by Wanda Sabir
The year breezed by – January I was in South Africa hanging with Salaelo Meredi in Alexandra Township. Later on I watched him rehearse a new play in Pretoria. Lunching with Myesha Jenkins in New Town, a revived arts hub in Jo’burg, was fun, as was walking across Mandela Bridge at night with TaSin and another resident from our hostel. Lights changed the bridge cables different colors – red, green, yellow, blue.
Monday, Nov. 26, at the Bay Area Black Media Awards event hosted by Greg Bridges and sponsored by the San Francisco Bay View and Block Report Radio, it was so wonderful to see all the media friends and family for an evening of celebration. KPOO, KPFA, New California Media/Pacific News Service, Wanda’s Picks Radio, Oakland Post, Globe, Poor News Network, Oakland International Film Festival, Black Panther newspaper alumni and others were in the house as “Best” this and “Best” that were saluted.
The room was full as we received the wonderful plaques created by Malik Seneferu – rectangular, they all had stars and mirrors and red lines on a black background. Malik told me that the large star on mine represented my heart – the mirrors a reflection of me as a writer, mother, teacher, and the red and black besides representing Elegba, the keeper of the crossroads, the lines represent the paths we take and have taken. Now I was excited and what Malik shared is now Wanda-lore, but I think this is the gist of it (smile). The point is, he made each plaque with its recipient in mind.
Willie Ratcliff was honored last and unfortunately he cut his talk down to save time. I’d really been looking forward to tales of his childhood in East Liberty, Texas, and in Alaska. Mary was quiet; I don’t know why (smile). But it was great seeing the couple, since it is a rare event that can get Mary out of the newsroom. Besides her daily vitamin D walks, one rarely sees her except perhaps the parishioners at their community church (smile).
Wishing everyone a Blessed Solstice. This one is more special than usual, 12/21/12 – the end of the Mayan calendar. If you can get to Mexico, there is the Synthesis Festival. Visit http://synthesis2012.com/festival/chichen-itza-mayan-calendar-celebration.html.
To Life Music has been invited to the festival. They will be performing Thursday, Dec. 13, at Make Our Room, 3225 22nd St., San Francisco, (415) 647-2888. Their hit, “A New Age Has Begun,” is available for a free download at www.tolifemusic.com. They are looking for sponsors to help them get to Chichen-Itza. I spoke to bandleader Lowell Rojon on http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks Friday, Nov. 30. Listen to an interview with Lo on blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks (Nov. 30, 2012).
I shortened my thank you list, but didn’t forget Paul Cobb, publisher of the Post News Group, who let me continue his Good News column once he left the Oakland Tribune for the Oakland Public School Board position. I also want to thank my editors, Martin Reynolds and Lee Ann McLaughlin. Chauncey Bailey was one of my mentors. I admired how he wrote for Black papers, the Sun Reporter and the Oakland Post, while maintaining his day job at the Trib (smile). He is still missed.
At the awards I thanked the creator, Allah, for placing me on this planet with such potential cultivated by my wonderful parents, Helen Isaac and Fred Ali Batin. Growing up in a home where my parents read all the time, took us to the library and surrounded us with books that reflected our heritage, waylaid any confusion about my great Pan African lineage. I never wanted to be white, have straight hair – in fact my father wouldn’t let dolls in the house that didn’t look like our family (smile). The Nation of Islam under the Hon. Elijah Muhammad philosophically just reinforced this ideology when my father joined. I think this was one of his better parental moves (smile).
I had one recently. I got to speak to Alonzo King, founder and artistic director of LINES Contemporary Ballet on the occasion of the company’s 30th anniversary. He told me that his dad, Slater King, civil rights activist and one of the founders of the Albany Movement, put his body where his mouth was. An economics graduate from Fisk University, he developed a reputation as a real estate broker and consulted with the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X and many others. His letters to Malcolm X are in the Fisk archives. King says that though his parents divorced, they remained friends and his dad is one of his greatest inspirations. See http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2552.
King spoke about the start of LINES Ballet with two friends: Robert Rosenwasser and Pam Hagen, and the principle that guided their path then and now – they looked at dance as an integration of mind, body and spirit. “In that hierarchy, spirit is above mind, and mind is above body. Spirit inspires the mind and the mind dances the body,” King states in an essay in the program for “Constellation,” which premiered in San Francisco, Oct. 19-28, 2012. Our conversation traveled leisurely, until King noticed the time and had to go. We spoke about some of his recent collaborations: “BaAka: The People of the Forest” (2001) and another with Jason Moran (2009). More next month (smile). He shared memories of Malonga Casquelourd and his philosophy of life.
If you don’t see reviews of Black plays, ask the company why Wanda Sabir hasn’t covered it and that you’d like to get her perspective on it, as it reflects your thinking on such issues.
It was so nice seeing Sean Vaughn-Scott at the Awards event briefly. He brought Mary Ratcliff a present and then left. Black Rep makes me feel welcome in their house, as does Angela Wellman, director of the Oakland Public Conservatory and Dan Fortune at the Rrazz Room. Joe at Cal Performances and other media reps at Stanford Lively Arts and other academic venues treat me really well. After Ave, Karen Larsen is the best. She and her staff treat me really kindly. It’s not a perfect world, but we work at it. The same is true with Carla Befera and Company.
The San Francisco Bay View doesn’t get the latest Black fiction or current biographies. I have never gotten any of Mumia’s books directly or Van Jones’ (and I asked) or Barbara Lee or Belva Davis’ memoirs.
If the SF Bay View under the Ratcliff banner took off in 1992 and I came on in about 1995, I think we are pretty well known, but UC Press, which publishes many books of interest to me, like Amiri Baraka’s “Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music,” does not include us in their announcements. I have to work too hard sometimes and, as this is a labor of love, sometimes I get busy and forget to ask repeatedly. Once should be enough.
City Lights is great and so is PM press, and they are smaller presses.
I am just saying. It is really hard doing my job, and it’s a volunteer job – I still have to work fulltime as a professor, which means I teach four classes. And on top of that I have a radio show – another unpaid gig.
Look in January for the complete Alonzo King interview, along with a feature on my friend’s trip to Allah’s House (smile). Don’t forget the 22nd Annual African American Celebration through Poetry Feb. 2, 2013, 1-4 p.m. 2013’s theme is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
‘The Fight for Freedom’ by John Reynolds
“The Fight for Freedom: A Memoir of My Years in the Civil Rights Movement” by John Reynolds is a forthright tale of an Alabama youth who tired of unfair treatment in his segregated town of Troy, sees an opportunity to change his community when civil rights workers come to his town to register Black people to vote. He volunteers and helps them, and when they leave they take him with them to meet Martin King, where he is hired as a community organizer. We go to trainings with him where he learns the principles of nonviolent resistance and how to both mobilize and keep those he is leading into battle safe. I love it when he describes his freedom uniform – jeans, denim jacket and leather boots – he talks about going to jail and this strategy. He shares moments with Septima Clark, educator and mentor.
At 18, Reynolds gives up the opportunity to go to college to volunteer with SCLC. He fractures his relationship with his dad, who does not want his son to upset the apartheid system, as such moves are dangerous, perhaps deadly. The youngster speaks with love and admiration for Dr. King and especially Rev. Abernathy, whom he loved even when the elder statesman was no longer capable of leading the organization. He also speaks of the ulcers he gets and the stress he is under – this is, after all, a war.
As an insider he talks about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an organization started by SCLC which then gains autonomy. He speaks of the strife between the two groups and the eventual parting of ways. Reynolds also acknowledges powerful women in the movement who take a back seat to the men and the men who do not see gender equity as important.
I learned things about SCLC’s work in the Native American community around equal education and Freedom Schools. He talks about the celebrities who were a part of the Civil Rights Movement, like Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez. These entertainers and others would regularly visit the civil rights troops like other entertainers visited troops overseas.
Reynolds talked about the difficulty freedom fighters had in maintaining relationships. It is a long time before he is able to find a mate. For such a short book, Reynolds is able to paint a compelling picture of a young foot soldier and then connect his experiences to the present with the candidacy and election of President Barack Obama (2012 Authorhouse.com).
San’Dei’Jun Publishing, new independent press
One of two other books I highly recommend is from a new San Francisco Bay Area independent press, San’Dei’Jun Publishing, which just won the Reader’s Favorites Award for “The Compton Connection: Coming of Age.” In this gritty story, we meet identical twins who are similar only in appearances as Edith prepares for college, while Edna – well, Edna goes for the fast money and holds down a legit job with selling drugs on the side. Both daughters live in a stable home, two parents, one a step-dad who loves both his daughters.
“The Compton Connection: Coming of Age” has a sequel. Redmond uses his nickname “June” in the book and Deirdre, one of the publisher team, is also a character in the novel (smile). I am not sure if this is where the similarity ends, for the June character that is. The real life June – or Willie Redmond – is set to be released this month as well.
“Slapped by Injustice: Point Blank” by W.F. Redmond was published by Outskirts Press (Denver, Colorado, 2012), and except for it centering on a recent parolee, the story is quite different from “Compton Connection.” The protagonist is Duane, parolee, who works at a mental hospital in custodial. He seems to like his job – I think he likes the responsibility. He can take care of his girlfriend and her three children. She is Latina and he is Black, the family likes him and he is about to propose when tragedy strikes and his world is about to unravel.
“Slapped by Injustice” is about a man trying to do what is right who gets slapped for his efforts. We hear all the time about patient abuse, especially the elderly and children. In “Slapped,” Duane and other employees find a doctor sexually abusing one of his patients. He doesn’t know what to do, but he wants to do something and so a few of the custodial staff come up with a plan – kind of unorthodox. Duane is left hanging on the line as his job, one he has grown to enjoy, is threatened. What happens is certainly plausible as Duane loses hope, but Redmond has us rooting for Duane, who has so much to live for beyond the gig at the hospital.
Duane is slapped at work and at home. He missed his kids when the relationship he thought was for life dissolves. It is a balancing act, perhaps more like a tight rope Duane finds himself on, as his world closes in and options grow more narrow.
Holiday fine arts exhibit: ‘To Share the Light of Yellow’
“To Share the Light of Yellow” is the annual holiday fine arts exhibit at Prescott Joseph Center for Community Enhancement, 920 Peralta at 10th Street in West Oakland, (510) 208-5651. Exhibit dates are Nov. 28, 2012, through Jan. 31, 2013.
Luisah Teish on the Mayan calendar
“A Day Before the New Beginning: A Ritual Celebrating the Mayan Calendar with Luisah Teish, a pre-equinox celebration, Thursday, Dec. 20, 7-9 p.m., is at JFK University and Consciousness Building, Berkeley Campus, 2956 San Pablo Ave., Second Floor. All are welcome; children under 12 are free. Donation requested for adults is $20-$12. No one will be turned away. Bring a 2013 calendar. There is parking lot behind the Orchard Supply Hardware. Enter on Ashby.
‘The Central Park 5’ opens Dec. 15
Unlike other films directed by Ken Burns, “The Central Park Five” has no omniscient narrator, as the actual subjects tell a story too horrific to imagine in the 21st century, when one thinks of the five youth intimidated into copping – all but four agree to plea bargains – to raping and beating a white jogger in Central Park in 1989. Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Corey Wise and Yusef Salaam confess after the boys are denied legal consul and are separated from their parents. Even after DNA evidence absolves the boys, even after the detectives are found guilty of excessive and improper interrogation techniques, even after an analysis of the testimony shows the boys couldn’t have been present – their statement so full of errors regarding the jogger’s clothing, whereabouts and injuries – they serve their complete sentences: 6-13 years.
In 2002 when the actual rapist confesses to this rape and others, and a judge vacates the original sentences, this too is met with protest by the prosecuting district attorney. For audiences who need a modern Scottsboro Boys case as evidence that the justice system is still criminalizing the innocent, watch this film. To date, even with the civil lawsuit, the case is not resolved.
When the film screened here at the Mill Valley Film Festival, Raymond Santana, one of the youth charged, who was in prison when the sentences were commuted and he was released for time served, spoke about the residual effects of this travesty of justice on his and his friends’ lives as irreparable. No one except Raymond’s father believed his innocence. Nothing can give Raymond or the other four men back time lost, plans commuted and dreams deferred perhaps forever.
The vicious attack on the boys by the media and the mayor at that time was and to a certain degree still is unprecedented. Defamation of character? The media created new terms to describe the monsters that could brutalize an innocent woman as the DA said the boys did. It was a modern lynch mob – guilt based on the color of the boys’ skin. When one thinks about media events, this case is one of the biggest stories of our time.
Burns said he was furious and, while his daughter, Sarah Burns, wrote the book, “The Central Park Five” (Knopf 2011), he and co-producer David McMahon knew that this would be a film. The film opens Dec. 15 at the Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Shattuck in Berkeley.
“Voluspa: A Ghost Dance for 2012,” Dec. 19-21, 7:30 p.m., is a ritual dance performance that explores and marks the 2012 end of the world/regeneration prophesy found in many cultures and articulated perhaps most explicitly and famously by the Mayan calendar. Whether it be the Mayan, the Hopi, the Norse, the Book of Revelation, Wovoka or contemporary climate scientists, many cultures have the destruction and regeneration story rooted deeply in their mythology. Through prophesy and truth-telling, a diverse group of artists will come together over the course of two evenings to acknowledge and pay tribute to past and present struggles and work towards renewal, bringing our current tumultuous times starkly into focus. Dance Brigade will host the two-night ritual performance at Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco, 3316 24th St, San Francisco, (415) 826-4441. Tickets are $12-$20.
The final evening, Dec. 20, will last until 12:30 a.m. so that together artists and audience members can mark Dec. 21, the winter solstice and end of the Mayan calendar. Tickets are on-sale now at www.brownpapertickets.com.
“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” adapted by Joe Landry, directed by Jon Tracy, at Marin Theatre Company stars one of my favorite actors, Michael Gene Sullivan. The play is up through Dec. 16. Visit http://marintheatre.org/productions/wonderful-life/.
Step back in time to the 1940s. Become the live studio audience for a radio broadcast of this American holiday favorite. True to Frank Capra’s cinematic classic, everyman George Bailey must learn that “no man is a failure who has friends” (and a little divine intervention). Experience “It’s a Wonderful Life” live and in color with five actors performing the voices of dozens of characters while creating sound effects. Perfect for the whole family.
J. Douglas Allen-Taylor, author
J. Douglas Allen-Taylor reads “Sugaree Rising” Thursday, Dec. 6, 6 p.m., at the Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th St. in downtown Oakland, between Broadway and Franklin Streets, and Saturday, Dec. 15, at Do 4 Self Enterprise African Bookstore, 5272 Foothill Blvd , Oakland, 2-4 p.m.
In 1972 Selma James set out a new political perspective. Her starting point was the millions of unwaged women who, working in the home and on the land, were not seen as “workers” and whose struggles were viewed as outside of the class struggle. Based on her political training in the Johnson-Forest Tendency, founded by her late husband CLR James, on movement experience South and North, and on a respectful reading of Marx, she redefined the working class to include sectors previously dismissed as “marginal.” For James, the class struggle presents itself as the conflict between the reproduction and survival of the human race, and the dictatorship of the market with its exploitation, wars, and ecological devastation. She sums up her strategy for change as “Invest in Caring Not Killing.”
On Monday, Dec. 3, 7 p.m., at an Open Study Group of Sex, Race and Class – The Perspective of Winning, she will discuss the chapter “Striving for Clarity and Influence: The Political Legacy of CLR James (2001-2012),” pages 283-296. Contact the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library for a copy of the book. The library is located at 6501 Telegraph Ave., off Alcatraz at 65th Street, in Oakland.
Mrs. James comes to the U.S. as part of a campaign to value caregiving work and eliminate mothers’ and children’s poverty, building support for two bills currently in Congress: The Rise Out of Poverty Act (RISE Act HR 3573) introduced by Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., and the Women’s Option to Raise Kids Act (WORK Act HR 4370) introduced by Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif. For other talks in North America or to order her book, contact (415) 626-4114 or email@example.com. Visit www.globalwomenstrike.net and www.selmajamesbooktour.net.
World AIDS Day Event Focuses on Women and AIDS
“Many Women, One Voice: African American Women and HIV Screening” and a panel discussion with Hydela Broadbent, international AIDS activist, is Dec. 1, 2012, 2-5 p.m., at the Alumni House at UC Berkeley on the campus. The event is free; refreshments will be served. To register, visit http://manywomenworldaidsday.eventbrite.com/.
Tree of Life Foundation Health Literacy Project presents the Fall 2012 Health Literacy Legends Fundraiser, Friday, Dec. 7, 1-4 p.m., at the West Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline St., Oakland, on the corner of Adeline and 18th. For more info and to make a donation, go to www.treeoflifefound.com.
Sargent Johnson Gallery
Don’t miss William Rhodes’ “What is Your Spiritual Evolution” at the Sargent Johnson Gallery, 762 Fulton St. in San Francisco, through Feb. 7, 2013.
‘Life Like’ at New Orleans Museum of Art
Death is not usually seen as life like, but I guess the cessation of life is about as life-like as any other philosophical phenomenon (smile). My last day in New Orleans in November after Cousin Mary Lewis’ funeral, I visited one of my favorite spots, City Park, where the New Orleans Museum of Art is a favorite destination of mine. I noticed lots of vendors and scattered joggers. I was there for the latest exhibit, “Life Like,” which was opening the following day for the public. I’d seen a couple of photos of two of the installations, one a larger than life card table with folding chairs, the other a replica of a kitchen from the artist’s childhood down to the Formica.
A new take on still life: fruit in a bowl. These fruit – not painted, rather filmed – took on a more organic and less static life as the artistic medium allowed the captured moment to continue to its ugly conclusion, one where the beauty of fresh fruit was replaced by a bowl of moldy food. In the various galleries, photographs and other pictures and portraits extended some installations – tempting to touch; alarms actually went off when I got too close to an object like the sleeping bag.
Remember the pink eraser? It is included too. Each section was given a name. There are gradations to what constitutes the term, lifelike. Who gets to decide what to put in the box? At the end of the exhibit, I thought the emergency exit was a false door, but my guide told me such was not the case.
There was a foot in a case which did not look “lifelike.” Other objects like the inside of a car door with a scene from a horror film depicted through the window or the video of passengers on the subway certainly were lifelike. I think the tiny elevator – I think a mouse could get through – and the frying eggs which sounded like rainwater were two of my favorites after the folding table.
“Life Like” isn’t trying to fool us; it just makes us think about reality and what we assign life to, which can also be equated to what we pay attention to. Life gets our attention and so does death; it’s the stuff in the middle – the living – that gets overlooked. Perhaps this is what “Life Like” is all about? If the curator, if the artists can get us to stop and contemplate the stuff in the middle, the LIFE, not what is LIFE LIKE, then perhaps the quality of that LIFE might deepen.
“Life Like,” organized by the Walker Center, featuring work of Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, James Casebere, Vija Celmins, Keith Edmier, Fischli and Weiss, Kaz Oshiro, Charles Ray, Sam Taylor-Wood, and Ai Weiwei, is up through Jan. 27 at the NOMA. Visit http://noma.org/exhibitions/detail/53/Lifelike.
Arturo Sandoval is at the Herbst Theatre Saturday, Dec. 1, 8 p.m. And on Sunday, Dec. 2, The Blind Boys of Alabama are also at the Herbst Theatre, 7 p.m. Visit www.sfjazz.org.
The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir
Several concerts close a productive year for the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, which hosted its 27th Annual Holiday Concert this Dec. 1, and what a joyous time we had. Opening with the OIGC Youth ensemble, featuring soloist Aliah Tomlinson in “Ride up in the Chariot.” OIYC will have its holiday concert, Dec. 16, 7 p.m., at Imani Community Church, 3300 MacArthur Blvd. in Oakland, near The Foodmill. On the Solstice OIGC will have its Fifth Annual South Bay Holiday Concert at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m. and there are more dates like the Christmas Eve concert at Slim’s in San Francisco, 7 and 9 p.m. shows. Visit www.oigc.org. They even have an on-line store.half-n-half.com) were really great. They literally danced as they signed – the choreography between the two just as entertaining as that on stage. Ensemble director Terrence Kelly’s solo, “O Holy Night,” was magnificent. He really hit those notes as they sailed over yonder into the clouds. Another wonderful moment was the collaboration with Kugelplex, a Klezmer ensemble.
“Blessings Are Falling,” “Maljarica” and “Ding Dong Merrily on High” were stellar. The clarinetist, bassist (who gave my friend and me two tickets to the performance), the accordionist, the two violinists and the drummer/percussionist were really great. Their “Maljarica,” a movement from “Hungarian Gospel Suite,” music composed by Dan Cantrell (accordion) had elements of blues and gospel and jazz. Really soulful. Two other guest soloists joined the choir – Jovan Watkins on “Drenched,” Alfreda Campbell on “Tailor Made.” Sister was wearing her red dress too. Then the four church sisters joined the choir. One of the women was Sharon Henderson, who is recovering from throat surgery – so it was great to hear her, if just for a moment.
Baba Ken and the Afro-Groove Connection, Caribbean All-Stars
Baba Ken and the Afro-Groove Connection with the Will Magid Trio are at Ashkenaz Music and Dance Center in Berkeley, Saturday, Dec. 8, 9:30 p.m. – with a free dance lesson at 9 p.m. The Caribbean All-Stars perform Friday, Dec. 14, 9:30 p.m. Remembering David Nadel, Ashkanaz founder, benefit is Thursday, Dec. 20, 8 p.m. The evening will feature Balkan folk dancing. Shabaz performs Friday, Dec. 21, with Zydeco Flames. Saturday, Dec. 22, 9 p.m., Haitian meets Caribbean with musicians Mystic Man and Lakay and Batala Brazilian, Sunday, Dec. 23, 9:30 p.m. Ashkanaz is located at 1317 San Pablo Ave. at Gilman, (510) 525-5054 or www.ashkanaz.com.
Check back for Kwanzaa celebrations listings. Congratulations to Wo’se House of Amen Ra on its 31st anniversary this month!
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 6-7 a.m. and Fridays at 8-10 a.m., can be heard by phone at (347) 237-4610 and are archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network.