Black History Month February 2022: Daisy Bates

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence every day this February….and beyond! Feel free to send us suggestions!

Daisy Bates

1914-1999 By Arlisha Norwood, NWHM Fellow | 2017

When Daisy Bates was three years old her mother was killed by three white men. Although Bates, was just a child, her biological mother’s death made an emotional and mental imprint on her. The unfortunate death forced Bates to confront racism at an early age and pushed her to dedicate her life to ending racial injustice.

Daisy Bates was born in Huttig, Arkansas in 1914 and raised in a foster home. When she was fifteen, she met her future husband and began travelling with him throughout the South. The couple settled in Little Rock, Arkansas and started their own newspaper. The Arkansas Weekly was one of the only African American newspapers solely dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement. The paper was circulated state wide. Bates not only worked as an editor, but also regularly contributed articles.

Naturally, Bates also worked with local Civil Rights organizations. For many years, she served as the President of the Arkansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Her work with the NAACP not only transformed the Civil Rights Movement but it also made Bates a household name.

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled segregated schools unconstitutional. After the ruling Bates began gathering African American students to enroll at all white schools. Often the white schools refused to let black students attend. Bates used her newspaper to publicize the schools who did follow the federal mandate. Despite the continuous rejection from many Arkansas public schools, she pushed forward.

When the national NAACP office started to focus on Arkansas’ schools, they looked to Bates to plan the strategy. She took the reins and organized the Little Rock Nine. Bates selected nine students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. She regularly drove the students to school and worked tirelessly to ensure they were protected from violent crowds. She also advised the group and even joined the school’s parent organization.

Due to Bates’ role in the integration, she was often a target for intimidation. Rocks were thrown into her home several times and she received bullet shells in the mail. The threats forced the Bates family to shut down their newspaper.

After the success of the Little Rock Nine, Bates continued to work on improving the status of African Americans in the South. Her influential work with school integration brought her national recognition. In 1962, she published her memoirs, The Long Shadow of Little Rock. Eventually, the book would win an American Book Award. Bates was invited to sit on the stage during the program at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Due to a last-minute change, Bates was invited to speak at the march.

In 1968, Bates moved to Mitchellville, Arkansas. The majority black town was impoverished and lacked economic resources. When Bates arrived, she used her organizational skills to pull together residents and improve the community.

Bates died on November 4th, 1999. For her work, the state of Arkansas proclaimed the third Monday in February, Daisy Gatson Bates Day. She was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1999.

Black History Month February 2022: Kelly Curtis

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence every day this February….and beyond! Feel free to send us suggestions!

Meet the first Black skeleton athlete to compete for the U.S. at the Olympics

BEIJING — Skeleton is a heart-racing, adrenaline-fueled event where a single racer flies face-first down a frozen track, sometimes going more than 80 mph, belly-down on a sled.

Kelly Curtis is quick to acknowledge this sport is “crazy.” That doesn’t make her love it any less.

The event has been a mainstay at the Winter Games since 2002. At the Beijing Winter Olympics, just three Americans will compete for a medal — and Curtis is one of them.

As soon as Curtis shot herself down a topsy-turvy track in Beijing on Friday, she made history.

Curtis is the first Black athlete, man or woman, to represent the U.S. at the Olympics in skeleton. The 33-year-old is also the only member of the U.S. Air Force at this year’s Winter Games.

Curtis joins a small group of Black athletes competing for the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics.

The inherent pressure of being “the first” and “only” isn’t fazing her, she said.

“I am treating this like every race,” she said.

After the start of her two-day event Friday morning, Curtis stands 18th. Her teammate Katie Uhlaender is eighth. They are scheduled to next compete for the final round of skeleton runs at 9:55 p.m. Beijing time (8:55 a.m. EST) on Saturday.

Black History Month 2022: Jessica Watkins

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence every day this February….and beyond! Feel free to send us suggestions!

After an enrichment program at Sally Ride Elementary School, a young Jessica Watkins realized what she wanted to do when she grew up: study the geology of other planets.

Today, at 33 years old, Watkins is training for a mission to do just that.

This April, Watkins is set to become the first Black woman to live and work on the International Space Station for an extended mission. She will arrive there onboard a SpaceX capsule and then spend six months on the ISS as part of NASA’s Artemis program, a multi-billion dollar effort designed to return humans to the surface of the moon in 2025.

