A Quilter's Journey: My Underground Railroad through Family, Community, The Academy, and How to Make It Through - Dr. Myrah Brown Green's Visit to MSU
by Sherrae M. Hayes (2nd year doctoral student)
Dr. Myrah Brown-Green's lecture, A Quilter's Journey: My Underground Railroad through Family, Community, The Academy, and How to Make It Through, served as the perfect intersection of Black Studies, the Arts, and quite simply - tools to navigate life's winding roads. In partnership with the MSU Museum, The Great Lakes Quilt Center, and with support from the Cuesta Benberry African American Quilt History Endowment, Dr. Brown-Green was AAAS' first speaker to kick off Black History Month on Wednesday, February 13, 2013. Brown Green journeyed to MSU from New York City, where she serves as Distinguished Lecturer and Executive Director of Arts and Culture in the Office of Government and Community Affairs at The City College of New York (CCNY). Her role at CCNY allows her to navigate both campus and community fluidly. Along with decades of experience in Black youth development as a result of launching her own school/organization, The Crown Heights Youth Collective, and countless other life experiences, Dr. Brown-Green's talk was both autobiographical and refreshingly useful to those in attendance, and pieced together her life in ways similar to the process she navigates when piecing together quilts.
The interactive lecture took attendees on a journey through her internationally recognized quilts and her life at large, paralleling the layers of each quilt to her views on how we each have layers of our lives we rely upon daily in order to face triumph and tragedy, both personally and professionally. For instance, Dr. Brown-Green discussed how quilts require "binding" - the border that frames a quilt and keeps each of the layers together. Dr. Brown-Green compared "binding" to the various life lessons she carries with her as fuel to push forward. She outlined what serves as "binding" in her life and offered best practices to attendees by providing daily affirmations, various sayings, and techniques she uses to maneuver through day by day. The techniques included starting each morning in the spirit of thankfulness and setting clear goals by simply finishing the sentence - "Today I will be..." with just one intention (i.e. "Today I will be productive.")
Early into the lecture, paired with tips for daily living, Dr. Brown-Green also highlighted various inspirations behind some of her most well-known quilts, from her deep connection to her grandmothers to quilts constructed in honor of her children and her husband. An underlying layer for each work was and is her commitment to including artifacts of the African Diaspora. Yet, she discussed how she admittedly and purposefully chooses not to use African textiles in her pieces. Instead, she uses an array of general fabrics placed together in intricate ways to create the overall feel of an African textile/motif. In her eyes, her particular method of creating quilts in this way mirrors the journey of African ancestors brought to American shores having to re-create their traditions using new materials in a foreign land, and despite the struggle to do so, their traditions still lived on.
The AAAS community, MSU Museum community, and the MSU community at large deeply benefited from Dr. Myrah Brown-Green's profound, purpose-filled, and interactive lecture. By discussing her gift of quilting and its deep parallels with tools for navigating life, her talk was truly representative of a living, breathing quilting journey, one that each attendee could keep with them and use for years to come.