Tag Archives: NAACP

Makani Themba

The Personal Is Political

Makani Themba is good evidence of the heritability of activism. Both her mother and grandmother were activists. Her parents were among the first black people to move into Hollis,  then an all-white neighborhood on the Queens side of Long Island. They saw firsthand white flight at maximum speed. As Makani described it, “We moved in, we blinked, and the whole block was black except for one family who was clearly stuck.”

A decade after Brown vs. Board of Education, New York City schools remained segregated. In 1964, 460,000 students participated in this School Boycott to demand integrated schools.

Little Rock was desegregated in 1957, In 1966, Little Neck, New York, remained segregated until six students, one from each grade, all carefully chosen to succeed, groomed to impress, and trained not to react with violence and anger no matter the provocation. Makani was one of those six, chosen by the NAACP, perhaps because her mother was an activist demanding school equality. Desegregation in New York was a long, hard struggle that continues into the present.

Despite the social and political reverberations of integrating schools, Makani did not experience this as a racial justice activist, but as a child wondering “Why is this happening to me?” In fact, she gave herself a serious case of pneumonia standing out in the rain in her underwear trying to get sick so she could miss school. Recalling that time, she said, “That experience was so harrowing and so crazy and mirrored what I was watching on television…as though the whole world was on fire. There was no middle ground, There was the right side or the wrong side. Not even for a six year old.”

Makani Themba school photo.
Photo from Makani Themba

Her parents divorced and her mom moved to Washington Heights to be closer to Themba’s grandmother, one of the first black telephone operators at Ma Bell. She was deeply involved in her union, the Communication Workers of America. Her mother became involved in the antiwar and feminist movements and took her children to marches and rallies. That is when it became fun for Makani. She felt like she was part of this larger social revolution. What other people saw on television, she saw in person. She was at the Riverside Church when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his inspiring speech against the Vietnam War, Beyond Vietnam that offered a radical vision of justice, challenging us to a revolution of values–a challenge that speaks to her to this day.

Makani’s first political act of her own initiative was a walkout to protest overcrowding at her school in Washington Heights. The students also refused to salute the flag. “It was the late Sixties and it was just part of the mainstream, our mainstream culture. We were not Americans in that way, we were African Americans with a different set of values and our country was engaged in a war against us.”

While her mother was not into black liberation politics, Makani was more attuned to it. “I was in the capital of blackness–Harlem…You had Malcolm X just hanging out. People others saw on television, we would see in person…Other people were trying to figure out blackness and we were in a place where it was beautiful and okay and there was no ambivalence about it.” Continue reading

JoAnn A. Hardesty

JoAnn Hardesty

The Personal Is Political

JoAnn Hardesty was organizing long before she knew it was a career. She represented District  19 in the Oregon House before she ever thought of herself as an organizer. However, with or without the label, Hardesty has been organizing most of her life.  “I remember that from a young age I was angry about injustice. I remember constantly questioning my parents? But why, that’s not fair! I realize how much patience my mom had when I was much older! I’m sure that she prayed a lot for me.”

Hardesty developed a fierce sense of justice as a child of the civl rights movement. “My idea of justice hasn’t changed, justice is an ideal that African Americans have never enjoyed in this country but we continue to strive for. Justice would demand that the social determinants of health would be the same regardless of your ethnic or racial background. Justice would mean that your ZIP code won’t determine your outcomes in life. In pursuit of that idea of justice, she is now running for City Council.

JoAnn Hardesty speaking April 2012Hardesty’s first ZIP code was in Baltimore, Maryland, where the mothers in the community were M-O-Ms with all capital letters. “What I mean is they looked out for all the children,” she explained. “If you were somewhere you weren’t suppose to be, the neighborhood moms would tell your mom before you could make it home. At the time it was annoying but as I became an adult I realized how priceless that was.” Not only did it provide physical and emotional security for Hardesty, it also prepared her to resist internalizing the racist and sexist judgements that plague our society. As she continued, “It prepared me for the sexism, racism and other ism’s I experience regularly in Oregon…I have a strong sense of self and justice and I thank my family and community for preparing me for this ongoing challenge in our society.”

Her first job with the official organizer label was at Oregon Action, but she believes “I’ve been organizing all my life I just didn’t have a name for it!” As she clarified, “I didn’t consider myself an organizer for a long-time. I was committed to working with people to help them use their voice. I didn’t know there was a profession for it. It was just something I did.”

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