Telling Our Stories

by Tanya Cromartie-Twaddle

Black History Month. This is the month set aside for the appreciation of African American Heritage. For me, it is the most complicated time of the year when it comes to my VIEWS. I am reflective, angry, proud, disappointed, appreciative, suspicious, sensitive, all at once. Celebrate! Teachers are pulling out their African Americans of Achievement notes and curriculum supplements. Posters of famous African Americans will decorate the walls and bulletin boards of classrooms all across the nation. Black children will feel special as they see themselves in the limelight…on stage…in plays… speaking the words of the great men and women who came before them. The artist in me imagines rich waves of Kente cloth spread all across America and folks of all shades African-dancing all over the place to the beat of one drum. Marvin Pratt is Milwaukee’s first African American mayor. It is cause for celebration. No matter that he is there because Norquist decided to leave office early. But when the celebrations end, the reality is still the same. And the story ain’t always pretty. As I celebrate black achievements and contributions to civilization and honor the legacies left by those before me, I will not ignore where we are now and how far we have to go. This month forces me to take a real good look at myself and mine. We celebrate amid huge racial disparities in education, imprisonment, and class. Right around my own front door, mothers are grieving over children lost to violence. The graduation rate for black teens in Milwaukee is one of the worst in the nation. The unemployment rate for residents in the central city is pathetic. And while some may argue it has nothing to do with race, others believe it is the lingering legacy of slavery. This month reminds me that I must seize every opportunity to destroy this theory of black inferiority that still permeates the fabric of society. That still manages to creep into my own subconscious at times. I will celebrate this month knowing there are serious lessons to be taught and critical changes that must be made. My nine-year-old’s current aspiration is to interview superstars, namely, Bow Wow and Lil’ Romeo. I’m praying that what she really means, and just doesn’t know yet, is that she wants to use her pen to tell the stories that need to be heard. I want my children to know true black heroes and heroines. Real keepers of the dream. I need to edify the everyday people who really make a difference in the quality of their lives, like the black scientists, doctors, educators, engineers, leaders, activists who are living and contributing today. Too many of our children hardly know the great minds and leaders of the past until they are briefly mentioned each February. I cannot allow my children’s link to our race’s contributions to come in the form of misguided mega-rich entertainers, larger-than-life athletes, criminals on the six o’clock news, sitcoms that perpetuate negative stereotypes, and so-called leaders in our community that can’t keep their misdeeds undone…or at least on the down-low. One month isn’t nearly enough to honor the spectrum of achievements of African Americans and our contributions to this nation…world. One community newspaper could never do that story justice. That said, this issue of the Riverwest Currents is not a “Black History Issue.” But it is a renewed commitment to telling the stories of community. In this issue, mayoral and aldermanic candidates tell us how they can improve the state of affairs in our city. Demaryl Howard gives us his view on the state of Black pride. The book review of First and Long tells the story of two worlds, one black and one white, working together towards the same goal. And we are invited to take a trip to America’s Black Holocaust Museum to learn real stories of suffering and injustice. So many kinds of people make up every community. We are not all organic-gardening vegetarians. We are not all liberals. Neither are we all poetic angry poor black revolutionaries. There are a million places in between and a million places beyond. All of our stories must be told in some way. Everyday, all year long. We must speak for ourselves, the articulate as well as the inarticulate. Artist, politician, mother, father, prisoner, victim, child. But most importantly, we must be willing to listen to the stories of other folk. Especially the stories that are the hardest to bear. In that we learn even more about ourselves. As we celebrate this month, let us remember…we are still fighting. Tanya Cromartie-Twaddle is a regular columnist, writer, and part owner of Riverwest Currents. If you have a story you’d like her to tell, contact .