Black Excellence: James Weldon Johnson

A predominant figure of the Harlem Renaissance, James Weldon Johnson was born on June 17, 1871 to a middle class, African American family in the progressive city of Jacksonville, Florida.

One of his most famous writings is the lyric to the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” which he wrote in 1900 to commemorate President Lincoln’s birthday. In 1919, the NAACP claimed this song as the Negro national anthem. Now considered the Black National Anthem, it was initially written as a poem. When put to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson, it became the hymn we now know it by today. Recently, the hymn was sung for the first time at a Superbowl (February, 2023) by African American performer Sheryl Lee Ralph.

Over the course of his life, Johnson accumulated many achievements as an author (The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man), a statesman in international politics, a leader in the ranks of the NAACP, as the first African American professor at NYU, as the first Black lawyer admitted to the Florida state bar after the Reconstruction era and as a lifelong advocate for civil rights.

He tragically died in a railroad accident in 1938 while on vacation in Maine. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Lift Every Voice and Sing Lyrics


Black Excellence – Kiese Laymon

Considered to have written one of the best 50 memoirs of the past 50 years by the New York Times, Kiese Laymon is an American author who is currently on the faculty at Rice University His memoir, “Heavy”, has received multiple accolades and awards including the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Award for Excellence. The autobiography is about growing up Black, bookish and overweight in an abusive home in Jackson, Mississippi.

Why write about Laymon for January’s Black Excellence? Well, last year, “Heavy” was chosen as one of the “15 Books to Read During Black History Month and Beyond” by the Innocence Project. To commemorate Black History Month this year, consider reading Laymon’s book.

Currently teaching at Rice University as the Libbie Shearn Moody Professor of Creative Writing and English, Professor Laymon also works with and founded the Catherine Coleman Literary Arts and Justice Initiative which promotes reading and writing with children in Mississippi.


Black Excellence: Serena Williams

Uppermost in the news today regarding tennis star, Serena Williams, is her very recent retirement from the sport. Over the course of her career, she has won 21 Grand Slams but now, she’s leaving her tennis career with plans to grow her family. “If I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter.”

 

In a recent interview with Selena Gomes on her new website for mental health awareness, acceptance and support, Wondermind, Serena stated that you have to “put yourself first mentally”.

She detailed that for her, "mental fitness" is learning how to "shut down," and she said: "I have serious boundaries, and I don't let anyone cross those boundaries."

Related Posts:

Venus and Serena Williams – Black Excellence

Reveal: The Masks We See and Those We Don’t

Book Corner – Mental Health Month


Black Excellence: Colin Kaepernick and Nessa Diab

This month, Transracial Journeys would like to take the opportunity to feature Colin Kaepernick and Nessa Diab.

Colin is an American athlete and activist who is also adopted! He came to great prominence as the San Francisco 49er quarterback who kneeled during the national anthem at football games to protest police brutality towards Black people.

 

In 2016, Kap launched the non profit Know Your Rights Camp that teaches, supports and nourishes African American children to have a brighter future.

Nessa is a well known radio and TV host. She’s also an activist! She helped found the Know Your Rights Camp, hosts an annual prom for disadvantaged girls in New York City centered around female empowerment and launched a mentoring and scholarship program for girls too!

Congratulations to this powerful and beautiful duo on the arrival of their baby!

 

Embed from Getty Images

Black Excellence: Todd Kennedy

Todd Kennedy is our camp counselor and athletic director extraordinaire.  Our children have come to love taking tumbling classes with Mr. Todd over the past several years, and he’s looking forward to seeing his kids and welcoming new families to camp this summer.

Mr. Todd has a special ministry with youth and has taught tumbling to over 9,000 kids in Cleveland, East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights.  He started tumbling at the age of eleven and grew up learning on grass, streets and old mattresses.  He went on to become an acro-gymnast and a power tumbler.  He has dedicated his life and his career to forming loving and inclusive communities via his tumbling program.

Of camp, Mr. Todd has said,

“I did not know I had other family members outside my family until I joined Transracial Journeys.”

We love you, Mr. T!

 

Mr. Todd

Mr. Todd being “spotted” by camp counselors Maggie and Mary at Bellwether Farm.


Simone Biles – Black Excellence

On the Transracial Journeys Facebook Page, we recently asked for Black Excellence nominations. You did not disappoint! With nominees such as Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, Resmaa Menakem and Simone Biles, it was tough to choose. However, there’s one candidate who strongly represents this month’s themes of love and history (in the making) and she is Simone Biles! Thank you for your nomination Nicole Zistler, and please keep your nominees coming.

Simone’s strength and grace is not simply about her gymnastics but it’s also present as she has had to navigate inappropriate discreditation of her family structure. Born in 1997, Simone and her three siblings spent their early childhood in foster care until her maternal grandparents adopted Simone and her younger sister, Adria. Her two older siblings were adopted by her grandfather Ron Biles’s sister, Harriet.

Inspired by Gabby Douglas at a young age, Simone has said, “Growing up, I didn’t see very many Black gymnasts…So whenever I did, I felt really inspired to go out there and want to be as good as them. I remember watching Gabby Douglas win the 2012 Olympics, and I was like, if she can do it, I can do it.”.

Simone Biles is not only the most decorated gymnast of all time with 7 Olympic medals and 25 World Medals, but she’s also known for mental health advocacy on behalf of herself and others. Under incredible pressure and under the world’s spotlight, she stepped out of the Tokyo Olympics to take care of her own mental health. She stated,

I have to put my pride aside. I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being. That’s why I decided to step back.”

At past Transracial Journeys  Family Camps and Zoom meetings, several of our kids have excitedly voiced their love for Simone. There are many books about her available at your local library, but only one of them is written by her “Courage to soar: a body in motion, a life in balance”. Check it out!


Black Excellence – bell hooks

Buy the cover art→  Art by Monica Ahanonu for TIME

Gloria Jean Watkins aka bell hooks (September 25, 1952 – December 15, 2021)

This month, we celebrate bell hooks and her contributions to race, class, and culture in her many books, and in her work as a feminist and as a professor.

In her book “All About Love”, she wrote that we put more emphasis on love as a noun, but she asked her readers to use it more like a verb. In the same book, she referred to M. Thomas Peck’s definition of love as

“the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”.

We have a lot to learn about our relationship to love, loving ourselves and loving others.  Dr. Hooks has left us a legacy of instruction in her body of published work.