|by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP|
Afterglow: “Light or radiance remaining after a light source has disappeared.”
“A pleasant effect or feeling that lingers after something is done, experienced or achieved.”
When I heard that Clarence Jones - a psychologist, activist and respected colleague who for several years co-facilitated workshops with my husband that created a creative, safe space for people to think and talk about issues of race – had died, I knew one thing: that his funeral would feature great stories about a great true storyteller. His son Clancy - about whom his father beamed with pride when he made it to the NFL and played with the New Orleans Saints - started his eulogy with some anecdotes about many pre-game consults with his father - a skilled strategist and athlete himself – and then dug into the brutal force of racism that shaped Clarence's early life.
These stories, told in the context of events in our social history, were Clarence’s teaching tools in the racism workshops. He changed peoples’ thinking through stories about his personal and profound experiences with abuse for which he could find no justice, humiliation he could do nothing to avoid, and discrimination that denied him opportunities he earned and fully deserved, as a black man who came of age before the Civil Rights Act. Through interacting directly with people he shed light on a subject many people outright deny or awkwardly acknowledge but do not know how to talk about.
In an interview with Clarence, as part of research I did while writing a play about HIV/AIDS in 1992, he told me about being a young, married, black father of 2 deciding whether or not to take a position he was offered on Long Island.
“I drove up here from North Carolina where we lived at the time, checked into a motel, contacted real estate agents and went looking at houses. I ate in various restaurants in different towns. I needed to observe first-hand how I was treated by real estate agents, waiters, and policemen. I needed to know if this is a place I can bring my wife, whether she or my children would be unsafe or subjected to humiliation.”
As a young white woman, these concerns were not even on my radar when I moved to a new location - much less suburban, non-threatening Long Island. Because Clarence used his gifts as a storyteller and good will as a human being to shine this light on a shadowy subject I - and thousands of other people who knew him - came to view our national conversation about race through a broader lens. The stories shifted our attention, enabling us to see that common, everyday threats to the psychological and physical well-being of black people are virtually invisible to many people because they are woven into the normal, day-to-day process of life for white society.
Stories are the threads creating the fabric of our lives, and we continually complete and participate in a story larger than our own. Maria Macedonio-Ritter, Director of the Center For Visual Arts in Blue Point, NY was artist-in-residence at the East End Arts Council in Riverhead in early June and while there expressed something about this concept with an innovative installation titled “The Humble Quilt.” The quilt hung from the ceiling – no fabric, made of squares of dried paint stitched together in a seemingly-magical but a technically-challenging process – and beside it on either side a bright light framed by a multi-pointed star. Sitting in a chair placed in front of the quilt, we stared into the light for a brief time, then turned our gaze on the quilt. After a few seconds, the phenomenon of “afterglow” kicked in as our own visual cortex projected an image of that star onto the quilt canvas, a startling and paradigm-shifting experience. Each of us completed the piece through interacting with it. Physics did the rest.
What we see is, in part, where we choose to look. The stories we tell are sometimes the quilt upon which something new and perhaps disturbing is projected, and sometimes the light, the way Clarence’s life and work continues in the afterglow.