historian & anti-racism educator
Leland, North Carolina
this Election Day is a big one. especially when it comes to social justice. racial equality. systemic change. but as important as november 3 is, Lettie Shumante wants everyone to understand something going in: “‘Black Lives Matter’” is not a trend on social media,” she says. “speaking up against racism and white supremacy isn’t a trend. fighting racial justice isn’t a trend.” in other words: we all have work to do, no matter the election’s outcome. read on to see how Lettie does hers (and how you can, too.)
what do you do — professionally, personally, passionately?
“i am a historian and currently “do my own thing” with educating people about history and racial justice. i received my MA in History in 2015 from University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and it was one of the best decisions i have ever made.
i host for a podcast called “Sincerely, Lettie” where i discuss various history topics, antiracism, social issues, and connect the dots so people can see the bigger picture. i also received my MA in Conflict Management & Resolution in May of this year from UNCW as well, which taught me so much about navigating conversations, communication, mediation skills — all of which intertwines well with the work i do as a historian and antiracism educator.”
what path led you here?
“funny enough, i did not like history growing up! i thought it was so boring because we learned the same things it seemed over and over again. it wasn’t until i went to college that i became interested in history and was fascinated by the depth of topics i wanted to know more about.
what drives you?
“in 2012, when Trayvon Martin was killed, it was my first year in graduate school and hearing the news, and experiencing the Black Lives Matter movement that soon followed, really ignited a fire in me. i also attribute this fire to James Baldwin, my favorite Black intellectual in history. he was my mentor, posthumously. reading his work and watching his interviews provided guidance for me, and he taught me to always look deeper at history and racial justice in America.
when i look back, so many little things have played a role in the woman i have become. but, most importantly, i trust in God, walk by faith (which takes work and is NOT easy, but worth it every single time), take time to remember what i have gone through and my track record for getting through everything.”
what inspires you?
“i am inspired by the Black activists and voices who came before me. i am inspired by so many primary sources i’ve read that show Black resilience, tenacity, and strength.”
something you’ve learned on the job that we might find interesting?
“many people think Benjamin Franklin was once a president, and the number of people who don’t know that Jim Crow was actually not a person is baffling. there is a ton of history people do not know the truth about. so many people want to reply before listening. you know? i come across this often when i talk about history and racism in America.”
we are living in crazy — but important, for so many reasons — times. what is life like right now for you?
“i’m in a season of transition, staying busy, but also making time to relax and step back from things. this summer, my social media platform on Instagram grew exponentially in a matter of weeks! people were really paying attention to racial injustices after we heard about what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and then George Floyd. i was feeling and navigating that racial trauma — because i feel a pain in my stomach every time a Black person is killed — while also educating on Instagram. i started my Patreon, and i’m seeing the numbers grow on both.”
2020 has been a crazy year but for me, there have been some huge blessings. this time last year i was not doing what i wanted to do. i felt overlooked. i didn’t know when i would be able to step into my purpose, and i felt sort of lost. i prayed and leaned on God. i was reading about obedience, faith, and patience, and i kept seeing God show up in my life. and then, BAM, this summer things took off! i’ve really been trying to balance personal life, my own entrepreneur-type path right now, welcoming all types of opportunities to educate, and reminding myself that this is what i have prayed for.”
Election Day is just weeks away. as an advocate for social justice, we’d love to ask: what do you see as particular opportunity for the cause this fall? (or put slightly less positively — what’s at stake?)
“i’m going to start by saying racism and white supremacy did not become real within the last four years with the current occupant in the White House. a lot of people keep saying, “this is what Trump’s America looks like,” and i’m just like no, this is who and what America has always been. but what he has done is emboldened racists and white supremacists to show their overt racism. i’m a Black woman in America, and i assure you, racism has always been here. history shows us this! racism is systemic. it is deeply imbedded in the foundation of this country. also, racism is both overt and covert! and don’t forget that there are so many parallels and connections with history and today. things aren’t new.
there is so much at stake. i discuss this quite often on my podcast and also in webinars in my Patreon community. one thing i tell people often is that we have access to so much information now with our phones and social media. there are more distractions, more pressures to go with the crowd, more opinions. vote! vote! vote! it’s not only the presidential election either. local and state elections are even more important! this isn’t only about you. this is about Black people like me, this is about other people of colors, this is about civil and human rights, this is about being on the right side of history and at the same time knowing that we will continue to have work to do.
i encourage people to remember that the system isn’t broken. no. the system is functioning exactly the way it is supposed to. it’s easier to believe this romanticized history of America because then you don’t feel guilty and can absolve yourself from any responsibility to take action right now. (i’m looking at you, white America.) if people want to talk about the civil rights movement and how much of a difference it made, people must acknowledge and grasp the facts about the movement: it lasted for more than 20 years, Black people were being brutalized, beaten, humiliated, and killed, homes were firebombed, threats were made, children were attacked, boycotts and marches happened every single day, and people did not stop. in the face of fear and danger, they persisted.”
what actions can we take?
“vote. take action in your community. do antiracism work, which involves learning and unlearning, doing your own self-work, and listening to educators like myself!”
speaking of you: what are you listening to?
“right now i’m literally listening to Alexis French as i’m answering these questions, haha! his piano music is divine. i don’t know what I would do without music. Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston are my all-time favorites. 90s and early 2000s hip-hop and r&b, 60s and 70s Motown… the list could go on.”
“i’m always reading something history or racial justice related. i just finished the book White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson. i read it with my book club (which is a tier on my Patreon). i’m also reading At the Dark End of the Street by Danielle McGuire, and am going to start Isabel Wilkerson’s new book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents this week.
i also need personal growth books! i’m listening to the audiobook Believe Bigger: Discover the Path to Your Life Purpose by Marshawn Evans Daniels. i’ve come to the conclusion that since i do not like audiobooks for history and racial justice books (because highlighting and writing in the margins are both what I love to do and are necessary for me), they’re good for books like this so i can listen like I would a podcast.”
“i am currently LOVING Lovecraft Country on HBO. I also really enjoy Girlfriends (which is now on Netflix, yay!), Grey’s Anatomy, This Is Us — and i recently finished binge watching the show I May Destroy You. it was amazing!”
“i like to feel productive while working at home, so i wear something that is comfortable but also makes me feel put together. you know?
i’m loving my époque jet set trouser and the one crop top. talk about comfort! The trouser is so comfortable but also gives me that “let’s get stuff done” feeling. plus when I need to run errands, it’s easy to throw on my leopard flats and head out the door. i have long legs, so the crop top hits at the perfect spot on me when paired with the trouser and that doesn’t happen often! now that it is cooling down outside, i’m excited to start wearing the all day cardigan — it’s just so cozy but also stylish.”
all-around life hack you swear by?
“not working at a cluttered desk! and going to therapy — it’s been an incredible decision and I am so grateful for my therapist.”
“‘i can and will get through this.’ also: ‘don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.’ not enough people talk about the muck we go through in life, which is why i do share and am transparent with people.”