St. Paul civil rights attorney and law professor Artika Tyner wants people to go beyond what they learned in school to understand the experience of black Americans.
"You see a little paragraph in your history book when you're in school, and it says, oh, there was slavery, and then Rosa Parks wouldn't give up her seat, and then Dr. King gave a speech," Tyner said. "The modern-day books they give to the kids today say, oh, and then there was President Obama."
A truer understanding, she said, comes from looking critically at the impact of the transatlantic slave trade that brought the first enslaved Africans to what is now Jamestown, Va., 400 years ago in August.
The anniversary of that event, which set in motion centuries of injustice and racism, will be the focus of events in Minneapolis beginning Monday during what is being called the "Week of Resilience." Minneapolis will be joining cities across the country pulling together programing and events to commemorate the anniversary, with many events pointing out systemic injustices that organizers say still exist today.
The series, put on by Minneapolis' Division of Race and Equity, will draw on community conversations, art and storytelling to reflect on and honor the experience of blacks in this country, said Ebony Adedayo, program manager of ReCAST Minneapolis.
"This level of recognition is important because dominant narratives often minimize the level of oppression and ignore the history of resistance," Adedayo said in an e-mail.
The Minneapolis events focus on both the past and future.
"It is critical for the city of Minneapolis to honor this history of struggle and liberation because the Twin Cities region was complicit in and continues to benefit from the legacy of enslavement," Adedayo said.
Tyner said the events are an opportunity to start conversations but cautioned that more needs to be done.
"We need to be able to have candid discussions around our history, around the history of oppression, the history of racism, and to be able to go from a conversation to action," said Tyner, who will speak at one of the events,
In June, Tyner led a group of people on a trip to Ghana, where President Nana Akufo-Addo had called on black Americans to visit during a "Year of Return" coinciding with events recognizing the transatlantic slave trade's beginning in 1619.
"It really spoke to me … the Year of Return invitation to come back and learn more about our cultural history and heritage," Tyner said.
She had visited the country before, but she used the commemoration as an opportunity to invite community members from throughout Minnesota to join her and strive for a deeper understanding of the history.
"We try to make it like this was distant past, a million years ago, but this is our recent history," Tyner said. "Many African-Americans living today can document their family history back to slavery in about three generations."
Twin Cities filmmaker Phillip McGraw is approaching the commemoration through the lens of art and creative expression.
His 8 Seasons of Art event on Aug. 30 will feature work from black artists in the Twin Cities who are using various media to express the resilience of black people.
"These artists have this idea that art is a way to transition themselves out of the paradigm, out of the system, so they can actually bring out the beauty. Telling the story of our culture, of heritage, of tradition," McGraw said.
Spoken word, paintings, documentary films, and hip-hop will be represented, said McGraw. Attendees should expect a fun, family-friendly environment with lots to do.
McGraw said he hopes to create a positive atmosphere even while commemorating 400 years of pressure that includes slavery, Jim Crow and racism.
"You know you gotta keep it moving, gotta keep it pushing," McGraw said.
A list of Week of Resilience events is on the Minneapolis city website at bit.ly/33zLu8c.