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Black History Month made personal: Four residents’ stories and thoughts bring Black History to life

The Chronicle hosted a Black History Month discussion and invited senior citizens Rosalind Mustafa and Eugene Dumas of Flossmoor, and 2020 Homewood-Flossmoor High School graduate Jazz Jabulani of Flossmoor and 2016 H-F graduate Destiny Watson of Homewood to hear each other’s personal stories. Despite the years that separate them, each guest recognized how history — personal, racial or community — has impacted them directly or indirectly. 

You can read history, or you can discover it through personal stories. Whether the stories are family lore or vivid memories, they tell of one’s experiences and allow others to find direct connections to them.

The Chronicle hosted a Black History Month discussion and invited senior citizens Rosalind Mustafa and Eugene Dumas of Flossmoor, and 2020 Homewood-Flossmoor High School graduate Jazz Jabulani of Flossmoor and 2016 H-F graduate Destiny Watson of Homewood to hear each other’s personal stories.

Despite the years that separate them, each guest recognized how history — personal, racial or community — has impacted them directly or indirectly.

Donna Miller, 6th District Cook County commissioner, facilitated the discussion.

This article is just a sampling of the 60-minute discussion. A video version will be posted at hfchronicle.com later this month.

Rosalind Henderson-Mustafa
Family lore passed down for several generations told the story of her grandfather, Fred Goree, being murdered. She learned the facts from a National Public Radio investigation. Her grandfather was beaten and shot to death by police near Ferguson, Missouri, in 1925 after he was stopped for “speeding,” even though traffic was barely moving. It is believed the officer was suspicious because he was driving a new car. Goree was a bricklayer by profession, and a manager for a Negro League baseball team who was driving several players to a game. He was beaten and then shot. The cause of death was listed as “justifiable homicide,” and the officer was never charged.

Goree was the oldest of 12 children. His death devastated his family and plunged them into poverty.

This story is nearly 100 years old, but a Black man being stopped and beaten by police “parallels and mirrors so much of the brutality against Black people, the violence against Black people,” Mustafa said.

Her mother, just a child when she lost her father, put her faith in the power of education. She earned a college degree and became a teacher. She made sure each of her daughters had a college degree.

“When you think about the struggles that Africans in America have faced and in spite of all you have read and been told and all the stories from family, there is no way that one day, whether it be 10 years from now or 100 years from now, that we will not overcome all of this,” Mustafa believes.

Eugene Dumas
The retired Chicago Public Schools teacher understood and lived by the rules of Southern discrimination. He grew up in Wilcox County, Alabama, where the ratio was 10 Blacks to one white. Dumas’s parents taught him to recognize there were two standards he would live by — one for Blacks and one for whites.

“The best thing to do was avoid trouble, rather than getting out of it. I lived a very isolated life — church, school, back home,” he recalled. “My father pointed out that we have a very, very unfair society, but the secret is to be smarter than those people who are your enemies so that you can develop a strategy for success, in spite of the barriers they erect for you.”

His parents emphasized to their nine children that education was the way to improve your situation. Dumas attended segregated schools and college. The first time he attended an integrated school was when he earned his master’s degree at Northeastern Illinois University.

Dumas called his father “brilliant, ” but sadly he was denied the right to vote because he had only a third grade education. When his father finally had the right to vote, he ran for office campaigning against a college-educated man. He lost by just a few votes.

Jazz Jabulani
Growing up in the Homewood-Flossmoor community “was a very, very, very unique experience, especially because H-F (high school) is majority black.”

“My first experience (with racism) was when my friend Jimmy moved away because there were a lot of Black people entering H-F and I had never heard that before. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. That was the first time I realized that: ‘Oh, there is a difference and people look at us differently.’”

His mother, a native of Kenya, explained what was happening “and after that conversation, it really broke my heart and I really wanted to get involved.” As a senior at H-F, the 18-year-old spearheaded one of the community’s Black Lives Matter marches this past summer.

Destiny Watson
She was just a child when her father died from police brutality “and that has kind of shifted my whole life experience. Granted, at the age of 5, I couldn’t really understand what was going on or the details of it, but as I grow older and started to see more things in the media, it really became apparent to me that this is what actually happened.”

“That really shaped me to be more involved with youth in the community in ways that I can impact them or just ways that can prevent them from becoming another statistic,” she said.

Destiny, 22, founded You Matter2, a nonprofit youth empowerment and community service organization, while at H-F. The organization’s newest effort is organizing a teen community center.

So how do you take these stories, share them, and take lessons from them? Do you see a solution to walking the line of racism? 

Rosalind Henderson-Mustafa
“Diversity without equity, without fairness, does not equal justice and I really think that’s where we are … we’ve been shown how to treat each other well, been shown through the Civil Rights Movement that rights are not a privilege, rights are what we deserve. We are not doing something to help people. We are correcting a wrong.

“The difference in rights and access is it may not always equal justice. What we can do today is really work toward justice. I see the Black Lives Matter movement focusing on the justice part.

