Last week we celebrated the Ascension of the Department of African American and African Studies in the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University. What follows are my remarks emphasizing the hope that the department will be a place of wholeness.
This space, this place – all of us here together is a dream made real.
It has me thinking about Minnie Ransom, the healer and main character of Toni Cade Bambara’s novel, The Salt Eaters.1 At very beginning of the novel, Minnie asks Velma Henry, who had just attempted suicide:
“Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?”The Salt Eaters, 1.
And later …
“Just so your’re sure sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.”The Salt Eaters, 10.
That this place now exists, that this department is a reality after so much effort by so many people … this is the strongest sign I have seen in my time at MSU that, yes, we are serious about being whole; and that we will take on the responsibility that comes with being healthy.
And this brings me to another line from The Salt Eaters, one that Bettina Aptheker calls to our attention in her essay, “Toni Cade Bambara: A Political Life of the Spirit.”2 Velma’s godmother, Mrs. Sophie Heywood, insists: “Have to be whole to see whole” (The Salt Eaters, 92).
“And in those seven words Bambara gives us an extraordinary gift of understanding. Healing is a continual process, and must be continually reinforced in the course of the struggle itself.”Bettina Apethker, Savoring the Salt, 227
May this place be an irresistible destination for generations of students, staff, and faculty who are serious about being whole.
And may we at MSU learn the practices of wholeness this department has to teach … so that together we may be whole to see whole.
- Bambara, Toni Cade. The Salt Eaters. New York: First Vintage Contemporaries, Random House, 1992. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/8085/the-salt-eaters-by-toni-cade-bambara/.
- Aptheker, Bettina. “Toni Cade Bambara: A Political Life of the Spirit,” in Holmes, Linda J., and Cheryl A. Wall, eds. Savoring the Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007, pp. 226-235.