight between the eyes.
Early on in the program, I had been made a co-host. I frantically worked to mute the assailant, to no avail. I could not mute him. Finally, seconds later, the chapter president removed the hate-filled person from the Zoom meeting. I looked at the stunned faces of my colleagues on the screen and knew I had to speak up and speak out about what had just happened. My voice was unwavering, and I told the group that I needed to address the “elephant in the room” as we processed what had just happened. I remained calm and told the group the outburst was merely a validation of why my diversity work was so important in our society. Racism was alive and well, and we had just witnessed the ugliness of its actions.
The chapter president and her board activated swiftly. As the Zoom host, she was also unable to mute the participant but was able to quickly remove him from the session. She apologized profusely, denounced his action, and send a letter to the workshop attendees banning his membership in our organization for life. The chapter also offered to make a contribution in my name to the nonprofit of my choice. They said NO to the N-word and NO to hate.
The chapter president did reach out to the N-word assailant. He was a non-member and had attended the previous five sessions, so he wasn’t your typical hit-and-run Zoom bomber. He offered no remorse, stated that he blurted out the word when his mobile phone discharged and never apologized.
I realized at that moment three things:
1. This is why my mother worked so hard to teach me about my heritage.
2. Some people will never accept my Blackness.
3. To some, using the N-word on Black people is a way to devalue their humanity.
My reaction to these three truths include the following:
1. My mother’s wisdom lives defiantly in my spirit. That includes the messages of my father, brother, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and ancestors who came before me.
2. Ignorance and hatred fuel racism, and those who can’t accept Black people, especially in leadership positions, are a hindrance to the growth of America.
3. You can’t take away my Blackness, and you’ll NEVER devalue my humanity!
That Zoom workshop was the third time in my life I recall being called the N-word. Sadly, I know it won’t be the last. However, I know that Gwen Copeland lives on in my spirit, and my work will live on.
Racism will not stop our need to build new bridges of cultural understanding throughout our country and beyond. My Blackness has been fortified, and when the next N-word comes my way, I’ll be ready with the right response and call to action.
Bring it on! You can’t stop my work, my dedication, or my determination to bring cultural change to our country!
Bring it on!!
By Carole Copeland Thomas
Summer is in full swing in the Northern Hemisphere, and with a pandemic still in play, friends and families are figuring out ways to enjoy the sunshine while they can. Keep your mask at close range and celebrate the temporary as much as you can.
I enjoyed seeing my grandchildren after a 16-month absence, and it felt so good to have them in my arms. I visited my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters during the Juneteenth Weekend. I was a proud mom and grandmother when my daughter and older granddaughter delivered a stellar Mother-Daughter Juneteenth keynote address for their hometown, West Hartford, Connecticut. While the 13-year-old was practicing with her mother, the 10-year-old was preparing a delicious breakfast for the family! (Yes, she can cook from scratch all by herself!!) She made sure to save her father some pastries she prepared while he went to play in his semi-pro baseball team’s weekly game. My other daughter came with me and entertained her nieces all weekend long.
Family and Friends during the summer months equals fun time.
So as we say goodbye to this year’s July 4th celebrations here in America, let’s look at when other countries celebrate Independence Day throughout the year.
From my home to yours, have a great summer or winter, depending on your hemisphere!
INDEPENDENCE DAY IN 40 COUNTRIES
There is a long and deep history with all of these countries. Some have both Republic Day and Independence Day. Some countries, like Canada and Egypt, don’t have an Independence Day.
Why not pick five countries this month and learn more about why these dates are important to the people and the cultures of their sovereign land.
