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Wanda’s Picks for March 2013

March 8, 2013

by Wanda Sabir

‘Mumia’ comes to Oakland

'Mumia Long Distance Revolutionary' movie poster, webBack when Mumia was a member of the Black Panther Party, he traveled west to work with the Oakland chapter – an important time in his evolution as a radical journalist. Now the story of his life and revolutionary times comes to The New Parkway Theater, 474 24th St., Oakland, (510) 658-7900, on Friday and Saturday, March 8 and 9.

Oakland’s history as a site of resistance continues today and makes a welcome home for this remarkable and passionate film. Help us ensure that this story has a meaningful impact on the Oakland community, by turning out large and engaged audiences.

There are only two showings: 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 8, and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 9. Tickets are on sale now. Buy now and encourage your contacts to buy now to ensure you get tickets before they sell out.

Producer-Director Stephen Vittoria will be on hand for Q&As after the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon showings. KPFA’s Hard Knock Radio host and producer Anita Johnson will moderate the Q&As.

International Women’s History Month March 2013

I am reading a wonderful book, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,” by Jeanne Theoharis, published on the occasion of Mrs. Parks’ 100th birthday. Born Feb. 4, 1913, at Tuskegee, Alabama, in this accounting of a Mrs. Parks few knew, Dr. Theoharis laments the seizure of the historic figure’s papers and other writings, which would have certainly given us a closer look at the life of a woman who was instrumental in giving Black folks a reason to finally say, enough is enough.

Rosa Parks statue unveiled Capitol Statuary Hall Sen. Harry Reid, Pres. Obama, Speaker Boehner, Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Jame
A statue of Rosa Parks was unveiled in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall by Sen. Harry Reid, President Barack Obama, Speaker John Boehner and Reps. Nancy Pelosi and James Clyburn on Feb. 27, 2013. – Photo: Kevin Lamarque, Reuters
Presently, Mrs. Parks’ effects are at auction. It just so happens, the price is so high, institutions like Wayne State, where the first installment of Mrs. Parks’ papers went in 1976, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture cannot afford the hefty $6-$10 million price tag. That a Michigan judge can order her effects sold, the money split among her heirs and institutions she and her husband founded, points to the reason why this book is so important. In it, the scholar looks behind the public mythology surrounding Mrs. Parks, a woman laid in state at the Capitol after she passed at 92 in her home in Detroit on Oct. 24, 2005, the first woman ever to be so honored.

Theoharis speaks of the missed opportunity leaders failed to exploit considering Katrina’s aftermath just a month before her death, the gulf region still reeling. The author challenges the image presented of a Rosa Parks as quiet, “humble, dignified, soft-spoken,” as if, once she refused to give up her seat and the 13-month bus boycott ended, so did her involvement in the movement. The Mrs. Parks she portrays is a woman who was actively working for her civil liberties long before that fateful December day in 1955.

“Having her casket on view in the Capitol honored Parks as a national dignitary while reminding mourners that their experience was sponsored by the federal government. Look at how far the nation has come, the events tacitly announced; look at what a great nation we are. A woman who had been denied a seat on the bus 50 years earlier was now lying in the Capitol. Instead of using the opportunity to illuminate and address current social inequity, the public spectacle provided an opportunity for the nation to lay to rest a national heroine and its own history of racism.

Rosa Parks Birthday
The Postal Service unveiled the new Rosa Parks stamp on what would have been her 100th birthday, Feb. 4, at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. That’s Congressman John Conyers on the right nearest the “stamp.” Mrs. Parks worked on his staff for many years.
“Parks body brought national absolution at a moment when government negligence and the economic and racial inequities laid bare during Katrina threatened to disrupt the idea of a color-blind America,” writes Theoharis.

That contradiction was re-enacted more recently, on Feb. 27, when a statue of Parks, shown seated on the bus waiting for the police to come and arrest her, was dedicated in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. She is the first Black woman in the Capitol to be honored with a full length statue. Parks had worked for many years on Congressman John Conyers’ staff, so she was no stranger to Congress. A Rosa Parks postage stamp was issued Feb. 4.

‘The Ressurrection of SHE’ opens March 28 at Brava for Women in the Arts

Rhodessa Jones’ brand new work, “The Resurrection of SHE,” is a multidisciplinary, interactive performance that peruses the decades-long artistic career of the artist. As one of San Francisco’s preeminent performers, Rhodessa’s work with her company Cultural Odyssey and The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women have put her in the forefront of artists working in the field of “arts as social activism.”

At the center of “The Resurrection of SHE” will be the ongoing work that Rhodessa conducts with disenfranchised populations around the world, including her most recent work in Johannesburg, South Africa, working with female inmates at the Naturena Women’s Correctional Center and her recent work with HIV positive women in San Francisco.

“SHE” explores the interstices of the global feminine narrative, both visually and aurally, in search of the universality of the human experience. “SHE” is a passageway into lives normally hidden from and forgotten by society – a revelatory journey of redemption and hope. “SHE” carves out a route to healing and towards a healthier future. Close to seven years of residency and performance activity in South Africa and America has been captured in photographs, video and audio recordings that will be featured in the performance – which unites the art of documemoire, multimedia installation and musical theater performance. Rhodessa will collaborate with visual artist and lighting designer Stephanie Johnson, set designer Pam Peniston, musician and composer Idris Ackamoor and sound designer David Molina to create the work.

What better way to celebrate International Women’s History Month than with Rhodessa Jones, who is a Pan African woman with migratory roots, which means she is everywhere and nowhere, if you get what I mean. If everything started with SHE, then there must be a reason for her return; or perhaps she never left – just buried, covered, left or forgotten – to mankind’s detriment. If nothing else, Rhodessa is the perfect vehicle for a wake-up call. We call her Eve, the first woman, and she is African. SHE suffices.

“The Ressurrection of SHE” runs March 28-April 7, 2013. Brava is located at 2781 24th St. at York Street, San Francisco, (415) 641-7657. Visit http://www.brava.org/artists/brava-presents/resurrection-she-frisco-soweto/#.UTKac1K9aq0. Listen to Wanda’s interview with Rhodessa Jones about “SHE” on Wanda’s Picks Radio: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2013/03/06/wandas-picks-radio-show.

‘Our Own Paths’ for International Women’s Day

Another Brava Theatre highlight: Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project presents a benefit to celebrate International Women’s Day, “Our Own Paths,” a fierce collection of documentaries about renowned queer women of color musicians, on March 16, 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15-$50.

