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SOUTH-CENTRAL : Storytelling Keeps Black History Alive

February 28, 1993|ELSTON CARR

To the beat of drums and beyond the craning necks of onlookers, Gloria Buzart became Harriet Tubman, recounting the life of the African-American heroine who led more than 300 slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad.

More than just reciting an often-repeated story, she was keeping history alive by telling a story--carrying on the oral tradition. "I'm asking you to remember," Buzart said, "so that we can reclaim history, so that we can go on to mental and spiritual freedom."

Buzart, 67, is a member of a Creative Grandparenting class sponsored by Freemont Community Adult School and was one of 20 grandparents who gathered at the Estelle Van Meter Multipurpose Center to pass on their personal experiences. The Black History Month program, "Finding Our Place in History in Our Time," also featured the singing of James Weldon Johnson's "Lift Every Voice and Sing," instrumental solos, a poetry reading and an art exhibit.

"Grandparents are important because they are our roots," said the Rev. Leroy Shepard, who acted as a griot , or African storyteller, during the two-hour program. "If we have good roots, then we'll have good fruit. We are here today to encourage ourselves and each other to set our roots deep in our history and our heritage so that we will be a proud people with some sense of dignity and some sense of direction. Through grandparents we can find our place in history."

Florence Shepard, 74, told the story of her grandfather, Henry Blaylock, a Texas sharecropper who saved profits from a bale of cotton each year and was eventually able to buy his own land. "He used to say, 'If you want to make it, you have to learn to save. You've got to learn to map things out. And there ain't a word that says I can't do something. You should always say I can and I will,' "Shepard said.

A group of students from the Garfield Adult School in East Los Angeles called the program inspirational.

"It is very good for the older people to get together and come out and do things like this," said 19-year-old Miesha Abner. "It was educational and it's going to help us in the long run."

Helen Key, 74, stood next to a painting of her grandparents in a covered wagon as they traveled from southern to northern Mississippi in 1865. Key said she painted the scene from the memory of stories her grandmother told.

While praising the event and its celebration of African-American history, Key hoped her story and others would inspire the youths to make their own contributions to black culture: "I hope they will build upon what was talked about here and go forward into their own lives."

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