UMass Lowell Connector Logo

Hidden in Plain Sight: Stories of Black Lowell

(Photocourtesy UMass Lowell Library’s Twitter) “Seen left to right; Wilda Chapman, Bobby Tugbiyele, and Diamond Asaaneh sitting at UMass Lowell’s Hidden in Plain Sight book panel event.”

Kyra Barry
Connector Editor

Feb. 23, Francine Coston, associate director in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, introduced the audience to the panel members for Hidden in Plain Sight book event. She handed the podium over to Cinamon Blair, administrative assistant in the department of biomedical and nutritional science at UMass Lowell, to moderate the panel. 

The panel that made up the UMass Lowell Hidden in Plain Sight event comprised of Diamond Asaaneh, Wilda Chapman and Bobby Tugbiyele.

They represented the stories that are found in the book “Hidden in Plain Sight” allowing readers to firsthand “hear from the black residents of Lowell,” Coston said.

The book is supported in part by the Free Soil Arts Collective, which seeks to uplift minority voices in the community.

According to Free Soil Arts Collectives website they say that, “The stories that we hear and experience through the arts, should accurately reflect the richness of our community. We have an opportunity in the Merrimack Valley to cultivate a more diverse community of artists. When the narratives of marginalized communities are under-explored, they are also perceived as invaluable. Free Soil aims to do away with that notion, by creating opportunities for local artists of color to share their stories.”

Each member’s backgrounds varied from individual to individual highlighting how their experiences varied. There was a focus on the resilience of the black civilians in Lowell, and what that meant for each member. Asaaneh attributes the resilience of black Lowell residents partly to the city of Lowell’s industrial history and shares her heritage through her Jamaican mother and Cameroonian father, and how she is inspired by the strength of her parents navigating life as immigrants.

Chapman drew upon her experience as a black mother raising black men in Lowell. “Never try to put anyone down. When they try to put you down, rise above,” Chapman says. She emphasized that she taught them to be kind and taught them to respect others.

Tugbiyele speaks to his experience as a first generation Nigerian American, married to a black woman whose ancestry can be traced back to the pre-Abolition history of America, and to his experience as a member of City Council.

When asked why he ran for his position, he said, “It’s important to recognize that history… it’s about seeing the problem, identifying the problem and being part of the solution.”

Their stories serve to inspire and reflect. “When you tell a story, start at the beginning, not in the middle,” Chapman says of the efforts of their endeavors with this book.

“There are wonderful people here in Lowell. There’s always someone to extend a helping hand.”

Free Soil Arts Collective is named for a political party, Free Soil Party, that had members in Lowell who aided fugitive slaves. Most notably Nathanial Boothe, for whose safety and freedom they advocated for. The book can be found on their website currently for $35. Until August 2022, an exhibit for the book can be found at the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center to more fully experience the stories told within the “Hidden in Plain Sight” book.

“Bobby is going to come and go, who’s going to be the next Bobby?” Tugbiyele says. “It’s about inspiring.”

Related posts