by Wanda Sabir
‘Enhancing the Fabric of Family: Serudja Ta’
Gina M. Paige explained that the organization, African Ancestry, started with Dr. Rick Kittles, genetic researcher at Howard University who was interested in isolating the gene that caused prostate cancer, one of the leading causes of death in our community. He found this research methodology applicable in other genetic detective research and so in 2003 African Ancestry was founded with Ms. Paige.
So why would one want to know one’s genetic history when one doesn’t know one’s relatives who are alive, yet not in our lives? This is a question that comes up often in my family. I remember when I was a child I spoke to relatives whom my only recollection was a photo on the wall in my parent’s room or a visit when I was so small I do not recall the details. I remember writing letters and sending birthday cards to aunts and uncles and cousins who never called or wrote back, but I knew their names – Grandmother Rosetta, Grandfather Henry Joseph, Great Aunt Beatrice, Uncle HJ, Aunt Rosemary, Aunt Rebecca, Uncle Arthur, Uncle Leonard, Cousin Jeffery, Cousin Roland, Aunt Theo Gayle, Aunt Undine, Aunt Henrietta, Cousin Mary.
I remember my grandfather’s visit when I was a child. My uncle Gerard sent me a doll from Korea. I still have it. We didn’t travel back to Louisiana or Mississippi, but I knew I had family there and I was interested in knowing them, seeking them out and meeting them even as an adult – and I eventually did.
So why would one want to know one’s genetic history when one doesn’t know one’s relatives who are alive, yet not in our lives?
Integration and migration patterns have splintered and rent our African communities asunder, yet for those of us who are left, it is certainly possible to know each other. Jim Crow, legal slavery systems and the absence of reliable and sustained economic opportunity for Black people in this country remains a problem 150-plus years post emancipation.
People want to paint it as a collective issue when those most impacted are the descendents of enslaved Africans. We cannot pass, we cannot assimilate; and if we can, then there arise other problems associated with such two-ness instead a oneness of being. The human being is a unity of consciousness; any other reality is a problem. Yet to be successful in this country one has to have a duality of selves hanging in one’s psychical closet. How disturbing, right? It’s no wonder why we carry a burden – an inherited burden which remains unpacked.
Part of the healing from this disconnectedness comes when one knows where one is geographically centered. We are not indigenous to this land, rather we have a place, a land; we have inheritance elsewhere. DNA research helps us locate that link in the puzzle which spiritually unravels a lot. When I learned that I was majority sub-Saharan African I was elated. I felt an immediate connection of all the folks there even if they did not feel connected to me.
It did not matter; I was claiming it and them anyway. Now to refine that search – to the town, the village and the people. This means I can find my ancestral family. I can inquire: Who lost family members to the slave trade? How long ago? Where do these families live? Do you have an address or phone number or email address? Further DNA tests can narrow this search even further until one locates one’s actual people. Now I am not certain how I am going to spin it backward, but learning my ancestry does not mean I am going to disregard my adoptive families in Rufusque and Harare and Mopti.
DNA research helps us locate that link in the puzzle which spiritually unravels a lot. When I learned that I was majority sub-Saharan African I was elated. I felt an immediate connection of all the folks there even if they did not feel connected to me.
Back to the presentation: “Serudja Ta: In Honor of Our Heritage.” (Learn more at www.iasbflc.org.)
There is a place in our DNA structure where our parent’s DNA does not mix. It is gender specific in that, if one wants to know one’s complete ancestry, one has to have the results of a sibling of the opposite sex. I called my brother immediately and asked him if he wanted me to buy a kit for him so he could do our patri-lineal line. I wanted to be reimbursed (smile). He laughed and told me I could have the DNA, but the testing costs would be on me – even at a discount, $250, so I had to wait.
