by Wanda Sabir
Folks have probably heard by now that the African American Museum and Library, Oakland (AAMLO), is without a permanent director. While the search is being articulated and mounted, Susan D. Anderson, Bay Area author and founder of Memory House, will act as interim director and chief curator for the next six to nine months as the Oakland Public Library (OPL) mounts a national search to find the right person for the job.
At a community meeting called by Supporters of AAMLO, Gerry Gazón, director of library services, apologized to the meeting host, Councilperson Lynette Gibson McElhaney, District 3, for not letting City Council and the community know that Rick Moss’s 16 year tenure at AAMLO had ended. Moss, who never quite earned favor with the majority of the Black community who wanted a more active role in the governing and use of the building and its wealth in the form of archives, nonetheless had quite a few bright moments, among them stunning exhibits, a notable Martin Luther King Jr. film series, and the more recent Festivals of Knowledge.
Gazón said he wants AAMLO going forward to be more “participatory, active and accessible to the community.” He said he sees the institution as a “thriving part of Oakland and Northern California – the Schomburg of the West.” This was the dream of the founders I had the opportunity to meet during the planning, contract signing and while on a hardhat tour of the Green Building before it opened for business.
For Black Americans, the Schomburg is a destination where we find resources which help us identity and define for ourselves who we are as a people. The same is true for AAMLO. The archives are rich and will become even richer when the public sees exhibits that showcase the rich legacy of Black California.
Councilperson McElhaney spoke of her commitment to facilitating an open process where there is community involvement at every level. She suggested reinstituting the AAMLO Friends Group. I know there were at least three incarnations. Right now, there is an active Supporters of AAMLO that meets via phone and in person. One of the leaders is Karen Oyekanmi, whose American Black Beauty Doll Artists hosts a free Annual Festival of Black Dolls Show at AAMLO in November, this year, Saturday, Nov. 4, 10-5 p.m.
AAMLO, the realization of many visions
When the Northern California Center for African American History and Life (NCCAAHL) moved from Golden Gate Library to its permanent home, the former Charles S. Green Library, it was love at first sight. Imagine from 1946 to 1965 – Eugene and Ruth Lasartemay and Jesse and Dr. Marcella Ford begin collecting the oral histories and artifacts that documented the activities of African Americans in and around Oakland, the Bay Area and California. Their vision was to establish an institution, a legacy for future generations.
The friends met in each other’s living rooms where they would clip articles about Black people and compile documents worth saving. Eventually they moved into various storefronts along Grove Street in 1970 and 1976 not far from what would eventually become Marcus Bookstore. The group, which had adopted the name East Bay Negro Historical Society, moved into Golden Gate Library in 1986, where the collaboration between the East Bay Negro Historical Society and GGL established the first Oakland library with a collection dedicated to Black culture. The library and EBNHS hosted public programs; however, when Robert Haynes became chief curator, he took the exhibitions that showcased the collection to a higher level.
Dr. Lawrence Crouchett, author of “Visions Toward Tomorrow: The History of the East Bay Afro-American Community, 1852-1977,” was executive director then and changed the organization’s name to the Northern California Center for Afro-American History and Life. Dr. Crouchett (1922-1993) didn’t live to see the fruition the founders’ dream to have a building in 1994 when “NCCAAHL merged with OPL [Oakland Public Library] to create the African American Museum & Library at Oakland (AAMLO), a unique public-private partnership” (OPL website).
When patrons walk into the building on the corner of 14th and MLK Jr., the founders’ names are on a plaque at the entrance to the museum library. It was a win win for OPL; the agreement was that the NCCAAHL would lease its extensive archives to the public institution. Most of the founders are now deceased, and the membership inactive; however, if anyone is interested in being a part of the new vision for AAMLO, that is, a museum library that serves the needs of the community and is a resource for Black history and life in California, then visit the OPL website.
