There are moments in life when one tries to remember if there are many more important moments than the one that is being presently experienced. The 23rd of August 2012, was such a moment for most of us who gathered on the Broadway Pier at Fells Point in Baltimore.
As dawn’s golden light spread across the water, voices, led by Reverend Cecil C. Gray accompanied by African drums and other percussive instruments, rose with the sun in remembrance, praise, and honor of the African Ancestors who were brought to these and other shores of this hemisphere. The mostly white-clad gathering was a mixture of Native-Americans, Africans of America and Caucasians who were there to celebrate the inaugural event of The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project. This moment was the culmination of a twenty-five year journey for Ann Chinn, who as director of the project, had worked diligently, with the help of others, to see this come to reality.
The dawn session ended with the inimitable voice of Bernice Johnson Reagon soaring above and across the water with her always passionate rendition of “Remember Me.” The oldest of the gathering Mama Iya Olatungi, accompanied by the rest of the gathering, poured the day’s first libation in honor of the ancestors, the elders, the young, and the unborn.
Between the dawn and dusk ceremonies, there was time enough for each of us to contemplate our individual journey and the journey of a people forced into the most deplorable conditions than can ever be imagined. Even when small pangs of anger tried to invade and pollute the memory of the morning’s session, one was reminded that we, a deeply traumatized but no less resilient people, understand the true meaning of justice and civility. We do not have a monopoly on pain, disappointment, and/or anger, but we have had enough for some among us to think that we do.
As dusk fell over Fells Point, it was obvious that the mood was different than that of the dawn. This does not mean that the proceedings were any less solemn, beautiful or, in many ways, more exciting. In the African pantheon, it is believed that beyond dusk, the spirits draw closer. The gathering at dusk was, and quite understandingly so, much larger than the dawn ceremonies. The presence of the Ancestral Spirits could definitely be felt among us.
The celebration of the ancestors on this day was shared by one of our young who has gracefully and responsibly made her way into adult-hood. One of the shining gems in the tiara of our family, Zora Nomnikelo Cobb, the proud beautiful offspring of Charlie Cobb and Ann Chinn, and the god-daughter of some people we know, celebrated her birthday. Zora works tirelessly to promote the understanding and importance of the Middle Passage project. We should respect the work of our young by telling them how much we do because words are also important to them.
To Zora, “The Gift Well-Given” We say “HAPPY BIRTHDAY. WE LOVE YOU!”
When then the evening libation was poured and some of us walked away from the celebration that was still in progress, someone likened the pier to a ship and we were on it, headed to a new era of our sojourn in this hemisphere.
Ken Forde (photographs are compliments of Mr. Forde, a regular contributor to this blog)