Rose is…Rising

First and foremost, I am so sad I missed Steven’s session in February. Every time I hear him speak, I learn something new or gain a new perspective. We entered Futures Initiative the same year and have been connected ever since. He’s not just doing the work, he’s living the work. I am consistently inspired by him and I know that session was on fire.

For my project, I am most excited about unearthing what life was like for freed and enslaved people in early New York. Since I am writing a fictionalized account of Rose Butler’s life, I need to understand what Black life was like in the 19th century, which hasn’t been an easy feat through the years of my research. Information about Black life in the North is scarce because of the popular narrative that slavery was rare up here. However, New York is a direct product of slave labor involving both Blacks and Natives, which means there has been rich and abundant Black culture here since the 1600’s. I want to delve into that for my project.

I’ve already found a few sources of information directly related to Rose Butler. I first started this project in 2018 with my Media and Production class. We decided to do a “haunted New York” theme for our project, and through our research we found our Washington Square Park used to be some gallows. We then found out a young 19-year-old enslaved woman named Rose Butler was the last person to be hung there and decided to focus on her story. Initially, we could only glean so much information about Rose and her crime. We focused mostly on slavery in early 19thcentury New York and why Rose would have been compelled to try and kill her “masters”. We found a poem written about her, as well as some blog posts here and there which go into the early gentrification of Tribeca and the areas surrounding Washington Square Park.

There is far more information and content out about Rose Butler now, including a short film by an accomplished Black actress and writer. The interdisciplinary project required that we produce our media script, create an advertisement campaign, social media profiles and the like. A lot of our information and sources were compiled online, and it makes me wonder if we inspired this latest interest in Rose Butler’s life.

Her Wikipedia page offers some information in the body, but the sources provide more valuable resources. It brought me to the textbook, In the Shadow of Slavery: African-Americans in New York City, 1626-1863 by Leslie M. Harris, which provides an incredible amount of insight into slavery in post-Colonial New York. I plan on using the information in this textbook to establish the physical, political and social setting surrounding our girl, Rose.

Harris reveals that Butler was said to be a thief. In fact, the catalyst to her crime was a conflict between her and Mrs. Morris about her stealing. A minister who attended to her speculated at her involvement in an underground crime network. I’m not necessarily inclined to believe this minister, simply because free white men could openly and brazenly lie on any Black person at this point in history. At the same time, Rose lived and socialized among free Blacks and could have wanted to taste what she was, in all honesty, entitled to, especially as an unpaid laborer. Either way, I plan on using this information in my characterization of Rose. I think the idea of her stealing adds some depth to the situation, and could be a conduit to explore the sociopolitical reality of New York at the time.

I found the most exciting and salacious information on I clipped a few articles about Rose Butler that were primarily in gazette-type publications. In her book, Harris points out that Rose Butler was an impactful figure of her time, a representation of the “dangers” of emancipating New York Blacks too quickly, too soon. However, I was surprised to see the New York Times or any other reputable publication did not cover her crimes or execution. I looked NYT articles from the week of the signing Emancipation Proclamation; no coverage of it was front page, nor did it address the freeing of enslaved peoples. Considering at the lack of coverage of both incredibly newsworthy stories, my tenuous conclusion was that white New Yorkers at the time weren’t willing to confront the reality of slavery in their city, nor were they willing to make any kind of substantial change until they felt comfortable.

The text reads: Case of Rose Butler.
Rose – (a colored woman) was this day brought up before the Supreme Court to receive sentence of death, for the crime of arson. She had previously been tried and convicted by a verdict of the jury at the Oyer and Terminer, held in November last, before chief justice Thompson.It appeared, from her own confession and other proof, that she had set fire to the house in which she lived, late at night, and after the family, consisting of her mistress, two young ladies, a small child who slept with her mistress, a young gentleman and a boy, had retired to bed, and were all asleep in the upper parts of the house. The combustible materials and the fire were placed upon the kitchen stairs by the wench. She then retired to bed in the same room where the boy slept. The fire soon kindled and made considerable crackling and smoke. The boy was alarmed by it, and twice asked Rose if he should go and call up Mr. Morris. She told him to lie till, as the noise he heard was only the cat jumping about[.] AT last he did go. Mr. Morris was awakened, he alarmed the rest. The fire by proper exertions was put out, after consu-[cont.]-ming three steps of the kitchen stairs.

