Who Tells Your Story?

Walk With Me Foundation Celebrates Langston Hughes

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I have a confession to make. Once upon a time, I was a History minor. I am not ashamed to admit that. You see, many of my colleagues were Music Education majors and they decided to add different minors to their curriculum to aid them in the job market upon their graduation. I, however, was a Music Performance major and didn’t really need to have a minor. I know it seems weird to pay extra money for courses that you don’t need but, I did it anyway…for a short while at least.

Black History Month is a time when we are made aware of the impact that Black men and women have had on history. National Black History Month was not recognized in the United States until 1976. I remember, as a kid, I participated in a Black History trivia bowl that was sponsored by area churches. That was a time when I learned about the impact that Black men and women had in this world. The things that they managed to accomplish amid so much opposition was truly groundbreaking and awe-inspiring.

On Feb. 16 at 9:30 am, a local nonprofit organization will be presenting “Portraits of Langston: Life in Poetry and Music” at Norton Auditorium. According to its website, the Walk with Me Foundation’s main mission is “to assure that the history of various cultural and ethnical backgrounds is passed on to future generations through the medium of the visual and performing arts.” They do this by providing performances, exhibitions, and literary readings containing historical significance in various local, regional and national venues.

The Walk with Me Foundation’s past performances focused on the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four young girls and injured 22 others. It is based on the book While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement by author Carolyn Maull McKinstry, who was one of the survivors of that horrific act of injustice.

Dr. Terrance Brown is the conductor of the program, and when I asked him to describe the program, he said, “This concert narrates Langston Hughes’ life in biographical format, except it will use pieces of his poetry to highlight the different events in his life.”

Langston Hughes was particularly known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. He wrote novels, short stories, and plays, as well as poetry, and was also known for his engagement with the world of jazz and the influence it had on his writings. His life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Unlike other notable black poets of the period, he refused to differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America. Hughes wanted to tell the stories of his people in ways that reflected their actual culture, including both their suffering and their love of music, laughter and language itself.

“Hughes was an American figure who people know of but really don’t have an idea of his life and his output and how it’s been used in our society,” Brown said.

The University of North Alabama’s history department is also sponsoring the event. Dr. Jeffrey Bibbee, the Department Chair said, “Langston Hughes was an American pioneer, a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, and an innovative poet. By partnering with the Walk with Me Foundation, we are able to bring what we have been doing on campus into the community.”

Langston Hughes was just one of the many countless individuals who contributed to the history of black Americans. In addition to leaving us a large body of poetic work, he wrote 11 plays and countless works of prose. Hughes paved the way for the African-American poets and playwrights that we are familiar with today. Like Shakespeare and Dickinson, many composers have taken his inspirational words and set them to music; a few of which will be presented in “Portraits of Langston.” This performance is open to the public but will also be hosting students from visiting schools. General admission is $5 and $3 for students.