by Len Lear
According to Wikipedia, a rainbow is “a meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light, resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky.” That’s also not a bad description of Mt. Airy social activist, author and artist, Julie Rainbow, who will bring that same spectrum of light to the “Journey to Sanctuary: Second Great Migration of African- Americans from the South” (1940-1970), a talk she will present on Saturday, June 22, 2 p.m., at Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, 200 W. Tulpehocken St. in Germantown.
Rainbow, 58, a sunburst of talent, is often asked if that is her real birth name.
“People … usually think that I changed it, but my father was a descendant of the Cherokee Nation of the Carolinas. He’s from South Carolina.”
Rainbow was born in North Carolina and lived there until she went to Spelman College in Atlanta, from which she graduated in 1982. She then earned a Master’s degree in 1993 from the Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research.
Rainbow is the author of “Standing the Test of Time: Love Stories of African American Elders,” published by Pilgrim Press (2002) as well as the play of the same name that was performed in Atlanta several times between 2006 and 2010 and at the National Black Theater Festival in 2011. It was also on the MBC-TV network in 2004.
“When the book was published,” she told us last week, “rarely were African American families featured in the media having healthy long-term relationships. The Cosby Show was the exception. However, my impetus for writing the book came about as a result of a comment a professor made while I was in graduate school. As she described the pathologies of African American families, I challenged her assumption, and she retorted, asking me to prove it. There were few books on healthy long-term African American marriages, so I begin identifying and interviewing couples that were married 30 years or more.”
In 1995, Rainbow was selected as a prestigious W.K. Kellogg Foundation, International Leadership Fellow. The fellowship provided learning in Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, London and in communities throughout the U.S. These travels were the sparkplug that led Julie to pursue her passion, oral history, and to “Standing the Test of Time: Love Stories of African American Elders.”
Why do elders often not get the respect they deserve and have earned?
“Ageism is the problem. Ideas, beliefs, attitudes and practices are biased against the aging population. Youthfulness is idolized, and aging is despised. Our collective obsession with being and staying youthful has contributed to the devaluing of aging and those things associated with it. When elders don’t feel valued, it diminishes both their physical and psychological health.”
Rainbow has lived in Germantown/Mt. Airy for the past three years. She also lived here from 1985 to 1996. Three of her mother’s siblings migrated to Philly during the “Second Wave,” and several of her father’s relatives moved here because of their affiliation with the AME Church.
“The AME denomination (African Methodist Episcopal) was instrumental in moving people out of South Carolina as the state’s laws became more brutal to Blacks,” said Rainbow.
Why is it important for Americans to know about the Second Great Migration of African Americans from the South?
“As we hear the stories of others and learn of their motivations for migration, hopefully it will resonate with some part of their own story, thereby causing us to explore our common humanity. Much like the book, ‘Warmth of Other Suns,’ by Isabelle Wilkerson, ‘Journey to Sanctuary’ allows for African Americans to tell their own stories in their own words. During most to the 20th century, stories of Blacks were told by others outside of the Black community.”
Who is Rainbow’s own favorite writer?
“James Baldwin. His use of the English language is impeccable, and he’s able to distill some of the most complex issues into concise, undeniable truths that explain some of America’s most challenging problems. He blows me away with his writing, and his writings continue to be relevant in today’s time. He had a deep understanding of human nature.”
What was the hardest thing Rainbow ever had to do?
“Staying aware of my conditioned thinking, unconscious beliefs and unconscious prejudices so that they don’t diminish my humanity has been my most challenging endeavor.”
For more information about Rainbow, visit JulieRainbow.com. You can make reservations for her talk at 215-438-1861. You can reach Len Lear at firstname.lastname@example.org