1619 Africans arrive in Jamestown, Va

Honor memories, Brooklyn Slavery #400years

A beautiful street in Brooklyn, 2019 holds dark secrets.

Honor the memories. Honor the people who were enslaved here. Honor the people who built Brooklyn. ‘Brooklyn Slavery #400years’ (Project 1619Brooklyn) aims to center New York’s dark secret. We invite everyone to come to our table for community reconciliation, truthtelling, and empathy. Let’s honor and express radical equality at this moment in history!
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#openletters to bill maher

Open Letters to Bill Maher from 2 Women: 1 Black, 1 White

‘Open Letters to Bill Maher for Calling Himself a ‘House N-word’ from 2 Women: 1 Black, 1 White’  sprang from conversations between two friends, Sylvia Wong Lewis and Elizabeth Sturges Llerena. Both are active in Coming to the Table, a national community organization that helps those who acknowledge and seek healing from racism, as caused by the traumas as a result of slavery. Elizabeth and Sylvia have co-facilitated numerous community conversations about history, racism, and slavery.

#OpenLetters to Bill Maher

Dear Bill, Your heart may be in the right place. But your mouth isn’t. It’s been a few months since you called yourself a ‘House-N#@*&+*.’ I’m still upset. That’s why I’m writing an open letter to you. Your apologies were not heartfelt. You recently ranted new racial slurs about Asians and Muslims. You totally missed all of your teachable moments.

Here are some ideas that might help. Try mindfulness therapy to control your racist outbursts. While racism may not be curable, you will learn to manage your hurtful words. To continue your healing journey, you should do something big. How about a public penance for your offenses? Start with an ‘Anti-Racism Million White Men’s March’!

And let’s not get it twisted. You must lead your brethren through the streets. Your protest signs must list at least 30 male privileges that need to be protested. Click here for a link to a male privilege checklist.

Show the world that you guys mean business. Make amends for your hasty ways. I have seen you take the heat for things you’ve said from Black news show hosts. You are one of the few White guys who will actually show up for difficult conversations. But talk is cheap. Let’s see some action.

Bill, if you tried, you could become a great role model. So, what do you say? Seize the time! Take the white male lead in the anti-racism movement! I believe you can do this. Leverage your celebrity platform to liberate your people from incredible stupidity, racism, sexism, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim feelings, and other male privileges.

The world will take notice of these important issues in a new way, when you take hold of them! All you need to do is band together like real brothers.

What’s in it for you? You would be able to say: ‘I finally did the right thing.’ Some may even turn green with envy. They might say: “Bill Maher stole my idea!” There are many well-meaning white men out there waiting for a nudge. And you might be the only one brazen enough to do this. In the meanwhile, stop using the N-word. Don’t justify it. You have better words to use.


Sylvia Wong Lewis,


#openletters to bill maher

Dear Bill, I recently watched your interviews with Micheal Eric Dyson and Ice Cube. I felt for you. I’m white, and those moments are always uncomfortable, even out of the spotlight. I commend you for inviting public conversation the way you did. It is tremendously difficult for most white men I know to show up for these conversations. I appreciate your leadership in that sense.

But for white people, unless we make an effort to thoroughly examine our attitudes about race and racism, those “embarrassing mistakes” are always lurking and will come out sooner or later, always at the immediate expense of People of Color. It’s only a matter of time.

I was asked to seriously examine my own white privilege in 1998 when my cousin told me that our Rhode Island family had enslaved and brought over 10,000 Africans to the Americas, more than any other family in US history. She invited me to participate in what became the PBS documentary Traces of the Trade. Since then, I have had many moments where People of Color and African Americans have called me or other white people out on our racist behaviors. When that happens, I always feel a clenching in my throat and chest and a sweat beginning to break. I would love nothing more in those moments than to say “ ‘But…’ ‘I didn’t mean to…(Really I didn’t!)’ ‘ It was just an innocent mistake…’   ‘It’s because of…’.” The list goes on and on of what I could say to get out of that tight spot.

#OpenLetters to Bill Maher

Thankfully, I have learned to zip my lips, keep my ears open, and ride that wave of nasty discomfort. I have learned this in situations and spaces where people listen to each other with the intention of repairing the immense damage caused by slavery and its aftermath, such as Coming To The Table, a multiracial organization dedicated to healing from the legacies of slavery.

As I said before, I get that you did not premeditate or intend harm with your ‘house nigger’ comment, but as the host on your own show, neither did you embrace that made-much-of “teachable moment.”

Here’s why: You indulged in the privilege of excuses – “It was a mistake.” “I’m sorry.” “It’s because I’m a comedian.” You tried several times to interrupt them. Furthermore, although at that point you had already publicly apologized, you still felt entitled to reiterate that you already knew their points about white privilege and its destructive effects. In the end, I felt I was watching a sad and familiar pattern as your guests politely let you off the hook, an invitation we are often too eager to accept from People of Color, kind of like Obama’s beer on the White House lawn.

Now a powerful way to use your platform would be to be open and transparent about how all of this has made you feel. Without apology and without defensiveness. That is what is missing. I know that’s hard, and probably doesn’t sell well. It might not make for a funny or even profitable evening. Some folks will get pretty angry. But a powerful white man modelling how to shut up and really listen could teach how we begin forming honest and transformational relationships with People of Color.