Spiritual activist Afia Walking Tree drums a rhythmic path with “Grace and Fierceness” (director Zemaya Martinez, 18 minutes). With hiss and sizzle, acclaimed Avotcja traverses poetry, music and performance in “Avotcja” (director Ava Square-Levias, 22 minutes). For 40 years, legendary drummer Carolyn Brandy has infused her percussion with “Drum Love Joy” (director Shawn Nealy, 17 minutes). A queer Korean adoptee, Amber Field uses her breath and rhythm to sing and heal her own spirit in “Jagadamba, Mother of the Universe” (director Amber Field, 10 minutes). While yearning for family and homeland, each member of the Afro-Cuban hip-hop trio Las Crudas blazes radical trails to artistic and social freedom as a “Non-Resident Alien” (director Alejandro Cruz, 15 minutes). Join us for a Q&A panel with the filmmakers and musicians after the screening.

Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP) creates, exhibits and distributes new films that address the vital social justice issues that concern our multiple communities. Their vision nurtures queer women of color filmmakers as artist-activist leaders to create systemic change through art, activism and community building. For tickets, visit http://www.brava.org/current-shows/current-shows/#.UTKgVVK9aq0.

Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe’s new solo performance ‘Adventures of a Black Girl: Traveling While Black’

“Traveling While Black,” running March 15-17 at the Brava Theatre, is an exploration of the impact of African migration, in all of its many manifestations, on the Black Diaspora and on the continents that have become our adopted and adapted homes. It explores the histories that have created our presence outside of Africa and the current attitudes toward African peoples that are revealed through transcontinental crossings.

Based on Edris’ travels through Europe, the Americas and Africa, “Traveling While Black” is part travelogue and part history lesson and seeks to exploit the tensions between tourism and colonialism as it interrogates boundaries and reveals cultural connects and disconnects. Inspired by Langston Hughes’ “I Wonder as I Wander,” “Traveling While Black” examines the post-slavery condition of Black travel, both fanciful and forced. The script is fueled by Edris’ experiences as a Black American traveler and tourist, in Africa – in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa and in North Africa during times of U.S. aggression in the area; Europe – Eastern and Western Germany, Switzerland, Spain, England; and in North and Central America – Mexico and Canada. Performances are 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $15; visit http://www.brava.org/current-shows/current-shows/#.UTKgVVK9aq0.

Emory Douglas to speak at Harvey Milk Photo Center’s ‘Black Power Flower Power’

“Black Power Flower Power: Iconic photographs by Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch” is a visual love story between two photographers whose waltz remained uninterrupted for the duration of their creative years together. Curated by Dave Christensen, director of The Harvey Milk Photo Center in San Francisco and Jennifer McFarland, director of the Pirkle Jones Foundation, this exhibit juxtaposes two very different Bay Area movements both focused on love. Yet, unlike the Flower Power movement in Haight Ashbury during what is called The Summer of Love, in 1967, the Black Liberation Movement, exemplified by the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, looked at the systemic problems within America affecting its marginalized, often poor citizens and developed a plan to eliminate the problems by creating a new infrastructure independent of the powers that be.

Black Panthers- Crowd listening to Eldridge Cleaver speak UC Berkeley by Pirkle Jones
A crowd listens to Eldridge Cleaver speak at UC Berkeley. – Photo: Pirkel Jones
Just completing her commissioned “Flower Power” piece, Ruth-Marion Baruch invited husband Pirkle Jones to join her on the project and together they frame a period many youth are unfamiliar with. With the 99 percent under the heel of the 1 percent perpetually as uprisings squashed regroup and emerge once again stronger, it is important that history captured so eloquently in these frames doesn’t die.

Large prints in silver gelatin cover the studio walls when one enters The Photo Center, walks down the hallways and enters the large classroom. One sees fathers with their children, friends, armed soldiers dressed in black leather jackets and black berets. Serious yet able to laugh too, Jones and Baruch had a lot of access.

Of the first de Young Museum exhibit on Haight-Ashbury, reviewers write, Ruth-Marion had “superlative insight and magnificent camera craft” as she portrayed “the people of the flowers” “with sympathy, sensitivity and humor,” along with the respect and love they so desperately sought. Both students of Ansel Adams and protégés of Dorthea Lange, neither worked as a journalist; rather, their work was interpretive with the goal, in the case of the Black Panther illustrations, to “‘promote a better understanding of the Panthers” and, given the public response to this body of work, then and now, the two artists certainly achieved their goal.

Criticized for the absence of “violent action and oratory” Ruth-Marion replied: ‘“We can only tell you: This is what we saw. This is what we felt. These are the people.’”

The exhibit at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, not far from The Harvey Milk Photo Center, attracted 100,000 visitors before its next stop, The Studio Museum of Harlem. It was the first photography exhibit in the museum’s history. When this grand wife-husband collaboration ended, the two worked separately once again, Ruth-Marion continuing with her Panther-themed portraiture centering on the Soledad Brothers, George Jackson and Fleeta Drumgo at San Quentin State Prison.

Not intimidated by FBI visits to their home, the artists continued their work, Pirkle’s work varied and quite extensive, from Gate 5 or the Sausalito houseboat community to the Marin City Flea Market, the Rock series, the Salt Marshes and the Fern Creek Series. He also began teaching again at the San Francisco Art Institute, his renamed alma mater. Ruth-Marion’s final work before she passed was “The Shape of Birth,” which like all of her work closed the space between spectator and object until the two were one.

When one enters the Photo Center one sees a portrait of Emory Douglas, a bit younger and very happy. We’re not certain of the context, but he and the woman framed in the moment radiate pure joy (smile). Don’t miss Black Panther Party Minister of Culture Emory Douglas’ Retrospective Talk, Saturday, March 9, 1-4 p.m., at The Harvey Milk Photo Center, 50 Scott St. in Duboce Park, San Francisco, (415) 554-9522, www.harveymilkphotocenter.org. To listen to a conversation with curators Dave Christensen and Jennifer McFarland, visit http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2013/03/01/wandas-picks-radio-show.

Film ‘A Place at the Table’ opens March 1 at Landmark

Just two weeks ago I checked my messages between classes and learned that a friend of mine, Adrian Lewis, suffered a massive heart attack and died. I believe he was on life support for a bit before the family pulled the plug, but he was gone. I was floored. I am slowly getting back up, but while not shocked, I am surprised. At 52, Adrian played basketball on the weekends, went to the gym – OK, infrequently – yet he worked a 40 hour week and a 16 hour weekend. Did the stresses associated with work and single parenting add to the risk factor?

He was a devoted divorced father with custody of two adolescent kids whose day job was for Alameda County in adoptive services. The last time I saw him, in early February, he was having an asthma attack and could barely walk. He’d left his meds at home. I was alarmed, my first aid certificate long expired. Could I fake mouth to mouth long enough before professionals arrived?

Black Panthers- Charles Bursey serving breakfast by Pirkle Jones
Charles Bursey serves breakfast to children in the Black Panther Free Breakfast Program. – Photo: Pirkle Jones
A man on the go, with money, Adrian had nutritional options, unlike the subjects we meet in the film, “A Place at the Table,” who are poor and hungry. Yet, this was Adrian’s story as a child in Florida. Often he and his siblings didn’t have food in the house, so they went hungry for days or weeks on end, a situation that affects a child’s cognitive and physical development; we learn the damage is irreversible, yet this rich nation does not make food security a priority. The U.S. Senate has vetoed all of President Obama’s allocations for more resources for childhood hunger, like healthy school lunches, free breakfast programs, and aid to those who do not have enough money, though they are employed, to feed their families.

