*Fresno, CA – Phyllis Brown’s commitment to exploring the realities and repercussions of the Peculiar Institution of slavery began with Mark Twain’s Puddinhead Wilson.
She recalls as a ten-year-old girl, she read how “The title character, David Wilson, nicknamed Puddinhead, an eccentric, open-minded lawyer, a searcher for knowledge, and observer of conditions in society revealed the social, physical, emotional, and intellectual effect of slavery on both black and white people. The impact on me was profound.”
Educator, researcher, historian and author Phyllis Brown, has launched a post-retirement career researching, writing and speaking about African American heritage. She paves a pathway to stimulate dialogue about the racial realities in twenty-first-century North America. As part of her mission to get people talking to one another, she develops resources she calls, Village Folayan, designed to get people talking about what unites us. Village Folayan is based on her fictional main character in “The Legacy of the Gold Banded Box” series. In Book 1, Folayan’s Promise, the feisty, talented, only daughter of an African traveling merchant, comes of age in 1796, under shadows slaveholding castles and forts on Ghana’s Gold Coast.
In addition to three decades devoted to teaching elementary and high school students, Brown has traveled to 39 countries, 14 of them in Africa. Through her travels, she discovered citizens of other countries who lump us all together as one group they know as Americans. In the United States we put people into various categories and assume all the people in that group are all alike; just as people in other countries think all Americans are alike.
Brown worries that our tendency to isolate people from one another along ethnic lines keeps us from realizing Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. She fears we’re witnessing a reversal of Dr. King’s hope. In response, she has a dream of her own.
Phyllis desires that Village Folayan’s resources help people implement more of Dr. King’s many speeches. Dr. King said in 1963, “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
Brown wants us to come together to do this. “I want a conversation about accurate African history and contributions to the world, as well as, effects of slavery then and now on those captives, captors, traffickers, beneficiaries, and descendants, and to discover truths of our common American heritage and ways we are similar. I especially want us to ask if a divided house can stand? Beyond our nation’s borders, people see all of us, people of color and whites, as one group. We have the blessing of being not a melting pot, but a stew with wonderful chunks of wholesome differences effused throughout by a unique sauce to which each of us contributes.
“We haven’t reached MLK’s dream. Instead, it seems like it’s reversing so fast. I have stories my students recounted, seeking to understand why they are hated by those who do not even know them, seeking answers, seeking help. Where can they turn without encountering someone afraid of people, because they have dark skin? What can they do without someone calling the police—although they are simply doing the normal things people do—driving home at sunset after Thanksgiving dinner with family, walking, barbecuing at the park, selling lemonade in front of their house to earn money to go to Disney World?
The answers are in our history, and in our present. Fear is dissipated in the light of truth. Scripture says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Another says, “Get wisdom, and in all your getting, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:5-7). After an incident, in Folayan’s Promise, Folayan’s mother realized that she had been caught in the busyness of life’s daily responsibilities and cares–so caught up that she did not know her village was in peril:
“At that moment, she knew she had not lived the truth, had seen and not seen, watched, but not wondered. She had ignored the fearful faces and discounted the reality.”
“My dream, my goal is to get people together who want King’s dream to stay alive, and to thrive,” says Brown. She wants them to join the Village Folayan programs so that parents and mentors will help children be compassionate, confident, productive, and successful citizens.”
Brown is developing the lessons for a video course that will bring people of different ethnicities together, teaching people how to create intentional villages. Her book, Folayan’s Promise, blog, book clubs, and resources are available at https://phyllisjbrown.com