Slavery book launch

A new slavery book is set to launch in New York. And I was thrilled to be asked to help. Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade (Beacon Press) was written by dear colleagues Sharon Morgan and Tom DeWolf. The book chronicles a shared journey toward race reconciliation. The authors are traveling on a year-long national book tour that began at Eastern Mennonite University, birthplace of (CTTT).

Gather at the Table will have a NYC launch event, Saturday, October 20, 3pm at the Quaker Meeting House.

Their tour initiates and promotes conversations about race, slavery, social justice, and healing from the generational trauma of slavery at business, educational, religious and a variety of community venues.

As co-leader of CTTT-NYC with Julie Finch, I was thrilled to partner with the local Quakers to host Morgan and DeWolf at 3PM, Saturday, October 20, 2012 at the Quaker Meeting House, 15 Rutherford Place, New York City.

The authors will share excerpts from their book, introduce a model of healing and engage the audience in storytelling exercises. The event is free to the public and media is invited to cover.

In Gather at the Table, DeWolf and Morgan speak candidly about racism and the unhealed wounds of slavery. “The legacy of slavery,” they write, “is a combination of historical, cultural, and structural trauma that continues to touch everyone in American society today.”

“Schools, neighborhoods and churches are as segregated as ever; health disparities between black and white people remain significant and African Americans are overrepresented in prisons and underrepresented in colleges. Racism is more subtle now that in the past, but it still exists. Healing will happen and change will occur, when people start listening to one another and looking truthfully at their ancestral experiences.”

The importance of the book’s message, given the present climate of political and social discord, could not be more timely.

Endorsements: Nobel Peace Laureate, 2011, Leymah Gbowee hails Gather at the Table as “an honest exploration into the deep social wounds left by racism, violence and injustice.” John Paul Lederach, Professor of International Peacebuilding at Notre Dame calls it, “An extraordinary story of an honest, meaningful conversation across the racial divide.”

About the Authors: Thomas Norman DeWolf, author of Inheriting the Trade, is featured in the Emmy-nominated documentary
film Traces of the Trade, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and on the acclaimed PBS series POV. DeWolf speaks regularly about healing from the legacy of slavery and racism at conferences and colleges throughout the United States.
Sharon Morgan is a marketing communications consultant and a nationally recognized pioneer in multicultural marketing. An avid genealogist, she is the webmaster for, a founder of the National Black Public Relations Society and a consultant to the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society.

For more information about the book: http:// Send a message if you would like to book the authors as speakers at a New York City area venue.

Slavery Group

Members enjoy soul-Caribbean brunch at Sylvia Lewis’ home meeting of Coming to the Table, NE Chapter.

A slavery group? Yes. I’m an activist about slavery education. “What happens in your slavery group?” I have been asked this question before.  On July 22, ten members from Coming to the Table (CTTT), Northeast Chapter gathered at my home to break bread together and share stories with one another.

This was the third ‘local’ meeting of  ‘my slavery group,’ the Northeastern CTTT, who are from New York City/NJ area, Boston and New Haven area. We are a joyful and loving group in support of healing and reconciliation. Our meetings are facilitated by two co-facilitators—one White and one Black. We eat first, then sit in a circle and take turns talking and listening to each other. We take a few breaks until the end.

As our mission states: The transformational nature of the CTTT approach requires that we meet face to face so that we can build authentic relationships, strong enough to withstand the challenges of honestly facing our past, present and future together.

Since we are mostly a ‘virtual’ group, the local meetings are a very special opportunity for bonding. We welcome new members.

I had already posted on this blog about attending the National meeting, ‘Monastery Weekend’ in April, 2012.  It was lovely experience for me. But it was expensive traveling to Richmond and logistically too demanding to provide enough opportunities for “in the flesh” connection and healing.

I can say honestly, we don’t wallow in guilt or anger about the facts of the American slavery system and  the Transatlantic slavery trade. On several occasions, I heard sincere public apologies for slavery.

Some in our group have spent decades researching their families. Others are descendants of notable slaveholders like Thomas Jefferson. A few people in our group stumbled upon the ‘slaves in their closet’ by looking at wills and deeds in family documents. That’s actually the typical way the Whites in this group found out about slavery in their family. Slave owners were not all rich people and everyone had slaves, it seems. Slavery was big business in the North, especially New York, New England especially Rhode Island.

In our group, we call ourselves ‘cousins.’ Our Face Book group topics are mostly amazing, educational, inspirational and enjoyable. Hanging out with this group has given me a whole new spin on American History. Our member’s personal stories fill in the blanks of our American narrative. Since joining this group I have found thousands of missing chapters from a book called ‘American History” that I thought I read already.

