My Soul is A Witness: African American Women's Spirituality
© 1995, by Gloria Wade-Gayles. Boston: Beacon Press
"The 'Finny-Finny' Rain: Three Women’s Spiritual Bonding on Sapelo Island," by Gloria Wade-Gayles with Ellen Finch
As planned, we met up at the Atlanta Airport forty-five minutes before the last flight to Savannah, Georgia, each of us rushing in from a task we had rushed to complete. Onlookers no doubt thought we had not seen each other for a long time, so spirited was our greeting. We hugged tightly with our arms and our eyes and leaned close together in chairs that faced the wide avenue of Delta’s Concourse B. Had the chairs not been stationary, we would have pushed them closer and sat in a circle.
Nothing we said was particularly funny, but we laughed frequently and not quietly, probably calling attention to ourselves: three middle-aged Black women acting as excited as schoolgirls going away from home for the first time. We had reason. We were stepping off the treadmill that children, jobs, and other demands keep moving at a breathless pace, making it all but impossible for us to take time out for ourselves and even less for bonding with women friends.
Nothing in our appearance gave curious onlookers a clue as to who we were and why on a week night – Thursday, to be exact – we were waiting for the last flight to Savannah. Ellen, whose full day had not given her time to change, was wearing a dress that would have made her at home at a P.T.A. meeting. Ginger was wearing blue jeans and a sweatshirt. I was wearing a black and green jogging suit. In complexion, we give meaning to a saying among African-Americans that we are so “mixed” as a people that no tow of as “favor” (which means resemble), even when we belong to the same family. Ginger is light crème (could “pass” in some circles), Ellen is beige, and I am caramel. These differences in color were reflected in the texture of our hair. Ginger was wearing her silky hair, accented with tiny bits of gray, in a close cropped style around her round face. Ellen had plaited her soft hair into one long braid that was pinned aartfully at the top of her head with a decorative barrette. I was wearing my political Afro. In the seventies, it was an Angela Davis bouffant, but it was now short and, manicured with scissors, neat and round. Even in birthdates my friends and I are different. We ranged in age from early forties to mid-forties to early fifties.
Ginger, Ellen, and I do not fit the typical definition of “friends.” Prior to this trip, we had chatted on the phone (but not on a regular basis), but we had never gone shopping together, attended a sorority meeting together, worshipped in church together, or dined together. Our genuine and deep bonding was spiritual, which is why we had chosen to spend our first extended time together on this trip to Sapelo, a place known for its beauty, mystery, and spirituality.
The three of us together chose the date for the trip, but Ginger alone took care of all the arrangements. She booked us (with discount fares and seats together) on the only flight out of Atlanta that would get us to Savannal in time to rent a car and drive the hour and a half to Darien, Georgia, before the last ferry to Sapelo pulled away from the dock at 11:45 P.M. Ginger is the youngest of the group, but only in calendar years. To Ellen and me, she is “an old soul.” She is much shorter than I, but when I stand next to Ginger, I look up at her. There is so much about her to admire: her sense of humor, her wit, her intelligence, her love for people, and her ability to wear many hats well. Ginger, the mother of two children and the wife of an anesthesiologist, grew up in Cape May, New Jersey, and graduated from Spelman College, where I now teach. She is herself a physician, a public health administrator, and a Kellogg Fellow. A woman of many talents and inexhaustible energy, she travels extensively around the globe, conducting research on traditional healing and ancient cultures immersed in spirituality. She had traveled to Sapelo some time ago as a researcher, but this time she was traveling as a woman with women friends. Ginger never articulated her need for the trip. It was so like her not to focus on herself, but Ellen and I knew that Ginger was learning to say “Yes” to the voice that told her write.
There is a saying among African-Americans that “some of us don’t need one single solitary thing to make us beautiful because we got it natural.” That describes Ellen. She is a tall and striking woman and, when she wears African dress, a regal woman. She and I are the same height, but I look up at her as I do at Ginger. And for reason. Ellen is a “good soul.” Patient, tolerant, understanding – never one to complain – she exudes calm, gentleness, and strength. She is the contemplative one among us. Her penetrating eyes say that she is always thinking, observing, processing, and feeling. All three of us are affectionate women who find ease in saying, “I love you,” but Ellen is affectionate in a way that, years ago, I would have called maternal, but now know to be spiritual.
