All Posts for January 2009

Black History Month: Profiles in Caring

Friday, January 30th, 2009

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Eleanor (left) and sister Wanda (right) on the porch of Eleanor’s house, the same house in which a cross was burned because she moved into an all-White neighborhood. (See below.)

In anticipation of Black History Month celebrated in February in the U.S. and Canada, I interviewed Philadelphia-born sisters Eleanor Richardson and Wanda Richardson Washington. I had met Eleanor Richardson at Saunders House, where my mother-in-law Lena Jacobson resides. (You can read Lena’s previous interview by placing her name in the search box on the lower right hand margin of my page.)

When Eleanor retired from nursing at Saunders House last year, we took her to dinner and found out that she had survived the burning of a cross on her front lawn in 1978. She had moved there recently, and was the first person of color to move into a “White neighborhood” in the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia. The May 24, 1978 article in The Evening Bulletin was entitled “Black Nurse Braves Rocks, Cross Burning.”

What amazed me is that Eleanor remained in her home and never allowed the burning of the cross incident to get in the way of her living a full life. But when I told her I wanted to interview her, she kept insisting that I needed to meet her sister Wanda, whose life was even more fascinating, according to Eleanor. So, one day last fall, I went to Eleanor’s home, which is only two or three blocks from where live, right off City Line Ave. in Philadelphia. I met Wanda, younger by two years. (Eleanor was born in 1944 and Wanda was born in 1946.)

Both women described their childhood and younger years as those of protesting in the Civil Rights Movement. In the mid-1960s, their main protest was to make Girard’s Orphan College available orphans who were Black, as well as those who were Black. White orphans were given the opportunity to go to college and the Blacks in the community wanted the same for their orphans. While their mother did not want her girls to participate in the protest, the young Eleanor and Wanda marched with the NAACP. They also protested when school buses refused to pick up Black children in the same neighborhood as White children.

While Eleanor went off to nursing school, Wanda lived in the fast lane most of her life, a street life of alcohol and drugs, later committing a crime, resulting in Wanda’s conviction. For the crime she committed, she spent several years in The State Correctional Institution in Muncy in Central PA. Amazingly, Wanda did become rehabilitated and began the pardoning process in 2000. We watched the video of her being interviewed by graduate law students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School for a class project on the pardoning process. She was granted a gubernatorial pardon by Governor Ed Rendell in 2005 for the crime she committed in 1983.

Now Wanda is free, pursuing her dream of helping others (including prisoners) with her degree in social work. She earned an Associate Degree in Behavioral Health and Human Services from the Community College of Philadelphia(2000) as well as a Certificate in their “Drug and Alcohol Curriculum.” She then went to Temple University where she earned a Bachelors & Masters Degrees in Social Work, completed in May 2004.

Actually, Eleanor is in a similar field, Welfare to Work, helping women on welfare obtain the tools they need to become certified nursing assistants. She also continues to do some nursing as a private duty nurse, but still considers herself “retired.”

I spent quite a long time with Wanda and Eleanor, meeting Eleanor’s lovely daughter. Learning about the sisters’ lives as active Black women was an eye-opener for me, because I was more an observer of the Civil Rights Movement, not a participant. I think they are two women who have come a long way, one surviving an attack on her home as a Black woman in a White neighborhood, and the other serving time in prison and coming back to help other prisoners transform their lives.

At the end of our conversation, Eleanor said that her background as a protester kept her fighting for the right to live where she chose. And Wanda worked to be free so she could help others. Both women have more courage in their little finger than my whole hand. It is a privilege to know them and a perfect way for me to celebrate Black History Month.

February 2009: Heart Matters

Friday, January 30th, 2009

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February is a heart-filled month that includes Valentine’s Day, V-Day (See below.) National Heart Month, and Black History Month. Throughout the month I plan to have information on healthy hearts, including recipes that are naturally healthy for the whole body, a profile of two sisters who have been Black activists all their lives, and some thoughts on love and friendship. (Picture of the Richardson sisters below.)

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Since I am going away this week, I am experimenting with post-dating two of the postings. However, I just post-dated Profiles and it is already up and running, so when I return from my trip, I will check with my webmaster. The recipe will feature pomegranate seeds, which are now available beyond Thanksgiving, not only as the whole fruit, but already packed as seeds for those who are too busy to peel their own pomegranates. (I peeled one and froze the seeds.)

While most of us are familiar with Heart Association Month and Black History Month, as well as Valentine’s Day, I am not sure how well known V-Day is, since it has been in existence only 10 years this year. It was started by Eve Ensler, who is a writer/performer/activist. In 2001 I attended a performance of her work, The Vagina Monologues in New York City. I also saw her perform in Philadelphia in her work, The Good Body. Both The Vagina Monologues and The Good Body are available in book form. More importantly, you may want to go to Eve’s website, www.VDay.org to see the impact she is making to prevent violence against women all over the world. She is a role model for all women that one person can make a difference. Here is an excerpt from her website:

V-Day is a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sexual slavery.

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Photo of Eve Ensler from her website.


Concerning Valentine’s Day: When I was single for 13 years after my divorce, Valentine’s Day was not my favorite holiday. However, somewhere in those years I began to appreciate Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate love of family and friends, and now V-Day. So whether or not you have a sweetheart, spouse, or partner, you can still celebrate this month of love by extending the meaning to all the people in your life who love you and are loved by you. However, love must be in the air, because I just received an email about a marriage that took place during WWII with the wedding gown made from a parachute. Here is the photo and I will post the story in time for Valentine’s Day.

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Throughout the month I will be including some pictures of roses that a friend emailed me, one of which is featured above and one below. Happy February!

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