by Wanda Sabir
We call the names of those who made their transitions recently, my dear friends and mentors, mother and comrade: Jamal Ali, Mamakye (Dolores Mae Dixon), Sami Ali, Piri Thomas, Eddie Marshall and Dr. Adebisi T’Olodumare Aromolaren.
Luis Rodriguez, author of ‘It Calls You Back’
“It Calls You Back: An Odyssey through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing” author and humanitarian is the more mature Luis J. Rodrìguez reflecting back on his life. This is the kind of book one writes after one has lived through a few generations. I am amazed at how much life he crammed into 19-20-21 years: a marriage, two kids, a former gang life, community organizing … factory work, apprenticeships … recovery, relapse, addiction … unaddressed PTSD. It is both a perilous and amazing journey, frank and unapologetic, certainly instructive the way such memoirs like his predecessors’ are – Piri Thomas’ “Down These Mean Streets,” Claude McCay’s “Manchild in the Promised Land,” and, of course, El Hajj Malik’s “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” with Alex Haley. “It Calls You Back” is Rodrìguez’ journey back into the fire – his Sankofa quest or journey, similar to the phoenix or goddess Kali tales and, like its more restorative qualities, he too sheds his old skin for something brand new.
Rodrìguez, perhaps better known not for his poetry, rather his runaway best seller, “Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in LA,” is in town Dec. 1, 6-8 p.m., at Eastside Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd, Oakland. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. For information, call (510) 533-6629 or visit www.eastsideartsalliance.com. Monday, Dec. 5, 7 p.m., the author is at City College of San Francisco, Mission Campus, 1125 Valencia St., San Francisco, (415) 239-3126, firstname.lastname@example.org. Both are free events. You can find out more about the author’s work at http://www.luisjrodriguez.com/.
It does call you back
January this year I was in Timbuktu. New Year’s Day, 12:30 a.m., found me walking across a bridge in Saint Louis, Senegal, away from a gala outdoor concert featuring rap artist Akan. This free outdoor concert concluded FESMAN 2010, the Festival of Black Art and Culture, Third Edition. January 2012 on my mother’s birthday I will fly from Madagascar to South Africa for two weeks before returning where I reside 10 and a half months out of 12.
Tonight at 7:30 p.m. I am walking down the middle of the street in Oakland, California, USA, because it is safer there. I take my chances with on-going traffic when a well-dressed man standing in a shadow helps me jump back into the skin I leave near his feet.
“Hi,” he says, as I look at him my steps headed into on-coming traffic. Lucky for me the street is busy, but not so busy there are not enough lanes left for cars that I can’t claim one for myself. I have never done this before, but I am not feeling really safe in my neighborhood. It’s dark on San Leandro Street, people are shot on International and cars run over kids on Seminary and keep going in the daytime, not to mention tennis shoes dangling from electric poles designating drug turf, while across the street from my house, swatters are running a scrap metal business – five or more trucks, toxic fluids leaking from refrigerators and batteries, not to mention the oil, rusty nails and other debris found on the street.
Now imagine Timbuktu – ancient mystical land, desert, nomadic warm – warm people and warm climate. I’ll never forget my trip from Timbuktu to Bamako. My friend Yacouba put me on the bus and told one of the women passengers where I was going and asked her to make sure I got off the bus at the right stop. He also told the bus driver. Before taking off, the driver moved passengers so I could sit where my guardians could see me. There was a chicken running around under the seat, and next to me a woman was nursing a baby. Yacouba looked worried as he left me – no language skills, not a clue as to where I was going exactly. He told me to stay alert and awake for the journey, which took about six hours or so.
The bus stopped so everyone could make their evening prayer at sunset and then made other stops along the way for people to get off, buy refreshments from the peddlers along the road and to use the bathroom (field). Kids came up to the door and sang suras or chapters from the Qur’an – it was really lovely and passengers gave the kids money. Women and men on the bus also sang prayers – besting each other in piety. It was really nice. It is not every day in America that one experiences such camaraderie and peace on the road with strangers, so this was a pleasant distraction. When we got close to Bamako, the bus driver told me to call Aisata Ba, my friend, who worked out the logistics with them. We gave the sister who was my guardian a ride home to her children, who were excited to see her.