But “maternal” is an appropriate adjective for Ellen. She has seven children, and she birthed all of them naturally. Like Ginger, she is a woman of many talents. A native of Philadelphia and a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Ellen is fluent in French and conversant in Wolof, one of the native languages of Senegal. She is a dancer, a writer, a thinker, and a serious student of spiritual rituals, of astrology (she knows all the constellations), and of African culture, especially Kemetic culture. For Ellen and her husband, a physician and a Kemetic scholar, these interests provide the ordering principles of family cohesiveness. We know this from the sacraments of rituals visible in their home, from the African naming ceremonies which introduced the “Village” to their children, and from the African names, two of them Kemetic, which their children were given in those ceremonies. Already immersed in spirituality, Ellen would meditate at Sapelo on her new journey. She was returning to school to study midwifery.
I am the oldest of the three, the only southerner, and the only teacher, in the traditional, narrow sense of the work, that is. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, graduated from LeMoyne College, and have spent all of my professional life teaching at historically Black colleges. Like my friends, I, too, am a mother and, like them, I needed the trip to Sapelo, but perhaps more than they. I was recovering from a brutal rape attempt that had occurred four months earlier. Though I was spared the actual rape, I often felt the knife to my throat and the rope around my wrists. Nightmares can be as real as life. At Sapelo, I would begin to heal. Ginger and Ellen, I was certain, were making the trip mainly for my recovery. They never said so, but true friends rarely need to spell out what they are giving, or receiving, from bonding. We spoke about none of these things while we sat, close together, waiting for the plane to be called.
The night was free of rain and blessed with a clear sky. A relief for me. Though I fly frequently, I have not conquered my fear of flying, at least not my fear of the whirring sound the plane makes as it ascends to cruising level, especially small planes like the one in which we would fly. I know that planes are ton-heavy, and yet, in those first few minutes, I fear they are large kites and that no one holds the string.
The flight was smooth and short. In an hour we landed in Savannah and, given Ginger’s skill as an administrator and a charisma that makes people anxious to meet her requests, within no more than ten minutes we had a rented car and were pulling away from the airport headed for Brunswick. We listened to tapes of Gullah music and Gullah storytelling that Ginger, the able planner, had brought for our enjoyment, our enlightenment. A little better than an hour later, we reached Brunswick, parked the rented car, and boarded the last ferry to Sapelo, as did women carrying groceries and children and men wearing the clothes in which they work in the city. With pride, we watched a Black man man the ferry. With fascination, we watched white seagulls dive for fish in the white-tipped swirls of water that trailed the ferry. We stood on the deck breathing in air that, though ripe with the smell of fish, was clean and damp. The city disappeared quickly, and we were enveloped in a comforting darkness.
Forty-five minutes later, the ferry reached Sapelo. The sky overhead was clearer than in Atlanta and brighter with stars, but somehow still hinted of rain. A light mist hung in the air, seeming not to reach the soil of Sapelo. When we commented to a woman that it looked like rain, she quickly answered, “Oh, that’s just a finny-finny rain.” That did not mean rain, she added, in the way we thought of rain. A “finny-finny” rain is different from a sprinkle, light drizzle, or morning mist, all of which we had experienced in the city. A “finny-finny” rain has a unique silence, a unique way of touching your face, of making the air pregnant with mystery and discovery. It welcomed us to Sapelo.
Mr. Bailey, the husband of our hostess, was waiting for us at the end of the ferry’s ramp. He is a tall, polite, and somewhat shy man with smiling eyes. We followed him to his car, Ellen and I asking questions all the way about Sapelo, which had once been a slave plantation where our Ancestors harvested rice and cotton and was now a small community of forty-five families, all of whom traced their ancestry to those slaves, knowing many of them by name and in some cases by physical description. Mr. Bailey told us that the number of young people leaving the island for jobs in the city increases each year. They leave because there are no jobs on Sapelo and the state-run ferry trips are too infrequent to accommodate work in the city and residence on the island. The 11:45 P.M. ferry we had taken to the island is available only once a month. Ginger said it could all be fixed so easily, if those who could fix it would. “Just make more trips,” she said. Of course she was right.