July 5, 1962
November 11, 1975
May 28, 1918 Republic Day
September 21, 1991 Independence Day
October 26, 1955
November 30, 1966
August 6, 1825
September 7, 1822
July 5, 1975
October 28, 1918 Independence Day
January 1, 1993 Restoration Day
November 3, 1978
eSwantini (Formerly known as Swaziland)
September 6, 1968 Somhlolo Day
October 19, 1970
March 6, 1957
January 1, 1804
September 15, 1821
August 15, 1947 (Independence Day)
January 26, 1950 (Republic Day)
April 24, 1916
August 6, 1962
December 12, 1963
August 31, 1991
November 22, 1943
July 26, 1847
September 15-16, 1810
December 29, 1911
July 26, 1581
August 14, 1947
June 12, 1898
November 11, 1918
December 1, 1640
St Kitts and Nevis
September 19, 1983
September 23, 1932
July 9, 2011
October 12, 1492 National Day
August 1, 1291
October 1, 1978
October 9, 1962
July 4, 1776
July 5, 1811
Septemer 2, 1945
April 18, 1980
It was the international collaboration that made the difference. And the spirit of cooperation that keeps us moving forward. From the bottom of a grateful heart, I say THANK YOU to everyone who made our inaugural US UK Summit on RACE a complete success. The buzz continues bubbling over from our May 22nd virtual endeavor, and the new opportunities for growth and development are emerging with exciting speed and enthusiasm.
To date, more than 250 people from ten countries have participated or watched the US UK Summit on Race. New relationships have formed, and burning questions discussed and explored as a direct result of the Summit.
Words can only express my deep appreciation for every speaker who delivered a heartfelt and deeply reflective presentation on the issues.
Detective Larry Ellison - US
Leila McKenzie-Delis - UK
Professor Martin Levermore - UK
Former Minnesota State Senator Jeff Hayden - US
Rev. Dr. Karla Cooper - US
Diana Wong, Ph.D. - US
Her Excellency Dr. Justina Mutale - UK
Professor Geoff Thompson, MBE. FRSA, DL - UK
We didn’t just hear our fabulous speakers, then pack up and end the Summit. We dug deeper with our Breakout Sessions that were moderated by 11 amazing Facilitators who teased out perspectives rarely discussed between advocates in the US and the UK.
Sophia Khan - US
Jennifer Perkins - US
Cris Ajemian - US
Dr. Lorna Thomas Farquharson - US
Mesha Mott - US
Tracey Gore - UK
Valton Henderson - US
Francisco Carrasco - UK
Julayne Lee - US
Joseph Mukungu - UK
Carol Ann Whitehead - UK
I worked with three amazing professionals to launch the US UK Summit on Race. Our weekly meetings and endless emails have created a solid collaboration, discussing the issues, identifying relevant topics, and inviting experienced professionals to help create both the content and the resources in both the United Kingdom and the United States.
Denise Gray Felder, Greater New York.
President of the Communication for Social Change Consortium
Garth Dallas, Liverpool, England, Attorney, Diversity Professional, and Anti-Racism expert on racial issues in the United Kingdom
William (Bill) Wells, Jr., Minneapolis, Minnesota, Past Chair, National Black MBA Association, Diversity Professional. Bill is actively involved with Minneapolis civic and business leaders responding to George Floyd’s death.
You can read all about the Speaker-Panelists here:
You can read all about the Facilitators here:
You can read all about the Organizers here:
Volunteers make our events run smoothly. Special THANKS to Michelle Thomas-Monteiro and Denise Willis Turner for all of the “backstage” behind the scenes support they gave to us on May 22nd, as they have given in so many previous events I have produced.
The Summit recordings will post later in June.
The next TWO Summits are scheduled for:
Thursday, August 19, 2021 - Small Group Discussions with a special spotlight on youth perspectives on Race
Saturday , October 2, 2021 - Another full US UK Summit on Race with a salute to Black History Month in the United Kingdom.
The best is yet to come. Thanks to everyone who made our inaugural event a roaring success. We have only just begun!
By Carole Copeland Thomas
Here’s a simple definition of race.
Race represents each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics or a group of people sharing the same culture, history, or language, such as an ethnic group.
