by Wanda Sabir
Just received news that Dr. Frances Cress Welsing (“Isis Papers”) made her transition this morning, Jan. 2, 2016. She was 80. The psychiatrist who challenged white supremacists on what she called “The Cress Theory of Color Confrontation and Racism (White Supremacy)” to look at their own melanin deficiency for what it is, envy, stirred and continues to stir the waters.
She always stated theoretically that “Black lives matter,” the weight of this “matter or energy,” both tangibly and philosophically the reason for the covert and overt attacks on our persons, way before the #BLM movement. A political savvy, congenial and accessible scholar and meta-physician, she will be missed, but her legacy lives on. Ashay! Visit The Root and NPR.
Memorial services for Dr. Cress Welsing will take place on Saturday, Jan. 23, at Howard University’s Crampton Auditorium, 2455 Sixth St. NW, Washington, D.C., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The 40th Day Rites Ceremony will take place Feb. 11 at Union Temple Baptist Church, 1225 W St. SE,Washington , D.C. (time to be announced).
Flowers and cards can be sent to: Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, 7603 Georgia Ave. NW, Suite 402, Washington, D.C. 20012.
Human Trafficking Awareness Month
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month with Monday, Jan. 11, Sex Trafficking Awareness Day. Black Repertory Group hosts performances Sunday-Monday, Jan. 10-11, to bring attention to this issue – Sunday, Jan. 10, 3 p.m., and Monday, Jan. 11, at 7 p.m. Doors open an hour earlier. Regina Evans will present excerpts from her play, “52 Letters,” and Zorina London’s “One Night of Day” will be performed as well. To learn more about the work and the issue, listen to a recent interview with the two activists and playwrights and Sean Vaughn Scott, Black Rep director: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2016/01/06/wandas-picks-radio-show.
Ms. Evans’s play, “52 Letters” is a one-woman poetic stage play, written, performed and directed by this Oakland native. Through the use of poetry and Negro Spirituals, “52 Letters” brings awareness to the tragedy of sex trafficking and its effects upon American youth and women. “52 Letters” was honored to win a 2013 Best of the San Francisco Fringe Festival Award.
Ms. London’s play is “One Night of Day,” an evening at the club with Billie Holiday when her friends Lena Horne and Bessie Smith drop by. Ms. Holiday has a lot on her mind that evening, but the music has a way of helping her transcend her troubles, literally leave them behind as her soul soars. The Black Rep is located at 3201 Adeline St., Berkeley. For information and tickets, call 510-652-2120. The event is not free, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
For more information about events this month, visit http://www.nctsn.org/resources/public-awareness/human-trafficking.
Meet Carlos M. Salomon, biographer of Pio Pico, Black governor of California
The African American Museum and Library at Oakland welcomes Carlos M. Salomon, author of “Pio Pico: The Last Governor of Mexican California,” Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, 6-8 p.m. Professor Salomon will discuss the life of Pio Pico, who was of Black, Spanish and Native heritage.
‘In the Name of Love: The Civil Rights Movement Through the Music of Nina Simone’
In the Name of Love, the 14th Annual Musical Tribute Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, 7 p.m. at the Oakland Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside Dr., Oakland. This year the focus is “The Civil Rights Movement through the Music of Nina Simone” Paula West, Patti Cathcart, Terrance Kelly and Rhiannon.
“In the Name of Love” remains Oakland’s only annual non-denominational musical tribute to Dr. King. It is an extremely significant civic and cultural event, bringing our diverse community together to pay tribute to Dr. King’s message of community, equality and inclusion and to highlight the power and significance of music and music education.
Tickets are $25-$40 for adults, children 12 and under $8-$12. For tickets, visit mlktribute.com. For additional information, call 510-858-5313 or visit www.mlktribute.com.
Ms. Simone became involved in the Civil Rights Movement in her early 30s, and from then on, her recordings directly addressed racial inequality. She performed and spoke frequently at civil rights meetings, including at the Selma to Montgomery marches. Known as “the consummate musical storyteller,” she created a tremendous body of work spanning jazz, blues, classical, folk, gospel and pop. The 2016 MLK Tribute will provide a platform for a one-time exciting collective, creative experience meant to inspire hope, celebrate Oakland’s cultural history and highlight the power of music to spur positive change.
The tribute will also include the 65-voice Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and the 300-voice Living Jazz Children’s Project backed up by the Oaktown Jazz Workshops. Archival footage of Dr. King will be interspersed throughout the evening, and the Oakland Citizen Humanitarian Award will be presented by Mayor Libby Schaaf to an Oakland citizen working tirelessly to make a difference. All these elements help to make this one of Oakland’s most significant events of the year.
All proceeds from the 14th Annual Tribute will support the Living Jazz Children’s Project, a free music education program provided by Living Jazz for Oakland public elementary schools with little or no access to the arts. Living Jazz believes that access to music education is a profound and necessary component of every child’s education and development.
