A Reading List for Black History Month

Harriet Tubman Monument in Bristol Pennsylvania

This past Monday night I had the pleasure of meeting lovely residents at the Montgomery County retirement community,  Foulkeways at Gwynedd.  I had been invited to present OUT FROM SLAVERY, my lecture about the African’s diaspora that began with their capture in the Motherland and their eventual Flight to Freedom.

Many Americans often dismiss slavery as insignificant, often moaning ,”Stop living in the past! …. Move on!” The era of slavery that brought us the Civil War is an event of  importance equal to the Indian Wars or the Lewis & Clark Expedition or the Building of the Railroads or others. This was my eighteenth presentation when at every conclusion, I leave a list of recommended books–non-fiction and fiction–that tell stories of the brave people in the abolitionist or anti-slavery movements and how thousands of slaves succeeded in escaping the inhumanity of their oppressors.

To lovers of history–I offer this selection which is the tip of the iceberg featuring hundreds of other books about this era of our Nation.

BEFORE FREEDOM Edited by Belinda Hurmence. Narratives of African American former slaves interviewed in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers’ Project.

THE BONDWOMAN’S NARRATIVE by Hannah Craft. This manuscript was discovered by Dr. Henry Gates, Jr. and purported to be the life of a former slave.

BOUND FOR CANAAN by Fergus M. Bordewich. Bordewich weaves the life of Josiah Henson in the struggle of the anti-slavery movement beginning in the 1800s to the 1870s.

GATEWAY TO FREEDOM by Eric Foner. A detailed history of the abolitionist and anti-slavery movement in New York.

KINDRED by Octavia E. Butler. A work of fiction by this African-American author whose published work is in the science fiction genre. This is about an African-American women living in the early 1970s transported back and forth to a plantation in the ante bellum South.

LANGHORN AND MARY by Priscilla Stone Sharp. Sharp’s research into the Stone family’s history brings the discovery of her white ancestor who married a free Black man. Taking place in Bucks County during the 1840s, Sharp weaves true events of anti-slavery and abolitionist Bucks County.

SLAVES IN THE FAMILY by Edward Ball. Ball traces his family’s legacy which begins with his ancestor’s arrival in South Carolina in the 1600s.

THE LIFE OF JOSIAH HENSON by Josiah Henson. Henson was born in slavery and eventually fled to freedom in Canada, often returning as a conductor to rescue slaves. Some of his life is written in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

THE U.S. COLORED TROOPS AT ANDERSONVILLE PRISON by Bob O’Connor. O’Connor has done meticulous research into the colored men who served in the Civil War and are buried in the Andersonville cemetery.

SOMEONE KNOWS MY NAME by Lawrence Hill. A fictional account of a former slave approaching her 60th year who recalls her life from the time she was abducted from Africa to her journey to Freedom.

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead. A fictional account of a young female slave who flees her plantation.  Whitehead creates his underground as a real train buried beneath the earth.

Curiosity always opens that door marked “Knowledge”.



“… Great Again” Really?

Since the infamous “shithole” statement uttered by the President of our United States, the print and cable commentators have reminded us that Trump’s 26% hard core voters are probably applauding yet another racist utterance from his mouth.

I live in Doylestown Borough where during the 2016 campaign season there were LOTS of Trump signs planted on the front lawns of homes. Pennsylvania went for him but the Borough went for Clinton. I wonder how many of those Trump voters in my community still support him, even as he continues to lack dignity or sanity. And I wonder how many Doylestown hard core Trump groupies hate Americans who are Black, Brown, Red or Yellow? Like me.

Six years ago a letter to the editor by a local woman was published in the “Intelligencer”. Christmas, the day of Good Will was a couple weeks away when she wrote:  “Santa Claus used to be a big fat man with a long white beard. Now, he is a skinny black man in a big white house.”

The paper published my rebuttal. As a ‘skinny black woman’, I invited her to engage in a dialogue about race. When a friend offered to facilitate the meeting, the woman declined. Instead she suggested I “go back to Africa.” Chalk up at least One Racist in my community.

Having traveled to the African countries of Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya, it is complicated when the president brands those nations and others as “shithole”.

