Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014

by Malaika Kambon

“Power is the ability to define phenomena and make it act in a desired manner.” – Dr. Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party

BMAN-14-Rochelle-Willie-kiss-091314-by-Malaika-web-282x300, Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014, Culture Currents
Bay View columnist Rochelle Metcalfe gives Dr. Willie Ratcliff a Happy Birthday kiss at the reception preceding Black Media Appreciation Night. The reception was held in the lobby of the beautiful African American Art and Culture Complex in San Francisco’s historic Fillmore District, once known worldwide as Harlem of the West. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

From the moment the doors opened on the evening of Sept. 13 at the African American Art and Culture Complex, it was apparent that the honoring of our global African media would begin its night of empowerment with the tradition of honoring one of the community’s foremost elders.

Thus we celebrated the 82 years of life and struggle of Dr. Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper with a reception attended by the who’s who of global Afrikans – from progressive politicians and musicians to the grassroots of the community.

Afrikan tradition holds that the eldest person’s wisdom is to be respected, that respect for elders is what holds society together, and that the elders’ rich experiences in life qualify them to become educators and communicators to the upcoming youth. This is particularly significant in these times, when Afrikan people – youth in particular – are murdered by law enforcers at least every 28 hours.

Yet resistance is fertile from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Ferguson, Missouri. And truth in communication is as important now as it was during global Afrikan resistance to chattel enslavement.

Thus we also celebrated Dr. Ratcliff’s 22 years of Black media ownership of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. Founded in 1976 by Muhammad al-Kareem, the Bay View – in print and online – has become a communications network for the global Afrikan community.

BMAN-14-Tony-Tibu-Tiny-Joyous-deAsis-Queenandi-X-Sheba-Jeff-Amelia-Willie-Harrison-Emory-091314-by-Malaika-web-300x188, Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014, Culture Currents
Gathered at the reception are Tony Robles, Tiburcio, son of Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, Joyous deAsis and Queenandi X Sheba of Poor News Network, which won an award at the first Black Media Appreciation Night, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Sun Reporter Publisher Amelia Ashley-Ward, Bay View Publisher Dr. Willie Ratcliff and KPOO News Director Harrison Chastang. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
BMAN-14-Willie-blows-out-candles-091314-by-Malaika-web-300x200, Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014, Culture Currents
Dr. Ratcliff blows out the candles on his 82nd birthday cake, a deliciously fruity carrot cake baked by Auntie April, whose popular restaurant is at 4618 Third St. in Bayview Hunters Point and whose family comes from the same historic Black town of East Liberty in Deep East Texas where Dr. Ratcliff was born and raised. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Black Media Appreciation Night 2014 was filled with wisdom, communication and the exchange of knowledge, as well as people receiving awards for life changing, revolutionary work.

It was also a night filled with respect: for ancestors, elders, youth, all genders, disabled, grassroots organizers, artists, for their aspirations and accomplishments and the impact of their work – past, present and future – in the Afrikan Diaspora.

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Enjoying the reception are architect and project manager Floyd Ramsey, consultant to Dr. Ratcliff’s Rising Sun Developers and Investments, a resource-pooling plan to put the Black community back to work. Beside him is his wife, Pamela, and Oakland Pastor Harold Dacus, who is also a construction estimator. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

What pushes a photojournalist to write, to tell a story with photographs, to take the pulse of the people without having to think about it first? To show their lives as they live them, through pictures? To repeatedly bring passion and quality to work that is obviously a labor of love?

What fuels the aspirations of a piano master to change the face of music, to return hip hop to its true balance of raw and gritty lyrical expression and take it to a higher level, sans offensive subject matter and the twin vultures of corporate greed and negativity?

What fuels the cultural and musical historians and authors; the broadcast, hard copy and digital journalists; the filmmakers and the champions of the disabled, of national and international news, of positive Black images, of Black women, and of technical savvy and acumen in media?

And what awakens Black educators to speak to a Black community about the importance of net neutrality and Black history instead of pandering to the “miseducation of the Negro?” Obviously the oppressor prefers a community that is frequently marginalized in a digital age by an absence of the same digital tools as exist in other communities, making “mass communication” a realm only for the rich and powerful.

