by Wanda Sabir
Congratulations to Brothers in Pen for a fantastic book party and reading Oct. 20 at San Quentin State Prison. The work, whether fiction or poetry, creative nonfiction, memoir or dramatic lit, is stellar and the huge panel afterward, where the writers shared their creative process and the importance of art in their lives, was equally valuable and enlightening. That such beauty is possible behind bars is testament to the power of art to light darkness.
Many of the men, some serving life without parole, said that the art, whether it is writing or music or painting, is what helps them get up in the morning and for Rafael Curio (aka Joseph Krauter), who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, literally sleep at night. The group was joined by men who’d been locked up inside, now freemen – the déjà vu moments were plentiful, the day pretty spectacular. Visit https://brothersinpen.wordpress.com/.
At the 23rd Annual Maafa Commemoration Ritual at Ocean Beach, we were blessed by the presence of three generations offering prayers and libations to the ancestors: Iya Abimbola, Iya Halifu Oṣumare and Iya Victoria Eley. Iya Osumare brought efun and put the white chalk on the foreheads of those participants as they came through the Doors of No Return just before they were shackled and sent away on ships in the watery abyss.
As people made the journey, we convened in a circle, Iya Ava Square-Lavias leading us in a Guinea, West Africa, Dundunba dance of resistance. Then, once everyone was through, Iya Abimbola told everyone to drop their chains and be free.
This year as in prior years there were many present for the first time. The weather was lovely, the waves high and DeLisa Branch Nealy’s East African (Shona) and West African choreography channeled, she says, directly from meditation on ancestors. The song, and affirmation sung by Min. Mxiolisi, was wonderful, as was the closing circle meditation with Dr. Marcus “Adeshima” Lorenzo Penn.
Sister Omitola Akinwunmi, an African Indigenous healer, shared the UbuntuNation Initiative, which brings together Black Elders, Royals and Professionals working towards Afrikan and Black Nationhood in a call to The Global Afrikan Cultures Convention and Conference in Uganda Sept. 1-9, 2019, where every cultural community of the Afrikan Motherland will be represented and waiting to receive, embrace and reconnect with returned Diaspora members. There are 5,000 slots for those planning to attend the event. For information, call 707-637-2029 and leave a message.
This year, Maafa San Francisco Bay Area exercised its first Amendment rights and got a permit from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It as an easy process, thanks to Park Ranger Noemi Robinson. We also learned that there are wheelchairs available for use on the beach, which makes the beach accessible: https://www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm.
Iya Abimbola did a divination, that is, threw kola nuts and then read the pattern – this was a first for the San Francisco Bay Area Ritual. The offering was accepted and the ancestors were pleased.
Our elder priestess had moved to Texas; I hadn’t known she was back. It was a pleasant surprise. Iya Oṣumare, who spent the night at her mom’s who lives near the ocean, offered a prayer as well and translated Iya Abimbola’s prayer in Yoruba into English. It was their first time at a San Francisco Bay Commemoration Ritual.
An elder, Babalao Marcus Gordon, whom I did not know, saw white cloth from a distance floating across the sand, a wet horizon, candle lit along a furtive path – and was drawn into the circle. When I approached him, he was speaking to Val Serrant. He told me he’d brought bata, the sacred drums of Lucumi to the Bay Area. He’d been photographing the beach for decades, he told me and handed me his card.
As Iya Victoria Eley moved to the center of the circle, she addressed those present, the Egun or the Ancestors and those absent with stories and prayers. She shared what was on her heart: a girl-child who was being molested by her father. A teacher, she expressed her dismay calling Child Protective Services (CPS); however, as a mandated reporter she had no choice.
After the Ritual of Forgiveness and the Affirmation Song Cycle, we asked those in the circle who were youth and children and those who needed healing to step into our embrace, which we then tightened until we were a collective breath – the children sat in the center and played while Sister Bisola Marignay spoke and sang us through her Circle of Life Ritual which reflected plurality of that moment: the living, the departed and the yet to be born as we sang a song of ships coming, the ship both metaphor and thing itself – a container that we needed to stop supplying our living.