Dr. King Holiday at AAMLO
It’s the 10th anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King Film Festival at AAMLO, so on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., in honor of the special occasion, there will be a “best of” screening from each of the 10 years. RSVP 510-637-0200 for this free event at the African American Museum & Library at Oakland, 659 14th St. in Oakland.
Lower Bottom Playaz complete the August Wilson Century Cycle
The Lower Bottom Playaz close the cycle with the timely production of the only play in the cycle that is told from the lens of developers. Wilson’s Hill District in Pittsburgh, Penn., and Oakland, Calif., 2015 hold a lot of common ground for many of today’s public conversations about progress, tradition and legacy.
August Wilson is considered one of America’s greatest playwrights, and the work that comprises The American Century Cycle, one of the outstanding achievements of the modern theater, is performed across the globe. But only Oakland’s premiere North American African theater company has performed the entire Cycle in chronological order.
“Radio Golf” continues through Jan. 3, 2016, with performances Friday, Jan. 1, 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 2, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 3, 2 p.m., at the Flight Deck, 1540 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are on sale on the web at www.lowerbottomplayaz.com. For additional information, call the office at 510-457-8999 or the box office at 510-332-1319 or email email@example.com.
More August Wilson
The Marin Theatre Company presents August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean,” Jan. 14-Feb. 14. Directed by Daniel Alexander Jones, this first play in the 10-play century cycle, depicting African American life during the 20th century, features Margo Hall as the 285-year-old character, Aunt Ester, referenced in all nine plays. All of the plays are set in Wilson’s Hill District in Pittsburg, the place where he grew up.
Written in 2003, his second to the last play, “Gem,” more than any other of the plays fully evokes African spiritual traditions. In Gem, Babalao Wilson takes us into the ancestral realm to visit with Egun. For Citizen, the journey is necessary for his humanity, something both precious and precarious. The realm of the bones, where the ancestors live, is both baptism and resurrection. The director will be collaborating with Dr.Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, author, around the director’s use of the jazz aesthetic in his work.
PBS’s American Masters episode on August Wilson, “August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand,” which premiered on Feb. 20, 2015, the 70th anniversary of Wilson’s birth and 10th anniversary of his death, airs again in February 2016 in celebration of Black History Month, underwritten by MTC in conjunction with this production of “Gem of the Ocean.”
For those mothers who would like to attend the play, UrbanSitter will provide babysitters for MTC’s Moms Matinee on Saturday, Jan. 23, at 2 p.m.
The play which also features Omoze Idehenre, Brian Freeman, Namir Smallwood, Patrick Kelly Jones, Anthony Juney Smith and Tyee J. Tilghman at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, marintheatre.org, 415-388-5208, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Annual Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry
26th Annual Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry is Saturday, Feb. 6, 1-4 p.m., at the West Oakland Branch Library, 1801 Adeline St., Oakland. This year the theme is #Black Lives Matter; however, all themes are welcome. For those interested in participating in the featured program, rehearsal is Saturday, Jan. 30, 10 a.m. to 12 noon. Please call 510-238-7352 for information and to leave your name and number.
Black Sustainability Conference
Sustainability from an Afrikan perspective conference planned. Register on or before Jan. 27 for the first Online Black Sustainability Summit, www.blacksustainabilitysummit.com.
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble Workshop and Performance at Eastside Arts
EastSide Arts Alliance is excited to kick off the legendary Ethnic Heritage Ensemble All Star 2016 Tour with an evening concert on Saturday, Jan. 30, and a community discussion with members of the band on Sunday, Jan. 31. Internationally acclaimed percussionist, composer and band leader Kahil El’Zabar will premiere a brand new Ethnic Heritage Ensemble featuring two masterful icons of the modern jazz idiom: baritone sax giant Hamiet Bluiett and trombone titan, Craig Harris!
While these three giants have worked together in various collaborations for more than 40 years, they have never come together as Kahil’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble until now. The coming together of these three historic and impactful figures at this particular juncture in history will take us beyond the current trends of predictable mediocrity. Hamiet Bluiett, Craig Harris and Kahil El’Zabar are the real deal and are always ready to make real music!
Community Conversation: Black Cultural Organizing – Context, Vision, Plan – FREE
On Sunday, Jan. 31, EastSide Arts Alliance hosts a roundtable discussion with three legendary artists who have been active leaders in connecting the power of the music to community organizing and efforts toward self-determination: Kahil El’Zabar will speak on the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians – the oldest Black arts organization in the country – http://aacmchicago.org/.
