by Wanda Sabir
Baba Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory (Oct. 12, 1932, to Aug. 19, 2017): Ashay!
Dr. Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory, 84, joined the ancestors Aug. 19, the same day as the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March in Washington, D.C. A longtime advocate for human rights, Gregory ran for president of the United States, went to Iran to negotiate the release of Americans held hostage, is also known for his Bohemian diet and extensive fasts for human rights.
Ten years ago he visited Oakland to honor the lives of the 918 adults and 305 children – including 40 infants – who lost their lives along with U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan and a United Press International film crew. Jim Jones’ followers killed that day, the majority Black, rest now in a mass burial site at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland. Dr. Gregory came to Oakland at the invitation of Dr. Jynona Norwood, founder and executive director of Jonestown Memorial Services and Wall. On that fateful day, her family lost 27 loved ones, including her beloved mother and 3-month-old cousin Charles Garry Henderson, the youngest child to perish in Jonestown. Later there was a marker placed at the site with a list of names of those killed. Omnira hosted a grave sweeping ritual two years ago to honor those killed in Jonestown, Guyana. I was honored to have Dr. Gregory on my radio show.
June 19, 2015, I was in Dr. Gregory’s company again. He was a part of a DC tradition called Black Power Talks where the community honors one of their own. Dr. Frances Cress Welsing was the honoree. Gregory’s daughter, Ayanna Gregory, who is a wonderful singer, shared a song, then introduced her father, who helped us sharpen our focus so that we could safeguard what we valued most: Black sanity, Black health and Black lives.
Melvin “Maalak” Atkins, Soul Chi, would often bring Mr. Gregory to Marin City to talk to the youth. Gregory’s ability to connect crooked political dots was unparalleled, and the man never forgot anything. Dr. Gregory is survived by his wife, Lillian; three sons, Christian, Gregory and Yohance Maqubela; seven daughters, Ayanna, Lynne, Michele, Miss, Paula Cenac, Satori and Zenobia Chisholm; two brothers, Ron and Garland; two sisters, Pauline Hariston and Delores Hill; 16 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
22nd Annual Maafa Commemoration
The Maafa Commemoration, the annual tribute to African Ancestors of the Middle Passage starts predawn, about 5:30 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, at Ocean Beach, Fulton at the Great Highway. If you are able to give someone a ride or if you need a ride, call 510-255-5579 and leave a message. Black people are encouraged to dress warmly, wear white, bring vegan or vegetarian items to share, a chair to sit on if you need such accommodations, flowers for the offering, drums and other instruments to play, wood for the bonfire. For information, visit maafasfbayarea.com and remembertheancestors.com.
It’s Hurricane Season in the Gulf and many areas of Houston are under water. It is unfortunate, according to coverage in the Atlantic, that the majority of those at risk for drowning are the poorer Black communities. The mayor’s response to the impending storm sounds a lot like what happened in New Orleans in 2005 – the Army Corp of Engineers are releasing water from dams (increasing flood water), while residents are told to stay home, no evacuation directive given.
I spoke to Robert King and he said he can’t leave New Orleans because the highway he travels home to Austin is now closed. However, he predicts there will probably be flooding in NOLA because pumps are not working in the city, which is below sea level. This is further complicated by Hurricane Irma headed that way. Mahkmud’s (Wilbur Murry’s) nephew and family were evacuated from their Houston home Monday, Aug. 28. All of this was preventable, since Houston officials were warned of increasing flooding in the coming years due to global warming. The same is true of Miami. Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth sequel” (2017) is both a warning and a call to action.
What is missing from the film and these public policies is the impact of environmental racism on the quality of life for disenfranchised citizens. Look at the flooding last fall in Baton Rouge. The government response was inadequate and these Black people were home owners. Look at the shutting down of hospitals throughout the Bay Area. Urgent care is band aid medicine.
How is this inaccessible care connected to an insidious genocide, silently snaking its way throughout the Black community? Fracking, coal, oil refineries and poor water quality, especially in the Central Valley, are all issues affecting us locally related to climate change. The record high temperatures which are frying those sisters and brothers without air conditioning behind bars, are climate change’s wrath. It is more than the disappearance of our furry and feathered brothers and sisters. We are also going to disappear as a species.
I am so disappointed I missed Ernestine Shepard at an AARP United healthcare program in Oakland and Rain Pryor in San Jose. I hope both the women return – Rain in a Bay Area premiere of her one woman show, “Fried Chicken and Latkes,” shared stories and songs about growing up Black and Jewish in a politically incorrect era and how she navigates the terrain to find self, while Ms. Shepard, 81, who is an example of living fit and well as an elder, wowed (I’m sure) the audience with her beauty and strength, she maintain by using skin creams for tightening and other products.
