by Wanda Sabir
Happy Birthday, Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson (Dec. 19, 1875 – April 3, 1950), father of Black History, founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Happy 60th Birthday to those born in 1958 (smile).
ASALH’s 2019 theme Black Migrations emphasizes the movement of people of African descent to new destinations and subsequently to new social realities. While inclusive of earlier centuries, this theme focuses especially on the 20th century through today. Beginning in the early decades of the 20th century, African American migration patterns included relocation from Southern farms to Southern cities; from the South to the Northeast, Midwest and West; from the Caribbean to U.S. cities as well as to migrant labor farms; and the emigration of noted African Americans to Africa and to European cities, such as Paris and London, after the end of World War I and World War II.
Such migrations resulted in a more diverse and stratified interracial and intra-racial urban population amid a changing social milieu, such as the rise of the Garvey movement in New York, Detroit and New Orleans; the emergence of both Black industrial workers and Black entrepreneurs; the growing number and variety of urban churches and new religions; new music forms like ragtime, blues and jazz; white backlash as in the Red Summer of 1919; the blossoming of visual and literary arts, as in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Paris in the 1910s and 1920s.
The theme Black Migrations equally lends itself to the exploration of the century’s later decades from spatial and social perspectives, with attention to “new” African Americans because of the burgeoning African and Caribbean population in the U.S.; Northern African Americans’ return to the South; racial suburbanization; inner-city hyperghettoization; health and environment; civil rights and protest activism; electoral politics; mass incarceration; and dynamic cultural production.
Also as we think about Black Migrations we also think about forced migrations, 1619 to 2019 and the consequences of displacement on a people stranded. Michelle Obama says in “Becoming” about her first trip to Africa: “I hadn’t expected to fit in, obviously, but I think I arrived there naively believing I’d feel some visceral connection to the continent I’d grown up thinking of as a sort of mythical motherland, as if going there would bestow on me some feeling of completeness. But Africa, of course, owed us nothing. It’s a curious thing to realize, the in-betweenness one feels being African American in Africa. It gave me a hard-to-explain feeling of sadness, a sense of being unrooted in both lands” (160).
Mrs. Obama is on a U.S. tour with a stop in the Bay at the SAP Center in San Jose, Dec. 16, 8 p.m. The conversation is moderated by Michele Norris. Visit Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama. Tickets range from $95-$126.
29th Annual Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry
“Black Migrations” is the theme of the 29th Annual Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry at the West Oakland Branch Library this Feb. 2, 2019. The rehearsal is Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, at 1801 Adeline St., Oakland.
Holidays at SFJAZZ
Marcus Shelby Orchestra plays Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite with Tiffany Austin and Kenny Washington Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, at 7:30 p.m. in Miner Auditorium, 201 Franklin St. in San Francisco. For tickets, call 866-920-5299.
New Year’s Eve Balloon Drop for the Entire Family at Oakland’s Chabot Space and Science Center
For the 19th year, Chabot Space and Science Center presents balloon drops during the day on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, the whole family can enjoy without staying up late. One of Chabot’s most popular annual events, the Balloon Drops will be held at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. celebrating strokes of midnight around the world. Kids will count down and revel with hundreds of others as colorful balloons drop from above, and they can stay for the day to participate in fun activities throughout the Center. Tickets are $6 ($5 for members) in addition to admission and advance tickets online are encouraged. For more information and tickets, which go on sale Dec. 1, visit www.chabotspace.org.
Lorraine Hansberry Theatre’s Annual Soulful Christmas Gospel Holiday Concert
Lorraine Hansberry Theatre’s Soulful Christmas Gospel Holiday Concert 2018 is at the Buriel Clay Theater, 762 Fulton St. in San Francisco, Thursday, Dec. 13, through Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018. For tickets, visit https://www.lhtsf.org/get-tickets-to-lhtsf.
Cinderella with Soul at African American Shakes
African American Shakespeare Theatre’s Cinderella 2018, directed by Mark Allan Davis, is Dec. 21-23, at the Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness in San Francisco. For tickets, call or visit the City Box Office: 415-392-4400.
The director states in the program notes: “[The Cinderella] story is about dreams, wishes, but most of all, hers is a story about a loving person discovering love in others even while surrounded by disdain. She desires, like so many of us, to have a seat at the table.
“She seeks her ancestors finding strength in memories of her parents while indentured to her father’s widow – her stepmother Evahcruel Stepp and her daughters, Zonita and Shaniqua. Cinderella dreams of dancing at the Prince’s Ball. She calls forth her Fairy Godparent, the wisecracking brother of her Fairy Godmother – who’s away at a Fairy Rights Conference in the Kingdom’s Capital. Cinderella finds she is in accepting and talented hands and the magic ensues!
“Even while disparaged by her family, she never gives up. Isn’t this most of us during the holidays? Don’t we persevere through things we normally just wouldn’t? The holiday travel delays, the gift buying, the agony of waiting in lines. Don’t we move through situations which would make us Scrooge-like, instead of more tolerant, patient and less prone to disparage others? The magic of Cinderella is that she goes high when they go low. And that IS magic these days!”