The articles provide much more insight into her crime, the family structure, and her role within the home. In one article, the author writes “We are happy to learn, that coloured people of this city, being convinced of the enormity of the crime, are generally reconciled to the fate of Rose Butler, and it is hoped that no offence of a similar nature will ever again occur.” I wonder how much of that is true. I’m sure many Black people were offended by Rose’s crime and felt she threatened their progression into greater American society. However, I’m also sure many Black people were offended by the institution of slavery itself and felt that Rose made the right choice. Harris mentions that some publications hinted at groups of Black people were sending letters to the Mayor, threatening to repeat Rose’s crime.

Leslie Harris’ textbook, the other sources mentioned in the newspaper articles as well as the sources listed on Wikipedia are strong and provides a roadmap to other sources I would like to look into. My next step is making an appointment at the New-York Historical Society library to look at Rose’s affidavit and some pieces of witness testimony.

Perils of Democracy Change Series: Making Education More Equitable

“What were some of the highlights from the talk that resonated with you? “How can you advocate in your classrooms, on campus, in your communities, to bring about more equity in higher education?” “What concerns do you have?” (350-700 minimum word count)

I’ve been a fan of Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom for a looong time on Instagram, so I was very excited to attend this event. Her Instagram and Twitter posts often enlighten me and push me to think beneath the surface of higher education. She has me in tears both good and bad. I hadn’t heard of Dr. Carla Shedd before the talk, however, her insight on primary education was enlightening.

Something that resonated with me was a comment from Dr. Cottom. She iterated that generally, colleges and universities do not encourage the public’s population or lend itself to the public in any way. Therefore, we don’t have the idea that college belongs to all of us. Resistance to having higher education be accessible is tied to the idea that a level playing field is not conducive to a capitalist system. Dr. Shed pointed out that community colleges stand out in this regard. Community colleges offer classes to the public and are accessible to people who would otherwise be discouraged from higher education. This resonated with me greatly because of my experience at BMCC. I grew as a person and student there, and I found that most of my professors were very invested in our enrichment as people, not just students. The campus was very diverse in race, ethnicity, age, and education level. There was immense support for me as someone coming in with a low GPA. I was referred to the Futures Initiative by my sociology professor at BMCC. I think community colleges can be a blueprint for the institution of higher education at large. As Dr. Shed pointed out, accessibility is important, however, the point should always be economic mobility regardless of their initial socioeconomic status.

At an early age, my parents expected me to go to college. They always framed having a degree as a tool that I needed to utilize as opposed to expecting a degree to magically open doors. Black women are the most educated demographic in the U.S.yet earn 61 cents to the dollar compared to White men. According to the National Women’s Law Center, “Black women’s share of the high-wage workforce—jobs that pay more than $48 per hour, or about $100,000 annually—is less than half their representation in the overall workforce.” With this in mind, I advocate for myself and peers by centering on the needs and perspectives of students. I also encourage students to actualize their power in the University, despite efforts to diminish the student’s voice. Kashema and Lauren exposed me to the concept of student-centered pedagogy and the fact that knowledge is developed from the bottom up. Students should have the freedom to shape their education and learning journeys because students are not passive agents. We absorb knowledge in a multitude of spaces outside the campus and we have unique needs regarding why we choose to pursue higher education.  

We All Live in a Music Video, Right?

Because I like to think I am more musically inclined than the average person, I decided to create a Spotify playlist to describe the complex feelings I have about my last semester and explain the significance of each song. Don’t we all like to feel special?

Click here if you’re having trouble!

1. America, the Beautiful by Homeboy Sandman
“Think you the only file in they case load?/This is a crazed unsafe globe, case closed!”

It is no secret the United States of America is in shambles right now. I chose this song because it is an ironic anthem to American dysfunction. I am spending my last semester in a global pandemic that this country has not taken seriously. I am grappling with the brutal exposure of the American political system and how that will affect what my degree means. Homeboy Sandman lists all the rights we have here, saying we should be grateful, but when you think about it, there are always certain groups of people who don’t have some or all of those rights at any given point. I am privileged in ways, and I will be especially so after getting this diploma, but if this pandemic has shown me anything, it is that nothing can promise security.

2. You Can Have It All by George McCrae
“Take it, baby.”

I have been feeling boundless in my abilities. I bring an attitude of healthy entitlement into my semester. This pandemic has genuinely been a blessing for me; I’ve been able to sit down and take the time to understand myself. I have developed skills that make life a little easier for me. As a person suffering low self-worth for a minute, doing these things for myself has been vital. It means I will complete assignments, build skills, and achieve the goals I have been setting for myself. 