I met one of the founders, Mr. Eugene Lasartemay, before he passed at a book signing with Mary Rudge, who co-wrote a book with him about the life of Jack London and the Black woman who raised him, Jennie Prentiss. Morrie Turner, another founder, was a revolutionary cartoonist, who lived between Berkeley, where he had a studio, and Sacramento, where he had a home. Mr. Turner was a wonderful man, whom I interviewed on a few occasions. My favorite memory of the artist was watching him illustrate the “Wee Pal” symphony concerts when Calvin Simmons was conductor of the Oakland Symphony. We’d take my older daughter, Bilaliyah, who was a toddler then, to the family Sunday matinees.
Trustees and OPL administration went back and forth regarding what to do about the names of European writers on the Green Building outside and the murals on the inside walls which did not reflect Black art or culture. A compromise was the commission of muralist Daniel Galvez’s panels made from Patricia Montgomery’s quilt designs (2002). The panels cover the ceiling murals in the staircases. Black people still have to look over their shoulders, the structure is not completely our own.
‘The Price of a Ticket’ at AAMLO
James Baldwin in Film at BAMPFA and the African American Museum and Library, Oakland, AAMLO, present on Thursday, Oct. 5, 7 p.m., “James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket,” directed by Karen Thorsen (U.S., 1989) in person (86 minutes). AAMLO is at 659 14th St., Oakland, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 6-9 p.m., there is a free screening of the documentary, “The Price of the Ticket.” After the screening, filmmakers Karen Thorsen and Douglas Demsey will join Oakland History Room librarian Dorothy Lazard in a public discussion about the issues raised in the film. This is the kickoff for the Oakland History Room’s 2017 Fall History Series: Prejudice, Patriotism and Protest in Oakland. Visit oaklandlibrary.org/.
Food Justice at AAMLO
Circling Back: Honoring Dr. George Washington Carver is a panel discussion, film screening and poetry. The program is Friday, Oct. 13, 6-8 p.m., at AAMLO, 659 14th St. Moderator is Dr. Gail Myers, Farms to Grow, Inc. The panel discussion explores Dr. Carver’s ideologies for sustainable nutritional living with Aaron Coleman, Iyalode Kinney and Will Scott Jr.
MAAFA Commemoration San Francisco Bay Area 2017
As the 22nd Annual San Francisco Bay Area African Ancestors of the Middle Passage Commemoration approaches, I recall the three queens we lost this season: Makinya Sibeko-Kouate, Queen Mother of Kwanzaa, who brought Black Studies to the East Bay, Sister Jacquelyn Hadiah Mcleod and Hajja Dhameera Ahmad. We miss them. They will have a special place on the altar Oct. 8, at the Ritual at Ocean Beach. Everyone is invited to bring photos of their loved ones who have made their transitions this past season for the community altar. I also wanted to let people know that if anyone is traveling from the East Bay, there is a bus leaving from Grocery Outlet in Oakland that morning. If you would like a ride, leave a message at 510-255-5579.
The raging storms we’ve felt this season coupled with scorching high temperatures make one think seriously about our carbon footprint and how we can remove the boots. Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, plus Floridians and Texans are trying to get back on their feet after one storm after another devastated their homes.
As one part of the country drowns, the other burns. Here in California we are still having unseasonably hot weather – 80-90 degrees in San Francisco. I remember a Student Enrollment Lesson from the Nation of Islam about the weather and who controls it. Looked up the other day at the fuchsia, lavender and purple clouds streaking across a bluesy Western sky and a friend said it looked like chemtrails – completely ruined the moment (smile). Here is a scientific study published in the Huffington Post on chemtrail theories.
4th annual PUSH Dance Festival review
It was the final day of Raissa Simpson’s PUSH Dance Festival, the fourth annual, and between the afternoon and evening programs we walked over to the park across the street where there was a community garden and lots of fun activities for kids and those of us who are kids at heart.
Over the four years, PUSH Festival has featured superb work and audiences are enthusiastic. I was especially looking forward to Simpson’s “Mothership Part 2” and Halifu Osumare Ph.D.’s “Ebo to Oya,” warrior deity who is a symbol for change and transformation. Recently, Bay Area residents heard Oya’s husband, Shango’s voice rumbling – the booming sound precursor to flashing fingers of light parting the skies. It was an amazing show, better than the best July 4th program – afterward huge rain drops drenched all who stood outside to watch.
Osumare says of the new work, “In the Eye of the Storm” (2017), “We are in the eye of a national and international storm, and the crisis can only be survived in community with others. The forces causing the storm are external and internal to the community, and survival means growing spiritually. Oya is the Yoruba warrior deity of the Winds of Change, and with her husband Shango she promotes social justice. Oya brings the storm but also shows the community the way out, and as a result people grow. This dance is dedicated to Oya-Yansa, and was originally choreographed for 25th anniversary of the Sacramento State’s Sacramento Black Art of Dance, founded by Dr. Linda Goodrich.”
“In the Eye of the Storm” ended Part 1 of the PUSH Festival Program A. Nothing could follow the 13-minute, eight-member journey that took the community across the water where we shape-shifted then regrouped (smile). The company performed several vignettes simultaneously. I wondered about the character reading Carter G. Woodson’s “Miseducation of the Negro,” while another character dressed in hijab walked disengaged to and fro. At one point all the dancers assembled and tossed possessions onto a sheet which was then tied together and removed. Perhaps they were “putting away childish things.” Ayo Walker’s “Oya,” has a solo and then departs. Later, after the cleansing ceremony where the characters see each other and come together, she returns dressed in a gorgeous gown with sword(s) and crown.
Osumare’s work stylistically pulled from her facility with African-derived dance styles and reflected the migration patterns of African Diaspora people from West Africa to Americas – hip hop culture an element central to the work musically and tangibly. Her company was outstanding in its execution. Missing from the landscape was the rainbow – sign that the storm has passed. I learned later that in its premiere in Sacramento, the work had a multimedia enhancement that showed Oya-Yansa in all her magnificence.
“Accredit,” choreography and performance by Katerina Wong, was set in St. Louis against a backdrop of a high school there, Normandy High School. First we see the outside of the school. Later we see a child dancing on film, as Wong dances on stage. Later I learn that Wong taught a class at the school. The way the cinematography starts large, then telescopes in, shows how illusive and artificial the microcosm is to the macrocosm. There is really no separation between Normandy and Oakland, Normandy and San Francisco, Normandy and other municipalities where children like this child dancing are deprived a fair chance.
I wonder how many in the audience know the story Wong and this child filmed, dance. The story at Normandy is one of equity and access, public education’s failure and a community trapped in structural inequity. I knew the story immediately as the camera moved in and I see the name of the high school. I remember the excellent story I’d listened to and then read the transcript from NPR’s “This American Life: The Problem We All Live With“ (July 31, 2015). It was rebroadcast in February this year. The title, “The Problem We All Live With,” is taken from the Norman Rockwell painting (1964) of Ruby Bridges, and this story also looks at integration. Funny, the Obamas hung Rockwell’s painting at the White House.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, Black journalist, juxtaposes her experience in public school to her investigation into the two Fergusons: one where children excel academically, the other where they fail: Normandy School District. Separate is still unequal.
Normandy School District in Normandy, Missouri, on the border of Ferguson, Missouri, is the same school district where Michael Brown lived. This school district legally deprived Black children of equal education, and knowingly allowed children to graduate without adequate skills.
Katerina Wong’s “Accredit” recalls the travesty that persists to date. Black parents who protested and asked that their children be permitted to attend a better school had to get a court order, which was later rescinded, because the white parents at the alternative predominately white public school protested.
Kendra Kimbrough Barnes’s excerpt of “In the Meantime” is a beautiful meditation on the color pink, breast cancer and Black women. I hadn’t seen it in a while, yet I remembered it. It’s not every day that a choreographer interrogates breast cancer, especially “parabens” and why this chemical is still in cosmetics, including lotions and deodorants when parabens are in cancer cells. The work has monologues, solo dance pieces, and larger company work. Sunday the dancers were Clairemonica Figueroa (scholar, who narrates and gives us facts); Marianna Hester (hummingbird); Yeni Lucero (matriarch); Patricia Ong (Sister 1); Meagan Wells (Sister 2). The entire piece will be a part of KKDE’s season at the Laney College’s Odell Johnson Theatre, 900 Fallon St., Oct. 28, 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 29, 4 p.m. Visit kkde.net or call 510-560-KKDE (5533).
Gordon Parks exhibits in Berkeley and San Francisco
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) are the exclusive West Coast venue for “Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument,” Sept. 27-Dec. 17, which originated at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). In this exhibition, Parks’ first published work at Life Magazine, we see how the editors choose to leave out certain photos of Leonard “Red” Jackson, a 17-year-old Harlem gang leader. Similar to how Black boys are profiled or labeled in certain ways today, Life editors omit Parks’s photos of Red washing dishes, reading books, getting nominated “Mayor for the Day,” hanging out with adult mentors – a minister and a policeman. Instead they choose the images that show violence, death, pain.
The indictment has never been so evident – the argument is there to the contrary, yet the publishers manipulate the evidence to the contrary. They market what their audiences know or want to know. Life was not about debunking any myths. Racism was marking all the shots. The BAMPFA presentation features screenings of multiple films directed by Parks, including three early documentary films, “Flavio” (1964), “Diary of a Harlem Family” (1968) and “Moments Without Proper Names” (1968); “The Learning Tree” (1969), the first major Hollywood studio film directed by an African American and “Shaft” (1971), which is widely credited with launching the “blaxploitation” genre. Visit bampfa.org. UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive are located at 2120 Oxford St., Berkeley.
The exhibition also coincides with another presentation of Parks’s work, Gordon Parks: Elements of Strength, which opens at San Francisco’s Jenkins Johnson Gallery on Oct. 5, 2017.
On the fly
Lewis Jordan, alto sax, has a new CD, “This Is Where I Came In,” and three release parties: Oct. 15 at Bird & Beckett in San Francisco, Oct. 20 at EastSide Alliance in Oakland and Oct. 27 at Cafe Pink House in Saratoga. He will have a special guest at EastSide. Tongo Eisen-Martin has a new collection out, “Heaven Is All Goodbyes.” Don’t miss the United Nations Film Festival at Stanford University where a wonderful film about a Haitian children’s classical music ensemble, “Serenade for Haiti,” directed by Owsley Brown, is showcased. The director will be in attendance. The film opens theatrically at the Roxie in San Francisco, Oct. 27 – Owsley Brown in attendance with Q&A on Oct. 27 and 28 and Sunday, Oct. 29, 3:30 p.m.
Joanna Haigood, choreographer goes back to her roots in a remounting of the work, “The View from Here,” (2002) inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall, Oct. 20-29, 2017. Focusing on specific paintings for their exploration of themes of circus, love, life in the shtetl, revolution, color and multidimensionality, Haigood uses layered imagery and aerial dance to evoke dreamlike effects compatible with both Chagall’s technique and sense of fantasy at Zaccho Studio, 1777 Yosemite Ave., Studio 330 (off of Third Street), San Francisco. For tickets and information: (415) 822-6744. Purchase online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3073. Mill Valley Film Festival 40, Oct. 5-15. Visit https://www.mvff.com/.
TheatreFIRST presents “The Farm,” a song-poem-beat-opera adaptation of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” by Jon Tracy, directed by Michael Torres and Elena Wright, arrangements by Carlos Aquirre and Stephanie Prentice and choreography by Liz Tenuto. Originally commissioned and performed at Shotgun Players, TheatreFIRST redevelops this song-poem-beat-opera of animal uprising to address our own experiences of oppression and maybe most importantly, the oppressor inside us all. The Farm runs Oct. 12-Nov. 11, 2017. Opening night is Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15-$25 and available at theatrefirst.com. Visit http://theatrefirst.com/the-farm/the-farm-press/.
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 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.