Celebrate Black history project highlighted the Black oral heritage among people of African blood, whose ancestors presumably originated storytelling with the creation of civilization in Africa. In the spotlight is storyteller Karima Amin we caught with her for a interview on the black history month here's what she had to say.
How did you get started in your career and/or Organization?
That's a good question, since I have always worked at doing several things at one time. Which career? Which organization? From the time that I was in second grade, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I had fantastic teachers throughout my elementary and high school years and in 1969, my dream became a reality. I loved teaching and had some great experiences, working with grades 7 - 12. 25 years later, I resigned from the Buffalo Public Schools in 1994 to pursue storytelling as my full-time occupation. I had been telling stories since the 1980's. I officially retired from the Buffalo Public Schools in 2002. In 1994, storytelling took me into New York State prisons. What I learned and people I met, led to the founding of Prisoners Are People Too in 2005. This organization is now entering its ninth year of prisoner justice advocacy. It is an incorporated 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization, and has chapters in Erie and Niagara counties. I am also an author, having had several books and articles published. I am most proud of The Adventures of Brer Rabbit and Friends which can be found at Amazon.com. It includes stories created by my people during the era of Enslavement. In the interest of providing community education, my articles on criminal injustice are printed monthly in The Challenger, The Buffalo Criterion, Building Bridges, and occasionally, The Buffalo Bullet.
What were some of the cultural influences that made an impact on you?
There have been multiple cultural influences in my life. My family, my parents in particular, have had a profound impact on me. Though my parents (Harvey Aiken and Bessie Mabry Aiken) joined The Ancestors years ago, they are still with me, guiding and protecting. I have two sisters, Elizabeth and Wendy Aiken, and a strong extended family, that has always loved and cared about me. A belief in a Higher Power (God/Allah) was instilled in me at a very early age. This is my "power source." The music, stories, and poetry of my people have always given me exactly what I've needed in my cultural growth and development. I was blessed to be influenced by the 1960's Black Arts and Black Power Movements. My mother often said, "When you know who you are, you can go anywhere." Both Movements taught me that. I discovered strength and beauty in my Blackness. She also said, "You don't need a lot to do a lot; take the best of what you have and do your best with it." All of this has made me who I am and I have tried to share this with my three children and with all whom I've encountered.
How important is History to you and how has that shaped who you are today?
Who are we without history? How can we know who we are or where we are without it? How can we look to a future without some knowledge based on history? I am a reflection of my elder-folks. I listened to their stories and I am still listening. I have asked questions and I need to ask more. If I could return to the past, I would ask the questions that I didn't know how to ask at that time. I understand that knowledge of my history is critical. I am always asking questions and listening. John Henrik Clarke, a noted African American scholar said: "History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are but, more importantly, what they must be."
If you could go back in time as one person in Black History who would it be and why?
I am a great admirer of Ida B. Wells (Barnett). She was born in 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi and died in 1931. For all of her life, she was a fighter and outspoken radical at a time when women rarely assumed such a stance. At an early age, after losing both parents to yellow fever, she disguised herself as an older person (she was 16), got a teaching job, and took over the responsibility of raising her younger siblings. Later she attended Rust and Fisk Universities. She became a journalist and editor of a newspaper that she founded, "Free Speech." She also authored "The Red Record," a book which documented thousands of lynchings in America. When the "Free Speech" office was burned to the ground by the KKK, she rebuilt it and continued her work, despite threats on her life. "The Red Record" sold around the world and America's ugliness was exposed in a way that hadn't been done before. After marrying F. L. Barnett, an attorney and newspaper editor, she moved to Chicago and continued her anti-lynching crusade. Ida B. Wells was also well-known as a suffragist who fought for women's rights, especially the right to vote. Like all of the Black women whom I admire, yesterday and today, she was strong, honest, bold, confident, diligent, loving, kind, and God-fearing, ---willing to step up and speak out against injustice.
As we look at the rich cultural history of Buffalo visually from the project how does it make you feel and what do you feel people should take from it?
I am a native Buffalonian and I love this city in spite of its flaws. This is my home. Hopefully, people will see that we are vibrant, strong, and resilient. You can't keep us down. Black Buffalonians have distinguished themselves in every arena of life...education, the arts, politics, entrepreneurship, literature, architecture, medicine, fashion, religion. Sports...and the list goes on. We are rich!
Any project coming and where can people find your work, business and/or organization?
I love storytelling. With Sharon Jordan Holley, I co-founded Tradition Keepers: Black Storytellers of WNY and We All Storytellers. Information about my storytelling can be found at my website: www.karimatells.com. You can find Tradition Keepers on Facebook is also a co-founder of Daughters of Creative Sound, an African American women's drum and percussion ensemble. Find us on Facebook. Information about Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. can be found at our website: www.prp2.org. We also have a Facebook page.
What footprint on History would you like to leave or open the doors too?
My high school history teacher, Mrs. Ora Curry, was one who inspired me to be a teacher. She was a great teacher. Whenever we left each other’s company, she never said, "Good-bye." She always said, "Be good." Years later, long after high school, she still said, "Be good." I have tried to "be good" and I have always tried to give my best, just like my mother said I should. Perhaps some will remember me for that.
For more info on the black history project go to : https://www.facebook.com/celebrateblackhistorybuffalo