Mavis Staples and Kev Choice Ensemble close Stern Grove Festival Season 2017
Ms. Mavis Staples closed out the 89th Stern Grove Festival with a bang. The curators couldn’t have made a better choice with the Kev Choice Band opening the afternoon, and Ms. Staples closing. Staples, who’d been singing with her family since childhood, promised to lift our spirits and that she did. Well actually, Kev Choice already had us levitating, so Ms. Staples just lifted the vibe even higher with her superb ensemble – who, along with the grooving star, rocked the house. When she stated to another fan with flowers for her that she couldn’t keep bending down that low, we had to smile, The 78-year-old was working the stage like a youngster. A proud Chicagoan, Staples had to give props to a city that can’t be all bad, if she continues to call it home.
Just like Oakland across the Bay, Kev Choice brought the Best of the Bay to Stern Grove – Oakland, like Chicago, not a popular destination, haunted by stigma. Choice was a great choice, like Staples, to lift the shade on misconceptions that keep us divided.
The contrast between the band personnel was striking – Kev Choice’s band representative of the diversity that is the Bay Area, the gender and racial mix melanated, while Ms. Staples had an all-white band. The woman in the ensemble had kinky hair. One never knows with us (smile).
Surprisingly, the Grove was not full, so the hundreds in attendance had a bit more room to move and groove. With anticipated protests and counterprotests scheduled, then canceled, which occurred in both Berkeley Sunday and a rally Saturday in San Francisco, the love vibe was on high alert – folks even wore their Summer of Love T-shirts or tie dyed fashions.
Lower Bottom Playaz present ‘Beyond the Bars: Growing Home’ directed by Ayodele Nzinga
I went to a rehearsal of Dr. Nzinga’s current work, “Beyond the Bars: Growing Home.” The play looks at returning citizens and men who have learned hard lessons behind bars and are using these lessons to transform their lives. The work is based on interviews the director and playwright has had with men who collectively have served 300 years behind bars.
The play is a marvelous experience. Dr. Nzinga is an accomplished poet as well, so the work is lyrical and poignant and powerful. The cast reflects the lives of the men characterized in these stories, which take place here in Oakland and the San Francisco Bay Area. All of Dr. Nzinga’s work is restorative, in that it builds character and spirit. The question the men are asked throughout the play is: Where is home?
For some, it is gone, irretrievable, for others just within grasp. The characters discuss adaptation and assimilation as useful tools once released. There is a young man who attends a therapy workshop, which he is mandated to attend, where he meets these men, who try to share their mistakes so the youth does not end up where they are.
It is up at The Flight Deck, 1540 Broadway St., in downtown Oakland, through Sept. 3. Shows at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $20. However, if you want to go, send the director an email. Opening weekend Dr. Nzinga was giving away tickets to affected community members. Visit lowerbottomplayaz.com or email email@example.com.
‘Radio Golf’ at Multi-Ethnic Theatre
August Wilson’s “Radio Golf,” a drama about would-be redevelopers planning to gentrify a section of Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the center of the local African-American community, directed by Gloria Weinstock, produced by Multi-Ethnic Theatre and SF Recovery Theatre, is up at PianoFlight, 144 Taylor St. in San Francisco on Wednesday, Sept. 6, through Saturday, Sept. 9. No performance Sept. 8. All performances at 7:00 p.m. Tickets $25-$30, $20 opening week, at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/radio-golf-by-august-wilson-tickets-36522244015.
On the fly
At La Pena Cultural Center: Black in Latin America: Haiti & the Dominican Republic, Sept. 14, 7-9 p.m., 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. Black Eyed Peas Festival is Saturday, Sept. 16, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., at Oakland Technical High School Lawn, Miss Faye Carol with pianist Joe Warner, is at The Back Door every Sunday in September, at 5 p.m., $20 at the door. Visit fayecarol.com SF Fringe Festival, Sept. 8-23. Cat Brooks is performing “Tasha” at the Exit Theatre on Sept. 9, 10, 12 and 17.
Congrats to Kheven Lee LaGrone, whose play, “The Legend of Pink,” opens the season at Theatre Rhinoceros at Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson St., in San Francisco, Sept. 13-30. There are free tickets available for all previews and opening night. Visit http://therhino.org/.
