Honoring Untold Stories.. Writing, Witnessing, and Illuminating our African-American past

In 1926, Carter G. Woodson launched “Negro History Week” in the 2nd week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Black History Month was later established in 1976. Woodson fervently believed that Black people should be proud of their heritage and that all Americans should understand the largely overlooked achievements of Black Americans. Yet the burying of information remains a challenge.

In our current cultural, social and political world, we are living in a tremendous amount of struggle. Politicians, journalists, scholars and average citizens are witnessing a major challenge to democracy…

Dictatorships and authoritative governments are on the rise as Extremists populism seems to provide hope for people who are feeling bouts of hopelessness.

And in looking at the world today, one of our greatest threats to democracy is dis- information and misinformation. We are all kind of left wondering and shaking our heads… Where do we turn to find the truth?

We have “fake news” websites. There’s talk of alternative facts. Even the things that we see on television and videos may not be real. There’s Artificial Intelligence making Harrison Ford to look like a man in his 30s for his final Indiana Jones film. Amazing and yet, quite scary. Magazine covers have photoshopped models and celebrities for decades, successfully making these images to become “perfect.” The end result is a human body and face photographed without a mark or wrinkle. No blemish there for the naked eye to see.

We are told that the sermon on the mount and the “Beatitudes” is too woke. Helping the poor? Whoever thought of such a thing! And of course, the current trend of removing Black history in public schools.

We have current political candidates that say there is no such thing as racism. There was even a textbook published saying that Rosa Park refused to move to the back of the bus, but no mention of the reason why. I suppose even saying that people don’t get along will hurt school children.

With our current crisis and problems, if we look to nature, we may find a better path towards understanding. For example, take climbing hikes. An often difficult task that may involve rock scrambles using your hands to help you go up a mountain. The sheer physical toll on the body with climbing is notable. There is a certain level of pain and suffering, but if you push through and keep climbing, the view is clear, beautiful, breath-taking and above all, peaceful, once you reach the summit.

In some ways, trying to find understanding of our perceptions of truth is like climbing mountains. There is pain in pursuing knowledge and information about African-American history, which of course is not separate from the history of the United States as a whole. The history of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, which includes kidnapping, the rape of Black women, bondage, torture, and the selling of men, women and children for generations. To learn of these horrific accounts is the painful climb up the side of a mountain; wanting to turn back, but continuing on anyway.  Afterwards, we all come out on the other side and with something very important… Illumination.

We can then gain a better understanding of the self. We learn that one person’s suffering is all people’s suffering. We begin to feel that there must be efforts made to find resolution and peace. This is where meditation helps as an aid to us.

Mindfulness as a daily practice is beneficial, as well as movement of the body. Activities like forest bathing, hiking, cycling, yoga, etc help us in our search for well-being.

Honoring the legacy of African-American history is to continue onward. Reflecting on the achievements and the struggles are a constant reminder of where we’ve been and where we’d like to go. These stories and narratives must be told, no matter how painful; and all of us, regardless of our ethnic background, must hear these voices because they speak for all of humanity. And in so doing, we can then celebrate the journey and triumph of reaching the highest heights, in spite of adversity, together.

May we find solace in this ongoing work! For your listening pleasure, please enjoy Sweet Honey in the Rock – “This Place Inside Where I can Rest.”

Featured Image Photo by Rohit Tandon on Unsplash


Latine Heritage Month Meditation (English & Espanol)

From September 15th to October 15th, we celebrate Latine Heritage Month. This month is an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments and strides of the Latine community in all facets of life. I want to acknowledge that some might feel conflicted regarding identifying terms that situate our identities and cultures into a monolith. Umbrella terms like Hispanic, Latine, and other categorizations are well intended but should not imply a single label, identity, or experience. Our collective may descend from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Spain. Some of our relations are African, Asian, and Indigenous Peoples. We are a family with rich and vast identities and cultures that we express through our languages, food, art, entertainment, business, and society. We exist, live, love, and thrive in wholeness.

To honor Latine Heritage Month, I will share the concept of Sumak Kawsay, a Kichwa Ecuadorian term. Javier Cuestas-Caza (2022) describes Sumak Kawsay as part of Andean Philosophy or Andean Cosmovision, and it approximately translates to vida hermosa (beautiful life) or vida en armonía (life in harmony). Sumak Kawsay is an opportunity to be in “deep relationship with nature” and see yourself as part of everything around you (Cuestas-Caza, 2022). Sumak Kawsay centers community life and asks that we serve as caregivers of all within our world. Latine Heritage Month is a beautiful time to tune in and celebrate the communities we belong to. 