“A Place at the Table” opens March 1 at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema, Battery and Clay in San Francisco. It is also available on iTunes and On Demand everywhere. Visit http://www.participantmedia.com/pm-films/a-place-at-the-table/.

Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush examine the issue of hunger through the lens of three people who are struggling with food insecurity. We meet families whose members are clearly overweight. One little girl, Tremonica, a Mississippi second-grader whose asthma and health issues are exacerbated by the largely empty calories her hardworking mother can afford, weighs 200 or so pounds and she is in second grade. When we meet her, she is in the doctor’s office getting checked for asthma.

Barbie, a single Philadelphia mother who grew up in poverty, takes her hungry kids by the corner store and lets them get donuts and sweet drinks because she doesn’t have enough money to take the four hour bus ride to a grocery store where she can buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Her story is tragic; she works but runs out of money before her next check and cannot feed her children. She shows the filmmakers her empty refrigerator.

Rosie, a Colorado fifth-grader, can’t concentrate in school because she is so hungry, so her grades suffer and she is disciplined in school until her teacher, Leslie Nichols, who also knows childhood hunger, starts dropping off bags of groceries from Pastor Bob’s Food Bank of the Rockies in Grand Junction where she volunteers. Pastor Bob also has a Kid’s Café where many working poor families have their kids eat their evening meal.

Experts like writer Raj Patel, who was at a local screening in San Francisco, said that the Black Panther Party addressed this issue 45 years ago when they began their Free Breakfast Program, later adopted by the California public school system. However, the nutritious meals of the past have been replaced with high carbohydrate, starch, fat and sugar diets. As a nation, we spend less than $2 a school lunch, so how can a school district afford to do better without additional income?

The premise is 50 million people in the U.S. – one in four children – don’t know where their next meal is coming from, despite our having the means to provide nutritious, affordable food for all Americans. One physician tired of treating children with illnesses caused by hunger, takes the mothers to Washington, D.C., to lobby legislators. It is a moving journey with little to no concrete results. Those legislators lobbied refuse to stop subsidizing the large agribusinesses that produce wheat, corn and soy and put that money towards smaller farmers who grow fruits and vegetables.

The film does not end on a happy or even hopeful note. We are going to begin burying our children before they reach 40 if nothing changes.

If there is one weakness in this film, it is this: I did not see any options presented to the mother in Philly. Where are the community gardens? My friends Ramona and Pam Africa, MOVE is in Philly. I know there are a wealth of resources. The young mother could grow food in her kitchen window. Where were the food pantries? Why didn’t her job help her find resources to tide her over from month to month? She was working for a nonprofit helping women like herself with resources.

Granted hunger is a big issue, huge. I recall when I was on disability insurance and had run out of money, wondering how I was going to feed my two children, but I grew up food poor – not nutrition poor – so I knew how to cook beans and add a bit of sausage to them when I had extra money, and when I didn’t, carrots and bell peppers and onions to keep them from being too bland. This was our meal option for years, when my dad was out of work and all my brother and I had was $62.50 a week to live on when I was paid. Often I was not. We had oatmeal for breakfast; during Ramadan we ate once a day. I don’t remember eggs, but I think they were in the refrigerator. We also sometimes had brown rice. I just remember the small white navy bean and Whiting H&G every now and then, which to date, I do not cook (smile).

All the rivers might be drying up, but to end hunger, this film clearly points out, we cannot rely on the government, even though our tax dollars are feeding each of them very well. A follow-up film could look at how we are finding ways to eat healthy and creatively develop food security. Open the school community gardens to the neighborhood to shop, like the garden that was on Sacramento and Ashby in Berkeley, where people could drop by and get free produce. Farmer’s Markets are great, but it’s a high end market. What about a farmer’s market for the ‘hood, where the working poor could farm and eat the proceeds?

“A Place at the Table” references Langston Hughes’ poem, “I, Too, Sing America,” philosophically. He writes:

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.
Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.

In this case, the 50 million hungry Americans do not grow strong or eat well, if at all. Yet, the final line, “They’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed,” rings true. These children, bright and beautiful and hungry should make policy makers cringe in shame and do something about it as more vital programs are cut to keep from taxing the wealthier Americans.

Ritual in Honor of the Sacredness of the Waters of the World

Come on board and ride the waves to honor the oceans, rivers, and streams. Come, dive deep as we explore consciousness, body, emotions and dreams, Saturday March 26, at Sofia University Auditorium, 1069 East Meadow Circle, Palo Alto. “The Ritual to Honor the Sacredness of the Waters of the World” is the first in a series of rituals scheduled for 2013 in accord with the directions of Mayan and African elders. Participants will invoke the spirits of earth, air, fire and water. We will remember the ancestors, honor our elders and bless our children.

Ritual artists and performers from many cultures will lead the community in interactive processes such as movement, music, song, dance and prayer designed to harmonize our bodies and minds with the flow of the waters of the Earth. There will also be a networking table where community members may display their business cards, brochures and flyers and a marketplace where participants can purchase books, CDs, DVDs, ritual supplies, jewelry and art.

Sofia University is located in the city of Palo Alto. Carpooling and ridesharing is recommended for environmental and economic reasons. There is lots of free parking on the campus. Some chairs will be provided for elders, and participants are encouraged to bring pillows for maximum comfort. This is a drug, alcohol and hate free zone, suitable for women, men and children. Donations of $21-$12 are appreciated. No one will be turned away for lack of funds.

The cast and crew include these wonderful artists, Ile Orunmila Oshun members:

  • Luisah Teish, Yeye Oshun Miwa: Welcome, Opening Elegba, Oshun and storytelling
  • Uzuri Amini, Iya Oshogbo, Healer-Artist: Prayer for the children
  • Vance Williams, Awo Fanira, Ifa priest: Invoking Yemaya
  • Gail Williams, Iya Kawogbemi, artist: Water gourds
  • Rashidah Tutashinda, artist: Invoking the ancestors, prayer for those who have died by water
  • Mambo Susheel Bibbs, vocalist: Invoking Damballah, the great water serpent
  • Nedra Williams, Iya Ohene Imene: Invoking Olokun, owner of the deep
  • Kaleo and Elise Ching, artists, masks, Tai Chi: Chi Gung for the internal organs associated with water
  • Bruce Silverman and the Orpheus World Music Ensemble, drums, berimbau and steel pan: Playing and singing for Nana, Imanja and Shango, Congolese initiation rhythm and East African water blessing
  • Leilani Bireley and the Daughters of the Goddess: Hawaiian prayer and Hula, honoring Pele, the Lady of the Volcano and her water sisters
  • Celia Herrera Rodriguez, artist: Invoking directions
  • Richard Page, spiritual documentarian: Invoking the directions, tech support
  • Paloma Pavel, Earth House activist
  • The Ancestral Voices Choir with Shy Hamilton, conductor, Monique Mack, lead vocals, Chorus Kenice Ford, Nakisha Rice, CeCe Jones, Elena Berman: A leaf of voices in honor of the waters
  • Hodari Toure, technician and community activist
  • Sylvia Nakkash, Brazilian songstress: Songs for Nana, Yemaya and Oshun
  • Mandisa Amber Dance Troupe: Multi-generational Afro-Latin dance
  • Elizabeth Daugherty, water rights activist
  • Arisika Razak, goddess dancer: Dance and movement
  • Priestess Rabbit of the Sacred Well: Ritualist, spiritual supplies
  • Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Zen priest, Black Angel Cards: Ghanian water song
  • Karen Rose Wilsonm, Celtic songstress: Poem, rap for Mother of Waters
  • Mutima Imani, priestess
  • KD McComb, Tulsi Arati: Earth and water ceremony

