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A Mother for Celeste - Return of the African Diaspora
Kristin knew that the effort required to reunite the African Diaspora in America with the Motherland would be equivalent to fitting a square peg into a round hole. The obvious benefits to both sides of the ocean were staggering…but the question was could it be done?
Kristin expected no more than a brief distraction from lingering feelings for her ex-husband when she took her first trip to Ghana. In a slave castle on the Gulf of Guinea, she walked along the same passageway that countless African captives had been forced to walk down for centuries, and was brought face-to-face with the indisputable link between the African Diaspora and the Motherland. Back home in the nation's capital, she was inspired by the 'Skegee Spirit of her hometown of Tuskegee, to reach out to the descendants of captured Africans who lost their footing during the American slave experience. She called on childhood (s)heroes - Lewis Adams, Rosa Parks, and George Washington Carver, who helped her galvanize her search for an effective and lasting means of helping the black American "underbelly" out of their stagnation - a legacy left by their traumatized ancestors.
The enticements of her former husband - and her mysterious attachment to his daughter - threatened to lock Kristin forever in her past. How could she possibly forget the love that she and Winston shared in Tuskegee as students? The old school music of the early 70s always took her back in an instant, forcing her to remember their first date under the "wine tree" at the big T. I. and the strength of their love in the quaint college town.
The spell was finally broken after an unexpected physical challenge interrupted her life and propelled Kristin toward her destiny. Undoubtedly, the effort required to reunite the African Diaspora in America with the Motherland equated to fitting a square peg into a round hole. It was clear that the rewards to both sides of the ocean would be staggering. But could it be done?
Was it possible for Kristin to do the impossible, and lead the way home?
A Mother for Celeste is a rich tale of African-American history that introduces an alternative theory to the origin of racism. The sometimes-comical story is woven around the saga of a blended family whose lives were marred by missed opportunities, painful secrets, and a mystical love hanging in the balance.
1990—Six Years Earlier
Kristin shifted gears expertly on the sleek Saab convertible, as she sped along Rock Creek Parkway toward Hunter University. She looked down at her watch quickly and accelerated as much as she dared on the curvy road, soaring past every car she encountered in the heavy rush-hour traffic. It seemed that no matter how early she woke up, she always wound up on the verge of being late for her eight o’clock class. As much as she dogged the students who straggled in late, Kristin wasn't about to end up getting there late herself. So predictably, her Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning commutes were always the same action-packed adventure through the park.
Finally, she approached her exit ramp, and the university gates were within view before long. She glided the green-silver sports car into her reserved parking space, and after a quick look in the mirror, she crossed the lawn in long strides toward the school's old academic building. Her first class was inside the main entranceway. It was the only classroom left on a hallway of rooms that the school had converted into faculty offices. As she used her key to open the door, Kristin let out a deep sigh of satisfaction that she had made it on time yet again. She had well over ten minutes to spare this time, an ample amount for a brief meditation to center herself after her hectic drive across the nation's capital.
Moving quickly, she dropped her briefcase onto the wooden floor that reeked of the sawdust that the janitors used to keep it clean. In one fluid motion, she tucked her purse inside a bottom drawer of the large framed desk as she sat behind it. With her back firmly against the chair, Kristin planted her feet squarely on the floor, placed her hands in her lap with palms upward, and gently closed her eyes. She began a systematic scan of her body, mentally searching for muscles that were still tense from her chaotic race through traffic.
Area by area, she directed her constricted body tissues to relax as she took in slow deep breaths. She held each one briefly before resuming her scan and almost immediately, she began to feel the knots in the back of her neck and shoulders loosen as they responded to her command. Kristin took in deeper and more deliberate breaths as she remained conscious of her body's movement and attuned to the mechanics of her breathing. After one last elongated breath, she forcibly exhaled the air from her lungs with a sigh and visualized all remaining stress floating away from her body.
Guardedly, she opened her eyes against the blinding sunlight that streamed in through the large windows of the room and took another moment to reacclimate herself to her surroundings. She was able to hold on to the peace and serenity of the moment, until she heard the muffled sounds of her approaching students drift down the hall.
Kristin had organized all four of her classes so that the last two lectures of each class were the same, regardless of the course title. She had devised a specific format that was designed to stimulate her students and plant seeds in their fertile minds. She hoped the seeds would germinate and become a catalyst for substantive change in the black American community. She had made a radical decision to change her teaching style after her first trip to Africa, a year earlier. Kristin restructured her grading policy for all her classes and changed nearly all the procedures she had followed since she began teaching at Hunter fresh out of graduate school.
