Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Thinking About Race – Slavery to Today

Six Acres

I’m outside our house at Six Acres, b&b in Cincinnati

Six Acres and the Underground Railway

Six Acres, the bed and breakfast where my sister and I stayed last weekend, is lovely. There is a large main house with about six rooms, but we were given the whole lower floor of a second smaller house, with a kitchen, sitting room, two bedrooms, and innumerable cupboards and closets we couldn’t resist exploring.

We played Scrabble the first evening in the sitting room, but found there was better light in the kitchen so moved our game there. The tiles in the picture were mine in our second game when I lost badly!

Scrabble letters

My Scrabble letters! I lost this game!

We went to the main house for breakfast each day, and spoke with Jana who was our receptionist, cook, caretaker, and history teller.

Jana is from Brazil. She lives on the 3rd floor with her husband from Costa Rica, who is doing historic preservation on the house.

Six Acres has an unusual history related to race. Jana told us even more of the history than is on their website, including how weapons have been dug up in the grounds over the years.

Deborah

Deborah with her newly signed book

Meeting My Student

I told you four days ago that I would be meeting Deborah Stewart and giving her a signed copy of my memoir – her reward for posting the first review of my memoir on Amazon.

She is a lovely person, warm and outgoing. She brought several pictures from St. Aloysius School and the class I taught.

My sister Beth and I spent over two and a half hours with her. I loved her stories of 4th grade in Covington when I was her teacher, learning about her life since then, and answering her questions about Nigeria Revisited and my life in Nigeria and since.

Catch-up Photo

Marcelle and me

My teacher and editor Marcelle Soviero and me at the Weston Library Lunch and Learn

Since I couldn’t post photos last time, I want to share this one with you now – my teacher and editor Marcelle Soviero came to my Weston Library book talk. Here we are together. She is now the owner and publisher of Brain, Child, so she’s holding the copy of the winter 2012 magazine where my story was published.

More Killing in Nigeria

In today’s New York Times there is a report of more death in Nigeria. Two suicide bombers, at least one a woman, detonated their bombs in a market in Maidugari, killing and wounding dozens. This is the second time that market has been targeted.

How sad – I keep waiting for a major outcry in Nigeria to galvanise the government into action.

Ferguson

Ferguson witness

Gathering at Unitarian Church in Westport

Tonight I attended a gathering to bear witness for justice in honor of Michael Brown in Ferguson and all the other unarmed black men killed by police or vigilantes.

Tim Wise is a white anti-racist essayist, author, and educator. I heard him speak last year at the Unitarian General Assembly. He is able to explain the effects and insidious nature of racism well. His piece yesterday talks about black reality and white denial – how it is hard for white people who don’t experience racism to understand it.

He says, “That so much of white America cannot see the shapes made out so clearly by most of black America cannot be a mere coincidence, nor is it likely an inherent defect in our vision. Rather, it is a socially-constructed astigmatism that blinds so many to the way in which black folks often experience law enforcement.”

The Nigerian-American author Teju Cole says something similar. He wrote this three months ago, after Michael Brown’s death but before the grand jury conclusion: “The news of the day (old news, but raw as a fresh wound) is that black American life is disposable from the point of view of policing, sentencing, economic policy, and countless terrifying forms of disregard.”

Rev. Finkelstein

Rev. Roberta Finkelstein at Ferguson Witness event

I know that I can ignore injustice based on race – it doesn’t happen to me; I am white. My husband can  ignore it; he’s black but African, and didn’t grow up with racism.

But I choose not to ignore it – as Rev. Roberta Finkelstein said tonight at the gathering in our Unitarian Church, “We are all responsible. We should each decide to take one more step, in addition to showing up tonight.” This blog post is one step.

I’d love to hear what you think about issues of race in America.

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

6 Comments

  1. I doubt that Roberta would remember me. I liked her ministry, but I wasn’t enthralled with the Sterling congregation. I was church-shopping at the time, and I ended up briefly in the Reston congregation before returning to my long-term affiliation with the UU Congregation of Fairfax, in Oakton, Va. I had left UUCF because, like many others, I didn’t like the minister at the time. He was forced out in 2003, but by then I was dating Bette Hileman (Mount Holyoke ’59), who came with a house in rural Jeffersonton, Va. We’re now very active in the Unitarian Universalists of the Blue Ridge (UUBRidge) in Sperryville, Va.
    So Roberta is now an interim minister? That seems to be a popular role for UU ministers moving toward retirement.
    Good luck with your search committee. The search committee in Manassas, Va., several years ago landed a prize candidate, Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd, a young former Catholic whom Meadville-Lombard Divinity School considered the best student they had seen in 20 years. A rising star in the UU movement, she’s now senior minister at River Road UU Congregation in Bethesda, Md., one of the plum jobs around the Beltway.

    • Thanks for the added info, Steve. I hope our search committee is as successful as yours was. I didn’t become a UU until 1993 or ’94. Do you ever go to the annual Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in June? (I spelled it all out so other readers will have an idea what we’re talking about.)

  2. Thanks for pointing me to the Teju Cole and the Tim Wise articles – extraordinary!

  3. I was pleased to learn that Rev. Roberta Finkelstein has found a home at your UU church in Westport, Conn. I remember her well from her early days as a minister in Sterling, Va. some 20 years ago. Her congregation was started by breakaway members of a choir in the Reston, Va., UU congregation who left in protest against the firing of their music director. (I’ve heard conflicting tales of that firing from a friend who was president of the Reston congregation at the time and a former girlfriend who decamped to the Sterling church).
    As you probably know, Roberta is unusual in bringing her experience as a midwife to the UU ministry.

    • Small world, Steve! Would she remember you? She is here as our interim minister only for 2 years, and is now well into the 2nd. We expect to call a new senior minister by late April. I’m on the search committee.