On Sunday, August 21 from 3 to 8 pm, hundreds of Black Durham residents will gather for “Black August in the Park,” a celebration of black life, family, music, food, joy and resistance.
The organizers of the event, a collective by the same name, chose Durham Central Park as a way to assert African-American presence and value amid gentrification in downtown Durham.
Dannette Sharpley, a longtime Durham resident, mom and community activist, looks forward to attending the event. “It’s a positive healing space to re-center black joy and take a break from mainstream white-centered life, especially around election time,” she says.
The “family-reunion” style celebration will offer activities for all age groups to connect people of African descent across generations. The event also features local social justice organizations continuing the struggle towards black liberation.
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Sharpley attended “Black August in the Park” last year, and says while she enjoyed jumping rope, she wishes more focus was given to the history and importance of Black August.
“Black August is about raising consciousness, what it means to be black in the U.S., and the culture of resistance. We are not valued as whole beings in a white supremacist culture. There is a consistent devaluing of black life. State-sanctioned violence, school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, poor education – this is what it looks like to be less than human in the eyes of the state,” Sharpley says.
The Aug. 1 murder of Korryn Gaines, a 23-year-old mother shot by Baltimore police while serving a warrant, is a recent example of state sanctioned violence and the constant trauma placed on Black bodies.
Black August is about raising consciousness, what it means to be black in the U.S., and the culture of resistance. ... There is a consistent devaluing of black life.
Somehow, police have shown an ability to de-escalate, disarm and arrest violent criminals, such as the Charleston 9 shooter, yet are unable to safely arrest others for a warrant, traffic violations, selling cigarettes, playing with a toy gun or selling CDs.
Aug. 9 marked the two-year anniversary of the death of Mike Brown. Blatant discrepancy in treatment by police has sparked a movement of resistance across the country, with rebellions in both Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. There are growing sentiments among Black Lives Matter organizers to “disarm and dismantle the police.”
Ever since the first ship of captured Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in August of 1619, black folk have resisted dehumanization. Many of these acts of resistance have taken place in the month of August. Nat Turner led a slave rebellion on Aug. 21, 1831. Residents of California led a historic rebellion against police terror in Watts from Aug. 11 to Aug. 17 in 1965.
When asked about resisting dehumanization as a black mom in Durham in 2016, Sharley responds: “Our resistance has to be rooted in seeing our brilliance, contributions, wholeness, humanity, beauty and power. Being whole and happy is resistance. Eating a healthy meal is resistance. Birthing life is resistance.
Refuting the constant conditioning that we are “less than” is resistance. We don’t get free if we don’t claim that for ourselves. We must also know our history.”
History of Black August
Black August originated in the California penal system to honor fallen freedom fighters Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson, William Christmas, James McCain and Khatari Gaulden.
Gaulden, a leading force in the formation of Black August, used it as a time to focus on sacrifice, fortitude and discipline. While in prison, he studied revolutionary literature, refrained from listening to the radio and watching television, fasted from sun up to sun down, boycotted prison canteen, resisted loud or boastful behavior, and exercised daily.
Using August as a month of unity, self-discipline and self-study later spread outside of the prison system through organizations such as the New Afrikan Independence Movement (NAIM) and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM).
Durham’s “Black August in the Park” creates space for another form of resistance – affirming Black joy, love for self and knowledge of self. Sharpley envisions it as a time to raise consciousness and challenge others to participate in the world in a way that shifts toward liberation. “I would like everyone to answer one important question, what are you doing to uplift and defend black humanity?”
Louisha Barnette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.