Lessons Become Traditions

From left to right: Commissioner ErNiko Brown’s grandmother Rosie; Dr. Adrienne Hollis and her mom Valerie Taylor Hollis Perkins; Rev. Brendolyn Jenkins Boseman’s mother Johnnie Ruth Barfield; Brendolyn at age 16; ErNiko’s grandmother Rosie and aunties; Adrienne; Rosie

Tradition is described as “a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past.” Some traditions are based on what is considered the best way to do something, or on the fact that something has always been done a certain way. But some actions grew into traditions because they made sense – they saved money, they saved time, they provided resources that otherwise would be inaccessible.

People sometimes confuse “tradition” with “culture”, but they are definitely different. While tradition refers to a group’s (or family’s) beliefs and behaviors, passed down from generation to generation, culture relates to shared characteristics of an entire group, characteristics that have been developed through that group history. Traditions are an important part of our culture. They provide structure and play a huge role in developing or creating the foundation upon which we navigate through society and through life.

When I was a child, I taught myself how to sew. I did it mainly because we did not have money to always afford new clothes. If I needed something new to wear – to a party or formal dance – I made it. The lesson in that was obvious. It was about money and adapting to my (then) situation. Later, I started making wedding accessories like veils, flower girl baskets, ring pillows, etc. for my friends’ weddings, not because they could not afford it, but because it was a personal item, custom made for them. Last month, I lovingly completed my niece’s cathedral length (10 feet), mantilla style veil. My niece told me that she had been expecting me to make her veil since she was 12 years old. So, the lesson that stemmed from necessity and conserving money became a tradition in my family and among my friends.

“As children, our kinfolks, particularly the women – mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins and others share their sage wisdom with us, and teach us about survival, community, resilience and conservation. When we pass on those life lessons – whether focused on conservation, community or culture – from generation to generation, they become traditions. I

In this webinar, our guests Commissioner Erniko Brown and Reverend Brendolyn Jenkins Boseman discussed the importance of traditions. Reverend Boseman shared a tradition that her family followed, where clothing that was passed down from the oldest girl to the youngest and described how the clothing was received with pride. As she spoke, I imagined a ceremonial “passing of the torch” in handing these clothes down to other family members when they were old enough to receive and appreciate them. I remembered that in college, the men of Omega Psi Phi handed down their fraternity shirts to new members, a tradition that was cherished by the new fraternity brothers. For Commissioner Brown, tradition is ensuring that the land that had been in their family for more than 200 years stays in the family. For various reasons, some of the acreage had been sold over time. But Commissioner Brown’s goal to keep the tradition of land ownership – family land ownership – has led to her successful efforts to repurchase that acreage when possible. And to instill in her nephew the importance of family and of the 200-year-old homestead and of having a place of belonging.

One thing that has resonated through a number of Picking Greens and Being Green segments is the focus on sustainability and resilience. A great example that repeats through numerous segments is the existence of and importance of family gardens. As Commissioner Brown pointed out, Black people have had gardens sour entire lives. These have been a staple in Black communities, mainly used to feed families and sometimes neighbors, but also to help with economic survival.

We also heard about the importance of going back to the community after leaving – to attend college for example. We learned about the importance of teaching others the skills we learned. This reminds me of the proverb “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” When we apply this to sustainability and community, we realize that most environmental justice communities focus on this concept – giving their (and other) communities what they need to survive, to be resilient, and to thrive.

When asked for the one lesson or one tradition, in the context of conservation or community, thing they would share with others, Commissioner Brown shared the importance of “positioning yourself to be the next part of your history” is important. That is such a meaningful statement about goals and achievement and thriving. Reverend Boseman explained the need for “programming – not a program” right now. As she pointed out, we must have access to lessons that teach us about money, about budgeting and about the meaning of life, and the importance of having a garden and understanding what that means and the spiritual power of putting a seed in the ground and seeing something grow from that and how it can be sustaining. She went on to talk about history – the fact that we need to know and understand our history. I found it impactful when she stated “I don’t expect White people to teach my children my history, that ain’t their job” and ended with “I want the rabbit to have the gun and tell the story from that prospective”, talked about the power of knowledge and perception.

This was yet another rich webinar from the Chisholm Legacy Project. This one, on how lessons become traditions contains knowledge that we all can benefit from, no matter our personal identity. If you want to know what the world needs, what our young people and older people need as we navigate this thing called life, watch the video. I learned so much and found it hard not to join in and extend the conversation. You will enjoy this and past webinars. Now excuse me as I watch it again, and take notes. I invite you to do the same.

Webinar Archive

Also in this series...