Historically we have looked at three races in mankind:
Caucasoid the White race
Negroid or the Black race and
Mongoloid or the Yellow/Asian race
Now I’m fully aware that the terminology is dated, and there may be other classifications used in our modern times. But typically, these are the three main groups referred to as racial groups. White, Black, and Asian.
Most important to remember is race is NOT biological.
It is a social construct.
The political and economic realities of race were largely generated through the explorations of Christopher Columbus, other European voyagers, and the ultimate colonization of the Americas. By the 1700s, when the African slave trade overshadowed indentured servitude, race clearly took on what is now known as a social construct.
To explore it further, Purdue University’s Carol Bainbridge describes it this way: A social construct is something that exists not in objective reality but as a result of human interaction. It exists because humans agree that it exists.
So the concept of race, with no biological baseline, has driven our thinking and our actions for centuries.
The question we face is how far in the future will we allow the whole concept of racial groups to direct our path of mutual interactive collaboration?
I’ll leave the question for you to wrestle with until our May 22nd US UK Summit on Race. We will talk about this extensively during our event that is free and open to the public worldwide.
Register and learn more below.
by Carole Copeland Thomas
I am so excited about what's in store for our upcoming May 22nd US UK Summit on Race. You will have a DIRECT opportunity to talk to global diversity, equity, and inclusion friends in the United States and The United Kingdom. We'll have subject matter experts drilling down into how Race has affected our communities and workplaces from a personal and professional perspective. You'll learn new cultural nuances while sharing your opinions on this critically important topic. And if you just want to sit back, listen, and learn, then go right ahead. This event is for you, too.
And this isn't a "one and done." The US UK Summit on Race is part of the ongoing Series of the Multicultural Symposium Series. This time we're advancing the conversation on RACE, with more events and activities planned beyond May 22nd launch date.
I am also excited because I am collaborating with three friends I have known for many years. Two are from the US. One is from the UK. All are subject matter experts with global backgrounds but local connections.
Denise Gray Felder, Greater New York.
President and CEO, Communication For Social Change Consortium
Garth Dallas, Liverpool, England, Attorney, Diversity Professional, and Anti-Racism expert on racial issues in the United Kingdom
William (Bill) Wells, Jr., Minneapolis, Minnesota, Past Chair, National Black MBA Association, Diversity Professional. Bill is actively involved with Minneapolis civic and business leaders responding to George Floyd's death.
The event is FREE and open to the general public worldwide. Share this with your friends and colleagues and join in the conversation.
Join us on Saturday, May 22nd, for a Summit guaranteed to expand your horizon on Race and its impact on the world.
You can read their complete biographies by clicking the link below.
Register For The Summit on the link below.
By Carole Copeland Thomas
George Floyd would have been an ordinary statistic, so common an action that you wouldn't have paid him a second notice. He was the latest Black man in 2020 caught in a police trap with no exit. A misdemeanor allegation. A $20 fake bill. An apprehensive but somewhat cooperative suspect.
It was, after all, Memorial Day, and who should let their guard down on that auspicious holiday? It was Minneapolis, the land of the "Minnesota Nice," where racial confrontations are often not discussed in polite company.
"I Can't Breathe!"
Everyone knows what happened, how it happened, and the impact of what happened around the world. One black man pinned to a city street by the knee of a rogue police officer who listened to no-one. When George Floyd called out to his deceased mother, Officer Derek Chauvin refused to release the suspect. He kept pressing on Floyd's neck for nearly ten minutes. When George Floyd cried out, "I Can't Breathe!!" Chauvin used his white male police privilege and resolutely anchored his hold. Even the three police officers on hand did nothing to ease the tragedy. They were accomplices in a statistical murder that mattered little to them.
