by Leah Tubbs
“I come as one, but stand as 10,000.
I take a lot of responsibility and ownership in the fact that I am a black woman born and raised in Birmingham, AL. I know firsthand the sacrifices and bloodshed of my ancestors for me to have the opportunities I have as a Person of Color (or, POC).
The name of the article refers to the number of days the Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional. My mother, Harriette, went to elementary school with Denise McNair, one of the four little girls killed in the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 16, 1963. My mother was a preschool and kindergarten teacher for over thirty years shaping the young minds of the future. My father, Craig, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery and later became a school principal for over thirty years and a minister for over forty years. My mother’s mom, Claudia, had a college education during the Great Depression when segregation and Jim Crow was running rampant throughout the southeast. My grandmother’s closest friends became my grandparents as I was growing up. Catherine and Theodore Patton, lovingly known to me as Mama P and Papa P, were highly educated school teachers before the time of racial integration. This is my lineage.......community leaders who wanted to make a positive change in their neighborhoods.
I grew up being surrounded by well-to-do POC who never forgot where they came from or their history. I was constantly reminded of the psychological, physical, and verbal abuse towards the encaptured Africans during colonization. Tribes turning against one another made it easy for the Danish, British, Spanish, French, Russian, and Portuguese to plant seeds of grandeur in the heads of African chiefs to "work together" for the better good of their tribe only to enslave all POC. My husband, Shaun, and I were invited to Accra, Ghana last June to perform and teach some community engagement classes at three schools, as well as soak up our history and culture. We went to Elmina Castle, one of a few castles left in Africa during colonization. I could feel my ancestors’ spirits and smell the sweat, blood, and despair. I was full of emotions walking through the holding cells of my people viewing the chains and shackles that connected them against their will. The holding cells led to a slender pathway their emaciated bodies slide through to the boats which would take them away from their families to a new world of oppression for almost five hundred years.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”- Mahatma Gandhi
Sanfoka is an Adinka Symbol of West Africa that means "return and get it" and is a symbol of the importance of learning from the past. I use my history and culture as fuel to create platforms for POC through dance. My dance company, ModArts Dance Collective (MADC), is gearing up for its third annual dance festival entitled Collective Thread on Saturday, March 10, 2018 3:30 & 7:30 PM at Dixon Place (shameless plug!). The purpose of Collective Thread is to provide a voice and a platform for artistic self-impression to those women of underrepresented ethnic groups within the medium of dance. As an artist, I began to notice that there was a lack of representative for women artists of color in leadership roles in the dance field and wanted to be an agent of social change to change a majority male dominated position to a more inclusive, accessible place for women of color. My hope is for more women of color to see themselves in leadership roles for their communities and in respected fields of work.
My passion for diversity expands to the fitness arena. It can be challenging to take a fitness class with an instructor who doesn’t understand your body or family history you’re trying to reverse or the fact that no one in class looks like you. Accessibility comes from commonality. POC share similar values, cultures, and histories that create a sense of comradery and belonging. I hope I can use my current position at US to increase the presence of PT and Group Fitness Instructors of Color through training and mentorship programs to provide potential fitness professionals a safe, open environment to grow and thrive as people and in the fitness area.
“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizens.”-Michelle Obama
I consider diversity through movement a part of my legacy for stronger, empowered generations of women who will never feel stifled because of the color of their skin. I want to be the leader my parents and grandparents were in their enclose. I hope I can inspire girls and women like my circle of fearless, strong, and tenacious women I happily call family.