By 11:15 in the morning, Mr. Bailey turned out of the small parking lot near the ferry and began driving down a road that, though bumpy, was amazingly straight. In ten minutes, or less, he made a right turn off the road into a complex of trailers. In the center was the Baileys’ trailer-home; to its right was a trailer-store where residents and visitors could purchase cold sodas, island tee-shirts, and other souvenirs; to its left was the guest trailer, our home on Sapelo. We turned the knob. The door opened. We entered, each of us carrying our one bag, except for Ginger, who had brought a computer for my use and a bag of goodies for the three of us. We felt at home immediately. The living room was furnished with a comfortable sofa and two chairs; the kitchen, with a table and every utensil needed for cooking and eating. Down a narrow hall from the living room were one large bathroom and three bedrooms. Always generous, Ginger took the smallest bedroom, the first one on the left. Ellen, equally generous, took the second one, leaving me the largest room, located at the end of the hall. It had two beds, a full closet, and a table for the computer. By three in the morning, we retired to our individual rooms, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean a short distance away. We slept with our purses in the living room. We slept with the door unlocked.
Ginger and Ellen rose for the dawn walk we had promised to make together, but they did not bother to wake me. They knew I had not slept well; they had heard my screams in the middle of the night. The incident revisited me, even of Sapelo. I remember Ellen walking into the room and holding my hands and Ginger covering me with the blanket I had thrown off during the nightmare. I do not remember how long they stayed or what they said to me. I remember only that I fell asleep again, certain that I was safe because they were there.
By the time they returned from their walk, I was wide awake. I had taken my shower and was eager to begin our full day of activities. They said nothing about the nightmare. They talked instead about dawn rising on Sapelo.
Ellen was poetic in her description. “The old trees along the road, centuries old,” she said, “made the whole morning incredible. I couldn’t take my eyes off their thick, twisting branches.” An astute student of nature in its many forms, she was fascinated by the way each tree supported a multitude of life systems. “There are vines that are indistinguishable from the trees,” she said. “And the Spanish moss!” She was ecstatic about the moss, but she added: “You know, it really isn’t moss.”
Ginger was in love with the palmettos, “the young, bushy ones full of leaves.” And of course the ocean. Ginger loves large bodies of water. The ocean. And low-growing vegetation that, with her skilled eyes, she sees as healing herbs. I am convinced that her Ancestors were the ones who prepared the poultices and potions and applied them lovingly to bruised slaves.
Neither Ginger nor Ellen said, “Gloria, you missed it!” And when, expressing my disappointment, I said, “I wish I had been with you,” Ginger reassured me, “It’s still there. Waiting for you.” Ellen said, “You needed your rest.” I felt they were giving more to me than I to them and considered myself blessed.
The finny-finny rain greeted us when we left the trailer. “It’s in a capricious mood,” Ellen said. And it was. It seemed to be coming and going, disappearing and returning, teasing and confusing us. We did not yet understand its gentle rhythms. Sapelo resembled the land from which our Ancestors were taken as slaves. As in Africa, so, too, on Sapelo, the weather is warm. The ocean is vast. The soil is rich. The spirits are alive. I wondered if Africa also has a finny-finny rain.
By 10:30, we were worshipping at one of the two small churches on the island. It sat a bit back from the road, shaded by a wide canopy of trees. Later we would hear about the miracle that built the church. The story goes that the congregation wanted a new church, needed one badly, but they had no money for the lumber. They prayed and prayed hard. Then, the story goes, a fierce storm demolished a church located on another island, and the lumber from that church floated across the ocean to Sapelo. The congregation praised God as they built their new church.
Sapelo and other rural areas, for obvious reasons, use itinerant preachers who go to different churches on different Sundays. This was an “off” Sunday for the church in which we were worshipping; the service was, therefore, the responsibility of the trusted Deacons. After morning prayer and one song, the Head-Deacon-in-Charge pointed to Ellen: “You will teach Sunday School,” he instructed her. Ginger and I were delighted and encouraged the Deacon to continue with his persuasion. Ellen quickly explained that she was a visitor, that she had come simply to observe, that she…He did not listen. He said again that she would teach the lesson. Ginger and I nearly pushed our reluctant friend from the pew and to the front of the church. She had to obey him, us, and most of all the Spirit.
And so Ellen taught, “in the only way I know how,” she told us later. “With personal testimonies and input from the class.”