Craig Harris has been a key figure in Harlem arts and community for many years and will be able to discuss the future of Harlem as the Black cultural center of the U.S. Hamiet Bluiett has seen and done it all and will provide insights about what influences the music and his thoughts on where we are now. EastSide will be co-facilitating these discussions with invited Oakland artists and organizers. Following a conversation with these artists, we will reserve time for the community to look forward and share ideas that are being developed for a Black Arts resurgence in Oakland.
EastSide is working to respond to the urgent crisis that gentrification is wreaking on our communities. We are facilitating these discussions in the spirit of Amiri Baraka – his understanding that we must build institutions, organize and embrace the connections between culture and movement building.
Liberated Lens Film Collective
Please join Liberated Lens Film Collective on Jan. 12, 2016, for our next film night, showing “Merchants of Doubt,” the 2014 documentary showing ties between the misinformation campaigns of the tobacco and anti-climate change lobbies. Doors open at 6:30p, and the film will begin at 7 p.m. Snacks will be provided, and no one will be turned away for lack of funds. For more information: https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2015/12/27/18781259.php?show_comments=1#18781592.
Poetry reading: ‘Stay Amazed’
“Stay Amazed” is a poetry book consisting of poems gathered from friends in response to Susan Duhan Felix’s request on the one year anniversary (2013) of her husband, Morton Felix’s death. He was a poet and what better way to remember him on her birthday. Thirty friends and family rose to the occasion and the poems were then published by Poetry Flash in the anthology “Stay Amazed.”
On Thursday, Jan. 14, at 7:30 p.m. at Moe’s Books, 2476 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, some of these friends will share their poems: Avi Duhan, Jack and Adelle Foley, Rafael Jesús González, Gary Lapow, Zigi Lowenberg, Kim McMillon, Jerry Ratch, Nancy Schimmel and others.
Translating the Archive: ‘Point of Pride: The People’s View of Baview Hunters Point’
Translating the Archive presents Sean Heyliger of the African American Museum and Library at Oakland, Monday, Jan. 11, from 6:30-8, at the Omni Oakland Commons, 4779 Shattuck Ave. in Oakland. The presentation is followed by a screening of “Point of Pride: The People’s View of Bayview Hunters Point.”
Sean Heyliger is the archivist at the AAMLO and will discuss the preservation of and access to the collection of AAMLO. Two of his recent projects include the digitization of the historical records of the California State Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and 20 years of the official newsletter of a Black Masons’ organization, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of California.
“Point of Pride” combines archival footage from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s with present-day viewpoints and reactions to these images from the past to create a compelling portrait of a community marked by struggle and fueled by hope. “Point of Pride” is the culmination of a year-long grant, “Remembering and Restoring the Multimedia History of Baview Hunter’s Point.” Community partners included the San Francisco Public Library, BAVC and San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive at San Francisco State University. The project was supported by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian.
Dance In Revolt(ing) Times or D.I.R.T. Festival 2016
What happens when artists revolt? Jan. 23-Feb. 7, 2016, Dance Brigade’s Dance Mission Theater presents Dance In Revolt(ing) Times or D.I.R.T. Festival 2016, with 18 choreographers and three distinct programs. Reflecting the diversity of the Bay Area’s dance scene, the fresh and fascinating voices include Portsha Jefferson, Rainy Demerson, Latanya d. Tigner, Delina Patrice Brooks, Patricia Bulitt, My-Linh Le, Laura Larry Arrington, Rashad Pridgen, Vanessa Sanchez, Gregory Dawson, Zoë Klein, Yayoi Kambara, Sammay Dizon, Harper Addison, Todd Thomas Brown, JoAnna M Ursal, Amara Tabor-Smith and Krissy Keefer.
Each weekend features a unique program, the first presented in collaboration with the Black Choreographers Festival, at Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $22-$25. Package rates for multiple programs are available. For tickets and information, call 415-826-4441 or visit www.dancemission.com.
Artists are presenting work on a social-political issue, for this is what Dance Brigade does best: combining artistic excellence with art activism. When asked about the theme, Dance In Revolt, festival co-curator and Dance Brigade Artistic Director Krissy Keefer responded, “It is the duty of the artist to hold up a mirror to society and also imagine a world that could be.” We cannot sit idle.
There is a long tradition of the artist in the role of activist and this is needed today more than ever. Says Dance Mission Theater Director Stella Adelman, “Vladimir Nabokov summed it up best when he said, ‘Anything outstanding and original in the way of creative thought is a stride toward revolution.’ The dancing body, the way it demands to be seen and take up space, is itself an act of rebellion. Because there is such gross injustice in today’s world, the artist has no choice but to look at that (injustice) starkly in the face.”
The works in the festival range from pieces about Sandra Bland and the lack of attention given to Black women who are victims of police, to the current treatment of Haitians by Dominicans, to the gentrification of Oakland, to the effects of war on Iraqi women.
