African-American Alliance Celebrates Heritage of Survival
February is Black History Month. This year the African-American Alliance of the Northeast Kingdom has taken a leading role in celebrating a heritage marked by enslavement, struggle and survival.
According to Daria Mondesire, a founding member and the communication coordinator of the Alliance, the organization started as a social, cultural and educational network almost a year ago.
\"We are here to enhance our role in the community and make life easier for people of color,\" she said in a recent interview at her home in Derby Line. \"We are not here to be divisive, but rather to decrease divisiveness.\"
The idea of a support system had been brewing inside Mondesire since she moved here to take a job as a psychiatric social worker almost 10 years ago. She thought she knew what living in Vermont would be like when she was an undergraduate at Bennington College but found her southern Vermont experience did not prepare her for living in the Northeast Kingdom.
Although, she said she doesn\'t find \"this area as racially polarized\" as her hometown of Boston and the \"hostility level isn\'t as high,\" probably because the population of African-Americans is so small, what she did find was a sense of isolation. \"I would have liked another black person to welcome me to the community and to help ease the transition. The calls didn\'t come and I remember thinking, \'this shouldn\'t be.\"\'
Last year about this time she and a neighbor got together and started talking informally and laying the ground work for an organization. Their first public outing came quicker than they anticipated when in May, they heard of a local elementary school preparing to reenact a slave auction as part of an AfricanAmerican history celebration. This followed on the heels of another school having a group of junior high students enacting the roles of slaves and slave owners for a day.
Mondesire said she first heard of the plans when a black parent called in tears saying, \"They\'re putting on a slave auction and won\'t listen.\"
Mondesire called that experience \"our first political baptism.\" Attempts to have a voice in how the schools portrayed black history were made by Mondesire and others in the Alliance. They were not successful in being heard until a picket line by the Alliance and its supporters was threatened. The experience left the members more determined than ever to offer educational presentations on cultural diversity.
In discussing her views about such reenactments she said, \"It\'s too horrible to think it can be captured by depicting it. To me the auction block is symbolic of something too horrific to depict.\" She explained, \"What was appalling to me was the depiction of selling human flesh. I have a visceral reaction to that.\"
She added that African-Americans were an \"enslaved people\" rather than \"slaves.\" The distinction being how people of color identify themselves, rather than carrying the label placed on them by those who \"kidnapped and enslaved\" them. She believes that reenactment trivializes the horror of what happened.
She said, \"Slavery isn\'t my shame, if anything it\'s this country\'s shame. I\'m not ashamed that I had ancestors who were kidnapped and enslaved. I\'m evidence that they did survive.\" She continued by saying,\"I don\'t like to see the emphasis on slavery without a focus on the struggles black people have had since then.\"
Mondesire also pointed out \"black history is a misnomer.\" She said, \"The history of Whites is called history and the history of blacks is called black history.\" Although she is encouraged that Black History Month is a beginning of inclusion, she wants black history incorporated into and labeled for what it for what it is; American history.
Membership in the Alliance is open to those who identify themselves as people of color and to individuals who are connected to a person of color, such as an adoptive parent or spouse.
Mondesire said members of the Alliance want \"to be here for people who need us,\" including people of color and others who want to understand the history and culture of African-Americans.
The most recent events of the Alliance was cosponsorship with the Haskell Free Library in Derby Line of \"Voices Beyond the Pale,\" an hour-long performance by Mondesire with musical accompaniment by Ron Pierce. The production, which included 19 vignettes of life for a diverse collection of America\'s urban blacks was written by Moadesire and performed at the library for an audience of over 50.