by Wanda Sabir
We lost many loved ones this past month, from photographer extraordinaire Kamau Amen Ra to community organizer, prolific writer and longshoreman Brother Cleophus Williams to my dear Sister Monica Pree, not to mention Muhammad Ali. My condolences to all.
We reflect on Independence Day, a day marked by the blood of African Ancestors of the Middle Passage – the first to die a Black man, Crispus Attucks, on March 3, 1770, in what became known as the Boston Massacre on Frederick Douglass’s eloquent query, delivered July 5, 1852: “What to the American Slave is the 4th of July?”
On the eve of its 240th anniversary of this freed British colony, what is freedom to an emancipated population who have to wear signs saying “Black Lives Matter.” I was surprised to see a sister in a Black Lives Matter t-shirt in superior court in Accra. We were there for a murder trial. Two elder Black women were killed over land.
Black Lives Matter signage reminds one of the signs, “I Am a Man,” the silent protest in Memphis by striking Sanitation Workers in 1968 and subsequent solidarity marches. The reason the strike was held was following the death of two sanitation workers:
“Echol Cole and Robert Walker died when they were crushed to death with the garbage and nobody noticed – crushed in the back of a garbage truck because during a severe rainstorm, they were not allowed by the city to seek shelter from storms. Why, because white folks in Memphis at the time didn’t like or want any of the all-Black sanitation workers to stop in their neighborhoods. Cole and Walker couldn’t fit inside of the truck, so they crawled in the back where the garbage was placed and a broom feel on the lever and crushed them to death with the garbage.” The complete statement is: “I am a man. I am a man, not a piece of garbage.”
We have to model what we want to manifest. If Black Lives Matter, then these sacred lives have to matter first to us.
Douglass says to his white audience: “You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation, as embodied in the two great political parties, is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of 3 millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and bodyguards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina.
“You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation – a system begun in avarice, supported in pride and perpetuated in cruelty.
“You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against her oppressors; but, in regard to the 10,000 wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse!
“You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a three-penny tax on tea and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the Black laborers of your country.
“You profess to believe ‘that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,’ and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate – and glory in your hatred – all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you ‘hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’; and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, ‘is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,’ a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.
“Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a bye-word to a mocking earth.
“It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of 20 millions crush and destroy it forever!
“But it is answered in reply to all this, that precisely what I have now denounced is, in fact, guaranteed and sanctioned by the Constitution of the United States; that the right to hold and to hunt slaves is a part of that Constitution framed by the illustrious Fathers of this Republic.
“Then, I dare to affirm, notwithstanding all I have said before, your fathers stooped, basely stooped to palter with us in a double sense: And keep the word of promise to the ear, but break it to the heart.
“And instead of being the honest men I have before declared them to be, they were the veriest imposters that ever practiced on mankind. This is the inevitable conclusion, and from it there is no escape.”
Reread, listen to actor James Earl Jones read Douglass’s prophetic words, which James Baldwin echoes in his seminal “The Fire Next Time” (1963) and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Baldwin’s philosophical protégé, in “Between the World and Me” (2015) and actor Jesse Williams in his recent BET acceptance speech.
Ghana, Land of the Ancestors, Part 1
When I landed in Accra, Ghana’s capital, on Tuesday evening, May 31, I’d been traveling for two days with an unexpected layover in England. We arrived several hours late. Yet my new friends, Wade, Sweetie and Duke, were not deterred in the sweltering heat of the evening. I gave Sweetie and Duke gifts and packages and then they took public transport home to Tema, while Wade and I headed for the mountainous region of Aburi, where I stayed for the first week.
Completely off the grid, Wade’s three story home is solar powered, with a filtered water system. He has planted native flowering and fruit bearing trees throughout and has housing for his employee who maintains the property in his absence. The road into this paradise is prohibitive to anyone without a four-wheel drive. In this way, Wade hopes to ward off the encroaching move to tame the bush. Everywhere we see felled trees, hundreds of years old, fallow land waiting for developers.
However, Ghana is not the only place where trees are slaughtered. Look at the recent felling of trees circling Lake Merritt and the ones covering the land Peralta Community College sold to developers. The “oak” in Oakland is all that is left of the trees covering the city landscape. Cowboys wear chainsaws on their belts – smiles and notches along their buckles mark incalculable losses.
Escape from the perils of development brought Black Americans to Ghana, but the bush is getting a process or perm. With immigration to America the goal for a young Ghanaian population, preservation or conservation is an underfunded ideology, despite Ghana’s philosophical origins in the work of Dr. Osagefu Kwame Nkrumah, who said: “Africa is a paradox which illustrates and highlights neo-colonialism . Her earth is rich, yet the products that come from above and below the soil continue to enrich, not Africans predominantly, but groups and individuals who operate to Africa’s impoverishment.”
In Aburi, which is home to the famed Botanical Gardens as well as many indigenous shrines and the revered dwarf community, I met a more relaxed Ghanaian community. The “rich American” stigma never left; however, the pressure was a lot more subtle than in the metropolis Accra, which bustled like all such cities across the multiple nation state.
