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Information Agitation

Building Ubuntu Bridges in Storytelling, Art of Framing Freedom Road Voices, and Directing an Underground Railroad Narrative, Tour and Movie (BAD)

Dixie Flyer

By Roland Barksdale-Hall

Raccoon faced engines draws Americana;

Inside separate but equal etch slumber:

Black face porters mime errand boys;

Belly-heavy conductors haunt corridors.

At another time, the hmmmmmmm…

Of the Dixie Flyer carried;

Coffee people, shoebox lunches;

Chickens (both alive and fried);

Packed in Jim Crow cars,

Bushes blot their shame.

Movin’ toilets, ain’t easy, you know.


A vintage Barksdale-Hall family image "Dixie Flyer"

Pictured (l-r) Luther Will Steverson, Ernest Flieder, Jr. and Dorothy Steverson.

Introduction and background

“Muchas gracias to Max Macias and other sojourners on the Ubuntu path for your love and support,” I am humbled by those who read my first blog, “Making Ubuntu Spaces, Addressing Insecurities and Peopling Our Commons (MAP) and pleasantly surprised by the number of readers. Max, my activist muse, requested me to write my latest blog about tours of the Underground Railroad I conducted. I have spoken at national conferences, met several descendants of Solomon Northup, author of the narrative Twelve Years a Slave, realized that the context of framing, “mental images,” as related to discussions about slavery, its resistance, and Underground Railroad conductors provides an opportunity for building Ubuntu bridges to “spaces for new thinking” about history and how it relates to current historically marginalized groups (p. 98, Fairhurst and Starr, 1996).

My creative work as historian, conductor on the Underground Railroad and director of the movie, “Juneteenth Freedom Road Voices,” intersects art, history and the current, and builds dialogic Ubuntu bridges in storytelling about the long and enduring shadow of race in America. In 2019, Angela Jaillet-Wentling, an archeologist, who worked at the Pandenarium site in fulfillment of graduate studies, completed an application for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Marker for underrepresented groups, referenced my research and “storytelling ability”, evidenced in my book, and extended warm invitation for me to be keynote speaker. I knew if I did not speak, and paint a mental framework that the visceral presence of an antebellum African American community would possibly be misinterpreted, misunderstood if not ignored not out of malice but out of common practice.

I was recovering from an accident, still in pain and pressed my way. I hobbled up the stairs through the red doors of what had been an Episcopalian Church and found a seat on a wooden assigned pew. I reflected how it was a decade earlier the publication of my book, African Americans in Mercer County, turned shadows into substance. To the podium I struggled and evoked through the counter narrative, “Turning Shadows into Substance: The House That Love Built,” I told the story of an ordeal and triumph of a household headed by a formerly enslaved person and free person of color.

I was surprised by the invitation to provide the keynote address at the Pandenarium marker dedication, held at the Mercer County Historical Society’s Helen Black Memorial Chapel. I held onto the podium and rocked back and forth in the delivery. It was a momentous message that invoked shadows of nineteenth-century free persons of color whose lives were to be turned into substance. That day I received an ancestral call to serve as a messenger of freedom road voices, which later took form as an Underground Railroad conductor.

Underground Railroad Compiled from "The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom" by Wilbur H. Siebert, The Macmillan Company, 1898.[1]

The Underground Railroad was not a literal railroad rather a network of stops and passages operated by formal and informal conductors, who participated in a clandestine later illegal activity that secreted enslaved persons to freedom. Enslaved persons faced severe punishment, and risked their lives in the pursuit of freedom.

During 2023 Black History Month Observance a former member of the COVID Equity team recommended me to serve as a conductor for the Underground Railroad Tour in our county. Through this collaboration COVID-19 test kits, N-95 masks and bracelets were made available at public library. She was a parishioner at a local Episcopal church, who joined in a local Becoming Beloved study group—taking its name from Dr. Martin Luther King. With some dioceses pursuing reparations the general convention realized a need for dialogue about racial justice and formation of study groups across the country. Here is a link to their work: As dioceses pursue reparations, General Convention poised for churchwide racial justice discussion.