But it did matter to Darnella Fraizer. She was 17 years old on that day, with no photographic, videographer, or police training. A mere high school kid with a conscience bigger than Derek Chauvin or the three police goons put together. She simply took out her phone, clicked over to the video option, and pressed play. Her 9-year-old cousin, Judeah Reynolds, faithfully stood by and witnessed a police officer murdering a Black man. Darnella kept filming, Judeah gave moral support, and other witnesses did their part to dissuade the rogue cop from finishing off an unarmed Black man.
Darnella unknowingly was serving a higher purpose. She said, "When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles because they are all Black. It's been nights I've stayed up apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. It's not what I should have done; it's what he should have done."
Baby cousin Judeah said, "I was sad and kind of mad, and it felt like it was stopping his breathing and it was hurting him. "
A 17 year old and a 9 year old. Offering more grace under fire than wealthy patrons with trunks filled with academic degrees.
These children had GUTS. They were BRAVE. They had COURAGE.
The rogue cops threatened to spray mace in their faces to deter the courage and bravery they demonstrated. Other bystanders, including two other 17-year-olds, Alyssa Funari and Karlynn Gilbert, testified in court and bore their truth of what they saw that day. Yes, there were adults who also testified for the Prosecution, articulating the helplessness they felt as they pleaded for the rogue cop to take his knee off of George Floyd's neck.
Charles McMillian, age 61, was most compassionate, encouraging George Floyd to corporate with the police; yet he also witnessed a hateful and racist cop killing a Black man over a $20 bill. When I watched McMillian break down and cry during his court testimony, tears flowed down my face as I struggled to ask the question, "Why?"
The conviction of Officer Derek Chauvin represented a well-orchestrated trial where the testimonies and video footage of children were principal components of the Prosecution's evidence. The Defense's arguments were pathetically weak, heavily relying on the hypothesis that the preexisting medical-drug history of George Floyd was the cause of death.
And in less than 12 hours, the diverse jury of nine set the record straight.
They believed the CHILDREN.
Yes, the sentencing will take place in the next eight weeks, and Derek Chauvin's legal team will undoubtedly press for an appeal. It won't work. Chauvin will serve some time in jail for his arrogance, hatred, and racism. His police goon squad of three will probably get jail time after their trial is held in August.
The Police Killings Continue
In the midst of nationwide celebrations of the Chauvin's conviction, there is still so much work to do. The US Justice Department is now investigating the operational practices of the Minneapolis Police Department. And as I write this commentary, three more police "shoot to kill" cases have sprung up in Columbus, Ohio, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and Knoxville, Tennessee.
This is out of control and MUST be stopped. Our nation MUST recalibrate our police departments so that punishment meets the crime regardless of race or ethnicity.
George Floyd would have been proud of the young and old bystanders who defended his dignity. They could not save his life, but they saved his legacy. I pay tribute to Darnella and Judeah in particular because they did not RUN in the face of danger. One took out her cell phone as a proud citizen journalist. And the other backed up her older cousin and cried out as any good 9-year-old advocate would do.
They would make ANY mother proud. I celebrate their wisdom and their action.
Saving George Floyd
Yes, young people SAVED George Floyd. They couldn't save his life, but they saved his humanity and made it impossible for us to look away or turn back to the old way of thinking. For our young people armed with cell phone cameras, hopes, and dreams, we have to recalibrate our police departments across the country and examine the countless other ways to affirm the Black Lives Matter signs with policies and practices that give Black and Brown people the decency they deserve.
By Carole Copeland Thomas
The presidential election results had resulted in explosive consequences for the entire country. I was frantic for an endless amount of time. The minutes turned into hours, and the waiting period produced anxiety and a constant stream of prayer. News reports were sketchy at first, and then the images seared on my brain. The presidential election results angered some citizens who revolted and escalated their violence. And with each passing news report, I became more anxious. When would it end? How many would be injured? How many would be killed?
Finally, I heard from him after much anxiety. He was fine. His mother was safe. One of his sisters had been moved out of the country for safety.
