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From Grapes to the Glass

Only 25% of Blacks drink wine, as opposed to 34 percent of their white counterparts, according to Batya Ungar-Sargon, managing editor of VinePair. This may be the result of the way wine is marketed (or not) in the Black community. Although Blacks are “12% more likely to shop for wine online than their white counterparts, wine sellers and their marketers continue to refuse to reach out to the African American consumer,” Ungar-Sargon writes.

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The Woburn Plantation Manor House Remains & Burwell Cemetery

By Tamara Shiloh

Winemaking is a centuries-old profession originating in Old World France. Socioeconomics, however, has played a role in the lack of Black connoisseurs and producers of wine in America. Fine wines have always been a staple in exclusive clubs and upscale restaurants; establishments traditionally filled with white patrons. Even today, little is revealed about the rapidly increasing growth of diversity in the industry. Despite their absence from the narrative, so-called anomalies within the Black community were growing plump grapes and distilling them into bottles — one being John June Lewis Sr. (1894–1974), owner and operator of Woburn Winery.

Lewis’ passion for winemaking developed while stationed in the European Rhine Valley during World War I. He came to love the land, the soil, and especially the grapes. After his tour, he returned home to his father’s Clarksville, Va., plantation where he worked in the lumber business until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. After his father’s death, Lewis would inherit land. Still holding on to his passion, he planted 10 acres of labrusca grapes in the Ivy Hill area of Mecklenburg County. The cellar held 5,000 gallons, sold mostly to neighbors and friends. Later, in 1940, it would grow into Woburn Winery.

The Woburn Plantation Manor House Remains & Burwell Cemetery

The Woburn Plantation Manor House Remains & Burwell Cemetery

Woburn is thought to have been the only Virginia winery by the early 1970s to manufacture wine solely from its own grapes, and the only Black-owned winery in the US. Dubbed, “the Virginia Carolina Brand,” Raisin Wine and Virginia Red Grape were the only two varieties Woburn produced.

Only 25% of Blacks drink wine, as opposed to 34 percent of their white counterparts, according to Batya Ungar-Sargon, managing editor of VinePair. This may be the result of the way wine is marketed (or not) in the Black community. Although Blacks are “12% more likely to shop for wine online than their white counterparts, wine sellers and their marketers continue to refuse to reach out to the African American consumer,” Ungar-Sargon writes.

“I’ve never seen any (wine) advertising or marketing directed at African Americans,” Tony Harris, vice president of an African American wine tasting group in the East Bay told SF Gate. “This is clearly a missed opportunity.”

Still, Black winemakers are navigating the maze of a tough and unwelcoming industry through vineyard ownership. Of the more than 11,000 wineries based in the US, less than 1% of those are Black-owned or have a Black winemaker.

Lewis made wine from labrusca and hybrid grapes for more than three decades until his death in 1974. The winery closed soon after. Today, Virginia is home to more than 300 wineries and wine brands but fewer than five are owned by African Americans.

Get advice on navigating wine lists, purchasing wine, and drinking more diverse and interesting selections at home from Brooklyn sommelier and winemaker André Mack in “99 Bottles: A Black Sheep’s Guide to Life-Changing Wines.”

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Advice

Michelle Obama’s New Book Gives Advice on Managing Difficult Times

Author Michelle Obama is a true storyteller, and she uses a “show, not tell” method of writing. Readers are lulled into an entertaining story of life in the White House, or a gossipy snip of Obama’s married life, or a shared memory from her childhood and BAM! the words seamlessly roll over to an easy, do-able tip to survive in hard times. Nice surprise.

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Life and children's games are alike in this way: as in the new book “The Light We Carry” by Michelle Obama, the only way to win is to keep playing.
Life and children's games are alike in this way: as in the new book “The Light We Carry” by Michelle Obama, the only way to win is to keep playing.

By Terri Schlichenmeyer | The Bookworm Sez

Your entire life is like a gigantic game of “Chutes and Ladders.”

Shake the dice, move two steps ahead, and you hit a ladder that takes you to higher places on the game board. Three more squares, and you hit a chute that sends you back to the bottom.