In the late Dr. Huey P. Newton’s doctoral thesis, “War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America,” Frederika Newton states that he was “always seeking to create harmony between the ideal nature of things and the actual state of things, to challenge fear and hate with courage and love.”

BMAN-14-Emory-JR-TaChaka-091314-by-Malaika-web-300x180, Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014, Culture Currents
Getting ready for the show are Black Panther Party Minister of Culture and Lifetime Achievement Award winner Emory Douglas, Black Media Appreciation Night principle organizer JR Valrey of Block Report Radio, who is the recently elected president of the Merritt College Black Student Union, and TaChaka, vice president of the Merritt BSU. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Dr. Newton clarified, stating on Page 7: “Always, the rulers of an order, consistent with their own interests and solely of their own design, have employed what to them seemed to be the most optimal and efficient means of maintaining unquestioned social and economic advantage. Clear-cut superiority in things social and economic – by whatever means – has been a scruples-free premise of American ruling class authority from the society’s inception to the present. The initial socio-economic advantage, begotten by chattel slavery, was enforced by undaunted violence and the constant threat of more violence. In other times, there has been political repression, peonage (debt slavery), wage slavery, chicanery, and the like, but always accompanied by the actual or threatened force of violence.”

BMAN-14-Phavia-Kugichagulia-pours-libation-091314-by-Malaika-web-212x300, Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014, Culture Currents
Djialli (griot) Phavia Kugichagulia opened the show with libations poured into the bonsai tree that Public Defender Jeff Adachi gave to Dr. Ratcliff as a birthday gift. Kugichagulia, who performed with her ensemble Ma’at – Alton McGriff, Ron Williams and Val Serrant – plays several instruments but most mightily the trumpet that waits in the background. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Dr. Newton’s thesis was completed and submitted in June of 1980. And the “constant threat of more violence” of which he spoke has escalated in 2014, as the body count of our loved ones mounts. True Afrikan leaders and scholars warned us that this would occur.

These are the kinds of topics that are spoken of at Black Media Appreciation Night. Not glitz and gold, but topics that challenge governmental attempts to destroy a peoples’ right of dissent. These topics are spoken of, discussed, challenged and acted upon among all groups, because the right of dissent is a fundamental necessity indispensable to the functioning of a democratic society.

Black Media Appreciation Night seeks to recognize those who are in the forefront of their respective genres and commitment to community. No one better exemplified that love and service to the people through media than Kevin Weston, winner of the Legacy Award for Making Media Makers, accepted by his widow, Lateefah Simon, little daughter, Lelah Weston, and mother, Geraldine Singleton.

The knowledge that unfolds on this night is the basis of the legacies of those urban griots who gave their lives to making media makers, who have dedicated their lives to promoting political art in Black media and literacy in the Black community. These are the educators and activists – in fields from music to media who are dedicated. They used the influences of those who came before them to produce powerful visual and printed artistic excellence, correcting historical imbalances and rejecting any more strange fruit hanging from Euro-American poplar trees.

BMAN-14-Harrison-Chastang-Willie-091314-by-Malaika-web-300x241, Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014, Culture Currents
KPOO News Director Harrison Chastang accepts his Champion of Broadcast News award from Dr. Ratcliff. Harrison hosts several shows on KPOO: On the Spot on Tuesdays, 6-8 p.m., the news from a Black perspective on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 5:30 p.m., The Computer Show on first Wednesdays, 6-8 p.m., and Sounds of the City on Sundays, 7-10 p.m. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

This year, we honor the following names in Afrikan history:

  • Kevin Weston with a Legacy Award for Making Media Makers
  • Emory Douglas with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Political Art in Black Media
  • Marcus Books with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Promoting Literacy in the Black Community
  • Harrison Chastang as Champion of Broadcast News
  • TaSin Sabir as Champion of Photography
  • Deverol Ross as Champion of Technical Support
  • Leroy Moore as Champion of the Disabled in Media
  • Melonie and Melorra Green as Champions of Culture and Black Women in Radio
  • Samm Styles as Champion of Film Making
  • Adam Hudson as Champion of International News
  • Thandisizwe Chimurenga as Champion of National News
  • Robert ‘Fleetwood’ Bowden as Champion of Positive Black Images in Media
  • Cecil Brown as Champion of Biographical Literature
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UC Berkeley Professor Cecil Brown won the Champion of Biographical Literature award for his most recent book, “Pryor Lives! How Richard Pryor Became Richard Pryor or Kiss My Rich Happy Black Ass.” He was a close friend of Pryor and wrote screenplays for him, including “Which Way Is Up?” – Photo: Malaika Kambon
BMAN-14-Melonie-Melorra-Green-091314-by-Malaika-web-245x300, Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014, Culture Currents
Melonie and Melorra Green, know everywhere as “the twins,” won the award as Champions of Culture and Black Women in Radio. They host the KPOO show Ibeji Lounge on Tuesdays, 8-10 p.m. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
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Musician Val Serrant holds his African talking drum and thumb piano – mbira or kalimba – as Greg Bridges prepares to take his picture. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

In doing so, we also honor those who are unnamed: the youth in Ferguson, Missouri who walked boldly into the guns and tear gas of militarized police in their fight for freedom; the political prisoners of decades in prisons across the U.S. who are still fighting; the growing numbers of families who fight police brutality and militarized police in every corner of the U.S. despite horrific losses of young family members; the disabled who are brutalized, stigmatized, marginalized and institutionalized by police and state governments; and the global grassroots communities such as in Haiti, who daily place their bodies in front of guns and brutal, U.S. trained and funded despots to protect their communities and, most recently, the lives of President Jean Bertrand Aristide and his family.

BMAN-14-Dev-Ross-Greg-Bridges-091314-by-Malaika-web-182x300, Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014, Culture Currents
The people’s engineer, Dev Ross, accepts his award as Champion of Technical Support from KCSM jazz host Greg Bridges, an award winner at BMAN ’12. This year’s awards were created by renowned artist Eesuu Orundide. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
BMAN-14-Phavia-w-Emory-art-Dr.-Siri-Brown-091314-by-Malaika-web-186x300, Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014, Culture Currents
Djialli Phavia Kujichagulia holds a piece of iconic art created by Emory Douglas for The Black Panther newspaper that Emory gave to Dr. Ratcliff for his birthday. Beside her is Dr. Siri Brown, chair of the Merritt College African American Studies Department. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

They are all us, and we reject the dictates of a government that says it can destroy peoples’ right to dissent, colonize our information, and turn our fight for liberation into a commodity to be bought and sold.

This is the focus of Black Media Appreciation Night 2014.

Black communities and those of us who write, speak and teach about, photograph and make music, documentaries and films about what is really going on within them have a right to determine our destiny and to define our liberation.

Black communities and those of us who write, speak and teach about, photograph and make music, documentaries and films about what is really going on within them have a right to determine our destiny and to define our liberation.

An analogous perspective occurred to me while listening to the music of Kev Choice.

BMAN-14-Kev-Choice-091314-by-Malaika-web-300x146, Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014, Culture Currents
Master of the modern electronic keyboard, descendant of the African thumb piano and the concert grand piano, is Kev Choice, magical music maker who held the house spellbound. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Consider the mbira, or Afrikan thumb piano. It was born in Afrika thousands of years ago and is known by many different names in different regions of Afrika: mbira, kalimba (in the Caribbean islands), marimba, likembe, mbira dza vadzimu (in Zimbabwe), to name but a few.

BMAN-14-Greg-Bridges-Karen-Johnson-Emory-Douglas-Gregory-Johnson-091314-by-Malaika-web-300x232, Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014, Culture Currents
A sense of determination to prevail despite tragic loss permeated the audience in the renowned Buriel Clay Theater as Karen and Gregory Johnson, second generation proprietors of Marcus Books, the oldest Black book store in the country, accepted their lifetime achievement award from Greg Bridges and Emory Douglas. Marcus Books is temporarily closed after a hostile takeover. City Hall’s indifference proves San Francisco’s contempt for the best in Black culture. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

The mbira and instruments like it were – and are – played by traveling griots. These griots were the repositories of the village histories. Many of them also played at important social gatherings, entertaining and educating people with stories, songs, poems and dances and providing spiritual healing, advice and intervention.

The mbira or its sister, the kalimba, is in all probability one of the first, if not the first prototype of the modern piano.

