Bernice Johnson Reagonis a singer, composer, scholar, and social activist, who founded the a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock in 1973...
Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are.
If every moment is sacred, and If you are amazed and in awe most of the time when you find yourself breathing and not crazy, then you are in a state of constant thankfulness, worship and humility.
When the culture is strong, you've got this consistency where black people can grow up in these places with this voice just resonating about our special-ness in the universe. And I always say you're in trouble if you get too far away from that core that grounds you.
I was at the Smithsonian for twenty years, and I'm still at the Smithsonian as a curator emeritus, and I still plan to figure out what that means for me at this point in my life
The first job I had with the Smithsonian was as a field researcher among African American communities in Southwest Louisiana and Arkansas for the festival.
I think the Civil Rights Movement changed that trajectory for me. The first thing I did was leave school. I was suspended for my participation in Movement demonstrations in my hometown, December, 1961
When I started graduate school I was interested in the culture of the Civil Rights Movement.
The voice I have now, I got the first time I sang in a movement meeting, after I got out of jail... and I'd never heard it before in my life.
There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. Give it up.
And I used to think that proof that I had religion was whether I knew how to sing all of the songs.
I organized Sweet Honey In The Rock in 1973. The music was sanity and balance.
It makes sense that whatever the topic is, it's more compelling if you can provide the audience with a range of perspectives, and you can cross disciplines. And you don't have to control what people take out of it.
I just don't think one person has that much to contribute to any subject
The Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife, actually, was an effort to put something on the mall in Washington so American tourists could walk through America, and in their minds everything on the mall would be American
At the same time all this was happening, there was a folk song revival movement goingon, so the commercial music industry was actually changed by the Civil Rights Movement.
But I'm a historian. I wasn't interested in just being a producer, I was interested in doing research and presenting that research to a general public
I learned that if you bring black people together, you bring them together with a song. To this day, I don't understand how people think they can bring anybody together without a song.
I started graduate school in 1971, I started working at the Smithsonian in the festival in 1972. I went full-time at the Smithsonian in 1974. And I got my doctorate in 1975.
Personally I discovered that you could go through the academy as a young scholar, come out, and almost immediately have an impact on the academic environment.
I came out of the Civil Rights Movement, and I had a different kind of focus than most people who have just the academic background as their primary training experience
In fact when Sweet Honey was ten years old it was too big for me to run, and I knew it, but I ran it for another thirteen years because I couldn't convince other people to really do it. And this year, I'm not running it.
One of the biggest things I understood in a program like that was that it allowed more young African American scholars to do field research in the Caribbean and in Africa than had ever happened before in the history of the country and since.
So one of the things that happened with integration in the South is they found that the black teachers were much more educated than the white teachers.
I went to a church where you could not sing out loud in the service until you had been saved
If I had been at a University I don't think I would have been able to have the experience I had in my Smithsonian work. I don't think I have been as successful
Well, the first time I ran into the term religion, people were asking whether you had any. You know, some people had religion and some people didn't have religion
The Civil Rights Movement also reaffirmed me as a singer. It taught me that singing was not entertainment, it was something else.
Most people come out of their Ph.D. experience trying to prove themselves, trying to get ahead, trying to get published. You're scared everybody else is going to do your research and get your topic.
Mothering/nurturing is a vital force and process establishing relationships throughout the universe.
Today whenever women gather together it is not necessarily nurturing. It is coalition building. And if you feel the strain, you may be doing some good work.
Welcome to prekindergarten! You will not die if you discover that there are more lines out there than just your own. In fact, you'll discover that you will have an advantage if you know more of them!
What would you be like if you had white hair and had not given up your principles? It might be wise as you deal with coalition efforts to think about the possibilities of going for fifty years.
If, in moving through your life, you find yourself lost, go back to the last place where you knew who you were, and what you were doing, and start from there.
If every moment is sacred, and If you are amazed and in awe most of the time, when you find yourself breathing and not crazy, then you are in a state of constant thankfulness, worship and humility.
If we dwell in a community that is comfortable, then it's probably not broad enough a coalition.
If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition.
Coming up in the African-American culture, we were taught that we belonged to the universe and society was wrong in the way it dealt with us. We had to learn to express and affirm values not from the winning position.
As the years of work passed at the Smithsonian as a scholar, I realized that Howard had trained me well for the work I wanted to do.