Life and children’s games are alike in this way: as in the new book “The Light We Carry” by Michelle Obama, the only way to win is to keep playing.

Pandemic, recession, political divide, market volatility. For many months, you’ve wondered every morning what fresh chaos you’ll deal with that day. So, what keeps you going? How do we overcome feelings of being “wobbly and unsettled?”

Michelle Obama says she ponders this “a lot.” She thinks about the things she uses to keep her “balanced and confident…moving forward even during times of high anxiety and stress.” She calls them her “personal toolbox” and she shares them in this book.

Most recently, she says, the pandemic taught her the value of having a hobby to relax into, to let her hands work, “my mind trailing behind.” Her early life taught her the value of seeing the difference between real fear and fear of newness and change, the latter of which is surprisingly easy to overcome. Newness offers us “chances to grow.”

“I’ve come to understand,” she says, “that sometimes the big stuff becomes easier to handle when you deliberately put something small alongside it.”

Listen to your body, Obama says, and “pay attention to how you’re feeling.” Collect small boosts and learn to look at yourself in a more positive way. Love your differences and be kind to yourself because it’s “everything.” Be open to connections with others; cultivate friendships you can count on. “Know your own light,” Obama says, and “Share it with another person.”

Be authentic.

And finally, she says, “Tell the truth, do your best by others, keep perspective, stay tough. That’s basically been our recipe for getting by.”

Chances are that at some point in the past nearly three years, you got out of bed one morning and you weren’t even sure why. It’s been a long haul and you’re tired but “The Light We Carry” can get you to the next goal, then the next.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like that kind of a book, though.

Author Michelle Obama is a true storyteller, and she uses a “show, not tell” method of writing. Readers are lulled into an entertaining story of life in the White House, or a gossipy snip of Obama’s married life, or a shared memory from her childhood and BAM! the words seamlessly roll over to an easy, do-able tip to survive in hard times. Nice surprise.

Readers will be further glad to know that this isn’t a cheerleading book. Instead of U-Rah-Rah, it’s U Can Do This, told in a calm, knowing manner. And if that’s what you need in this time of turmoil, let “The Light We Carry” help you back onto the ladder.

“The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times” by Michelle Obama

c.2022, Crown, $32.50, 319 pages.

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Black History

Yasuke, the Black Samurai

Not much has been recorded of Yasuke’s life. There are no verifiable records after 1582, and his birth country is unknown. What researchers do know is that Yasuke was a Black samurai who “served under Oda Nobunaga, one of the most important feudal lords in Japanese history and a unifier of the country,” wrote TIME journalist Kat Moon.

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Jacket cover of “African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan.”
Jacket cover of “African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan.”

By Tamara Shiloh

The year was 1579 when Yasuke, an African man standing more than 6 feet tall and possessing the strength of 10 men arrived in Japan. With him was Alessandro Valignano, an Italian Jesuit. The pair came by way of India, according to Thomas Lockley, a coauthor of “African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan.” Yasuke was most likely in service to Valignano as a bodyguard.

“As a priest, he wasn’t allowed to have any soldiers or guards,” Lockley said about Valignano during an interview with TIME. “Euphemistically, they had valets—manservants if you’d like—who were also versed in weapons.”

Not much has been recorded of Yasuke’s life. There are no verifiable records after 1582, and his birth country is unknown. What researchers do know is that Yasuke was a Black samurai who “served under Oda Nobunaga, one of the most important feudal lords in Japanese history and a unifier of the country,” wrote TIME journalist Kat Moon.

Lockley speculates that “given the circumstances of how the African man arrived at his employment with Valignano, it’s possible that Yasuke was enslaved as a child and taken from Africa to India,” and earned his freedom prior to meeting Valignano. Yasuke wasn’t “a slave in any sense of the word, I think he was a free actor,” Lockley said.

Much of what has been recorded about Yasuke was done so in notes found in Nobunaga’s records, the writings suggesting that Yasuke was viewed as a close friend. In fact, Nobunaga later took Yasuke under his wing.

Lockley added that Yasuke seemed to be “a confidant,” and that “Nobunaga is recorded as talking often with him. He was also a “weapon bearer” and likely served as a bodyguard.