Dance Brigade is known for nurturing artists. Many of Dance Mission’s artists-in- residence and Choreographer’s Showcase presenters have gone on to be Goldie winners, including Ramon Ramos Alayo, Nol Simonse and Sean Dorsey.
‘When We Fight, We Win!’
“When We Fight, We Win! Twenty First Century Social Movements and the Activists that are Transforming Our World” by Greg Jobin-Leeds and AgitArte is just out, published by New Press (January 2016) with an interview and art by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, a Prison Radio correspondent and frequent Bay View contributor.
The tour stops in San Francisco at Book Passage, Corte Madera, 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 4; Marcus Books in Oakland, 7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 5; and Green Apple Books on the Park, 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 9, in San Francisco. Visit prisonradio.org or www.whenwefightwewin.com.
Charlie Hinton’s ‘Solitary Man: My Visit to Pelican Bay State Prison’
Charlie Hinton will perform his one-man play, “Solitary Man: My Visit to Pelican Bay State Prison,” at various venues in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose:
- Monday Jan. 11, The Marsh, San Francisco, 1062 Valencia near 22nd, 7:30, $8 (20 minute excerpt)
- Friday, Jan. 22, Omni Commons, Oakland, 4799 Shattuck Ave., 7 p.m., $5-$20, no one turned away. This performance is sponsored by the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition to END SLEEP DEPRIVATION TORTURE IN PELICAN BAY SOLITARY caused by cell checks that wake prisoners up every 30 minutes and as part of protests against solitary confinement that take place statewide the 23rd of every month.
- Monday Jan. 25, The Marsh, San Francisco, 1062 Valencia near 22nd, 7:30, $8 (20 minutes of material from Part 2 – Sunday Visit).
- Saturday Feb. 6, San Jose, School of Arts and Culture, Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1600 Alum Rock Avenue, San Jose. This event honors Leonard Peltier on the 40th anniversary of his illegal arrest
- Tuesday, Feb. 23, 518 Valencia, San Francisco, 7 p.m., $5-$20, no one turned away, sponsored by Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.
For updates, visit the “Solitary Man” Facebook event page, at https://www.facebook.com/events/918753424844524/.
Lysistrata, a review and interview with Teyonah Parris (Lysistrata)
I had an opportunity to speak to the lovely actress Teyonah Parris, who plays Lysistrata, before the film, “Chi-Raq,” opened in theatres. I saw the film after the conversation and, though I knew the story, Parris’ Lysistrata alongside actor Nick Cannon’s virile Demetrius Chi-Raq Dupree had sparks flying from more than smoking guns. Perhaps what Cannon does for the gun-toting villain is humanize him, and by extension the other young men who follow his lead. What is eating at his soul – so that he finds refuge behind violence and more violence – is ignorance. He doesn’t know who he is or who his people are.
Nick Cannon and I had a conversation about “Chi-Raq” and his forgetfulness, which is his undoing. However, Demetrius didn’t forget the code. His father disappeared from his life, like so many of his peers. The man who becomes his default role model leads the youngster astray. Whether this is intentional or not is hard to say, if he too follows an inherited script. This man taught Demetrius that sex and violence was manhood. The more people feared you, the manlier you were. So when we meet the two orphans, Lysistrata and Chi-Raq, they are opposite angles on the same coin.
But then, Lysistrata changes.
Left homeless when she and Chi-Raq are sleeping and their home is riddled with bullets and nearly burned to the ground, Lysistrata thinks a bit differently about her life and where it is leading her. Then after a child is killed and she meets the child’s mother (Jennifer Hudson), the glamour is stained with blood and she wants out of the garment. With nowhere to go, Lysistrata calls on one of the village mothers, Ms. Helen (Angela Bassett) for help. Ms. Helen leads a group of women who, like Liberian peace activist Leymah Roberta Gbowee, also pray, rally and protest for peace. All of these women support Lysistrata’s desire to change.
Perhaps what the story tells us, especially this adaptation, set in a volatile place called Chi-town or Chicago, is that children need guidance. Both boys and girls need their fathers in their lives; otherwise they miss a crucial element in their development as human beings. There is more to life than fashion, sex and fear. Chi-Raq is a promising singer; he doesn’t need fear for success, but this is how he develops respect. Lysistrata is beautiful and intelligent; she learns that she is also a leader when she challenges her friends and foes to use their influence with their men to stop the warfare on the streets.
This is satire, so there are characters whose roles are a bit over the topic like Chi-Raq’s rebel counterpart Cyclops (Wesley Snipes). If we were speaking in Blaxploitation language, Cyclops is the buffoon. It is unfortunate that John Cusack as Father Mike Corridan stands for the moral code. The white priest, dressed in kente cloth, delivers a powerful eulogy for a child killed in gang related crossfire. There are no positive Black male characters in this film with speaking parts.