“This is good. This is real good,” the Deacon remarked midway through the lesson. “Everybody is talking this morning. Everybody is talking.”
Ellen became bolder, drawing on her Catholic faith to make a point in a lesson being “taught” in a rural Baptist church on the island of the Ancestors. By the time the lesson ended forty-five minutes later, everyone in the church had taught in his or her own way. Everyone seemed caught up, as Ellen said later, “in the spiritual web of the three curious women from Atlanta.” The feeling was as refreshing as the finny-finny rain that waited for us outside once more.
We returned to our trailer renewed and invigorated by what we had experienced in only a few short hours on Sapelo. Ginger set up the computer she had brought for me. She knew I would be taking notes on the trip, “for your book, Gloria.” True friends know your needs before you articulate them. It was that way with Ginger and with Ellen. I turned on the computer, went to the directory as Ginger suggested, and saw “Gloria.” I pulled up the “document” and read, “Hi, Gloria. Welcome to Sapelo and to the Spirit. Write. Love, Ginger.”
While we talked, I recorded our thoughts on a document that I named, “Three Women’s Spiritual Bonding on Sapelo.” Our conversation turned naturally to the spirituality of African-American women and to our own search for spirituality.
“I feel connected to the cosmos,” Ginger said. “I’m one little miracle, but I’m still a miracle.”
“I try to fit into nature without disturbing it,” Ellen said. “We are a part of nature. God speaks to us through nature.”
The people, then, Mrs. Bailey explained, believed that all of us can communicate with God. When preparing children to get religion, the elders would remove the children from the community to strengthen them spiritually. When the children were ready, in the elders’ opinion, they were told to go out at night and find a place where they thought they could talk with God. That place would always be theirs. Communing with nature meant for them meditating with God. Even now, Mrs. Bailey explained, people on the island go to their special places of communion. There, they are still with God, with the Spirit.
Mrs. Bailey’s phenomenal memory is the reason why she was featured in a story in Esssence on surviving Africanisms on Sapelo and why she is in great demand by researchers who want to write books about our people. Mrs. Bailey grants interviews, but she tells researchers only that which is available in encyclopedias – rainfall, vegetation, dates. The culture, the rituals, the stories – she protects all of that. Researchers, she explained, will write books replete with information, but lacking in the soul of the island. Her house is a museum of documents and artifacts, an art gallery of old photographs, a temple in which she and her family worship the spirit of the Ancestors. Only Mrs. Bailey can write an authentic book on Sapelo. She must. She will. Perhaps that is why the garlic awoke her years ago.
Mrs. Bailey will keep the history alive in a book; Nancy, a woman whom we met in church, keeps the language alive in her telling of fairy tales in Gullah. She agreed after church (she was the secretary) to share her talent with us because Ellen had taught so well. After darkness had fallen, we left the trailer for an evening of storytelling at her home. Once outside, we realized we did not need the flashlights each of us had checked for working batteries before we left the trailer. The sky was clear, clean, radiant in its beauty. There is no pollution on Sapelo; nothing, therefore, dims the brightness of the heavens. We understood why visitors to the island are not allowed to bring cars. Either they walk everywhere or “catch a ride” with one of the few residents who own cars, none of them late models. Like their descendants from Africa, the residents believe that water, air, and earth are gifts from God and gods and goddesses, not to be defiled, not to be taken for granted, but to be used in good ways and to be worshipped in the various ways that speak to their spirituality as a people. They love the stars which are more beautiful on Sapelo than in the city. And brighter. And so perfectly clustered into zodiac signs named by ancient Egyptians, chief among them women.
I couldn’t help thinking about my African-American literature class and the students’ analysis of Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, a classic among slave narratives. I could hear Melissa Johnson, a very bright student from New York, telling the class that all African-Americans should be able to find the North Star and in regular rituals pray to it in thanksgiving. I remember that Melissa was fighting back tears. Ellen, Ginger, and I studied the stars, they with greater skill than I, especially Ellen.
“How did they remain sane?” I said.
We knew the answer. They believed in the inevitability of freedom, in the eventual triumph of good over evil, in the power of the Spirit. When people suffer, they find solace in the Spirit. Must. In order to remain sane.
“That is why the slaves talked about no shackles being on their souls,” I said.
