When the Wisconsin Women of Color Network met October 5, the keynote address featured pearls of wisdom gleaned from 80 years of living. Gale D. Johnson introduced the speaker, a person she said could talk for hours, the publisher and head writer for UMOJA news —Milele Chikasa Anana.
Anana is a mother of 5, a grandmother, and a graduate of Talladega College in Alabama, said the emcee. Anana takes a different approach than mainstream news, Johnson explained; rather than reporting on who beat up whom, who shot whom, or who snatched whose purse, Ana focuses on human-interest stories and positive happening in communities.
Anana began her presentation by congratulating Wisconsin Women of Color Network on their 30th anniversary, stating, “That’s a real accomplishment,” not to be taken lightly.
Twenty-three years ago, she said, she started the magazine because she “had a dream and a purpose and a mission, much like the Women of Color Network.” Anana stressed the importance of sticking with it if you have that dream and that purpose, and then congratulated the founding members as women she’d like to be like when she grows up, “Agnes (Gutierrez Camer) in particular, because she has been the guiding light” of the group.
Anana shared 10 lessons she’s learned in her 80 years of living with the room full of mostly women. Lesson Number One: “Scripture is the basis of all life,” she said, looking at the 10 Commandments as the basis of laws. Anana said that in terms of how to eliminate racism and the disparities, that by setting your face toward your higher being, healing waters will come to your heart and your people. This, she believes, should be applied “to the ills of the country, and we would be healed. “
Empowerment, not status quo
Lesson Number Two: “We’re not here to drift and dream, but to empower others,” Anana stated, “to empower your children, your neighbor, your distant cousin, even your husband or significant other.” She describes the scene when someone comes to your office for help, and it’s really not your area. “We have a ready answer,” she said, essentially, “You need to go see Mr. So and So down the hall.” Instead, she advised, “Our job should be to introduce them to Mr. So and So and to ask (him) for preferential treatment. ”
Anana also implored folks to ask everybody on their blocks “to contribute time or money to your neighborhood school. Do you realize your neighborhood school could use your wealth, your wisdom, your caring, and your compass? Do you know what an hour of your time (every week) could do?” She declared that the schools know exactly what they would do with you if you volunteer. If 17 people in your neighborhood volunteered, she pointed out, that would mean 17 hours a week, and would amount to more than 600 hours a year. “Your school would be different, and empowered,” she stated, clarifying that “you’re not on a missionary trip.” It is where you live, where you pay your taxes, your rent. Working with a young person can make a difference when he becomes a 32-year-old man, she told those at the event, “because we know the bureaucrats are building prisons…on the grades and achievements of third-graders.”
She said when she hears someone say, “I’m the first one in my family to…or “I’m the first Black (in my department, job, etc.),” she thinks, “Well, something’s wrong, and you have responsibilities. You are not here to protect the status quo of Asian people, of LGBT people, of Latino people, of Black people, of young people.”
Lesson Three: Find a way to get rid of a habit or something that’s bringing you down, such as “smoking, procrastination, a fear of heights, the inability to say no, fear of your boss, or fear of authority that won’t let you ask questions of your boss and therefore, you won’t get ahead. “
Get on your feet
Lesson Four: She implored those in the room, especially the Black women, to do something physically active every day. “Get off the couch! Our weight is our Achilles heel…At age 50, you can hardy jump rope, so you need to jump rope now,” Anana stated, and went on to say that, “You won’t be able to walk (as you get older) unless you walk somewhere every single day of your life that you can.” The same goes for swimming; swim while you can, she advised.
Lesson Five: “Become a master or expert of something,” Anana said. “Be among the Top 10 in your church, in your city, in your state, in the region, in the world of something.…Be a master at something.”
Lesson Six: “Now I’m going to talk to everybody, but particularly the women,” she stated, commenting on the message we’re given as girls is to be dependent on somebody else.
“Learn to put aside money, ” Anana said. “Set aside a portion of your income, so you can decide later on what to do with it.” She recommends learning about hedge funds, municipal bonds, and stocks, and contends that when you buy something at a store like Macy’s, you should know what the stock’s doing. “Learn to save money very early in your life,” she said, directing comments to the younger people in the room.
Lesson Seven: Learn to define, and redefine, yourself. In its earlier years, the name of the Wisconsin Women of Color Network was the Wisconsin Minority Women’s Network. “So you redefined yourself as ‘women of color’-that’s more powerful,” she said. Addressing the individuals in the room, she implored, “You need to define yourself in terms of what you want to be.” Not according to media headlines, or in terms of athletes or crime, rather, she emphasizes, according to your achievements.
Black Americans built most of Washington D.C., she said, briefly highlighting just a few of the numerous accomplishments Blacks have made in society. “We have given this country the most famous music, gospel and jazz,” Anana said. She said instead of letting others “define the expectation of our children, we need to redefine ourselves. What have we done to make this a better town? We need to write our own history.”
Seizing the second chance
Lesson Eight: “Remember that you always have a second chance in life,” she said, an idea she considers to be a very powerful concept. For instance, if you feel you didn’t read enough to your kids when they were young, you will have another chance (to do read) with your grandchild, the neighbor kid, or a friend’s child. If you didn’t think you did the kind of job you had wanted to do on a presentation, you will have another chance with another speech. “You’ll have another chance. You’ll always get better, and we don’t have to do down that valley of self-criticism,” she stated.
Next, the conversation turned to leadership opportunities. “I always say that the ‘Divine Nine’ have given Black people the opportunity to become leaders,“ Anana said, proceeding to talk about opportunities local groups like WWOCN have provided. “We can’t wait for Downtown Rotary to do that-although Renee Moe is the new president,” she said. “We have to look at these organizations as grooming us, finding out what our communities need.”
She deems the Black sororities and fraternities “very important tools in our development” and said that is something that tends to not be talked about or recognized. “We need to give ourselves credit,” she indicated.
The freeing elixir of life
Lesson Nine: “Be yourself,” she advised, recalling a book that she read when she turned 40 that made a difference in her life, titled, I Ain’t Much, But I’m All I Got.”
She confidently told folks, “If you can be yourself, your authentic self…you don’t have to worry about the criticism from the outside.”
Lesson Ten: She prefaced this lesson or pearl of wisdom by explaining that this is something she did not know at the age of 8 or 18 or even in her 20s. In fact, she announced that she didn’t know it at age 50, for that matter; however, she eventually “came to believe that forgiveness is the elixir of life.” According to Anana, true “forgiveness propels you to the heights of heaven,” and releases crystals, “happy bubbles of content.”
“Forgiveness will relieve you from a nagging burden,” she stressed, “so you are not smothering the goodness that’s inside you.”
She believes in a formula that goes like this: “If you have forgiven a person, then the next time you see them, they will smile.” She challenges people to give it a try and see what happens.
The greatest of the lessons she has learned over the last eight decades, Anana said in concluding her presentation, she learned from scripture. “Confess the wrongful ways of sexism and racism and political bickering,” she said.