It calls you back, this Sankofa story.
Timbuktu: At midnight we would be sitting in the sand – silos filled with charcoal warming us against the night chill as we listened to musicians playing long into the night. Later at two and three in the morning we’d often go walking – the night so quiet one could hear the stars whispering their secrets to one another … so dark one wouldn’t see a person until she was upon him or her, but the greeting was mellow, different. It was as if the two worlds were one: celestial and temporal.
I wasn’t thinking about this as I donned my epidermis after shaking loose the gravel, as I dodged on-coming traffic, waiting for cars to pass me by.
I never felt safe. I never felt connected in any way to the people in the cars passing me by, the homes I was passing filled with people eating leftover Thanksgiving meals, counting their Black Friday deals. If I wasn’t careful, I knew I would be another statistic in a long line of statistics. Pick your column: Black, female, Black and female ….
Only one driver stopped to let me cross the street once I reached my corner. What time was it? 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday evening.
This year has been filled with a lot of joy and a lot of sorrow. The sorrow is winning right now, but I have gotten some tools recently which will help me function while my heart mends its brokenness. I don’t know if organs are like bones and mend stronger than before, but one cannot function when she is bleeding all over the place, so I hope pain subsides as the hole in my life closes, a space once occupied by dearly departed friends and loved ones.
Sobonfu Somé, healer from the West African Dagara people, out of Burkina Faso, says no one can tell anyone how long mourning will take place or what their road to recovery will look like. In one of two books I am reading – “Falling Out of Grace: Meditations on Loss, Healing and Wisdom” and “The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient African Teachings in the Ways of Relationships” – she writes: “It is easy for us to get lost in the mundane world and forget about our connection to spirit. Yet without that connection we are basically the walking dead” (15). She says the way we connect ourselves to spirit – spirit that lives in trees, sky and that great assemblage of spirit that holds our ancestors, those we can name and those we cannot name – is through ritual (15).
In an all day free Grief Ritual for Alameda county residents, hosted by staff from the Public Health Department, those present were able to take a few steps forward along the path of wholeness, the kind of containment that comes from fully occupying one’s space in the world – never distant, always present, especially when presence is hard.
Nov. 13, 2011, we met at Leona Lodge in the redwoods in Oakland’s regional park district. It was a lovely space to begin to heal. The morning opened with a circle where we shared prayers to the spirit of fire, water, earth, nature and mineral, followed by Sobonfu sharing the philosophical background or principles of her path she was sharing with us. There were volunteers and others in the group of 50 or so of us who’d attended many rituals – they were Sobonfu groupies, literally, drunk on ritual, as Sobunfu mentions happens in the village. She says people live for the next ritual – the high one gets is inexplicable.
Imagine that, high off spirit, the kind that is true, the kind that connects one with all there is, the one that is inherent in one’s soul – this kind of addiction has its merits (smile).
Throughout the day we prayed; then at lunchtime altars were erected for the ancestors (red), forgiveness (blue) and grief (black/blue). Before lunch we got into circles and shared stories, practiced listening, then broke for lunch before the real work of the day began.
We were instructed to take out our object(s) that represented our grief and after naming the thing or person it represented, we were to put the object in a black cloth we were each given after sealing the invocation with spit. We then picked up another object and repeated the same task, different content, spit, put in the black sack we were assembling. After we filled our cloth with symbols of our discontent, we were to tie the bundle closed.
Some of us either forgot our objects at home or just didn’t bring any. Sobonfu told us we could ask the tree branch or the rock or the flowers or the acorn if we could use them to hold the space for our grief. If the answer was yes, then we would let the thing hold our grief and, in the same way, fill the cloth. I used rocks, heavy rocks for some of my grief-objects, because I didn’t want the thing to get up and walk out of the bundle, walk off the square cloth, before I tied it shut.