Narrative on the Underground Railroad

What would an Underground Railroad Tour look like? The visitor center director Peggy and I collaborated on a timeline for the URR Tour. Lively discussion about logistics, including the feasibility of planning a trip in a climate where snow was a possibility in February, occurred. We debated where the inclusion of sites from the Underground Railroad period occurred, planned for a paltry meal that reflected an enslaved person’s cuisine. She and the county historical society liaison Bob Lark came up with the Underground Railroad period settings. For example, the Rasich Log House, which was not an Underground Railroad site, was included in the itinerary.

Peggy and I did a test run in the visitor’s center van to estimate travel time between sites. It was over thirty minutes between the Liberia fugitive slave settlement and the Mark Twain Manor. I was to provide commentary while we traversed the countryside from stop to stop in a yellow school bus. I developed an extensive narrative on the relocation of enslaved persons to freedom. Participants in the Underground Railroad tour received a copy of People in Search of Opportunity the African American Experience in Mercer County, Pennsylvania: A History and Guide as a resource book. I wrote the publication when I served as Head Librarian at the Penn State Shenango, taught an undergraduate course about the African American history, developed a three-part community-based African-American Experience program and wrote the guide as a companion text to an exhibit (Abston, D. 1995 ).

Flier for the Underground Railroad Tour!


All 40 seats sold out in the first hour. There were 70 on a waiting list for the next tour.

Barksdale-Hall holds a vintage photo of Caroline Lewis, a nineteenth-century resident of Pandenarium, during his featured presentsation at Pandenarium Marker Dedication

The opening program set the atmosphere, transported the attendees to another space and time, and included a combination of musical rendition of spirituals, poetry and monologue by Ms. Monica and Mr. Leon. Poet, and academic, Claudia Rankine recognized for her work at the intersectionality of “historical, current moment and emotional landscape of the speaker”, addresses “neutrality” and “politeness” as a rationale to avoid “engagement” about race (2020). I employed poetry, discussed the intersectionality of COVID-19 pandemic, George Floyd’s death and Kwanzaa commemoration with the backdrop of library book shelves to prod reflection (Roknick, 2020, December 29 posted). Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd, which was a song that “counseled” travelers on the Underground Railroad to “follow Ursa Major, which has the form of a gourd” (pp. 125, 2003, Chenu). Our library developed an Underground Railroad scavenger hunt and gourd art. We grew gourds in the community garden for our programming. Comments about spiritual music ranged from “enjoyable day, starting with singing” to “bring tears.”

I provided a narrative of slavery in colonial America. People expressed surprise to learn slavery existed in places like Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. Comments include “I did not know there ever was slavery here.” Yet, slavery did exist in northern colonies. I researched the variation in regional patterns during this period of slavery, and published an essay, “Inheritance and Slave Status,” in The Encyclopedia of African American History, 16719-1895: From the Colonial Period to the age of Frederick Douglass, published by Oxford University Press, edited by Paul Finkelman.

At the White Chapel Cemetery I pointed out the tombstones of George and Caroline Lewis. In 2019 I participated as the keynote presenter at the dedication ceremony for the Pandenarium marker held at the Mercer County Historical Society’s Black Memorial Chapel.

Roland Barksdale-Hall, following performance by Ms. Monica and Mr. Leon (pictured in background) at opening ceremony during the Juneteenth Underground Railroad Tour at opening ceremony speaks of elusive, Pictured to the side are volunteer digital media Filomena Cornellio and Peggy Mazyck, CEO of VisitMercer CountyPA

Tour Itinerary

10:00 am – 10:20 am VisitMercerCountyPA Office - Program with Monica Jefferson/Leon Avery

10:40 am – 11:00 am Raisch Log Cabin & Erie Canal lock; Drive by Sharpsville Historical Society

11:30 am -12 Noon Pandenarium and Safe Houses in Mercer

12 Noon – 1:00 pm Lunch and Mercer County Historical Society

1:30 pm – 1:50 pm Former Liberia Site

2:30 pm – 3:15 pm Gibson House

4:00 pm Return to Visit Mercer County PA

Programming in February

A Kiss and A Half Book Signing

Wednesday, February 8, @ 3:30 PM.

Meet the local author, G.M. Latimer, of the young adult romance.

Make-and Take-Tuesday: Making Adinkra Symbols

Tuesday, Feb. 7 @ 4:00 PM.

Using supplied crafts, teens make an Adinkra symbol and learn about iconic African symbols.

Black History Bingo

Thursdays, February 9th, 23rd @ 3:30 PM.

Teens play bingo and learn of different accomplishments and achievements of Black Americans.

Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. Service Contest Awards

Saturday, Feb. 4 @ 11:00 AM.

Recognizes the service poster contest winners. In partnership with Mercer NAACP.

African American History Day

Saturday, Feb. 25 @ 11:00 AM.

Learn about African American history through a trivia contest, scavenger hunt, and African American history bingo.

Uncovering Hidden Figures

Tuesday, Feb. 21 & 28 @ 4:00 PM.

Join discussions about local African American history and its contributors.

Roland Barksdale-Hall and Marlene Bransom, President of Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, inside Mercer County historical society's Helen Black Memorial Chapter at the dedication for the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PHMC) Pandenarium roadside historical marker.

Our program, “Sharing Reflections: Uncovering Hidden Figures,” consisted of a shero, a female nurse healer, telling youth about southern migrant experience, their relocation, during the 1950s and racism encountered in the Shenango Valley. She encouraged youth to pursue their career goals and not to be discouraged or stopped by resistance. Enraptured youth listened to a narrative that rarely is openly discussed, asked questions and responded favorably to the conversation with the elder.

Assessment and planning

Roland Barksdale-Hall, Karen Struther, a descendant of Underground railroad Conductor Joseph Young, Jr. and Archaeologist Angela Jaillet-Wentling at White -Chapel pavilion during the Juneteenth Underground Railroad Tour

The inaugural instant Freedom Road tour received favorable evaluations, as well plenty of media coverage, including the front page newspaper coverage. Three out of four attendees ranked the tour 9 and above with ten being excellent.

In April I got the ball rolling with a degree of opportunity sensing and innovation for the next Underground Railroad Tour, researched and submitted a list for purchase of materials about Juneteenth, the Underground Railroad and African American culture for the library into a competitive grant, implemented plans for an educational component to a cultural celebration, and coupled my passion for storytelling with a goal to rebuild the Black Studies Collection. James C. Anyike noted about what he refers to as “Juneteenth National Freedom Day” and the "oldest African American holiday observance,” “commemorated by reading “freedom documents” (e,g., “Emancipation Proclamation,” “Thirteenth Amendment,” “local declaration honoring freedom from slavery”), and celebrated as a “day of fun”, “family picnic,” “games,” “laughing,” and “singing” (pp. 53, 60-61, Anyike, 1991). I and Peggy, the CEO of the county Visitors Bureau, added an archaeologist from the dig at Pandenarium, as well as descendants of Underground Railroad operators to the next tour, played leadership roles in landing a highly competitive statewide matching Juneteenth Underground Railroad grant, and brought together stakeholders the Farrell City Mayor Kim Doss, the city manager, Strategic Planning Commission, and the city Parks and Recreation commission. A generous grant from the Pennsylvania Tourism Office and Voices Underground supported the Farrell Juneteenth Underground Railroad tour and events. I appreciate the leadership and guidance of M. Alexander Parham and Greg Thompson, co-executive directors of Voices Underground and the rich collegial discussion and sharing of ideas and concepts with other grantees during Juneteenth.

Digitizing the Underground Railroad program

“Why not make available this tour in a digital form as a learning resource to promote expanded national dialogue and racial healing?” I thought. Well, I recruited a talented multimedia volunteer, Ms. Filomena Cornelio. I provided elusive as the key word for the Juneteenth Underground tour at the opening ceremony. I chose the word elusive as freedom remained elusive in an enslaved world and the enduring impact of slavery and racism contributes to racial healing being elusive in present times. In recent times, I remain confident about the power we possess, focused with hope on the message of Mathabane about lessons of Ubuntu, though I gather from political rhetoric across the country that reluctance persists in some circles to discuss contemporary race matters. Mathabane discusses the need for “compromise,” elusiveness of racial healing in America, and the current political landscape (pp. 130-131, Mathabane, 2018). Still, the interracial cooperation of the Underground Railroad and their fight for freedom offers a counterpoint to divineness and a model.

