Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Reflections on the BoC quilt from Blacks of the Chesapeake Founder Vince Leggett
But the most extraordinary journey I have taken was not in the bay’s waters, nor along its shorelines. It was through the air.
On Saturday, November 14, I joined quilter Dr. Joan Gaither and Genevieve Kaplan, Education and Public Programs Manager at the Banneker-Douglass Museum, for an event in which the public was invited to add to the Black Watermen of the Chesapeake documentary story quilt. The quilt is a one-of-a-kind, dynamic work of art, visually ebbing and flowing like the ever-constant tide. Every river, creek, and tributary depicted on the quilt is wending its way back home to the Atlantic Ocean, along the way touched by many hands.
At the quilting event, I spent the day watching all the activity around the quilt -- it was as busy as a watermen’s wharf. Dr. Gaither was working with teachers, students, parents, and even some tourists who stopped by the museum. She prodded everyone who took a sideways glimpse at the quilt to have a go at it.
Other young people were attracted to a wide-screen TV showing the documentary “Black Captains of the Chesapeake.” The film features Black watermen primarily from the Kent Narrows area of the Eastern Shore who were once proud oystermen of the bay, but due to the declining resources, their advancing age, and over-regulation of fisheries, they were forced to stop harvesting. Today, they are captains of their own boats and carry out fishing parties from April to November every year. The film begins in Jamestown, Va., in 1619, when the first Africans came to the shores of the Chesapeake as indentured servants, and ends with a statement by me emphasizing the importance of enlisting all stakeholders in efforts to preserve the bay and its rich history.
The Black watermen’s quilt is another way to try to carry on this message and reach into the hearts of all who see it. Seeing the young people so engaged in the day’s activities was an encouragement. They are the future champions of conservation and restoration of the bay.
In that moment, I drifted away from the scene below. I imagined myself soaring high like a seagull, looking down on the remarkable quilt. I began to slow my wing beats, circling downward, trying to catch a closer glimpse of everything that was going on below. The rich colors of red, orange, yellow, green, indigo, and violet were complementing a field of royal blue running through the center of the quilt. When I flew a little closer to the quilt, I discovered that the sparkling blue hue was the Chesapeake Bay. I could smell the salt air and hear the calling of other gulls, and it made me feel at home. I tucked in my wings and dove directly into that blue center and found such peace and tranquility.
The carpet ride was so peaceful that I started to doze off into a deep sleep. But I was stirred awake by a loud noise: a flock of Canada geese overhead, flying south for the winter. The majestic birds were traveling in a V-formation. I was reminded of a lesson they learned thousands of years ago: one individual cannot go nearly as far as a group working together. And with that, I returned to the scene below, where student by student, the Chesapeake Bay’s group of defenders was growing.