During that time, few Japanese people had encountered an African man. Many who saw Yasuke considered him the embodiment of the black-skinned Buddha. Nobunaga was no exception, making Yasuke a samurai in his court.

In 2021, Netflix released its original animated series, “Yasuke.” Set in 16th century Japan, the storyline trails a lonely boatman known as the Black Samurai on his journey to protect a young girl with magical powers. Actor LaKeith Stanfield is the voice of the boatman, a role originally designated for the the late Chadwick Boseman.

It is likely that in later years foreigners from places including Africa, China, and Korea served in warrior positions in Japan. Yasuke though, “is supposedly the first recorded,” according to Lockley. “There are several records of Black Africans serving more minor lords, and we don’t know so much about them because the lords they were serving were more minor.”

Yasuke served Nobunaga faithfully until his death in 1582 in what the Japanese refer to as the Honnō-ji Incident.

Read more about the famous African samurai while learning African and Japanese history in “African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan,” by Geoffrey Girard and Thomas Lockley.

Source:  https://time.com/6039381/yasuke-black-samurai-true-story/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yasuke

https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/05/02/the-real-yasuke-is-far-more-interesting-than-his-netflix-show/

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Black History

Walter Lincoln Hawkins, A Modern-Day Inventor

Walter Lincoln Hawkins earned his degree in chemical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., a master’s in chemistry at Howard University and a doctoral at McGill University in Montreal. His specialization was cellulose chemistry. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University, he would become the first African American scientist on staff at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J. (1942). His career there spanned 34 years

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Walter Lincoln Hawkins. Photo courtesy of invent.org/inductees
Walter Lincoln Hawkins. Photo courtesy of invent.org/inductees

By Tamara Shiloh

During his early years, Walter Lincoln Hawkins (1911–1992) would disassemble and then reassemble several toys to create new ones. He built spring-driven toy boats to sail in the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial and a radio so he could listen to the Washington Senators baseball games.

No one knew then that young Walter’s fascination with how things worked would catapult this grandson of a slave into a notable career in chemical engineering.

Born in Wash., D.C., Hawkins’ father was a lawyer for the U.S. Census Bureau and his mother was a science teacher in the District of Columbia school system. According to sources, Hawkins was orphaned as a young child and then raised by his sister.

Not much is known about this timeline of these events, only that his upbringing was “in a world where it was difficult for African Americans to find adequate encouragement in education and at work.”

A physics teacher in Hawkins’ Wash., D.C. high school purchased a new car every year. Hawkins being curious, found out that the teacher had invented a self-starter mechanism to replace automobile hand cranks, and the new cars were partial payment from the company that purchased the mechanism.

Discovering that a person could make a living tinkering with mechanics was all he needed to know. He’d already shown promise in math and science and developed a sense of self-confidence. Confirming that his passion could be a career ignited his dreams.

Hawkins went on to earn his degree in chemical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., a master’s in chemistry at Howard University and a doctoral at McGill University in Montreal. His specialization was cellulose chemistry. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University, he would become the first African American scientist on staff at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J. (1942). His career there spanned 34 years.

At Bell Labs, Hawkins developed a reputation for adding years to the life of plastics, enabling universal telephone service, making it economical to service providers. He conducted research on polymers, specifically thermal and oxidative stabilization of polymers for telecommunications.

Telephone cables, until 1950, were coated with a costly and toxic lead-based material. This was replaced with polyethylene, which quickly became brittle and breakable in sunlight. Hawkins, along with a partner, invented a polymer (1956) as a replacement. The new material, today known as plastic cable sheath, went into production in the 1960s. It was widely used as an inexpensive, durable, and safe coating for telecommunications wire. It remains in use today, protecting fiber optic cable.

In addition to his numerous achievements at Bell Labs, Hawkins contributed to the development of techniques for recycling and reusing plastics. After retiring from Bell Labs (1976), he remained active as a mentor, educator, and industrial visionary for many years. Before his death in 1992, Hawkins was honored with a National Medal of Technology.

Read and discuss with the youth ways Black American inventors have impacted our everyday lives in Doresa A. Jennings “The STEAM Chasers.”

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