There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you. – Maya Angelou
Most first impressions of Lowell are that it is incredibly diverse, with people of all cultures, nationalities, and skin tones living and working together; but for Black folks who live in Lowell? And those who were born and raised in Lowell? That’s a whole other story. “Hidden in Plain Sight: Stories of Black Lowell” shares a different view of how it is to be a Lowellian when you are Black and it is a very different picture than the one often painted by those who claim the diversity of the city. I learned a great deal when I sat down to read this book. It wove stories of how young and old were born in this city or immigrated here. It told stories of fierce strength and of calm in the midst of a storm. Once I sat down to read this book of stories I could not put it down. I knew many of the faces in “Hidden in Plain Sight” but didn’t know all that they shared. Sometimes it takes us looking at a different perspective before we realize what’s right in front of us.
Let’s be clear about one thing, being Black is not all-encompassing, meaning that not all Black people share the same experiences. Black Americans who grew up here, who have a long history of injustice, systemic racism, slavery, etc have very different stories than that of Black immigrants. Many times when they immigrate here the only thing shared is the color of their skin. It was so interesting to see how the background changes the stories and what they experienced. At the end of the day when it came to how they were treated it didn’t matter if they immigrated or not. They were Black and that was the first judgment.
In reading this book I was able to change my perspective to see what others who had been here longer than me saw the city as. Most stories shared that they can see Lowell becoming the place they want it to be but that it will take work. Work that is being done most times without recognition, understanding, or acknowledgment. Lowell is known as an immigrant city, but have we lost our way? Did we never begin in the right place? I am asking a lot of questions of you, the reader, but they are important questions. We need leadership in this city that can break the molds; we are seeing some with recent elections, but for real change to happen it has to be a continued effort. It also involves changing our language and how we talk about race in this city. You may recall recent events that called for the leadership of Lowell to declare Racism a public health crisis, with several of the leadership refusing. Language is important, shared experiences are important, and data is important. Words like “Diversity” and “Equality” get thrown around a lot but often this “Diversity” looks more like some folks taking photos with people of color and calling it “Diversity”. This city deserves more, it deserves to truly be a city where everyone feels welcome and included.
One of my favorite parts of this book was the section on the history of the Underground Railroad in Lowell. Before a recent project that brought some of those stories into the open, I had no idea that Lowell was part of this important part of history. That is too important a history to be forgotten or erased and it’s too often that history that Black folks created or were a part of gets lost. Let this be a sign to you to be a part of not letting that history be lost.
Being a Brown woman myself; proud and fiercely Latina I once fell into the pit of “diversity”. Often a word used to mask changes that really need to take place, in more recent years I try to focus more on equity and inclusion. Something I realized the more stories I read in “Hidden in Plain Sight: Stories of Black Lowell” was that the call for equity and inclusion has to be more than what is currently happening. We are just not doing enough. I include myself in that “we” because there is always something I can be doing; but to be fair, it cannot fall solely on the shoulders of Black folks. It needs to come from others, other voices rising up in support.
Part of being an ally is to listen; to hear stories like those in this book and let them change your perspective.
Thank you to Christa Brown, Founder & CEO of Free Soil Arts Collective for giving me the opportunity to review this book, and thank you to all who shared their stories; you are all an inspiration in my own journey. When you pick up your own copy of this book, I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down.
Order your copy of “Hidden in Plain Sight: Stories of Black Lowell” here
Life as a Maven