My creative movie work was building Ubuntu bridges in restorative storytelling. Attendees on the Underground Railroad Tour actively listened to interracial freedom voices, participated in discussions that might develop a broader context for understanding about current race matters and status of historically marginalized groups in America. In The Lessons of Ubuntu: How an African Philosophy Can Inspire Racial Healing in America Mathabane counsels for education, reflects upon the example of Nelson Mandela, and recognizes the power of “restorative justice” (pp. 185-200, Mathabane, 2018). Conductors acted in spite of federal legislation that supported slavery, took courage of conviction, and prods greater reflection on “restorative justice”. In his famous speech Mandela confronted with possible death falsely accused as a terrorist, resisted injustice, and envisioned an egalitarian society, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Through directing the movie, “Juneteenth Freedom Road Voices: 2023 Underground Railroad Tour” I looked at the possibility of developing new allies, framing the Underground Railroad tour to promote discussion about mutual resistance to oppression and awakening to “restorative justice.”

Roland Barksdale-Hall and Bill Philson, former director of Mercer County Historical Society, display in the Society's reading room a heirloom blanket believed to be made by early residents of the fugitive settlement of enslaved persons, Liberia. Richard Travis, a free African American Underground Railroad Conductor, owned valuable land on the lakefront Liberia settlement, and later along with others from the settlement under duress moved to Canada due to the unjust federal 1850 Fugitive Slave Act

Diverse Collection Building

“What happened to the Black Studies Collection?” I asked when I began my current library position. In Information and Liberation: Writings on the Politics of Information and Liberation Shiraz Durrani, an activist librarian, notes how many librarians hide behind a false, unproductive sense of “neutrality.” Various stories emerged about what happened to the Black Studies Collection. “It was water damaged.” One team member explained. I heard other stories from neighbors that they retrieved Black Studies and Greek folklore from a trash dumpster. Former library workers had another version of events.

“Why have books not been replaced in the Black Studies Collection?” Community members asked me. I reasoned benign neglect at best, decided not to hide and accept the status quo. Yet, in some circles the purchasing of diverse collections has become political. I am a proponent of literacy, recognize the correlation between literacy and incarceration of young people of color, and understand the correctional facility as the new Jim Crow for African American youth (Alexander, 2010).

Bad Librarian

My proactive response included developing Juneteenth Underground Railroad courtyard storytelling, researching missing titles for replacement of some titles and placing an order for some missing materials in the Black Studies Collection. I was surprised by the response of the library administration. It was “bad”, expending so much of the materials budget in this manner. What came to mind was the heroic adventures of library workers in The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts. I do not consider myself among the ranks of those who risked their lives and saved manuscripts about to be destroyed in Mali.

Outcomes of the Underground Railroad Tour included:

  • Increased funding streams for Farrell Juneteenth Celebration through collaboration for community,

  • Supported the ongoing work of Our Beloved study group,

  • Collection building opportunities through collaboration with community organizations,

  • Promoted literacy through diverse children’s book giveaway,

  • Received unprecedented front-page coverage in three newspapers throughout the county,

  • Developed new allies,

  • Community service award recognition of library staff by the local unit of the NAACP.

John Young, Sr. registered Margaret "Peggy" an enslaved African American on September 6, 1780 , according to requirements fir for slaveholders of the Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition of Slavery Act. He , his family and Margaret “Peggy” later moved to Mercer County and became pioneers in the Indian Run settlement. Her children, Robert and Sally Johnston, later married to Arthur Jackon, became free at the age of 28 through the Act. Frank (also listed Francis) Jackson, a free person and grandson of Margaret "Peggy" was tricked, kidnapped, sold into slavery, and illegally held in Virginia and North Carolina for over seven years before through the valiant efforts of interracial cooperation he was freed (courtesy of Pennsylvania State Archives)

What kind of community member do you aspire to be? My friends if I am BAD for rebuilding a diverse collection, countered a false narrative about the harmonious relationship between the Ku Klux Klan and African American community, serving as an Underground Railroad Conductor, directing a movie, “Juneteenth Freedom Road Voices: 2023 Underground Railroad Tour,” retelling courageous tales of interracial cooperation, reviving the story of Frank Jackson, who was a freeman, kidnapped and sold into slavery, and remained a slave for over 7 years, so be it. I recognized the power in reviving freedom voices, employed poetry, movie directing and arts, discussed the intersectionality of COVID-19 pandemic, George Floyd’s death and Kwanzaa commemoration with the backdrop of library book shelves in an interview, yet I recognize a reluctance persists among those with white privilege to discuss race ( Roknick, The Herald, 2021). May be just what is needed in the world are more, bad-ass librarians emerging on the freedom pike.


