A third-generation Hyde Parker and an Associate Professor in the Department of English and the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs at Loyola University Chicago, Dr. Badia Ahad-Legardy was just a three-year-old in my Head Start class in 1978. When her grandparents, Annie and Eddie, purchased a home on the west side of Hyde Park, who knew that a legacy of love, joy, and education would be fulfilled two times over?
I have concluded that Hyde Park is nostalgic in many ways. Hyde Park is the backdrop to the city’s first World’s Fair, the Dusable Museum of African American History, and many more outstanding landmarks of diversity and innovation, including the national headquarters of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. All of those aforementioned entities create nostalgic feelings for many, as defined by Dr. Badia Ahad-Legardy in her new book, “Afro-Nostalgia: Feeling Good in Contemporary Black Culture.”
There is one point that must be made: This is a “complex” book, one written for academics, but appealing to humanitarians and those invested in our society — that is to say, everyone. This is a needed dialogue to help solve one of our biggest problems, racism. This book is the foundation to a culturally responsive mentality as well as documented research for why we must uplift and highlight African Americans beyond stereotypes. It makes an impeccable argument that cannot be refuted, and Dr. Ahad-Legardy’s brilliance is interwoven through stories of writers, artists and chefs, as well as cultural imperatives and their meanings.
What she does that hasn’t been done well is bridge the gap of understanding the joy and the pain that is associated with being a black person, without blame. She makes what most would consider difficult conversations easy, as masterfully described in her previous book, “Difficult Subjects: Insights and Strategies for Teaching About Race, Sexuality, and Gender,”which I firmly believe was fertile ground for her current masterpiece.
For the community of educators this book is a breath of fresh air. The truth, as I see it: It is a joy to be black, through the pain and the struggle of being misunderstood and marginalized. This book gives hope and defines the possibilities of black joy even if it is loosely tied to pain. This book metaphorically screams, “Look on the bright side.” Blacks do experience and can recall the happier times and her proof is found in the works of arts and artifacts left by our elders.
Even Dr. Ahad-Legardy's family home on Ingleside is the epitome of feeling good in contemporary balck culture. Mr. Lowe fought in the war and surely should be able to provide a legacy for his family. Due to his ability to experience love and joy, he had the hope and courage to make a decision that would set his family apart from many children of color born in the late fifties by making the conscious move to Hyde Park.
Dr. Ahad-Legardy ties in art, music, and culinary arts in this book in a way that will be thought-provoking for many, revealing to them the secrets of the joy of black culture. She artfully constructed a compelling argument that we must all entertain if we want to rise to the expectations of our young inaugural poet laureate Amanda Gorman, who wrote:
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn't mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man
Dr. Ahad-Legardy profoundly dissects the American legacy. In the introduction to the book, she shares a quote quote that resonates with me: “The artistic work examined in this book produce a public archive, a moodscape of an alternative black historical past that, through nostalgia, engenders a sense of community, continuities, and reparation for black futures.” She does this through a deep exploration of art, food, and music. This is a must-read.
Dina Williams is a Hyde Park resident.
Badia Ahad-Legardy will appear in conversation with WBEZ reporter and author Natalie Moore on Thursday, May 27, from noon to 1 p.m., at a virtual event organized by the Evanston Public Library. More information can be found here.