3. FEAR. by Kendrick Lamar
“At 27 I grew accustomed to more fear.”
“How many accolades do I need to block denial?”

I will have to shed the identity of “student,” and that terrifies me. I fear not having spaces for learning with peers, I fear leaving my student club, I fear stepping out of the circles of support I’ve come to develop. I think my deepest fear is that I am not good enough to survive on my own. In college, there are discernable steps. You either succeed or fail, but you know how to do both, and you can expect one or the other. I fear that I will become a failure without those invisible, guiding hands. I really like the way Kendrick goes through the evolution of fear because it is formless, and it is learned. 

4. Conception by Black Thought
“Security is just a whole ‘nother animal/I can’t assume Xanadu had a panic room.”
“No conception’s immaculate, man.”

Throughout my schooling, I’ve been obsessed with security, especially as someone with mediocre grades. When I receive a bad grade, though I expect them, the fear of becoming a “failure” mounts. As someone raised in relative poverty, I want me and my children to be more comfortable and less stressed than my parents had to be. This song reminds me that life is a journey from beginning to end, and everyone has these (frankly) useless worries. As the pandemic reminds us, nothing is secure, safe, or sacred. I am a far better student than I was in 2015, I am improving daily, and that is all I can put my faith into: progress, action, and love. When I listen to this song, I feel like I’m on the way to (see: song 9).

5. Rose in Harlem by Teyana Taylor
“Been through more than a lil’ bit.”
“Nah nah, I ain’t late/I don’t do due dates.”
“That’s just how I was raised/Had to get it out the soil.”

HARLEM WORLD! This song reminds me of the legacy I am honoring as I move through higher education. The women who raised me: my mother, maternal grandmother, and aunts never graduated from college. My maternal grandmother got her GED in her 40s, my mother is still going to school. As I see it, my grandmother toiled so my mother could live better, and my mother toiled so I could live better. Finishing school is a duty that is far bigger, wider, and deeper than my desire for a bachelor’s. I will use my degree to continue the elevation of my lineage, just as my foremothers intended. 

6. I Feel a Change by Charles Bradley
“Change is to the bone/Don’t listen what people say.”

Staying true to myself will be a great challenge this semester. I’ve struggled with self-doubt, low self-worth, and imposter syndrome since middle school. For the past couple of years, I’ve been able to see myself without these burdens and live in my truth, albeit sporadically. This pandemic has allowed me to explore my authentic self, embody gratitude for myself, and accept changes in myself. Coming into myself has changed the dynamic in many of my relationships, including my relationship with the University. Back then, I used the University to measure my worth, which was near nothing. Now, I know exactly what I am worth, regardless of being a “bad” student. I knowI can do better because I believein my capabilities, not because I feel I shouldbe doing better to meet a standard. 

7. Black Truck by Mareba
“Ooo, I’m not sorry/Stay sick ‘cause I follow my gut/They say I was pushing my luck/Imma push me a matte all-black truck.”

This semester, I will be listening to myself, following my gut, and expressing my artistry in bold, imaginative ways in the face of gut-wrenching fear. I’ve been the one to take the road less traveled, but I’ve also run to the beaten path out of fear. I’ve been called hardheaded; I’ve been described by a mentor as “a troubled child.” I am tired of apologizing for being a burden on parents, teachers, bosses, whomever. What I want from life is different than what is expected of me. It has always been difficult for me to do what my soul doesn’t speak to, but it has also been difficult to own my truth. The album this song is on is called “The Jungle Is the Only Way Out.” This semester, my last semester, I’m swinging on that vine. I know I got me with a certainty that can only be holy.

8. Final Form by Sampa the Great
“Great state I’m in/In all states I’m in/I might final form/In my melanin.”
“We’ve been here, reincarnated/Tryna finish what they started, and we made it!”

Woo, chile! It’s my final semester. I will be embarking on one of the most significant journeys of my life: adulthood—real adulthood and all that comes with it. The fear I have is real, but the excitement keeps bubbling up and drowning it out. This last song is my affirmation song. This song is the level of confidence I want to experience and exude. This song reminds me: CUNY student or not, I am the common thread throughout this life. The simple breaths I breathe are thousands of years old; they have passed through the lives of all my ancestors! All that to say: I know who I am, and she’s TOO lit.

Put Me Thru by Anderson .Paak: I really had to kick my own ass to get here.
TYAF by Nick Hakim: My mother is my foundation for improvement.