Abston, D. (1995) “Building bridges to unity,” ACRL college & research libraries news 56:1.

Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the era of colorblindedness. New York: New Press.

Anyike, J. (1991). African American holidays. A historical research and resource guide to cultural celebrations. Chicago: Popular Truth.

Chenu, B. (2003). The trouble I’ve seen: The big book of Negro spirituals. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.

Durrani, S. (2008). Information and Liberation: Writings on the Politics of Information and Liberation. Duluth, MN: Library Juice Press.

Fairhurst, G. and R. Starr. (1996). The art of framing: Managing the language of leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mathabane, M. (2018). The lessons of Ubuntu: How an African philosophy can inspire racial healing in America. New York: Sky Horse.

Rankine, C. (2020). Just us: An American conversation. Minneapolis: Grey Wolf.

Rocknick, M. (2020, December 29). “Kwanzaa takes on special meaning in 2020,” The Herald.

Making Ubuntu Spaces, Addressing Insecurities and Peopling Our Commons (MAP)

By Roland Barksdale-Hall*

Rent Parties

(A Tribute to Langston Hughes)

Honey, she’s gone.

Blowing her horn like Joshua

Around the walls…

As much noise

As she’s made

And as many parties

As she’s thrown

If we do the polka every night she


Say anything

…I know where

I might have made her mad

When I said

“Kiss my ass”

And she said

“Who’s that talking to me?”

…And I haven’t seen her since

Thank you for reading my humble story. Max Macias congratulated me on the good news about our branch library’s summer food program being an outcome of a community forum, and invited me to write a blog about my experience. The time seemed right when Max approached me. Librarians with Spines where I am writing seemed the right Ubuntu space to share and tell my story. My goal is to promote quality service delivery, advance community engagement and outreach in an underserved community.

From a world forged by steel our library was a crucible for freedom’s exploration, providing roots and wings to soar. In a January 2022 Library JournalLJ” interview, “What you need to know to help African American patrons start their genealogical research,” I shared as a subject expert how individuals are searching for their roots in libraries. Libraries are helping with preservation and telling of community stories.

Public libraries can be ideal Ubuntu spaces for sharing not limited by physical walls, racial, ethnic nor food, housing and health insecurities. Ubuntu, a Xhosa term, affirms the importance of shared existence, humanity experience and provides a locus for examination of common ground and better good. During the pandemic communication networks, both formal and informal, were disrupted. People struggled in the lack of social interaction and hungered for any Ubuntu spaces for sharing.

I am hyped to share with you that community members, who typically experience food insecurity, will receive a hot, nutritious meal at the site of the public library! From the library’s parking lot the summer mobile meal bus will provide two to three tables with chairs along the bus for our library patrons to eat. Takeout meals also are an option. The library plans include a robust canopy Ubuntu space with summer reading program, courtyard storytelling to complement the summer reading.

An informal intergenerational gathering of community folk joined an Ubuntu space for sharing, when I initiated a community forum, “Making Cross-Cultural Connections.” I extended an invitation to attend in person or join the scheduled Zoom meeting along with the Zoom link and did not want to exclude any person from attending due to technological barriers, although my expectation was for the majority to attend via Zoom. The platform for community building held in the Zoom meeting room, extended dialogic bridges, provided and supported anti-racism.

Several months prior to the event, I selected a speaker, who had an established track record of community engagement, played sports in his youth against our home team, and reviewed the local book about our community. Over the next several months I shared the Adinkra concept, developed a schedule and provided statistics about populations living in the county. In A Guide To Ashanti: The Kingdom of Gold readers learn of the uniqueness and significance of Adinkra symbols with “each an expression of some sound aphorism or proverb,” “commentary”, and “observation” (p. 17). Adinkra symbols comprise geometric characters, maxims and proverbs, stamped on textiles in traditional Akan society are an integral part of the Akan knowledge systems. By December I established the goals:1) to implement a streamline program planning approach and 2) to insure the library's reputation as “Our Friendly Place,” El Situado Simpático.

The January library newsletter included my letter of introduction, invited guest to two “opening cultural events”, and announced library’s role in community building:


Our Library will sponsor “MLK Day of Service” Poster Contest for youth ages 9 to 15 years old. Youth will create a poster that emphasizes service to the family, community, or country. The poster should empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems and move society closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community”.