This year, we were especially conscious of those youth and elders lost to violence. We offered a special prayer for the resolution and release of their tangled souls, tangled in the suddenness of departure, the untimeliness of their leave-taking, those things undone. We counted 26 African Americans killed between September 2017 and October 2018. The list has gotten longer.
Cephus “Uncle Bobby X” Johnson, CEO and co-founder of the Love Not Blood Campaign, gave us a list of people killed by police, 26 of them African American. I noticed quite a few in Sacramento and unincorporated areas of Southern California. While most died from gunfire, there were a few who were choked to death, one drowned, some were vehicular. All were men, except one, Christine Jackson, 34, in Palmdale on Feb. 18, 2018.
We added to the list three Black women who were killed in public spaces: Mariah Davis, 18, killed Oct. 3, 2018; BART passenger Nia Wilson, 18, on July 22, 2018; and Jessica St. Louis, 24, whose body was found July 28, 2018, after she was released at 1:20 a.m. from Santa Rita Jail to walk a mile to East Dublin BART. #SayHerName #RememberthemAll #LibationsfortheAncestors
Ancestor Chat & Chew Nov. 1
The Maafa Commemoration Dinner and Conversation, hosted by the Sacred Space Spiritual Support Group, is Thursday, Nov. 1, 6-8 p.m., at the Health and Human Resources Education Center, 1905 San Pablo Ave., in Oakland.
TWEET for African Ancestors
Last year we started a Tweet for the Ancestors beginning the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through and including Black Friday: Nov. 21-23, 2018. Don’t shop: TWEET for our ancestors.
The big day is Black Friday for Black People: #RemembertheAncestors; #RememberAfricanAncestorsoftheMiddlePassage; #BlackPower4BlackPeople; #SayHerName; #MAAFASFBAYAREA.
If you are in Oakland, we might be at Lake Merritt again by the Boat House 12-2 p.m. or MacArthur BART. Still making plans. If you want to help or host a public space healing meditation for African ancestors between Wednesday, Nov. 21, and Friday, Nov. 23, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 510-255-5579. Check the calendar maafasfbayrea.com or https://www.facebook.com/maafabayarea/.
The MAAFA Film and Discussion Joyce Gordon Gallery was well attended. Thanks again to filmmakers Peres Owino, “Bound: Africans vs. African Americans,” Gabrielle Tesfaye “The Water Will Carry Us Home” and artist Bryan Keith Thomas, whose work, “You Are Mine,” surrounded us in the gallery that evening. It was an evening filled with holy spirits. Joyce Gordon said she made it hot in the gallery on purpose, so we’d need the artist’s fans to cool us off (smile).
Thomas, Owino and the audience participated in a lively conversation that had Owino, dressed in a stylish calf-length leather coat with boots, her Black T-shirt reference Rosa Parks, hopping off her stool and pacing as she spoke with passion about Black women’s right to their anger, as well as to Africans and African Americans who are separated historically and presently.
Keith’s work, which combines reclaimed artifacts and paintings and installations, speaks to our collective wanderings and the capture of Blackness in archives and collections by white archivists for no reason than to keep our precious heirlooms out of circulation. Keith shares with his audience a need to let the object speak to us.
As we step into the gallery, the holy ghost jumps or leaps between paintings, landing on a church or funeral home fan or one might find it lingering in conversation with an ivory bust, a soldier coming home from war, Frederick Douglass, a daguerreotype in the stylist cabinet or a painting of Jesus who lives in Oakland. (I met him at another exhibit. He hangs next to George Washington.)
Thomas goes to estate sales and auctions and rescues our ancestral items from storerooms and warehouses. His stories of the need of others to hold onto our ancestral treasures when they see a Black man at the sale, says a lot about how we are still perceived by the dominant class.
Omnira Institute’s Third Annual African American Day of the Ancestors
Omnira Institute is hosting its Third Annual African American Day of the Ancestors on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, 6450 Camden St., around 64th Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, Oakland. For more information, please call 510-332-5851.
