Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Ten Thousand Volunteers?

Party Time

Connecticut Returned Peace Corps Volunteers- Clem and others listening to our introductions.

Clem standing at far end. We were listening as we introduced ourselves; I had jumped up to take the picture.

The Connecticut Returned Peace Corps Volunteers held its annual holiday party today. I brought home three raffle prizes, including a soft plush throw, a small blanket to use on the sofa for chilly evenings.

But better than what I got is what I gave!

My raffle donation

My raffle donation

Just like last year, I contributed my memoir Nigeria Revisited My Life and Loves Abroad, with a commitment to give a book presentation at the place of the winner’s choice (within 75 miles of Westport).

I think this is the person who won my book and presentation.

I think this is the person who won my book and presentation.

A recently returned volunteer from Madagascar won the book and presentation.

I’m eager to hear from her to see what she wants.

Jonathan Pearson from the National Peace Corps Association, NPCA, spoke about current advocacy efforts. Peace Corps and the NPCA are working toward a goal of funding for 10,000 volunteers in the next few years. Right now there are fewer than 7000 in the field.

Literary Conference; Can I Make It? 

My colleague Cece, on the board of the US National Committee for UN Women, has submitted my name as a speaker for the Literary Guild Orange County (California) annual conference in May. I sent my memoir Nigeria Revisited My Life and Loves Abroad to her and other selection committee members as she instructed.

I’m told that some of the women watched the video of my presentation at Monroe Library!

I decided to list it on my Speaking Engagements page under the heading “To Be Confirmed,” hoping that will bring good luck!

The page is now all updated with ten events, starting with two this coming week, and the last in April 2016. Check it out!

Role Model for Teens

I had never heard of the actress Yara Shahidi but was intrigued by the headline in The New York Times about her – “‘Black-ish’ Star Yara Shahidi Is a Role Model Off-Screen.”

Yara Shahidi

Yara Shahidi

In case you’re as out of touch as I am, here’s the scoop. “As the actress who plays Zoey, the smart but entitled daughter on ABC’s “Black-ish,” a situation comedy about a prosperous black family wrestling with racial issues, Ms. Shahidi certainly has a platform to be heard. But she has not stopped there.”

I read more and found that she has received several awards for her social activism. In addition, “She was also recognized by the N.A.A.C.P. for her commitment to service and scholarship. Last month, Ms. Shahidi met with UN Women, an organization dedicated to gender equality. And before that, she spoke at the Paley Center for Media on a panel titled “Cracking the Code: Diversity, Hollywood & STEM.”

She’s 15!  I looked for the program and found that I can watch past episodes through OnDemand with our Cablevision service. Who knew?

Whose Debt? 

The New York Times also provided me with an excellent piece on race and white privilege, called White Debt, by Eula Biss.

I’d been working on the descriptions of talks I’ll give for Unitarian groups on Igbo customs and race. I used this theme in my talk last summer at The Unitarian Church in Westport, Connecticut.

I want to speak about the strong sense of community in an African village and how that helps everyone feel a sense of belonging. People face hardships together, support each other, and care for those in need. We barely have this in our towns in the U.S., much less between people of different races across the country. Yet we are all Americans together.

I found the essence of my message: “When the laws that bind a community apply differently to different members of the community, . . . then privilege ‘undermines the solidarity of the community.’ And that, in turn, undermines us all.”

I was so excited that I wanted to grab a pen to underline, and then realized I was reading on my iPad!

Eula Biss, author of "White Debt"

Eula Biss, author of “White Debt”

Biss, who is white, captures the disparity between the races beautifully as she describes her experience of getting a mortgage. “While I was in the bank signing the paperwork that would allow me to spend money I hadn’t yet earned, I thought of Eddie Murphy’s skit in which he goes undercover as a white person and discovers that white people at banks give away money to other white people free.

“It’s true, I thought to myself in awe when I saw the ease with which I was granted another loan. . ”

After the more than 200 years of using free labor to build wealth, those of us with privilege have continued to benefit. At the same time those who had nothing at the time of emancipation, the freed slaves, have found it more difficult to build any wealth.

She tells us more. ‘The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning’’ is the title of an essay Claudia Rankine wrote for The New York Times Magazine after the Charleston church massacre, Biss says. Then she struggles with the question, “What is the condition of white life?”

She tried the term complacence, but rejected it. What would describe the sense of ownership that many of us take for granted? We believe we have the right of this ownership, without any evil having been committed. And it’s true, we didn’t personally commit any act. Yet we as a society have been complicit, she thinks.

“This [rightful ownership] is an illusion that depends on forgetting the redlining, block busting, racial covenants, contract buying, loan discrimination, housing projects, mass incarceration, predatory lending and deed thefts that have prevented so many black Americans from building wealth the way so many white Americans have, through homeownership. I erased ‘‘complacence’’ and wrote ‘‘complicity.’’ I erased it. ‘‘Debt,’’ I wrote. Then, ‘‘forgotten debt.’’

I find her writing powerful. I’m sure I’ll come back to her as I write my pieces for the Unitarian events.

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.

2 Comments

  1. I, too, read the Eula Bliss piece in the Times and then re-read it. Excellent and insightful in ways I couldn’t have imagined – a fresh take on white privilege. My debt is a powerful acknowledgement of special position, privilege and power.

    • Thank you for your comment, Lynda. Biss’ article was eye-opening for me too. I will refer to it again. I’ll probably use it at the New Haven Unitarian Cluster meeting and also at All Souls’ NY Book Group where I’m speaking in a couple of months.