Her approach was similar to that of one of her undergraduate history professors at Tuskegee. Of all her professors, both graduate and undergraduate, Dr. Keenan had made the greatest impact. She had hardly appreciated him at the time, but now she realized how driven he had been to reach his students through his lectures. His singular focus had been on what he must have considered his true purpose, for being on the faculty at Tuskegee.
Dr. Keenan used a variety of unconventional tactics to encourage students to register for his classes. They included him providing the answers to all his exams before he administered them. Everyone around campus knew that studying was not a requirement for his classes, so the competition was always stiff to get in. Dr. Keenan had been very bold in the way in which he defied the watchful eyes of an administration that was alarmed by his unorthodox methods. A friend, who had a work-study assignment in the academic dean’s office, once told Kristin that the dean constantly complained about Dr. Keenan to the school president. Her friend had seen formal complaints in which the dean described Dr. Keenan's method of teaching, as a "blatant disregard of his official warnings to conform to standard school policies." But somehow, Dr. Keenan had been able to prevail. In spite of the dean's attempts to have him fired, he remained undeterred in his mission for decades after Kristin graduated.
Leading the pack of students who were always clamoring for his class cards during registration, were those students majoring in subjects that required almost all of their available study time. Dr. Keenan's classes were especially magical to the pre-veterinary medicine, architecture, engineering, nursing, and science majors. They considered his class as a gift to help them satisfy general education requirements for graduation. Little effort was required for an easy boost to their GPAs, which meant their limited time for study could be redirected to what they considered to be their "real" classes.
The only catch was Dr. Keenan's insistence that all his students, including the jocks, come to class and get there on time. Otherwise, he had no qualms at all about giving any chronically absent or late students a failing grade. He made a point of frequently reminding them of the school's policy regarding attendance, as it was clearly outlined in the official student handbook.
Tuskegee had a reputation for its beautiful campus, and it had been especially pleasant in the early '70s when Kristin took her first history class from Dr. Keenan. Had it not been for his strict rules, she most likely would have opted to cut his class as she had so many others that spring semester. Sitting out on "the fountain" in the warm sunshine had been one of her favorite pastimes in the quiet college town. She would have much preferred to hang out with her friends than leave to go to class, even though she did find Dr. Keenan's lectures to be interesting.
The fountain had been a prime location for Kristin and all her errant cohorts to pass the time away. Since scheduled campus activities were rare and there was little else to do, it was her one opportunity to socialize during her first year when she still lived at home. She could spot friends easily from the vantage point of the fountain in the middle of "the yard." It was where she was the first time she laid eyes on Winston, although he was still about a quarter-mile away. She had been immediately attracted by his pronounced natural swagger as he approached, and she continued to watch for him to come closer so that she could see his face.
The cafeteria, student union, rec center, dormitories, and several academic buildings were all located near the Foundation. Whenever the weather was especially nice, everyone made an appearance on the yard at one point or another. But on the days that she was scheduled for her history class, Kristin always made a point of keeping track of time so she wouldn't be late for class. Dr. Keenan had spent several years in West Africa before he began his teaching career. Now Kristin knew how captivated he must have been by his experiences in Africa. He had been determined to get his students at Tuskegee to understand the significance of Kwame Nkrumah's courageous leadership.
Now she could see how hard Dr. Keenan had tried to get them to see how one man's vision had resulted in the entire continent of Africa freeing itself from colonialism. It wasn’t until after her own trip to Africa that Kristin understood what had motivated him. Once she had traveled to the Motherland herself, she knew why Dr. Keenan had been willing to risk his career at Tuskegee and why he had used any means necessary to get students to register for his classes.
She understood it, because now she was willing to risk it all too. She had added a new twist to the format Dr. Keenan used when she reorganized the structure of all her classes after returning from Africa. She developed a grading policy that was entirely dependent on her students' performance on a two-part final exam that she gave at the end of each quarter. The first half of the final was a take-home multiple-choice test. The second part was an essay that she would only accept from students who had been present for the immediately prior lecture, and who had turned in their take-home tests as scheduled.
Kristin's new method for calculating final grades placed a much greater weight on the combined final test scores than on any other test that she gave. It virtually guaranteed that any student, who missed either part of the last two lectures, would receive a D at best as their final grade.