Sunday Jam Sessions at Oakland Public Conservatory beginning March 3

David Hardiman Sr. put out a call to concerned citizens to support the Oakland Public Conservatory (OPC), which is starting a series of concerts beginning Sunday, March 3, 4-8 p.m., to raise funds for this vital public institution founded by Angela Wellman. Mr. Hardiman will be joined by Charles Hamilton, Calvin Keys, and friends Muziki Roberson on piano, Mali V. Williams on bass and Victor Mc Elhaney on drums at 1616 Franklin St., Oakland. Each Sunday the program will start with a youth showcase directed by Michael Shiono, OOCM Frederick Douglas Youth Ensemble, with Alexa Weber Morales as host vocal showcase, followed by an all musicians jam from 6-8 p.m.

For information, call (510) 836-4649 or visit www.opcmusic.org. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students. Donations are accepted.

Oakland Bay Area Community Chorus presents ‘Sing into Spring,’ Bill Bell’s Annual Spring Concert

Oakland Bay Area Community Chorus developed by long time educator William Bell, the jazz professor, as he is fondly known, presents its annual concert in celebration of African American spirituals, gospel and traditional choral music, Sunday, March 17, 4 p.m., at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 2808 Lakeshore Ave., in Oakland. Professor Bell directs and features his Jazz Connection Trio on accompaniment. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children. For information, call (510) 283-5003; for tickets, www.brownpapertickets.com.

SF State University Next Wave Choreographers

“The Ninth Annual Black Choreographers Festival Here and Now” ended on a powerful note Sunday, Feb. 24, in a program which featured established choreographers and what festival directors call Next Wave Choreographers Showcase. I’d had wonderful conversations with artists on my radio show twice during the festival and was looking forward with a bit of trepidation to two of the works closing on the weekend, Afia Thompson’s “Heart Awaken,” which looks topically at sexual abuse, and Serenity Mlay’s “Pslam 5,” inspired by the late Eleo Pomare’s “The Junkie” (1965), a solo work featuring Robert Henry Johnson as dancer and narrator. As the title suggests, it queries drug addiction and alienation experienced by Black men, both inebriated and sober.

Black Panthers- 'Daily Political Work' poster by Pirkle Jones
Illustrating the hard work and discipline of the Panthers is this poster. – Photo: Pirkel Jones
Both works were powerful, especially Serenity’s, which featured Robert’s text, which was engaging and sassy as Robert in character can be – a sassy drug addict, con-artist, who is trying to pick up a woman from the audience. Broke, attitude didn’t get him far Sunday evening. Perhaps on Friday or Saturday night he made out better?

I met Robert in costume in the lobby. In character, he asked for a ticket to the show. I told him he could have one of mine, yet he kept ranting, which I didn’t understand. Later, when I saw him on stage, I had to laugh at myself.

Afia’s “Heart” stayed a long time in the abusive part of the healing cycle – tell the story and let’s move on is what I was feeling, but hey, I am not the dramaturge here. When the angels of ancestors danced onto the stage and embraced the child-woman curled in fetal position on the floor, washed her with herbs and water, removed the old garments for new ones, the choreography grew stronger.

Nafi Watson-Thompson’s “Impulse” takes place in a mental hospital and looks at what brought them there. Nafi’s work characteristically entails an extremely powerful interplay of female bodies and text, color within an emotionally edgy topic like mental illness – suicide, mutilation, anger, depression, anorexia.

How did these girls end up here? Now there, how can they find their way back to sanity, to a place where they are safe? Safety and sanity live in the same universe. I love the closing scene, where the women, backs to us, tear up the labels that trapped them and kept wellness at bay.

As always, BCHN is full of pleasant surprises, and what’s great about Next Wave is one gets to meet new choreographers like Raks Africa: Etang Inyang and Tammy Johnson performing “The Carriage Ride,” which takes us to Egypt, where the characters reminisce about a naughty ride one afternoon through the city. Voluptuous and sexually alluring, the belly dancers transport us to the land of the pharaohs.

“Atonal Aves (Jazz Birds),” choreographed by Dar Vejon Jones was oh my gosh so good. Happily, there is an opportunity to see it again at San Francisco State, where he is a student, March 7-9, 8 p.m., at the University Dance Theatre. Visit www.creativestate.sfsu.edu. His huge company, dressed in black leotards, with accents, traveled from “Oz” to Hitchcock’s “Birds” and back as the work moved through the Pan African Diaspora with stops in Europe to a soundtrack that features narration about bird migratory habits and the “East Harlem” suite by Randy Brecker, David Chesky, Andy Gonzalez, Giovanni Hidalgo and Bob Mintzer, featuring edgy solos and stunning company formations. Dar Vejon said the work is inspired by a black bird that followed him one day, which made him think about jazz and birds, as in Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, and thus “Atonal Aves.” I found a rehearsal on line: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hT6eTOMWoY.

Kharyshi Wiginton’s “Too Much Woman for this World” began with a poem, which the choreographer and poet said is the first part of a yearlong sojourn on the topic of body image – the setting a floor length mirror and a chair, lighting lending shadows to an elongated idea that beauty is standardized like tests most of us fail or opt out of. A solo work which asked as many questions as it answered, Kharyshi’s piece was elegant – the character, a big woman, freed for a moment from the stares, hurtful words, judgments.

We danced out the theatre on Jamar Nicholas Welch’s “All That Soul.” Jammer of Housin’ Authority fame performed with his youth troupe out of Richmond’s East Bay Center for the Performing Arts. The kids and Jamar were hot as they danced to a soundtrack I grew up with – James Brown, The Jacksons, New Edition. Visit bcfhereandnow.org.

