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Eight Days That Changed Our Lives

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By Briana Boykin

My personal journey on the Footsteps To Freedom “Xi” Underground Railroad Study Tour

When Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds and Mrs. Cheryl Brown told me I was going on The Black Voice Foundation's Footsteps to Freedom "XI" Underground Railroad Study tour they said it would be life changing. But I didn't quite understand what that meant until I returned home a different and more whole person.

On July 27, 2008, I landed in Columbus, Ohio to begin a journey back to the time just before this country became the United States of America. Along with nineteen other participants who were mostly educators from San Bernardino and Victorville, I, the youngest member of the group, was given the title "Freedom Seeker" by the official Footsteps to Freedom Underground Railroad conductor, Mrs. Cheryl Brown. Immediately, I was wearing the shoes of my ancestors who courageously escaped slavery in search of the freedom that America's Constitution had promised all men. 

At this meeting, our first assignment was to introduce ourselves and our reason for participating in the program. Among the diverse group of enthusiastic and friendly participants was Kenny Morris, who right away struck me as compassionate and genuine. In his introduction of himself he informed us that his reason for participating on the trip was because of his desire to reconnect with the history of those great persons who came before us and to also gain better insight into slavery as President and Founder of the Fredrick Douglass Family Foundation, an organization that avidly fights against modern day slavery and human trafficking. "I'm just really excited and thankful to be here," he told the other participants. What he didn't tell us was that he is the great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass and the great-great grandson of Booker T. Washington - two extremely important people in American history. I was impressed by his modesty; actually I was impressed by everyone. Everyone in the group was fabulous; I just knew my experience would be the same.

After our introductions we received an itinerary of the trip and I learned that I would be retracing the ground of Americans that I had only read about in books or heard about through a few dedicated professors. I would now be living this knowledge outside of the textbook and the classroom. I was excited about the journey I faced, but most of all I felt honored and humbled that I would soon be in the very same places of those brave people who came before me. All my life I had wondered what it must have been like to be them - to live through what can be considered some of the worst times in our human existence - to be enslaved - to have a human heart and yet be reduced by society as the property of another man. And now I was given the opportunity to stand on the sacred ground of these people and visit the homes and sanctuaries where they sought refuge from slave hunters on their journey to freedom. Yes, I was honored; however, despite my excitement and anticipation, bizarre feelings of detachment and estrangement from my place in this world began to accrue in my heart the first night as I sat in my hotel wondering exactly what this experience would bring me. What happened was beyond what I could fathom.

On our first day of the tour, after visiting the National Afro American Museum African-American quilt display, and the nearby Wilberforce University, the tour group ventured to the home of black abolitionists, John Parker and the Front St. community before climbing the hill up to the home of abolitionist John Rankin in Ripley, Ohio, territory that was considered before the Civil War free territory, or land where slavery had been abolished. Rankin's home overlooked the slave the territory of Mason County, Kentucky. As we climbed the hill, we became refugees of slavery running from slave catchers who, according to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, had been given the legal right to capture us and return us back to the masters. At that moment our lives began to change. I remember each "Freedom Seeker" imagining, experiencing the fear, the pain, and the determination that the escaped Africans must have felt running up that hill - I remember us trying to feel the power of the spirituals that kept the real freedom seekers alive and gave them faith and hope as they ran through the thick brush in the dead of winter cold, starving, and often barefoot - the choice between life or death their only real option. I also tried to imagine myself as a Rankin, a white abolitionist who risked his life to help enslaved persons make it across the border of Kentucky and into Ohio not because of a social obligation but because he believed that it was his godly duty to work against the institution of slavery.

I struggled to picture this whole scene; it was difficult. I felt so disconnected from the history. It was the first time I had ever heard the story of the Underground Railroad told in so much detail. But even as my feelings of detachment magnified, when I got to the top of that hill and entered the damp, stuffy cellar where they hid the Africans who had made it into the free territory, I knew my understanding of the world would never be the same.

That day Jerry Gore, a direct descendent of Addison White one of the most famous refugees on the Underground Railroad and a former director of student affairs at Morehead College in Kentucky whose joy and passion radiated through his kind gestures and great big smile, opened his family museum to us and shared the sacred stories about how escaped victims of slavery were imprisoned in that exact same building. He also told us other family stories in American history that had been kept secret for years. These stories were woven into our hearts. When it was time to head to our next stop, we were already becoming different people; we all left Ripley with a real picture of slavery, unsugarcoated and raw. "Please respect these stories and remember what the ancestors lived and died for," Jerry admonished us as we headed to our next stops with gratitude for the freedom bought by the blood of our courageous forefathers and foremothers.

