Sunday, November 12, 2006

Keep Hope Alive

Educators with purpose driven lives: Dr. Franklin with Ms. Callie Herd the founder and visionary of

Legend and Legend in the making: Tha Artivist meets Dr. John Hope Franklin...Dr. Franklin an avid music lover is holding an art work named "Money Jungle" which is Tha Artivist's tribute to Duke Ellington,Charles Mingus, Max Roach and their phenomenal album "Money Jungle"..The small pic Tha Artivist is holding is entitled "Black Gabriel" which is Tha Artivist's tribute to jazz trumpet players.

Keep Hope Alive!!! Tha Artivist Reports...

I had the pleasure of meeting the one and only historian extraordinaire Dr. John Hope Franklin at the Southern Festival Of Books  on Saturday Oct. 14,2006 at the Memphis Cook Convention Center…In my nearly three decades on earth I have met my share of celebrities and famous people…However on that beautifully bright and warm autumn day meeting this particular celebrity was a necessity...You see one of my favorite subjects is African American History…Dr. John Hope Franklin is one of the preeminent scholars on this subject…You could probably consider him the Living Dean of African American Scholars…His seminal work "From Slavery to Freedom" has been in print and taught in American classrooms and universities since its first publication in the 1940s…At the young age of 91, Dr. Franklin can be considered the bridge connecting early 20th Century historians and scholars such as Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and Dr. Carter G. Woodson with their later 20th Century counterparts such as Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson…Dr. John Hope Franklin's academic and scholarly prowess is so revered that he was asked by then U.S. President Bill Clinton to serve on his special commission on race relations to find out the root causes of racism and to create solutions to eradicate the social virus once and for all…For his life's work in 1995 Dr. Franklin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

I pride myself on being an "artivist" (one who uses his/her art and talents to promote and bring about change) and "artstorian" (one who uses his/her art to document history)…So in many ways Dr. John Hope Franklin is a hero to me for what he has been able to endure and achieve in his 91 glorious and peaceful (he said he has only endured one headache in his entire lifetime and that happened when he was about 5 or 7 years old!!!) years on this earth…

I remember seeing Dr. Franklin on the Tavis Smiley show back in February of 2006…He was there promoting his newly released autobiography Mirror to America…Watching and listening to Dr. Franklin has always been a source of "edutainment" (educational and entertainment) for me…This time on t.v. he didn't disappoint being very vivid and candid about his nearly century old existence on earth…My supportive mother, Ms. Callie Herd creator of also saw the episode and suggested that I send Dr. Franklin a portfolio package about me and my activities detailing my aspirations, achievements and so forth with the hopes that I can get a chance to meet and talk with the man himself…She even went as far as to write an e-mail to the man and got a response from Dr. Franklin's handlers at Duke University in less than 24 hours on what to do and where to mail whatever we were going to send…Although I had a lot of respect for Dr. John Hope Franklin, I truly had no desire to pursue this...I have tried and failed or came up short on many occasions to meet with influential, well known and paid individuals like Dr. Franklin…The results for the most part have been mixed, indifferent if not totally disappointing…At this point I wasn't in the mood to waste more money, hope and time with unreceptive celebrity types…

However, after much "harassing" by my insistent, but well meaning mom I finally put together a nice size packet that seemed to include every newspaper clipping and article that included a mention of my name and activities…I assembled everything in the packet myself except for the cover letter which was provided by my seemingly omnipresent mother (after all it was her idea why not leave it to her to provide the explanation)...I also sent Dr. Franklin an autographed copy of the newspaper article a great friend of mine Mr. Byron Lee did on me for the St. Louis Limelight Newspaper…Well we sent the packet off and waited…And waited and waited…Finally my mom, not I, grew restless and decided to contact Dr. Franklin's handlers at Duke…They said that he was currently on the road promoting his book and will get back with us shortly…In the meantime they told us to send them a fax detailing what we wanted with Dr. Franklin...My mom almost followed through on the request when she realized that we already sent him a nice size package detailing all that stuff and so she e-mailed his handlers telling them what was the purpose of faxing when we already sent you all a package detailing my background and requests??? Finally after six months of waiting I got a reply…My portfolio was mailed back to me with a handwritten letter…The handwrting was really beautiful and neat in slanted cursive...I knew it had to be his hand because they don't teach kids these days to have that much pride in their handwriting abilities especially with the rise of the computer, internet and Microsoft Word…The following is from the handwritten letter:

Dear Ronald Herd,
I have received much information about you from your dear mother, and from what she says I must say that your interests and activities are noteworthy. If you are as interested in your career as your mother is, please indicate it by taking up your own cause and promoting it in every way possible. Meanwhile, best wishes to you
John Hope Franklin

At first glance, I was a little taken aback by the letter for one being that I actually got a response and a handwritten letter at that from one of those celebrity type (at least in the academic field) personalities…Secondly, the advice although well intended is not truly reflective at all of the situation in regards of me taking up my own cause…If you are reading this article I am taking up my own cause because I am writing about my experiences or cause...If you are looking at the pic of me and Dr.Franklin holding my art then I am taking up my cause because I created the opportunity...Well, I take partial credit, it was actually my beautiful mom's idea to go to the book festival with the exact goal of meeting Dr. Franklin…As I stated earlier I put the packet together, but my mom provided the cover letter and like I said before since it was her idea to contact Dr. Franklin in the first place I saw it as a fitting tribute…As a matter of fact many people especially in the arts have always let relatives helped them in the advancement of their careers…Would Vincent Van Gogh even sold a painting in his lifetime if it wasn't for the efforts of his art dealer brother Theo in promoting his work??? Would Usher be the superstar he is today if it wasn't for the efforts of his mom who is also his manager??? The same could be said for Beyonce and Jessica Simpson whose fathers have played substantial roles in the developments of their talented and beautiful daughters' careers…Supermodel turn t.v. talk show hostess Tyra Banks credits her mom's support in helping to get her career off the ground in a very hands on way… Could John F. Kennedy had a successful political career without the aid and help of his family in particular his father Joe P. Kennedy and brother Robert Kennedy as his campaign manager??? What about Joe Jackson??? Regardless of what you may think of these examples and the many more I could provide, we must all realize that it really takes a group effort or village to make things happen…Just like Dr. Franklin has his many handlers at Duke University we all need people to lean on and aid us in our respective journeys…Like the poet John Dunne wrote "no one man can stand alone as an island"...Besides if you receive any e-mail, newsletters, visit my numerous websites, attended any of my art shows you should know that I play a pivotal role in making those opportunities happen with the unwavering support of my mom of course…

The letter did not really bother me, I actually took it as a sign of respect and encouragement…However, when my mom saw it she was a little perturbed by it…Even though she didn't say it much it really did bothered her that Dr. Franklin allegedly thought she was doing most of the heavy lifting...I told her it shouldn't matter and that the most important thing in these types of situations is to get a response and so regardless what was written or said the Dr. Franklin project was a success…

My mom still couldn't put the issue to rest and so I guess it was a blessing that we got to see Dr. Franklin this past October…The funny way on how we got to meet Dr. Franklin must have been destiny...My mom was actually coming back from the restroom when she just so happened to cross paths with Dr. Franklin while he was getting off the escalator…I was actually waiting in the hallway in front of the conference room where he was to give his speech…I could hear my mom's distinctive voice…I knew she must have met somebody of importance and reverence by her tone…I look around the corner and lo and behold there was my mom talking with Dr. John Hope Franklin!!! The first thing she addressed to him was the letter he wrote in response to the packet I sent him…Although the letter was signed in his name he denied knowing about the existence of such letter, probably to save face in front of two of his admirers, both high school teachers with one of them in particular hero worshipping him with praises of all sorts (which he deserves)…However I knew without a doubt that he wrote the letter, but I did not feel the need to express that to him…As a sign of goodwill he did offer his card with his personal mailing address to us...He also let us take pictures with him as well which was also very nice of him considering that he needed some time to get his thoughts together for his presentation...Overall I found him to be a very nice and peaceful man who reminded me a lot of in look and manners of my late maternal grandfather, Arthur "Grip" Taylor

We truly enjoyed his presentation…The room was packed with people (mostly White folks, it is a shame that many people of color didn't come out for this was a message that Black folks in particular needed too hear)…Basically Dr. Franklin talked about his childhood, the importance of documenting one's history on one's own terms, his fascination and passion for the extraordinary life and achievements of George Washington Williams, love of opera, racism and little bit of everything in between…As usual he kept it edutaining…When it came to the Q and A session my mom and I were eagerly awaiting our turn to ask the living legend a question or two...My mom went before me and asked Dr. Franklin why is that Old School so hesitant to help New School meaning why sometimes respected elders did not always share what they know with younger people who eagerly seek them out for advice...I then followed up the question with how much of an influence was Dr. W.E.B. DuBois (who also went to Fisk and Harvard like Dr. Franklin) on him becoming a historian…I also asked his thoughts about one of my favorite historians, Mr. J.A. Rogers (he did not supply an answer to this part of my question...I guess he tired himself out for he was long winded in a very good and honorable way on answering a question about who was Mr. George Washington Williams, a person who caught his imagination and who he became the definitive biographer for)…To summarize his answers to both questions he said that Dr. Dubois wasn't an influence…He said that he first met Dr.DuBois as a grad student and was disappointed by how the famed academic was unreceptive to his introduction…Years later he was invited by Dr. DuBois to lecture at some of his classes at City College in New York City...Dr. Franklin stated that Dr. DuBois started to respect him as a colleague once he started seeing Dr.Franklin's name in the press and even went so far as to apologize to Dr. Franklin for disrespecting him earlier saying that he was shy and didn't mean any harm…He also stated that Dr. DuBois would actually sit in on the classes taking notes while he lectured!!! Dr. Franklin ended this story about his relationship with Dr.DuBois by saying that you should never let anyone or any circumstance stop you from achieving your goals or pursuing the things that you are passionate about …Once my mom heard this it seems that her mood went from anxious to serene…She got what she wanted and I got what I needed...KEEP HOPE ALIVE!!!

1 comment:

C. Herd said...

Thanks for sharing this experience with others. It is my hope that they will continue to "Keep Hope Alive" regardless of how something must look, but in the end, life challenges goes to the "Man Who Thinks He Can".

May you continue to bless in your endeavor.