How much would you really stand to lose, and how much could we all gain?


Elizabeth Sturges Llerena


Elizabeth shares the back story about her art work in photo below called ‘What’s Hidden Below.’

#openletters to Bill Maher

What’s Hidden Underneath is based on my experience as a white North American whose generation is the first to break our family’s collective silence about slave traders in the family. The pattern on the outer part of the dress is based on a 19th century textile design entitled Cotton Printed With a Portrait of a Military Hero, however the portrait in the design is a portrait of my ancestor, James DeWolf, who in his lifetime and in the popular mythology of my family and childhood community, was considered an upstanding citizen; a successful businessman and a “hero” of sorts. If we pull back the front panels of the skirt we see images of a DeWolf ship, Cape Coast Castle, a slave fort in Ghana frequented by DeWolf ships, and the tools of torture that were used to enslave people in Ghana, Cuba and New England as well as the Southern states.

The truth is that the DeWolfs were the largest slave trading family in the history of the United States. Bristol, Rhode Island my childhood home, is where the DeWolfs resided and made their fortune. Bristol is a beautiful town. To this day, its overwhelmingly white residents comfortably enjoy its beauty while refusing to acknowledge its true history, where the economy once relied almost exclusively on the horrific and brutal Triangle Trade.

This piece is meant to reveal what is hidden underneath white over-privilege in America. On the part of the dress that can only be partially seen are images of living, passed, young, old, famous and not-so-famous African Americans and other people of color representing the legacy of slavery which still renders people of color invisible or only partially visible on so much of white America’s radar screen.




What Passes for Freedom

Freedom, next stop! Harlem’s 125th street subway station in NYC is adorned by masterpieces on tile by #artist #FaithRinggold.

Freedom should always be our theme. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863), I attended a ‘freedom’ panel at the Harlem Book Fair 2012 in the Langston Hughes Auditorium. Were you lucky enough to catch this panel discussion on C-Span Book TV? Here are highlights:

“What Passes for Freedom” featured moderator, Christopher Paul Moore, (Fighting for America: Black Soldiers -The Unsung Heroes of World War 11) with panelists: Nell Irvin Painter (The History of White People); Obrey Hendricks (The Universe Bends Towards Justice: Radical Reflections on the Bible, the Church, and the Body Politic); Farah Jasmin Griffin (Who Set You Flowin’?: The African-American Migration Narrative); and Tanner Colby (Some of My Best Friends Are Black).

Nell Irvin Painter spoke about freedom from “within and without.”  She said that this applies to definitions of who Black people are. In her prelude she said that such oversimplification as lumping all Black people together as one comes from ‘outside’ people. From inside of ourselves, we are infinitely varied individuals, all different, starting with where and when we live, how old we are, what gender, etc. To simplify into ‘Black people,”as one big lump means looking at us from “outside, from without.” Dr. Painter said that our freedom is still circumscribed in important ways, two of which are lack of freedom from bodily harm and freedom from stereotyping.  “We may have had out freedom from slavery, but we were not safe from night riders, burning, pillaging and rape. During slavery we were not free from personal violence– who owns you can hurt you. Today, Black people are not free from stereotyping. Black males are stereotyped as criminals, predators; Black women are sexualized. Even in the art world the use of nudes is rarely used in African American art.”

Obrey Hendricks focused on White Christian church’s role during slavery– tolerating and condoning the torture and terrorism of Black people. He also talked about Black churches. “How are Black churches helping to promote the American dream?” He said Black churches were always at the forefront of the freedom movement but that they were not always true to the cause. “There is a lot fun and entertainment, especially at mega and prosperity churches.”  What he called “churchianity” — exciting the crowds to get them ready for the next performance. “Churches have moved away from their pastoral role and are squandering their freedoms.” He also said that we might be better off talking about justice, equality and ethical and moral teachings.

Farah Jasmin Griffin spoke about freedom’s elusiveness. “Freedom is an ongoing goal or a process that gives birth to many more un-freedoms.” She spoke of the African American slavery experience– needing a pass from their owners to walk about, free Blacks had to carry free papers, after Emancipation thousands of newly freed slaves were said to be ‘wandering around’ the country when in fact they were searching for their families. This lead White Supremists to develop new laws such as Black Codes, Vagrancy laws and other ways to re-enslave. Dr. Griffin said that once we tried to “practice freedom” by exercising our right to mobility as we did in the Great Migration, we found efforts to further confine us like segregated neighborhoods, restrictive covenants and mass incarceration. ‘Stop and Frisk” is the latest effort to curtail our freedom of mobility.

Tanner Colby, the only White person and maybe the youngest on the panel, talked about the journey of writing his book “Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America” He said that young people take freedom for granted and that more youth should get involved in activism. “Segregation never really died but was simply transformed into strict legal barriers of Jim Crow-like social mores and economic policies that maintain a separate and unequal status quo that keeps the races apart, fueling suspicion between them,” said the native of Birmingham. Alabama, who also lived in Kansas, City, Missouri.

Have you ever attended the Harlem Book Fair? Please share your memories!