Community members listened intently as Janie Green told her story of activism and resiliency in a film written by her daughter and Our Time Press Publisher Bernice Green entitled “And Call Her Blessed: A Portrait of Janie.” In listening to Janie Green speak in the film production at the Reel Sister’s Film Festival this past Sunday is to know that the information that you are receiving is valuable, insightful and historical, all in one. Janie quickly establishes herself as a no-nonsense, dedicated community activist who made it her business to ensure that those in her community prospered. It was evident that the audience was enthralled by Janie’s candor and sagacity from the minute she started talking. Personally, I was blown away by Janie Green’s intelligence, poise and distinctive voice and left the Magic Johnson AMC Theater that much wiser because of the rich life that she lived.
Janie opened the short film in which she was featured by talking about her ancestors. Particularly, Janie spoke to the difficult circumstances of her family members but highlighted how, despite it all, her family members were dignified people. Her father, she noted, could not read or write but “was a man.” The ability to “be a man,” or resilient, was an important recurring theme in the brief yet highly informative audiovisual of Janie Green. At one point in the story, Janie recollects going to the Office of Social Services to ensure that the youth in the Eleanor Roosevelt Housing Complex, where she lived, had access to conveniences that many took for granted such as breakfast, dinner or even educational enrichment programs.
Given Janie’s wisdom and commitment to her community, it comes as no surprise that the importance of education was instilled into her by her mother at a young age. Case in point, Janie recalls that “she owed her mother one thing, and that was that piece of paper on the wall,” in referring to her high school diploma. It goes without saying that things were much different in Janie’s day and a high school diploma was an even bigger deal than it is today (and today it is a big deal). Though Janie has a high school diploma, in serious jest, she refers to herself as being a Ph.D. holder from the “School of Hard Knocks.” In describing herself this way, we get to see Janie’s humor, yes, but something else can be gleaned from that reference. Though some in the audience may have laughed at her statement, in reflecting on the moment, Janie was not laughing at all while she said it, hence my use of the phrase “serious jest” to describe it. Can you blame her though? I mean she only met the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis and worked closely with Shirley Chisholm. She was only actively involved through formal civic organizations in the betterment and upliftment of the larger Bedford-Stuyvesant community long before it was popular. Frequently, Janie’s track record made it so that community officials and politicians called on her to handle important matters pertaining to the community. If I had half of Janie’s credentials that were accumulated through her seamless record of community involvement, I, too might say that I was a Ph.D. holder from the “School of Hard Knocks.” The moving and shaking at the grassroots level that Janie took part in was noteworthy enough that Jacqueline and Robert Kennedy visited the Bedford-Stuyvesant community to see what the ruckus was all about. Their visit was captured in a photo in which Janie is front and center.
From “And Call Her Blessed: A Portrait of Janie,” several conclusions can be made, and even more lessons can be learned. First and foremost, we are reminded of the resiliency of our people. Janie Green is a prime example of just how resilient African-Americans are and continue to be in the face of great odds. Secondly, and arguably just as important, it is evident that there are many unsung heroes in the extended fight for African-American equality. Many people on the ground, or grassroots level, have tilled the soil for the groundwork of the liberation of African-Americans and have historically been unrecognized. In telling Janie’s story, Bernice Green allows for one of the many stories of triumph and resiliency to be told and consequently acknowledged.