The American Griot Project is where oral history and the arts embrace! It gives us a chance to honor a variety of phenomenal women and their contributions to society. Some are women of witness, some are warriors; Others girded up the warriors with their nurturing, loving ways as moms, teachers and church mothers. Remembering their sacrifices can help us appreciate the freedoms we enjoy and give us the strength to stand up for justice in these difficult times.
In West Africa, the griot (gree – oh) is the person responsible for maintaining a community’s history. The griots keep track of every family and can tell their community’s story in the form of music or poetry.
History, poetry and performance all come together to honor women’s role in our society in the American Griot Project.
Part 1: Oral History
So often, we honor men for their contributions big and small, while women stand quietly in the shadows. Through oral history interviews, we will hear women’s stories about their experiences during the 1950’s and 60’s when the continuing struggle for Civil Rights was at it’s height. The Cultural Diversity Center at Central Penn College is assisting with the interviews and will post them on their interactive online newsletter, Cross Cultures.
Part 2: Poetics
Published performance poet, Maria James-Thiaw, will craft poetry inspired by the oral histories. Maria is a professor of humanities and has had 3 poetry collections published. She is well known for combining literary craft with dynamic performance skills. For the American Griot Project, her poems will stand as a creative testament to these women’s sacrifices, painting vivid word pictures of their experiences for readers.
Part 3: Performance
In the tradition of Ntozage Shange (For Colored Girls…) Maria James-Thiaw will weave the poetry together in the form of a choreo-poem to be performed in communities and on campuses with the goal of inspiring a new generation.
The Fierce Urgency of Now
Sadly, two amazing women agreed to be a part of this project but passed away before they could be interviewed. They are Anne Lyon originally from Montgomery, AL, a feminist and civil rights activist and professor, and Harrisburg, PA’s fabulous forever hippie, rappin’ grandma, Ava Hip Soul. This is a project that needs to be done now. We must honor and preserve these her-stories while we can!
YOU can help
As they used to say, go tell it on the mountain! Tell your aunts, your grandma, your mom or your sister. Talk about in church, at mosque and in the synagogue. Let them know that their words can inspire a new generation that is still trying to cope with the pervasive issue of racism and discrimination. If you know an American Griot, please refer her to the American Griot Project: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-901-POET and ask for Maria James-Thiaw.