June 1, 2018

Bridge Building and Resurrection

Given the choice, I'd take singing a solo to millions over speaking to a crowd of fifty. With songs, there's a verse, a chorus, another verse and a chorus, maybe a coda and then I'm done. Speaking on the other hand, especially without notes, leaves the verse, chorus and coda to me and vulnerable to top-of-mind tangents liable to spur other tangents that could possibly last for hours.

With that in mind, I told a story at tonight's event: nervous, shaking and determined to tell lost stories -- like those of the Fair Housing Marches held in our city a mere fifty years ago.

Up until 1968, there was no forceful organized push-back against nefariously embedded red tape designed to keep brown folks in one corner of the city and white folks in the other.

The march, the people who marched and the related untold histories were the centerpiece of this event that was held at Wisconsin's Black Historical Society.

Oddly, and sadly enough, I really didn't know much about this history even though its yields would ultimately impact my family and me. Without it, my mixed-race family wouldn't be living on the south side of our town because the whites in the "white side" of town wanted to keep it white. Very white.

The story I told was about the discovery of who "my people" are, how we came came to live in Milwaukee in the first place, and how this history seemed to be known by everyone on the interwebs -- except me. The opportunity came through the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion and  Ex Fabula, local groups dedicated to building bridges through the sharing of, and listening to, each other's stories.

It was a story I'd told before about discovering my family history and included the names within my family that had been buried along with the people who had borne them. Speaking the names along with their stories felt as if those people were resurrected if only for that moment.

The story ended and my nerves were nearly calm when someone in the audience approached me and said I know you.

I'm at the age where I forget everything except my daughter's schedule, and searched my mental rolodex for a name to put to this somewhat familiar face.

I know you...he continued. I know Marriott, I know Cherie, I know Andrae. My eyes got blurrier and weepier as he ticked off each sibling's name.

But then he remembered for me the bittersweet joy of  hearing my long-lost parents' names uttered by someone besides myself:  ..and I know Percy Dukes and Geneva Dukes. 

If someone had tapped me on the shoulder in that moment, I would've full-blown ugly-cried with snotting and wailing and gnashing of teeth. He must've known I was on the brink and graciously offered I was raised at your church...Come on and hug me, girl.

I remembered him, I knew him and hugged him tight.

Stories have resurrection power...and they can build bridges when you think all the bridges are gone.

I'm a witness.

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