How do we do this? 

We can gather together and be in the everlasting love and exchange of the community. We can spend time in the beauty of our respective landscapes and fall deeply in love. Maybe take some time to practice walking meditation and experience how nature finds a way to exist everywhere through every being. It is also a time to pause, sit, meditate, and allow Pachamama to speak to and through us.

While this is an invitation to celebrate Latine Heritage Month, this is also an invitation to join the Newark Center for Meditative Culture community. Please join us this fall and throughout the year. We have so many incredible programs planned and a new space to bless with the gift of your presence.  

Enjoy the meditation offering included in this celebration of Latine Heritage Month by J. Javier Cruz. 

References:

Cuestas-Caza, J. (2022). Sumak Kawsay is not Buen Vivir. Alternautas, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.31273/alternautas.v5i1.1070 

Mindfulness of Breathing

Written by J. Javier Cruz, Facilitated by Veronica Guevara-Lovgren

Before starting your meditation, find a friendly place where you feel comfortable, and imagine taking refuge in a heart full of lovingkindness. In the course of your life there is no moment MORE worthy of your full attention than the present moment. It is here where past experiences are relived, and desires for a better future are forged. Since living in the present is the main purpose of this meditation, it makes it an invaluable piece in our lives. That being said…….

Let’s start by assuming a posture that allows you to feel relaxed and alert.

Short pause 

Begin to gently close your eyes or soften your gaze.

Short pause 

The two main intentions of this meditation are, 1st, to bring your attention on a single breath at a time, and 2nd, to return your attention to the breath or the present moment as many times as necessary.

Pause  

Silently repeat “I am right here, right now, in this body, present and attentive.”

Pause 

Now shift your attention to your body. Where is the breath more predominant? 

Short pause

Breathe in softly to the count of 5, and exhale gently to the count of 5. Repeat this process several times and let the breath follow its natural rhythm. Now, we will let go of any control of the breath. 

Longer pause

You may notice the sensation of the breath as its passing through your nostrils, or maybe it’s the way your chest rises and falls with each breath. It could also be the sensation of how each inhalation fills your lungs, expanding the belly and how it contracts with each exhalation. 

Pause for a few breaths

Where is your mind right now? 

Short pause 

If you notice any distraction, whether it’s a thought or a sound, gently return your attention to your breathing.

Short pause

Become familiar with each breath, whether it is long, short, agitated or fine, and also notice its sensations, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. We are creating a personal, intimate and healthy relationship with our breathing and the present moment! 

Longer pause

As we approach the end of this meditation, let’s witness a few full cycles of breath from beginning to end. Noticing the beginning, middle and end of the in breath, and the beginning, middle and end of the out breath.

Short pause

Take a moment to congratulate yourself for taking the time to participate in your own spiritual path. 

Pause 

In your own time, begin to shift your attention from the inner environment to the outer environment, gently opening your eyes, taking in all shapes, forms, texture and colors. Use the next few minutes to reflect on the experience of being mindful of your breathing, and remember that you can always take refuge in your breath. 

Atención Plena a la Respiración

Por J. Javier Cruz

Antes de comenzar tu meditación, busca un lugar donde te sientas cómodo. Imagina que vives en un corazón lleno de bondad amorosa. En el curso de tu vida no hay momento MÁS digno de toda tu atención que el momento presente. Es aquí donde se reviven experiencias pasadas y se forjan deseos de un futuro mejor. Y dado que vivir el presente es el propósito principal de esta meditación, la convierte en una pieza invaluable en nuestras vidas, entonses, 

Comencemos asumiendo una postura que te permita sentirte relajado y alerta.

Pausa corta 

Comienza a cerrar suavemente los ojos o suavizar la mirada.

Pausa corta

Las dos intenciones principales de esta meditación son, 1º, llevar tu atención a una sola respiración a la vez, y 2º, devolver tu atención a la respiración o al momento presente tantas veces como sea necesario.

Pausa 

Repite en silencio “Estoy aquí, ahora mismo, en este cuerpo, presente y atento.” 