After about 40 minutes or so, we came back inside the lodge and formed a community – which was there to support the rest of the community’s healing. The health and well-being of the community is not just for the individual. Wellness is a community affair. We learned a song that we sang for the entire ritual which began as we each walked across the room and tossed our grief on the altar surrounded by candles –the black cloth inside bordered with ash, a protection for us as it contained an energy Sobonfu described as toxic as nuclear waste.
There was a space between the grief altar and the community or people singing. Sobunfu and other drummers were between “home” and the altar. There were pillows scattered along with boxes of tissue nearby. Slowly people went to the pillows and knelt down and began to grieve – some screamed, others silently cried, others stood, some rocked to and fro, one woman danced until she fell to the floor. Behind each person holding their palms forward radiating love, warmth, support were others from the community.
We weren’t to interrupt the grief process or touch the person unless doing so would release the stress they might be unconsciously holding in their body, for example shoulders. No one was alone in their sorrow and as such the air actually became tangible as spirit moved between us assisting in this painful yet necessary transition. If a person felt they could no longer hold the person up spiritually, they raised a finger or two and someone who was singing back at home would walk across the floor to relieve them. People circulated between the grief altar, the ancestor altar and the forgiveness altar as often as they liked. At one point I got kind of bored and started to write and Sobunfu looked at me from across the room as she drummed with her body facing away from me – right, how could she see me, and said: “Put that pen away” (smile).
This part was the longest part of the entire day.
Afterwards I felt something shift. I wasn’t certain what, but as I watched my dreams as Sobonfu said and began to read her books, I felt quieter inside myself. The first dreams woke me up. Nightmares often do this to me. I dreamed all my dead friends and relatives, including my cat, Smokey, came back to life.
Maafa made 16 this year and it was a bittersweet 16, from the special Maafa, Meditation and Movement classes with Dr. Marcus Lorenzo Penn, which began Sept. 26 and continued through Oct. 31, the annual pre-dawn Ritual at Ocean Beach, Robert Henry Johnson’s Post-Afric Highway’s Maafa Play Reading and discussion at the Sargent Johnson Gallery at the AAACC to the concluding film, “Traces of the Trade,” with producer Juanita Brown and poetry reading hosted by Athenian high school senior Sabrina Burns in collaboration with the Oakland Public Library’s Teen Center (yeah!).
The morning of the Ritual, supporter and committee member Sister Makulla Godwin’s father passed; the next week, Mamakye started making her transition. She died the following Sunday. In the meantime, my dear friend Jamal Ali was slipping into darkness, those spaces between the conscious and unconscious one cannot travel clothed in flesh. Jamal died the day after I made it to LA to say goodbye. My friend Sami Ali died a week after. I hadn’t known Dr. Adebisi T’Olodumare Aromolaran passed Oct. 20, the same day as Mamakye’s wake. Remember the earthquake that day? Late November one of my former students lost her daughter and unborn grandchild. Tatiana was 21. But it has been Jamal Ali’s absence which has caused the unraveling. My sweater is coming undone.
Sobonfu says that when people die and become ancestors, they get smarter and often try to repair any damage they may have made while in this physical form. Ancestors want to be busy making our lives better. She said we can call on them to intercede on our behalf when we are troubled. Ask them to handle that supervisor or neighbor or teacher.
Dec. 20, 2011, is the one year anniversary of the killing of Obataiya Tamirr Lewis Edwards, 19, by Oakland Police. I went to the grief ritual to find out how one heals from this kind of trauma. Sobonfu said my sister, Octavia, and I should take something from Oba’s home to the place he was killed and call his name three times and tell him to come home. We are to take something from the place where he was killed back with us. She said that when a parent loses a child or a sibling loses another sibling, he or she is living for two now. That we have to do those things with our lives they would have done, given the chance. I thought about my former student who lost a daughter, an unborn grandchild and is responsible for her daughter’s young son now. That’s a lot of living.
