In October of 2022, MHC partnered with Robin Hickman-Winfield of SoulTouch Productions and The Ordway Theater to form A Vision Trust of Black Men. Robin’s vision is a group of Black men committed to uplifting the Black community and embracing the legacies of Black Veterans. In February 2023, The Ordway will be presenting the Broadway production of A Soldier’s Play, providing an opportunity for the Vision Trust to come together to explore the issues raised in Charles Fuller’s play, encourage their communities to see a performance, and widen access for those audiences. But the Vision Trust is more than audience development, as told by two of its members, Alex Tittle and Dr. David Hamlar.
As a student and member of the Black community, I have placed a tremendous amount of time advocating for the civil and human rights of Black men, women and children in all of our various dimensions of diversity. The journey of descendants of slaves in the United States is a very complicated one. It is one that is plagued with obstacles, mistrust, and generational trauma that the average American could not fathom. The provocative thought that America expects the Black community to ignore the trauma of our ancestors and move forward in ignorance is short-sighted and at the very least unfair. When Robin Hickman-Winfield, of the famous photographer family Gordon Parks, reached out to me asking me to consider joining her Black Vision Trust, I could not turn this down.
In 2013, I had the privilege of being recognized by the Minnesota Humanities Center (MHC) as an inaugural awardee of their “Veterans’ Voices” award. At the time, the award was bestowed to Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. This focus on younger Veterans made a strong impact on me and my fellow honorees. I could not be prouder to be a part of this award, but also to be affiliated with MHC was an honor and opportunity to uplift the voices of Black Veterans like myself, but also that of my father. My father was a US Army Veteran of 22 years, who also endured four separate tours of service in Vietnam. My dad, Master Sergeant Willie Tittle, served during a period when Veterans did not receive awards, much less the basic respect of employment or benefits that Veterans today take advantage. In addition to receiving the honor of the Veterans’ Voices Award, I was asked to join the Board of Directors of MHC. I honorably served on this board for over six years and represented the organization at a Washington DC congressional subcommittee in support of the national humanities. My commitment to MHC and advocacy for the programs encouraged Robin to invite me and other Black men, with an enthusiasm and passion to uplift the Black community, to be a part of this Vision Trust. I had the privilege of knowing other amazing professionals that joined Robin’s vision, such as Retired Major General, Dr. David Hamlar. David currently serves on MHC’s Board of Directors and this organization could not have a better representative of the medical, military, and Black communities. The power of this group has the potential of moving mountains.
The potential of this Vision Trust is limitless. Our first charge is to support and promote the stage production of “A Solider’s Play”. This play recounts the story of a Black military unit based in the WWII era. The Vision Trust also brought The Ordway Theatre’s president and CEO Christopher Harrington to the table. In this group, we all see the value in this story. Each of us are impacted by the trauma our fathers and grandfathers faced during and after fighting in this World War. We commonly recognize that trauma can and, in many cases, has been passed down from generation to generation. The discrimination of our country impacts each of us from this period and we can all feel the practices and unfortunate realities. The poverty that each family lived, because our ancestors were denied Veteran home loans and employment, left an unfortunate legacy that forever changed generations. It left our families in despair and many are still dealing with that trauma in ways that are unrecognizable.
The Vision Trust has shown us that this is a “safe space” for Black men to share their pain and trauma in a place where we can heal. If not for this space, I am confident that all of us would still not have a place to share and heal. The goal of the Vision Trust is to grow the group, invite trained specialists, and touch Black men who are in desperate need of healing. We are thankful that MHC, Robin Hickman-Winfield, The Ordway, and this intersection of Black men Veterans are present in the same place. We are just getting started and there is so much more work to do. Can I trust you to carry the vision?
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By: Alex Tittle
Alex Tittle is Senior Director Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Medica, was a recipient of the Veterans’ Voices Award in 2013, and is a former MHC board member.