By Barney Blakeney
Two phone calls over the past couple of weeks again got me thinking about Black folks taking the initiative to determine our own destiny. I’ve got a thing on my desk that says “Discipline, not desire, determines our destiny”. Wish I woulda, coulda, shoulda doesn’t get it done. We must exercise the discipline it takes to get stuff done.
So when I got the call from former Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall asking for some news coverage of the 13th annual Sweetgrass Festival on June 2, I was reminded how she has exhibited the epitome of discipline to get things done. The NYC native is the only Black person ever elected to Mount Pleasant Town Council. She also is founder of the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association. With roots in the Snowden community, she’s no ‘cum’ yah and has accomplished more than most ‘been yahs’. But that’s not the point and she doesn’t make it one.
Then the other day I got a call from Dr. Millicent Brown. A five minute pull on my coattail turned into a 30-minute cultural lesson. Brown is another woman who practices extraordinary discipline and over the years has shared her wisdom with me in support of what I do. She called to express her view that Black folks must take ownership of and protect our cultural heritage. That too, requires discipline.
Also, May 26, the Sweetgrass Festival Cultural Arts Association will present the annual Taste of Gullah. Proceeds from the event support the association’s annual Sweetgrass Basket Making Summer Camp. Previous year’s events included food by renowned chefs BJ Dennis, Kimberley Brock Brown, Kevin Green, April Mazyck, Lorraine and Antwan Smalls, and Scots Grand, as well as a wide range of Gullah entertainment, and a live auction featuring a stunning sweetgrass basket by Helen Burns and artwork by Jonathan Green and Tate Nation. The event will be held from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. at Mount Pleasant Waterfront Park, 99 Harry Hallman, Jr. Blvd. Tickets are $50 and may be purchased at www.sweetgrass.org.
The Sweetgrass Festival, which is free and open to the public, will be kicked off with the Gullah Geechee Seminar at the Town of Mt. Pleasant Waterfront Park, Cooper River Room from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. The Seminar serves as an empowerment series to educate and engage members of the audience in discussions focusing on heirs property ownership as well as education and health disparity issues within the Gullah people’s communities, caused by the recent increase of residential and commercial development in the Town of Mt. Pleasant and surrounding communities along the Gullah Geechee Culture Heritage Corridor.
Local scholars, educators and healthcare professionals will present their respective topics and encourage audience participation aimed at empowering members of the Gullah people’s communities to create and build networks that will help to protect and preserve the diminishing history, culture and traditions within their communities. The seminar is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be provided.
The Sweetgrass Festival celebrations will take place from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Festival attendees will be exposed to a large selection of sweetgrass baskets and merchandise as well as opportunities to engage in hands-on sweetgrass basket making demonstration. Local artists and crafters will showcase handmade quilts, Gullah dolls, painting and an assortment of handmade art works for sale. Entertainment will consist of local singers, gospel groups, storytellers, praise dancers, the Adande African drummers and dancers and much more. The Sweetgrass Festival is a classic example of folks exercising discipline to determine their destiny. Emotional hype and all the protests in the world don’t accomplish anything without the implementation of plans and strategies. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and the architects of the Civil Rights Movement weren’t out there just protesting and raising hell. Those activities were part of a larger strategy. Today, Black civil rights and community leaders, organizations and elected officials don’t even talk to each other, much less develop common strategies! In my conversation with Dr. Brown, she emphasized and cautioned that Black folks must take ownership of the narrative about their heritage. That’s pretty much why I got into the newspaper business. Black people must tell their own stories. The brutality of our experience in this country is being sanitized by unscrupulous people who today exploit us just as much as their forefathers exploited our enslaved ancestors. And that exploitation today is equally as brutal! Racism and economic exploitation today kills more Black people than all those lynched during the 100 years of Jim Crow.
I recently was in a meeting attended by both Black and white people. This one Black guy jumped up and said the system perpetuated by the white folks discriminated against Black children. He went on indignantly, to call the white folks racists. With his next breath he demanded the folks provide Black children with the tools and skills they need to become productive progressive citizens. How do you accuse someone of discriminating against your children then turn around and ask them to provide for your children? In what world is that logical? Is it realistic to expect that to happen?
Discipline, not desire, determines your destiny. For years I’ve thought Black people must exercise the discipline to engage on the front end of education, criminal justice and economic development if we want to impact our destiny in those areas on the back end. We lament a system that disenfranchises Black students and murders Black citizens, but we don’t encourage our children to become teachers or policemen. The Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival offers us more than the preservation of an art form developed from necessity. It’s an example of discipline implemented in a strategic way to impact our destiny.