Today, the day after Black Friday – not a celebration of Umoja (Unity), but it could be – my good friend, Monica and her husband Hayward came by and we went by the AAACC to see Charles White’s exhibit, “Totems,” but the center was closed. We then went by the “I Am American: Black Genealogy Through the Eye of an Artist” exhibit at the San Francisco Main Library in the African American Center, on the third floor. This has to be Kheven Lee LaGrone’s best exhibit to date, in its historical and literary research and references, not to mention the fantastic art. The artists either collaborate with a Black genealogist or create work from their own families. This in itself is a fascinating look at how artists interpret these lives using a variety of mediums. Using his family as a linchpin, the curator and by extension the artists show how the exclusion of African Americans from the discourse on citizenship drives the systematic exclusion of Black people from all aspects of national sovereignty. This tactical blindness is not only unconscionable, it is foolish, as Kheven’s exhibit shows – to deny the Black presence is to erase the totality of America’s culture and legacy.
We left the library for Laguna Honda Hospital to visit a friend I hadn’t seen in almost six years. When I’d last seen her, she could walk and was still working. Now with MS running its course, she is wheelchair-bound but happy. We all ordered out and had a meal together, shared laughs and poetry and promised to speak again soon.
Relationships are what are important. We need to get out of our houses and over to our loved one’s homes and spend some quality time with each other before it is too late.
‘FELA!’ through Dec. 11
That said, there a few events happening in early December which I highly recommend, like Bill T. Jones’s “FELA!” at the Curran Theatre through Dec. 11. Tickets are crazy high, but don’t let that discourage you. Get a group together and get discounts that way. If I find out anything in the coming week, I will post it on my website, www.wandaspicks.com, but you do not want to miss this wonderful story about a great man, Fela Anikulapo Kuti (Oct. 15, 1938 –Aug. 2, 1997). It is as much a show – it takes place in the Shrine – as it is a look at Fela’s spiritual transformation. The history of resistance to oppression, whether that is slavemasters or colonial power masquerading as independent rule, is not unique to Nigeria, but the way Fela approached the task was uniquely powerful.
The actors who portray the central characters are phenomenal. I loved the way Sahr (Fela) played the saxophone, wielding it like a mighty weapon, when the sound was coming from the wonderful musician in the pit. But Sahr had it down, from the fingering to the breath. The two, musician and actor, were one.
The director uses multimedia accents during the show from Fela’s mother, who loams as large as a goddess in her son’s imagination and will. She speaks to us often, as she and her son speak. While not always happy with his choices, she respects his ability to fall and get up again.
Many of my favorite scenes center on Fela and Black Panther revolutionary sister Sandra, who teaches Fela about being Black. She also turns him onto lots of books, which Fela reads. In one of my favorite scenes, the women dance with books in their hands, real books, real heavy books, not covers with nothing between them. Other favorite scenes involve Fela’s mother, who is held in such honor and esteem – “FELA” is as much a tribute to African motherhood as it is a tribute to a wonderful man.
The costumes are fantastic as well. There is nothing about this show you will not love. Even though we know Fela dies and his mother is brutally killed as well, his brides tortured, we also know that resistance expects conflict. The set reflects Fela’s internal life – he is surrounded by ancestors like Marcus Garvey, President Thomas Sankara and other PanAfrican heroes. The journey to the realm of the ancestors is perhaps the most spiritually daring aspect of the work – it is here that Bill T. Jones really shows his hand. We know the choreographer and masterful storyteller is a genius, but in “FELA” we see yet another aspect of the truly great visionary. How can we get back without rejoining severed relationships, and in Fela’s journey he learns as we do that spirit is a continuum and no one who wants guidance is ever lost or alone. This Black man tells Fela’s story well – a story that is PanAfrican as reflected in a cast that is continental African, Caribbean, European and American. It is not often that Black people get to tell their stories on Broadway. There is a difference, both subtle and pronounced. Visit http://www.shnsf.com/.
