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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gee's Bend; The Architecture of the Quilt

I am from Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa. I am from the Baoule group which is a subgroup of the Akan people. If you know anything about Akan people, you know what great weavers they are. My house in Abidjan was full of weaved covers from my grandfather’s village.

My mother, who is American, had many Liberian friends while we lived in Cote d’Ivoire. Many of these Liberians were descendants of the African-American slaves who left the United States in the 1800’s and founded the country of Liberia. These former African-American slaves brought to Liberia their traditions, even the tradition of quilting and the tradition of passing the art of quilting down to another generation. So, the many Liberian refugees who were fleeing a civil war in their home came to Cote d’Ivoire with the skill of quilting. My mother had a friend, Mr. William, who made quilts for all of our beds in Abidjan. You could give him any design and he could do.

When I recently visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see its new exhibition, Gee’s Bend; The Architecture of the Quilt, I saw Africa. For us art is not art for its own sake. It’s functional. We wear it. We use it to keep our bodies warm. We use it to shield ourselves from the elements. We teach lessons of morals and history through it. And it just so happens what we create is absolutely, incredibly beautiful. The equally beautiful women, who created the quilts on display, used old clothing-jeans, cotton, and corduroy and looked at their physical environment and found inspiration from it and created these awesome quilts. Seventy-five of these quilts are on display at the museum until December.

I had the honor to meet some of the quilters from Gee’s Bend, Alabama, at the museum. Most of them learned how to quilt by watching their older family members quilt. They were great-grandmothers who had passed down their quilting knowledge to their children and grandchildren. They are highly intellectual women who believe the Lord sent them to do this work. You could tell these ladies felt uncomfortable being referred to as artists because what they do, like we do in many African countries, is create not for glory and applause, but because we have to- for survival.

The quilters from Gee’s Bend also have amazing voices. During the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s gala reception, these lovely ladies sang for us. It was truly touching. You could tell that their singing, like their quilt-making, belonged to their community.

I urge all my readers to tell your parents, grandparents and other family members about this amazing exhibition-Gee’s Bend; The Architecture of the Quilt. It will be at the Philadelphia Museum of Art until December 14, 2008.

Each week I will post a story related to events and programs connected to this exhibition as well as other quilting-related topics. I would like to thank the Philadelphia Museum of Art who showed amazing faith in me and allowed me to cover this exhibition as a member of the press. I want to give thanks to anyone who supported or sponsored Gee’s Bend and give thanks to the many people who believed in them!

For more information contact the Philadelphia Museum of Art at

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Parting The Waters-Swimmers of Color Making Waves

Did you know that less than one percent of competitive swimmers in the United States are people of color? Did you know that the drowning rates of people of color are three times higher than those for white children?

That’s why this past summer, my brother and I started swimming lessons with the Swim America program. Swim America is committed to giving the best swimming instruction to kids anywhere. I took lessons at an area university and I had a highly trained instructor. I will continue with my lessons throughout the year and you can, too. Have your parents contact Swim America to see where it is operating a program near you.

After the Olympics in Beijing, I am more excited than ever to improve my swimming and it’s not because of Michael Phelps. (I do like Michael.) It’s because of Cullen Jones, the African-American swimmer who won an Olympic gold medal in the 4X100 relay race. Check out Cullen’s video where he’s thanking his mom for supporting him over the years. Cullen is an incredible swimmer and he is using his Olympic fame to encourage children, especially children of color, to learn how to swim. Through the Make a Splash Foundation, he hopes to save many lives by persuading children of the importance of knowing how to swim.

There are a few swimmers of color on the scene who are truly inspiring. Besides Cullen Jones, there is Maritza Correia. She is the first African- American woman on an United Sates Olympic team. She won the silver medal at the Games in Athens in 2004.

Jenny Levison and Josh Waletzky are the producers and directors of an upcoming documentary called Parting the Waters.
“More than 50 years after landmark civil rights decisions opened schools and voting booths, fewer than 1% of competitive swimmers in the U.S. are black and Latino. Parting the Waters is the story of African-American championship swimmers Maritza Correia and Cullen Jones, and the young black and Latino swimmers coming up behind them –– as they challenge old myths, fears, and stereotypes to break down the last vestiges of segregation.”, is how they summarize this great project.

For more information, see the following sites and go out and make a splash.

Parting the Waters-
There's an interview with Jenny and Josh, the filmmakers of Parting the Waters ,on Participant Productions blog:

Swim America

The Make a Splash Foundation

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Path To My African Eyes -Q&A Interview

My regular readers know that I did a review of a great book, Path to My African Eyes, not too long ago. Well, the publisher of this book, Just Us Books, arranged for me to send my questions about the book and the writer to the writer herself. How fabulous is this? Her name is Ermila Moodley and this in my Q&A interview with her.
Questions=Sojourner Ahebee
Answers=Ermila Moodley

1. How closely is Path To My African Eyes based on your own personal experiences?

In Path to my African Eyes the narrator, Thandi Sobukwe, is a product of educated parents in a newly democratic country, whereas I grew up in poverty in apartheid South Africa. So my life has been quite different to hers. However, in the story Thandi confronts similar issues that have troubled me. The main one being finding one’s place and identity in a White dominated society.

2. When did you leave South Africa and why?

I left South Africa in my early twenties to experience living in a free society.

3. When I studied about Mahatma Gandhi, I learned about the Indian Community in South Africa. Tell me a little about this community.

Indians started arriving in South Africa in 1860 and were brought by the British to work as laborers in the sugar cane plantations. These Indians came willingly because they wanted to escape famine in India, and they were promised great opportunities. Once they arrived Indians were essentially treated as slaves. Living conditions were awful and many committed suicide. Later, wealthier Indians from India arrived in South Africa to set up businesses. These folks would not tolerate dehumanizing treatment from the ruling white population and fought hard for basic services for all Indians. When Mahatma Gandhi arrived in the early 1900’s he joined in the struggle for just treatment. Because of him Indians were better off than blacks under apartheid.