A reward is offered for information on the killing; however, no one steps forward, so Lysistrata, already fed up with the senseless violence, turns up the heat with her girls who lock it up: “No Peace? No Piece!” Chicago’s Southside has been under siege with more casualties than the war in Iraq. These brave women see that if Chicago is allowed to go under, it will not be the last American city to topple. Its perpetrators are infected with what Dr. Joseph Marshall (“Alive and Free”), calls a disease or sickness plaguing Black communities everywhere. What has happened to a person who does not see his humanity in another person’s face?
Introduced to Leyman Gbowee by Ms. Helen, Lysistrata (the character) takes her sex strike inspiration from the Nobel laureate and peace activist, who with other Liberian women ended the second civil war. America, unlike Liberia, is a country founded on violence. Corporate media markets sex and violence, especially against women, so for Spike Lee and co-writer Kevin Willmott to flip this so that audiences see a woman protagonist not just save her peoples, but also return to the men, who are also vital to the solution, their humanity, is brilliant!
Both Parris as Lysistrata and Cannon as Chi-raq, a rap artist who wages war, show through their contentious relationship how individuals can change. Both on a precipice swinging in opposition to peace, the two actors evolve as life affirming values merge and dissolve. Perhaps what Lysistrata does well is remove the irreligious aspect of sex from praxis. All of a sudden when the boys can no longer get a “piece” without “peace,” perhaps what emerges is Oshun, the warrior goddess of love, who demands respect. Sex is no longer trivialized when life becomes, once again, sacred.
As Lysistrata moves from enjoying the bling to examining the systems that make her lifestyle possible and steps not out, but literally into the line of fire as a leader of the women, we see emerge change, atonement and hope, something audiences can take away from “Chi-Raq,” the film. These are young people who like the physicality of their relationships, so to decide to abstain until the men put down their weapons is not an easy or light matter, no matter how slapstick certain aspects of the film are. That the narrative leans between extremes is true to Greek playwright Aristophanes’ original script. Lee’s characters are stretched into grotesque abnormal postures.
Cannon and Parris play their roles straight, along with a few other characters, like the grieving mothers, the priest, and the men who talk about losing children to the war in the streets. Elder gangsters tell Chi-Raq that the warfare is not worth the cost in lives. Young fathers tell him that they want their children to grow up, not die on the streets, yet the young leader drowns these words of wisdom in alcohol, smoke and pills. However, when his stupor wears off, the young man has to face himself. To the very end, Chi-Raq refuses to give up. We wonder why.
His reason is a chilling conclusion to a tale which lands too close for comfort.
As the narrative proceeds, dancing between corrupt city officials, opportunistic insurance men, fly girls and men who just want to get laid, racists and opportunists, Samuel L. Jackson’s Dolmedes fills us in on the backstory. He is comic relief where perhaps one isn’t needed. This is yet another story where Black people lose. On the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, its leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, also a Chicagoan, not to mention our First Family, President Barack Hussein and Michelle Obama, the strategic release of “Chi-Raq” at this moment in this country’s history, pre-Paris attack, says much for director Lee’s ability to allow the muse, mixed with political and social urgency, to dictate his steps – whether this is “4 Little Girls,” “Get on the Bus,” “Bamboozled,” “Malcolm X” or “When the Levees Broke.”
Chi-Raq lifts the “Black lives matter” and “stop the violence” conversation to a national level in a way only Lee can. The film is rated R for sex, nudity, language and mature subject.
Interview with Teyonah Parris as Lysistrata
The Julliard trained actress Teyonah Parris says of her character, Lysistrata: “I think it’s important that you get to follow her from the beginning of her arch, where she is not the Lysistrata who ends the movie. She is very much an active participant in what is ultimately the issue at hand – the war on the streets of Chi-town. She’s dating a gun toting gang leader and loves every bit of it. And at a certain point, she gets fed up with what’s happening and she finds her voice and her strength and she mobilizes the women in her community to follow suit. She’s determined; she’s fierce; she’s intelligent, and she sees something that needs to be done, and she takes initiative.”
WS: Is there anything in your life that you pull on to portray her?
TP: You know, I pulled on … I used many different women as inspiration. You have someone, on a very aesthetic level – pulling from the Pam Greers for that iconic image, back in the day. Assata Shakur is strong politically and very much the activist. Then you have the Leyman Gbowee we actually address in the movie, who is a Liberian peace activist who was ultimately the reason why the second civil war in Liberia ended. She got the women in her country to impose a sex strike. It was effective. So I pulled from many women to create this character, Lysistrata.
WS: How has this role, this film and this issue affected you artistically and personally?
TP: First of all, working with Spike Lee is an absolute dream come true. He is such a visionary and such a champion for community and for … even when it hurts to hear it, there is always truth in what he has to say. Working with someone who I know when we went into this, he said his main goal was “We have to save lives. Even if we’ve saved one, we have done what we need to do.”
