Middle Passage

We have inherited a fear of memories of slavery. It is as if to remember and acknowledge slavery would amount to our being consumed by it. As a matter of fact, in the popular black imagination, it is easier for us to construct ourselves as children of Africa, as the sons and daughters of kings and queens, and thereby ignore the Middle Passage and centuries of enforced servitude in the Americas.” ― Angela Davis

My dad was a generous, working-class laborer and philosopher. At the neighborhood bar, he was known to give a few dollars to someone in need. He could listen endlessly and then follow with a story that would impart some wisdom on the person seeking counsel. For a time he was a union organizer and the gathering point for his nine surviving siblings and their spouses. My dad did not deny his roots in poverty, but bristled at the suggestion that his exit from poverty was neither direct nor smooth.

Walter Dziadosz was proud to be a worker. Proud of his roots. Proud of his thinking and silent about his generosity.

It is only in reflecting on how Black history is being created every day, that I saw some parallels between my dad and Brenda Coley, an amazing asset to Milwaukee, public health, and our environment.

When the Book on Black History in America is written, it must include Brenda and examples of change agents like her. Her decades of unstoppable service to Milwaukee reflect a deep integrity and an old decision. Her work with the Medical College of Wisconsin, Center for AIDS Intervention Research, and Diverse and Resilient illustrate the depth of her commitment to her brothers at risk or infected with HIV.

But this use of her skills to address a community targeted for destruction through neglect, is just one example of her generosity. On a daily basis she notices what is needed and offers it. Together with her spouse Sandra, she assists neighbors, parents many who are not hers, provides pears in the fall, and gets pocket money into the hands of even more by offering them odd jobs to do. She is a mother, daughter, sister, auntie, spouse, and friend.

For the past two years, Brenda has advanced her love for our environment as Co-executive Director of Milwaukee Water Commons where she works to increase knowledge of “watersheds and water, making connections water/health, water/food, water/faith, water/climate.”

Brenda can fill a room when a room needs to be filled. She defines the terms of outreach. For Brenda, organizing is organic. She is a philosopher change agent who is making history every day, not by ignoring the Middle Passage, but by using it to create lives of freedom.

I think the importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not as a single individual who may have achieved whatever but to be a part of an ongoing historical movement.” — Angela Davis

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