Thursday, 5 February 2015

Heritage Spotlight : the Ubuntu Biography Project

This month the US celebrates its African-American History Month. To celebrate the contribution lgbt people of African heritage have made I would like to mention the following Facebook page.

The Ubuntu BiographyProject, as it says on its “About” page, is “a collection of biographical tributes to SLG/LGBT/Queer Men and Women of African Descent”.

What I love most about this project is its “chronologically-timed randomness”, as I call it. That means I like the way it uses the date to decide which person is featured (not unlike the way I often plan this blog). Most often the profile features someone who was born on that day. I’m always amazed at how a new name, sometimes two, appears each day, and even more pleased at the amount of information which is given.

The founder of the Ubuntu Biography Project is Stephen Maglott. A few years ago he realised how few resources existed in which the lives of African-descended members of the lgbt community were available. In 2013 he set up his Facebook page, the Ubuntu Biography Project.

The word “Ubuntu” comes from the Nguni Bantu language of central and South Africa. It seems to be one of those words that is difficult to translate accurately. Stephen gives the word “human-ness” as its most literal translation, but I’ll quote Stephen from his Facebook page – “A more common interpretation of the meaning translates as ‘I am, because we are’. It is an empowering affirmation of humanity’s interconnectedness and of our collective responsibility to cherish one another.”

To give you an idea of the eclectic mix of the people Stephen profiles, here is a list of the people he featured in the first week of this year :
Guy Watson (b.1959), HIV educator, writer and genealogist,
Rev. W. Jeffrey Campbell (b.1966), pastor in the Fresh Start Church,
Alvin Ailey (1931-1989), acclaimed choreographer and dancer,
Rev. MacArthur Flournoy (b.1960), co-founder of Oasis Christian Fellowship,
George Washington Carver (c.1860-1943), botanist and agriculturalist,
Jamil Fletcher (b.1965), entrepreneur and philanthropist,
Tyrieak Menes (b.1989), writer, blogger, and marriage equality advocate,
Michael Sam (b.1990), professional American footballer.

The Ubuntu Biography Project has already given me ideas for future articles and sparked my interest in areas of African lgbt heritage that I knew nothing or little about. As an example, I’ll begin next month’s International Women’s History Month with an article on an extraordinary woman who lived in the American Wild West.

I hope you have a look at the project’s Facebook page. I think you’ll find it inspiring, and if nothing else it’ll prove that old saying that “you learn something new every day”. One omission remains, however. When can we read Stephen Maglott’s own profile in the Ubuntu Biography Project?

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