“The Legend of Pink” features a beautiful drag queen named Pink. The story is based in 1989, in a West Oakland street controlled by a violent drug gang. However, Pink believes she was meant for the diva life. She thinks she might have found a ticket to that diva life when she meets a flashy young man who takes an interest in her. Her friend Ace, who has more than just friendly feelings for Pink himself, warns her that inviting the mysterious stranger to visit her could be dangerous. Some people in the neighborhood have seen the young man and have their suspicions about him. When Pink continues to see him, its discovered that, indeed, the man isn’t who she thinks he is. Things turn violent and deadly, and Pink’s life is in jeopardy. Her life – and the West Oakland street – will change forever.
PUSH Dance Company presents its 12th Home Season and Fourth Annual PUSHfest Dance Festival, featuring two different programs of local and visiting artists over four evenings. “Mothership Part II” is a world premiere with choreography by Raissa Simpson. Other world premieres are by Mary Carbonara, Kao Vey Saephanh and Katerina Wong.
Program A is Friday, Sept. 22, 8 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 24, 4:30 p.m. Program B is Saturday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 24, 7:30 p.m., at ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., San Francisco.
Tickets are $28 in advance, $30 at the door, $15 for seniors and students; $50 for a festival pass that includes both programs. Visit http://www.pushdance.org/festival or call the box office, 415-863-9834, or visit www.pushdance.org/festival.
New World-Trust film: ‘Healing Justice’
“Healing Justice” is the latest film from Dr. Shakti Butler and World Trust Educational Services. The world premiere is in Oakland, on Sept. 16, 5-11 p.m., at the First Congregational Church of Christ, 2501 Harrison St. in Oakland. The screening and discussion is 6:30-9 p.m. Visit https://world-trust.org/product/healing-justice/ for tickets and all the details.
I headed from Washington, D.C., to Salem, Oregon, for the solar eclipse. Arrived in Oregon about 11:30 p.m. and drove the hour to the fairgrounds, where I parked and dozed for a couple hours. A volunteer, I got a shirt, badge and glasses. My job was to walk around and help where necessary. The program in the stadium, which began at 5:30 a.m., featured astronauts Jim Brau, Ph.D., who explained what eclipses are and about seeing an eclipse from orbit, while Don Pettit, Ph.D., shared what to expect just before 9:05 a.m., “first contact.”
However, there were games and booths with activates for the entire family: ice sculptures, solar race cars, art activities such as making a bracelet with beads that would glow when the ultraviolet light hit them late during the eclipse; a flip book, a full moon calendar and a star chart for the calendar year. There were also solar themed food booths – the longest line was at the pancake booth.
Portland Taiko opened the ceremony at sunrise and played during the moments leading to Totality. There were science educators who did experiments on stage, a bamboo flute signaled when we could remove our protective glasses to see the corona as the moon blocked the sun. In between there were quizzes with prizes; we watched the NASA TV coverage with interviews with viewers in Charleston. There was a science rap artist who was pretty good. It was pretty spectacular! The event was in collaboration with NASA, OMSI and the University of Oregon.
Destiny Muhammad plays John and Alice Coltrane
Destiny Muhammad plays a tribute to John and Alice Coltrane, Sept. 24, 4-11:30 p.m., at Cafe Stritch, 374 First St., San Jose. For a review of her Destiny’s “Tribute to Alice Coltrane” in August along with a radio interview, visit wandasabir.blogspot.com.
African American Museum of History and Culture 101
The impressive edifice shaped like a tiered Asante stool takes your figurative breath away before entrance. The brass filigree creates delicate tapestry visible as one gets closer to the edifice. As the bus driver told me when I asked for directions, “It’s the most beautiful building on the Mall.” The afternoon felt warm and humid as I waited for my dear friend Monica’s Aunt Pam to walk me into the museum. The first time I visited, I asked for help at the information desk and the woman gave me a map of the seven stories – without much guidance on how to navigate 400-plus years in five hours. (I’d arrived at noon.)
So I went to the history galleries, specifically C3: Slavery and Freedom 1400-1877, on Wednesday and spent the entire afternoon walking through Africa, onto and off slave ships into perhaps a worse hell in multiple landscapes in Europe and the Americas, into insurrections and fights for liberty and freedom, our ancestors met with broken promises time and time again.
I missed C2: Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: The Era of Segregation 1876-1968, where the Segregated Railroad Car, the Interactive Lunch Counter exhibit and the Emmett Till Memorial, the Modern Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow, The Great Migration, were. Above that was C1: A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond, located at the very top landing, including exhibits highlighting Black history through decade snapshots. There was a great exhibit on gentrification: Cities and Suburbs.
