ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS
Renee Fajardo has been a freelance writer for over ten years. She specializes in all things South West. Her writing assignments include artist profiles, art gallery reviews, travel and entertainment news. Her pieces can be read on line at readfive.com and caminos.us. She also writes for the North Denver News and La Voz, Colorado's largest Latino news paper.She is the Denver corespondent for Indian Country Today. She recently was awarded a writing fellowhip from the Rocky Mounatin Women's Instite and will be working on interviewing women artist from throughout the South West for an new anthology titled "Return of the Corn Mothers".
Barbara Shannon-Bannister - Aurora, Colorado
Barbara was raised in New Orleans in a well educated family, amid social unrest, segregation, and the poverty of other black families. Following her family’s religious convictions and civil rights commitment, she became an activist early on. She has a BA from Wyoming and an M.Ed in Education and Energy Administration from Antioch. She has a burning desire to help those who are voiceless. She has worked for the city of Aurora, Colorado for 25 years and is currently Chief of Community Relations. She advocates for and supports residents by providing access to services, information, resources, and scholarship aid. She also plans events celebrating Aurora’s diverse community and provides cultural awareness training to city employees and residents.
She founded and directs Aurora’s first performing arts organization, the non-profit Grand Design, Inc., and is choir director for its multi-cultural chorale. She and her husband Gaurdie have been married over 40 years and have two grown children, both of whom received a Ph.D.
Growing up in the South, my early education was substandard, because of segregation. My mother was a teacher and my father was a businessman. They knew the importance of reading, and of following current events. We had opportunities that others did not. We had a comfort zone materially, and a duty to give back. This lesson has stayed with me all my life.
I have been highly favored by the Lord. He has given me much, and He requires much. All I have comes from Him. I have had a blessed life. Each day is full of expectation, especially because I can be an advocate and resource for those in need. My husband and I are blessed to have two accomplished, successful, beautiful children, who reflect our passion for life.
I’ve seen people suffer. I’ve been blessed with the ability to alleviate some of it. My driving purpose is to make a difference. I want to help those who can’t help themselves or don’t know how to get help. I’m passionate about discrimination. I know what it’s like to be treated as if you don’t matter because of your skin color or culture. I’ve been given great energy. I rarely say “no” to those in need, which sometimes stretches me... but God always provides and sustains me.
My grandmother used to recite a poem to my younger sister and me, about a little girl getting into a snuff box. The lesson was, “don’t touch things that aren’t yours without permission.” It was a great story, told by a loving, caring woman who I admire to this day.
A turning point in my life was being mentored at boarding school by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, especially Sr. Marie Cecelia. She loved me and encouraged me to try choir directing for our glee club. I’ve directed choirs and music groups all my life. I believe my music has helped shape my attitude and altitude. My light shines through every note and every chord.
Barbara’s Life Quote
My maternal grandmother was Sarah Beechman Perry, born in 1879 in Gramercy, Louisiana, one of five children. The Emancipation Proclamation had occurred in 1863, so my grandmother’s mother and father had been slaves most of their adult life.
My grandmother, though a freeman, still grew up on the plantation, as it was the only life her parents had known. When I was a little girl growing up in New Orleans, Grandmother told me and my sisters about Ma Bell (her mother) and how they all worked so hard for Massa, cutting wood, picking cotton, and washing clothes. She had only gone to grade school because she was needed to help with chores. I remember that as she told these stories, there was never any bitterness in her voice. It was just the way things were back then, she always told us.
My grandmother was very religious and was known around New Orleans as a healer. Folks came from all around to have her lay hands on them. They all called her “Aunt Sarah.” I remember her using Irish potatoes to cure a fever, and believe it or not, a few drops of turpentine on a sugar cube to cut a cold.
My best memory of my grandmother was when I was about 11. My sister, who was five years younger, and I always went to visit her on the weekends. On the drive over, my father always stopped and bought fresh, hot donuts. I can still taste the warm, sweet stickiness and see myself and my sister sitting on grandmother’s porch, eating.
Grandmother was always working, ironing clothes, cooking, gathering eggs. I never saw her sit around doing nothing. When you grow up on a plantation and your life is work from sunup until past sundown, things are different. Your time is precious, and the free time you have is even more valuable. If you can, imagine what it would be like to grow up and not be able to watch TV, read a book, or go to a movie when you felt like it. When grandmother was a girl, her time was strictly regimented. She had little time to herself for anything except work.
Going to church was a pleasure, and I think it is why she was so devoted to God and doing God’s work, because she knew how valuable every moment of a day was. She was a gentle, kind woman. I never heard her raise her voice or say anything unkind. Watching her doing chores was almost like praying, because she did it so peacefully. It was comforting to know she had everything under control and did it with great care and cheer.
On Saturday nights we would choose a chicken from the yard (even in the city of New Orleans, folks kept chickens) and butcher it for dinner. I know this sounds unusual to most folks today, but I am actually grateful that grandma made us think about where our food came from. We all realized that so we could eat meat or chickens, some animal had to give up its life. This is a lesson I will never forget! I also learned from my grandma that putting vegetables and greens on the table was hard work. Everything we ate had to be butchered, grown or harvested—so eating was hard work!
When we sat down for our Saturday meal of stewed chicken, bread pudding, and greens, it was delicious. My mouth still waters to think about the feast my grandma made. Funny thing is, I never knew my grandma was not a rich woman. To me and to my family, her food was food fit for kings and queens. And that is just what she made us feel like. We were blessed by the Lord to be able to partake of wonderful meals with our family. The two most memorable dishes she cooked were her sweet potatoes and corn bread. The sweet potatoes were baked whole in grandmother’s coal stove by putting them in the ashes. When they were done, we peeled them like apples and ate them whole, yum yum! For a special treat we would get glasses of buttermilk, rich and thick and oh sooo good, and pour a bit over my grandma’s secret corn bread recipe. This is what heaven tasted like, I was sure!
My grandmother used to recite a little poem to us when we visited. It was in an odd, archaic language (Old English), but my sister and I begged for it every time. It was about a little girl who was told over and over not to touch other people’s things, out of respect. She didn’t listen, and one day, she got into her grandmother’s snuff box. The result was disastrous—we all know that snuff up your nose and in your eyes is not a pleasant experience. We laughed when we heard this poem, but it was actually a lesson about God’s love for us. Sometimes we have to let go of our ego and have faith. We have to let go of our own desire and follow a higher path. It is about being humble and walking with the Lord.
When my grandmother was on her dying bed, I was a grown woman living with my husband and children in Wyoming. I received a call from my auntie. She said, “Mama said to come home now, and put some action into it.” It was Thanksgiving time, and I got on the plane and went home to be with her. I did not cry or panic. I remember thinking my grandma needed me to be strong and to make it home to see her before she went home to the Lord.
This soft spoken-woman who never raised her voice in anger had lived her whole life in glory to God. I learned so much about life from her. Among the gifts she bestowed on me are everlasting, faith, love, compassion, devotion, and thankfulness. I am confident that if I live as good life as she did, I will see her again one day.