PUSH Dance Benefit

Raissa Simpson and Push Dance Company are having a fundraiser March 15, 7-10 p.m., with performances starting at 8 p.m. The performances include excerpts from new work by Push Dancers. I hope they perform the one I missed at BCHN week two (smile). The venue is Terra Gallery and Event Venue, 511 Harrison St., San Francisco. For tickets, visit www.marchbenefit.eventbrite.com.

‘Well Contested Sites’ film

Community Works presents a screening of “Well Contested Sites,” a 13 minute non-narrative, movement-based film that looks at the issue of incarceration and evokes of the layers of experience faced by those who are incarcerated. A panel discussion follows on Saturday, March 16: Alcatraz Island, 1 p.m.; you must preregister. Other screenings are Thursday, March 21, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 4:30 p.m.; Tuesday, April 16, at Stanford University, 9 a.m.; Thursday, July 11, at the San Francisco Public Library, Koret Auditorium, 6:30 p.m. All screenings are an hour long and FREE.

Panelists include restorative justice practitioners, men who have been incarcerated, and directors and producers Amie Dowling and Austin Forbord. Visit https://www.facebook.com/WellContestedSites and http://www.communityworkswest.org/index.php/contact-us.

Classical Revolution’s Musical Art Quintet in concert with poet Avotcja

'With Every Step I Take' by Avotcja coverCelebrate the release of Avotcja’s new book, “With Every Step I Take” (Taurean Horn Press), with amazing artwork by Eliza Shefler. Join us for an unforgettable evening of nuevo chamber, tango, jazz and poetry on Friday, March 1, 8 p.m., at La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. Visit www.lapena.org or call (510) 849-2568.

‘What Do the Women Say?’

Also at La Peña, Golden Thread Productions presents “What Do the Women Say?” with Leyla Modirzadeh, Kathryn Haddad and Tru Bloo. Through comedy and satire, three women explore the theme of “home” in Golden Thread Productions’ annual celebration of International Women’s Day, Friday, March 8, 8 p.m.

‘Haiti Now! The coup d’etat continues’

“Haiti Now! The coup d’etat continues” is Saturday, March 2, 3:30 p.m., at La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, $5-$15 donation requested, but no one will be turned away. Call (510) 849-2568. The featured speaker is Walter Turner, host and producer of KPFA’s Africa Today. He will report back on his recent trip to Haiti. In addition, Kiilu Nyasha will read selections from President Aristide’s new book, “Haiti-Haitii? Philosophical Reflections for Mental Decolonization.”

“In ‘Haïti Haitii?’ Jean-Bertrand Aristide combines the artistry of Swahili with the poetic incisiveness of his native Kreyol to produce an eloquent, resounding negation to colonialism and slavery, as well as an emphatic affirmation of freedom, liberty, equality and fraternity,” according to Amazon. “Aristide writes in poetry, prose, proverbs and aphorisms to tell the epic story of the life and freedom affirming spirit of Haiti, the world’s first independent Black republic.

“He chronicles slavery through a recitation of the brutality of the colonizers and the often mundane and trivial ways in which they attempted to dehumanize Haitians, positioning the reader in the place of the human beings who were at the receiving end of such inhumanity. Aristide eloquently illustrates how Haitians’ 300-year journey to freedom was illuminated by the African philosophy of Ubuntu, a world view that embodies human solidarity, respect, dignity, justice, liberty and love. In this philosophy, Africans found an unmatched strength to resist slavery. Today, he writes, it is this same philosophy that can empower a new generation of Africans worldwide to resist neo-colonialism.”

This event also commemorates the ninth anniversary of the U.S.-backed coup in Haiti and the second anniversary of President Aristide’s return. Visit Haiti Action Committee: www.haitisolidarity.net.

‘Empty Promises’ film screening

Empty Promises, an independent documentary by two Cal students, explores community mobilization in South Africa’s informal settlements against eviction and failure of service delivery by the local government. The screening is in La Peña Cultural Center’s Lounge Thursday, March 7, 6 p.m. The documentary addresses the following questions: Why do community members mobilize? Which factors lead individuals to protest? How do individuals define their aims and objectives? And where do members place themselves in relation to the police and local government?

They interview activists, leaders and community members from six informal settlements – slums – in Johannesburg and Durban in an attempt to portray the political landscape of post-Apartheid South Africa. The film was independently funded and made in collaboration with the Socioeconomic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI). La Peña is located at 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. Tickets are $5-$10 sliding scale. Call (510) 849-2568 or email secondgen@gmail.com for information.

Black Rep

Black Repertory Group has brought back “A Shadow in the Clouds” by Victor Lawhorn for a limited engagement Fridays and Saturdays, March 8-30. I missed “Tituba” and “Nat Turner” and wished they were coming back and my wish came true, immediately (smile). Clarence Cuthbertson’s “Tituba” and “Nat Turner,” starring Mr. Clarence Ray Johnson Jr. and Ms. Nathalie Autumn Bennett – yes, she is also starring as Queen Bessie – runs Sundays, March 10, 17 and 24, 8 p.m., as a part of Black Rep’s New Arts Programming. Visit http://blackrepertorygroup.com/Main_Stage.html.

Black Rep’s Women’s History programming is really stellar this year. Sean Vaughn Scott says the inclusion of Prophet Nat in a Women’s History Month series fits when one looks at Nat Turner’s relationship with his wife, an element not often explored when telling his story.

Black Panthers- Alameda County Courthouse 3 Panthers with 'Free Huey' flags by Pirkle Jones
Three Panthers wave Free Huey flags on the steps of the Alameda County Courthouse. – Photo: Pirkel Jones
“A Shadow in the Clouds” with Ms. Bennett as Bessie Coleman is not just the story of a Black woman who wanted to soar; it is the story of a woman, who despite all odds realized her dream through creativity and critical thinking. Lawhorn’s writing is great. Where there are insufficient details, he makes them up (smile) – plausible works coupled with the great historic slides which include a photo of Bessie’s mother. “A Shadow in the Clouds” reminds me of the “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Queen Bessie” (smile). Queen Bessie as portrayed by Bennett and written by Lawhorn is a fine tribute to a phenomenal woman.

It’s getting harder to stay on top of Black theatre and Blacks in theatre, but one knows for sure that Black Rep is about us 24/7 365 days a year (smile).

Theatre: ‘A Lady and a Woman’ by Shirlene Holmes

Theatre Rhinoceros’ production of “A Lady and a Woman” by Shirlene Holmes, starring Velina Brown and Dawn L. Troupe, directed by John Fisher, has its Bay Area premiere March 7-24, Wednesday-Saturday, 8 p.m., and Sunday, 3 p.m., at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St. between Front and Battery in San Francisco. Visit www.TheRhino.org.

There will be a “Talk-Back with Playwright Shirlene Holmes” Friday, March 8, at 10 p.m. at the theatre. Then on Sunday, March 17, at 5 p.m., there will be a panel discussion, “Portrayals of Same-Sex Love in African-American Plays,” led by Jewelle Gomez (“Waiting for Giovanni”). Panelists are Brian Freeman (“Civil Sex”) and Velina Brown and Dawn L. Troupe, cast of “A Lady and A Woman.” Both programs are free and open to the public. To hear a wonderful interview with the director, visit http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2013/03/01/wandas-picks-radio-show.