When you work on pieces like this (she takes a deep breath and exhales), where it’s so close to home and it’s so many people’s truth, and it’s a truth that hurts, you can’t not be changed by what you’re doing.
We shot the entire film in the Southside of Chicago, and we were embraced by the community. They were a part of making this film in so many ways. We partnered with Father Michael Pfleger, St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham, who is a Catholic priest in the Southside of Chicago, a white man with a predominately African American congregation who has been a huge pillar in the community, affecting change and getting brothers and sisters off the street and giving them alternative ways to go.
He put us in touch with the organization Purpose over Pain, which is comprised of mothers and men as well in the community who have lost loved ones to gun and gang violence. To hear their stories, to talk to these mothers and fathers (about their children), everyone’s story is so different, but hearing a mom say, “My son was on the church steps bringing his drums in. He had no gang affiliation or anything like that. He was just killed on the church steps.”
You can’t hear those stories and not want to do something about it. It certainly motivated me to do the best I could do to get these families’ stories out, to get people to pay attention to what is happening in Chicago, and not just Chicago but (other cities) across this nation plagued with (similar) violence. We as a community need to take ownership, and when I say community, I mean as a nation. We need to take ownership of what is happening on our very soil and deal with issues at hand.
WS: You are certainly a person who believes in the power of art. Talk about art for social change and art as a way or medium for healing.
TP: Absolutely, I certainly believe that art is an effective way of reaching people, reaching the masses. I feel that art allows people to see themselves in ways that simply living and being amongst one another does not always allow. In a sense you are removed from it; you think you are removed from it. (It gives one perspective to see what we are often too close to notice.)
Oh, I am just watching a movie; (however), those messages, those situations playing out in front of you often touch us and reach us in ways we are not necessarily conscious of all the time. Life is an imitation of art, in that you can use it to change peoples’ minds, to broaden their thoughts. The fact that Spike Lee created this movie and he has people talking about (violence) and having this conversation regardless whether they think they love it or hate it, (the point is) we’re talking about it. And that is already affecting change, by our simply beginning to have this conversation.
WS: Talk about the trauma present in the lives of residents, especially the children.
TP: Anyone who lives in a place where you can be shot at any point, that you have a greater chance in your community than literarily at war in Afghanistan or Iraq, there is come level of trauma that goes with that. I think Father Pfleger, St. Sabina Church, said it best. “When you have children (responding to the question), ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ‘I just want to see 18.’ ‘I want to grow up.’” That’s trauma, and no one should have to live like that.
“And I think it is important for us to have to deal with stress or trauma that our men and women who are at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we also need to deal with what is happening here on U.S. soil in our very own communities.”
WS: I was looking at the women whom you find inspiration in; you mention Nina Simone. She is such an unsung hero.
TP: Not in my circles. Just as Lysistrata is a stone cold warrior, so was Nina Simone as well, and I think we have been talking about girls as victims as warfare. Children in general, boys and girls. Both should be off limits.
WS: What would you like people to take away from the film?
TP: Lysistrata did not start out as a heroine. There were people in the community – in her case, Ms. Helen, who served as her mentor to show her that you have everything you need to effect a change, to be a positive light in your community and it only takes one person. You can be that light and you can create an entire movement just from your sheer determination and will, and people will follow.
The film, which is still in Bay Area theatres, is also available on Amazon.
The Auset Movement: Loving humanity into wholeness
Christmas in Oakland dawned beautifully with blue skies and crisp air. A few of us gathered to serve breakfast to those living in innovative housing – concrete mattresses with cement canopies – no indoor plumbing.
City camping is not what it could be, especially for those living in Bay Area internally displaced camps, which are popping up all over. In fact, Oakland City Council is addressing this urgency at its first meeting this year.
Berkeley has criminalized its unhoused population, while San Francisco and Alameda are building housing to meet the growing need for supportive structures which include shelter, both permanent and transitional. These “homeplaces” are affordable and inclusive in design, that is, they invite residents to participate in all aspects of this community building process. The internally displaced are a fragile and vulnerable community, despite their tough and invincible presentation.
Rain heralded the start of winter, the solstice that Monday, Dec. 21. Temperatures dipping into the 20s meant bone chilling cold – no air mattresses.
Cold is a sleeping blanket and a leaky tent. Cold is the instability transient lodging holds for those without other options, despite money, savings and marketable skills. Cold blooded is a system which dangles housing like a carrot at the noses of those without bargaining chips.
I don’t know why so many Black men are living in townships, on the peripheries of a social, political and economic dynamic that pushes them away, out of sight and underground as if radar can ignore their massive tangible presence. On International between 82nd and 84th avenues, the place where the Black men congregate is called “the living room.” They are behind the check cashing place, rock throwing distance from Allen Temple.