Our personal notes to each other are always supportive and signed with love and affection. We acknowledge that we are all connected in a human, spiritual, God-sense. Maybe, we really are cousins too.

Some of us are wrestling with ‘if’ or ‘when’ to contact our ‘linked descendant’—that’s a relative we found through genealogy who is linked through slavery. What if I got that call? I wonder what would I do? “Hello, My family owned your family…”

Black and White people have mixed feelings about slavery. In my family, they hate it. They never talk about slavery except in hushed tones. But, we are ‘race’ people—meaning that we discussed race all the time, everyday. This is true for most of my friends in my generation.

I became involved with Coming to the Table after learning details about my paternal African American great uncle, who was lynched in Ocean Springs, Mississippi in 1902. I actually was told about the lynching when I was very young. But I had forgotten about it because I heard not details. One I learned the details, I became traumatized. My healing journey began with a new friend who discovered her family member had lynched several Black people. Together we are on a mission, learning to sort through our feelings about our families and the atrocities that happened during slavery.

My mother’s Chinese ancestors were indentured servants who were ‘Shanghai-ed’  or taken from China and brought to South America and Caribbean. I am learning more about their history.

I found several White relatives who are 4th, 5th and 6th cousins through a DNA test. several reached out to me. Most of them were just as curious as I was. Only a few times did my White relatives ‘disconnected’ from me after learning my ethnic background.

So, in my slavery group, we talk about the manifestations of slavery in today’s society. We also look at models for storytelling from Third Reich discussions groups, Native Americans, South African and Rwanda reconciliation models. The first time I heard a White privilege discussion was at a CTTT event. It’s great to be able to talk about a wide range of racial issues and slavery-related topics in a safe place.

Slavery discussion group, Coming to the Table, gathered on Sylvia’s roof garden after chapter meeting ended.

We focus on accountability and reconciliation. Much of our work is difficult.  We are encouraged to bring a momento that can help us in opening our dialogue. Sometimes tears flow. In the end, we feel happy and close to each other.  I love the spirit, camaraderie and commitment of our group.

It is not all sad. Our gatherings are like group therapy. The fun part is the food where we literally ‘come to the table.’ I also enjoy sharing some my Afro-Asian-Indo-Caribbean-Soul-Creole food traditions. Yes, I will post more on food traditions soon!

It’s a blessing really that CTTT provides us a simple yet unique way to be more authentic than we dare be. We actually DO gather ‘at the table’ in our local meetings. Very few people sit down to talk and listen to each other like we do. So, I do believe that we are lighting the light for healing our nation.

James Denmark: Artist Vibes from Low Country

Artist James Denmark celebrates Black History month the old-fashioned way—everyday! If Romare Bearden is the ‘Griot for a Global Village,’according to a New York Times article by the same title, then Denmark is his chief disciple. Denmark said that he thrives on being a Black artist. At seventy-plus years old he said that he never struggles with whether he is an artist first or an African American. His art is consistently sought after by galleries worldwide most notably the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Stockholm’s Absolut collection.

'By The Window,' James Denmark, 2009, acrylic, collage

Artistic Narratives: During a recent conversation, Denmark said embracing his heritage, music, language and spiritualty is very freeing. He believes that his artistic narratives have no borders calling his approach improvisational. Like jazz, his collages and paintings speak a universal language. Denmark incorporates hand-colored paper and found materials. He captures sounds, sights, flavors and aromas: “I am driven, guided and directed by the spirits.”  

Generations: Denmark is currently being recognized along with his artist grandson Demetric Denmark in a show entitled ‘Generations’ at Beaufort Arts Council Gallery through 2/29.  Go to

“That should be our purpose in life– to pass on the knowledge about our culture and history to the next generation. I am so proud that my grandson is following in my footsteps.”

Mentors: “Romey was my mentor as were all of the giants of the Black art scene—Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, Hale Woodruff. I knew all of the artists from the Harlem Renaissance– Ernest Crichlow, among others. There were very few galleries open to them but they forged ahead anyway. They felt dedicated to our narrative. Romey said that it was our job to tell our story. We could not get off course. I always felt that if I could create art—painting, ceramic, glass or collage and you looked at it and could feel like you were in that church, witnessing that event, in that city or out in those marshes, then I had done my job as an artist. That is still my goal.”

