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Wednesday
Apr162014

Tuxedo Men: An Update

Recently I came across a passing comment that referenced both the marginalization of communities, either by gender or race, and the fact that so many people find ways to carve out paths for themselves. There is something to be said about making a lane for yourself when you don't fit in the one in which you're currently driving. 

 

Or maybe you're walking down a path that you dislike and have to cut yourself a new one like Maya Angelou describes from her book Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now. I used to have my students read her chapter titled "New Directions" from that book. It's a short read about how, in 1903, her grandmother, Mrs. Annie Johnson, found herself in need of a new life. 

She had indeed stepped from the road which seemed to have been chosen for her and cut herself a brand-new path. In years that stall became a store where customers could buy cheese, meal, syrup, cookies, candy, writing tablets, pickles, canned goods, fresh fruit, soft drinks, coal, oil, and leather soles for worn-out shoes. 

Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead, and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that as well.

On Saturday I was a guest at the home of one of the Tuxedo Men. A guest in terms of you are allowed to be a fly on the wall here and I was heartily welcomed. My friend, a photographer from St. Louis, Raquita Henderson, joined me. She volunteered to photograph anything they would allow and I can't tell you how grateful I am for her presence. Not only did she take pictures of their April meeting, she jumped in to help the lady of the house serve dinner. Who does that? Raquita, I tell you. She does that. And she does it with a willing spirit.

But, back to the men and new paths.

My reason for being there was to talk to them about telling their stories. The fact that these friends get together monthly, wearing tuxedos, is enough of a story that makes me even more curious. I have questions about how this started and what they've learned from it and what kind of legacy they want to leave. Do they even want to tell their stories? What could possibly come of telling them to perfect strangers? 

What I asked them is whether they would trust me enough to listen to them and commit them to a narrative that is so desperately missing in America. As I sat and observed them I felt like I was sitting in on an American history course where the players were present. More than once I caught my own heart in my throat, thought of my own father, and saw these men from a place of reverence. These professional men who are part of a legacy of Black Americans who began meeting in one anothers' homes at first. It's understandable, too, considering American history. Why go out and put yourself in a position to demand to be served, equitably, when race relations were were so tense in the early part of the 20th Century?

I told them as such and even apologized for all the crying I would undoubtedly do, but those tears didn't flow as much as I thought. What's wrong with crying anyway? If on my worst day the thing I show strangers is my humanity then it's still showing them the best part of me, right?

Legacy and paths. That's all I can see lately. I cannot put myself in their shoes or imagine the road which they've walked down, but I want to know it. I want to listen to their stories. That's what I told them and it's what I wrote about in my proposal that I shared with them. It's not a story I've ever read before.

All I truly wanted to get across to them, these private men who have met for decades, is that their narrative is necessary in the world and that I wanted to record it.

"Your legacy is safe," I wanted to tell them. But I didn't. I just said that I was a storyteller who had a blog and that a lot of my friends wanted to know more about them.  

So for now, we wait on whatever road we're sitting and consider the possible paths. 

 

Marce Mendez Campos via photopin cc

« Making History: The First Tuxedo Men Dinner | Main | International Women's Day: Vivian Onano »

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Reader Comments (52)

Oh, Tuxedo Men - please trust your story to Kelly! There are so many of us who are curious to learn from Central Illinois and beyond!

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

I'll reitterate the thing I commented on FB about. We are fed this negative, mean spirited, racist version of black men by the media. Even if you know that it isn't the "whole story", it gets to you, wears you down. I want to see stories about the type of men I had the pleasure of knowing growing up. I want my daughters to hear the other side of that era (they get one from their grandfathers). Also, you tell amazing stories. Amazing stories. Ones that I want to read and that have quite literally changed my life. So I want more of it. It is like a drug for me, good story telling.

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmelia Sprout (Kale)

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