Five hundred years ago European nations landed their ships on West African shores. They plundered Africa’s natural resources—humans included—shipping them back to countries in Europe, South America, America, or the Caribbean.

The mid-20th Century brought independence to African nations across the continent. After years of observing how their conquerors’ ruled, some African leaders chose to emulate their predecessors when ruling their freed people.

A few African rulers attempted to bring True Democracy. Last year I learned my African DNA traces to Ghana. When I traveled there in 1999, it captured my soul as soon as I planted my feet on its soil. That country–similar to all African countries–holds rich cultural histories that reach back thousands of years.

In 1957 Ghana was the first country liberated on the continent from the colonialists. Its first Ghanaian Prime Minister was Kwame Nkumah, educated in America. In its capital of Accra, there is a monument erected in honor of Kwame Nkumah.

While China crawls throughout the African continent grabbing its treasured minerals, America is led by a fool who continues to lie and who dismisses the second largest Continent on Planet Earth. Chinese funds constructed that monument to the first African Prime Minister who adopted American Democracy. During my 2015 sojourn to Kenya I traveled across roads built by China. China also funded the construction of the rail line from Nairobi to Mombasa.

For this American president demanding Africans stay “… in their huts” proves again his ignorance to America’s reputation around the World and his complete absence of empathy.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all the Freedom Marchers are weeping down on us from Heaven.

Washington DC Monument to Rev Martin Luther King, Jr.

A work in progress

After sending queries about my manuscript to publishers, only a couple of them had asked to read it. This had happened in 1986 and was my first attempt at writing a fiction novel. Rejection is a bitch. Knocked on my butt, I surrendered and put the manuscript in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet… and moved on.

Then last July during a phone conversation with my sister-in-law she asked about the manuscript. “You should try to publish your book. The time’s right.” She lives in California and her area has been plagued with instances similar to those I’d written into the plot. “Do it!”, she said.

My fiction novel had been written for the mature reader who like me, is drawn to occult novels. Speaking for myself, I’d become weary from so many novels on the shelves of book stores with negative themes. A few days after that phone call I pulled the manuscript from the cabinet. I opened the brown accordion folder and the title page, Call me Alice stared up at me. Looking down at the Artisan font, I could hear the metal ball on my old IBM Selectric bounce and agitate across the blank pages. The “thanks but no thanks” letters crossed my mind, reminding me again that my dream to become a published author had slipped away.

From page one and each page thereafter it was obvious that a LOT of editing was in front of me. Geez. Every chapter needed rewrites. A couple chapters were tossed and replaced with entirely new treatments. The characters—protagonists and antagonists—were as thin as a strand of yarn begging me to crochet them into granny squares. My ending sucked. It was NOT yet the ending. Four more chapters and an epilogue were added.

Throughout those years while the manuscript slept in the file cabinet I pursued other forms of writing, always filling my creative bank with places and people. It surprised me when bits and pieces from those life experiences drifted out and found their way on pages throughout the manuscript.

It’s better than before. I feel confident that it might get published. But before that might happen, four people are reading the manuscript: three women who embrace different essences of metaphysics and/or parapsychology; and a fourth my sister. Two others—a man and women–have also agreed to read it. When everyone’s suggestions and opinions are returned—it’s back to the computer. I’ve a longtime friend who has offered to critique it. She with her doctorate in education will wag her finger at me for bad grammar, sentence structure and all those other things good teachers do for their students.

Wish me luck.

“As for me, I’m ok.”

After my ex-husband Richard Spelts died on July 15 of this year, I helped my daughter Melanie–the only child from our marriage–clean out his apartment. With his only other living relatives in California and Oklahoma, it was her task to responsibly dispose of his belongings. Rummaging through the personal effects of someone who’s died, especially in my case because of our previous 14 years of marriage, I felt as if I was prying. Richard had remarried, but his wife Joanne preceded him in death. As I shuffled through dozens of photographs of the two of them with their friends, he seemed settled … content.

