By Dr. Haile Eshe Cole
Home is where the heart is. This is an all too familiar and highly quoted statement seen hanging in entryways, over fireplaces, and as a caption underneath smiling family photos. As I ponder this statement, a few questions come to mind. For example, what is home exactly? While this may seem like an odd question to ask, I dare not assume that the concept, understanding, and experience of home is something universal. Is home a place? Is it a building? Is it a nostalgic memory, a state of mind, or can it even be a wistful idea of something lingering in our imagination? Maya Angelou is quoted as saying that “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” If one takes this statement as inherently true, two key points stand out.
First, the notion of aching implies a yearning, a pain, or a discomfort. It also exudes the sentiment of something lost. Given this depiction, does home become something that at some point in our lives is gained and then lost, is potentially unreachable, or even non-existent? Second, if home is in indeed a safe place, does it then follow that for some, home is something that may never be found? Surprisingly enough, the purpose of my inquiry here is not send us all into the depths of gloom as we sulk in our inevitable and nomadic state of abstract (or literal) homelessness. Undoubtedly, there are a number of individuals and peoples who have successfully and happily found their comfort and “home” in a number of people, places, things, and ideas. Yet, what happens if “home” does not necessitate a perpetual state of comfort, safety, or peace. Is home simply the experience or feeling of belonging, however it manages to manifest? I draw on this line of thinking as an entree into considering cultural conceptions and creations of “home,” particularly in the African Diaspora. For the purpose of this dialogue, I will focus on the Black American experience.
I recently read a quote by the Dalai Lama that states that “Home is where you feel at home and are treated well.” Contextualized alongside histories of slavery, displacement, social inequality, gentrification, and the growing instances of police brutality flooding our social media feeds, the attempt of “feeling at home” for many Black Americans has historically been and continues to be an arduous task to say the least. Although it would be easy to catalog the many ways that Black Americans may feel displaced, marginalized, or like a wandering people without a home, instead I want to focus on a few instances of black collective “home-making” as well as the process of going to or gathering in what I call a communal “home-space.”
While notions of belonging and “home” manifest as complex pieces of the Diasporic experience, there a number of cultural “home-spaces” that have served as key refuges for Black communities. Black churches, schools, and neighborhoods, though existing as a bi-product of segregation, became key sites where people could feel at “home.” In addition, there were also broadly practiced cultural activities grounded in the rhetoric of coming/going “home.” For example, “homecomings” are celebrated in black churches across the country, in historically black college and university homecoming events, or in memorial or funeral services also coined as “home-going” services. While these examples of homecoming may not exclusively be Black American cultural practices, they have stood and continue to stand as one of the many examples, amidst numerous instances of dislocation, to return and commemorate the cultural spaces that have sustained black communities for generations.
In this spirit, Six Square: Austin’s Black Cultural Heritage district invokes the spirit of coming and going “home” with their upcoming “Homecoming” event. This two-part event calls residents to remember the legacies of black East Austin and return home to celebrate in a reunion of sorts. The “Homecoming” includes a symposium scheduled for early November at Hustin-Tillotson University that focuses on the significance of sacred African-American cemeteries and burial grounds. The second portion of the event scheduled for the Spring includes a remembering and cleaning ceremony at Plummer and Bethany cemeteries, a processional through East Austin, and finally a “family reunion” and picnic at Givens Park. To those families and individuals who have left Austin, Six Square’s “Homecoming” offers an opportunity to come home to their cultural touchstone.
For more information on this event or to help with the planning, please contact Donald King at email@example.com. Families and friends with loved ones laid to rest at Bethany or Plummers cemeteries are also welcome to submit pictures or stories to be honored during the event. For questions regarding story collection or to submit photos, contact Eshe Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org
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