ULEM 100th Anniversary and the 2020 Census (Pt. 1)

Urban League List of Problems 1919
Image from "The Vantage Point" newsletter published by ULEM/President Darnell Williams, dated 16-Feb-2019

The Urban League of Massachusetts Boston celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding on 16-May-2019. The ULEM newsletter "The Vantage Point" of 16-Feb-2019 featured this image of a typewritten list of problems as "viewed by the League" in 1919.

There are several items that had and still have implications beyond Boston's borders.

At the recent Equal Opportunity and Diversity Breakfast held at the State Street pavilion at Fenway Park, 14-May, diversity in employment was a prominent topic. Some companies related their hiring history consisting of who one knew/how one was related to existent employees; a practice they were in the process of changing.

The construction trade was another area that is undergoing similar change. Among these observations the phrase "There's much left to do" was repeated several times.

Some concerns of 1919 have given way to more broader focus. In 2020 the United States Census will once again be conducted.

At the Urban League Guild meeting on Saturday preceding the 100th anniversary, president Darnell Williams attended and gave the guild members a very informative presentation; one discussion centered on the communities of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan historically low participation in the census.

He said that many don't know that the census figures into allocation of funds from various government sources. (Subsequent research on the internet revealed it can have an adverse impact on philanthropic and non profit sources too.)

It also costs the state in political representation.

"And most importantly, an inaccurate census will
deprive communities of fair political representation in the U.S. Congress, the Electoral College and state and
local legislatures." -- To Be Equal #22 May 31, 2019 Congressional Hearing in Queens Highlights Challenges and
Importance of 2020 Census

Research shows there is significant distrust as to how responses to the census will be used, particularly the newly proposed citizenship question.

Given the past 2 or more years and what we're living through now, the choice is clear that if this distrust prevents full participation, there's a strong probability that dreadful (or worse?) consequences will be unavoidable.

In another post I will comment on more technical aspects to this burning issue, but it is plaintively obvious that merely ignoring the census because of being "too busy" or disinterested, is inimical to the interests of the community.

symbolic census overlay images
Composite image created from public domain images by Brandon Guillermo. All rights reserved 2019.

Why We Are Doing It: One POV

Sly Stone released an album June 30, 1973 called “Fresh” and on it is a tune: “Thankful N’ Thoughtful”. A lyric from that tune is “People got to be reminded, where it’s really at...”

Project Chain of Change takes that admonition/observation/whatever you want to call it...seriously.

History has to be kept in the foreground from a variety of sources whether we’re paying attention or not. Reinterpretation is a constant (and in not a few instances, double-edged sword). I think in 2018 we’re between Santayana’s aphorism “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, and one often attributed to Mark Twain “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

To put it as objectively as possible, let’s agree that reminders can certainly help.

The Landscape

So we look around us in 2018 and what do we see?

Symbolic Protest Crowd

Conflict and movements, insult and injury masquerading as anti political correctness, a torrent of information (or “data”) that generates more questions than answers, and a low signal to noise ratio of epidemic proportions. That’s just part of the cynical view.

There is the countervailing view that what has transpired and is transpiring, has galvanized greater participation in politics including candidates for various offices, and marshaled tremendous demonstrations in response to those who choose to follow demagoguery.

The Power of Art


A series on PBS called “Civilizations” examines the impact of art on history. I seem to recall the first episode made the statement “Art Is History.”

For those that needed a reminder of the power of art, this resonates. What we see, hear and acquire knowledge of is framed daily by music and artistic expression. Inevitably we associate all of that experience. Music is the sound-track and backdrop.

Most assuredly that which is conscious-raising transcends time. It brings a new way of seeing things which leads to a new way to see ourselves. It does not matter that the necessity for the message still exists, only that it persists.

Mel King has been acutely aware of music’s impact, if only measured by the music produced from books of poetry he’s written. Dr. Cheryl Holmes, who participated in recording that music had been percolating the idea of a live presentation of the book for several years. Mel’s wife Joyce King, an activist in her own right, is an invaluable contributor with special insight to changing neighborhood dynamics.

Inspiration and Enlightenment

I’ve found inspiration and enlightenment from much of jazz, soul, some gospel and rock, fusion, African diaspora folkloric and Afro-Latin throughout my life.

I chose tumbadores (popularly known albeit a misnomer as “congas”) as my instrument because of the history of suppression, stereotyping and attempts to smother/erase the culture it is a product of. They were a part of a demonstration at Lincoln Center when Ed Bullin’s play “The Duplex” was performed. [https://www.nytimes.com/1972/03/19/archives/bullins-its-not-the-play-i-wrote-bullins-its-not-the-play-i-wrote.html]

Playing tumbadores has always been more than a “stress reliever” for me.

When Dr. Holmes approached me with the concept of Chain of Change I thought the timing was quite right. That perception has been amplified many times over in the ensuing months.

I’ve also seen radical changes in the old Harlem neighborhood where I grew up. I see it all around me now. I never forgot the knock on my door of my first real apartment in the Fenway a couple of years after moving in,  and a woman handing me an envelope accompanied by the somewhat melodious warning-style announcement “You’re going condo!”

More acutely, now that we have video at our disposal, disputes about what is captured is a whole new level of concern adding to the horror of the events.

I arrived in Boston around the time the Tent City protest was reaching a close, unaware of the social strife in housing, but I certainly witnessed the turmoil with busing and conflict between communities (sometimes up close and personal).

The protests, culture and art of the 60’s and being around those “woke” (as the current saying goes), as well as reading (Alex Haley, Malcolm X, Hunter Thompson, etc.), turned out to be a prerequisite. I viewed the right to vote (and the implied fairness of 1 vote per person) as a settled matter through the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

More subtle injustices (i.e. gerrymandering) became apparent as I grew older.
In fact, one of the books I read within the last 12 years that had a real impact on me was “A People’s History of the United States” by professor Howard Zinn.

Talk about an eye-opener!

Now, I’ve read Chain of Change and see a mission to join others in maintaining the message: we must be vigilant and constantly working actively against forces that would tear our democracy asunder. Among those are Mel, Joyce and Cheryl.

We choose to serve...with our consciences...

Some say Boston is the ‘cradle of liberty’.  And I love liberty.

-- Brandon Guillermo

A Link

We have all been here before.

We have all been here before...

But each time we get a little harder, we get a little tougher, we get a little stronger.

We've got to be calmer, we've got to be cooler. We've got to stay together.

I've borrowed (paraphrased) some lyrics from some of my favorite songs that begin to express what Chain of Change is about and what it is to be.

Meeting Mr. Mel King (author of "Chain of Change")  personally in October 2017 was quite an honor and one I would not have imagined happening in my lifetime. I was only peripherally aware of him and his influence on events in my early days of residence in Boston in the 1970's and not fully conscious of the myriad and subtle ways exploitation and injustice can permeate.

I am a child of the 60's. While I witnessed the marches and assassinations and riots that took place (not just on TV) I had yet to comprehend the combinations of ways subjugation and oppression can be levied.

Chain of Change has been an invaluable part of that education.

And now, with an idea first borne by Dr. Cheryl Holmes and Mr. King (with acknowledgments to Ms. Joyce King, his spouse) my awareness has multiplied by an order of magnitude.

[UPDATE: 06/13/18. Ed Tundidor, referred by Dr. Holmes, is now a member of the project team and providing a wealth of experience in digital resources and trends.]

As an artist, I've always seen the arts as a force for change, (even in my most cynical moments) and this work has reinvigorated that outlook. Not to mention events of 2016 and beyond...

So the time has come to expose another layer (or more accurately layers) of the meaning of Chain of Change.

Benefit from the shared experience....

-- Brandon Guillermo, owner of Diverse Elements

Chart Your Course