Out and About: Reflections on Frederick Douglass

In October 2018, I had the distinct honor to offer reflections as part of On The Porch at Cedar Hill. This inspirational program of art, history, and conversation takes place every year at the home of Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC.

Hosted by Stanford in Washington (SIW), On The Porch at Cedar Hill immerses a modern audience in the words of Frederick Douglass – social reformer, orator, writer, and statesman – who regularly invited guests to his home to exchange thoughts on slavery, civil liberty, education and more.

On The Porch at Cedar Hill is the brainchild of Tom Minter, noted playwright and author, whose work specializes in issues of diversity and the tapestry of identity in creating community. Tom studied playwriting at Pomona College and his work has appeared in London, Berlin, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., at the Kennedy Center and with the Washington National Opera.

The 22 October 2018 event featured SIW Director, Adrienne Jamieson, SIW alumna, Tom Minter, as well as musical artists Anamer Castello, Roderick Demmings Jr., Jarrod Lee and Laree Simon. We had a full house, with more than 100 people turning out for the festivities.

Out and About: Reflections on Frederick Douglass

From Left to Right: Anamer Castrello, Stephanie Ferguson, and Laree Simon.

I was chosen to give reflections, in part, because I grew up in Appomattox, Virginia, the site of the Civil War surrender. My background offered good perspective to reflect on a man who was a powerful voice against slavery and Jim Crow. I also have the privilege of serving as faculty at SIW.  At SIW, I teach women and children’s health policy and global health.

In my reflections, I asked the audience what Frederick Douglass would think if he was here with us today. How would the man who famously said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” rate the struggle, or measure the progress?

Because we still face situations where people are discriminated against, where women don’t have the rights they should, where entire swaths of people – with great abilities and intelligence – are persecuted or mistreated because of their ethnicity. Who is going to change this? Especially in today’s climate, when we can’t even talk civilly to each other?

Fury seems to fuel our political climate. This “us versus them” mentality has far-reaching implications. It drowns out meaningful discussion. It thwarts progress. Most critically, it leaves a broad range of serious problems unaddressed and unresolved.

As I think about Frederick Douglass’s life, and I think about my life, growing up in the epicenter of many of the same things that are happening today, I recognize the urgency. We can’t sit back. We must go forth and do great works in 2019.

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