During this awful time, the young man I was concerned about was my adopted Kenyan son, Naftal Mwangi Kiambo of Mombasa, Kenya. Sandra Jackson Jenkins and I had “adopted” him and paid for his high school fees following our 2005 trip to Kenya with eight other black women. Kenya’s contentious presidential elections of 2007 resulted in a rash of violent attacks on opposing political sides that killed over 1300 people. And even though Naftal and his family were unharmed, many people bore the brunt of the angry mobs who took their rage out on the innocent.
That incident is what I thought about when I called my niece on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 and told her to turn on her television set to the news channel and stay inside her home in Washington DC. She didn’t know what I was talking about because she was working at home and didn’t realize the angry mob was ascending the steps of the US Capitol.
A LinkedIn colleague of mine told me that her Washington, DC niece had to be evacuated from her home because of a bomb threat. I then posted on my social media pages that my friends and colleagues needed to check with relatives and friends in Washington, DC, urging them to stay home and not to venture near the US Capitol.
The attempted American coup had begun. In the most evil manner, sedition was activated when Donald J. Trump instructed THOUSANDS of white supremacists, Proud Boys, anti-government thugs, and the rest of the hardcore Trump supporters to march on the Capitol in defiance of the presidential election results.
This was NO different from 2007 Kenya. Just different circumstances, different candidates, and a lower death count. Five people dead this week, including one Capitol police officer hit over the head by one of the anarchists with either a fire extinguisher or a lead pipe. One Trump supporter with a military background can be seen on the window panes of the congressional chamber trying to break in. Police shot and killed her.
I have watched the replays of this destruction and carnage for the past two days in anger and horror. I guess trying to kill Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer last October wasn’t big enough. The same thugs decided to bring their Trump-inspired hatred to Washington, denounce the election results, and threaten to kill Vice President Pence, who refused to go along with their lies.
And it was all Trump-inspired. I watched his speech on Wednesday morning. It was filled with lies and filled with hate. And Trump’s message included instructions to march to the Capitol to show their strength, not their weakness.
To all of this in the aftermath of the invasion of the Capitol building while Congress was in session certifying the Electoral College votes… I say,
ARREST THEM ALL!!
No hesitation. No debate. No dismissal. No diminishing their crimes.
ARREST everyone who breached security, broke the windows, climbed the walls, and stormed into the Nation’s Capitol Building. And ARREST Donald J. Trump for inciting violence and criminal behavior.
I realize that Trump is within days of ending his presidency. However, his actions, encouragement, and pack of lies about who won the election confirm his lunacy. I also understand that the House of Representatives will bring up a new Impeachment charge on Monday, and the 25th Amendment is also being explored.
We will know the outcome of those actions by January 20th when civility returns to the Executive Branch of government during the Inauguration.
For now, I just want all of the anarchists ARRESTED and TRIED for their CRIMES.
It will take ten more commentaries to express my outrage about the lack of security during Wednesday’s invasion versus the over intensity of security at Washington’s Lafayette Square last June when rubber bullets, tear gas and night sticks thrashed about Black Lives Matter PEACEFUL protestors. The double standards are now evident and irrefutable. When you’re black, brown, or George Floyd, you’re automatically pounced on by multiple police officers.
When you're a Proud Boy, you’re SUPPORTED by rogue Congresspersons and escorted into the Capitol Building by Trump-supporting police.
Had that been Black Lives Matter supporters storming the Capitol Building, the dead bodies would have been stacked up by the dozens!!!!
ALL IN AMERICA!!
Wednesday’s historical invasion of the US Capitol had not happened since August 1814 when the British stormed and set fire to the building. The ease that the anarchists had in entering the Capitol on Wednesday suggests that SOME of the police MAY have been complicit or sympathizers of Trump’s wild lies about a stolen election. The Capitol police leadership has already resigned. More heads will roll in the days ahead. Congressional officials like Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Josh Hawley never flinched in supporting Trump’s lies, even after the invasion and after the Electoral College count resumed. They do NOT represent the integrity of the American people. They should be defeated in their next elections.