I have had my DNA completed before. At the college of Alameda, one of my colleagues, Dr. Nathan Strong, has students in his anthropology class participate in this screening. He has written grants and made it free for classes and very reasonable for the community. I know that I am majority sub-Saharan African, 13 percent European and 4 percent East Asian. But this test does not go into detail regarding the place where my lineage resides nor who or what ethnic group I belong to. That is another screening. What makes African Ancestry so unique is that the results expand one’s notion of community. All of a sudden, one is not African American, one is Cameroon-American or “Cameramerican” (smile).
Ms. Paige spoke of a trip to the motherland where those aboard entered American and exited African. The box on the census changed in that moment of ancestral clarity. So what does this DNA evidence mean regarding citizenship rights and repatriation, passports and admission fees to museums and other sacred sites, not to mention travel as an African in Continental Africa? What does this change in Pan African recognition as Diaspora citizens? Does it eliminate these contested lines of demarcation, our exclusion and disappearance from policies which affect our reception upon our return?
Imagine the joy the families experienced as the envelope was opened that evening at “Enhancing the Fabric of Families: Serudja Ta” – EFF a program of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family Life and Culture in West Oakland. The celebration, or Serudja-Ta, took place at the Acorn Community Center on Thursday evening, Oct. 17. Each member of the family cohort received a certificate, listening attentively as Ms. Paige first described the place in Africa their ancestors were from and what types of work or craftsmanship or artistry these people and community were known for, whether that was storytelling, rice farming or fishery.
Ms. Paige spoke of a trip to the motherland where those aboard entered American and exited African. The box on the census changed in that moment of ancestral clarity.
As we watched their faces, recognition of aspects of each other’s person lit up in recognition of ways of being they could not trace, which now made more sense. Anyinka spoke of how the name he chose for himself came from his ancestral lineage. Another man spoke of how he and his wife are both Yoruba, different ethnic groups and that he looked up the pattern for his wedding shirt and learned in retrospect that it had ancestral ties. My friend Nabilah – Dr. Vera Nobles – seated across from me, shared that her patrilineal line, through an uncle, revealed among other ancestry descendents from Spain, which I found uncanny given her undergraduate degree in Spanish.
Ms. Paige explained that our African lineage was on our mother’s side and that the contamination of the line – that is the rape(s) and sexual exploitation of African women – came through the male line. I wonder though about what it means that I have 13 percent European and 4 percent East Asian. How will that show up in my brother’s DNA for our family?
Some women didn’t have access to a member of their father’s line, which means they will not know that aspect of their ancestry or heritage. Yet, there is power in knowing who one is, especially one’s African ancestry.
Ms. Paige explained that our African lineage was on our mother’s side and that the contamination of the line – that is the rape(s) and sexual exploitation of African women – came through the male line.
“The Enhancing the Fabric of Family, Family Festival” is titled “Serudja-Ta” because is believed that community gatherings to celebrate family are a part of repairing, renewing and restoring the African-American community. These community gatherings conclude “EFF Courageous Family Talk cycles” (http://blackfamilyinst.org/serudja-ta/?no_redirect=true).
This project, supported by the Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family Life and Culture in West Oakland, Dr. Rachel Bayard-Cooks, Psy.D., lead psychologist, is just one of many initiatives and projects the institute is known for. Dr. Goddard, one of the founders of the institute, told me that the Bay Area chapter meeting – third Saturdays, 9:30-12, at the West Oakland Branch Library, 1801 Adeline St., Oakland – would be discussing the Emotional Emancipation Healing Circles. I learned of this tool last year at the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) convention in Los Angeles in a workshop hosted by then national chair, Dr. Cheryl Grills. I was pleased to see Mujah Shakir, now in Tuskegee, Alabama, leading the pilot there, which I believed she developed.
Saturday, Oct. 19, at the meeting we reviewed the Emotional Emancipation Healing Circles and their connection to a national Community Healing Network, http://www.defythelie.org/. I’d never heard of community healing days before but certainly agree with their principles and philosophical structure. Everyone should take the pledge, defy the lie.
