Two women are seated on stools in the middle of a circle of onlookers in the Southwest Community Infirmary in Claybourne, a town in the American South. One of the women is Velma Henry, a woman with a husband, a son, a full-time job as a computer programmer and an avocation for community organizing. She has been a strong political and artistic force in her community, but strains in her marriage as well as exhaustion caused by continuing a struggle that seems to promise no results have led her to attempt suicide. Now she sits, dirty and unkempt, wearing only a hospital gown, facing but withdrawn from Minnie Ransom, a healer who sits on the other stool.
Minnie is dressed in a bright red dress, a hot-pink head scarf, two waist bands of kenti cloth, a fringed shawl, and several wrist bangles. She warns Velma that spiritual healing can come only to those who truly want it; as she coaxes Velma, a prayer group, a medical doctor, and visiting interns and nurses look on.
As Velma fades in and out of awareness, she thinks about her activities at the Academy of Seven Arts, a community center she and her husband, James Lee “Obie” Henry had founded to preserve African American arts and culture and to teach job skills and home economics. Typically, at the center, the men have been the loudest voices in meetings devoted to politics, while the women have quietly done most of the organizing, clerical work, cooking, and cleaning. It is the late 1970’s in the United States, and the community is concerned about job equality, apartheid in South Africa, and pollution caused by the local chemical company. Feminism remains a powerful but largely unspoken idea among the activists. As the 1970’s draws to a close, the community is coming apart, pulled in too many directions at once—just as Velma is herself. It will soon be time for the annual Claybourne Mardi Gras Festival, and...
(The entire section is 770 words.)