I was on the front row, letter A, opening night. The brother playing Fela climbed the speaker stand and leaned over and sang to us – I was like, wow! Linda Stewart is the best publicist. I ask; she makes it happen. So I had a preview interview Friday, Nov. 11, 9:30 a.m., with Adesola Osakalumi (Fela Anikulapo-Kuti alternate), Nicole Chantal de Weever (ensemble) and Oneika Phillips (Sandra understudy, ensemble). Adesola performs most if not all matinees. Visit www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.
‘Fun’draiser benefiting Ausar Auset Society’s Lymphedema Network Charity
This fundraiser is every Saturday in November and December 2011 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Fresh Choice in Bayfair Mall, 15555 East 14th St., Suite 105, San Leandro, (510) 278-5404. The fundraiser is for Robert Jones, who has had lymphedema for 11 years, which is swelling in both legs and groin area. I met Robert many years ago when he worked at the West Oakland Branch Library. Lymphatic obstruction is a blockage of lymph vessels that drain fluid from tissues throughout the body and allow immune cells to travel where they are needed. There is no cure for this disease at this time.
Before this ailment, Robert was an athlete in college and high school. Also during this time, he began to get cellulitis in his left leg. Cellulitis is a lymphedema related ulcer. For coupons for the fundraiser and the opportunity to participate in a raffle, contact Robert at email@example.com or Marcus Gary, Ausar Auset, at (510) 253-8120 or firstname.lastname@example.org. I had both men on my radio show Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011. Visit www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.
An African American Celebration through Poetry Call for Submissions
Time again to sharpen your pencils and think about what you want to create for the 23rd Annual African American Celebration through Poetry, Feb. 4, 2012, 1-4 p.m., at the West Oakland Branch Library, 1801 Adeline St. The rehearsal is Saturday, Jan. 21, 10 a.m.-12 noon. Call (510) 238-7352 for information. The theme this year is Black Women in American History and Culture.
The African American Shakespeare Company presents ‘Cinderella’
The African American Shakespeare Company’s annual holiday season highlight, “Cinderella,” directed by Sherri Young, runs Dec. 2-18, at the Buriel Clay Theater in the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St. at Webster, San Francisco. For tickets, which are $20 for students and seniors and $30 general admission, and information, call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.African-AmericanShakes.org.
Save Ancient Kush and Nubia Conference
ASCAC Western Region sponsors a conference addressing the vanishing evidence of classical African civilizations, ancient Kush and Nubia. Invited scholars are Professor Manu Ampim and Attorney Legrand Clegg II. The conference is Saturday, Dec. 10: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. workshops, 4-6 p.m. business meeting and dinner at Wo’se Community Church of the African Way, 8924 Holly St., Oakland. Conference donation is $10, $5 for elders and students. Children under 17 are free. For information, call (510) 451-5966 or (510) 832-7202.
Congratulations to the Afrikan community honorees at the benefit for the Afrikan Children’s Advanced Learning Center in Oakland last month: Sis. Makinya Kouate, Bro. Walter Turner, Sis. Banche Richardson, Sis. Shukuru Sanders, Bro. Manu Ampin and Bro. Vincent Lynch. Keep up the great work!
City College of San Francisco Music Department, featuring the Advanced Jazz Band and the Jazz/Rock Improvisational Workshop under the direction of David Hardiman Jr., present a free concert featuring special guest on saxophone Jeff Clayton on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 8-10 p.m., in the Diego Rivera Theater, Ocean Campus, 50 Phelan Ave., San Francisco. This event is free and the public is invited. Visit www.jeffreyclaytonjazz.com. Groups of 10 or more should call in advance (415) 239-3580 or email email@example.com.
Bill Bell is in concert at the 57th Street Gallery Friday, Dec. 2; Glenn Pearson Saturday, Dec. 3; Rhonda Benin Sunday dinner jazz, Dec. 4. Barbara Hunter is back Dec. 11, Melvin Butts with his Mellotones Dec. 23 and Frankye Kelly closes the year Dec. 31. Visit http://www.57thstreetgallery.com/.
