How Our Stories and History is a Social Justice Issue | Danita Mason-Hogans | TEDxChapelHillLive



this is my great-grandmother Neddy and she had the sweetest voice I'm from Chapel Hill and when I say that I'm from Chapel Hill I mean that the roots of my family tree trace back for seven generations on both sides of my family my family the Masons the Burnett's and many other black families in Chapel Hill literally helped to build the University of North Carolina and some of my ancestors are buried on University grounds my grandfather was a farmer of tobacco and for many generations we were servants to the powerful men who ran the university we assisted their wives and we raised their children when I was in elementary school we were given an oral history assignment to talk with some of the oldest family members and my grandmother told me with her sweet sweet voice about her grandmother who used to bring water to the Union Army and that they would have conversations with her and that they were kind to her now this was this was huge to me because of course I knew about the Civil War but I never knew that a little black girl could do her part to help with the war effort and I thought about how brave she must have been to risk being beaten or whipped or killed for freedom and then I remember thinking she could be brave I could be brave too my grandmother story made history come alive for me and I could see myself in her story she made me understand that my people were not just some you know invisible observers watching on the sidelines as history took place know we had history too and this all came to a head for me when I was in high school it was my favorite time of year Black History Month well we're like Black History Day but it was a day that we could learn all there was to learn about black people Martin Luther King Rosa Parks and George Washington Carver and the peanut but anyway Julian Bond once said that what we know about civil rights history we could say in nine words Rosa sat down Martin stood up and everything was fine so I was coming away from class and I ran into two of my buddies they were white guys and we always had so much fun laughing and joking around and I told them how much I enjoyed the class and I told them that I would love it if a whole semester would just be dedicated to black history and these guys my friends they looked at each other then they looked at me and they said that's crazy there wasn't enough black history to cover a whole semester I was livid so I ran to my favorite teacher in school he was a white man and he was always talking about social justice and equity so I said to them these boys said that my people had not done enough to cover a whole semester now you tell him it's not true you tell him and he looked at me with compassionate eyes and he said I wish I could tell them that it wasn't true but unfortunately there really isn't enough black history to cover a whole semester well this time I was hurt and I was embarrassed I was hurt because these people that I care about thought that my people hadn't accomplished anything and I was embarrassed because even though I knew it wasn't true I couldn't prove it so it was on that day that I decided to go to the best HBCU in the world North Carolina A&T State University and I joined the history Club and became an activist and I joined a theater to find out about who I was in history as a black woman now after I graduated from AMT I went to Virginia Tech and I studied education and I study black studies then I came back here to Chapel Hill and I opened up an after-school program and I incorporated local history into the curriculum and each semester I would start off and I would tell the children about the wonderful things that happen in their neighbor hood now this was the 90s and there was a whole lot of drugs and gang activity going on and I would start and I would say to them I know you think you come from a bad neighborhood but that is not true you come from a good neighborhood and you come from good people and children in Chapel Hill needed that inspiration because although Chapel Hill has an affluent school system it also has the second largest achievement gap between black and white students in the country you know Courtland Cox once reminded me of a phrase that people used to say when they wanted to kill children's spirits they would say you income from nothing and you ain't gonna be nothing so if that is the expectation why even bother to succeed so I thought that if I could tell them positive stories about people in their lives who had made a difference then they would understand that they had expectations of being positive people too and that's actually how I got into documentary studies I wanted to document all of those stories of the people who had contributed so much to our community and I knew they were out there because I come from movement people my mother and sometimes my godmother would go to the schools on their lunch break and they were to the children or they were advocate for children who were not their own in the PTA my father was a member of the Chapel Hill 9 these were the students from the all-black Lincoln High School who started the sit-in movement in Chapel Hill and many of my parents friends were heroes to me in some way I used to babysit Bob Drake for children and he was Carl burrows first black mayor and I was oldest friends with Andrea for she now her father Braxton and his brother titi were civil rights legends in Chapel Hill so I wanted to document and tell all of these stories so I decided to take classes at the Center for documentary studies at Duke now this is not an easy thing because by this time I was 40 years old and I didn't know what the heck I was doing and all of those students seemed so young and they used all these hip phrases and all these acronym said I didn't know and they had money to buy the best equipment so undaunted I decided that I would double up on classes and I would hold soulfood fundraisers to raise money for my equipment now the soul food fundraisers they were great but here's the challenge I raised twelve hundred dollars but I had invested nine hundred dollars which only left me with three hundred dollars and the