When I returned that Friday, I started in the gift shop, which closes a half hour before the museum at 5 p.m., to see if I could find a catalog to guide my second and last day there. It did. However, I did not have time to really study it. There were also no regular docent tours or even an audio tour of the museum, which would have been so helpful.
Winging it again, I took the escalators up to the Community (L4) and Cultural (L3) galleries. I skipped the Concourse and wished I’d known that was where the Contemplative Court was. I was scrambling to get to the gallery with the rotating exhibition.
All the galleries, C levels and L levels, are full of personal stories that situate the history in lives rather than numbers and statistics, though those are present as well.
Videos located in C3: Slavery to Freedom 1400 to 1877 highlight most if not all the periods, enabling visitors to better conceptualize or grasp the impact of enslavement on all of America and Europe. The riches made from Africans and the vast inequity present in the sanctioned trade in human beings did not have to be highlighted. It was understood.
What needs to be emphasized is the fact that even if Africans participated and some became rich as well in the process of legal human trafficking, Europe and America’s continued wealth is attached to Africa – its people and mineral resources – while Africa did not benefit at all from the invasion and material losses. The recent novel by Yaa Gyasi, “Homecoming,” speaks to this generational splitting of genetic atoms and the psychic unrest this scattering has on the born and yet to be born. How do Black people collect our parts and become whole? It is certainly a job for a Goddess – Queen Auset our model – the collective Black body: King Ausar.
So anyway, I am wandering in the gallery, meeting ancestors I hadn’t known, who fought for our liberation. I also met those I’d known along with artifacts: Gen. Harriett Tubman’s shawl and Nat Turner’s bible and Phyllis Wheatley’s published collection of poetry. Tubman and Wheatley, along with Sojourner Truth were huge bronze statues.
The following day when I am in L3: Making a Way out of No Way, which has a really powerful exhibit on Mary McLeod Bethune , founder of the National Council of Negro Women, I see my friend, retired veteran Michael Gomez’s grandmother, Mrs. Frances Albier (1898-1987), born in Tuskegee and a graduate of the Institute. She is in a video sharing the story of the boycott she led in Berkeley where a store owner would not hire Black people. Her daughter, retired nurse Mrs. Anita Black, 96, made the sign. There is a park named after Mrs. Frances Mary Albier in Berkeley and she is responsible for the electoral success of Elihu Harris (State Assembly), Willie Brown (State Assembly) and Ron Dellums (Congress). Read more at the Online Archive of California: Frances Albier.
Both days I also met Black families: mothers and fathers, grandparents, siblings and friends, and lots of children, who are asking questions and trying to understand our collective legacy. How does a parent explain Black Americans’ continued demand for human and civil rights?
I found the mapping of the movement of legal slavery across the country with the passage of various laws quite interesting, almost as interesting as the section of the wars for this country’s independence from Britain and the Black soldiers who fought bravely on the side of the Loyalists and the Patriots as enslaved men. When we get to the Civil War battles, there is even more there to show how important Black regiments were to the victory, a victory which did not include provisions for the formerly enslaved Black people.
I am feeling overloaded at this point (my first day) – but I don’t sit down. I ask one of the gallery attendants where the exhibit ends and he points at the revolving staircase two tiers above me. Yep, it is a great and mighty walk – our journey toward freedom and justice. My second visit, I loved the Cultural Expressions gallery (L4) where there were exhibits of our literary artists, visual artists and music and theatre artists. When you walk into the large room divided by display cases with artifacts, there is a video above which encircles the diameter – with artists speaking, reciting poetry, dancing – even President Obama dropping the microphone as he says, “I’m outta here.”
It is celebratory, similar to the feelings evoked a floor earlier (L3): “The Power of Place,” “Sports: Leveling the Playing Field,” “On Broadway,” “Double Victory: The African American Military Experience.” Black creative innovation from George Clinton’s Mothership to Chuck Berry’s 1973 Cadillac El Dorado, to the section on Blacks in television – there really is no stopping Black genius.
Since I was in DC for the Millions for the Prisoners Human Rights March, I was surprised when I asked folks on Level 3, where there is a great hip hop history exhibit across from a cell erected to tell the story of Angola State Prison, if they knew about the march the next day. None did and a few people were DC natives. One woman worked in a prison ministry. That exhibit would have been a great place to leave postcards. Another would have been in the Mary McLeod Bethune exhibit just around the corner and at the information counter downstairs. Besides visiting the website for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, get the Official Guide to the Smithsonian NMAAHC.
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.