4. How do you feel about South Africa today? Do you think the country is moving forward?

I feel a tremendous sense of pride when I go to South Africa these days. Even though there are still a lot of problems to sort out, it’s great to see that every human being is expected to be treated with respect. It’s wonderful to walk into public libraries and parks and see a mix of races. It’s great to go to whichever beach you like, or to walk into any restaurant and know that you are welcome.
The country is definitely moving forward. In the past, most black kids dropped out of school before their teens. Today, most kids go all the way to high school. In the past, most of the universities had predominantly white students. Today, the great majority of students are black. That in itself is a reflection of the country moving forward. In a few years these students will join the workforce, increasing the number of university educated black adults in society. Isn’t that an obvious indicator of the country moving forward? I can name other examples too, such as the vast improvement in infrastructure in the poorest areas, etc. But I’ll leave it at that.

5. Though my mother is American, I am originally from Cote d’Ivoire, so on several levels I really understand Thandi. I am constantly telling people that Africa is not a country, but a continent. How can we as Africans in America, help to change the image of Africa from being only a bleak place?

That’s a tough one. I wish I had a simple answer. I guess my approach has been:
a) Just correcting people whenever the topic comes up;
b) Through my books.

6. Are you a teacher? If you are, how does being a teacher help you as a writer?

Yes, I’m an elementary school teacher and this year I have third grade. Teaching gives me a lot of insight into what kids know and what their interests are. Seeing and interacting with my audience everyday helps me connect with them more easily in my writing.

7. Is this your first book? How are you enjoying being a writer? When did you start writing?

Path to My African Eyes is my first book with Just Us Books. I’ve also written a middle grade book called Under the African Sun, which is set in South Africa, and was published in 2003.
I love writing because it provides me with a creative outlet. I started writing about ten years ago.

8. How do people feel about your book in the United States and South Africa?

There has been a lot of excitement about my book in the US. Kids at my school come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed reading it. I was pleased with the reviews it got in Booklist and School Library Journal. It isn’t available in South Africa yet, unfortunately.

9. What projects are you working on?

I am working on a book set in the early 1960’s in South Africa. It tells the story of the political awakening of a young teenager. The Rivonia Trial, which is the trial that resulted in Nelson Mandela’s life sentence, is the backdrop to the story.

I’m a 7th grader and my blog-Sojo’s Trumpet- is for young people. What advice can you give me and my readers who are interested in becoming a writer like you?

Well, I think you are already on the road to success. My advice is, exercise that writing brain everyday. Keeping a blog is one great way to do this. I also suggest you keep a notebook with you at all times. Whenever you observe something that gets your attention, or when ideas come into your mind, you should write it down. I can’t tell you how precious your impressions as a teenager are. When you are older you won’t remember the exact emotions and thoughts you have now. Try your best to record these.

Another piece of advice: Read lots of good books. Read with a writer’s eye. Take note of how good writers communicate ideas and information.

Other than that, just enjoy the process.

Good luck to you!
And thanks for your wonderful review on your blogspot.

Ermila Moodley

Monday, September 8, 2008

Making Art in the Big City

Some people are afraid of big cities, but I’m not. I love living in the city because where there are lots of people, great things are happening and there are many opportunities for young people to do amazing things.

For example, how many of you think you have artistic talent? Are you into painting, printmaking, sculpture, pottery, murals…? Well, if you live in a big city, there are many programs and art schools and museums that can begin to train you as an artist right now. In Philadelphia, the following places have great art programs for young people, between the ages of 5-17. Check them out. Some are free like the Fleisher Art Memorial, some require a fee and others like the Moore College of Art offer scholarships through your schools. Be Proactive!!!

One of my brother’s favorite illustrators is E.B. Lewis. Lewis has illustrated many books and is one of the most popular book illustrators of all time. He began his art career as a little boy going to Saturday art classes at Temple University. Just imagine and do it!!!!

1. The Samuel Fleisher Art Memorial
719 Catharine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

2. The Moore College of Art and Design
20th Street and The ParkwayPhiladelphia, PA 19103-1179

3. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
118-128 N. Broad St.Philadelphia, PA 19102
Children and Family Programs- 215-972-2061
Art Program for High School Students-215-972-7632

4. The Philadelphia Museum of Art
26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin ParkwayPhiladelphia, PA 19130
Children and Family Programming

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Young Preacher From Georgia

I watched Barack Obama’s speech last Thursday during the National Democratic Convention. I watched the speech with my family, including my grandparents. We were very proud of Senator Obama and we thought he gave a great speech.

My family and friends, though, are still debating about whether it was right for him to only refer to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as that young preacher from Georgia, especially since Senator Obama gave his acceptance speech on the anniversary of Dr. King’s I Have A Dream Speech.

Anyway, all of these discussions led to other discussions about Dr. King. Though I’m almost 13, I thought I knew a lot about Dr. King. I learned that I don’t. My uncle was visiting this weekend to repair my computer and he shared with my mother some of the sites which have speeches by Dr. King. I heard and watched some of his speeches against war-against the war in Vietnam. I am against the war in Iraq-any war. I had to leave my country of Cote d’Ivoire because of war. I saw the Vietnam Memorial when I visited Washington, D.C. this past spring. All of those names of the dead soldiers made me so sad. I am so proud of Dr. King and of how he took a stand. Dr. King quotes the Italian poet Dante in one of his speeches.

The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.- Dante

Please listen to a part of some of Dr. King's speeches on war.