“We are building on the foundation that was laid by the Black women astronauts who have come before me,” Watkins told NPR’s Morning Edition. “I’m definitely honored to be a small part of that legacy, but ultimately be an equal member of the crew.”

Of the roughly 250 people who have boarded the ISS, fewer than 10 have been Black. Prior to the inception of the space station, Mae Jemison, an engineer and physician, became the first Black woman to travel to space in 1992. Other Black women have followed, including NASA astronauts Stephanie Wilson and Joan Higginbotham.

NASA selected Watkins for its astronaut program in 2017. She holds a bachelor’s degree in geological and environmental sciences from Stanford University and a doctorate in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Watkins will cover a lot of ground on her mission: earth and space science, biological science and human research into things like the effects of long-duration spaceflight for humans. That’s when the astronauts themselves become “the lab rats,” Watkins told NPR.

Over the course of her six-month mission, Watkins will also observe and photograph geological changes on Earth.

Ahead of her journey, Watkins said she’s done training on the systems of the International Space Station and how to fix anything if it isn’t working properly. She’s also practiced walking in space by wearing a puffy white suit in an underwater ISS mockup that’s housed in a giant pool.

Watkins said the journey to space has wide-ranging implications on everything from medical research “with direct impacts into our daily lives,” to international collaboration. Even amid tensions here on Earth between Washington and Moscow over Ukraine, she notes, the U.S. portion of the ISS is docked to the Russian segment.

“We are all coming together to accomplish this really hard thing that none of us would be able to do on our own,” Watkins said. “I think that is just such a beautiful picture of what we can all do if we come together and put all of our resources and skill sets together.”

Black History Month February 2022: Neil deGrasse Tyson

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence every day this February….and beyond! Feel free to send us suggestions!

Neil deGrasse Tyson (US: /dəˈɡræs/ or UK: /dəˈɡrɑːs/; born October 5, 1958) is an American astrophysicist, planetary scientist, author, and science communicator. Tyson studied at Harvard University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Columbia University. From 1991 to 1994, he was a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University. In 1994, he joined the Hayden Planetarium as a staff scientist and the Princeton faculty as a visiting research scientist and lecturer. In 1996, he became director of the planetarium and oversaw its $210 million reconstruction project, which was completed in 2000. Since 1996, he has been the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. The center is part of the American Museum of Natural History, where Tyson founded the Department of Astrophysics in 1997 and has been a research associate in the department since 2003.

From 1995 to 2005, Tyson wrote monthly essays in the “Universe” column for Natural History magazine, some of which were later published in his books Death by Black Hole (2007) and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (2017). During the same period, he wrote a monthly column in StarDate magazine, answering questions about the universe under the pen name “Merlin”. Material from the column appeared in his books Merlin’s Tour of the Universe (1998) and Just Visiting This Planet (1998). Tyson served on a 2001 government commission on the future of the U.S. aerospace industry and on the 2004 Moon, Mars and Beyond commission. He was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in the same year. From 2006 to 2011, he hosted the television show NOVA ScienceNow on PBS. Since 2009, Tyson has hosted the weekly podcast StarTalk. A spin-off, also called StarTalk, began airing on National Geographic in 2015. In 2014, he hosted the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, a successor to Carl Sagan‘s 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.[1] The U.S. National Academy of Sciences awarded Tyson the Public Welfare Medal in 2015 for his “extraordinary role in exciting the public about the wonders of science”.[2]

Black History Month February 2022: Eric Cora

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence every day this February….and beyond! Feel free to send us suggestions!

Eric Cora has been working for Community Action Pioneer Valley as the Program Manager of their Family Center in Greenfield for the past three years. Most of his duties involves developing and implementing community based programs for families and youth. Eric takes pride in the strength-based & family-centered approach he and his team use to work together with families.

When Eric completed his Social Work degree at Elms College, he was interested in two things: business and social work. When he learned about the opportunity at the Family Center in Greenfield, he knew this is where his professional future would take him. Eric has supported efforts that strengthen families and communities by setting a collaborative tone to build trust between systems of care and community members.

In his spare time, Eric enjoys reading sci-fi novels and cooking. He lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts with his wife Sadie, daughter Alice, and their pet Star the cat.

