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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.

Four MSU African and African American Studies majors present a poem at the Ascension event. We have from left to right: Amber McAddley, Morgan Braswell, Jhala Martin with the mic, and Ayodele Uhuru with the red hair. The third student Jhala Martin from the left is reading from a small sheet of paper with the microphone in her hand. The other students are listening intently. In the background Interim Provost Designee, Thomas Jeitschko is looking on thoughtfully, behind him is LeShondra Hemphill with their eyes closed, listening.
From left to right: Amber McAddley, Morgan Braswell, Jhala Martin, and Ayodele Uhuru. Photo by Ryan Frederick.

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).

Aptheker writes:

“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.

  1. 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/.
  2. 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.

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