Ginger said, “You can kill the body, but not the soul,” referring to a spiritual. It was not by accident, we agreed, that slaves testified about “visitation of the Spirit” and wrote about those visitations in their narratives.
On our walk to Nancy’s home, I asked Ellen to tell me again about her experience with the bird. Months ago it had entered her house, mysteriously, since there were no open doors or open windows.
“It was strange,” Ellen said. “Suddenly there was a bird in the house. I mean, suddenly it was there. It flew over my shoulder and perched on the mantel next to the picture of the Black Madonna.”
Strange because Ellen is afraid of birds. Strange because the season for birds had not begun. Strange because it was the thirteenth day of the month. Strange because before the incident, Kuumba, a psychic in Atlanta, had told Ellen that the Goddess was trying to communicate with her. Strange because after perching on the mantel, the bird disappeared, exiting where there were no windows or open doors. As we talked about Ellen’s experience, we knew we were supposed to be on Sapelo.
“Kuumba saw this trip,” Ginger said. Weeks before the flight to Savannah, the car ride to the ferry, and the ride in Mr. Bailey’s car to our home on Sapelo – before there were plans for a trip of any kind – we had been chosen for this experience. Kuumba had seen Ellen’s sojourn of Sapelo.
The walk was a short one down a path which, though made of dirt, was without dust. We knocked on the door, a man answered, we identified ourselves, and seconds later, Nancy greeted us, her voice pitched high and her smile broad and welcoming. Like the Deacon at the church, she was in charge. "Which one of you will play the piano?"
I can't play a tune, though I have wanted all my life to play a piano. Actually, I took lessons when I was a young girl and was doing okay until one day when something unexpected occurred. I remember it as if it happened yesterday. Because my family could not afford a piano, I used the one at church. That day, I entered the church as usual and skipped, as usual, down the center aisle that led to the choir loft that led to the piano. Suddenly before me was an open casket with a body in full view. No one had told me about a wake scheduled for that afternoon. I ran screaming from the church, traumatized by my first look at a dead body. I stopped the piano lessons. I was not the person to obey Nancy's orders.
Nancy turned to Ellen and said, "You will play." Kuumba had seen this as well. "You're musical," she had told Ellen weeks ago, repeating it above Ellen's assertion that she was not.
"You will play," Nancy said again. Ellen obeyed, as she had when the Deacon told her to teach. She opened the hymnal the woman had provided and placed her fingers on the right keys. We were there for storytelling, but Nancy had other plans. Church began. Song after song, the four of us sang, clapping our hands spiritedly as if, together, we had worshipped this way many times. We were emotionally full or, as Blacks in the old church say, "filled with the Holy Spirit," We knew each song from a memory we did not know we remembered. "on Jordan's Stormy Banks," "Wade in the Water," "Come Ye Disconsolate," "Onward Christian Soldiers," "Kumbaya," "How Great Thou Art," "ride on King Jesus," "Tis de Ole Ship of Zion," and others.
Only after we had worshipped in song for an hour did Nancy begin to tell stories in Gullah. The music of her telling of "Little Red Riding Hood" was every bit as spiritual as our singing of old songs.
When the storytelling ended, I said to Nancy, "You are so very spiritual."
Nancy testified. She was in church. Worshipping. Feeling as if she were floating in air. The only thing that stopped her from floating higher was the tug of her son pulling on her dress.
She testified again. When she was a young girl, she loved to climb trees. But no longer. Now she worships trees. "I see them different," she said. "I see in them the handiwork of God."
We walked back to the trailer in deeper reverence, talking among ourselves, one voice indistinguishable from the other. We set our clocks to ring well enough before dawn so that we could witness its arrival on the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. Again we slept with the door unlocked. We slept soundly. Even I. My healing had begun. Before dawn, we were pulling away from the trailer in Mr. Bailey's car. Ginger knew the road to the ocean only because Ginger and the ocean talk to each other. The ocean directed her. I am sure of that.