Larry Douglas Alltet features the music of Umoja
Umoja had a wonderful CD release/celebration Sunday afternoon, Nov. 20. Umoja’s “Dance of the Kalahari, In Memoriam,” a celebration of the lives of two members, Kenneth Byrd and Kamau Seitu, was really special. The day was inclement. I missed the reception for Kheven LaGrone’s “I Am America” because of the deluge, but I couldn’t miss this concert. Surprisingly the rain stopped and as I drove from the eastside to the northside, there was a rainbow in the sky and then under it. Have you ever driven under a rainbow? I guess the only thing that tops this is driving or walking through one. I was told that I am officially a rainbow person now (smile).
I had band members Damu Sudi Alii, pianist, and MB Hanif, saxophonist, on my radio show prior to the concert, Friday, Nov. 18. And Friday, Nov. 25, a week later, I had Larry Douglas, trumpet, flugelhorn, who also acted as conductor at the concert, on to talk about “Dance of the Kalahari.” The Kalahari is a large desert, which isn’t a typical desert in that it supports life. It also traverses several countries: South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Angola and others.
The UMOJA CD Release Party, Take 2, is at 8:30 p.m., Dec. 23, 863 Main St., Redwood City, (650) 365-3226, $10 admission. Visit http://www.larrydouglasalltet.com/.
30th anniversary of the Encuentro del Canto Popular Festival
The John Santos Sextet, Grupo Raiz and Los Peludos will perform at the 30th anniversary of the Encuentro del Canto Popular Festival, Saturday, Dec. 3, 8-11 p.m., at Brava Theater, 2781 24th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $18, $15 for students and seniors. Visit www.brava.org and www.accionlatina.org or call (415) 641-7657, ext. 1.
On the fly
Marlena Shaw and Her Trio present “California Soul for the Holidays” Thursday-Sunday, Dec. 1-4, at the Rrazz Room in Hotel Nikko, San Francisco. And Kim Nalley with Tammy Hall and Special Guests presents “A Gospel Christmas” Thursday-Friday, Dec. 22-23, also at Rrazz Room. Join Kim again with Houston Pearson to rock in the New Year, “A Soulful Jazz New Year,” beginning Tuesday, Dec. 27-Saturday, Dec. 31, and Sunday, Jan. 1. Visit www.kimnalley.com.
“Freedom Sisters” exhibit is at the LA Museum of Tolerance. The Freedom Sisters looks at contemporary and historic Black women who have impacted LA and the world, from the well known women like Rosa Parks, Mary McLeod Bethune and Frances Watkins Harper to Karen Bass, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Shirlee Taylor Haizlip. Visit http://www.museumoftolerance.com/.
This CAAM exhibit, “Places of Validation, Art and Progression,” up through April 1, 2012, utilizes a range of imagery to explore Los Angeles’ parallel universe of places and people that served to validate and further the progression of African American art between 1940 and 1980. Another CAAM exhibit, “The African Diaspora in the Art of Miguel Covarrubias: Driven by color, shaped by Cultures,” through Feb. 26, 2012, explores the representations of people of African descent in the work of Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957). Visit http://www.caamuseum.org/.
UC Berkeley Pacific Film Archive presents “Southern (Dis)comfort: The American South in Cinema” through Dec. 11, curated by Peter Conheim and Steve Seid. Visit http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/filmseries/southerndiscomfort.
Don’t forget to visit http://www.moadsf.org for information about programs like the Dec. 1 screening of classic Black cinema (1930s-50s), curated by Cornelius Moore, in conjunction with the current exhibit, “COLLECTED: Stories of Acquisition and Reclamation.” The concluding film in the series is “The Song of Freedom” (70 min., 1936), featuring Paul Robeson as a descendant of an African monarch.
Photographer Kathy Sloane will show images from her extensive jazz archive and read from her new book, “Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club” Dec. 3, 2-4 p.m.