Over the next six days we would make our way from Cincinnati, where we sat inside of a restored slave holding pen at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center; to Wellington and Oberlin, where we learned at the Oberlin College Archives of the famous Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue; to Detroit, where we toured the Wright African-American and Henry Ford Museums as well as the First Congregational Church of Detroit; to Ontario, Canada, where we visited the Afro-Canadian establishments of John Freeman Walls, the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum, and Uncle Tom's Cabin and learned of their significance in the Underground Railroad; then to Niagara Falls, Canada to visit the Dett Chapel, Saint Catherine's B.M.E. Church, Harriett Tubman's Church, and the gravesite of Anthony Burns; and finally to upstate New York where we experienced the life of  two very important figures in American History.

Our journey to freedom ended Sunday, August 2 in Rochester, New York, the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and women's suffragette Susan B. Anthony. It was perhaps one of the most emotional parts of the trip. We were exhausted. We had been so many places in just seven days and were trying to take in the myriad of new information we had learned in just that short period of time. Still, we knew we had to finish the assignment. Although there was not one place we had visited on the trip that Frederick Douglass had not influenced, we were now standing on his territory with his great-great-great grandson. As our tour guides for this part of the program brought to life the history of Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, and Sojourner Truth through a special presentation, I watched Kenny take it all in. It was powerful. As he reconnected with that part of his history, a heavy spirit fell upon all of us. We walked the streets of Rochester trying one last time before the tour was over to know this history as it was a time ago.  The gray sky reflected our emotions. It was cold and we were ready to rest. Still, we knew we had to finish the assignment.

We went to the park where a statue of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass sat discussing human rights issues over tea, and the sculpture came to life. At that moment Kenny, who was dressed in a suit to reverence the life of his ancestor, shared a silent moment with his great-great-great grandfather.

I would later discover that that day in the park empowered Kenny beyond ordinary inspiration. His expression was almost surreal. He conveyed to me the following:

"As our tour guide [Dr. David Anderson] stood by the monument telling us about the accomplishments of the great Frederick Douglass and how he, a once enslaved man, fought for justice in this country, the statue began to come alive and I was able to speak to my grandfather." 

As we left the park for our next destination, a few rain drops fell from the sky. I knew his life, my life, and all of our lives would never be the same. Kenny later revealed to me that this was the most emotional part of the journey for him. "It was life changing, stoic; I experienced the strongest feelings there. That moment has me at loss for words," he would later inform me.

Our last stop was the memorial site where Douglass was buried. Kenny faced the burial site with dignity.

Kenny and I reflected on our experiences a couple days later; our emotions had still not settled. I remember him expressing to me a prayer he said to his great-great-great grandfather and a letter he left on his gravestone before we departed from our last stop of the tour.

"I told him I was proud of him not just for everything he had done for our country but for all that he had done for me as a grandfather." Kenny shared with me, the spirit of that moment still lingering in the atmosphere. In the poignant letter, he expressed the most powerful words to the great Frederick Douglass.

"Granted, if I had one wish," he wrote to his grandfather, "I would ask you to show me how to become a leader among leaders."

Remembering his great grandmother's personal accounts of Douglass's kind heart and big white hair, Kenny realized that he was only one person away from history; he knew that it was his turn to extend the legacy of his grandfather.

When we boarded the bus to return home, I noticed Kenny was a little taller. In fact, we all were. Like Kenny, we all began the program recognizing in some way the shoes that we must fill before we leave this world, but by the end of the experience we had received the confidence and the stories needed to fill them.

I am a member of a generation that has lost its way. We have forgotten who we are because we are no longer being told in truth who we have always been. We don't know our stories and are consequently detached from the pain and the hope of our ancestors. On the trip I dealt with a range of emotions, but the most troubling times were when I struggled to relate to the pain my ancestors endured so that I could be free. I recall being frustrated on the trip, asking myself "where had these stories been during my adolescent years? Where were they when I was forming my identity? Where were they when my classmates and peers were killing each other because they had forgotten that they were connected to a people of dignity, honor, and virtue?"  These times were most difficult for me because during the journey I realized that it was the pain of those who fought for freedom that connected me to the variety of freedoms afforded to me in this country today. By retracing the footsteps of those who challenged our society to make this country a more perfect union, I have become reunited with my human duty to participate in the struggle for human rights and am honored to not only continue in following these footsteps, but to do my part in making my own as well.