Richard had served in Vietnam from 1967 through 1968. We had married in 1969 and like thousands of veterans who had returned from the battlefield, he too struggled to shed  the demons of war: nightmares, flashbacks, overmedication of alcohol or drugs, sporadic employment, and marital strains. Back then the Veterans Administration had just begun recognizing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as a consequence of war that required treatment. Often I had felt hopelessly unprepared to help him toward wholeness.

Richard was a tunnel rat with the 1st Infantry Division. Throughout our marriage he rarely spoke to me about his service. In 1982 he had traveled to Washington, DC for the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and when he returned to Doylestown, a weight began to lift from his soul. When I take into account all our years of marriage, then leap forward to his life frozen in those photographs, I realized the support, love or comfort that I had offered was not enough.

By the time I’d reached the basement separating what to keep and what to toss, I picked up a plastic bag filled with straw baskets, threw it on the trash pile and discovered a tattered box, corners separated and damp, suffocating under that trash bag. I opened the lid and there they were. Letters he’d written while in Vietnam. I’d never seen them, unaware they existed. The letters must’ve been saved by his mother and when Richard and Melanie had flown out to California several years ago to visit his dad and siblings, maybe I guess, that is when they were given to him.

Letters from Vietnam, 1967-1968

I  brought the box home and carefully separated the letters to dry. Many of the envelopes and the letters inside, were difficult to read because the ink had bled into the thin paper. This was sad. Why, I wondered would he choose to carry these to the basement and forget they were there? Since then, with the best of care I’ve attempted to place them in the order in which he had written them. As I strained my eyes to decipher postal dates on the envelopes, I couldn’t help but recall those brief moments he had shared bits and pieces of his ‘Nam service to me. Wounded twice, his letters while hospitalized, described his injury and his treatment.  Always he opened every one of his letters with, “I hope this finds all of you well. As for me I’m ok.”

Richard was 70 when he died of complications from cancers that ravaged his body. In this day and age, 70 is young. However, the cancers from Agent Orange, which Richard had been exposed to had also taken away thousands of other men and women who served in-country during that war. Richard was diagnosed last year with one of the three Agent Orange cancers approved for VA disability. Somehow, according to the caregiver and friend who oversaw all of his medical treatment, a denial was issued which kept him from increasing his 30% disability to 100%.

Numerous times over the years whenever I learn of another Vietnam Veteran who’s cancer took him or her away, I recall a book I’d read in the early 80s, a testimony to the slowness of the Veterans Administration to recognize this horrible killer as an approved disability. If you can find this book, get it.

WAITING FOR AN ARMY TO DIE by Fred A. Wilcox. Published in 1983, he writes about the veterans, families, physicians, scientist and lawyers who dealt with this disease.

Today, Men and Women Veterans are reflecting on their service to our Nation. I think of all of you this day, a special one that Richard, now at peace was not able to.

Charlottesville, Virginia: Let the Design Competition Begin!

General Robert E. Lee may have been a strategic General during the Civil War, but history records another side of him as published in a June 4, 2017 article in “The Atlantic” by Adam Serwer. General Lee was a slave owner and a “Christian”. That religious label explains why, in the excerpt of this letter written by Lee he gave this feeble justification for slavery:

 ” … The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, …” 

Since 2012, I’ve occasionally presented “Out From Slavery” — a lecture to audiences in Bucks County and Montgomery County about the struggles of my ancestors–some from Virginia–who fled to Freedom.  In my family we discovered an ancestor who served as a Station Master from his home in Reading, Pennsylvania, posting coded letters to Abolitionist William Still in Philadelphia. After presenting nearly a dozen of these presentations, I’ve come to realize that racism flourished because of America’s ignorance about slavery’s roots.

On Saturday August 14, 2017 American terrorists–collectively the alt right–swooped down on the sleepy beautiful community of Charlottesville with their racist shouts and assaults. Wrapped around their minimally educated brains were the red baseball caps of the current president’s campaign slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’. Anger soared off the charts when death, hate and bodily injury filled the streets of Charlottesville.

Two Virginia State Troopers, there to protect the lives of law-abiding protestors, died when their helicopter crashed in a nearby golf course: Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Pilot Berke M.M. Bates.  These two troopers had served on Governor Terry McAuliffe’s security team.