“If I don’t value you as human, I can do untold things to you and I don’t look at you as a person. But if I understand the rich history that you bring…that your history goes back thousands of years. If I understand in this country you provided the economic engine — the free labor — that drove the world’s economic progress, then I can value that you struggled for hundreds of years. But, if I look at you and I see the stereotype and that’s all I see, it’s very difficult for me to be fair, very difficult for me to be just.”

Eugene Dumas
““Knowledge is power: the biggest thing that young people in the Black Lives Matter and other organizations need to understand. You’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to be able to anticipate what’s going to happen tomorrow as a result of what you’re doing today.

“Get to know what the world is like that you’re going to live in. Avoid becoming filled with hate. Hate can be a burden that holds you back. The other thing is … positive things about Black people have been hidden over the years on purpose.”

His advice: Read to learn, whatever your age. Dumas especially recommends Isabel Wilkerson’s 2020 book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent,” which outlines caste systems in India, Nazi Germany and the U.S. and how the system harms whole groups of people. The book is the subject of the One Book, One Flossmoor program, which will include a discussion forum on Feb. 18.

Jazz Jabulani
“Story telling and the act of story telling is part of many cultures, but especially important in the Black culture because that’s how we pass down our history. Education is the absolute best thing you can do.

“The book ‘This Book is Anti-Racist’ (by Tiffany Jewell) is a wonderful thing because it gives kids the vocabulary to describe what is going on around them — like micro-aggressions — because children are extremely, extremely intelligent. We all knew that things were off when we were kids, we just might not have the words to describe what was going on. This is a wonderful book for kids.

“Education, education, education is my last statement.”

Destiny Watson
“I think now young people are starting to become more educated, especially on Black history. During high school and grade school, we’re only taught about the Civil Rights Movement through Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, and so I think now a lot more history is coming out on what we didn’t learn in school.

“When I was an undergrad, I went on a Civil Rights tour to Memphis, Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery and that was a time for education for me. I learned so many things that I had no idea even happened before. I think participating in things like that and having conversations with mature people who have lived through history — it’s definitely a step to learn from personal experiences. We should push for the curriculum to include more Black history that’s outside of the Civil Rights Movement.”

How can we take the lessons of our personal histories and use them to move our Homewood-Flossmoor community forward?

Rosalind Henderson-Mustafa
Blacks may now be able “to sit at the lunch counter,” but there is much more to work toward, Mustafa said.

“We can know people of different races and ethnicities but do we look at how this country can afford the same privileges to Black people as white people have accepted as their birthright? It’s a hard nut to crack.

“In the South Suburbs what are we teaching? Are we starting with the very young children to help them understand the value of everyone? In my opinion, only by understanding everyone’s value can we get any closer to fairness.

“I would like to see the curriculum changed in schools. I would like to see programming changed in organizations … I’d like to see fire and police involved in all of these conversations.

“So what we need to see … we talk about culture, but we don’t exclude talking about Black people worldwide and that’s what’s been done for generations pushing aside what’s so important to this world and to this country, as well as the South Suburbs.”

Eugene Dumas
“When I moved to Flossmoor, I became the executive director of the Center for Multicultural Communities … I was glad to know people in the Flossmoor area who recognized that there’d been a great deal of unfairness. We at the Center for Multicultural Communities conduct workshops on how do you navigate a multicultural society. How do you get people to understand that all human beings are of equal value. We were able to do that, to work with people.

“Despite all the progress we’ve made, it is quite evident there is still a great deal of misunderstanding, great deal of racism and otherings, and all these negative things are in existence in human relationships,” although Dumas believes the workshops and forums have brought about “significant changes.”

Dumas said the Center for Multicultural Communities has worked with young and old “to make things better. So this community is an example for the rest of the world to see. We want to work so that the young people in the area will become ambassadors for egalitarianism.”

Jazz Jabulani
“We grew up in a different generation in a very, very different community. A community where it’s very diverse,” yet he said there’s “lots of systemic stuff that you can’t see unless you’re looking for it. H-F is majority Black, but most of the AP students are white.

“This summer made me happy because I got active (in Black Lives Matter) and it made me sad because (I was) on the last bridge (in Chicago on May 28 during marches against the killing of George Floyd). It broke my heart because I heard my grandpa talking about people trying to cross the bridge in Selma, Alabama, and here I am on this bridge with the horses and police officers and it doesn’t change … same thing over and over.

“It gave me a lot of hope. I think the reason Black Lives Matter does so well is because there are so many people who can hear about it from the internet and social media. There were thousands of people who were ready to march across the bridge with me. That gave me hope, so that has been my experience.

“There’s a long way to go, but I’m extremely hopeful.”

Destiny Watson
“The community’s made a lot of progress. I think for me, we like to say Homewood and Flossmoor is a diverse community and that’s like our slogan to get people here, but in thinking about what does that mean and how it’s actually supported, other people in our community don’t look like us.

“I think this summer was a good example with the Black Lives Matter protests, the amount of people who came out. I would just like to see action behind people’s words and just not let this past summer be this past summer and continue that work for years to come.”

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