Category Archives: HERSTORY MONTH

Gloria Thompson – We are Black History!

 

 

Gloria Thompson

Breaking News – Twelve-year old Gloria Thompson along with classmates from elementary school, Michael Jones, Lance Newman and Ronald Deskins, desegregated schools (Stratford Junior High) in Arlington, Virginia on February 21959. Youths have been breaking barriers for a very long time and today’s trauma victims in Parkland, Florida are part of a long tradition of our civil and human rights movements. Just as we recognize our youth today (2018) are savvy and well organized, the integration at the Stratford Junior High School in 1959 was also a successfully orchestrated event.

National and local organizations had been involved in legal challenges. There were IQ testing and selection of the chosen four. Intense parental involvement included teachers from the community prepared the students’ academically and mentally.  Community leaders coordinated between the school system, her community, and everybody’s parents. It was a single landmark event for Arlington County. That was also true for our segregated community of ‘Halls Hill’ locked in off both sides of Lee Highway, and anchored by John M. Langston Elementary School.

Gloria’s sister, Clarissa, had been a named claimant in court battles to facilitate the integration of Arlington County schools. She had finished top of her class, at the segregated Hoffman-Boston High School in South Arlington. Kids were used to being bussed to a school far away from the nearby Stratford Junior High.  That day would change everything, months and years followed by the second and third wave of students who fought in court or became eligible to go to Stratford based on grades. Many students, from the community, chose to stay and go to the segregated Hoffman-Boston. Also the kids from ‘Halls Hill’ went to other nearby desegregated schools thereby splitting up the youth in the community. Gloria was popular at the segregated school and had made new friends. With this change, she would become isolated and far away from her new friends one normally would have in junior high school. She never complained.

A big driver for integrating schools was Gloria’s Mother who believed that a good education was the ticket to success. Our activist Mother (yes Gloria is my sister) wanted her eldest daughter, Clarissa, to have higher education ensuring her success and self sufficiency by going to college. Mother had us demonstrating at local movie houses, going to civil rights organizing meetings in Alexandria, putting her children in lawsuits challenging the status quo, in a relentless effort to get her son and daughters well educated. Gloria’s high test results made her the only girl in this school desegregation in Arlington. The only girl with women swirling around her, from the community, dedicated to her success.

As the youth in Parkland, Florida have been scarred by the loss of their friends and suffering psychological damage, so it was true for Gloria and her classmates. On the outside were changes that opened doors and improved educational access. On the inside she had to depend on our small segregated community for social development. Moving from Stratford Junior High to integrating the overwhelmingly white Washington-Lee High School (W-L) was a continuation of isolation dedicated purely to the importance of learning opportunities but a social flop with psychological challenges day in and day out. Probably due to my mother’s insistence, my brother attended W-L briefly, due to fist fights over insults, he later finished high school with a GED. (He was a warrior).  They thought the workshop teacher was a janitor! The hard work of desegregation put Gloria Thompson and her classmates on the map in the Halls Hill (Now Highview Park) community  and well documented in the Arlington, County Library.

It was a sacrifice and many fail to appreciate that fact. When young people, including at the time, my Mother’s children, who were thrust in front of Judges, School Boards, a sea of new and different cultural subsets of students, demonstrations to gain access to local movie houses in the face of Nazi opposition and relentless self-consciousness to avoid the wrong move cannot be quantified. As we celebrate Gloria, we acknowledge all those in and out of the spotlight during that time, since that time, and even today that have the courage to step forward and make that bold move for change forges a country meaningfulness, and proud of making a difference toward its future and democratic potential. What can we say? We say thank you over and over again.

Art and article by Lillian L. Thompson, for Lillianonline series ‘Black Herstory Month’

 

 

 

 

Nigerian-Americans a 2018 Princess Olympic Bobsled Story

 

Nigerian-American Women Bobsled Team

Yes; it is true! 30 years after the Jamaican men and film ‘Cool Runnings’, this Nigerian-American Women’s Go Fund Me team of former track stars had set out on a mission to put Africa on the map for a cold winter sport. The United States long Olympic history in summer and winter games gives them unique attention in our media. They made the rounds including the Ellen DeGeneres show, dancing their way onto the stage and into our hearts. They were ‘fun loving’ but the back story was about incredible hard work and sacrifice made to move from track and field, transitioning into bobsledding, going from zero to 100 to learn and qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics in a few short years.