One suggestion Saturday was to change the Eurocentric language in the EEHC to African language, so that it speaks better to our community and lives. This year the annual Association of Black Psychologists convention is in July in Indianapolis, where the largest Black Expo in the country occurs. Known as a city which is pedestrian friendly, the convention occurring at the same time as the Black Expo means that this town is going to look like an African town (smile).
‘Dreaming Wildly, Fighting to Win’
Critical Resistance presents “Dreaming Wildly, Fighting to Win,” a conversation with Dr. Angela Y. Davis and poet, attorney, activist Martin Espada, Sunday, Nov. 3, 7 p.m., at the Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside Drive, Oakland. The conversation will be moderated by local artist Melanie Cervantes and will also feature anti-prison activist Linda Evans and performers Rico Pabon and Vukani Mawethu Choir. For tickets $20 and up: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/469912.
Birth Justice Forum: Circumcision for Boys and Girls – What Parents Should Know
The free Bay Area Birth Justice Forum on Circumcision is Saturday, Nov. 2, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the West Oakland Family Resource Center, 991 14th St., Oakland. Visit www.bayareabirthjusticefair.wordpress.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or call (510) 393-7380. Lunch will be available for purchase. Childcare will be available on site.
Zaccho Dance Theatre is proud to present ‘Between me and the Other World’
Zaccho’s “Between Me and the Other World” is a dynamic exploration of scholar and civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois’ concept of “double consciousness.” Performances are Friday-Sunday, Nov. 1-3, 1-5 p.m., looping every 30 minutes. They’re free!
This performance installation has been created in collaboration with composer Anthony Brown, media artist David Szlasa, scenic designer Sean Riley and performing artists Jetta Martin, Raissa Simpson, Rashidi Omari and Matthew Wickett, who together have created an immersive environment that evokes the identity duality described in DuBois’ seminal work.
Zaccho Studio is located at 1777 Yosemite Ave. #330, San Francisco. This performance is being presented as part of Artspan’s SF Open Studios (Oct. 25-Nov. 10) http://www.artspan.org/events/19/10/2013/sf-open-studios-2013-dates-amp-locations.
Afro-Futurism: Envisioning the Year 2070 and Beyond, curated by Kheven Lee LaGrone
The exhibit at Alameda County Law Library, Library Conference Room 8, 125 12th St., Oakland, Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, 2013, features the work of artists Durrell Owens, Ajuan Mance, Karen Oyekanmi, Tomye, Malik Seneferu, James Anderson, Safety First ©, Michael Ross, James M. Kennedy, Sara Marie Prada and William Rhodes. An artist reception will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 6-8 p.m.
Meet the director of ‘Trials of the Century’
At the Alameda County Law Library, Conference Room 8, on Friday, Nov. 1, 4-5:30 p.m., Robert Richter will show the trailer of his documentary project, “Trials of the Century,” based on retired judge Lise Pearlman’s “The Sky’s The Limit: People v. Newton, The REAL Trial of the 20th Century?” The two-time Academy Award nominee Richter has focused on the Alameda County justice system’s handling of the sensationalized murder trial of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton in the volatile summer of 1968. The film features banker David Harper, the first known Black foreman of a major death penalty trial in America, and showcases the impact a diverse “jury of one’s peers” can have on the outcome of an extraordinarily polarizing headline trial. Visit (www.richterprod.com). The Alameda County Law Library, is located at 125 12th St., Oakland, (510) 208-4830. I interviewed Judge Pearlman. Listen at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2012/05/09/wandas-picks-radio-show.
The Lower Bottom Playaz present August Wilson’s ‘Fences’
Happy Birthday, Destiny Muhammad
“Five. ONE. Walking on Water,” Destiny Muhammad’s Fourth Annual Concert, is Sunday, Nov. 17, from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., 1428 Alice St., Oakland. For advance tickets, visit https://fiveonewalkingonwater.eventbrite.com/.
