Being parked outside the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) gives Mobile East a great view of two landmarks of the Civil Rights Movement: Kelly Ingram Park across the street and the 16th Street Baptist Church down the block. In the midst of all this history, we also have the pleasure of partnering with BCRI to invite members of Birmingham’s African-American community to record their stories.
Jomo and Asha Xulu were our first participants from BCRI. Asha jumped right in given the chance to ask her husband about anything in his life. She was most curious about his childhood growing up in South Africa: “You never talk about it!”
Jomo shared with Asha how police would raid the homes of black South Africans to check lodger’s permits – every home was required to register who was specifically living there at any given time. If the police found someone who wasn’t on the permit they were arrested. He also recalled happier times when he and friends attended Zulu cultural festivals on the weekends where people had a chance to “meet, eat, sing and dance.”
Inspired by the Zulu festivals he went to as a teen and by his experiences growing up under apartheid, Jomo has dedicated his life to preserving and sharing his South African heritage and history for future generations – starting at home with his son. “He’ll be the first one to hear this CD whether he wants to or not!” Asha joked.
Jomo and Asha also founded the Umdabu Dance Company. Together they choreograph and perform traditional as well as contemporary South African dances all over the country. At the end of their interview, Jomo grinned at Asha, “I’m glad I found someone as passionate as I am!”