Nineteen people were injured, almost all when a demented white supremacist plowed his car into hundreds of citizens in the street. I will not put his name in this post.

Heather Heyer, a resident of Charlottesville died after she was mowed down by that car. Thirty-two years old, she lived her life speaking out for the oppressed. My heart bleeds for her mother whose soul remains strong as she grieves the untimely death of her daughter.

After the government of Charlottesville voted to remove the statue of General Lee from Emancipation Park, the crazy racists climbed out of the swamp and invaded the city. It’s a given that a crane the size of a dinosaur will pull this statue from its base. On Monday August 14 Mayor Jim Gray of Lexington Kentucky announced that two monuments in that city will be relocated to different sites. That same day protesters in Durham, North Carolina took it upon themselves to tear down a Civil War monument in front of the court house.

Throughout the thirteen southern states that fought in the Civil War, their cities and towns are littered with Confederate monuments. Since Charlottesville, city governments throughout the south wrestle with deciding the fate of their Confederate monuments.

About the only land in America where it’s possible these monuments will remain is across the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg National Battlefield. If you’ve traveled there, you observed history in the three-dimensional monuments cast in bronze and mounted on granite. Thirteen monuments of the Southern states. Twenty of the same of the Northern states. And thousands of markers where the remains of soldiers from the north and south dot the green fields of Gettysburg. That land is a reminder to us that when the fabric of America is ripped, we suffer. We lose a piece of ourselves..

In early 2017, Charlottesville approved the removal of the General Lee statue. It ultimately led up to  the tragic events this past Saturday. Now there is an opportunity for Charlottesville to replace that statue in Emancipation Park with one that will speak of inclusion, liberty, peace, justice and tolerance. A monument that will honor the memories of those who Protect and Serve and those who speak out against racism.

Charlottesville, Virginia: Let the Design Competition begin!

Lisa’s in school!

Lisa — Eager and Ready to Learn.

It was February 2015, on my second sojourn to Maasailand in Kenya when I decided to sponsor annual school fees for a girl student. Along with the two other committee members of the Maasai Cultural Exchange Project (MCEP) our ten day itinerary also included an evening meal at the family home of John Sakuda. John had been a valued facilitator at our scheduled MCEP visits in the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 while he lived in America. He returned to Kenya shortly thereafter.

When we arranged our 2015 fact finding trip we were looking forward to seeing him again. As it happened, we were thrilled to discover that John would be our guide during our sojourn to the village. The day before flying back to America, we drove to John’s home  where I met Lisa–one of his daughters–and decided to sponsor her education. Lisa is now in “Grade Two” and like other Maasai children, thrives on attending school. Each December I donate the required $150.00 annual tuition that also pays for her mandatory school uniform.

Recently I emailed John asking for a picture of Lisa and how she was progressing at school.

John writes that she is almost 3 feet tall and 45 pounds. He adds, “… Lisa’s favorite toy is her cat, a real cat … she loves this cat the most. Whenever she comes from school she has to feed it. Sometimes the cat goes in the neighborhood but Lisa makes sure she brings him back to her home. Lisa is afraid of cows. She says they are wild animals and they have horns that can harm people. Yet Lisa has no fear of goats.”

John continues, “I used to have goats at home. Lisa liked them and she could milk them and give her Mum Susan the milk for the family’s chai (black tea with sugar and milk).” The Maasai diet of chapatti (similar to a flour tortilla), meat, Sukuma (chopped kale or collards in oil)  or variations of Sukuma are favorites in Lisa’s diet. “She helps at home, sweeping the house…washing dishes and taking responsibility for washing her socks and school uniform.” John writes that Lisa never fails to tell him how much “… she loves me…”. And finally he writes …”always Lisa asks me to remind her … to do her homework.” 

Lisa is one child in John’s large family that includes a son in university and two other sons in high school, all benefiting from some amount of MCEP donations. Another daughter is under the sponsorship of a church.

There are children–mostly girl children–in developing countries across the planet where some cultures do not allow girls to attend school. Fortunately, the NGO that  MCEP partners with encourages girls to get an education.

