Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

Coming to the Table National Gathering

Posted June 5th, 2014 by Tom

IMG_7419The National Gathering of Coming to the Table took place at Eastern Mennonite University during the Summer Peacebuilding Institute May 23-25. An article about the gathering, “Desire to address, heal, traumatic legacy of U.S. slavery sparks growth in Coming to the Table group“, shares the heart of what we hoped participants would experience.

At the 2014 annual meeting of Coming to the Table, two participants read emotionally charged poems that they exchanged after learning they were descended from the same plantation in Missouri. During one discussion, a participant of European origins shared her suspicions that the systematic abuse in her family was a legacy of the psychological impact of owning slaves.

More than 150 years after the end of slavery, the historical trauma of a system that turned people into property remains throughout the nation. It’s a trauma that members of Coming to the Table are trying to address…

My writing partner Sharon Morgan and I both served on the Planning and Facilitation Committee for the Gathering. We were pleased that we were filled to capacity and that participants were deeply engaged and satisfied with the experience.

Free Angela

Posted April 4th, 2013 by Tom

freenangelaI can’t wait to see the film Free Angela & All Political Prisoners. The primary focus of the documentary is Davis’s infamous 1971 trial. She was arrested in 1970; charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder following the failed attempt to free Black Panther George Jackson.

Read the review of the film in Village Voice.

If you live in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, or Philadelphia, Free Angela opens in your city at an AMC Theater this Friday, April 5.

The rest of us may have to wait awhile. My hope is that folks in the above cities will FLOCK to Free Angela, so that it will receive the exposure it deserves.

The director of the film, Shola Lynch, previously made the acclaimed film Chilsolm ’72.

Shola-Lynch-and-Angela-DavisCaveat: my personal passion for Free Angela is that Shola is also the daughter-in-law of my writing partner for Gather at the Table, Sharon Morgan. Shola has been working on this film for several years. I know from my participation in the creation of Traces of the Trade just how challenging it is to complete documentary films. I haven’t seen Free Angela yet, but Sharon told me it is INCREDIBLE. She attended the premiere in New York along with producers Will and Jada Smith, Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, and, of course, Ms. Davis.

I am so proud and honored to be connected to this family. Go see Free Angela. Not only did Ms. Davis speak truth to power, she forced power to listen. We need her example to inspire us today to do the same.

Kony 2012: Social Media and Social Justice

Posted March 8th, 2012 by Tom

If you spend much time on Facebook or Twitter you are likely aware of the “Kony 2012” video that is flying around online. For those who don’t know, the non-profit group Invisible Children has produced a captivating 30-minutes video that has gone viral to the extreme. As I write these words, the YouTube video (uploaded just 3 days ago, on March 5) has been viewed almost 39 million times. When I last looked 13 hours ago, the total views were just over 15 million.

The filmmaker’s goal is to make Joseph Kony notoriously famous in the hope that if his name becomes well enough known, international pressure will result in his capture. Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). This Ugandan guerrilla group has forced tens of thousands of children to become armed warriors. Kony’s fighters have been accused of torture, rape, and massacre in northern Uganda, South Sudan, and elsewhere for the past quarter century.

When Sharon (my writing partner for Gather at the Table) and I took our first class together at Eastern Mennonite University in 2008, we encountered a woman from Uganda who was taking a different class than we were. Her children had been kidnapped by the LRA. One of her daughters went missing for years. She was repeatedly raped by her captors and gave birth to three children fathered by her captors before being released. Read the rest of this entry »

African American Genealogy, by Sharon Morgan

Posted September 3rd, 2011 by Tom

Most readers of this blog are familiar with my writing partner and friend Sharon Leslie Morgan. Together we are writing Gather at the Table which will be published by Beacon Press in 2012.

One particular area of expertise of Sharon’s is her focus on genealogical research for African American people. Having researched her own family history for the past three decades, she shares information and services to help others explore and appreciate African American family history on her website Our Black Ancestry. She is now sharing her expertise in a new, 12-part blog series at Geni, the website that is in the process of building the definitive, world-wide, family tree.

I encourage my friends to read the first installment of the series here and add your comment to Geni and Sharon about what you think!

The Problem We All Live With

Posted August 25th, 2011 by Tom

Thank you to my Coming to the Table friends Sharon Morgan and Edie Lee Harris for sharing this story.

In 1960, a 6-year old African American girl named Ruby Bridges was escorted by federal marshals into an elementary school in New Orleans after integration became the law of the land. In 1963 Norman Rockwell captured the image of that day in his painting “The Problem We All Live With.”

President Obama recently authorized the placement of Rockwell’s painting in a hallway outside the Oval Office. I strongly encourage you to read this article about the President’s action. It is a jarring and provocative work of art and speaks volumes about what a 6-year old girl, and so many others, faced in the recent past. Then watch this short YouTube video that shows Ruby Bridges discussing Rockwell’s painting with President Obama in the White House.

Thank you also to my friend Nina Hoffert for sharing another story with me; one that reminds us that discrimination due to race continues today. Read about Vance Gilbert’s experience on a recent United Airlines flight here.

The struggle continues.

This Precious Moment

Posted May 21st, 2011 by Tom

“We have a fuel leak on the right side of the plane. We need to evacuate.”