The Playwrights Foundation’s 2013 Spring Rough Readings Series

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s “The World of Extreme Happiness” runs March 11, 7 p.m., at Stanford University’s Roble Hall and March 12, 7 p.m., at NOH Space, 2840 Mariposa St., San Francisco, as part of the Playwrights Foundation’s 2013 Spring Rough Readings Series. Readings are 100 percent FREE of charge. A $20 donation in advance comes with a reserved seat and a drink! To RSVP, email rsvp@playwrightsfoundation.org or call (415) 626-2176. The spring series features a playwright tackling issues of life and death, zooming in on character, global perspectives and forgiveness.

“The World of Extreme Happiness” deadlocks two kids from a rural Chinese village between familial duty and Americanized ambitions of consumer driven happiness. When Sunny is born in a rural village on the Yangtze River, her parents dump her in a slop bucket and leave her to die because she isn’t a boy. Sunny survives, and at 14 leaves home for a Shenzhen factory to fund her brother’s education. There she works grueling shifts cleaning toilets and dreams of promotion. Desperate to maximize her only capital – her youth – Sunny attends self-help classes and learns ways to improve her chances at securing a coveted office position. But when her dogged attempts to pull herself out of poverty hurt a fellow worker, Sunny begins to question the design of a system she has spent her life trying to master and starts to fight for an alternative.

Oakland Renaissance Jazz Series: The Photography of Kamau Amen-Ra, Edward Miller, Tumani Onabiyi and Wanda Sabir

A collection of Oakland based photographers celebrates the art and artistry of jazz musicians in the Bay Area with an exhibition in Berkeley Public Library’s Central Catalog Lobby, 2090 Kittredge at Shattuck, downtown Berkeley, from Feb. 11 through May 11. The exhibition is curated by Kamau Amen-Ra and it features the work of Wanda Sabir, Edward Miller and Tumani Onabiyi. This series of jazz photography captures performances held in a variety of Bay Area venues, including the East Side Cultural Center and the 57th Street Gallery in Oakland. This group of artists has been documenting the rich history of jazz performance in the Bay Area for over a quarter of a century. Access to the exhibit is available during the library’s open hours: Monday 12-8, Tuesday 10-8, Wednesday-Saturday 10-6 and Sunday 1-5.

The artists’ reception Saturday, March 2, 2-5 p.m., features a performance by TVC, a jazz string trio comprised of local musicians Kash Killion on cello, with Sandy Poindexter and Jean “Tarika” Lewis on violin. This FREE jazz concert and artist reception takes place on Saturday, March 2, at 2 p.m. in the third floor Community Meeting Room in the Central Library. The exhibiting photographers will be available to discuss their work immediately following the concert at 3 pm. The event is wheelchair accessible and sponsored by the Friends of the Library. For more information, call (510) 981-6100 or visit www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org.

‘Transformative Visions’

“Transformative Visions” is a multimedia arts event and exhibit at Studio One, 365 45th St. in Oakland. Its goal is to lift up a vision of peace, justice, healing and possibility for our community and our world. Scheduled to coincide with the annual observance of “A Season for Nonviolence,” this event is intended to both challenge and inspire, offering a spiritually-rooted response to the troubling and urgent issues of the present day.

KamauGÇÖs San Leandro Library exhibit artists James Knox, Kamau Amen Ra, TaSin Sabir, Charles Rhone, Edward Miller 0710 by
At an exhibit curated by Kamau Amen-Ra in the San Leandro Library in July 2010 are artists James Knox, Kamau, TaSin Sabir, Charles Rhone and Edward Miller. – Photo: Kamau Amen-Ra
The exhibit opens Saturday, March 16, 2-5 p.m., with a reception featuring live jazz with musical all-stars The Destiny Muhammad Project – Destiny Muhammad on harp and vocals, Fred Harris on piano, E.W. Wainwright on drums, Gary Brown on upright bass – with special guests pianist Tammy Hall and Sistahs of the Drum. Spoken word artists will perform original works with a message of positive social change: Ambessa the Articulate, Freedom Reign, Itoro Udofia, LEX, Nakia “Precious Gift” Dillard, Sandra Hooper Mayfield and Telejon Quinn.

The visual art exhibit will be on display from March 9 through the week of April 8. More than 20 Bay Area artists, working in a wide range of styles and media, are participating. They include Abba Yahudah, Alonzo Young, April Martin Chartrand, Brett Cook, Bryan Keith Thomas, Damon Powell, Daniel Zarazua, Eesuu Orundide, George Hopkins, James Gayles, Kris Washington-Carroll, Lorraine Bonner, Malik Seneferu, Mildred Thompson, Nia Jourdan, Pablo Soto Campoamor, Ras Terms, Safetyfirst, Salma Arastu, TaSin Sabir, Wanda Sabir, William Rhodes, Xiomara Castro and Zena Allen. Visit www.onelifeinstitute.org.

Tomye Neal-Madison

Curator Tomye Neal-Madison has curated two shows for Women’s History Month: One, at The Prescott Joseph Center, 920 Peralta St., in Oakland, opens Friday, March 8, with a reception from 5-7 p.m. Entitled “A Mass of Voices: A Need to Breathe,” the exhibit features 11 artists. At the Malonga Center Annex Gallery, 1428 Alice St., off 14th Street, also in Oakland, 11 artists respond to the theme, “Women in Public Spaces.” The exhibit is up March 5-28, with a reception March 21, 7-9 p.m. Tomye, who is also a painter, is participating in the Art of Living Black, which concludes its Open Studios this weekend. Visit http://www.therichmondartcenter.org/html/new_exhibitions.html.

The Art of Living Black

There is not much left that is still Black. Kwanzaa kinaras are made in China or Korea. One can buy kente-like cloth at Sears and, well, AfroSolo is integrated, but TAOLB is still BLACK and, as a Race Woman, I like that (smile). I had a chance to get by the exhibit last month and was looking forward to taking two weeks to visit the Open Studios and here it is, week two and I have to do it all in one afternoon. It’s possible, but one has to start early and not dally. I have my favorite artists and TAOLB is like a reunion, a time to catch up, eat cheese, drink wine and chill for a moment (smile).

Orlonda Uffre’s painting in the group show was stunning. The Art of Living Black group show is down, but Hilda Robinson’s exhibit is up through March 8, at the Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Ave. This year I really loved quite a few of the pieces, like Gene Howell’s, whose print was a new direction for the artist whom I’d known for his mixed media. The same with Tomye; she sculpted with glass (smile). Many artists I was discovering for the first time.

Visit http://taolb.blogspot.com/ for a listing of artists, studios and continuing exhibits. A few are open through March into April.