Alonzo King LINES Ballet Home Season
Alonzo King LINES Ballet presents its Fall Home Season 2013, featuring the San Francisco premiere of “Writing Ground,” a collaboration with award-winning author Colum McCann; a world premiere work set to music by Bach; and the release of LINES Ballet’s beautiful new dance photography book at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Lam Research Theater, San Francisco, Wednesday-Sunday, Nov. 3. Tickets are $30-$65, www.linesballet.org, (415) 978-2787.
‘Be Bop Baby: A Musical Memoir’
Z Space presents the world premiere of “Be Bop Baby: A Musical Memoir,” featuring Margo Hall and the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra, written by Margo Hall in collaboration with Nakissa Etemad, composed by Marcus Shelby and directed by Sheila Balter with dramaturgy by Nakissa Etemad, Tuesday-Saturday, Nov. 19-23, Tuesday-Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Z Space, 450 Florida St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25-$75, (866) 811-4111, www.zspace.org.
“Be Bob Baby” is based on actress Margo Hall’s life growing up in a musical household under the loving presence of her stepfather, Teddy Harris Jr., an influential music director, composer and arranger with Motown. Harris was a pioneer with his New Breed Be Bop Society Orchestra and also worked with such legends as and The Supremes, Paul Butterfield and Aretha Franklin.
Directed by Sheila Balter, the cast includes Hall and Bay Area actors Halili Knox, Dawn Troupe-Masi and Mujahed Abdul-Rashid. The 14-piece Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra performs live onstage. Narrated through musical vignettes and monologues, “Be Bop Baby” follows Hall’s eccentric and wild times growing up in a house frequented by Detroit musicians, extended family and friends, and colorful neighborhood characters. “Be Bob Baby” explores the strong bond between Hall and her stepfather, strengthened through their mutual love of music, contrasting it with her difficult relationship with her biological father. Shelby’s original score animates Hall’s heartfelt story with jazz, plus a touch of Motown and ‘70s style soul.
Meet the director of ‘God Loves Uganda’
‘God Loves Uganda’ opens at the Roxie Film Center in San Francisco Friday, Nov. 1, with the director present in person for a Q&A. Roger Ross Williams, the Academy Award winning director, has again trained his lens on a story underreported and certainly overlooked here. American missionaries have set up shop in Uganda, where hate speech is uncensored and mega churches support harsh legislation condemning those convicted of sodomy with death.
There are interviews with Pastor Scott Lively, American author of “The Pink Swatika: Why and How to Defeat the ‘gay’ Movement,” and Pastor Martin Ssempa, Ugandan pastor and founder of the Makerere Community Church, whose claim is to “kick sodomy out of our Uganda.” Then there is Pastor Robert Kayanja, founder of Miracle Centre Cathedral in Kampala, which boasts over 10,000 seated congregants. He is one of the five wealthiest people in Uganda.
Then we have Rev. Kapya Kaoma, former Anglican priest in exile here, and Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, whose title was revoked by the Archbishop of Uganda when he stood up for human rights for all Ugandans regardless of their sexual orientation. He continues his work there. The American evangelical movement has created a situation where there is little if any public tolerance for homosexuality and that led to the killing of a popular gay activist. This film is a definite eye opener. The colonial march continues in Africa today through religion. “God Loves Uganda” opens Friday, Nov. 1, at the Roxie, 3117 16th St., San Francisco, (415) 863-1087 or http://www.roxie.com/. The director will be at the screening opening night to answer any questions afterward.
Daughters of the Civil Rights Movement Speak
The Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture Series is featuring four women who are daughters of participants in the Civil Rights struggles that changed America: Donzaleigh Abernathy, Luci Baines Johnson, Kerry Kennedy, Peggy Wallace Kennedy. They will speak Saturday, Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m., at the Oakland Marriott City Center, 1001 Broadway, Oakland. Seating is limited, so RSVP to (510) 434-3988. Belva Davis moderates and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir will perform.