This has EVERYTHING to do with diversity, equity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. That’s why I am using strong language and NOT mincing words. Donald Trump impacted my business last Fall when he issued the Executive Ban preventing Diversity Training for federal agencies and federal contractors. I was bitterly upset about that ban and openly denounced it.
I am denouncing Donald J. Trump once again for being the primary orchestrator of the January 6th Capitol invasion. Arrests must be made, and investigations must continue.
Kenya healed from their nightmare post-election days of 2007-2008. We must do so also as we face the double standards of a fractured America.
May God protect the United States during these last few days of the Trump Administration. And may we be healed and restored under the Biden-Harris Presidency.
By Carole Copeland Thomas
May Joy and Happiness be with you throughout the holiday season. YES, COVID is real, and its impact ripples throughout the world. But just for this one day, let's celebrate Christmas with gusto and enthusiasm.
And to keep you up to date on the latest holiday trivia, here are some fun facts about Christmas and Hanukkah.
Merry Christmas to All!
Holiday Fun Facts
(Thank you, friends and colleagues, of the International Guide Academy, for sharing these facts during our Holiday Zoom party.)
1 When you add it up, the 12 Days of Christmas totals some 364 gifts! (On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me....)
2 Oregon and North Carolina grow the most Christmas Trees in the United States.
3 EggNog originated in medieval England.
4 Coptic Christmas is on January 7th. This date works to the Julian calendar that pre-dates the Gregorian calendar, which is commonly observed. The countries include Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Russia, and Ukraine. Armenia celebrates Christmas on January 6th, Three Kings Day.
For more information visit: http://bit.ly/3aV3EaL
5 The tallest Menorah in the world stands 36 feet and is located in Midtown New York in Manhattan's Grand Army Plaza.
6 The original St. Nickolas, now known as Santa Claus, was born in 270 AD in what is now known as modern-day Turkey.
7 Jingle Bells was a song written in 1850 by James Lord Pierpont. Its original intent was to commemorate the annual sleigh rides held in Medford, Massachusetts, around Thanksgiving!
8 Nobody knows when baby Jesus was born! It probably was in the Spring, yet December 25th became the official date, perhaps in political alignment with a popular pagan holiday!!
9 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert POPULARIZED the decorated Christmas tree when they were pictured with one published in The Illustrated London News in 1848. They didn't' invent it because Christmas trees were found in Germany years before Victoria and Albert married. Interestingly, Prince Albert, a cousin of Victoria, was from Germany. They had nine children, and the British Empire reached its height of power under their rule.
10 It can take as many as 15 years to properly grow a Christmas tree to 6-7 feet. However, the average is 7 years.
For me, last year’s Juneteenth Celebration at Franklin Park here in Boston was the best. A city park filled with happy black friends, colleagues, and families all enjoying the moment of good weather, good friends, and definitely good barbecue. This annual celebration took place every third Saturday in June from early morning where you staked out your location till the evening when the charcoal embers smolder from the sizzle of the grill.
So Much Fun In Franklin Park
In addition to the families who turned out in the 2019 sunshine, many local, state, and national organizations proudly set up tables, stands, and entire corners of the park to display their emblems, symbols, logos, and signage in full recognition of Juneteenth’s real meaning…freedom for all in a joyous celebration. I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, founded 107 years ago on the campus of Howard University. I am from a family of Deltas, including my sister in law, an older daughter, cousin, and my late mother. Last Juneteenth, I hung out with my Delta sisters, who proudly pitched a red and white tent at the Franklin Park celebration. And we were not alone! We were surrounded by the other black sororities and fraternities, including Alpha Kappa Alpha, Zeta Phi Beta, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Alpha Phi Alpha, Phi Beta Sigma, Sigma Gamma Rho, Iota Phi Theta.
