Hello. Come on in. The daddy writes about current events, literature, music and, once in a while, drops something on you from back in the day to make you pause and ponder, stop and stare, and begin to wonder. Who knows? You may start to pace the floor, shake your head from side to side, then fall down on bended knees in a praying position and cry, "Lawd, have mercy! What is this world coming to?" Check yourself! But this blog is NOT about the daddy. It's about you: your boos, your fam, your hood, your country...our hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. So let's make a pact: the daddy will put it on the track if you'll chase it down and hit him back. Together, we can definitely take it to another level. Shall we?"

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Do You Know Helen?

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Protest is always at the crux of my work. I try to capture the images of dignity, elegance and suffering of a people who are trying to survive on nothing…Poverty is visible for all to see, but what seems to be invisible is seeing poor people as individuals--the dignity, beauty, and hope that continue to live despite the desperate battle for survival."
--Helen M. Stummer

Do you know Helen?

In No Easy Walk, and other works, she took the daddy by the hand and quietly led him down a long ghetto street in Newark. The cold, hard sidewalk was lined with McDonald hamburger wrappers, empty potato chip bags and an assortment of trash.

They stopped at an apartment building and she introduced him to Carol. Carol was a woman of low income and, seemingly not much else. But if you thought that, you would be wrong. You see, Carol had a brain, dogged, tough-as-nails determination to survive and a natural born ability to form social networks of people in her apartment building and in her neighborhood to utilize what meager resources they had to live. And hat’s why Helen M. Stummer is so important: she took pictures but, through Carol, documented something more, something in poor women, in poor people, in all of us, our struggles, our hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow.

They walked a bit farther and she stopped to take pictures again. It was a makeshift street memorial. There, a series of bottles were lined up near the sidewalk with the labels of certain brands lined neatly in rows, respectively. A middle-aged, very dark-skinned black lady was sitting close to the bottles, just to the right of them. Helen took her picture but showed something more: the unmistakable sadness and overwhelming frustration with the relentless violence in her community, violence with seemingly no end; And, by extension, she documented that, with the drug dealing, the stench of urine in dark hallways and stairwells, absentee landlords, welfare restrictions, police harassment, poor school systems combined with the construction of shopping malls and middle class homes nearby, few people would disagree that most folks don’t care about poor people in the central ward of Newark, or poor folks in central wards of this nation.

Then they walked back toward this apartment building, at 322 Irving Turner Boulevard. People knew her there because she had been documenting the lives of people there for years.

They weren’t there long before hordes of children burst out of their apartments to greet Helen's cheery “Hello!” with overwhelming excitement, jumping up and down, screaming “Take my picture! Take my picture!” And there, amid dirty walls spray-painted with grafitti, a cold sidewalk and trash, she took their pictures but but showed something more: the broad smiles, the youthful exuberance, and the sweet innocence that no amount of poverty, desolation or shopping malls nearby could take away.

Robert Snyder, editor of the Newark Metro, wrote:

Photographer Helen M. Stummer takes pictures of good people living in bad conditions. Like Lewis Hine, who photographed workers in the early twentieth century, her work appreciates the dignity of individuals while exposing their unhealthy surroundings.”

Do you know Helen? She takes images but shows something more…Have you ever looked through the dark clouds of poverty and saw in a child's eyes a heavenly sun?
Note: Helen M. Stummer can be reached at:


Anonymous said...

One of the best things about your blog is your introduction of current and historical artists who have made significant contributions, yet are unknown to so many! You're right, her pix of children are amazing...I saw some on Helen's website:

Anonymous said...

Anon: I live in the central ward. Nothing has changed, except they're raising the rents to get us out so they can get the poor people out.

MacDaddy said...

Helen Stummer sent me a note thanking for this post I wrote about her and stated: "Of course--it is so important for everyone to know about the reality of American urban areas and not the myths--the myths are what sadly dominates the media and that is what our main stream society sees and reads--very few people sit down with inner city folks--if they did they would have a wholly different perception.

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

I found her site, Her section under Projects, Watching Children Grow, was most moving to me, but they were all good.


EveNotes said...

Hello Macdaddy,
I have been reading your blog but haven't made a lot of comments. After reading your recent pieces about Helen Stummer and Wanda Coleman I can't stay silent any longer. I find your words and messages as: informative/educational and interesting. You have a great talent in bringing smiles and laughter in some of your writings. You even had me singing (and I can't sing)the song, "FEVER" as I read your piece on Wanda. Anyway, please know that I am enjoying reading your blog and have been enlighten through your diverse range of topics.

EveNotes said...

Hello Again MacDaddy,

Have you thought about publishing some of the wonderful pieces you have written in your blog? I think they are worth putting in hard print--let me know if you decide to do this so I can get a copy. Thanks

MacDaddy said...

anon1: I love discovering wonderful people who have made a difference, people I hadn't heard of-- people like Helen M. Stummer. Glad you love it too.
anon2: Sorry to hear not much has changed. We have to keep trying. Please visit again and let us know what's going on.
kit: Aren't those photos of the kids great? Did you see the one with the two girls holding their dolls?
evenotes: I missed hearing from you. I bet you remember the song "Fever" from the old school days,huh? Stay in touch.

sdg1844 said...

I learned about her recently. As a black girl who grew up in Harlem, I understand the misconceptions and prejuduces that the poor deal with.

My family worked hard all the days of their lives and instilled that work ethic and thirst for knowledge in me.

I was very pleased to see her work because she brings humanity to those who are "invisible."

MacDaddy said...

sdgg: Well said. I'm sure you're family is very proud of you.