Theatre of Yugen presents ‘Emmett Till, a river’
“Emmett Till, a river,” by Kevin Simmonds and Judy Halebsky, tells the story of the young African American boy brutally killed in Money, Mississippi, and his mother’s advocacy for justice for her murdered son. Many state that Till’s killing was the start of the Civil Rights Movement. Certainly his mutilated child body, engorged and grotesques facial features are branded in our collective memories even today. Co-writer Judy Halebsky describes the project thus:
“As a poet and Japanese literature scholar, I see noh as a particularly appropriate form to address the brutal murder of young Emmett Till. In noh the dead can speak to the living and resolve lingering issues of their tragic deaths. Our production honors Till’s memory and evokes a contained rage. While addressing a historic event, this work asks us to examine the current inequalities in our society and individual lives. In keeping with the tradition of noh, we draw on audience knowledge of U.S. history to create a work that is not explicit but delicately suggestive and poetically evocative.”
“Emmett Till, a river” tells the story of the young African American boy brutally killed in Money, Mississippi, and his mother’s advocacy for justice for her murdered son. Many state that Till’s killing was the start of the Civil Rights Movement.
Friday performances are followed by a discussion and Q&A led by Judy Halebsky with the artists.
Performances are Nov. 7 through 17, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. at NOHspace in Project Artaud, 2840 Mariposa St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$30 for the Nov. 7 opening night performance with champagne toast. “Teens for Ten” – teens admitted for $10 on Sunday, Nov. 10. There is a pre- and post-talk Nov. 10 as well. For information, call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com.
In correlation with “Emmett Till, a river” and Theatre of Yugen’s upcoming 35th season, the company will also host “35 and Counting,” a lecture-symposium on why it matters to create art that investigates events of historical and cultural significance, led by Larry Bogad, author, performer and the founding director of the Center for Artistic Activism/West Coast. Mr. Bogad has been a commentator on political performance on Air America, NPR and other radio stations and has led tactical performance workshops helping activists create performative, nonviolent images to contest and critique power. The pre-performance talk is Nov. 14, 6-7:30 p.m. at Mariposa Studios, next door to NOHspace, 2808 Mariposa St., San Francisco.
“35 and Counting” is a community-building event for the theatre, and admission is strictly pay-what-you-will. Bento dinners will be available for $15 with an advance reservation.
SF International Hip Hop DanceFest
The San Francisco International Hip Hop DanceFest celebrates its 15th anniversary with 13 hip hop dance companies performing in two programs curated by founding director Micaya, Nov. 15-17, Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyon St., San Francisco. Tickets are $39.99, $75, available at www.cityboxoffice.com, (415) 392-4400 or sfhiphopdancefest.com.
Brava! for Women in the Arts hosts LATC’s Latino Theater Company
Latino Theater Company from Los Angeles Theater Center present “Solitude” by Evelina Fernandez, Thursday-Friday, Nov. 7-8, 8 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 9, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., at Brava Theatre Center in San Francisco. Inspired by the book, “Labyrinth of Solitude,” by Nobel laureate Octavio Paz, “Solitude” explores love, death, destiny and family through a contemporary lens as it follows an increasingly festive gathering of friends after a funeral. This musical, which features original music written and performed live by cellist Semyon Kobialka, made its world premiere at LATC.
The show is here for a limited engagement Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 7-9. Tickets are $25-$35; Thursday is community night. All seats are $15. There is a $5 discount for students and seniors with the code: solitudestudent. Brava Theater Center is located at 2781 24th St., San Francisco, www.brava.org and (415) 641-7657. There is a pre-show reception Saturday, Nov. 9, 7 p.m., and post-show special performance by members of the cast in a benefit for Brava Theater Center. Tickets for the show and reception are $50. Call (415) 641-7657, ext. 4.
38th American Indian Film Festival
With its rich legacy of showcasing the best Native cinema and its longstanding presence in the San Francisco Bay Area, the 38th annual American Indian Film Festival returns Friday, Nov. 1, through Saturday, Nov. 9, at the Delancey Street Theatre, 600 Embarcadero Blvd in San Francisco, and will conclude Sunday, Nov. 10, 4-7 p.m., at the San Francisco Jazz Center, 201 Franklin St., San Francisco, with its annual American Indian Motion Picture Awards Show recognizing outstanding Indian cinematic accomplishments. Tickets for all festival screenings are on sale now at http://festival.aifisf.com.
