“Creating Possibilities in a World that Denies Opportunities” – Kaitlyn Lau

Kaitlyn Lau

Professor Miller

African American History

13 May 2022

Black History at USD Project

“Way Out of No Way” is a series hosted by the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University and is presented by speakers Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, Karla F.C. Holloway, and NNenna Freelon. In this program, the speakers not only pose the question of what it means for you to ‘create the now’, but also question the idea of finding your way out of no way. Dr. Mark Anthony Neal is the creator and host of Left of Black, a web series highlighting the importance of the humanities on a regular basis. He discusses the stories of the streets and stories from scholars, highlighting the different ways to make it out of no way. Karla F.C. Holloway is an author, a James B. Duke Professor of English and Professor of Law at Duke University, and was the first African American woman to serve as a department chair. The last speaker is Grammy-nominated Jazz vocalist, composer, and actress, NNena Freelon. These three speakers give their audience a sense of what it means for them to make their way out of no way. Each of their narratives revolve around the theme of creating possibilities with the hand they have been dealt in a world that has continuously and consciously denied them opportunities. Angel Iset Dozier states, “The term way out of no way is described as a willingness to press through difficulties when the outlook is decidedly bleak.” 

In life, it is important to learn and understand our past to really appreciate our present. We should all actively educate ourselves about our roots and acknowledge the journeys our ancestors took to get us to where we are. Without the hardships they endured and sacrifices they made, we likely would not be the people we are today. Throughout the program, the speakers speak greatly of their grandparents. They also discuss the different gifts their ancestors left them which help them survive today’s troubling world. Dr. Mark Anthony Neal states the gift his grandparents left him was his mother seeing as she “told me a few things when I was three years old about what I was going to do and how I was going to do it and dare to give me a name that she made me own.” His father on the other hand, left him the gift of music. Dr. Mark Anthony Neal says, “But my father who couldn’t read, dropped out in the tenth grade right? Functionate illiterate, and who, every word that I write, I often consider, would he find value in this? Because it was him who introduced me to, say, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and Jimmy Smith, and Jimmy McGriff, and Bobby Blue Bland, and BB King, right, and I could go on and on. Bill Withers, right? And I’ve made a career, a life, sharing my love of that music and that was his gift to me.” Dr. Mark Anthony Neal found a way to succeed and thrive through music in a world that denied him countless opportunities.   

Everyone has gone through hard times, some more than others, but it is the lessons that you take from those hard times that define you as a person. Without the lows in life, you cannot truly appreciate the highs and without hardship, there can be no character development. The death of a loved one, grief, can teach you many differnt lessons. Whether it is to learn to live in the moment or stay caught up in it, it is truly up to you to create your new now. It is what you learn and take from the grief that determines your now and your future. The speakers explain that the lessons you learn are also the lessons you will pass down to future generations. Freelon states, “I would not have asked for grief to bring me this strange gift of creativity, but it has been such a container, such a weirdly shaped irregular container. One of the way out of no way gifts for me personally is fearlessness.” Through the experience of grieving, Freelon has risen above the pain and learned to be fearless. 

During the program, both Holloway and Freelon discuss how through grief they created their own opportunities, a form of Black resistance. Freelon says, “ Both the grief , the grandfathers also, but something about the grief, that has to do with passing on, but also those tiny daily grinding griefs, where someone doesn’t treat you with respect, where someone denies you an opportunity, when you know if your color was different, you know you would have been given it. So these are all griefs that we figure like water, ways to go under, over, around and through. And here we are. Here each of us is right now, because somebody prayed, somebody survived, somebody called it not robbery that they would give of themselves so that we could have this moment at prestigious Duke University and at wonderful NorthStar Church

that we could sit here in our dressed up selves and we are warm.” Freelon discusses how even though they were denied an opportunity because of the color of their skin, they managed to persevere and create their own possibilities. In response to Freelon, Holloway says, “Yeah. And we are not wet or cold. And we are in company. So in that sense black joy is resistance from all of those who would’ve said, we are not even counting on you being here in 2022.” Black resistance can be shown in different ways. Jumping the broom is an example of Black resistance. After vows are exchanged, the newlyweds hold hands and jump over the broom to seal the union. In the article, The Enduring Significance of Jumping the Broom, Royall writes, “Because enslaved Africans generally had no legal right to marry before the Civil War, they saw jumping the broom as a symbolic way to recognize their unions.” Enslaved Black people were denied the right to legally get married and so they created their own opportunity and that ritual is still performed to this day. 

Holloway explains that in a way, she learned to be selfish. She learned to put herself first and to take care of herself before she could take care of anyone else. Holloway says, “Reclaiming, rewriting, remaking the body into one that I loved and recognized. Not being afraid to be selfish like that is a part of the way. Part of when you make a way, we’re really making a way for ourself. And that’s a profoundly selfish act as much as it is necessary in a grief journey, I think.” Sometimes being selfish is necessary especially when you are being asked to do more than you can. In World War II, African Americans were expected to fight for a country that saw and treated them as second-class citizens. The United States was fighting to end racism overseas, but there was still racism happening right in front of them. To white Americans, African Americans fighting for equal rights during the war could have been seen as “selfish”, but really, they were just putting themselves first for the first time and taking care of themselves. The author of Freedom on My Mind states, “It seemed hypocritical to fight racism abroad with a segregated army and terribly unfair to ask African Americans to fight for democracy and citizenship rights overseas when they were accorded only second-class citizenship at home. African Americans debated these issues and tried to resolve them so that neither they nor the nation would be cheated.” (Chapter 13). So even though they were fighting for their own rights and opportunities, they still tried to do so in a way that would not affect the war. 

All throughout history, African Americans have found a way to make it out of no way. With the hand that they have been dealt, they have found and created ways to open up possibilities for themselves in a world that denies them those opportunities. The program “Way Out of No Way” discusses the importance of understanding Black history since their ancestors fought to open up opportunities that now help them make their mark in this world. In order to create a new and better future, it is essential to learn and grow from the past. For the future of Black people, there are gifts and lessons each generation leaves, but it is up to them to make their own way out of no way. 

Works Cited

Royall, Bridgette. “The Enduring Significance of Jumping the Broom.” The New York Times, 2022,https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/26/style/jumping-the-broom-wedding-tradition.html#:~:text=Parry%20said%20the%20earliest%20documented,way%20to%20recognize%20their%20unions. 

“‘Way Out of No Way’ Humanities Series with Karla F.C. Holloway and Nnenna Freelon.” “Way Out of No Way”, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xm7PNmBU7M. Accessed 2022. 

Chapter 13 of Freedom on My Mind by Deborah Gray White, Mia Bay, and Waldo E. Martin Jr.

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