On the piano, notes progress from low to high, left to right. On the kalimba, the low notes are in the center and the high notes are found on the far right and the far left. Also, most of the notes of the kalimba are not tuned to Western notes, but land in between the notes found on a piano. The point is that the Western instrument is nothing like its Afrikan prototype.

But I was very impressed with the power of Kev Choice’s musical performance on a five-octave keyboard. So was the entire audience. He rocked the house!

He has taken the piano and made it his own. Like the late, great Blues Hall of Fame and Bammie Award winning jazz, funk and gospel pianist Edwin “Ed” Kelly, who played it all during his time, Kev Choice plays it all too.

All includes but is not limited to “classical, jazz, soul, funk, rock, drum and bass, Ethiopian music, electro, and all types of music in a Hip-Hop context. I like to stay current with my show, constantly adding new elements, trying new things, and trying to take it to a higher level,” he says in his bio.

BMAN-14-Davey-D-son-091314-by-Malaika-web-199x300, Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014, Culture Currents
Hard Knock Radio host and BMAN ’12 award winner Davey D and his little son mesmerized the audience as Davey explained the urgency of protecting net neutrality to keep the internet fully open and accessible to the people, the latest conflict in a long history of fighting the suppression of Black communication in the U.S. that began with the criminalization of reading, writing and drumming. – Photo: Malaika Kambon
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In the audience to support Krip Hop Nation founder Leroy Moore, winner of the Champion of the Disabled in Media award, is fellow Nation member Lateef McLeod, himself a spoken word artist, poet and author. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Voted “Most Multi-Talented Musician” by the East Bay Express and the 2014 Eighth Annual Oakland Indie Award winner in the Oakland Soul category, Mr. Choice “represents the soul, essence and spirit of Oakland.”

This is another facet of what Black Media Appreciation Night is about – artists who use their mediums of communication in commitment to community, empowerment of others and change.

As a music prodigy, piano master, music and cultural historian, Kev Choice is making a positive difference in our lives. As an urban griot who is dedicated to cultural expression and to making quality music, Kev Choice is using the piano, descended from an ancient Afrikan musical instrument, to reach his artistic vision, which is, again according to his bio, to be “an artist that combined Hip-Hop with a type of musicality that has never been done” and to “make conscious Hip-Hop music that is also accepted on a mainstream level.” Because, he says of mainstream rap, “the subject matter is often very offensive and centered around money, sex, drugs and other subjects that aren’t positive … I definitely feel we need more of a balance again.”

BMAN-14-Samm-Styles-Wanda-Thandi-091314-by-Malaika-web-300x244, Defining our empowerment fuels Black Media Appreciation Night 2014, Culture Currents
Samm Styles, winner of the Champion of Film Making award and filmmaker of “Set Me Free,” and Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir listen as Thandisizwe Chimurenga, author of “No Doubt: The Murder(s) of Oscar Grant,” accepts her award as Champion of National News. Thandi had just returned from Ferguson, Missouri, which she visited after covering the trial of the murderer of Renisha McBride in Detroit. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

So to capture the eloquence of community and a sense of solidarity from the perspective of sensitive Black artists and to showcase artists who are thinking, independent media makers in our respective genres, there is Black Media Appreciation Night.

Despite the often life, death and employment obstacles facing African men, women and children at all times, we have the rich empowerment of true Black media appreciation that is FUBU – for us by us. This is what Black community media should be about.

As we build against all odds, we learn from people who have been a part of their respective crafts for decades. We also learn from those who have come before us.

We are defining the phenomena of media, to make it act in a desired manner. This too is what Black Media Appreciation Night is all about.

In short, through controlling our media, we rebuild back into our lives the love of Afrikan life and the determination to protect it through media. We have to take back the fabric of our lives that has been torn asunder.

And in recognizing what causes Afrikan artists to embark on separate journeys that coalesce to return the world to its true cultural and political balance, we literally keep the shit real.

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Dr. Ratcliff enjoys the show with Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Malaika H Kambon is a freelance, multi-award winning photojournalist and owner of People’s Eye Photography. She is also an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) state and national champion in Tae Kwon Do from 2007-2012. She can be reached at