The pilot’s voice got everyone’s attention. I heard the word “evacuate” but wasn’t sure about the rest of what he said through the distortion in the sound system. I turned toward the man and woman sitting next to me in the same row. The man said, “What did he say?” The woman replied, “I think he said…” she was interrupted by a more urgent, and louder, statement.

“Everyone needs to evacuate the plane NOW. Please take all your carry-ons with you.”

The smell of jet fuel began to fill the enclosed space where we sat near the back of the jet. No one panicked but the people ahead of us began to move toward the exit more quickly.

My day began at 3:30 in the morning when I woke up after two hours’ sleep to wash the sleep from my eyes and head for the airport. When I boarded my third flight of the day in Denver they announced that we were delayed by a few minutes because the co-pilot hadn’t arrived yet. Then we were delayed by another twenty minutes because of weather in New York, my final destination. Then the fuel leak resulted in the abandonment of our plane.

“I’m glad they found it here,” said the man who sat next to me, “rather than when we were at 36,000 feet.”

“No kidding,” I replied as I pulled my suitcase from the overhead and followed him off the plane.

We left Denver two hours late on a replacement plane. There were no further incidents. When we landed at LaGuardia I asked one of the flight attendants, “How bad would it have been if they didn’t discover the fuel leak until we were in the air?”

“That would’ve been bad,” she said, “real bad.”

“You mean emergency landing bad, or…?” I asked.

“It was really good they found it when they did,” she said. “If we had taken off it would have required an emergency landing and they would have foamed the runway.”

I guess she could see the startled, concerned look in my eyes. She tilted her head with a “yeah, it was that serious” look in her own eyes. “It’s really good they discovered it when they did.”

My imagination lit up with the potentially dire possibilities had the leak not been discovered. I was grateful to walk on terra ferma toward baggage claim, to see Sharon pull up to the curb, and to drive–on the ground–to her house.

I was unnerved by this experience and grateful to my guardian angels for keeping me safe. I thought about my wife and how we just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. I thought about our children and our grandchildren. I gave thanks for the blessings in my life and for the awareness of them in this… one… precious… moment.

I picked up Peace is Every Step, the wonderful book by Thich Nhat Hanh that I brought with me to read over the next month.

We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.

I flew to New York to join my writing partner, Sharon Morgan. We embark this weekend on a month-long, 5,700 mile road trip through fifteen states in the South and Midwest as part of the healing journey we’ll document in our upcoming book Gather at the Table that will be published by Beacon Press in 2012.

My goal is to be present in the precious moments we share; to be present for what we will experience and learn together. We will document some of our “moments” at our blog. We hope you’ll travel vicariously along with us as we visit communities where our ancestors lived; overnight at an antebellum guest house and a sharecropping plantation; attend Civil War reenactments; tour cultural institutions related to slavery and history; and research genealogical records in rural courthouses. Together, we will explore the meaning of what we experience from our separate, black and white perspectives.

You can subscribe to our blog and follow our briefer updates on Facebook.

I gotta run. We got the oil changed in Sharon’s car, filled it with gas, and now all that’s left is to load up the car and head South. Kentucky here we come!

Beacon Press: “We’ll publish your next book!”

Posted January 31st, 2011 by Tom

It’s official!

The ink is dry on the contract!

Beacon Press will publish the book that my friend and new writing partner Sharon Leslie Morgan and I are co-authoring. I’m excited to be associated with this prestigious publisher AND to have the opportunity to work again with Gayatri Patnaik, who did such a brilliant job of editing my first book, Inheriting the Trade. Sharon and I will write the book over the coming year and it will be published sometime in the fall of 2012. Read the rest of this entry »

Interested in Genealogy? Check this out!

Posted August 13th, 2010 by Tom

For anyone interested in genealogy, and especially people of color, this Sunday should be a real treat. My friend and Coming to the Table colleague, Sharon Morgan, founder and webmaster of Our Black Ancestry, is going to be featured in a two-hour radio program on WVON AM 1690 in Chicago this Sunday, August 15, 3-5pm Central time. Anyone outside Chicago can listen live online at

Sharon will help listeners understand the importance of genealogy for African American people, help them understand how to undertake their own research, and share stories of her personal genealogical pursuits and findings. There will also be call-ins from family historians and book authors including Melvin Collier (the author of Mississippi to Africa who appeared as the expert genealogist on the Spike Lee episode of Who Do You Think You Are on NBC that aired in April). I’ve also been asked to participate briefly to discuss the idea of reconciliation among black and white people who are linked through the history of enslavement; an area of keen interest as a result of my involvement with Coming to the Table over the past five years.

African Diaspora Today was launched on WVON just a few months ago. The host, Dr. Carol L. Adams, is the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago. “African Diaspora Today” encourages discussion about politics, economics and culture as related to Africa and the African Diaspora.

Callers are welcomed from all over the country. lllinois Callers Dial 773-591-1690; Out of state Callers Dial Toll Free 877-591-1690 or 866-591-1690.

It should be a lively and interesting conversation!

Stupid, stupid white people…

Posted June 19th, 2010 by Tom

The editor of Beacon Broadside–the blog of my publisher Beacon Press–asked me to write an essay in connection with Juneteenth. The request came just after an incident in which my friend Sharon Morgan was subjected to a stupid, racist comment about President Obama by a white guy at the Post Office in the small town where she recently moved. So the focus of my essay shifted just a bit…

You can read the post here.

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry