“We are still America.
We know the rumors of our disappearance.
We spit them out. They die soon.
-Joy Harjo, 23rd Laurette Poet of the United States, Muscogee (Creek) Nation
Rumors of America’s death are premature and exaggerated. We might be knee deep in muddy Mississippi, but before we write off, you better look at our history. We have already fallen. By coming together as a people, we have found a way to come up. Often we have been better for the climb. We are learning. We teach. We come together.
As of this writing, Penn State is preparing to host over 107,000 fans for a White Out game at Beaver Stadium. Last Saturday we were among 105,000 who watched the Lions beat Ball State. We wore masks but many others did not. Football, volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball invite fans to come back.
People don’t just get together in sports arenas. People also congregate in other places. West College Heights brought back its annual Ruth Fergus Memorial picnic after ignoring it last year. Democratic mayoral candidate Ezra Nanes invited his neighbors to listen to Miss Melanie sing a fair blues. On Friday there was a POW / MIA remembrance ceremony on the old main lawn. It was a 24-hour joint vigil that included a 21-gun salute, guest speakers and a performance by the Penn State Air Force ROTC a cappella group. Actor / musician Craig Meyer paid an Elton John tribute titled “Remember When Rock Was Young: The Elton John Tribute” at Pullo Center in Penn State York.
Broadway shows have started filming again. The cinemas have reopened. If you couldn’t go to New York; New York came to State College. Stephen Carpenter, dean of the College of Arts and Architecture, and Sita Frederick, newly appointed director of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State, hosted a weeklong residency by Mwenso and the Shakes, a brilliant Harlem-based musical ensemble, New York. They appeared several times during the week and concluded with a free performance in the Eisenhower Auditorium shopping center on Thursday evening in the presence of several hundred delighted and masked spectators.
Aquila Kikora Franklin, associate professor at the Penn State School of Theater and artistic director of the Roots of Life Dance Company, performed with her student troupe. Franklin is known worldwide as the creative developer of the Mojah Technique and she also developed a student program for the State College Area School District.
According to his biography, Michael Mwenso, who hosts CPA’s monthly “Meeting the Moment”, began singing and playing the piano after moving to London from his birthplace in Sierra Leone. At 16, Michael began leading his own band and performing with local jazz groups. At the end of 2010, Wynton Marsalis invited him to join the Jazz at Lincoln Center programming team. Mwenso ran the after-hours program at Dizzy’s Club. He formed Mwenso & the Shakes, a unique troupe of global artists who fuse the expression of jazz and blues through African and African-American music. Members of the group come from Sierra Leone, London, South Africa, Greenwich Village, Madagascar, France, Jamaica and Hawaii. The Shakes now call Harlem home.
So brothers and sisters, despite the persistence of the pandemic, raging forest fires, floods and hurricanes, disorganized military disengagement, ill-conceived inconsistencies of our fellow citizens, we still find paths through the smoke and darkness. In light of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, one of the ideas we share is “E pluribus unum”, among many others. This means that no one person or party can guide us through the storm. But, by working together, we can turn the tide.
Charles Dumas is a lifelong political activist, a professor emeritus at Penn State, and was the Democratic Party’s candidate for the United States Congress in 2012. He has lived with his partner and his wife for 50 years at State College.