Opinion: Memories, personal gratitude define Thanksgiving, but Americans must confront painful history

Perspectives on Thanksgiving point to different meanings, variety of experiences

Published on: November 24, 2022 6:00 AM EST

A meal to linger over will be the theme for Thursday's Thanksgiving dinner family gathering dinner party based around the turkey.

Thanksgiving is reminder of valued friends, bonds we build in our communities

One of the greatest blessings of making more and more journeys around the sun is learning to understand and take strength from the basic reality that all we actually have is the love and the light we share. This Thanksgiving fills us with more gratitude than ever for the gifts that got us here and the grace that lets us stay.

We give thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts that named me as an NEA Jazz Master in April 2018, which was when I met my visionary partner Robert Wiedmaier (the master chef hosting the Jazz Masters awards dinner for the Kennedy Center that night at his famed Marcel’s restaurant in Washington, DC.). He brought his talents to help us create this new, world-class home for swinging music at Keystone Korner Baltimore, which opened in Harbor East on International Jazz Day, April 30, 2019.

The most lasting art all involves a “suspension of disbelief.” After the pandemic froze us all in our tracks in mid-March 2020, we had to continue to believe and work with even more dedication and effectiveness (as we still have to do) to bring the most unifying and healing music in the world to Baltimore on a weekly basis.

We most deeply appreciate the miraculous musical artists such as Ron Carter, Roy Haynes, Pat Metheny, Patrice Rushen, Eddie Palmieri, Roy Ayers, Charles McPherson, Christian McBride, Sean Jones, Warren Wolf, John Scofield, Dennis Chambers, Bill Charlap, Cindy Blackman Santana, Marcus Johnson, Paquito D’Rivera, Cyrus Chestnut, Chelsea Green, Donald Harrison, Mike Stern, Rene Marie, Gary Bartz, Billy Harper, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lisa Fischer and so many others who continue to help keep our Keystone Korner Baltimore dream evermore alive.

And most of all, we give endless thanks and hugs to our exceptionally dedicated staff and angels of the Keystone family that includes all our most devoted and loving jazz and R&B fans, without whose continued support there would be no Keystone Korner Baltimore and without whom we would not still be celebrating the fact that our blood needs its eyes, too, if only to see the light in our souls.

Todd Barkan, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, was owner of the storied Keystone Korner jazz club in San Francisco from 1972 to 1983. He reopened the venue as Keystone Korner Baltimore in April 2019.

Community support vital to local institutions is deserving of gratitude

This Thanksgiving, we have an awful lot to be grateful for at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. Not only have we emerged from the pandemic with our audiences returning, but we are also celebrating our 20th anniversary season.

We are grateful for our donors who support our work so generously and to our audiences who value our accessible and welcoming approach to Shakespeare. We are indebted to the teachers and parents who make sure that students throughout the region can see live Shakespeare at our school matinees and to the city of Baltimore, which has provided ARPA funding to ensure that we can serve Title 1 schools at no cost to them.

We are enormously lucky to live in the state of Maryland, which supports the arts fully and helped us survive the pandemic through thoughtful and generous grants and programs.

Finally, we are thankful for 20 phenomenal years on stage and for a responsive, open, talented and supportive team of artists, volunteers, board, and staff. It’s because of all these generous friends that we have reached a score of years.

As always, Shakespeare says it best: Our “hearts are replete with thankfulness.”

Lesley Malin is producing executive director of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in Baltimore.

Holiday evokes childhood memories, but adult understanding casts different light

Thanksgiving is a beloved American holiday of which I have conflicting feelings: I have wonderful memories of drawing turkeys with my fingers, very large family gatherings filled with singing uncles, baking pies, raucous laughter, eating and more eating. But it was also a time that as an adult I came to understand and become intensely aware of the American mythology that constituted a big lie.

The truth of the era and events that the holiday commemorates is not a story of benevolent Pilgrims sharing a bountiful harvest in 1691 with the Indigenous people who helped them survive. It is instead a consistent reminder of war and colonial oppression endured by our Native American siblings. The very same colonists enslaved my ancestors for profit.

Yet, I am grateful.

In 2021, my husband passed from COVID-19, and earlier this year, I survived a life-changing stroke. I am immensely grateful for my life, my two sons, my family, my church and my incredible friends. I am grateful and appreciate the moment of focus on that gratitude that Thanksgiving allows.

Author and famed womanist Alice Walker offers her feelings about the power and meaning of giving thanks: “‘Thank you’ is the best prayer anyone could say … ‘thank you’ expresses extreme gratitude, humility [and] understanding.”

Thank you. I wish you a happy, joy-filled and reflective holiday.

Lea Gilmore is the minister for racial justice and multicultural engagement and first service music director at Govans Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.

Confronting truths moves celebrations, commemorations in new directions

Back in the day, decade after decade, we believed whatever we were taught or shown in school. Yearly, beginning shortly after Halloween energy dissipated, we went into preparation mode for what is known as Thanksgiving.

We grew up with cut-out paper images of peaceful pilgrims and colorfully befeathered “Indians” (that’s what they were called in school, in cartoons and in TV Westerns). We truly believed those folks all sat down together eating turkeys, happily grateful for the gifts of each others’ cultures. And so, we’ve all sat down together with our parents, siblings, maybe some friends and extended family members, and we feasted on foods specifically designated for the last Thursday of every November.

The information superhighway, as it was once called, is now the place where we can uncover so much knowledge that we didn’t get in textbooks or classrooms. While still not widely taught, we’ve learned about the horrific brutality endured by the Indigenous people of North America at the hands of colonizing immigrants.

Descendants of those Native peoples have now claimed and regard this traditional day of family and feasting as a day of mourning.

Millions of us still hold onto this day as an annual coming together of folks who want to dine together, watch football and/or the biggest parade, plus give thanks for each other. It is for many, the beginning of eight weeks filled with cultural and religious holy days around the world.

Reckoning with the true history means recognizing that a celebration of Thanksgiving Day has been for Native Americans a long and unkind slap in the face. But in the realm of love, healing and gratitude, this designated day of giving thanks, family reconciliations and breaking bread together has profound meaning for many.

It could be part of national atonement for the grievous inhumanity that is undeniably a part of the historical record. We can redefine what this cultural holiday means and make it loud and clear so that it touches everyone’s heart. As we mourn with our Native sisters and brothers for their ancestors, we consciously open our hearts and minds to allow more genuine gratitude, widespread radical forgiveness, and deeper, more loving connections with the people in our lives.

Through social media and political awareness, Thanksgiving is slowly becoming a day redefined. We are evolving. That’s such a good thing.

Maria Broom is an actress, educator, choreographer, and storyteller who lives in Baltimore. She is known for such roles as Marla Daniels in all five seasons of HBO’s “The Wire.”