At the end of the tour, my roommate Katie Greene, a retired Air Force Major, registered nurse practitioner, and lawyer from Riverside, said to me "I have traveled to over fifty-five different countries and yet this is probably the most significant trip I have ever been on." I knew then that I, a twenty-two years old recent college graduate and rather inexperienced traveler, was beyond blessed.

When our plane home touched California soil, all of us were a little changed. And it is certainly no lie that once you embark on the Black Voice Footsteps to Freedom journey of the Underground Railroad, you have no choice but to return a quite different, more whole person.

Click here to view pictures.

Pat Tobin A Celebration of Life: A Tribute to a Legacy of Service

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It's Sunday afternoon. I've put on a Patti Labelle CD and I've sat down to write about this celebration of life well lived.   Many thoughts dance, circle and fade through my mind, the ones that linger come from the heart.  I proceeded to remember, the lessons I learned as a wide-eyed intern on several of Patricia L. Tobin's, (known to many as "Pat") special events in Hollywood.   Her struggle as a brilliant PR professional was a difficult one, but over a span of twenty years in business, Tobin built her firm into one of the most respected African American agencies in Los Angeles. 

Her expertise was strategic planning, product positioning and community relations outreach with national corporations and organizations. Because of the struggle, she once told me, "A PR professional should never miss an opportunity to jump in the shot, when appropriate. It sends a signal that we exist and are alive."

Public relations protégées of Pat Tobin: (L to R) Michele Stroman-MGuire, Community Event’s Marketing, City National Bank, Lela Ward, reporter, Jalila Larsuel, J.L. Media Relations and BVN reporter, Lea Cash.

Tobin's memorial was held on Friday, June 27, 2008 in Inglewood at the Faithful Central Bible Church.  On Tuesday, June 10, she had lost her valiant fight with colon cancer.  She was 65.  The service started on time.  10:00 A.M. sharp! Time was important because Tobin was an on-time person. Colored people time-CP time was not going to reflect a life well lived, or a woman well loved-not this time.

Hundreds came from all over the country to pay their respects to this pioneering publicist and networking master.  A long list of dignitaries, celebrities, family and friends felt the power of her definition of networking and public relations. At her memorial service, she brought us together her way.   There were very few tears as the program started and concluded two hours later, featuring a lengthy line of impressive speakers and musical selections of Tobin's favorite songs.  Speakers such as John Mack, former Urban League President and Los Angeles Police Commission president, Mark Ridley-Thomas, California State Senator, Irving Miller, Group Vice President, Toyota Motor Sales USA and Judge Mablean Ephriam, and so many more-too many to mention-telling their stories of a life well lived. Quite remarkable to say the least.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, enjoys electric slides in honor of Pat Tobin.
After Bishop Kenneth Ulmer's final remarks and words of inspiration, Tobin's daughter Lauren and grandson Aaron, the loves of her life, took center stage.  Each shared moments about the dream builder Tobin was.   Lauren said, "I hope all of you brought your business cards because this is a networking celebration, the way my mother wanted it to be." Lauren had that exactly right...it was a networking celebration.  I ran into individuals that I had not seen in years and everyone seemed to feel that way from Blair Underwood to Frankie Beverly of Maze.  Then there was the Repast.

Pat used to hold a "Journalist Jams" at the Speakeasy Club during the 1980's for media and PR professionals.  Her repast, hosted by the Black Journalist Association of Southern California, gave reminiscence to those jams. All I can say is wow! Unbelievable!   In a poem written by Michael Colyar, he stated, "Say what you wanna but nobody cries. Feel her joy, feel her power. She knows she's the woman of the hour."   Every second and minute of the repast had Tobin's way of life all over it.  From the black-eyed peas to the collard greens, macaroni and cheese, to the peach cobbler pie had Tobin's signature on it. 

Tanya Hart, journalist and Pat Tobin’s daughter Lauren.
Then there was the music. Old school tunes, even featuring the Soul Train theme song, which was a Tobin favorite. Can you imagine what excitement occurred when everyone heard the old Soul Train tune?   There was a dance floor and in honor of Tobin's favorite dance the "electric slide" everyone raced to the floor in her memory.  Dignitaries, celebrities, you name it, people together, at peace celebrating the memory of a friend dearly loved.   There was plenty of champagne and networking.  A special pen was designed which stated "FOPT" for Friend of Pat Tobin.  The pen has a rhinestone in the middle of the O.  Everyone was encouraged to wear his or her pen to special events, and to remember as stated in the National Black Public Relation Society's  resolution (an organization that Tobin helped to form). We resolve to honor her example of networking, mentoring and promoting African Americans in the field of PR in her memory so that the legacy of Pat Tobin will live on.              

Art Institute Hears: ‘33 Years A Disney Animator’

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Hundreds of animation sketches and a dozen of his few hundred filled sketch pads packed the tables in a lecture hall at The Art Institute of California - Inland Empire July 11 as Disney animator Ron Husband delighted a room of 30 student animators as part of the institute's week-long Invasion of Infinite Creativity workshops and seminars.

The 33-year Disney veteran lists major credits as long as his arm: The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, The Little Mermaid, Rescuers Down Under, two versions of Beauty and the Beast, Atlantis: Search for the Lost Empire, Treasure Planet, The Small One, Fantasia 2000, Pocahontas, Lion King, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Aladdin, Fat Albert The Movie and so many more, even including creation of the Cool Cat in singer Paula Abdul's music video "Opposites Attract." "I've worked on nearly all Disney animations except Tarzan from 1975 through 2005," Husband said (he's currently an illustrator with Disney's publishing group).

Husband's almost countless awards span a Father of the Year, a Teacher of the Year, a Man of the Year, a National Achievement in Art honor, Best New Artist, and the Centurion Award from the National Religious Broadcasters in Washington, D.C.

But Ron wasn't at the institute to sing his own praises; that was left to Academic Director of Media Arts & Animation Santosh Oommen, the session's organizer and host. "Success such as his requires incredible talent," he has said, "but breaking Disney's color barrier 33 years ago proves he also has great determination." Oommen recalled, "I met Ron in 1995 at an art gallery, his sketchbook in his hand."

"I always have one with me," Husband said. "I've been drawing since I was five, and I have hundreds of books by now, with more to come. Drawing is what I do and enjoy doing. Like a baseball player who practices to keep his talents sharp, I do the same with drawing."

Prior to joining Disney in 1975, Husband, his University of Nevada Las Vegas Bachelor of Arts degree in hand, landed a job with Honeywell in West Covina, slugging along doing block diagrams, he said. "I had a wife and two kids, and needed a job." He heard about a Disney possibility and took his commercial art portfolio with him to an interview where they scanned his work and sketchbook. "I'd no animation experience," he recalled, "but they saw movement in my drawings and gave me a chance."

"Drawing is communicating and entertaining," Husband explained. "If you don't entertain, you don't work for long. And drawings should give people information: who the character is and what it's like, you show what they're doing and communicate the ‘why.' It all starts somewhere, up here," he said touching his forehead.

The film animation process begins with what the director wants, he described. "You show the director your quick sketches to see if you're going in the right direction," instead of spending days finalizing a scene, "and then the director says it's not quite right, try it again. But, if it works, and you get the anticipated reaction you wanted, then you create the full animation. So, first you do the whole movie in storyboards, then the rough sketch animation, then the cleaned-up animation and then the full animation. You can be on one movie for four or five years with each single drawing being on the screen for only 1/24th of a second."

Making the impossible believable is some of the animator's fun, he noted. You may have Mickey Mouse running off a cliff, realizing what he's done and scampering back to safety before falling to his doom. "But it all seems natural," he said.

Research plays a major role in the animator's work, Husband pointed out. "When I was to do the Dr. Sweet character in Atlantis: Search for the Lost Empire, I studied medical tools and equipment and spoke to people in the profession. When I have to do animals at Disney, I research their anatomy and their movement first."

Has computer-generated animation, the current rage, crept into his life? "I did some CGI animation," he recalled, "but I really missed pushing the pencil, drawing. Little did I know CGI was going to take over as it has. I went back to drawing."

Born in Monrovia, the San Dimas resident is happily married after 35 years to LaVonne, with three adult children and three granddaughters.

"I'm now adding a new challenge, a new direction, to my career," he said. "I'm writing a book; it's on quick sketching. No publisher yet, but I still have a way to go."

With an easy smile crossing his lips, Ron Husband concluded, "I haven't ‘gone to work' a day in my life. I'm truly blessed to be doing what God gave me the skills to do. And to make a living at it."

The Art Institute of California - Inland Empire offers Bachelor of Science degrees in Game Art & Design, Culinary Management, Graphic Design, Web Design & Interactive Media, Interior Design, Fashion Design               and Retail Management, and Media Arts & Animation. There are also Associate of Science degrees in Graphic Design and Culinary Arts. Each program is offered on a year-round basis, allowing students to work uninterrupted toward their degrees.

