I recently had the honor of being invited to deliver a keynote address at Chicago State University. I was part of a group of passionate people from the Fuller Park Community Development Corporation. Brother Michael Howard, the CEO and Founder of Fuller Park Community Development Corporation invited me to keynote and invited our classmate for Toyota & the Audubon’s “TogetherGreen” fellowship, Attorney Chandra Taylor of the Southern Environmental Law Center to moderate a panel. I believe that we looked forward to the REAL fellowshipping together even more than being formally at the conference! Yet, the energy that we had surrounding the partnership and being together in the same space even with Sister Sherry Williams who is also a “TogetherGreen” fellow, seemed to overflow out and into the auditorium at CSU from the moment folks gathered for the day long conference.
The Chicago URBAANE Conference lived up to what the acronym stands for-Urban Resolutions Bringing African Americans to Natural Environments because even in the midst of the city, CSU has a prairie on the campus and an aquaponics center. I won’t even go into the fact that folks were walking around with cowboy hats on all over the place due to the fact that they were having a rodeo that day as a campus activity! I will say that with all of this, I felt at peace and right at home and the smiles and embraces from folks coming to the event made that feeling grow as the time went on.
The greatest embrace that I had all day was that of the President of CSU, Dr. Wayne Watson. Just as the MC for the morning that was to introduce me arrived, we went over the flow of activities and I was about the proceed to my place off stage when I was told that there was someone to whom I must be introduced. I turned to see a very distinguished gentleman and I came over and he immediately took my hands in his hands. I could hear more of what his spirit was saying than I could hear Brother Howard telling me the name of the president of the university. We did the proper traditional greeting amongst African leaders and he then leaned back still holding my hands and said, “I’m a Geechee!” What did he say that for?!!! He was also from South Carolina! So, here came the big ole family hugs and carrying on!
What was the most intriguing thing for me was that Dr. Watson was not only lit up like a light bulb, but that he stated he came to my islands when he was with Alex Haley doing work to document the community back in the 1970s. Everything that I had heard of this work came swirling around in my memory and I wished we could just sit down on a porch with a pitcher full of sweet tea so that I could hear the details of this story first hand from him since Alex had already gone on. However, I had to stay in the midst of the moment instead of going off into our own zone and I was quickly reminded of the fact that we were actually standing on stage without a curtain so folks had to be looking at us wondering what was all this hugging and smiling going on. The conference organizers were politely saying, we will introduce her when they finish. We could barely hear them though because there is just something that blocks out everything else when Gullah/Geechees find family. I said to him, “We have to talk!” He said, “Come by.” He then turned and said to Brother Howard, ” I MUST introduce her! I need to tell everyone a story. It will be brief, but I must speak of my trip to the island.” Brother Michael and the MC had to be as stunned as me, but he smoothly said, “No problem. We will work that out.” In an instant, the stage was now truly set. The intros proceeded:
I also knew in my soul that I had not been sent to come to this event just to present, but to bring folks back home. To reconnect them to their roots. To bring them from the prairie back to the fields. De chillun hafa git ta de root ef e gwine tek cyare um fa hab betta fruit. I could have stayed in thanks and praise and never walked back out there up on stage. My day was done before it begun just because of this meeting and this confirmation of revelation. However, I came to work with my Brother Michael, so I was going to also do what he sent for me to do.
As the adage goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but I often ask then “How much is a video worth?” The millions of words that it must be equivalent to is what I think is not robbery to share with you.
The journey to the Chicago URBAANE Conference not only caused me to reflect on what has happened on the Sea Islands in the past and what Gullah/Geechees would gather together to do and to have, but it also made me think of what we will need in this age and the one that is forthcoming to be prepared if we have to sit out something or if we have to quickly move. So, I shared this with the audience and as I did, more things came to my mind so that list expanded from 21 items to 30 and I created a quick checklist that you can download by clicking here->Queen Quet’s Disaster Preparedness Items Check List. Also, view the video and share it within your community:
Attorney Chandra Taylor of the Southern Environmental Law Center presents for the 2nd Annual Chicago URBAANE Conference.
The conference was outstanding and Attorney Taylor presented information about environmental justice and the North Carolina coast that I was not aware of and I thought wasn’t known by most. So, I had to include this in our episode of the conference coverage for Gullah/Geechee TV. Folks do not have an idea of half of the things we have to battle to keep our land and our culture alive daily!
My day at CSU ended like it began with a reunion. Dr. Watson invited me to his office and truly showed that he had been raised with southern hospitality. We chatted and he shared part of his Alex Haley journey. Their work was part of a book done by Arthur Ashe’s wife about Daufuskie which we have at the “Gullah/Geechee Alkebulan Archive.” We talked more about the land theft that took place back at that time and he opened the doors of the university to me. I gave thanks for the moment and told him, let’s take this photo opportunity. Well, that did not come out successfully because this man was now intrigued with documenting me and the current oral history! He took the Gullah/Geechee Nation flag in his hands and I could not get him to stop looking at it to pose! He said, “I will take the picture, but first, I need to understand what it means.” I proceeded to tell him and I must say, that the video that was captured actually made my day! I have explained the meaning of our flag many times in a short way, but it made such a major difference explaining it to a Gullah/Geechee that had long since moved away. Somehow every word that I said seemed to bring him in as a body in the center of the tree and then he simply came over and again embraced me.
I pray that all that came to the conference and that are viewing this video too, find the love and connection in all that they do. May we all prepare to heal the world and live better to stem off some disasters from ever coming to us at all. May we treat each other as family always so that a door will be some place for you if you have to run that folks will open and say, “Cum home ya’ll!” I know that my people are being brought together for a reason and “ain drylongso.” I am thankful that Brother Michael called me up the road and God made it such that I could go.
Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation with Michael Howard, CEO & Founder of the Fuller Park Community Development Corporation at the 2nd Annual Chicago URBAANE Conference.