Black History Month February 2022: Roberta Wilmore

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence every day this February….and beyond! Feel free to send us suggestions!

Press Release: Make-It Springfield Names Roberta Wilmore as First Executive Director

SPRINGFIELD, MA, June 10, 2020 — Make-It Springfield, the downtown Springfield community makerspace, announced that it has hired Roberta Wilmore as its first Executive Director. Wilmore joins an already growing staff and will lead the organization into its next phase of growth, including a transition to a larger space.

“Roberta joins us with decades of experience in nonprofits, commercial real estate, creative entrepreneurship, and the equity and inclusion work that is so fundamental to our mission. Make-It will certainly benefit from Roberta’s veteran leadership, but Springfield at-large will benefit as well,” said Laura Masulis, co-founder of the makerspace.

Specifically, Wilmore’s consulting and training practice specializes in conflict management, board development, employee management, transition planning, and social justice. She has served as a trusted advisor, executive coach, and Board member for dozens of nonprofit organizations throughout the region, ranging from creative arts organizations, to academic institutions and philanthropic organizations. Additionally, in 2001, Wilmore founded the Children’s Equestrian Center, connecting under-served families and children of color to the world of equestrian sports.

“The search committee was especially impressed by Roberta’s deliberate and thoughtful approach to leadership, team-building and partnerships. We believe Roberta will lead Make-It Springfield forward and skillfully navigate the COVID crisis and any other challenges we might face in the future,” said Michael DiPasquale, another co-founder.

Wilmore said, “It is incredibly exciting to see that Make-It Springfield has outgrown its original location. I am honored to join them and to be part of growing this resource for the benefit of the city and its residents.”

Black History Month February 2022: Ray Berry

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence every day this February….and beyond! Feel free to send us suggestions!

Ray Berry is the founder of White Lion Brewing Company in Springfield. He was one of the recipients of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts – Massachusetts Next Century Award for 2021. He is a member of the first class of Leadership Pioneer Valley 2011-2012.

Black History Month February 2022: Kafi Dixon

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence every day this February….and beyond! Feel free to send us suggestions!

‘I Wanted To Be On Land’: A Conversation With Urban Farmer Kafi Dixon

Kafi Dixon is a farmer in Boston. A “backhoe-operating, tractor-driving, Hi-Lo-shifting, plant-seed-in-the-ground farmer,” as she puts it.

Dixon founded the Common Good Cooperative, an urban farm in Dorchester where women of color learn about agriculture, entrepreneurship, food sovereignty, and access to green space. Last year, during the pandemic, Dixon’s cooperative grew 500 pounds of produce and donated it to local families and senior living facilities.

Dixon and her work are featured in a new documentary “A Reckoning in Boston,” which premieres in New England on May 7. WBUR spoke with Dixon about the challenges of being a Black farmer, inequity in Boston and the joy of tinkering. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Last year during the pandemic, it was like everyone suddenly discovered the value of green space. But you were way ahead of that game; how did you get started in urban farming?

I started this back in 2015, based on what I knew the women in my community were going through — the women I grew up with in Upham’s Corner and Mattapan and Dorchester.

All of the women I’ve grown up with have lost either sons or their children’s fathers or brothers. And you know, we understood the violence of the city and just continued to exist in it.

But I knew that there were other spaces that were much more peaceful, and I had seen those places, lived on them, worked on them. I had benefited from healthy space and healthy conversations. And what better way to integrate women into self-designed green space that is for their health — mental and physical — than to found an urban farm?

How do you actually start an urban farm in Boston?

You create a cooperative. You know, you may not have the power and privilege of affluent networks, so one of the ways to address the resources that are missing is to come together as the many.

I just realized that a lot of communities around this country — and oddly here in Boston, too — they were designing for rather than with. And you realize that there is not just an inequality, but there’s an inequity in that design.

As much as the city and this region claims to be progressive — or likes to see themselves as progressive — there are still a lot of spaces that are thought of as spaces welcoming to Black women, that by design are not.

Can you give me an example?

Agriculture. Most of those spaces are not reflective of Black women enough for Black women to feel like they’re safe space for them to integrate into. Just look at the city of Boston, right? We can look at whether or not this is the first urban farm founded by a woman of color. Right? We can interrogate that question. We can interrogate how many women of color contractors there are. Right? We can interrogate how many women of color, especially African American women, are homeowners in the city. Right? We can look at diversity in upper management in some of the largest fiber 501(c)(3)’s in Boston. We can look at women of color and startup industries in the city of Boston, and look at the diminishing numbers of women who are in the startup field.