Pausa

Ahora trasladando tu atención a tu cuerpo, ¿dónde predomina más la respiración? Inhala suavemente contando hasta 4, y exhala suavemente contando hasta 4, repite este proceso varias veces y luego deja que la respiración siga su ritmo natural.

Pausa más larga 

Talvez notes la sensación de la respiración cuando pasa por tus fosas nasales o tal vez es la forma en que tu pecho sube y baja con cada respiración, o también podría ser la sensación de cómo cada inhalación llena tus pulmones expandiendo el vientre y cómo se contrae con cada exhalación.

Pausa de algunas respiraciones

¿Dónde está tu mente en este momento? 

Pausa corta 

Si notas alguna distracción, ya sea un pensamiento o un sonido. Suavemente, regresa tu

atención a tu respiración. 

Pausa

Familiarízate con cada respiración, ya sea larga, corta, agitada o fina, y nota también sus sensaciones, ya sean placenteras, desagradables o neutral. Lo importante aquí es crear una relación personal, íntima y saludable con tu respiración y el momento presente 

Pausa más larga

A medida que nos acercamos al final de esta meditación, veamos si es posible presenciar el ciclos completos de respiración, de principio a fin. Notar el comienzo, la mitad y el final de la inspiración, y el principio, la mitad y el final de la exhalación. 

Pausa corta

Tómese un momento para felicitarse asi mismo por darse la oportunidad de participar en tu propio creciminento mental y espiritual. 

Pausa 

En tu propio tiempo, comienza a abrir suavemente los ojos y tómate unos minutos para reflexionar sobre la experiencia de ser consciente de tu respiración. Y recuerda que siempre puedes refugiarte en ella.

Respiración


The Dark & Light of Black Joy: The Role African-American History Plays

To help bring in and celebrate Black History Month we’ve asked NCMC board director Les Arthur, a former teacher of African-American history, to give us some of his reflections. Please join us in any of our programs this month to inspire your own reflections.

The Dark & Light of Black Joy
:
The Role African-American History Plays



By Leslie Arthur

“The struggle continues!” This is a statement(1) that our Black Elders during the Civil Rights/Black Power movement used as an important mantra all the time. But why is there a need for constant struggle? And what is the significance of protest and social movements?

When we look to nature we try to understand and study Harmony and Struggle. Both forces are opposites and yet are one in nature. For example, cold as opposed to heat, rest as opposed to movement, dark as opposed to light. We see these actions in our outdoor activities like hiking, forest bathing, cycling, etc.

If we apply the ancient Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang to ourselves, we too reflect these forces. Often time with family and friends we give our time, our energy, our ideas, and our efforts, but then there are other times that we receive many positive actions and opportunities. Both reciprocal forces occur in our lives daily.

The efforts to attain human rights for Black and Brown People has been a struggle for hundreds of years. And with opposing forces, conflict must always be met with solutions. A People’s culture and history is just such a solution.

African-American history teaches us how our elders survived the hardships of the transatlantic slave trade. How we fought and emerged from being enslaved and cultivated our own farm land. How we built schools and businesses during the Reconstruction Era. How the Black People organized protests and fought back against structural racism, Jim Crow laws, and segregation. How our constant social movements of the 20th century provided us the energy and wherewithal to pursue the vote, economic opportunities, and avenues for full citizenship.

We are presently, though, facing another backlash as extreme conservative forces fear their conception of “democracy” is fading. If there was ever a time to continue and increase our knowledge of African-American history, it is now. Self-esteem through black aesthetics, beauty inventions, achievements, education, and access to knowledge of how the world works — those solutions to the opposing forces of conflict are rooted in African-American history.

Black history teaches us how we are the change agents that we need to be right now and right here. African-American history gives us Black Joy. It gives us the positive affirmations of culture and shows us that no matter how difficult a situation is, it is possible — as the elders teach us — to “see things, rearrange things, and make some new things for the future.”(2)

1 A luta continua (in English: the struggle continues) was originally the rallying cry of the FRELIMO movement during Mozambique’s war for independence.


2 Quote by the late Cliff Carter one of the founders of the Chad School in Newark and a community activist.


Leslie Arthur worked in the NJ Public School System for 30 years teaching African American History, U.S. History, Latin American Culture, and Economics and is a Ph.D. candidate in African American History from Rutgers University. He is also an avid hiker and a certified hiking leader with the Appalachian Mountain Club, which promotes diversity in hiking and outdoor activities.