Those were just the black Greek-letter organizations present at last year’s Juneteenth Celebration. We were also joined by the NAACP, Urban League, Nation of Islam, various church groups, political campaigns, and healthcare advocacy organizations. I invited two of my clients to attend so that they could see the black community's interconnection in a unified celebration of harmony and happiness. My clients saw how they could proactively build a relationship with multiple groups and constituencies within an arm’s reach of their headquarters.
There were no speeches, no planned programs, no political debate. Just plain ol’ fun, with soul, hip hop, R&B, dance music and the electric slide blasting everywhere.
It was beautiful. It was Juneteenth 2019.
An Alternative To June 19, 1997
And it was a soothing way for me to block out June 19, 1997 the date I buried my 17-year-old son who had died in a single-occupant car crash that year days after graduating from high school.
Now I think of Juneteenth differently this year, where social distancing and an angry virus have robbed residents and citizens around the country from holding picnics or parades in commemoration of Juneteenth. We know this year there are large gatherings of peaceful protesters marching to restore dignity and safety in the black community following the tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, D. J. Henry, Sandra Bland and far too many more. And we also know that Black Lives Matter is not just a catchy slogan by progressive liberals. It’s become a new “call to action” mounted on signs and placards and held by black, white brown, Asian, Arab, English, French, Kenyan, Brazilian, and Jamaican faces all over the world!
History of Juneteenth
The historic proclamation announced on a balcony by Union Army General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865 that ALL slaves throughout America were free. The announcement was made in Galveston, Texas, because selfish white Texas plantation owners kept their slaves in bondage long after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. They even held onto their slaves after the last Civil War shot was fired in April 1865. So you can only imagine how astonished those ex-slaves were in Galveston tasting freedom for the first time, nearly 2.5 years after the fact.
It’s that historical reality that has made Juneteenth such a festive celebration throughout the country. Clearly there are other “black holidays and traditions” that have more recognition than Juneteenth. It’s just this year, with the triple pandemic - (1) COVID-19, (2) the teetering economic, and(3) racial strife, Juneteenth came center stage when a racist president picked June 19th to hold his “Make America Great Again” rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The voices of protest pushed back, causing the autocrat to move his political mob scene to the next day, June 20th.
Only the Appetizer
The bottom line is go on and celebrate Juneteenth. Make it a national holiday, take the day off from work, and hold countless socially distanced picnics and discussion in its honor. But don’t make it an end-all. It’s the appetizer in a full course meal that hasn’t even been cooked yet. That seven-course meal must include many more intentional initiatives, policy actions, police lobotomies, and economic course correctors if this country is going to really set sail in a new direction.
So enjoy Juneteenth. But make sure you save room for the remaining six courses that will really take us somewhere into a future guaranteeing justice, economic access, and freedom for all.
By Carole Copeland Thomas
Periodic flashbacks of conversations with my late mother, Gwendolyn Charleston Copeland, come roaring back in my head from time to time. “Yes, your grandfather’s eyesight was indirectly affected by the Great Influenza of 1918. He had to go to eye specialists for treatment before he fully recovered some years later,” my mother would remind me. My grandfather was Rev. James Arminius Charleston, a well-respected pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). During that era, he pastored Bethel AME Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the birthplace my mother. He later pastored other churches in the midwest and, ultimately St. Paul AME in Detroit.
That family story is one I am now researching and makes the 1918 Spanish Influenza a relevant historic event in my search for truth.
Little did I realize how much that event compares with the raging pandemic of COVID-19, some 102 years later. And when you watch the documentaries and read the books on that tragic event that killed between 50-100 million people worldwide, the similarities will make you weep.
Case in point. Pubic health officials begged organizers and elected officials to cancel the Fourth Liberty Loan Drive Parade in Philadelphia on September 28, 1918. Other cities realized the rapid spread of the deadly influenza virus and canceled their celebrations. Yet the Philadelphia decision-makers ignored the medical professionals and held the parade anyway. The results were a devastatingly high loss of life, killing World War I soldiers, ordinary families, and the innocent equally by the menacing flu virus.
