About 5 years ago, on a family vacation to Cozumel, Mexico, I convinced Marcus and Alex that we should go check out the San Gervasio Mayan ruins, located near the northern part of the island. At the time, I realized that this was a risk: Alex was only 4 years old, and it was hot -- I figured the last thing she would want to do is climb over broken buildings and other structures, when the blue sea and white sands were sitting there waiting for her to play. I assumed she would be bored stiff -- I know that at her age, I would have been. And so I promised myself that I would see as much of the ruins as quickly as possible, so I could get her back to the beach before the whining began.
I could not have been more wrong: Alex was riveted by the stories of the Mayans. At every step she asked me questions: "How long ago did they live here, Mommy?" "What did they eat?" "Is that their church?" "Where have they gone?" We stayed there for hours -- she didn't want to leave, and I had trouble keeping up with her curiosity. I answered her questions as best I could by thumbing through the leaflet that was given to us at the entrance of the ruins -- my knowledge of Mayan culture is embarrassingly weak -- and it was at that moment I realized that Alex was positively lit up by history.
I should have suspected, really. All her life, Alex has been fascinated by story. She spoke at an incredibly young age, saying her first word consistently and in correct context at 6 months old ("dog," in case you're wondering). She started reading very early, and has always written rather elaborate books, with detailed "about the author" sections (Alexis is a 5-year-old girl living in Houston, Texas, with her mother, father and dog, Rufus ...) . It's not surprising that history would be something she would be fascinated by as well -- in her mind, history is just another form of story, with the added bonus that it's true.
(Although I also enjoyed stories when I was a kid, in my young mind, history was another thing entirely: just a bunch of dates with nothing interesting attached. It didn't even occur to me that Alex would enjoy history.
Indeed, once she began elementary school, she started coming home thrilled with the various things she was learning about in history class. She loved reading about the ancient Egyptians and studying hieroglyphics. She delighted in the stories of American colonists (Little House on the Prairie and Little Women quickly became favourite books). And, God help me, by the end of this past school year, she had prattled on about more than I ever knew there was to know about Mesopotamians. (Gilgamesh, anyone?)
Despite all this, what she hasn't learned a lot about, however, is the history of the African diaspora in the New World.
So when I was approached to participate in Wells Fargo's campaign to support The Kinsey Collection Untold Stories: Our Inspired History, I was particularly happy to do so. The Kinsey Collection is an exhibit of art, documents, manuscripts, books and other rare artifacts that tell the story of African American achievement and contribution to the United States. The items comprise the private collection of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, and is currently touring the United States (and has been since 2007). Their hope is that by sharing the collection, more people will learn about the history of African Americans -- stories that are often untold.
Seriously, how cool is this?
As part of the publicity for the exhibit, they have invited several bloggers (including yours truly) to share our stories of our African heritage in the New World -- and it has been beyond fun to go through old albums with Alex and my parents to learn more about our family's history in preparation, especially of our African ancestors. (Alex has particularly enjoyed the hairstyles we all actually wore out in public in years past. I don't think I've ever seen her so weak with laughter.) My story will be shared here in coming days.
In addition, Wells Fargo and The Kinsey Collection have also partnered with several celebrities who also tell untold stories of African American achievement, and I was particularly taken with this video of Jordin Sparks. In the video, Jordin shares the story of Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American woman. As I mentioned, Alex is a writer, and this story of a young enslaved girl who learned to read and write and became a published poet at the young age of thirteen blew both of our minds (click the image below to watch):
Great story, right?
So, again, my story will be shared here soon. And on a personal note, I'd like to reiterate how thrilled I am to be a part of this: recent headline events have left me shaken, particularly when it comes to how to explain them to my young daughter. Participating in this campaign has been a wonderful, organic way to help ensure Alex develops a sense of pride for who she is, and where she comes from. It has been a great reminder that for every ugly story of senselessness, it is possible to find beautiful stories of empowerment, and art, and resilience -- and all of them can compel action. And this project suggests that despite everything, I need to follow my own advice and continue to always -- always -- look for the light.
So here's to the power of story -- may it forever propel us forward.
Many thanks to Wells Fargo for sponsoring this post.