The other morning while listening to BBC/NPR–they reported on Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl  who in 2012 at age 15, nearly died after an assassination attempt on her life because of her public advocacy for girls’ education. Now graduated and 20 years old Malala visits and interacts with girls in developing countries who are  denied an education. MCEP is familiar with Malala because one of our Maasai woman was featured in my April 19, 2015 post (Leah Loto: Also known as Mama Leah). For a brief time Leah was employed by ‘Free The Children’ the Canadian organization that Malala is affiliated with.

In 1999 during my first sojourn to the African country of Ghana, a young girl walked up to me and asked for my address. Annabelle Elliamo was in her mid-teens and living with her widowed father. A few weeks into our correspondence she asked me to help her with tuition fees so she could finish her education. Annabelle is now a teacher in her Ghanaian village.

Typical school grounds and building for Maasai students

It’s Lisa’s journey to learn now and I’ve no doubt she will follow in the path of the other Maasai  students who’ve been sponsored by MCEP I’ve no doubt that she too will become a major contributor to her community.

A Maasai school classroom



Honoring American Women Warriors

Vietnam Women’s Memorial, Washington DC

In early 1980, Dan Fraley, a Lower Southampton, Pennsylvania United States Marine veteran who served in Vietnam during the war, initiated a campaign to place a Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Bucks County to honor military service members who died or went “Missing In Action”. My curiosity led me to wonder if there were any female military personnel who might be part of the Bucks County Memorial.

No Bucks County female would be on that list but I discovered there were eight military nurses who died in Vietnam during that war. It became my mission to find out who they were, where they lived, where they served and how they died. At that time I was married to a combat Veteran who had served in Vietnam during 1968. I became a voracious follower of any coverage of the war yet never recalled any news about women who served or died in Vietnam. Considering the unpopularity of the war, coverage of military women serving in-country rarely hit the news.

My goal then was to honor these eight women with brief biographies in a book titled “There are eight of them …”. Interviews began with family, friends and veterans. But I bumped up against a wall after completing first drafts of three nurses.

Women have been warriors in conflicts beginning with the Revolutionary War up through our present day. What disheartens me most are recent media reports describing the continued disrespect against women in uniform, much of it coming from their Brothers in Arms.

Since WWI the role of women in uniform and their MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), limited them to tasks behind battle lines. When the MOS expanded with our Nation’s conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, opportunities for these women brought them close to or in some incidences, onto the battlefield.

The Afghanistan-Iraq wars took 139 American women warriors who served their country. Six of those women warriors died while performing duties on the battlefield. 800 additional women warriors were wounded, many still struggling with physical and/or emotional injuries.

During the Vietnam War, one statistic numbers 7,484 women as having served in-country. 6,250 of that total were in the Nurse Corps, a majority of them female nurses. The eight women I researched, all shared the common objective to join the military to serve their country. When I interviewed other women veterans, they too had clung to that motivation to Serve their country.

This Memorial Day I will place flowers at the foot of the Bucks County Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Honor of the Eight:

2nd Lt. Carol Ann Drazba

U.S. Army Nurse Corps 2nd Lieutenant Carol Ann Drazba (December 11, 1945 – February 18, 1966). Home state Pennsylvania. Died in a helicopter crash outside of Saigon.

2nd Lt. Elizabeth Ann Jones

U.S. Army Nurse Corps 2nd Lieutenant Elizabeth Ann Jones  (September 12, 1943 – February 18, 1966. Home state South Carolina. Died in a helicopter crash outside of Saigon.

1st Lt. Hedwig Diane Orlowski

U.S. Army Nurse Corps 1st Lieutenant Hedwig Diane Orlowski (April 13, 1944 – November 30, 1967). Became American citizen; home state Michigan. Died in airplane crash on TDY (Temporary Duty)

Captain Eleanor Grace Alexander

U.S. Army Nurse Corps Captain Eleanor Grace Alexander (9 September 18, 1940 – November 30, 1967). Home state New Jersey. Died in airplane crash on TDY (Temporary Duty).

2nd Lt. Pamela Dorothy Donovan

U.S. Army Nurse Corps 2nd Lieutenant Pamela Dorothy Donovan (March 25, 1942 – July 8, 1968). Became American citizen; Home state Massachusetts. Died from in-country illness.