Prizes will be awarded in two different age groupings (9-12 years) and (13-15 years). All posters will be displayed in the Branch Library throughout February. The library will provide materials to create the posters. Registration is required and begins on Tuesday, January 4th.

January happenings included opening cultural events, a commemorative community service poster contest and exhibits opening with dialogue, designed to provide historical background and established a contextual understanding for community building:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

Saturday, January 15th, @ 11:00 a.m.

Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service Poster Contest.

Make a poster of how they would be of service to a family, community, or country.

“Sharing Reflections, Celebrating Farrell and Sharon’s Neck District Exhibit”

Saturdays, Jan. 22 @ 1:00 p.m.

Come, see the exhibit, and hear a brief presentation.

February events correlated with an Akan worldview, exploring codification of wearable wisdom art, honoring our elders, setting a hospitable tone and laying the groundwork.:

Making Adinkra Symbols

Wednesday, Feb. 2 @ 4:00 PM.

Using supplied crafts, teens make an Adinkra symbol and learn about African iconic symbols.

NCTE African American Read-In

Tuesdays, Feb. 1; Feb. 15 @ 4:00 PM.

Honoring Dr. Martha Bruce, readers share both original poetry and works by published poets. Local authors and readers share works.

Iconic Adinkra symbols elucidated Akan knowledge systems. Peopling our commons with storytellers, poets and readers celebrated the power of the creative word, created a warm glowing ambience, reinvigorated existing Ubuntu space, increased attendance, and affirmed our reputation as Our Friendly Place. Storytelling from my book, Lion Pride, not only supported our library’s February theme of kindness and my existence as a librarian-author-griot, but honored Tata Nelson Mandela, weaved together two South African folktales, and provided a lesson about friendship. In the Xhosa language Tata means father. Tata is a title of high respect reserved for highly esteemed elders. In South Africa people call Nelson Mandela by this name. Our venerable elder, world traveler-reading specialist-author Dr. Martha Bruce taught in Nigeria, dispelled myths about Africa, dispensed wisdom, invited youth to travel abroad and gave autographed book copies to youth enraptured by her mystique. I repeatedly resisted all efforts by community forum participants to have a PowerPoint presentation about topics and ensured a conversational rather than an academic tone.

Our speaker, Dr. Anthony B. Mitchell, also known as Doctor Tony, responded favorably to my request for conversational delivery style, graciously complied and created an inviting atmosphere and framework for participants to assess how racism must be confronted. During the community forum, held for two to two and half hours, community partners discussed how to bridge barriers, how to create solutions to social problems and how to move society closer towards unity. I selected an Adinkra symbol, corn song corn song, representing unity through interconnectedness, the embodiment and the spirit of our work. I envisioned the forum as a fireside chat among friends and neighbors. This meant the forum was not reactionary in response to a community crisis. I identified an overarching theme, “City of Champions,” that drew community members together.

Marketing about the community forum included an announcement about the Making Cross-Cultural Connections, It appeared in the community calendar:

Making Cross-Cultural Connections

Saturday, Feb. 26 @ 11:00 AM.

Enjoy storytelling, a keynote speaker and a community forum. Learn how to build better human relations and community

The library newsletter also carried the announcement:


Our library celebrates kindness during the month of Feb. Our youth library scholars will share their creative work and receive community recognition for participation in MLK Day of Service poster contest.

During the Making Cross-Cultural Connections forum community partners will discuss how to strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems and move society closer toward unity. You can attend in person or join the scheduled Zoom meeting, enter the shareable Zoom link. Visit The Zoom meeting room door will open on Saturday, Feb. 26 @ 10:30 AM. You can follow along on Facebook and click Zoom link.

Flyers were distributed throughout the community and posted on the Urban League’s local affiliate website.

Our mutual goal of community building through sharing and courageous conversations in a safe space brought us together, cemented through dialogue by forum panelists, who reflected a cross section of the community:

  • Minority business leader, who operated a private preschool education center. Her education center operated from the basement of the public library during a move and transition to the current site several blocks from the library.

  • President of the local ministerial, who supported our library’s MLK Day youth poster contest as the representative for the faith-based community. The Ministerial leadership invited our library scholars to showcase their posters about community service, and presented participants with a certificate and cash award at the Annual King Day Celebration.