In part a response to the renowned Dia de Los Muertos celebrated by Latinos, the AADOTA is also meant as a revival of a cultural observance among African Americans a few generations ago known as “Grave-Sweeping Day.” The ceremony will include a litany of songs for the ancestors in Yoruba accompanied by Bata drums, offerings of food and ritual sweeping of the grave markers while the names of the victims are called out loud.
“Grave-Sweeping Day” actually comes from long-standing practices all over the African continent of caring for the memory of African ancestors from which Haiti’s Gede celebration and the Catholic All Saints’ Day of New Orleans are derived.
Omnira Institute organizers chose Evergreen Cemetery as the site of the event because the Jonestown suicide victims whose bodies were not claimed are buried there in a mass grave. “By sweeping those graves, we are refusing to erase the memory of the faith and aspirations of the members of Peoples’ Temple, who built Jonestown,” said OI Executive Director Wanda Ravernell. Most of the residents of Jonestown were Black, had lived in San Francisco and were under the age of 25. “It was another tragedy in our history where there was a loss of potential in our community,” Ravernell said. Participants are asked to wear white or light colors. There is no seating available at the grave site, so wear comfortable shoes.
Positive Directions Equals Change celebrates its 25th anniversary
Stand Down, Stand Back and Stand Up. That’s what 28 men did 25 years ago to help themselves, their families and their communities. Join us on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, at the George Davis Center, located at 1753 Carroll Ave., San Francisco, as we celebrate a milestone of 25 years of Bay Area service. Our 25th Anniversary gala will be a grand occasion. It’s a black-tie event featuring red carpet service, hors d’oeuvres, dancing, Monte Carlo style casino and prizes. The Theme “Harlem Nights.”
The name Positive Directions Equals Change has become synonymous through the Bay Area as a collaborative community partner. Over the last 25 years PDEC has assisted families with reunification, serving thousands of men and women with criminal and substance abuse backgrounds at high success rates. Our strategic planning process has shown that the organization’s mission is as relevant today as it was in 1993. For information, call 415-740-5590 or 415-740-5587. Tickets can be purchased atwww.Positivedirectionsequalschange.org.
David Bruce Graves’s “Revival,” opens at Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th St., Nov. 2-Nov. 30. The artist talk is Nov. 16, 7-9 p.m.
Afro-Latinación: Rhythm and the Word! In celebration of the human race features the John Santos Quintet and Friends, Sunday, Nov. 4, 4-7 p.m., at EastSide Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd.
A Bay Area multi-cultural extravaganza of color, traditional and contemporary music, dynamic spoken word and relentless rhythm with a star-studded cast featuring much of the Bay’s best from living legends to tomorrow’s voices with: Faye Carol, Orestes Vilató, Ana Deysi, Dr. John Calloway, Saul Sierra, Marco Diaz, Rico Pabón, Shefali Shah, Javier Navarrette, Raina León, John Santos plus special guest directly from Havana, Cuba: ERNESTO OVIEDO!
More Latin jazz music
The legendary Joel Dorham, percussionist, and his Latin Jazz Octet will be at The Back Room, 1984 Bonita Ave., in Berkeley for one night, Saturday, Nov. 17, 8-10 p.m., $15 in advance, $20 at the door.
Poetry Reading and Fundraiser for Immigration Rights
Colossus: East Bay Poets and Artists Fundraising for Immigrant Rights is Nov. 11, 4-6 p.m., at Cove Studio, 2040 Livingston St., Oakland.
