Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Humboldt adventure looms large this morning ... .

While writing the last entry Dorian called to ask if we could make a trip to the fabric store for some yarn she needs for a project.  This meant driving to the mall, waiting in the car under the protection of our blue handicap placard (a privilege almost equal to having valet parking) while she makes her choices.  This sometimes involves a generous amount of time -- but that's what crossword puzzles were meant for, and I always keep the latest New York Times magazine under the seat for just this kind of opportunity.  And such errands also allow time for chewing on whatever is left unprocessed in life that either was initiated by writing, or, is resisting resolution.

My mind was still occupied with the S.F. State protest of 40 years ago, and I remembered that -- (and long before blogging was even a word)  I tended to write accounts of significant events for myself.  Since these were rarely shared and certainly not meant for anyone else's eyes, my files were bulging with what I now see as first-person accounts of historic events.  Who knew?

All that is to say that somewhere in my files is that "first-person account" of that dramatic confrontation on the S.F. State campus.  My Humboldt experience suggests that it's important that I add that document to this blog (maybe under Cbreaux's Annex?).

And it is critically important to resist the temptation to make the corrections that 89 year-old far more experienced Betty might be tempted to do -- (The original was pre-computer; typed on my trusty IBM Selectric without SpellCheck or the editing capacity now available.)   I know that I must simply scan the document as is, typos and all.  As I recall, it's polemical and filled with youthful hyperbole, which may be precisely why it's important to not allow myself to try to temper young Betty's voice.  Maybe that's where the value is; value to preserving and revisiting that woman-that-I-once-was involved as a mere bystander in a major confrontation that changed the very nature of educational institutions and democratized the process in ways that bled out into every other institution and pointed the way toward freedoms promised but more often denied.

And I was only a spectator to social change.  I was on campus that day with two UU ministers (Revs. Aron Gilmartin and Harold Wilson) in a quest for understanding of the headlines we were reading almost daily.  Did I consider myself a political activist?  No.  Not then, and not even now.  When I saw the words describing me written out on the whiteboard on Thursday morning in that classroom, it was jarring.  All of those titles were endowed after the fact.  They all represented simply Betty in the process of living of a life and responding intuitively to whatever presented itself.  I recall when I first saw -- in print -- myself described as a cultural anthropologist, I had to look up what it meant!

Now I need to explore those files for that paper and hope that I don't lose the sense of its importance in the process -- and opt out of posting it.  At times second thoughts may stifle creativity.  The Sisterhood will be happy to get it, and will use it well.
It's over -- but maybe it's just another beginning -- this newest chapter in the remarkable life of Betty ... .

The Humboldt experience will mark the place where so much came together for me -- at a time when it was crucial to my next steps.

I'm in one of those periods where life is unfolding at a rate that defies understanding, and when I haven't the luxury of time to process all that is happening to me and to my ability to make sense of the world.  I've lived these periods before, but never with such a sense of urgency and import as now.   Yesterday at Humboldt State University before combined classes of young students I was a teacher.

I may have finally come to terms with the appropriateness of May 14th and the commencement ceremonies -- as the place where academic achievement equates with life equivalency.  I'm not the first, and I'll not be the last.  There are a host of extraordinary ordinary folks who have been honored by the academy, legislatures, institutions, for having taken the more circuitous route toward the same goals yet arrived at the same place having had impact along the way.  I think of cousin George Allen, a grandson of my enslaved great grandmother, Leontine, who rose to be president of Southern University -- only the second generation out of slavery, and the many African Americans of note who followed.

Most important, I discovered a sisterhood that exists on that campus that exemplifies the changes the world will need in order to survive the lightning quick rate of change that waits for no one.  This cadre of young teachers have an excitement about them that one can only hope is reflected widely across the academy. 