microphone alone calls five hundred dollars and I hadn't even bought my camera yet so like so many others I get frustrated and I gave up but years later my friend Kirsten told me about a job that she saw that she said I would be perfect for now get this the Center for documentary studies was looking for somebody with an educational background who had movement experience to explore intergenerational movement building with veteran civil rights activists and today's activism I could not believe how perfectly this fit into my life so I was so excited to accept the job and let me tell you a little bit about what my job entailed my job entailed working along with Wesley Hogan with the students from the with the veterans from the students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or snig and I was to do my part to help document their stories and this method that we were using was called the critical oral histories method so I'll tell you a little bit about the methodology it was developed by psychologists James brought blight and Janet Lane and what the methodology does is it places key decision-makers in the center of the research and then it pairs that research with primary source documents so people who were not in agreement with the decisions and people who documented the history at the time they were also invited to contribute and so what this really does is give us a better understanding of history because what the focuses becomes is why the event happened and not just what happened now this methodology was later a death – bye Jerry Augusto and Charley Cobb – include sensory items such as photographs and movie and music and the really powerful thing about what these veterans did was that in their 60s and 70s they took ownership of their history and they presented this history to the universities now this is not easily received the whole notion of owning your own history because it presents the radical notion that the people who made the history are the actual authorities on history and therefore have as much as Courtland Cox would call it information or wealth as the University whose sponsoring the archive and so what this meant was we had to look at some of these antiquated release forms that gave all of the power to the University and it also required that we establish a co-equal partnership between the Academy the archive and the activists so what happens when you get this type of equality is trust and because we were able to get this trust we were able to get new insight into historical records and more importantly we were able to inform the brightest minds that we have our youth and leave them bread crumbs for the future so back in Chapel Hill there was an effort to document some local civil rights history and the people who had started the history had a little trepidation about it because they did not feel that they were part of that archive and some of the students who started the movement felt that they really had been marginalized and the story had not really been understood because like me they did not have the resources to tell their story and like the snick activists they felt that a lot of times people got that story wrong so we decided to pair our research and use the format of the Center for documentary studies and we went to our mayor and we told her what the issue was so Pam hamburger decided to get a task for us we established a co-equal partnership with the library with our school system and with UNC who was able to provide us with some of the best minds in the country and this was a phenomenal success it exceeded all of our expectations new information was uncovered and added to the documentary record the vets were celebrated for what they did almost 60 years ago and more importantly our children in the school system were able to see themselves on the continuum of social justice now this is an example of how young scholars can approach this critical work this is also an example of what happens when we put equity in the center of our interaction so I want to leave you with one more story our bathroom is adjacent to our kitchen in the house and I was in the kitchen with my girlfriends I rent a and Gina and we were talking and my children were playing in the bathroom my son Akeem wandered around wandered away somewhere and my daughter akan cake closed the door and a few minutes later we heard this big thud butter to do and I was paralyzed with fear so I said I read that I can't move go get hurt so a few minutes later she emerged from the bathroom with my daughter on her hip and blood everywhere busted a lip just bloody all over the place and I said to her a con cake what in the world happened and she said I was trying to fly you were you did what I was trying to fly off the countertop so of course I admonished my child for being so reckless but later on as I lay and my husband Corey's arm that night I said to him baby our little girl thought that she could fly now this little girl who thought she could fly as it is an activist in her own right partly because she was been able to be under such wonderful civil-rights icons she was able to be around Bob Moses and Courtland Cox and Judy Richardson and Jen Lawson and Charlie Cobb and she was able to be around today's activists feel Agnew Raja Bonet Rebecca barber Kenneth Campbell Sonny Osmond does Mara Gatewood a Jammu dillahunt and more more to the point she was also schooled by great scholars like stan deidara T Hasan Jeffries Emily cries me Tim Tyson Reginald Hildebrand but she got her best inspiration like her mother before her from her grandmother until the Lions have historians tells of the hunt will always glorify the hunter because the way that we tell in document history is a social justice issue because who tells the story and from whom's perspective the story is told is at least as important as a story itself because of our ability to inspire further if we say that we want to study social justice that it is imperative that we put social justice at the center of our discourse I want to thank you so much for sharing this time with me and may all of your ancestors be the wind beneath your wings as you fly thank you [Applause]




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