The imaginative force behind this effort was also the driver of the bobsled, Seun Adigen. Her vision and a hand-made wooden practice bobsled was the beginning of a journey with a goal to make it to the Olympics. Their story is unique in that they are American born and educated children of Nigerian parents. They represented Nigeria in track and field in the Olympics in 100 meters. Apparently track stars are most adept to the bobsled sport. In the case of the American team, they are sought after talent.  Seun Adigen then recruited two Nigerian-American women former track stars to join the team. They gave up normal activities so many at their age enjoy. Instead they put their focus on going for a mission of qualifying in bobsledding for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. They achieved that first step. All in great spirits brakemen, Ngozi Onwumere, on left in drawing, and Akuoma Omeoga had great synergy to commit to the work and be actively engaged with the marketing and getting sponsors. They would travel to Nigeria for TV interviews and promotional support.  They raised enough money to travel and obtain their own bobsled. They also formed a federation for bobsledding in Nigeria. While the warm climate continent had only eight countries participate in the 2018 Olympics, most Africans don’t even have the Winter Olympics on their radar screens. This is truly a mission of significant proportions, yet it brought great pride to Nigeria.

As it turns out, they were last (20th) in the Olympics behind the Gold Medalist from Germany, off by 7 seconds, if you can imagine the 19 others including 3rd from finish, Jamaica, that were competing. Yes, after 30 years there was the first women’s bobsled team from Jamaica. Despite drama of one team member leaving with the bobsled and scrambling to get another they actually beat the Nigerian team by two spots. A closer look at this fierce competition of milliseconds made up the differences between the final medalist teams. In the final runs, the Americans were most destined to win the gold. They were well positioned and had the best  success record. After three runs though, Afro-German driver, Mariama Jamanka, of the Germany team had the highest average scoring runs to win the gold medal; the African-American team (Elana Meyers Taylor and Laura Gibbs) got silver, and the Canadian bronze team winners had, Phylicia George a brakeman, an Afro-Canadian member.

Go figure, of the six finalists (two to a team) four were of African descent. As the Nigerian team got our attention in the states. Jamaica (Carrie Russell and Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian) were also making history despite their disappointing relationship with a German coach, who owned and took the bobsled upon unexpectedly quitting during the Olympics. Something they amazingly overcame, even though third from last. T

he Global Afro Woman, has much to be proud of in dominating the 2018 Olympic bobsledding event. We are very proud of her determination and competitive spirits.  Congratulations my protagonists!

 

Art and article by Lillian L Thompson for Lillianonline

Zena Howard, Architect and Managing Director

 

Zena Howard, Architect

Data shows from the American Institute of Architects that .02 percent of their professionals are women of color. This makes Zena Howard an African American woman architect a very rare person indeed. She is well a documented rising star in the profession. During 2017, her title became principal and ‘managing director of the Durham and Charlotte offices’ of the International firm of Perkins + Will. Many articles from Perkins + Will promotes awareness of Zena’s career and successes as an architect. Zena is on LinkedIn, which shows her career jobs as project architect and eventually principal at The Freelon Group. Zena’s building projects include Anacostia Library, Human Resources Building in Durham, and smaller museums. Her tested capacity and experience made her most ideal to step into the managing director role after architect Phil Freelon, who remains the design director at Perkins + Will. Due to neuron effects of ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) he had to relinquish day to day operations. Many people may not be unaware that Freelon, at age 65, is still in the prime of his career as an architect and was acknowledged as ‘Architect of the Year’ by the American Institute of Architects December 2017. This places Zena at ‘up and coming’.

The ‘planned acquisition’ of the 60 member Freelon Group with Perkins + Will came amid work on the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC (which just won ‘Building of the Year’). The Freelon Group were the design Architects on that building in collaboration with lead designer, British-Ghanaian architect, David Adjaye;  J Max Bond (of NYC Davis Brody Bond (deceased (2009) was my former professor at Columbia and Julian Bond’s cousin) also a design partner along with the addition of a large interdisciplinary architectural/engineering firm SmithGroup to round out the winning team. Zena Howard, as design project architect, worked on construction of significant portions of the building for over eight years of her professional life.  Ensuring design details during construction, are what brings the building to its full potential. It’s the fine work that customers experience when visiting: quality of air, light, sight, sound, flow, surfaces and spaces as parts of a great building. Recall that .02 percentage of African American women are in the field of Architecture up from the 0.01 several decades ago.