Lt. Col. Annie Ruth Graham

U.S. Army Nurse Corps Lieutenant Colonel Annie Ruth Graham (November 7, 1916 – August 14, 1968). Home state North Carolina, Colonel Graham served in 3 wars. Death was from natural causes.

1st Lt. Sharon Ann Lane

U.S. Army Nurse Corps 1st Lieutenant Sharon Ann Lane (July 7 1942 – June 8, 1965).  Home state Ohio. Died from enemy attack on hospital.

Capt. Mary Therese Klinker

U.S. Air Force Nurse Captain Mary Therese Klinker (October 3, 1947 – April 9, 1975). Home state Indiana. Died in plane crash.

I can’t leave this post before including women who’d served in Vietnam with the Red Cross and other civilian and religious capacities. Some still Missing.

The Bucks County Vietnam Memorial was dedicated on June 16, 1984, now one of hundreds of other Vietnam WarMemorials that have been sited across America. This Memorial Day please remember to include in your thoughts the Women Warriors who gave their lives and those who continue to serve our country.

Gunshots on a Street called Democracy

cnn.com photo

This campaign statement uttered by candidate Donald Trump bragged that no matter what he did, his supporters would always stay with him. Yet some have begun to fall away.

I keep hoping Congress will get the clue and impeach this foolish-erratic-childish person. It’s obscene how Trump supporters continue to cheer his decisions–from signing Executive Orders guaranteed to reverse environmental protections for Americans, to dismantling civil rights, to appointing Cabinet Members  bent on ignoring their federal mandates, to hoarding his taxes, to including his family into powerful government positions, to disregarding the Emoluments Clause, to disrespecting the press and his inconsistent statements of support or rejection for any policy, or nation or leader.

I’m a long-time political activist and one of millions of citizens who volunteered to elect Hillary Clinton. When, on October 28 2016, FBI Director James Comey notified the Senate Judiciary Committee about emails discovered on a laptop owned by Anthony Weiner–husband to Clinton Advisor Huma Abedin–it was a punch to my gut.

Even if you liked or disliked Comey, Trump’s Tuesday, May 9, 2017 firing of him was a cold, calculated and humiliating action slapped on a dedicated public servant.

While Trump chips away at our Constitution, legislators in Washington DC prefer to protect their butts. They’ve forgotten the purpose of the elected responsibility to their constituents.

Bullets continue to spray from White House windows onto the Street Called Democracy. His greedy actions disrespect the other branches of our government–some at American tax-payer expense:

Trump’s week-end tax-payer travels to Florida or other sites disrupt citizens who live and work around his numerous cash cow properties. The funds expended could keep a small developing country out of the red.

The Secret Service  is also emptying our tax coffers for the 24-7 safety of Trump’s wife and child at his New York golden decorated Tower. Let’s keep hoping his wife and child will move into the White House this summer. They Are The First Family, They Should Be in Washington.

Then there are the tax-payer funds for the Secret Service to protect Trump’s grown children, spouses and others each time they travel to places near and far around the globe promoting Daddy or their own Trump-connected products. My eyes hurt scrolling through numbers published by media outlets.

The firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates along with the removal of U.S. Attorneys across America from their posts was an abhorrent action.

The recall of senior State Department staff from their international stations has created a void of Good Will.

The Wall. So obsessed is he about building this thing that would separate Americans from one of our friendliest neighbors.

Russia. Putin. Hacking. And the shills who weaseled their way into his campaign.

Be wise be woke be knowing.  If Trump’s unbalanced behavior escalates, holes could turn our Constitution into a piece of lace. Our Fourth Estate–the Media–must continue their energy to surgically remove the infection crawling inside our Democracy.


(Photos by Doreen Stratton)

Five Maasai men walked on to the platform at the Hamilton, New Jersey Train Station. Instinctively, Phyllis Eckelmeyer walked over to them, because her daughter was leaving the next week to spend a year teaching in Kenya. She reached out her hand and said,  “Hello, do you speak English?” The Maasai were traveling to New York City to participate in the 2004 United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. They were an indigenous tribe of hundreds from across the globe traveling to the UN for this Forum.