“Romey said when you can work or create art to express what you experienced, the viewer will be drawn in to hear or see what you heard in your unharnessed artistic expression of ideas of the music, prayer or your surroundings as it was put to you—that’s what an artist’s job is about.”

Loving Yemassee: “Moving to Yemassee, SC, 11 years ago from Brooklyn has been tremendous. A lot of us are not exposed to the staying power of African culture in America. The warm and welcoming Gullah people definitely made an impact on me. They are now my people. I love it here. They have an accent and language that you don’t hear anyway but here. Their culture in these marshes has existed intact for generations from their basket weaving traditions to their cooking ways.

New York Love: Of course we all miss Jimmy, as family call him, here in New York. Actually, I claim him as a cousin because he is my childhood friend Deidra Perry Titus’ cousin; her brother Nicky is my play brother. Jimmy and wife Ethel hang out with their mother Helen also living in Yemassee who was my mother’s dear friend. So when word got out that the Winter Haven, Florida native would be featured in a solo show at Mount Vernon’s Mackey Twins Art  (, we were there. (Mackey Twins Art Gallery was founded in 2005 by twin sisters Karen and Sharon Mackey who are dedicated to supporting artists of color who are not sufficiently represented in larger art venues.) On view were his urban, jazzy collages, scenes, watercolors, and acrylics, including his newer Low Country works so bright and colorful.  Rumor has it that all of the 65 paintings sold out as fans and admirers streamed to this home-based gallery for three days. Now that’s a lot of love!

James Denmark in solo exhibit at Mackey Twins Art, Mt.Vernon, NY

Family Background: Denmark credits his grandparents as his first inspiration. His grandmother was a quilting artist and wire sculptor. His grandfather, a bricklayer, was famous for his custom design molds. His mother was also an interior designer with an eye for detail. African-American women are a central theme in his art even though he credits his male-oriented family of over 30 male first cousins with giving him a solid foundation. “As boys, we were held to a task in the Southern tradition where manhood was stressed. When you reached 12, you were considered a man. Each of us had to mind our manners, excel in school, be responsible, develop skills and talents in a lot of things.”

Education: Reared in racially segregated Florida, Denmark believes that he received a superior education compared to what kids receive today. “I was mentored by Black professors at FAMU (Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, Tallahassee, Fla.) where I was admitted on a sports scholarship. I became an apprentice to noted art historian Dr. Samuel Lewis.  FAMU at that time had the best, brightest and largest number of Black art faculty in the world. All of them had PhDs and advanced degrees in fine arts, architectural, engineering. As I was an honor student, they each mentored me by making me their apprentice — in drawing, painting, design, graphics, sculpture, ceramics and most importantly the African-American art movement. I taught classes as their assistant while still an undergrad student.”

‘A Miracle’: While working on his MFA at Pratt Institute, living and teaching in NYC, Denmark was nurtured by abstract artists Jackson Pollack, Clifford Still and William DeKooning“Coming to Pratt expanded my vision and it was a miracle to find Jacob Lawrence already teaching there. He introduced me to those expressionists and the Harlem Renaissance artists. I leap-frogged from the classroom to running with the lions of the real art world. It’s still a dream that I am living today. I could not have planned my life. I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time. “

Teacher, Art Therapist: “I believe that art education affirms your inner core and personality. Sadly, many young people don’t know their inner being. They have replaced it with electronics, phones and computers.”  Denmark double-majored in Fine Arts and Art Therapy at Pratt, which earned him Special Education credentials. ‘I had a lot of fun teaching all kinds of students. I saw some real talent and creations that were grotesque. I encouraged my handicapped and mentally challenged students in artistic self-expression and left it up to the psychiatrists to interpret.

In the Studio: “I always worked at my studios at night and on weekends. I worked at 15 Green Street, Soho when the rents were cheap. I lived on Jay Street and my Brooklyn studio was on Washington Avenue near Brooklyn Navy Yard.”  After retiring from 34 years in the NYC public school system and setting up shop at his Yemassee studio, Denmark’s art spirits are soaring.

collage by James Denmark from solo exhibit at Mackey Twins Art, Mt.Vernon.

