HAATz Off to Pioneer Teachers of MPS Column:
By Taki S. Raton
In festive cultural circles he is known as referenced by the Philadelphia ’s ‘Keepers of the Culture’ organization in December of 2002 “an icon among storytellers everywhere.” And it was in 2002 when Milwaukee ’s own Tejumola F. Ologboni was the honored recipient of the prestigious Zora Neale Hurston Award.
Founded in 1982 by Mary Carter Smith and Linda Goss, the National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS) presents this award to “an individual who has contributed to the preservation and perpetuation of African American folklore.”
Born January 7, 1891, Zora Neale Hurston, for which the award is named, was an African American folklorist, anthropologist and author during the era of the Harlem Renaissance. Of her four novels, more than 50 published short stories, plays and essays, she is best known for her 1937 novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”
“Teju” as he is known in Milwaukee, nationally and internationally was given the award for his accomplishments and contributions, according to published accounts, “to the world of African American Folklore and Storytelling.”
Past honorees upon which Teju shares this award winning stage would be famed playwright, performing artist and film star Ossie Davis, songwriter, singer and playwright Oscar Brown, Jr. historian and author John Hope Franklin, master storyteller and author Jackie Torrence, and writer-philosopher Hugh Hill.
During his introduction, the National Association of Black Storytellers at the 2002 awards ceremony said that Teju has been “blessed with exceptional talents,” and that he is “dedicated to this heritage, his art, and his culture. He is a master storyteller, master drummer, great poet, and gifted dancer.”
NABS adds that Teju has not compromised his art or his culture to please a status quo and that he embodies “the very spirit and essence of the African Oral Tradition. He is truly one of our cultural treasurers who deserve to be recognized and honored by our organization.”
And to those of us locally, Bro. Teju additionally, and in particular to this writer, reflects and represents a Higher Order Perfect Black Upline (HOPBU) as mirrored by the words of Malcolm X who said:
“The thing that has made the so-called Negro in America fail, more than any other thing is his lack of knowledge of self. We have Black men who have mastered the field of medicine, we have Black men who have mastered other fields, but very seldom do we have Black men in America who have mastered the knowledge of this history of the Black man himself.”
Teju, would be among those unique Black men who have mastered historical and ancestral knowledge of self and thus has become as written in the text of Armah, Ayi Kwei “Two Thousand Seasons” (1973) for us a “hearer, seerer, utter, thinker, rememberer,” those healers and prophets called upon to keep us focused, sighted and anchored on and towards the path of our living and reclaimed African way.
Ologboni is one of four honored recipients of the Gerald Wallace Lifetime Achievement awards sponsored by HAAT at Serb Hall on March 26, 2011.
Founded by Vickie Singh, HAAT is the Historic African American Teachers of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) recognized for breaking down racial barriers in teacher hiring and for teaching and inspiring many young people in Milwaukee who have today become adult professionals, government, corporate, educational, and community leaders.
Teju was born in Salina, Kansas to missionary Baptist parents and moved with his family to Milwaukee when he was 11 yearsold. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was awarded a Federal Foreign Language Graduate Fellowship to study African Language at Bloomington ’s Indiana University.
Teaching credentials include the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, Marquette University and in Racine, Wisconsin’s Dominican College.
He heralds from a long family tradition of storytellers. His mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, and a great-grandfather were storytellers. His stories are drawn from African traditions, African American history and folklore.
Teju has appeared in movies and videos to include “African Story Magic” by Hollywood’s New Light Entertainment and “Tallow Glee and the Golden Key” distributed by Golden Books, Inc. He is cited in “Two Kinds of Women” edited by Barnes and Goss, “Talk That Talk,” in New Black Voices’ “Black Henry” edited by Abraham Chapman, and in “Desert Traveler” included in “Pot Likker Stories” edited by Coleman and Coleman.
His CD recordings include “The Egg that Sang the Blues,” “Ham Bones n’Pot Likker an’ a lil’ bit o’ gospel,” and “When God Was a Woman”.
He has been a student of the martial arts for over 40 years and is additionally recognized as an award-winning sculptor and was scriptwriter for the noted docudrama “Black Settlements”.
Teju has worked as a standup comedian, as an actor, musician, and as a radio and television host, skills that he brings to his storytelling repertoire.
Critics have said of him that “He is all energy, a whirlwind on stage making connections that reverberates with truths that stretch across racial and generational barriers. He can excite and inspire an audience like the ancestors of old.”
And just to add to critic sentiments, Bro. Teju majestically in the esteemed hierarchy of our own HOPBU iconically bridges our African/African American heritage to an African forever as his talents, gift, and cultural offerings resound in our tomorrows for ourselves, our children, our community, and for our future as embodied in the words of the Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey:
“God and nature first make us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always that great law. Let the sky and God be our limit and eternity our measurement.”
For additional information on HAAT and the March 26 Gerald Wallace Lifetime Achievement Awards ceremony, please contact Singh at 551-2107