I saw a man going through the garbage at McDonalds on 97th Avenue earlier that week about 7:30 in the morning. It was raining and lots of Black men stood in doorways or walked up and down the streets or sat in one of the few covered bus stops with benches.
Friday, Dec. 25, friends and allies and I met at 7:30 a.m., held hands and prayed to be a blessing and to being open to being blessed; we then caravanned off to “the spot.”
Not a creature was stirring, not even a rat – it was so clean. I learned later that there is a governing board which assigns tasks and keeps the peace. The ages ranged from early 20s to 50s and 60s. Under a freeway is certainly not a preferable location for a home, but if there is peace and harmony and freedom, I can certainly understand why these men chose their liberty over the isolation, restrictions and maybe even disrespect that subsidized or government housing often means. It is little better than imprisonment and one man I met had just been released from Santa Rita.
While Tracy went around tent to tent announcing our presence and reason for being there, a few folks stirred or sent husbands to see what was cooking that morning. Jovelyn had cooked up potatoes with fresh thyme from her garden. An alchemist, artist and poet with pots, I am sure she choose “thyme” on purpose. I just didn’t know how apropos an herb it was until long after the fact.
Thyme, I learned, is used to treat diarrhea, stomach ache, arthritis, colic, sore throat and coughs, even bronchitis. It was the perfect ingredient for an early morning breakfast where there is no running water, no bathroom facilities and folks are trying to stay well. One poor man had a really bad stomach ache already; hopefully, the fresh thyme kept others from getting sick.
We set up the long table, put the pot of hot potatoes on it, another pot of boiled eggs, a tray of banana nut bread and blueberry cake and beef links. There was orange juice and milk too. We forgot forks, so Brother RJ drove to the store to pick up a box. I found about ten forks and spoons in my car for a few folks. While others waited for more cutlery, residents from the area went shopping at the pop-up store, which had shoes, hats, warm scarves, gloves, rain ponchos, underwear, nice coats, shirts, dresses. Alicia and her son, Amir, 18, and Kwalin helped people locate their sizes.
We had chairs and café tables for those who wanted to sit and eat. There was also German chocolate cake, tangerines and other treats. The servers – Jovelyn, Denise and Delene – were as attractive as the meal. From a distance I noticed people chatting as they ate or were served. I heard that a man rode up on his bike and sang: “You Are so Beautiful to Me.” (I don’t know how I missed that.)
As people ate, Tracy shared information packages she’d made. Each one had an encouraging word from a variety of sources, such as Dr. Howard Thurman, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Marianne Williamson, Chogyam Trungpa, Lao Tzu, Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, Leo Buscaglia, Aesop, Robert M. Pirsig, Edward Everett Hale, Buddha, Arthur Ashe, Seneca and Disraeli.
As people ate and talked and shopped, some stayed a while and visited with us too. Others loaded up bicycles and maintaining a delicate balance took off. One man carried an orange dress in his hand – perhaps a Christmas present for someone, as he steered with his feet on his bike.
Quite a few people welcomed the flashlights, sleeping bags, blankets and tarps, but the big need was for warm socks, coats and shoes. There were a lot of men who only had on flip flops. The women needed underwear and sanitary items. People also needed combs.
Everyone wanted water to drink and took extra bottles. It was good to see people drinking water like this. Whenever I looked around I saw people talking, men and women laughing and having a nice time together. We didn’t pop in and then leave. RJ had introduced me to the men and women there earlier that week. I asked the men and woman to tell me what they needed and told them I would return with friends that Friday before 8 a.m.
I’d checked the weather forecast and it was supposed to be sunny and it was. The vibe was good. The men opened their community to us and we embraced. Alicia even had food for a man who rode by on his bike with a really cute dog, who peed on the clothes (smile).
When we first arrived we were trying to figure out how to serve the meals and took plates to some of the folks who were staying close or inside their tents. Tracy suggested walking around announcing our presence there that morning. We did a little bit of both. Room service and open kitchen.
As already mentioned, one man was really sick. I don’t know what one does when he has the runs and no toilet. Everyone was really polite and the volatile live wires were also loved and embraced with compassion as we had a closing prayer circle interrupted by police who were investigating a stolen car parked across from us.
The police presence triggered a few of the men who watched them cautiously. One person walked from the prayer circle, distraught. It’s understandable. Police and Black men are a caustic mix most of the time.
I thought about my car parked in the red zone.
Jovelyn announced seconds and the kitchen sisters made plates which went quickly. The leftovers were put into containers and left for the community for later. We took the extra clothes and hung them on a fence like a clothesline. One of Tracy’s inspirational sayings also decorated the fence.
The resource list was for housing and other needs like tissue, sanitary napkins and toothpaste, showers. We also let the majority male population know that there was a City Council meeting coming up Tuesday, Jan. 5, 5:30 p.m., at City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland, to discuss the pending Homeless Ordinance. Kheven and Keith dropped by with fliers and personally invited the men to come and speak that evening.