An article in the September 2018 Smithsonian Magazine described it this way:
"Within 72 hours of the parade, every bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled. In the week ending October 5, some 2,600 people in Philadelphia had died from the flu or its complications. A week later, that number rose to more than 4,500. With many of the city’s health professionals pressed into military service, Philadelphia was unprepared for this deluge of death.
Attempting to slow the carnage, city leaders essentially closed down Philadelphia. On October 3, officials shuttered most public spaces – including schools, churches, theaters and pool halls. But the calamity was relentless. Understaffed hospitals were crippled. Morgues and undertakers could not keep pace with demand. Grieving families had to bury their own dead. Casket prices skyrocketed. The phrase “bodies stacked like cordwood” became a common refrain. And news reports and rumors soon spread that the Germans –the “Huns” – had unleashed the epidemic." *
Fast forward to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Alarm bells rung by medical professionals in the US and around the world about inadequate medical supplies and ventilators. Delayed responses by elected officials who are urged to put their countries, states, or municipalities in lockdown. Hospital beds in short supply. And the general public forced to quarantine at home to save their lives.
In both 1918 and 2020, healthcare professionals were first responders, industry experts, and clarion callers in a world turned upside down. The 1918 flu pandemic was further complicated by the fighting forces during World War 1. Healthcare professionals 102 years apart stand shoulder to shoulder in agreement with keeping the general public acutely aware of how to stay safe when a pandemic virus spreads like wildfire.
Our modern-day heroes are the men and women in healthcare. It doesn’t matter what positions they hold, from doctors to hospital administration executives to nurses, to lab technicians, to dietary aides to the cleaning staff. They ALL play a vital role in the fight against COVID-19. Overcrowded hospitals, nursing/veteran home scares, long hours, countless sick patients, and the steady uptick of the dying have become the order of the day for our frontline healthcare professionals. They deserve our attention and our respect as they wage germ warfare in regions across the world.
As my mother reminded me about my grandfather’s condition, we are reminded today about how one virus can knock out whole populations in the blink of an eye. In 1918, it was the flu virus. In 2020 the coronavirus looms large. And our future largely lies in the hands of millions of healthcare professionals who save lives through their sacrificial service throughout our communities.
To all of our healthcare professionals, we salute you because of your selflessness in the face of danger and uncertainty.
Resources For Research
World War 1: 100 Years Later
Philadelphia Threw a WW1 Parade That Gave Thousands of Onlookers The Flu
By Kenneth C. Davis
The Great Influenza
By John M. Barry
Watch this 2005 interview of John M. Barry. He authored the book: The Great Influenza: The A Story of the Deadliest Plague in History. The book details the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic. Sadly, we are repeating some of the same obstacles that occurred 102 years ago. It took him seven years to write this book.
1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic
Here is an excellent documentary about the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Although a different germ, the response and reactions are eerily similar to what we are dealing with during this coronavirus pandemic. And to think someone 102 years later… We are repeating history!
The Center For Disease Control
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the leading national public health institute of the United States. It is a United States federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services and is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.
Its main goal is to protect public health and safety through the control and prevention of disease, injury, and disability in the US and internationally. The CDC focuses national attention on developing and applying disease control and prevention. It especially focuses its attention on infectious disease, foodborne pathogens, environmental health, occupational safety and health, health promotion, injury prevention, and educational activities designed to improve the health of United States citizens.
The World Health Organization
The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health. It is part of the UN Sustainable Development Group. The WHO Constitution, which establishes the agency's governing structure and principles, states its main objective as ensuring "the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health." It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, with six semi-autonomous regional offices and 150 field offices worldwide.
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©2021 All Rights Reserved Carole Copeland Thomas • (508) 947-5755 • Carole@mssconnect.com