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From the Desk of Lynne Algrant: Thoughts on History During Black History Month

As Black History Month winds down, I have been reflecting on how personal history can be or should be. Sadly, history is rarely taught this way—and so many kids and later adults think they do not like history.

But I have always found history to be a living and breathing thing. I like to get wrapped up in the personalities, the clothes, the food, and the smells.

Years ago, I found some letters that my Great Uncle Vivian wrote to Carol in the 1920’s. They had met in Harlem and were dating, but for reasons that are not quite clear, she went back to Chicago to stay with her brother.

Vivian writes charmingly of going to see a “talking picture show,” having his wallet stolen by a pick pocket on the subway and being certain that the “telephone girl” did not give them their whole ten minutes when he called, cutting them off before he could finish everything he wanted to say.

In some letters he wonders when she will return or asks her plaintively to come back.

One letter fell out of the envelope in pieces. Carol tore it up and then put the pieces back. Snoop that I am, I taped it together—one stack of pieces had gone missing and there was a hole through all 5 pages. In this letter, Vivian, the scold, appears. He had been calling, but she was never at home. “Living the high life and galivanting around leads to the downfall of women,” he warned in a fit of jealousy.

The tiny pieces of the letter tell us just what she thought of this patronizing misyogny.

Eventually Carol returned to Harlem and they married. They lived in Harlem through the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression and WWII, the dynamic years of the 60’s and through the troubled years of the 70’s. They experienced great changes over the course of their lifetimes and were always willing to share those stories.

In these early days of 2021, we must remember that history is a living and breathing thing. A couple of weeks ago, my daughter called to say that the class project on “How to Make Theater on Zoom” that she and her Directing 2 college classmates produced last spring is going to be in the pandemic archive at the Library of Congress!

Our grandchildren and great grandchildren will want to know “What was the pandemic, the social unrest, the 2020 election like? How did it feel? What did you do?”

We make history every day. In fact, we are history. And as Lin Manuel Miranda reminds us “history has its eyes on us.”

2021 is our opportunity to change the course of history with the decisions we make, the policy changes for which we advocate, the people we help.

At Greater Bergen we will be focused on shaping history to provide better opportunities for everyone in our community. We hope you will join us.

Lynne Harwell Algrant

Lynne Algrant is the Vice President of Planning, Development & Communications at Greater Bergen Community Action, Bergen County's designated anti-poverty organization. She spent the better part of her career working to eliminate the barriers to economic prosperity for all in her community. Lynne founded H 10 A Consulting, a practice focused on issues of leadership and effectiveness. She was formerly CEO of Bergen Volunteers; the Councilmember-at-Large for the City of Englewood, NJ; Executive Director of The Albert G. Oliver Program; and Program Manager of The Cleveland Executive Fellowship.


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