  • President of a civil rights organization, who partnered with the library to publish a local history about the community. Their office of the urban league sat on a hill several blocks from our library.

  • Professor of political science and international studies, who directed the peace institute and had participated in forums about race.

The program included:

As an alternate designee, a city council person gave the welcome to our community. I invited the local mayor, a library advocate, to give the welcome to our guests; however, she was unavailable. The mayor visited teen males in our library’s Community Game Room, one of our youth’s favorite Ubuntu spaces, for our NBA 2K20 March Madness, participated in the African American Read In, and read Stick It by local author Jarred Hood, and advocated for library building improvements.

I served as the moderator, kept the program on schedule, and opened the panel session with the following statement: Farrell, known as the City of Champions, is comprised of historic multiethnic churches, neighborhoods and communities with an established track record of winning in sports.

Panelists prepared a three minute response to the following questions.

1. How can educational, public and faith-based organizations work together for the common good to build and expand on this legacy?

2. How can we understand our biases, build on common ground and engage in honest conversations about our differences?

3. How can we partner to be examples of kindness, mold young minds to be kind to others?

4. Finally, how can our library partner to ensure your enjoyment and multiethnic enrichment in the future?

I opened the floor for questions from the audience. How-to questions ranged from reconstructing, deconstructing racism to tools available for promoting greater dialogue in smaller intra group settings. Community participants expressed a strong interest in bringing a similar antiracist community-based program that Dr. Mitchell highlighted from the local university.

On behalf of our community I presented Dr. Mitchell with a piece of handcrafted African art for his sharing. The audience applauded. I closed by sharing an invitation to our upcoming event, “Searching Our Roots: Celebrating Our Multiethnic Heritage.” Refreshments were provided.

The majority of participants attended through the Zoom meeting room. Program comments included:

  • Very informative, questions were well thought out. You were the perfect moderator! You had a very diverse and informed panel

  • Provided an opportunity for sharing not available at school board or city council meetings.

  • The program last Saturday was excellent. I literally had to laugh when you said we have lunch but not dinner. It truly could have gone on for hours.

  • There was harmony.

  • For an ice breaker it went well, but now the real work needs to begin… I would like to watch it again. Dr. Tony had some great ideas.

Outcomes from the event included:

  • addressing food insecurity through summer food program in partnership with pantry;

  • increasing health awareness through social worker and health community advocate;

  • the library became a distribution site for 2 COVID-19 home test kits, N95 masks and vaccinated bracelets;

  • raising sensitivity to sensory compromised in partnership with county health team;

  • programming sponsorships,

  • collection building opportunities through collaboration with community organizations;

  • supporting community study groups.

Overall, the community forum was a success and one of the most egalitarian events I’ve participated in. What went as not expected? While the president of the Ministerial was unable to attend, other ecumenical leaders attended and actively participated. The program was to be recorded and made available. The person forgot to turn on the recorder. When I observed in-person attendees who maintained a demure appearance, making an effort to be hidden, I speculated this may have been a veiled attempt to limit any adverse impact on ambitions. A few attendees left the Zoom room and came over to the library to furtively ask their questions about community building in person during the reception. For example, I overheard, “How would you start a rite of passage program?”

Notwithstanding, I earned a merit badge for being a librarian with a spine that day and now earn a greater respect, receive referrals from forum participants, and record increased volunteers. In my reading Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching I thought about on an historical and fugitive “insistence on Black humanity”, how Carter G. Woodson worked constructing Negro History Week and Association for the Study of African American Life and History (Givens, 2021, p. 35). In reflection I commit to telling our stories, realize the program was viewed in some circles with a similar “clandestine” nature, and continue to make Ubuntu spaces for sharing. I drew parallels to the undercover teaching of Black History by former enslaved persons and saw this work as part of an ongoing historical continuum.