While we were there, other people popped by to talk to the men, talk to us and invite the community to other events later that day. None were close and some were too late in the evening to consider. RJ said most of the encampment inhabitants were home by the time the sun set. I didn’t see many bicycles at this particular encampment, but several men and women rode by on bikes, some of the bikes were really fancy – gold and orange several feet in the air.
The couple on the fancy bikes, a man and a woman, popped by for breakfast and then they were off. It was the perfect day for a bike ride. As we wrapped up breakfast, a Latino couple and their child drove up with two barrels filled with beverages and wrapped sandwiches they passed out. It was perfect – our breakfast rolled right into lunch or dinner.
A bucket blaze took the chill off the morning air in front of one tent. Reminded me of scenes from South Africa where youth stand warming themselves in front of a barrel. Hands facing toward the flame, the boys stand as close as they dare to the flickering flames. The elder woman in the walker wheelchair had a mini version of this.
I tried to convince a man seated across from her on the sofa who had three hats to leave one for someone else. He said he liked them all and besides that, he wanted to be color coordinated. I had to laugh. He was one of the men who needed shoes. I think he wore a size nine. We only had one size eight. No one wore a size eleven. I think one of the men wore a larger size.
Two of the younger men had tents without sleeping bags. I was thinking we should get them heaters and toilets and air mattresses, especially for the elder who is recovering from a heart attack and other ailments, the other disabled man with a hip to leg brace and some of the other men on whom city camping is taking a debilitating toll on their bodies. Top on Tracy’s list was Operation Dignity Inc., which is a veteran’s services agency, but they serve everyone.
I saw a pitcher which looked to be filled with urine. I wondered where people used the bathroom or disposed of waste. Obviously the city serviced this community, as I saw garbage bins near most of the tents.
When looking at solutions to under or unhoused communities, one needs to realize that these communities have a continuity and act as support systems for their members. To move one of the community out and place him perhaps in housing where he is not connected to friends or loved ones is a disservice to said person. If there are 100 people in a particular encampment, then if Caltrans plans to gate the open space, as it did in the Webster Street Tube, then there should be 100 housing spaces preferably indoors for this community so it can stay together.
I wonder where all the families went who were living inside the Alameda-Webster Tube for over a year, their lives permanently disrupted? One young man at the encampment we visited Christmas day, whom I really liked, told one of our group that he had been living on the street since he was 12. I couldn’t imagine what that was like, but his beauty reflected a community he was able to join which embraced him, loved him and allowed him to grow into the man he is today. But what is next? The hustle city camping demands is not a permanent lifestyle one can sustain indefinitely.
As I drove home later that evening, the clouds floating just about the horizon like whipped cream, scoops of vanilla ice cream or so many cotton balls – against the same blue canvas I spoke of earlier – I couldn’t have imagined such a day.
I knew I wanted to do something meaningful Dec. 25. I’d thought about the Black men without houses, eking out a bare subsistence on the streets of Oakland; however, I didn’t know how much people cared. Donations poured in in the hundreds of dollars and then people came around to talk to the men, laugh, sing … we even had a musician, Michael James, come to play Christmas songs on his tenor saxophone. His friend, my friend, Damu Sudi Ali, stood speaking to the brothers there at the encampment. I saw them sharing laughter.
We call ourselves The Auset Movement: Loving Humanity into Wholeness. If you know the story of Queen Auset (Isis), her husband Ausar (Osiris), their brother Set, and the idea of dismemberment and dispersement when we speak historically and presently of African Diaspora citizens, then the notion of this ejection of Black bodies from civil society is not unexpected.
The enormity is what is so alarming – so many Black men hear: “Do not pass go,” do not draw the “Get out of jail free” card, nor do they thrive … if they make it out of the various booby traps alive. After the earthquake in Haiti, the internally displaced persons count was high. This crisis lingered long after the tremors ceased, when funds collected internationally never made it into the hands of the needy.
Similar to the levees breaking in NOLA 10 years ago Aug. 29, 2005, it was the people, ordinary citizens, who responded first and continue to provide assistance.
Yet, Auset was not deterred when Set chopped his brother up into 42 pieces and scattered them like rainfall throughout Kemet. Auset found all but one piece, the phallus, which she sculpted and then awakened her husband’s spirit for a memorable night under the stars (smile). There she conceived Heru (Horus). Her love was so great for Ausar, she willed him to life. Likewise, we will not rest until all our brothers especially – but our sisters too – are recovered, their impediments or issues addressed and our community restored.
With this in mind, as we packed up, The Auset Movement promised to return and return we will as long as “dudes are forced to live outside of town.” Visit us at theausetmovement.blogspot.com or leave a message at 641-715-3900 ext. 810813 or email@example.com.
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.