I’d just turned in my final grades at work, just two nights earlier, so the travel book I’d purchased was relatively unmarked. I decided to let Wade or Kwame show me his Ghana. He was one of the many Black Americans I met who’d discovered an oasis, their Eden, more than 20 years ago and carved out paradise in the midst of global economies intent on stripping such places of their natural resources – goods and people. I was immediately enraptured by the multiplicity of butterflies. They were everywhere – beautiful, colorful, free-spirited.
Butterflies are symbolic of the ancestors – Oya guardian of the cemeteries and transformation. I also thought it interesting that death as spectacle is also something I had never seen outside New Orleans, yet here in Ghana on Fridays and Saturdays, huge tents cover mourners who in huge public ceremonies host the community in remembrance activities. Red and black are the mourning colors – then, a year later, the colors are white and black. Shops selling funeral bouquets are also along most roadsides. I’d planned to pick one up for my dad, but time got away and I was not able to purchase one. I saw many in the tomb-like cells at the slave castle dungeons of Elmina and Cape Coast.
In the northern region, Tamale and further north to Paga and Wa, where there are more Muslims, the prolonged ritual of death is lessened. In the North, there is a Catholic population, perhaps the largest in Ghana. We visited the Old Navrongo Catholic Cathedral Building where the women in the community painted the interior using traditional aesthetic methods in the illustrations and materials. The church, made from mud bricks in 1920, sits on grounds which also have a co-ed boarding school, another larger church and a smaller chapel built in 1907.
What I loved about Ghana, my first visit, which encompassed visits to mountainous Aburi, Cape Coast, Kumasi, Tamale, Paga and Accra and places in between – my goal to trace the histories of the slave trade from marketplace to ship holds – was the Black community and its economic impact on the Gold Coast. The Ghanaian flag exemplifies what Dr. Nkrumah meant when he said he is African, not because he was born in Africa. Rather, he is African, because Africa is in his heart. He also said that African unity and collective governance is the key to global power.
San Francisco Mime Troupe presents ‘Schooled’ at a park near you
The San Francisco Mime Troupe presents “Schooled,” opening July 2-3 at Cedar Rose Park in Berkeley. Shows are 1:30 p.m. (music) and 2:00 p.m. (show). Opening performance is at Dolores Park in San Francisco, July 4. Visit sfmt.org for the complete schedule of shows through Sept. 2016.
“Schooled” looks at the importance of education in shaping citizenry. In the play, co-written by Michael Gene Sullivan and Eugenie Chan, we meet a civics teacher (actress Keiko Shimosata Carreiro), a hyper-vigilant parent and her son, plus a corporate mogul who wants to privatize education. Velina Brown as Lavinia Jones, a Black mother who is concerned about her son’s (Thomas Jones’) education illustrated by her active participation in his school – much to his chagrin. It looks as if Thomas is not paying attention, but he is listening. He uses critical analysis to question and challenge his mother, peers at Eleanor Roosevelt High and Fredersen J. Babbit, CEO of LAVA (actor Rotimi Agbabiaka).
I was seated next to members of American Federation of Teachers. I am a member of Peralta Federation of Teachers. The fate of Eleanor Roosevelt High foreshadows the fate of our nation this election year. The small cast (which plays multiple characters) was fantastic as was the even smaller three-person band; however, I learned from Michael Gene Sullivan that the reason the cast and band are smaller than others in the past speaks to an SFMT funding shortfall. SFMT needs donors who give in the thousand-dollar bracket. They would like to tour last year’s production on solitary confinement if they can raise the $10,000 is needed to do this.
‘H.O.M.E. (Hookers on Mars Eventually)’
Campo Santo presents “H.O.M.E.” (“Hookers On Mars Eventually”), a new play by Star Finch, June 29 through July 10 at The Rueff at ACT’s Strand Theater, 1127 Market St., San Francisco. The search for home is taking place from Oakland to Mars. “H.O.M.E.” follows the journey of a prostitute on a mission to reconnect with the son she abandoned. She believes that she must tell him their story in person as a form of rebirth before he crosses into his 20th birthday. It just so happens that her son now lives on Mars.
As part of Campo Santo’s residency at ACT and its 20th year of creating and premiering new works, they bring a new voice, a new play, a new writer – and a new way of looking at their city, the future, and home. Visit http://hookersonmars.bpt.me/. The first full-length play by San Francisco native Star Finch, “H.O.M.E.” features performances by Britney Frazier, Davia Spain, Lauren Spencer, Michael Wayne Turner III and Jasmine Milan Williams.
On the fly
The Black Woman is God exhibits are opening at Impact Hub Oakland, SOMArts in San Francisco, San Francisco Public Library, Larkin Street, Main Branch. The 23rd Annual Laborfest is July 2-31; visit laborfest.net or call 415-642-8066. The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 36 runs July 21-Aug. 7. Visit sfjff.org or call 415-621-0523.
The 2016 Bay Area Playwrights Festival is July 15-24 at Custom Made Theater, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco. For information, call 415-626-2176. Fillmore Jazz Festival, the largest free jazz festival on the West Coast, expects 100,000 on July 2-3 on Fillmore Street between Jackson and Eddy, San Francisco.
El Cerrito’s free WorldOne Festival and the World Music and Circus Festival is coming Sunday, July 3, 4-7 p.m., at Cerrito Vista Park, 950 Pomona, El Cerrito, and July 4, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. This admission-free family-friendly event is full of fun, food and entertainment with music on the Main Stage until 6:30 p.m.
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.