Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

And the winner is… October 3, 2020

Graphic from Minnesota Library Association

POWERFUL AND EMPOWERING.

Those two words describe the winner of the first-ever Minnesota Author Project: Communities Create Award announced Thursday during the Minnesota Library Association’s annual conference.

Justice Makes a Difference—The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire by Artika Tyner and Jacklyn M. Milton won the award. And it’s a well-deserved honor bestowed on the 16-page book themed on making a difference in this world. Illustrators Jeremy Norton and Janos Orban also deserve credit for exceptional art.

The book tells the story of Justice and her grandmother, who teaches her granddaughter about her value. “…don’t let someone tell you that you’re too young to make a difference.” And then she goes on to cite numerous individuals who have made a difference, like Ida B. Wells, a journalist who advanced racial equality through her writing.

“Words are powerful,” Grandma tells Justice. “They can be used in powerful ways to do good or to do harm.”

And so the storyline goes with the authors weaving historical figures into the heart of their message—that we each hold within us the power to effect change, to help others, to make a difference. Individuals like Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to run for U.S. President, or attorney Charles Hamilton Houston, who worked to end segregation in schools. Or Justice.

This book is as fitting today as 60-plus years ago, which says something. We still need to hear the message that what we say and do, or what we don’t say or don’t do, matters.

I’d encourage you to read this award-winning book penned by Tyner, an educator, civil rights attorney and founder of Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute, and Milton, an educator and community advocate. Proceeds from the book will support educational programming at Planting People, an organization seeking to plant seeds of social change via education, training and community outreach.

By reading this book, I learned more about individuals who cared and led and worked hard for change. Brief bios on those six leaders who inspired Justice end this powerful and empowering book.

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SIX BOOKS COMPETED for the Minnesota Author Projects: Communities Create Award, including one in which my poem, “Life at Forty Degrees,” published. Although our collection of poetry, Legacies: Poetic Living Wills, did not win, I am honored to have been in the group of six books selected as award finalists.

Congratulations to all five finalists and to the winner, Justice Makes a Difference. Because yes, it does. And, yes she can.

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SPECIAL THANKS to Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy for submitting the collection of poems by 16 Rice County poets to this competition. He is an enthusiastic and much-appreciated poet and ambassador for poets and our poetry. I appreciate you, Rob.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In honor of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. January 21, 2019

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Photographed in 2018 in a storefront window of a business in downtown Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. —from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

 

© Photo copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Five stars for “The Help” August 31, 2011

ABOUT ONCE EVERY two years, I see a movie in a theater. Maybe three times a year, I’ll rent a movie from a video store. Occasionally I’ll watch one on television.

I tell you this because I’m no movie expert, critic or star-struck Hollywood fan. A movie needs to hold promise as an excellent film before I’ll spend a dime, or my time, watching it.

“Sweet Land,” based on the book by Bemidji writer Will Weaver, and the classic 1970s “Love Story” are among my all-time favorite movies.

Now you can add “The Help,” based on the #1 New York Times bestseller by Kathryn Stockett, to that list.

I have yet to read the book. In fact, I hadn’t heard of Stockett’s novel until several days ago. Yes, I sometimes live with my head buried in the sand.

The movie version of the book might help more than a few viewers pull their heads from the sand. In a nutshell, “The Help” tells the story of black women working as maids in upper class Southern white households during the 1960s.

As a native Minnesotan who has never even traveled into the deep South, my impressions of Southern history are based mostly on books, stories, photos and films. Whether “The Help” gets it right, I’m uncertain. But, sadly, I expect what I viewed on the big screen depicts historical reality.

I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, so I’ll simplify the storyline: “The Help” focuses on one young woman’s efforts to reveal the stories of the maids who serve those rich, white Southern women in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter, an aspiring writer, does that by interviewing the black women—first, Aibileen, and next, Minny—and then writing a book.

The writer angle, certainly, is a familiar one to me given I’ve been a writer for decades. But the whole “hiring of help in the household” is mostly foreign, except for the time during my high school years when I cleaned house every Saturday for a family in my hometown of Vesta. I was well-treated, well-paid for then, and simply happy to have a job—even if I had to scrub the toilet, wax the linoleum and wipe the bottoms of the legs on the kitchen chairs, all while the teenaged son slept upstairs.

My experience as a maid/cleaning girl can’t compare, not by any stretch, to that of the black women portrayed in “The Help.” They are treated more like slaves, as second-class citizens, as human beings without rights.

Especially troubling for me are the scenes involving bathroom usage—blacks prohibited from using the same bathrooms as whites.

I cried when one of the main characters, the maid Aibileen, spoke of her son’s death and how the white women continued playing bridge like nothing had happened.

Aibileen also repeats, through the course of the movie, this line which stands out for me among all the others: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

After the movie, which is a lengthy 2 ¼ hours, my husband and I and others in the theater sat through the credits. Typically we would leave as soon as the movie ended. But “The Help” calls for sitting in quiet contemplation in a darkened theater, pondering the story and hoping, hoping, that life for blacks in the South today does not at all resemble life there in the 1960s.

HAVE YOU SEEN “The Help” or read the book? If you have, please share your thoughts. I’d like to hear your opinion, positive or negative, on the movie and/or book.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling