Dakar, Senegal — January 2018 started out on a sad note for me. Dallas lost an important cultural icon when Dr. Mamie L. McKnight made her transition. I lost a treasured friend and mentor. As someone who savors African-American History, it was a natural alliance that formed between me and Mamie back in 1983. I was new to Dallas and she was an elder Dallas native who loved her community and was determined to document its contribution to this city. I was poised to help her do just that because I had accepted the position of Supervisor of Community Arts Development for the then City Arts Program (now the Office of Cultural Affairs) and my boss, Jerry Allen, had charged me with developing a program that would allow small and midsize cultural organizations to access the city funds allocated for the arts and cultural sector.
Prior to his arrival on the scene, these dollars rarely reached beyond the majors and we were determined to change this. Mamie had gathered together a group of her fellow black Dallasites who shared her love of their history and along with them, founded Black Dallas Remembered. I was pleased to be able to support their work by providing their first city grant to mount an exhibition of Black Dallas cultural life.
Mamie’s efforts and that of Black Dallas Remembered were also what made TXDOT and the City of Dallas “do the right thing” and not simply plow through Freedman’s Cemetery to expand Central Expressway, as had been done in the past, but instead, create a memorial to those souls buried there. It was because of her tireless trips to City Council offices, meetings and briefings that we have the gorgeous public art work by David Newton to memorialize the ancestors once buried in a segregated, forgotten cemetery.
Mamie was also instrumental in pushing the City to recognize the importance of the Honorable Juanita Jewel Craft’s contribution to desegregating Dallas’s many public facilities by designating her house, the site of so much of her organizing activities, as a museum. She volunteered on the Landmark Commission as a board member and while there pushed to get numerous sites important to African-Americans designated as historical sites. Anyone attempting to do research on the history of Dallas African-Americans prior to the 1990s appreciates the work Black Dallas Remembered did. BDR published informative books, created calendars that included historical information along with cookbooks that did the same. Every publication they published had some information that would inform you of the contribution African-Americans made to Dallas culture.
So losing Dr. Mamie McKnight is hard. I’m thankful that George Keaton has picked up the mantel and is continuing BDR’s work with his newly formed organization of a similar name, Remembering Black Dallas, because sadly, there’s still an inclination towards exclusion whenever history programs are offered here. But I can’t help thinking how ironic it is that in 2018, we’re still trying to achieve cultural equity in Dallas, a charge Jerry and I took up in the 1980s hoping to, at that time, see substantive change in the not-too-distant future.
A week after Mamie’s death, I served on an OCA panel to review grant proposals for its new Cultural Vitality Program. One of the goals stated for being worthy of these city funds is demonstration of cultural equity, with diversity and inclusion being clearly defined. I can’t say I was anticipating great things from the applicants because, after all, I’m nothing if not a realist when it comes to this issue of equity, but I was amazed at how incomprehensible this whole idea is to so many. The kinds of statements made about how the applicants sought to address equity, diversity and inclusion would be comical if they weren’t so sad a reminder of how far we haven’t come! A couple of bright lights thankfully made me feel that my time wasn’t totally wasted in this battle for equity but I did leave the meeting feeling like I’m not sure I have the energy to keep this fight going. I’m glad there are folks like Darryl Ratcliff, Sara Mokuria, and Angela Faz from the millennial group who have taken up the charge and are putting pressure on City Council, OCA and other funders to get real about this issue of equity.
I’m ending January engaged in a community conversation on women’s issues, specifically as they relate to sexual harassment, misconduct and assault. A series of community conversations entitled Women Speak, Men Listen kicked off at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center with a panel comprised of three dynamic young women, Sara Mokuria, Lizzie MacWillie and Eva Arreguin. Although the impetus for this series is the latest furor over the sexual harassment and assault cases in the entertainment world currently making headlines, the two entities sponsoring them, Cara Mía Theatre Company and the Human Rights Initiative wanted to bring some local focus to the discussion given that we’ve had our own scandals erupt.
I was interested to see how quickly the conversation veered towards workplace micro-aggressions and away from the very difficult topic of sexual harassment and assault. Whenever it did go back towards that topic, the discomfort was clearly there and before long, the talk was back on workplace slights. I’m really hoping the next conversations really center themselves on this scourge that is being unveiled all across the country. As a result of the #metoo and #timesup movements, we are finally having open dialogue about what for so many has been a hushed conversation, or worse, total silence. I’d hate to see Dallas take the safe road as it has in so many conversations around race and miss the opportunity to air out this stinky subject on sexual harassment, misconduct and assault.
2018 need not be a repeat of 2017 but can instead be the year women and people of color kick ass and take names! Let’s see how this plays out.
» Vicki Meek is a former arts manager, a practicing artist and activist splitting her time between Dallas and Costa Rica. ART-iculate explores issues around race, politics and the arts. You can also keep up with Meek's musings in her blog Art & Racenotes.
» ART-iculate runs on the last Wednesday of the month.
- April: Vicki Meek ART-iculates
- May: On Dallas and Cultural Equity
- June: Equity vs. Diversity
- July: An Arts Super PAC?
- August: Too Big to Fail?
- September: It Isn't Us Against Them
- October: Another Missed Opportunity
- November: Neighborhood Arts Center: Not a New Idea
- December: Save Our Summer Programs
- January: The Creative Community in the Trump Era
- February: Being a Black Artist in a White World
- March: Expanding Our Cultural Horizons
- April: Intercultural Self-Determination
- May: A New Cultural Plan
- June: Working for Good
- July: Into the Forest
- August: Saved by Art
- September: Immersed in Cultural Equity
- October: The Artist as Citizen
- November: Understanding Your Roots
- December: No column