I rarely read back through my blog, there's
little time for that, so I'm not sure I've written about the experience of sitting in a Berkeley meeting of politically progressive elders -- mostly former east coast "red diaper babies," now grown old --  as they discussed just how we were going to change the world for the better by whatever means necessary.  These were white-haired "revolutionary" veterans of peace marches, and "Save the Whales" and "A Woman's Right To Choose," etc.  That was in the afternoon.  That very evening I drove to the Fruitvale District of Oakland to the Nu Upper Room, an artist's collective that met in the historic old Masonic Temple where the Hip Hop generation -- guided with love by guru Rafiq Bilal -- was hosting a cultural revolution of its own -- and I discovered that those goals that were being fought for so earnestly by those Gray Panthers earlier in the day had already been achieved across town and by nightfall!  One simply needed to change the lens and tilt the viewfinder a tad and nirvana was a reality.  Here were young people of every color and ethnicity; visual artists, dancers, playwrights, poets, gathering in the name of black culture and honoring it and themselves in ways that were stunningly meaningful.

It was so in Arcata.  Instead of idealistic black revolutionary Hip Hop Guru, Rafiq, here was this amazing sisterhood made up of Christina, Wurgil, Maria, Patty, Karla, Janet, Lorena and Barbara -- all leading eager and inquiring young students in an exploration of subject matter that only a few decades ago were being so valiantly fought over in our educational institutions.  And, yes, I was in that crowd  in 1968 when jauntily tam o' shantered S.I. Hayakawa stood on the rooftop of the Student's Union with his bullhorn taunting the crowd below in that dramatic confrontation over the resistance to the creation of an Ethnic Studies Department at San Francisco State.  That scene ended in tear gas and law enforcement officers on horseback swinging truncheons while plowing through a mass of determined students and supporters -- a sign of the times.

On the long drive home, at Laytonville, I found myself driving through a pouring rain sobbing convulsively!  My personal storm lasted until the outskirts of Willits many miles south.  It was a long but cleansing drive through magnificent redwood and rushing river country that I'll remember with awe for the rest of time.

And how strange that I hadn't found closure on the S.F. State event until this adventure at Humboldt State University, some 40 years later.

Connecting the dots has become a profound ritual in these concluding years.  Maybe that's reason enough for recognition on May 14th. Maybe it simply means acceptance of my role as "first source" to a history of some of the most tumultuous eras in our nation's narrative -- a time when the social landscape was altered for all time, -- and I've been witness to that history and have lived into the actualizing of what is no longer seen as alternative, but essential to the education of whole persons; whole young Americans. 

And the long drive home yielded more ...


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Just when I sense that I'm beginning to take myself too seriously ... look what happens.

First there was Tutt (another Charbonnet stranger cousin who appeared magically from cyberspace) to inquire if I knew of a Charbonnet family crest -- a Coat of Arms?  I was delighted that there just might be such a thing somewhere, but punted by sending an email to Cousin Paul in Baton Rouge, the arbiter of all things Charbonnet from his side of the family.  Surely such a thing could hardly have emanated from mine.  This was a European thing.   Our side is into ceremonial masks and totems; no crests. You may recall -- if you've been reading my blog for a while, Paul and Shirley -- from the melanin-challenged side of the family -- actually flew out to the West Coast to meet me a couple of years ago.  It was a grand reunion that found us more confounded by our politics than by race.  Paul is a devout conservative  Republican and I, well,  you know the answer to that one.  But politics aside, we were absolutely delighted with what we found in each other and celebrated coming together after centuries of separation.

The next day Tutt followed up by another message announcing that he'd indeed found one, and that he would share it with me as an attachment. 

Meanwhile, Paul responded with "I don't know of any, but were it possible to do so" this is what I would design in honor of our most senior and illustrious family member" (I'm paraphrasing).  And, so saying; voila!

Maybe I'll have it emblazoned on a tee-shirt or make it into a flag to hang from the antenna on my little Honda.  Maybe two -- one on each side a la diplomatic service!

I can just imagine getting a fit of the giggles in the middle of some self-induced profundity -- just thinking about this image!

I can just imagine historic St. Louis Cemetery in Old New Orleans sending up a roar as the ancestors roll over in their crypts! ... while in another part of the graveyard -- waaaaay over there in a corner --- others are dancin' for pure joy at what has come to pass.  I've always known that there were those down through history who were always trying to get it right; and that history has mostly been written by those who didn't.  And that in our generation, we've moved closer to that place of racial harmony that we all must reach before true democracy is replicable throughout the world.

Maybe it was always a family thing.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

When the call came from a member of the faculty at Humboldt State some weeks ago, it seemed a likely add-on to end the busiest time of the year for me... .