The Art Institute of California-Inland Empire is one of The Art Institutes (www.artinstitutes.edu), a system of over 40 education institutions located throughout North America, providing an important source of design, media arts, fashion and culinary arts professionals.

Community Organizations Honor Local Youth

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Kappa Theta, UCRiverside graduates (l-r): DeJon Harris, Yasmeen Welton, and Letecia Vaca.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Eta Nu Omega Chapter, and the California Alliance of African American Educators collaborated to honor the academic achievements of several high school and college graduates in the Inland Empire at a Graduate Recognition Ceremony on Sunday, June 22, 2008 at the T. Hughes Memorial Center in San Bernardino.

Scholarship recipients (front row): Mya Keaton, Teuana Montgomery, Britnee Abbott, Lauren Smith. (back row) Vania Singleterry.
The California Alliance of African American Educators (CAAAE), represented by Regional Coordinator, Shalimar Anderson-Horsley, acknowledged seventeen graduating seniors and presented them with certificates of achievement from the organization while sharing their individual accomplishments with the audience. The students were: Marco Afolayan (Provisional Accelerated Learning), Kourtney Bell, (Eisenhower High), DeeRonn Booker and Rose Collins (Pomona High), Jasmine Culberson (Arroyo Valley High), Forell Foree and Cassandra Glover (La Sierra High), Mary Hebert (Norte Vista High), Juanita Hicks (Garey High), Wesley House and Brienna Watson (Milor High), Sheila Hull and Ashley Williams (Rialto High),  Shelton Miles and Thomasina Wallace (Diamond Ranch High), Christensen Sanders (Carter High) and special recognition to former Eisenhower High School student Dorothy Marshall, a 2008 Yale University graduate.

Graduate Recognition Committee (front row l-r): Tonia Causey-Bush, Mallanie Harris, Shalimar Horsley, Nellie Moore. (back row): Jenise Earl Bush, Linda Gaines-Brooks, Mariyon Thompson.
Each year Eta Nu Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. supports outstanding youth in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties by granting scholarships annually to further their education. At this year's Graduate Recognition Ceremony six students received $13,000.00 in scholarships. The scholarship recipients were: Britnee Abbott (Perris High), Jesaka Davitt (Redlands High), Teuana Montgomery (Silverado High), Vania Singleterry (Vista Murrieta), Lauren Smith (San Gorgonio High) and Mya Keaton, (Cajon High) recipient of the first annual Ellase Stiggers Memorial Scholarship.

In addition the sorority recognized their own, including graduates of Kappa Theta, University of California Riverside, Rho Delta, California State University, San Bernardino, while also acknowledging the children of members recently graduating from high-school or college.

All the honorees received proclamations from area elected officials.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the oldest greek-letter organization established by African American college-trained women is celebrating 100 years of service with activities highlighting its programs and legacy throughout the centennial year.

Eta Nu Omega Scholarship and Graduate Recognition Committees were chaired by sorority members, Tonia Causey-Bush, Ph.D. and Jenise Earl-Bush.

When The Light Came On In Riverside

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By C.F. Hawthorne

Mayor Ronald O. Loveridge
On June 12, 2008, Riverside answered the question that has been  on the minds of many of its residents, "embracing diversity, have we overcome or have we just begun?" as the lights came on in Downtown Riverside,  lighting the path to greater possibilities. The city of Riverside dedicated what was once known as the Mayor's patio to the Grier family. Embracing all those who came before and all those who will come after.  Dr. and Mrs. Grier are wonderful examples of people who understood the power that loving humanity will bring all. When asked "What puts a smile on your face?" Barnett Grier responded with a heart warming smile, "Just Love."

Barnett Grier, Jr.
The Grier Pavilion is where our humanity can begin. Encouraging quotes etched on sides of enormous granite pillars that descend into clouds of over 300 white solar panels, the Grier Pavilion is filled with so much aspiration for our future.

Sylvia Martin James
In the center of the Pavilion there is a multicolor circle and within that circle there is diversity. Within diversity there is comment, within comment there is pride, within pride there is inclusiveness, within inclusiveness there is Riverside within Riverside there is humanity, within humanity, I'll find you.

The Grier Pavilion is a place where Riverside's past embraces Riverside's future. The panoramic view of hills, valleys and mountains are breathtaking and relaxing as you stand on top of the world listening to the past which lights the pathway to a bright future. The Grier Pavilion is located on the 7th floor of City Hall and opened 8-5, admission is free.

Hundreds attend the grand opening of the Grier Pavilion in Downtown Riverside.

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