The Forum as described in the UN’s 2005 archives’ focus was to “… deal with indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.”

Sharing the train to New York with the Maasai, Eckelmeyer heard how their lives were negatively impacted due to diseased-laden water. They said their two-minute speech before the UN would speak to the need for potable disease-free  water. After her return to Bucks County Eckelmeyer vowed– “I want to raise $30,000 to drill a well that’ll bring water to this Maasai village.”

She formed a non-profit: Maasai Cultural Exchange Project (MCEP). MCEP then came under the umbrella of Frog Pond Productions, an educational (501)(c)(3) organization in Point Pleasant Bucks County. A partnership was formed with an NGO in Kenya–Simba Maasai Outreach Organization (SIMOO), so that American donations could enhance SIMOO’s programs. Shortly thereafter, local media coverage brought a $30,000 anonymous donation to MCEP’s mailbox.

(MCEP Archive photo:  The drilling of “Christy’s Well”)

To document the drilling of this first well, in December 2005 Frog Pond and MCEP traveled to Kenya with a film crew. The well was named “Christy’s Well” after the anonymous donor. A Philadelphia film company–Shooters Post and Transfer–volunteered the crew and editing talents that ultimately produced a half-hour documentary titled QUENCH. The initial screening of QUENCH would take place in October 2014 at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Since 2005 and every year afterwards, at least two Maasai have traveled to Bucks County. They spoke in thousands of schools, houses of worship and professional organizations about their culture and heritage. Their message resulted in annual sponsorships to over 100 Maasai children in primary or secondary schools and colleges. More  importantly  donations came in for water projects. There are now seven wells sited across this village that encompasses an area the size of Bucks County.

“… three more wells.”

Maasai herders and women pay a small fee of a few shillings for the water they draw from the wells. Designated Maasai men are responsible for maintaining the wells, collecting fees, and ensuring that diesel fuel is available to keep the pumps operational. Pipelines snake away from the wells to strategically placed cisterns so that women walk less than two miles to fetch potable disease-free water. MCEP’s primary goal is for ten wells to be sited across their village. We are determined to secure funding for the final three wells.

Since 2005 women have also come into their own. Last March and April 2015, I posted  six blogs about Maasai women and their journey toward lives as independent business owners. Two are pictured below with Phyllis, taken when in 2015 I traveled to Kenya with Phyllis and Education Coordinator Alice Sparks. We toured well sites, schools and spent enjoyable hours with our Maasai friends, delighting over the positive changes since our visits a few years ago.

Sarah Senewa and Grace Suyianta Salau with Phyllis Eckelmeyer

These changes are also bringing progress (some good, some not so good) to the Maasai village. A safe house is sheltering and educating over 100 young girls who had fled from early arranged marriages or female genital mutilation (FGM is banned in Kenya). The Kenyan government is constructing a vocational school where village boys and girls can enroll to gain income earning skills. Giant transmission towers are planted across Maasailand as they march from Nairobi toward Mombasa on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Oil has been discovered offshore from Mombasa and this infrastructure will bring a cultural crises to the Maasai community.

Water is Important.

The wells have brought land speculators to Olosho oibor who wave small amounts of cash in front of landowners in attempts to persuade them to sell their land. SIMOO is pushing back against the speculators by cautioning their tribal members the consequences of selling their land: How it would lead to the extinction of their ancient culture and heritage. Although we noticed  contemporary homes under construction we also spotted hand-painted signs declaring properties Not For Sale.

Land speculators invading Maasailand. One of several  “no sale” signs we saw during our tour.

“A drought is decimating the Maasai community … “

Climate change has created a drought that is decimating the Maasai community as well as many other parts of Africa. I wrote about it’s effect on the Maasai in my February 17, 2017 post, “Climate Change is real”. Shortages of food are so prevalent that the Massai have forsaken their valued herds in favor to feed their most vulnerable: the elderly and the young. MCEP recently wired funds so SIMOO could set up a food security program.

