A smile or a tear has not nationality; joy and sorrow speak alike to all nations, and they, above all the confusion of tongues, proclaim the brotherhood of man.”
— Frederick Douglass
Have you ever caught an episode of Drunk History? The show first appeared as a web series on Funnyordie.com but evolved into a bit tamer series on Comedy Central. The premise is this: A person drinks an obscene amount of alcohol, then describes a historical event, while famous actors lip-sync along with the story. It’s hard to describe but hilarious and often illuminating as we re-learn something we had long forgotten since school.
The first one I saw was about Frederick Douglass, starring Will Ferrell as Abraham Lincoln, Don Cheadle as Frederick Douglass and Zooey Deschanel as Mary Todd Lincoln. The tale recounts the friendship between Douglass and Lincoln. It’s hysterical and educational (right up until narrator Jen Kirkman called Douglass Richard Dreyfuss), but not linked here because it is definitely NOT safe for work or family audiences, unless your dinner chats sound like a Martin Scorsese film.
I can’t remember when I first read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, but I will never forget how it made me feel. I had grown up with white-centered, fictional literature about slavery, including Gone With the Wind. Slaves may have had it bad, but life wasn’t that terrible, what with all the singing and white saviors always around to rescue them. I thought my reading catalog was diverse and I was educated. I had no idea. Frederick Douglass let me know I knew nothing. His words were a gateway to Alice Walker, Alex Haley and Malcolm X, Toni Morrison, the beautiful work of August Wilson and more current books by Ta-Nehisi Coates as my journey continues.
“My alma mater was books, a good library… I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.”
— Malcolm X
In observance of Black History Month in February (Douglass’ birth month) we would all do well to take advantage of one of Mt. Lebanon’s greatest assets—our Mt. Lebanon Public Library—and read truly Black-centered writing. Check out the Mt. Lebanon Public Library’s suggested reading list here.
As you are reading, many volunteers on Mt. Lebanon’s ad hoc diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) committee of the community relations board will be having difficult community conversations to find ways to make us more welcoming. They will discuss such topics as DEI incident response, community awareness, volunteer and staff recruitment and police engagement. Many voices will participate. I hope you will, too.