Walter Mosley’s ‘The Tempest Tales’
Walter Mosley’s “The Tempest Tales” is such a wonderful book! Tempest Landry is accidentally shot by a New York policeman and then whisked to the Pearly Gates, where he waits in line to meet St. Peter, where he is condemned to hell. Tempest fights this judgment, something unheard of, so he is sent back to earth with his own guardian angel, Joshua Angel, formerly the accounting angel of Souls, who is there to convince Landry to accept his sentence. Tempest’s refusal to go to hell upsets the delicate balance that is heaven and earth. The idea that one has to go to hell willingly is an interesting take on the idea of judgment day. As the months shift to days and Tempest shares with Joshua the circumstances of his life, one comes to question justice and sin, evil and good.
Another book I recommend is Octavia Butler’s last novel before she passed, “Fledgling,” the story of an adolescent vampire, an experiment; she is Black can stay awake in the day time and be out during the day. “Fledgling” is a meditation on the creation of the Negro, this New Afrikan, 500 years later and how old ideas can really be the death of a species, as is the case for the fledgling whose mothers and fathers and siblings are killed brutally by racists in the world of near immortals.
“Fledgling” is also the story of the interdependence of one life form for another, how without concern for the health and well-being for those species, in the case of vampires, their mutalistic symbiosis, they too would die. She is looking for family and looking for home as she pieces together her story and that of her decimated community. Relationships are more than the physical bond between the two. Healthy relationships are based on the overall health of the community, both individually and collectively. Shori relies on her intuition when memory fails. She follows her heart and fights bravely for those she loves. When Shori Matthews takes the family responsible for her family to the Council of Elders she is told to remember her ancestors, to have them around her at all times.
As with all Butler journeys, this one requires a second and maybe third sojourn to fully appreciate the nuances of the work. Shori survives the massacre; however, she loses her memory of all that transpired before. She doesn’t even remember her name, although she can speak and has a sense of herself that she cannot articulate, yet it is recognized by all who know her. She can even read her native language, although the history is gone. She is a shell yet not quite tabula rasa or a blank slate.
A victim of post-traumatic stress syndrome, Shori’s story is flipped in that her people know her when she doesn’t know them. They recognize her because she is in black skin and they are white. Her birth and that of her siblings was celebrated worldwide, so she is well known. Similarly, the European slave trade was global in its reach. So whether recognized or not for our contributions to global economies, it is well known. Shori is described as “elfin.” She is tiny like an 8-year-old child, yet she in her youth is so much bigger than the body that houses her spirit. Are Black people also underestimated, treated as children when we are so much greater than the sum of our parts?
In Mosley’s “Tempest,” his protagonist returns after three years to a world where he is unknown. His woman and his children, friends and foes, do not know him. Strange twist. Both stories remind me of the true tale recounted by Malidome Somé’s “Of Water and the Spirit.”
In LA there is a wonderful city-county-wide art celebration, “Pacific Standard,” in various locations. Don’t miss it; there is a special focus on Black art in LA. While visiting Jamal, I got a chance to check out the exhibit at the California African American Museum, UCLA Hammer and the Museum of Tolerance. All three have exhibits focusing on African American LA. While at CAAM, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Samella Lewis talk about her work as an artist and an organizer, creating opportunities for Black artists to not only show their work, but to write articles in the magazine she publishes. Visit http://www.pacificstandardtime.org.
‘Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980’
“Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980,” on exhibit through Jan. 8, chronicles the vital legacy of the city’s African American artists. The work of these practitioners was animated to an extent by the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, reflecting the changing sense of what constituted African American identity and American culture. “Now Dig This!” examines a pioneering group of African American artists whose work, connections and friendships with other artists of varied ethnic backgrounds influenced the creative community and artistic practices that developed in Los Angeles during this historic period. The exhibition presents 140 artworks by these artists and the friends who influenced and supported them during this period and explores and celebrates the significant contributions of African Americans to the canon of Los Angeles-based art. Visit http://hammer.ucla.edu/.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 6-7 a.m. and Fridays at 8-10 a.m., can be heard by phone at (347) 237-4610 and are archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network.