The Maasai word for “Luck” is Namunyak (Na-men-YAK). “Luck” can sometimes move beyond one positive gesture. The Maasai decreed that Eckelmeyer be given the name “Namunyak” to honor how a handshake between strangers transformed their village. I get goosebumps looking back at the many gifts that have come to the Maasai since her 2004 greeting on that Hamilton New Jersey train platform. The gift I cherish the most is the empathy and curious energy always expressed by youngsters in classrooms and assemblies after listening to our Maasai friends.

On Friday April 7, Phyllis Eckelmeyer will receive the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award for her Humanitarian efforts.

Congratulations Namunyak!

Phyllis, John Sakuda and Alice Sparks taken at our 2015 Fact Finding Tour. John was our rock star on visits to schools in 2011 and 2012 while living in America. He is now back in Kenya caring for his family and cattle.


International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day. And it’s A Day Without A Woman, a Day that blossomed out of the January 21, 2017 marches that took place around the planet.  Today I won’t be buying anything and will wear red. I’m retired so am home writing this post that reviews the book– “Remembering The Ladies: From Patriots In Petticoats To Presidential Candidates”.

Amazing American Women

“Remembering The Ladies … ” by Carol Simon Levin celebrates 63 strong women who  made differences in our nation. Who, when you pick up this book, will be your favorites from these heroines? The women are featured in sections denoting their legacies.

Founding Mothers; Abolitionists and Suffragists; Advocates for Worker, Immigrants, Women’s and Civil Rights; Women who served in either the House-Senate-Supreme Court-The State Department or Tribal Government. The final section lists those pioneer-women who traveled on the bumpy Road to the White House.

In single page mini-biographies, every one of these women’s accomplishments tell how they impacted the lives of others. 35 female artists created illustrations for each  narrative. Marketed as “… a coloring book”, you’re welcome to spend leisure hours with colored pencils or crayons to satisfy your artistic delights. Each biography includes recommendations for additional reading or historical sites to visit.

As one who presents stories to audiences about slavery and the flights to freedom, my interest was reading about seven women who are featured in the section–Abolitionists and Suffragists.   Although Harriet Tubman, Lucretia Mott and Sojourner Truth were known to me, what a pleasant surprise to read about four additional women!

Phillis Wheatley 1753-1784

In 1761 when a six-year old African girl arrived in Boston on the slave ship ‘Phillis’, John Wheatley and his wife Susannah named her Phillis Wheatley.  John was a merchant, tailor and progressive thinker. He and Susannah realized that Phillis was a bright child and directed their daughter to oversee Phillis’ education. Later, their son introduced Phillis to Latin. Phillis wrote her first poem at the age of 14. At the time of her death at age 31 she became recognized as the first published African-American woman.

Sarah and Angelina Grimke were siblings–born thirteen years apart. Raised in South Carolina they soon turned to abolitionism, after moving north. They became friends with William Lloyd Garrison–Abolitionist and publisher of The Liberator. The sisters went on the speaking circuit and organized “parlor talks” for other women, one way for women to become part of a movement dominated by men. Women were not visible on the speaking circuit but these two caused a backlash each time they spoke in public. They also wrote letters to ladies in the south, imploring them to free their slaves. As suffragists they became outspoken on behalf of women’s rights. Sarah authored a declaration questioning property laws and other repressive laws that favored husbands.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was born free in 1825. With her ability to read and write she too was a poet, and a novelist, an abolitionist and an advocate for women’s rights. At 20 her first book of poetry was published, followed by a second book in 1854. She was outspoken about education of the “colored race.” Alongside William Still a Philadelphia abolitionist, she helped fugitive slave on the Underground Railroad that led them into Canada. Frances helped found the National Association of Colored Women in 1894, serving in that capacity until her death in 1911.

These are just bits from each of a few bios that Levin collected for this book. For teachers it’s an excellent resource for your classes. For parents I recommend this as one additional book on your children’s bedside stand for story-time.

Never during my youth were there inspirations to learn about any of the women gracing the 160 pages of Carol Simon Levin’s book. If I had one prayer to take flight on this Day Without A Woman, it would be for society to open their eyes, hearts and minds.  Women hold up half the sky, right along with Men.