Free of umbrellas, empty bottles of tanning lotions, spent beer cans - all debris that beachcombers leave behind - the shore was breathtaking in its beauty. There were no beachcombers on Sapelo, Mrs. Baily had informed us earlier. The beach belongs only to the people of the island who respect the ocean and its white sandy breast, and to the few visitors who are allowed to stay, but not too long and only under the circumstances that the residents establish. We were alone on the beach. Except for tiny holes made by sand crabs and three short/slim lines which were footprints of sea gulls, the beach was flawlessly smooth. The water rushed to our feet and then receded, spraying a fine mist that stroked our faces like the finny-finny rain we had come to love. I thought of the Africans of Ibo Landing who walked into the ocean, their chains pulling them under, rather than yield to slavery. The ocean's vastness and the unending, clear sky above humbled us. If there were tears, I did not feel them, for how could I distinguish between the ocean's mist and the finny-finny rain?
The ocean was the first view the Ancestors had of the new world they would never leave. Symbolically, it was the last place we visited before leaving the island. As Mr. Baily, his kind eyes even kinder, pulled away from the trailer, we were grateful for all we had experienced. I had begun to heal. Ellen was prepared to become a midwife. Ad Ginger, who had told me to write, had given in to the voice that said to her, "Write." We didn't try to describe the clarity we felt about so many things, but it was evident in our eyes.
We had grown stronger spiritually. We knew we were three small miracles in the universe, three women trying to fit into Nature, three women feeling connected to all people because all of us were born in the same womb. Each of us, by herself, made a promise to grow stronger still in the months and years ahead by seeking spirituality and expressing spirituality in relationships with others.
When I think about our three days and two nights on Sapelo, I realize how infrequently we physically touched one another. We hugged when we met up at the airport, but we did not hug on Sapelo. We touched spiritually and continuously. After our time together on the island, we would change nothing in the way we expressed our bonding. We would not begin to chat on the phone. We would not begin to plan shopping sprees together, worship in church together, or dine out together. We would simply be there for one another in spiritual ways. For me that meant Ginger would continue to leave her Ginger-message on my answering machine: "Love you." Ellen would continue to call, at just the right time, to bless my writer's space with her encouragement. I don't know that I give as much to them as they do to me, but I would continue to give them my love.
Love. That is what we experienced on Sapelo. I am realizing that now as I leave the island, this time in my remembering. Given the history of suffering that the people on Sapelo keep alive in songs, stories, and rituals, they are remarkably a people of love. No rancorous spirit. No rage. Love. They inspired us.
Ginger, Ellen, and I will grow stronger as women friends in the months and years ahead and stronger as women of the Spirit. Like the children of Sapelo, we will find places where we can speak to our God. I am as certain of that as I am that our trip to Sapelo was no accident. It was a gift from the Spirit, as were the talking trees, the vines intertwining with them, the vegetation yielding healing herbs, the slave quarters speaking to us about a history we cannot and must not forget, and the shell ring reminding us that no group has a monopoly on human suffering. Our friendship had been baptized in the spiritual waters of Sapelo which sometimes, often, stroked our faces in a finny-finny rain.
About the Author
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Dr. Gloria Wade Gayles earned a B.A. in English from LeMoyne College, an M.A. in American Literature from Boston University (as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow), and a Ph.D. in American Studies from Emory University. She was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Meadville-Lombard Theological School of the University of Chicago and named the CASE Professor of Teaching Excellence for the State of Georgia.
A recipient of the Emory Medal for outstanding scholarship and service of an alumna of Emory University, she has been a DuBois Fellow at Harvard University and Eminent Scholar’s Chair at Dillard University. Other awards include the Spelman College President’s Award for Outstanding Scholarship, the LeMoyne-Owen DuBois Scholar’s Award, and the Malcolm X Award for Community Service in the City of Atlanta for work as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement continued work for justice.
Her publications include numerous articles in national journals and six books, among them Pushed Back to Strength: A Black Woman’s Journey Home; No Crystal Stair: Race and Sex in Black Women’s Novels, and “My Soul Is a Witness”: African American Women’s Spirituality . Her most recent publications are In Praise of Teachers (Beacon Press, May 2003), and Conversations With Gwendolyn Brooks University Press of Mississippi, December 2003).
Currently, she is conducting research on a critical study of the community as savior in selected African American novels. In August 2000, she was named Eminent Scholar’s Chair in Independent Scholarship and Service Learning at Spelman College. In addition to being the faculty mentor for Spelman's Independent Scholars program, she is founding director of the SIS Oral History Project and RESONANCE, a choral performance group at Spelman College.