Champian Fulton: Singing in the New Year

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to immerse myself in music. It is the one true love that I had been neglecting – listening, playing, and learning. On top of my list is listening to pianist/vocalist & educator, Champian Fulton, who may be America’s youngest woman jazz bandleader. I discovered her at a recent Harlem holiday party.  Called the ‘most gifted pure Jazz singer of her generation,’ by the Detroit Free Press, Champian lifted me into the holiday spirits at the Harlem Jazz and Gospel Getaway. ( I had been schmoozing with a wonderful continental crowd there

Champian Fulton at Harlem Jazz and Gospel Getaway Holiday party

between hors d’oeuvres, wine and Sugar Hill beer ( But, I could not resist her clarion voice and those Bebop Thelonious Monk harmonics coming from the parlor where she was performing with a bassist. Her band includes her father, Stephen Fulton, a veteran jazzman and educator who plays trumpet, flugelhorn and drums, bassist Neal Miner and drummer Fukushi Tainaka.

Once you hear Champian, you will recognize Dinah Washington influences and the piano styling of Art Tatum and Bud Powell. What’s important in a song for her? “For me, the melody, the beat and its subtleties are elements that drive me. I would put lyrics on this list too,” she said.  Her music is strictly old school with songs that make you want to sing: “Exactly Like You,” Tea for Two,” and “Sometimes I’m Happy.”

Songs she sang for New Year’s? “I love ‘What are you doing New Years Eve,’ especially the verse, which isn’t heard very often these days.  ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was followed by ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ I always play that as the first song in the New Year. My father said he always did, and so I always play it too!  I love all the traditional Christmas Carols and I performed those quite a bit this season,” said Fulton.

She was right at home at that Harlem house party throwing her head back enjoying a sultry song and sounding like Billie Holiday. I had to do a double take. She seemed too young to have chops like that.

During a recent lunch interview at eatery nyc (, I learned that Champian, a SUNY, Purchase Music Conservatory 2006 grad, is a true jazz baby. Born into a musical family with piano lessons from her paternal grandmother and Tajeno melodies inherited from her maternal side, she headed straight to jazz. She had early exposure to improvisation and played drums & trumpet before settling on piano and vocals. She credits her father first and foremost and favorite college professor/jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis with expanding her musicality especially with regard to performance, recording and touring. “Jon made me perform ‘Carolina Shout’ a stride piano piece by James P. Johnson in concert blindfolded,” she said. She also credits her voice teacher Thomas Carey, a noted operatic baritone, for breath training.

How did she learn improvisation? “I always improvised. I learned melodies, harmonies and played riffs from tunes that I heard my father and his jazz friends play. I don’t know any ‘classical’ piano. But I do consider jazz to be  ‘classical American music.” A devoted jazz teacher, she said her students’ first lessons focus on listening. Her own homegrown ear training was finely tuned by intense listening to her dad’s extensive jazz album collection. Champian led her first jazz band at 12 years old, booked gigs throughout her Oklahoma high school years all the while teaching private piano lessons and assisting her dad on his teaching assignments. She graduated valedictorian, proof that music makes you smart.

“I am a musician and entrepreneur. I learned early on about leadership, about taking charge,” she said. “I learned to say ‘yes’ to opportunities, advocate for myself, manage personnel, operations, finance. I am always learning, reading and still need to learn to drive.” Current book she’s reading?  ‘RiffTides, The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones, as told to Albert Murray.’ (Count Basie’s drummer)

“I don’t have any hard fast rules. I simply love to play music.  When asked if she was up to date on Hip Hop or the latest popular music scene, she said: “Don’t get me started…” Then she diplomatically defended today’s music scene. “It’s all about exposure. I was exposed to jazz from birth. My contemporaries who visit me and hear Cleo Lane, Fats Waller or Nat King Cole…they always love it,” Fulton said.

Champian learned to play the legendary trumpeter Clark Terry’s entire repertoire by 8 years old especially during the time when her dad directed the Clark Terry Jazz Institute in Lemars, Ia. “I became serious a serious jazz musician at eight years old. I performed for Terry’s 75th birthday party. I always knew that’s what I wanted.”  She said her dad would blindfold her at 6 years old and test her knowledge about recordings and musicians. Her parents quickly learned that she was not just guessing. An only child from a close-knit family, she said that they lived together with Clark Terry in Glen Cove (Long Island) for a while to be close with him when diabetes was taking away his eyesight. She said Terry’s spirit remains strong at 92. Just back from a European tour in Cologne, Germany, Champian continues to be a champion of jazz literacy teaching at Lincoln Center’s Meet the Artist Program, LEAP NYC-Learning Through an Expanded Arts Program and Litchfield Jazz Summer Camp.  A veteran of numerous jazz festivals & a regular at NYC venues, Champian is set to play Thursday, 1/5, at Novita, Metuchen, NJ. She has produced three CDs and the band will hit the road again in February for concerts in New Orleans, Mississippi and Memphis. Check her out: ?