She told me in that original email introduction that her classes had been reading my blog after being introduced to me through a few paragraphs of Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi's recently-published history of the ACLU in California entitled, "Wherever there's a fight."  Elinson had interviewed me a few years ago, and had later sent a copy as a gift -- and before the end of last year we shared the podium at the Japanese American Methodist where we were panelists.

Meanwhile, those classes have apparently viewed the videos and clips on my blog and after doing so faculty invited me to spend a few days on campus meeting with classes in Women's  and Multicultural Studies.  I have no idea how this will play out, but I gather that the format will be informal and that I will be primarily in a Q&A setting -- that's where I'm most comfortable, anyway.

It seems reasonable to ask for annual leave from work in order to have this on-campus experience as a preliminary to my upcoming great adventure at the California College of the Arts in May.  I've had a difficult time getting into a place where that whole thing doesn't feel waaaay over-the-top and downright weird!  An honorary doctorate, indeed!  But maybe if I could just get out of the maelstrom for a few days, I can make some sense of it. May is coming up fast.  We're at the point of having to send in the invitation list, measurements for cap and robe, begin to form a commencement address to deliver(!); and all of that has to come from somewhere within -- some place where I'll need some stillness to reach.  Perhaps Humboldt State nestled in the old growth redwoods is that place.

I've never written a speech; been "uploading" truth now for years with nary a note nor clues chalked onto cuffs or palms.  But it feels as if a commencement speech needs more preparation than that; more evidence of study and effort ... but whenever I try to cull those gems of wisdom that occur deep in the night to wake me from sleep ... in the morning they've vanished without a trace.  And you know what?  I know that it's in me somewhere and will emerge -- maybe as I stand on that dais and not a moment before -- but it would be so comforting to feel certain that I'm deserving of such an honor.

Tennyrate, I was offered the option of being flown in (50 minutes out of SFO on United), or the only other alternative -- to make that 5 and-a-half-hour drive north up Highway 101.  Sounded so enticing -- given the reasons above -- until the past couple of days when the storms have been relentless.  I feel so in need of that 5 hours transition time between lives.  I will be driving north into rain country.  The snow level has been as low as some of the Bay Area foothills this weekend.  Now I'm anxiously watching the 5-day forecast and hoping for change.  It doesn't look very promising.  However, the die is cast, and I will leave early on Wednesday morning -- with a couple of audio books on CD (Mark Twain as narrated by Matt Damon and Howard Zinn's History of America which I've never had time to complete).

Wish me luck, guys.
There are times when past and present collide and all of my dimensions get into a grand melange and there's nothing to do but simply stop! ... .

My great adventure at blogging started, after all, with my entry into the exacting science of genealogy years ago.  It was in tracing my paternal line that all manner of obstacles prevented my ability to trace any of the women among the ancestors. This was particularly ironic since there is such a long line of strong women whom I remember vividly (MammÃ¥, herself - Leontine Breaux Allen, the matriarch of the Breaux line; Aunt Vivian Jernigan, the dynamo from my mother's generation; Aunt Alice who created the first school for black children in St. James Parish; and so many others) -- but they were impossible to track due to name changes through marriage.

I first started this journal in September of 2003 as a way to leave my own history for those who come after, and, here it is March 2011 and I'm still blogging.  Not only that, but I'm piling on "Life" in so many ways that I'm breathless just trying to keep up with myself!

I'm reminded of this because right in the middle of one of the most crushing speaking schedules to date, a member of the family emailed this photo of these paternal ancestors.  It is by far the earliest I've ever seen, and not only that -- but it is a photograph of one of the women in my lineage.  Wonder of wonders!

With my talk yesterday at Berkeley City College just completed, and, only two days away from my Humboldt State University campus adventure in the offing -- all I can do this minute is think about returning to this fascinating work that started it all.  With the help of others I've partially completed 13 generations of the Charbonnet Family Tree (see links above the archives), and I'm so afraid that it will remain unfinished even as this amazing American family saga continues to unfold ... .

Then this morning I opened my mail to an announcement that the family crest has been located ... and that this distant cousin from my time will send it along as soon as received ... .

Just how many worlds can I manage to maneuver in simultaneously without crashing the space ship?