When your school lacks Black history, give us…..Girl Scout cookies?

Not exactly, but y’all should really support Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama because one of the nonprofit’s alumnae created a patch honoring Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair – Birmingham’s four little girls who were killed during the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing.

The “Justice For All: Four Little Girls” Patch Program was birthed out of the brilliant Black mind of 19-year-old Taylor Player, now a sophomore at University of Alabama. She was inspired to create the program in 2019 as part of her Gold Award Project, Girl Scouts’ highest achievement. The patch seems fitting for the cause since Carole Robertson was a girl scout herself.

While the bombing was common knowledge to Player and her Black classmates, few of her other classmates knew the girls’ story despite attending a school district that’s down the highway from Birmingham. Player said once girls learned about the bombing through the patch program, they naturally want to learn more about what was happening at the time and what the four little girls were like.

“I wanted to increase their knowledge of not just African American History, but the history where they reside – United States history. Alabamian history,” Player said. “I just wanted them to have the urge to learn more about something that was just not being taught in schools.”

Now, 1,366 girls from 28 states have learned about Birmingham’s four angels through Player’s program. Girl Scouts earn the patch by completing activities like playing a game the four girls might have played, such as jump rope, or writing a poem in the girls’ honor. Girl Scouts must also watch educational videos about the four little girls through Girl Scouts’ TV app called Trailblazer TV.

As part of Player’s goal to spread the gift of Black history, girl scouts toured Birmingham’s Civil Rights district which includes 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute during Player’s 2019 workshop. She had to switch things up in 2020 by creating a virtual workshop where about 400 girl scouts from across the country jumped on a Zoom call to hear a first-hand account of the bombing and its aftermath from Lisa McNair, sister of Carol McNair. Former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones answered questions about locking up two of the KKK members involved after the case was reopened four decades after the bombing.

Player said history classes also leave out Black women in STEM fields, such as the women who worked on NASA projects. So during this year’s workshop, girls were able to speak to one of Player’s troop leaders Dr. Denise Gregory, who is also a professor, chemist and assistant provost for diversity and intercultural initiatives at Samford University.

Player hopes the program inspires girls to continue the four little girls’ legacies by accomplishing their dreams.

“I just like to place those seeds like that. Like, ‘You can do anything,” she said. “Anything you want to do in life, it’s within arm’s reach as long as you put your mind to it and you put in the effort.”

Black history is now

Alabama Students Against Prisons and social justice activists protest near Regions Center on Dec. 28 2020. (Courtesy of ASAP)

History isn’t a dusty book sitting on a shelf. History is now. The legacy we leave behind depends on the words and actions we are expressing right now.

When a coalition of social justice activists found out that Alabama’s largest financial instruction, Regions Bank, was financing private prison firm CoreCivic, the activists said, “AHT! We’re not having that here!”

Cara McClure, cofounder of Black Lives Matter Birmingham and founder of Faith and Works, Joshua Thompson, board member of the college-student led Alabama Students against Prisons, and faith leader Lamar Black meet with bank executives in downtown Birmingham on Jan. 26. The goal: to force Regions to stop cut CoreCivic off.

And the activists came out the meeting winning.

McClure celebrated when she received an email from Regions three days after the meeting stating the bank will not give any additional credit to CoreCivic after Regions’ current contract with the company ends in 2023. While it has been a trend for banks to broadly denounce partnerships with private prison companies, Forbes reported this was the first time a major bank explicitly stated which company it was breaking away from as well as cite the influence of criminal justice advocates as the reason behind its decision.

Thompson, a Black University of Alabama in Huntsville student, broke it down for executives during the meeting like this: Regions CEO can’t issue a statement about the bank’s commitment to racial justice while also funding a private prison firm. Black people make up 27 percent of Alabama’s, but over half of the state’s prison population.

The fight to stop prison expansion in Alabama may be a long one. Just a few days after Regions’ decision Gov. Kay Ivey signed two 30-year lease agreements with CoreCivic to build two of the state’s three new prisons. But Thompson said he is remaining hopeful in his role in criminal justice reform.

“This gives me joy because people that bring awareness about our state’s prison conditions and policing practices could eventually lead the state to bring about a change,” Thompson said.

“Those changes can save a Black man or woman’s life from modern day slavery and hopefully give them an opportunity to receive mental health care, earn their degree and/or find a well-paying job so they can make a better life for their families and put us all on the path to creating generational wealth to break the chains of poverty that has been on southern blacks since the first slave was brought here.”

Healing Black vibes

Since this is Valentine’s Day weekend, we wanted to end this week’s edition of Black Joy with a video from Black Archives, one of my favorite places to explore a vibrant curation of Black culture and experience. Dive into Black Archive’s Instagram or Facebook and you’ll find countless gems like this 1990 video of Uncle Robert, Aunt Pinky, Cookie, and the fam in Tennessee.

This video is a must-see after the pettiness of the pandemic cancelled a summer’s-worth of family reunions. It gives a glimpse of what makes family outings so healing, from the swaying and laughing to the legendary Luther Vandross, the displays of Black love, the uncle (I’m assuming) pretending he can sing. I just wanted to baptize myself in the healing Black vibes.

 

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May you embrace and spread your own Black magic throughout your community this weekend. See y’all next week!

How are you celebrating your Black Joy? Send me an email at jdunigan@reckonsouth.com and share your happiness and laughter with us! Also, take a minute to check out and join the Black Magic Project’s Facebook page where we celebrate and discuss Black culture and community.