The 38th American Indian Film Festival kicks off on Friday, Nov. 1, with “Chasing Shakespeare” from director Norry Niven. Told in a flashback from his wife’s deathbed, William Ward’s (Danny Glover) story traces his meeting with the beautiful Venus (Tantoo Cardinal) who is from the Lightning Clan, a mystical Native American family living in Arkansas.
Review of ‘The Taming,’ ‘I and You’ – two by playwright Lauren Gunderson
Crowded Fire Theater is a whole person experience, whether that is their commitment to audience engagement talks or recently a concert featuring Sarah Lou Richards, who composed the theme song, “Tame You,” for Lauren Gunderson’s “The Taming: Southern Fried Politics.” Gunderson’s work – this one a special commission and based loosely on Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” – is quickly making her a household name as her plays have rolling openings in theatres across the country.
I’d almost missed the Crowded Fire’s production, sliding in closing weekend. I’d read about her play there while attending another work a week earlier at nearby Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. That production, “I and You,” a take on Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” is up for another week, Nov. 3. Visit marintheatre.org or call (415) 388-5208.
Thematically, “I and You” is a look at terminal illness through the lens of two teens who have to deconstruct the poet’s use of the pronouns “I” and “you” and what this means as they wrestle with confinement and death – the take away, art’s ability to help us reach beyond our present into a past and even an inarticulate future, something pretty risky for a terminally ill child to even dream of.
Both plays are character driven and fast-paced with hints sprinkled within the room and within the soundtrack, “I and You,” which one could miss until its concluding scene when the walls move and all myths are dispelled.
“I and You” looks at teen death and organ donors and morbidity and gives voice through Whitman’s poem. The characters travel with the ideas there in a way that leaves one surprisingly satiated, sad yet complete. I wondered at the playwright’s decision to have the sick child a girl, her classmate a Black boy. But perhaps in this fictional world, a white mom would send a stranger to her daughter’s room bearing a plate of baked cookies?
The girl doesn’t even know him, as she has not checked her email recently and doesn’t realize she has an assignment due the next day – both kids have been procrastinating. The boy, Anthony, apologizes for his late call, as he shows Caroline his attempt at a poster presentation. Luckily, cranky Caroline is good at art and as the two spend time discussing the poem, their lives and the assignment, they learn a bit more about the complications of death – a cloud hanging over both their heads – one directly, the other indirectly.
As a typical all-American boy, Anthony excels at sports – basketball – and his studies, which include music. He loves jazz and especially John Coltrane and plays “A Love Supreme” for Caroline, who loves Elvis, even though she can appreciate Coltrane once her new friend teaches her how to listen, how to travel where the artist is taking her.
The two actors, Jessica Lynn Carroll and Devion McArthur are marvelous at embodying teen angst at such high stakes. At the talkback, three teenagers stated that the playwright, director and cast, especially the scenic designer, Michael Locher, got it right. They felt the play spoke to them in a way.
I noticed it didn’t speak to everyone in the audience, especially those one might say were their grandparents’ age. The three kids picked up nuances I missed. So take a precocious youngster with you (smile). “I and You” is up Tuesdays-Sundays through Nov. 3 and keep an eye out for this playwright. She certainly takes a fresh look at taboo topics, the unexamined life, which in “The Taming” needs examination.
Why haven’t we rewritten the U.S. Constitution? It is not a sacred document written by holy men. If it is the blueprint for our democracy, then let’s make it work. In “The Taming,” Ms. Georgia, who has a degree in constitutional law, has written a proposal for its revision and kidnaps the senior aide of one of Washington’s top senators and one of this nation’s top independent journalists. Together she wants them to work on her proposal, which she plans to unveil at the beauty pageant. Gender bending and story twists, even time travel convince the women to work together.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at email@example.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.