Kristin also gave her students the answers to all of her multiple-choice tests, as Dr. Keenan had done, usually on a study sheet that she handed out the day before the test. She was careful to stay under her school dean's radar, because she knew that in order to carry out her mission she had to remain on the faculty. Toward that end, she made a point of basing all the lectures and tests that she gave during the rest of the quarter on materials that were specific to the course title.
Nevertheless, she was prepared to let the chips fall where they may, if it came down to it. She was driven to the same extent Dr. Keenan had been driven and did not hesitate to do anything she could get away with to get more students to register for her classes. Her mission was to enlighten them about the subtle ramifications of the slave trade and the continued effect it had on most of their lives in one form or another. Kristin felt that it was the best starting point for many black Americans to turn their situations around. She presented her students with an alternate approach for considering the African slave trade. It examined and then stripped away the emotional distractions so that it could be looked at again from an objective standpoint. She began by pointing out the enormity of the practice itself rather than glossing over the fact that it had existed for almost four hundred years. She tried to help her students grasp that it had robbed Africa of a large portion of its greatest resource—its people.
Kristin's goal for each quarter was to awaken her students to consider that many of the descendents of those who had been enslaved once were still reeling in the aftermath of the slave trade. Her main focus was to make them aware that they all continued to bear the consequences of it. The unresolved dark energies that were created by all the suffering, violence, and fears that had persisted for centuries had never been reconciled. It was Kristin's belief that the destructive heaviness of that dark energy was still being passed down from generation to generation of some black American families, though it went largely undetected. She believed the consequences of slavery continued to be were very real, although any tangible connection to it only became more obscure with the passage of time.
When her book club made their spontaneous decision to visit Ghana a year earlier, Kristin had no idea how dramatically her life would change as a result. Someone in the group had suggested they go after they read Roots again. The book had been selected because at the time they could not find anything of interest on the Essence Magazine best-seller list that they hadn't previously read. The storyline was a fictional account that was said to chronicle the life of the ancestor of the book's author, Alex Haley, who had been captured as a teen in The Gambia and forced into slavery. Their trip had seemed like an almost natural extension of their book discussion. They chose Ghana because they were all interested in learning more about its culture and history.
A long time before they went, she had come to realize that accidents and coincidence usually went much deeper than they appeared on the surface. She had often thought about the sequence of events that had led her to Ghana. For several weeks after they returned from their trip, everything in the U.S. had felt foreign to Kristin. She watched far less television than was her usual habit and she shied away from conversations with everyone she could. Any interactions that she did not consider to be crucial in her life were avoided altogether. All that she wanted was to spend time replaying her untarnished memories. She would sit alone for hours and look through the photos she had taken to hold on to her experiences as long as possible.
Kristin had been stimulated in more ways than she ever expected. The trip prompted many questions that had been left unanswered, so she plunged into research at the Library of Congress. She was mesmerized by what she uncovered, as she examined countless books that documented the African slave trade and the atrocious acts that had been committed. There were unimaginable practices that had been a matter of course during the time that slavery was a legal and customary practice in America. She found many accounts about the valiant roles that many white Americans had played in helping to end legalized slavery and to extend the same civil rights guaranteed to other Americans under the Constitution to the descendants of those who had once been enslaved.
There were many vocal condemnations of slavery made by the Society of Friends, or Quakers, as they are commonly called, as early as the 1600s. Kristin studied the history of the abolitionist movement and found a great deal of evidence of the empathy and underground assistance that had been given by whites to those who escaped. Only wealthy whites could afford to own slaves though some wealthy whites never did. Many of them felt that the practice was wrong but did not care to face being ostracized for such an unpopular sentiment. Many were forced to hold their views in secret—especially in the Deep South.
As Kristin continued to pour over volumes of recorded history in the Library of Congress, she realized the people who were victimized by slavery were usually spoken of as though they existed as a group. Seldom were they thought of as individuals, when in fact, they weren't "the slaves," but instead there were millions of individual human beings, who had been enslaved. That observation made her stop and take a fresh approach in her thinking to consider the implications. She took a different approach in examining the negative statistics that are associated with lower-income black Americans in particular, especially those living in large urban areas. She began to rethink the phenomenon of black-on-black crime, the relatively high rate of unemployment, illiteracy, drug abuse, and many other social ills that are persistent in the black community.
She charted out how the psychological impact of slavery would have been passed on to individual family members—some more than others—from one generation to the next. For the next several days, Kristin tried to find a more plausible explanation, something else that she could point to as the root cause of the stagnant dysfunctions that continued to plague segments of black America. She concluded that her theory was much more plausible than the dismissal of such chronic social issues as random occurrences.