It is very difficult to express the uniqueness and fragile circumstances of women in architecture as a few manage to rise and shine. Zena Howard established a successful route with progressive experience in the profession and still at a young age for evolving architects. One could follow her career for many years to come. I was referred to her near the end of her working days on the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I actually ran into her at a genealogy event in Durham. Zena was gracious; her personality was vibrant and energetic. I could see and sense that she was at a high point in her career reflecting great confidence and  mastery of her skills and talents.  Once we had a chance to talk after completion of the Museum, Zena spoke about her efforts and desire to help inspire and develop young African American women architects, something that is sorely needed. She was helpful in referring me to possible relationships and opportunities to work with Perkins + Will. I am aware that she was successful in connecting others. She is part of an impressive group of local women architects who recognize that mentoring and assisting with the development of women in architecture is a worthy effort. She according to articles is sought after as a speaker.

There are other impressive African American women architects from different locations around the country and sometimes heirs of their family businesses that deserve appreciation. Zena Howard did not even know what architecture was and discovered it from a TV show.  Born in Texas, lived in Rocky Mount, NC and upstate New York she learned about racism and experienced being made fun of by her school mates. She learned from that which gave her perspective on the importance of architecture in bringing people together. Fortunately for us she landed in Durham, North Carolina. Zena graduated from the University of Virginia. She began her career elsewhere and now has spent a major part of her professional career with The Freelon Group (10 years) and now through a planned acquisition is principal with the international renown firm of Perkins + Will.  Zena represents what so many women aspire to accomplish in the field of architecture and knowing that she is doing it with grace and dignity makes it most impressive. By working on the National Museum of African American History and Culture she has begun establishing a worthy legacy in the local, regional, national and international markets of which we all can be proud.

 

Art and article is by Lillian L. Thompson, creator of Lillianonline.us

Sonia Barnes – Strong History in Community

 

Sonia Barnes is a native of Wilson, North Carolina, whose father was president in the local AFL-CIO labor organization. Her world involved sit-ups, segregated schools, marching, working hard during summer time to crop tobacco, while learning the value of hard work and education. Her young life bloomed in the middle of the civil rights movement. She grew up with friends like former judge and now Congressman G. K. Butterfield and Attorney Toby Fitch. Sonia Barnes is a congressional liaison to Representative David Price for the 4th Congressional District of North Carolina, and also worked formerly with educator, Congressman Bob Etheridge.

Sonia’s wise mother taught her to respect everyone no matter what their economic status in life. She carries that one step further in her non-profit work in NCBWEN by fundraising for scholarships for the ‘Average ‘C’ grade students providing them with book bags and scholarships! She is also the Founder and CEO of the North Carolina Black Women Empowerment Network. (www.NCBWEN.org). Their ‘mission statement’

‘The North Carolina Black Women Empowerment Network’s supreme mission is to advance the wholeness and total well-being for black women through deliberate social, economic, physical, mental health and educational initiatives.’

Sonia has another titles as wife and ‘first lady’ under her husband’s ministerial leadership at the First Garner Church of Faith, in Garner, North Carolina. Sonia is majorly a mom and grandmother. She is constantly on her feet which is not lost on her husband, who reminds her of such. As the liaison with Congressman Price, she represents the district with dignity and elegance. Her background, experience, knowledge, awareness, and powerful presence make for a compelling speaker, presenter, and spokesman for District 4.

Sonia is not a bragger, yet she receives recognition and was informed to receive the ‘John Chavis Award’ in March. Her talents have placed her on several significant boards around Raleigh including Wake Med. She has vision, on a large scale, mostly because of her past work experiences with the State of North Carolina and her public role working for congressional representatives. Sonia has expressed the urgency of our people working together during segregation, we were forced to do so, now it is out of necessity that we respect others’ views and doing right by people. When you see Sonia and not know who she is, you may not be quite sure how to approach her, do not hesitate because what you’re seeing is a powerful image of authentic grace and style with a commitment to her people and the work of empowerment. Her warm Wilson hospitality does suit her as a ‘first lady’ in her own right.

 

Art and article by Lillian L. Thompson of https://lillianonline.us