‘The Motherf@#ker with a Hat’

Thursday evening on the last day of the shortest month in the year, I find myself racing to San Francisco to catch a play whose name I cannot say out loud or print: yes, San Francisco Playhouse’s “The Motherf@#ker with a Hat” by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Bill English. This 10th season is marked by a new home, 450 Post St. Formerly on Sutter in what could be termed a theatre incubator, SF Playhouse has moved from black box to opulence. It couldn’t have happened to nicer folk too, yet I recall when Stanley and Quentin, the founders of Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, were alive and their first play debuted here after LHT had been homeless for a number of years since the Art Academy University took over their home in the Sheehan Hotel. Now they are wayfarers once again. At 450 Post, I nonetheless kept expecting to see Steve or Marc or other familiar faces in the lobby greeting guests, serving drinks, checking tickets.

“Motherf@#ker,” besides being a provocative mouthful, opens in a bedroom on a Latina, Veronica (Isabelle Ortega), in lively conversation with her mom about her poor choice in men, while at the same time snorting a line of coke. Yes, one could tell Veronica was an expert at juggling phones and cards. Her boyfriend comes in, hands full of flowers and stuffed toys, candy bars and movie tickets, in celebration of his new job. Jackie (Gabriel Marin) is trying to maintain his sobriety, perhaps a condition of his parole, lands a good job and he is happy – that is, until he notices a man’s hat on a chair that doesn’t belong to him.

From there the play shifts and turns as only a Stephen Adly Guigis play can twist, as characters you think you know, you do not. Whose hat is it? Why does Jackie stay with a woman who supports his sobriety but doesn’t plan on kicking her habit any time soon?

Black Panthers- Family at Free Huey Rally DeFremery Park by Pirkle Jones
Many young people like this family were drawn to Panther events like this Free Huey rally at Li’l Bobby Hutton (DeFremery) Park. - Photo: Pirkel Jones
If one is familiar with “When Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train,” also produced by SF Playhouse, then one knows Carl Lumbly, who as Ralph is Jackie’s sobriety sponsor. Margo Hall’s Victoria is Ralph’s angry wife. We have to wait quite a while to learn why Rudy Guerrero’s “Cousin Julio,” a flaming queen, literally has his cousin’s back. Cousin Julio comes through with a bit of comic relief when the passages narrow and Jackie stops breathing.

In a slowly building climax which leaves us at the top of the hill when the play ends, Jackie isn’t the only one left questioning his values. Margo seems to drop her anger on her way up the incline. For the audience, the shifting personas at times become too much to take in. Just as Jackie finds himself, his world crashes and falls around him.

Sobriety isn’t about not taking a drink; sobriety is the kind of clarity one has when one can see him or herself honestly. Veronica despite her inebriated state is sober, while Ralph is drunk on false ideas and assumptions, deception and lies he uses to justify and describe his behavior. There is so much truth in his statement to Jackie about friends. He says one’s friends are the kids one meets in the playground at the park – that by the time we reach adulthood, it’s too late. “If when you die and you can say you have one true friend, you will be lucky,” Ralph says to Jackie.

Jackie and Veronica are friends. They have known each other since eighth grade, yet a stranger is able to change what they know with certainty into something questionable which unravels their lives, since love is their sun and moon.

Marvin X, who founded Recovery Theatre in San Francisco, said once that everyone has addictions. Some are just more socially acceptable than others, like Cousin Julio, who was addicted to sex. The SF Playhouse production is up through March 16. Visit sfplayhouse.org or call (415) 677-9596.

On the fly

Meklit Hadero is at SFJAZZ Center, Miner Auditorium, Saturday, March 2, 7:30. See more at http://sfjazz.org/  John Santos is at SFJAZZ March 21-24, http://sfjazz.org/events/season1/john-santos-filosofia-caribena-ii. Fado star Mariza is here March 14-17 at SFJAZZ. Check back for more later. Visit www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks for updated coverage of what’s going on in the San Francisco Bay Area. San Jose Winter Festival is March 8 in San Pedro Square with Sean Jones, Robert Glasper Experiment (Quartet), Vijay Iyer and others. For more details: http://www.sanjosejazz.org/en/winter-fest/overview/year.listevents/2013/03/02/-.html.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo is in town Monday, March 5, 8 p.m., at Yoshi’s in Oakland. Other interesting artists this month there include Sheila E, March 20-22; Miles Smiles Tribute, March 12-13; Poncho Sanchez, March 15-16; 10th Annual Black Music Awards, March 17; and Dr. George Clinton, March 27-29. Visit www.yoshis.com. The art exhibit “Silence” is up at the Berkeley Art Museum through April 28; visit www.bampfa.berkeley.edu.

CAAMFEST, presenting the best in Asian American cinema, runs March 14-24. I recommend the following – some I’ve watched, the others look interesting: “Midnight’s Children,” “Nice Girls Crew 2,” “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” “The School for Good and Evil,” “Late Summer,” “Someone I Used to Know,” “High Tech, Low Life,” “Seeking Haven,” “Seeking Asian Female,” “Xmas Without China,” “Beautiful 2012,” “Comrade Kim Goes Flying,” “Go Grandriders,” “Invoking Justice,” “The Land of Hope,” “When Hari Got Married” and “When the Bough Broke.” Shorts to see: “On Bodies” and “Wysiwyg – What You See Isn’t What You Get.” Visit www.caamedia.org. “The Terracotta Warriors” are on view at the Asian Art Museum through April 2013. These life size warriors are pretty amazing, each one is different. Visit http://www.asianart.org.

Good read: ‘The New Moon’s Arms’

Earlier last month I read Nalo Hopkinson’s “The New Moon’s Arms.” The prolific author, best known for her “Skin Folk” and “The Salt Roads,” writes with bananas and cassavas in her ink wells. Luscious and humid, one feels the words before they leave the protagonist’s mouth. Calamity is a mother and grandmother, who raised her daughter without a road map. One day her mother ups and leaves Calamity, formerly Chasity Theresa Lambkin, and her dad. Neither father nor daughter ever get over it; however, Calamity is smart and can get off the island and go to university, but she gets pregnant and so ends her plans, especially when her dad kicks her out.

Teen mom without resources, Calamity grows adept at stretching a penny, pretending her daughter is her sister to make single motherhood a bit more socially acceptable. She and her father reach a truce and she moves back home to take care of him. This is where the story takes place, on the island in a house that is falling down, kind of like its owner. But lucky for Calamity a little magic in the form of a child she finds on the beach, his parents drowned, helps ease the transition into middle age and open her eyes to a world view she’d been avoiding most of her life.

Black Panthers- Window of BPP HQ w bullet holes by Pirkle Jones
Bullet holes in the window of Black Panther headquarters prove the Panthers’ impact. – Photo: Pirkel Jones
Set on a Caribbean island, Calamity is beset with hot flashes and a body that can no longer twist and turn as fast as it once did. Still cute and attractive, she stumbles, scantly covered feet teetering on stilts she once navigated so well. In a twist of fate, she begins to find things she lost – thoughts, memories, ideas, plans – items literally fly through the air, fall from the sky, poke her while she sits on the sofa, roll across the room.