Colossus is a spoken word event that evokes the spirit of inclusion and welcome that the Statue of Liberty is meant to symbolize. Featured poets are James Cagney, Maw Shein Win, Kimi Sugioka, Laura Joakimson, Lori Lynne Armstrong, Hilary Brown, Heather Bourbeau, Karla Brundage, Shilpa Kamat, Chris Kammler, MK Chavez, Rohan DaCosta and Sara Biel. Art by Harriet Poznasky and Rohan DaCosta. All proceeds from this event will go to Freedom for Immigrants, an Oakland based non-profit fighting for legislative changes, working to free people in detention, and supporting the rights of immigrants locally and throughout the country. Tickets are on a sliding scale $8-$25. No one will be turned away for lack of funds
Tickets are at Eventbright, https://www.eventbrite.com/e/colossus-poetry-and-spoken-word-to-benefit-freedom-for-immigrants-tickets-51110490854/. For more information, contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inua Ellams’s ‘The Barber Shop Chronicles’ returns to Stanford Live
The barbershop is church for the brothers. How often is an audience invited into the private thoughts of African men? Inua Ellams’s “Barber Shop Chronicles” evokes this sacred space where libations are poured, sprinkled, sprayed throughout the two hour theatrical performance as the actors dance, sing, conjure or stir the pot where Black manhood simmers. As a part the Berkeley Radical 2018-19 Citizenship thematic strand, in which artists spotlight the human side of the current debate on immigration and nationalism, Ellams’s work queries it well. It is not just a question of citizenship for these men far from father-motherland, it is a question of human rights – do they deserve to exist?
As the scenes shift from Peckham in South London to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra, Ellams’s characters explore what it means to be men, fathers, sons, husbands, friends to one another. The fraternity is real, sealed by a shared melanin Diaspora experience. The actors are as authentic off stage as they are on, and those lucky 30 or so special guests – like me, Mama Afua, Kheven, Brother Stoval, Makmud – who were on stage at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall got a chance to dance to the awesome soundtrack as audience on stage took advantage of a quick shave or haircut before the lights blinked and it was time for the show.
As I left the wonderful community forum Thursday night, an event hosted by Yusef Wright’s Benny Adem Grooming Parlor in downtown Oakland, 1408 14th St., moderated by Gerald Lenoir, strategy analyst at Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, we were able to learn more about the work, its genesis, and the men who are ascribed this script on and off stage. Whether or not they choose to perform is another question entirely.
All were Diaspora Africans, most raised or born in Europe. It was a frank conversation with many ahhas between Black men bridging Pacifica-Atlantic separations, a postcolonial affinity development. That evening Anthony Ofoegbu (Emmanuel), Jo Servi (Elnathan/Benjamin/Dwayne); Patrice Naiambana (Tokunbo/Paul/Simphiwe); David Webber (Abram/Ohene/Sizwe) and the assistant director joined us. It was a wonderful exchange that just continued the following evening on stage opening night then later in Catharsis Café over wine and cookies as Sarah Klein, Ph.D., director of Artistic Literacy, passed the microphone to those gathered to address the work’s impact. Margo Hall was in the theatre opening night and the Detroit native was pleased with a work that adds to the dominant discourse voices that are visibly absent. For those who admire W. Kamau Bell’s comedic truth telling and his United Shades of America on CNN, these Chronicles are a mash up of the two.
Ellams, who is currently a visiting scholar (2018-2019) in Stanford University’s Presidential Residency on the Future of the Arts, has taken the stories of men he has met in Black barbershops, sometimes verbatim, and given us a slice of the real deal. Bring water, so you can swallow. If you missed the run at Cal Performances in Oakland, no worries, the brothers return to Stanford University’s Roble Studio Theatre, Thursday-Saturday Nov. 8-10, 7:30-9:30 p.m., on their multiple city U.S. tour. There is also a Saturday show at 2:30 p.m. Visit https://live.stanford.edu/calendar/november-2018/barber-shop-chronicles.
Lorraine Hansberry’s Playwrights Festival
Lorraine Hansberry presents Playwrights Festival, featuring four new plays Nov. 16-18 at the Buriel Clay Theater in the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St., San Francisco:
- Friday, Nov.16, 8 p.m., is the Meet and Greet Playwrights Reception, included with weekend pass only;
- Saturday, Nov. 17, 3 p.m., is “Miss Laura Maye of Harlem” by Jamal Williams, directed by Safiya Fredericks; 7 p.m., is “Pancake Queen” by Brie Knight;
- Sunday, Nov. 18, 3 p.m., is “Flow” by Cleavon Smith plus the Winners Ceremony and Closing Reception, which is included in the ticket price.
Tickets are $15-$25 for adults, $10-$20 for seniors 65-plus and students, and $35-$45 for a weekend pass, which includes all three readings and two receptions. Call the box office, at 415-474-8800.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at email@example.com. 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.