Nothing in the books she read made a connection between the lack of a safe environment to heal the scars of generational slavery, and that segment of black America that she had begun to refer to as "the underbelly." Their ancestors, Kristin believed, were most likely wounded psychologically during slavery or immediately after it ended, and never aided in being restored to good health. Their progeny were now perceived to be the misfits of society, but their circumstances had never been linked directly to their ancestors' tragic past.
An intense form of therapy would have been required before the average person could prevail over such trauma. The degree of psychotherapy that would have been called for was not available to anyone in 1865. Nevertheless, that fact bears little significance to the end-result. A valid justification for the omission of therapy does not invalidate the need for it. Instead, they were unceremoniously "freed" from the most inhumane form of chattel slavery that has ever existed in the history of the world.
Kristin was moved to delve even further, and she began to pour over the results of studies that had been conducted on the phenomenon of post-traumatic stress disorders. Much had been fostered by veterans' organizations in response to a growing number of soldiers who returned home exhibiting unsettling symptoms of the affliction. Military strategies took into consideration that prolonged duty in stressful combat situations created the disorder to a varying degree. Yet Kristin could not find any comparable research that had been conducted on the long-term effects of the trauma that resulted from being victimized by human slavery.
The violent displacement of a people who were forced into bondage in a foreign land with their tribal enemies and who were stripped of their families, religion, language, history, and culture was apparently not thought sufficient to produce long lasting and damaging consequences. There seemed to be no thought that there might be a toll to pay for their emotional and physical suffering. The majority of those enslaved had the strength to withstand their experiences and made a quick recovery after they were freed, just as many soldiers returning from Viet Nam were able to do. On the other hand, many of them took much longer before they made a full enough recovery from their trauma to fit back into society. Still others were never able to regain their emotional balance for the remainder of their lives.
Over time, the research Kristin started began to take on a life of its own. Before she knew it, she had transformed her notes into an outline that became the basis of her second book, Which Way Out? When she thought back on it, the book had practically written itself and after it was published, Kristin approached her dean about developing a new Black Studies class around it. She had used the same approach after she published her first book on African American politics. The dean had seemed genuinely receptive to the idea, but he ultimately rejected her proposal, citing budgetary constraints. His hands were tied, and he told Kristin he was unable to add any new classes in the near future.
By that time, Kristin's passion for exploring the same line of research even further had become almost uncontainable. She was driven to take some kind of positive action. Her thoughts kept returning to the various dysfunctions that each generation of afflicted black Americans continued to pass on to their children, by the things that they did or did not teach them. She decided not to wait for future budget approval before she began a dialog with her students; she didn't think she could afford to wait.
Little by little, she started incorporating portions of her research into the classes that she was already teaching. She spent a great deal of time in organizing her notes so she could present her message succinctly in the limited time she had available to her. As she began to push her research findings out to her students, Kristin hoped that at least one of them in each of her classes would hear something that stoked their interest. Once that seed was planted, she was optimistic that some day they might seek to explore that interest more, just as she had. Perhaps the spark would be strong enough to light a pathway for those who had been left behind.
Kristin's astrological birth chart ruler was the planet Jupiter, known for its expansive energies. It was a challenge for her to condense all the materials from her second book into four broad topics, but she managed to do it. From there, she created a more detailed framework for each component, which she used as an outline for her final lectures for each class. She tweaked the layout after the fall and winter quarters, until she was satisfied with what she had done.
She was willing to hand out easy grades to get students to register for her classes so she would have captive audiences for her message. The students played a large role in her plan to have it reach the masses. So far, most had been receptive to the new material she presented to them. Many had been eager to relate their own personal experiences when they were given the opportunity, and she was always eager to listen. The second half of her final lectures would often run over her allotted time, but she always managed at least a brief discussion of each major bullet point. They each represented an important piece of the picture she wanted to paint.
Kristin had lobbied the clerks in the registrar’s office at Hunter, until they agreed to schedule her classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays whenever possible. That gave her an extra half hour of continuous class time, which had proved to be a much more efficient way of covering all the materials. She also started interjecting historical facts about the slave trade throughout the rest of the quarter, if she found an appropriate opening. It helped her bridge the gaps as she transitioned to lectures about the slave trade, which seemed to distract some students. She did what she thought was necessary so that she didn’t waste one valuable second of the time she had.