While on a date with Gene, the policeman with the Coast Guard, Calamity says: “A hot flash came and went. I scarcely noticed it in the heat from the restaurant stoves. [They are at 87-year-old Mrs. Smalley’s Chicken Boutique.] But I did notice the balsa wood glider plane that appeared in the air near the ceiling of the restaurant and began spiraling down. ‘Excuse me,’ I said to Gene. I stood, pushed my chair back, caught the plane by its body. Only a small boy sitting at a table beside his mummy seemed to have noticed. His mouth was hanging open. I winked at him.

“Nine years old when I got the Pigeon glider. [She] remembered the wings and tail fins slipped neatly out of the body so it could all lay flat [and then] tucked the pieces into my handbag and sat back down” (238).

Other weird things happen as well, like cashew groves popping up overnight along with trees. An attractive woman, men pop up too – a biologist who is following the migratory patterns of seals and a police officer who knew Calamity’s dad. It’s election time and the candidates are vying for the vote. A newcomer is exposing the incumbent’s corporate bed partner.

It’s the child she finds on the beach – “Agway” she calls him, his long locs full decorated with shells – who fills a space in her consciousness where lost thoughts reside, places where anger lies unresolved, resentfulness simmers unchecked and questions continue unanswered until Calamity stops running from herself and listens to her heart.

The boy has webbed feet and doesn’t stand straight or move quite like those confined to land do. His extra body fat keeps him warm in the sea, multiple lens to protect his eyes from the water. He also has thick patches of skin on his knees.

Abandoned by her mom and pushed away by her dad and the one man she really loved, her daughter’s father, Calamity needs to do some house cleaning – soul polishing – and perhaps her gift for finding lost items will help her find the little girl, the happy little girl she once was.

“The New Moon’s Arms” is magical. We meet the people who live in the water, the child one of them. When Calamity is a child, she meets a friend and together they go swimming even though Calamity knows she is not supposed to go in the water when an adult is not around. Her little friend doesn’t speak English, but the children communicate – the little water maiden carrying Calamity out beyond her comfort zone – and then there is an accident.

Is rescuing the child an opportunity to repay her little friend for saving her life? Imagine an entirely different way of living, one where people live in the water, eat raw fish and have adapted their bodies so that they stay warm when the water is cooler and can propel themselves through the water more efficiently than those who live primarily on the land.

Calamity swears like a sailor, is a bit antisocial and has really strong beliefs about God and hell with profiles for recent inductees, yet she feeds her guests, helps her grandson with his science project, and tries not to attach herself to people so tightly she drowns them. The sea people are descendents of the early Africans, specifically a conjure woman who childless, was sold into captivity when she told the chief’s first wife she could not change the girl-child she was carrying into a boy. Aboard the ship, the “dada-haired lady” adopts an orphaned boy. She was able to “find” lost things when during her “blood time,” but she had to be careful; bad things happened to women accused of being witches (102). In a poetic parallel narrative Calamity too lives in dreamtime – the one not explaining the other, yet somehow expanding the tale as it evaporates (smile).

Nalo Hopkinson’s characters are complex, intriguing and lovable and the ending is amazing, but one doesn’t want to rush the journey even if one could. Thankfully, it doesn’t take 500 years, just 323 pages (Warner Books, 2007).

Jerri Lange: One woman’s spiritual journey

Sunday, Feb. 24, as John Handy celebrated his 80th sojourn on the planet in a special concert and tribute hosted by the Jazz Heritage Center in San Francisco, Jerri Lange hosted a special event at the San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin St., in honor of her exhibition on view now through May 2, “One Woman’s Spiritual Journey to the Heart.”

Jerri Lange reading from her memoir SF Main Library 022413 by Wanda, web
Jerri Lange reads from her memoir. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
Her exhibit, which she speaks about at length in a special radio interview that Friday, Feb. 22, is also a way to bridge the cultures of the African American and Japanese people. At 88, Ms. Lange has started with this exhibit a new career as a photojournalist, having been one of the first African American women journalists and television talk show hosts in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1969-1979 on KEMO, KBHK, KGO and KQED, where she became the first Black woman to host a national talk show, Turnabout, and where she served on the board. She, like her predecessor, Belva Davis, interviewed world leaders and entertainers, such as Professor Arnold Toynbee, a historian from the Royal Institute of International Studies in London, Sammy Davis Jr. and Rock Hudson.

She was a professor at San Francisco State University, lectured a graduate class in communications at Stanford University and was the correspondent in Africa for the San Francisco Chronicle, and the publisher of the magazine Amberstar in Hawaii.

It was in Hawaii while she worked as a librarian that she met her Japanese adopted daughter who invited her to Kyoto, Japan, and introduced her after several trips in 2006 to meet Hoju Roshie, a Master Zen Buddhist priest. Her hosts paid for her entire stay, which transpired over the four yearly seasons seen in the lovely photographs of the countryside.

The exhibit has large photos – landscapes hanging strategically throughout the African American Center Gallery on the Third Floor in the San Francisco Main Library. In the smaller display cases, one can see smaller shots of Ms. Lange and her daughter and priest and intimate views of the sacred place where she lived while there.

Rafael 'Ray' Taliaferro speaks at Jerri Lange's photo exhibit SF Main Library 022413 by Wanda, web
Rafael “Ray” Taliaferro speaks at the opening of Jerri Lange’s photo exhibit at the San Francisco Main Library Feb. 24. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
One fun photo is of Ms. Lange soaking in a warm pool, another is of her meditating with Roshie. With parasol in hand, these photos transport us to a place, which while changed perhaps in the six or seven year since her visit, nonetheless remains the same in these moments captured for our pleasure.

I enjoyed looking at the scrapbooks Ms. Lange has kept with her work, photographs of the many people mentioned in her book, “Jerri, A Black Woman’s Life in the Media,” photos of her sons, early shots of her as a youngster and an adolescent, photos of her father, who was here during the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco, her ancestors migrants from New Orleans to West Oakland.

With Tureeda Mikell serving as emcee, Rafael “Ray” Taliaferro made concluding remarks after Ms. Lange, overwhelmed by the magnitude of her program, which featured Tarika Lewis, Mary Rudge and others in a program that included dance, song, poetry and music, gave final statements and thanks before meeting us in the rear of the Koret Hall to sign books and then get over to her reception at Rassalas on Fillmore, next door to where John Handy was having his concert.

It was a weekend of celebrations, too many to get to them all, but I did my best (smile). Here is a link to the radio interview: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2013/02/22/wandas-picks-radio-show. And here is a recording of her reception: http://www.internationalmediatv.com/video/broadcasts4.html.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wsab1@aol.com. 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.

 

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