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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Sage advice and Black History Month

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Recently there was a heightened level of alarm expressed over comments Deputy Mayor Rev. Dr. David Hampton expressed regarding a meeting some so-called Black leaders had with President Trump at the White House, possibly in relationship to Black History Month. I will not state the specific terms he used, as they have already been widely circulated, and furthermore I am not on social media with Deputy Mayor Hampton. What I will state is that I am familiar with the passion that Rev. Dr. Hampton has for the Black community. I admire him as a truth-telling dynamic pastor, a true public servant and a dedicated family man. In fact, there is very little that I hear him state in the public arena with which I am not in agreement. I might consider using different words but they will have the same meaning in essence. He has certainly served as a mentor to many young people and, as an academic I find him to be a very accessible political leader, always willing to share his vast knowledge with our students. In fact, I wish we had more political leaders in this community just like him — he’s forthright and fearless, able to transcend multiple boundaries, and I hope to see him continue in his public role for many years to come.

Therefore regarding those terms he used, I simply, humbly offer some words of advice to our Deputy Mayor Hampton. First, clean up that social media friend list, close ranks and keep it moving, because you have some serious haters in the midst.

Second, and similarly, this is advice I learned from my mother when I have mentioned certain questionable behavior from people I perceived as friends. She would quietly advise me, “Keep those people at arms’ length.” Some would also recognize this as “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” And here is my next point, also regarding Black History Month.

Typically this would be a time when I would offer a list of my favorite books by the most prophetic Black thinkers with whom I’m familiar, like Audre Lorde, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and, my favorite, Alice Walker, and so many more. There is not too much anyone can say or not say to me that diminishes my sense of self, though many try often, because I come from a remarkable family that made sure I was surrounded by literary geniuses in the form of books by profound Black thinkers. We would call them “thought leaders” today if we were to use trendy jargon. And so for Black History Month, I would like to suggest a couple of things that I know as an educator would really help our Black children be more successful, and if you understand the tradition of Black Southern storytelling, you will cycle what I’m saying back to the beginning of this column:

Talk to your children, not in the typical disciplinary manner, though that is still important, but tell them the stories of your family. One reason Alice Walker is so successful is because she has written down much of what was told to her by her mother about various strong-willed women in her family. She has even written about how her mother made sure her own children pursued an education despite the insistence of the landowner (where they were sharecroppers) that her children needed to continue to toil in the fields. Not her children! Your children need to hear stories of Ma’dear’s life and the wisdom that can be passed on from how she persevered. Ma’dear, Big Mama, Mama Ella — that is from whence I come.

Make sure your children have a library card and take them to the library every week. We have the best librarians who are very helpful and know the vast offerings of great Black authors. There is little more beautiful than seeing a child with their head focused on what they are reading in a book. 

Do these two things for your children, for our children, so they won’t fall prey to the nonsense of social media that celebrates Lincoln freeing the slaves as a great moment in Black History. Now that is something that I find highly offensive and truly demands an apology.


Dr. Terri Jett is an associate professor of political science and special assistant to the provost for diversity and inclusivity at Butler University.

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