The contradiction of an image that to some might appeared like chains of slavery, moreover align with some subservient roles or status, was not loss. Yet, corn song corn song was a powerful message of restorative empathy, unity and community building. Research and historical analysis rendered the tools to reclaim the significance of corn song corn song, and counter-narrative. Identification with corn song corn song, an Adinkra symbol, fostered an environment of mutual respect and unity, core to development of Ubuntu spaces. As earlier mentioned, this is true historical recovery work. Employing corn song corn song drew parallels to earlier work when I explained the origins and employed it in a commemorative golden jubilee reunion booklet: “The emblem for the reunion comes from Akan culture of Ghana. It not only represents unity and responsibility but our interconnectedness and richly shared heritage.” Understanding the imagery for the iconic Adinkra symbol, corn song corn song, offered empowering visualization, required heritage studies with interpretations on human relations, implications for rethinking iconic symbols and freedom's journey.

Making Ubuntu spaces for sharing, addressing insecurities and peopling our commons (MAP) can fuel risk-taking. How might you make Ubuntu spaces for sharing, address housing, food and health insecurities and embrace people in and outside your information commons? Let’s build a better Ubuntu-centered world! I invite you to join us, and expand the dialogical bridges in your community. In Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference, Bishop Desmond Tutu expounds, “Ubuntu recognizes the human beings need each other for survival and well-being. A person is a person only through other persons, we say. We must care for one another in order to thrive.” (Tutu, 2010, p. 15) Join in caring and getting on the MAP. Give me a holla!


*His book chapter, “Development, Implementation, and Assessment of Empowerment Curriculum for Public Housing Residents: Advances in Teaching, Engagement, Collaboration, and Resolve,” appears in Librarians with Spines. Roland Barksdale-Hall (, librarian-author-griot, is a community partner.

Works Cited

A Guide to Ashanti: The Kingdom of Gold. (1987)

Givens, Jarvis R. (2021). Fugitive pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the art of pedagogy. Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press.

Tutu. Desmond and Tutu, Mpho (2010). Made for goodness: And why this makes all the difference. New York: Harper.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Assata Shakur American Hero and Revolutionary

Innovation is so much more than technology! True innovation will only come when we break the incestuous cycle of white supremacist knowledge production. We need new voices and those voices are standing right here. Real innovation will come when people who created Hip-Hop, Jazz, Rock and Roll--when the people who created flavor in American cuisine and who pretty much generate American culture throughout the continent are involved in information production and knowledge creation. Indigenous, Black, Brown, and other people of color will create a groundswell like never before once they are allowed to fully function within the academy. We will change education's structures, its techniques, its goals, its meaning. We are the harbingers of change and we are here now.

Education is Stale

Education is stale, the ideas are backward and the time for change is now. New blood, new ideas and finally--some progress in society--not just progress in making tools. Western people are the best tool makers, but have little to no idea about how to live with one another and how to create good human relations--which lead to real security. Not the false security that guns everywhere provide, but the real security of knowing that your neighbor’s fate and experience directly relate to your own.

The truth is that Education needs us! We bring flavor, new insights, conceptual relationships that white people don’t even know exist--we bring progress. The academy needs to aggressively recruit people who have backgrounds from ‘marginalized’ communities and then allow these scholars to create radical change within our academic institutions. This change is not something we are asking for--this change is something we bring and are announcing. The backlash is on and we stand ready and strong--stronger than we have ever been. We are at war--it is a cultural war. We are bound to win, we must win--”we have a duty to win.”

Ideas to speed up change:

  • Create an action research center at your school that focuses on anti-oppression integration in education.

  • Block hire a BIPOC cohort into your school or organization.

  • Create support systems for BIPOC and other oppressed groups.

  • Create support systems for antiracist activators and activists at your school--protect them and promote them!

  • Create an EDI/Antiracist Handbook for your department--you have the expertise. Research, learn, share and promote antiracist and anti oppression curriculum, pedagogies and systems.

  • Use antiracism as a model for building other anti-oppression tactics for the liberation of all oppressed groups.

  • Create and sustain affinity spaces for oppressed groups at your organization.

  • Create partnerships with schools and other vocational training organizations to form a pipeline of BIPOC employment recruits.

  • Empower BIPOC leaders to lead.

Until we have a system that has been created with BIPOC and other oppressed groups involved, we will never have equity, inclusion, diversity nor anti-oppression as part of our organizations. We need NEW systems that have been co-created by BIPOC and that are inclusive and are not oppressive. What are you doing today to create this needed change? This will necessitate the destruction of old structures. There are many racists who are deeply invested in these shitstems--they must be defeated and these racist structures destroyed. We will replace them with inclusive systems and structures that will create real progress for society.

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