The census says that the African American community is the only demographic that’s being lost in the city of Boston. That’s the federal government saying that there are a people, for whatever reason, that are not existing as a culture in a professed progressive city.

If we are branching out into different spaces, into different sectors, and we don’t have a reflection of our community that’s in those spaces, then you can perceive that as an unwelcoming space. I’m fighting to be in a space that’s no longer integrated for Black women.

Have you always had a knack for farming and growing things?

I wish! I’m a woman with little standard academic education — maybe the eighth grade was the highest grade I completed — which was the reason I became a small business entrepreneur very early. It was because it didn’t require a high school diploma. Right? And nobody questioned my adequacy as far as education.

And I decided to go work on other people’s farms from upstate New York to Virginia to Mississippi. I was working in a very blue collar job, so I would save up my money and I would leave for a month and go work on farms. And then I went through rural farm training and certification.

Kafi Dixon on her Boston farm. (Courtesy Lost Nation Pictures)
Kafi Dixon on her Boston farm. (Courtesy Lost Nation Pictures)

Wait, you saved up your money and took all your vacation time to work on farms? Most people would save up for, you know, a cruise.

Or a really nice car?

Right! So what drove you spend all your free time working on farms?

I had just decided that I wanted to be on land. And I knew how to grow food. I had run produce markets, but I’d always purchased from somebody else. So who am I not to be able to go grow my own food and sell into markets? So this was, in my mind, my retirement plan.

So, yes, it was something I had to save up for because all business enterprises require a little bit of research — I wanted to make sure that as I was thinking about investing in land that it wasn’t a fantasy, that it was something that I felt capable to do.

How did you finally make the transition to professional farmer?

There’s no such thing as a professional farmer! You can ask any farmer, there’s no such thing.

And I say that because there’s still this burden that I, as a Black woman, carry around, like, “what experience do you have as a farmer?” And that’s used to marginalize people, like, “I don’t think she can do it.” But then we romanticize the failing farming couple, right? The greenhorns of the world, who are out there on land and are not able to survive. Because without question, it was the space and not any question about their aptitude.

But when Black women or men of color — especially here in the Northeast, which is weird — talk about moving into agricultural enterprises we’re put to a test that most people aren’t put through when they decide to, you know, quit graduate school at Harvard and to take a loan out and buy land somewhere in New Hampshire.

What do you like best about faming? 

One of the things that attracts me to agriculture — actually a lot of farmers don’t admit this — but they are low-key tinkerers. Farming and agriculture requires you to be constantly problem-solving. And it’s easier to solve the problem of a tomato hornworm than affordable housing, or Section 8. It’s easier to purchase a high quality packet of nematodes to deal with certain beetles that attack your crops. It’s easier to get your soil tested and to get into the science of weed reduction and land remediation — right? — than it is to look at some of the socially systemic problems that are generational. So, yeah, thinking about agriculture, you know, I’m up for it. It’s easier than the other side of this.

Black History Month February 2022: Travis Coe

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence every day this February….and beyond! Feel free to send us suggestions!

Travis Coe (He/Him/His) has been working with Double Edge Theatre since 2016. He has taken on several roles including actor, solo performer, co-creator, video director, and marketing. Coe pushes his desires and dreams forward unapologetically through work that speaks to his identity, his culture, and his perspective as the youngest member of the DE Ensemble. He created and performed the role of the Hyena in Leonora, la maga y la maestra and premiered his solo performance SUGA in 2019. He also performed in DE’s Fall Spectacle Leonora’s World, and in DE’s recent Summer Spectacles. In addition to directing DE’s documentary filmmaking, he is the head of enrollments and co-leader of Art Justice at DE.

Touring credits include United States of Amnesia (ROOM l 916: NEU/NOW Festival 2015: Amsterdam), Surrounded (Round Room Image: USA/Canada 2014 Tour) and Surrounded 2.0 (Round Room Image: Royal Conservatoire of Scotland & Prague Quadrennial 2015). Coe is a Co-Founder of Round Room Image and received his BA in Acting at Columbia College Chicago.