Celebrating Poet Al Young Thursday, Dec. 27, 6-7:30 p.m., at the Koret Auditorium
Al Young is the consummate literary artist, former California Poet Laureate, teacher, role model and human being whose work spans creative decades. Perhaps one of his many creative gifts is his “Something about the Blues” (2008). Accompanied by a CD, it is almost a biography in poems, taking us back to his origins in Mississippi where the rhythms of his life and work were born. He published the work during National Poetry Month during his tenure as State Poet Laureate. Young moved from the South to the Bay with his guitar in the ‘60s and has been with us ever since. Lucky California (smile).
Join Kim Shuck, San Francisco Poet Laureate, Kim McMillon and others at “Celebrating an Evening With Al Young,” at the Koret Auditorium, at the SF Main Library, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco, to honor Al, who while young in spirit certainly, has longevity. His life and work speak eloquently.
At an age when many friends are departing, it’s time to wrap our arms around Al and let him feel the love and appreciation we have for him. We want to count him among our blessings as poets pour literary libations at his feet. It’s a free event. I am listening to a lovely interview with Al on NPR. Visit https://www.npr.org/books/titles/138239448/something-about-the-blues-an-unlikely-collection-of-poetry.
Staged Reading of Colman Domingo’s ‘DOT’
Theatre Rhinoceros and Lorraine Hansberry Theatre present a free staged reading of “DOT” by Colman Domingo, directed by Darryl V. Jones, Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m. at 55 Laguna in San Francisco.
The holidays are always a wild family affair at the Shealy house. But this year, Dotty and her three grown children gather with more than exchanging presents on their minds. As Dotty struggles to hold on to her memory, her children must fight to balance care for their mother and care for themselves.
This twisted and hilarious new play grapples unflinchingly with aging parents, midlife crises and the heart of a West Philly neighborhood.
Oakland East Bay Symphony’s Swing and Soul: Let Us Break Bread Together 2018
Michael Morgan’s “inspired, multifarious, musical bash” Swing and Soul: Let Us Break Bread Together, this year, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, 4 p.m., at the Paramount Theatre, takes its inspiration from the peerless soul of Nina Simone and the boogie-woogie of Fats Domino. Special guests abound in this annual rollicking holiday party. The concert features The Dynamic Ms. Faye Carol, Martin Luther McCoy, Adam Theis, Jazz Mafia, Vocal Rush, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Mt. Eden High School Concert Choir, Oakland Symphony Chorus and more. For tickets, visit https://www.oaklandsymphony.org/, the Paramount Theatre Box Office or call 510-444-0802.
Barry Jenkins’ ‘Beale Street’
“If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018), Barry Jenkins’ latest work, opens with prescient thoughts from Prophet Baldwin about a New Orleans street, Beale Street, a street found in all municipalities where Black men, Black women, Black people are seen and found wanting in the human scale. Such a street can have any name because Beale Street is an attitude that says: “You have no rights white people have to honor or acknowledge,” especially white men with badges.
Actor Stephan James (Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt) is brilliant in his depiction of this young man who dares love out loud his beautiful Black queen. In an interview, Barry Jenkins said he had the two leads read for chemistry. They clicked right off, so the Fonny in the screen adaptation is a darker complexioned man. The director was not going to disrupt the flow of things.
What one sees in Jenkins’s “Beale Street” is Black love in all its melanin complex beauty. KiKi Layne’s Tish Rivers stares from natural, untreated Black hair heaven into the eyes of a beautiful Black man, Fonny, whom she loves and trusts. Trust is important. It’s something Tish sees between her father and mother. It is not something one sees between the members of the Hunt family.
Barry Jenkins says “Beale Street” is a love story and as in all such stories, sometimes the train gets derailed, yet love sets it back on track. He says he wrote “Moonlight” in three weeks whereas “Beale Street” took five to write. “Baldwin’s language more complicated to adapt.” However, audiences will agree, it is more what isn’t said that moves the brilliant screen play, which does not follow verbatim the novel.
There really is no rewriting Baldwin; however, to give the images and world Tish and Fonny occupy flesh and let them walk for two hours among us is what Jenkins does so well here, given the carefully selected actors who pull it off. It is so great to see Regina King as Tish’s mom, Mrs. Sharon Rivers.
There is another love story here as well, Sharon’s and Joseph Rivers, her husband, portrayed by Mr. Colman Domingo. Joseph Rivers has many tender moments with Tish who needs reassuring often that her love for Fonny is a good thing. He holds his daughter after a bout with nausea, tea warming on the table. Her mom is there when Tish awakens from a nightmare with a reminder that love made the baby she carries.
Then there is big sister Ernestine Rivers portrayed by Teyonah Parris, who tells her kid sister to unbow her head when she, 19, tells her family over a toast she is carrying Fonny’s child, the father, 22, at this point captured by a system booby-trapped for Black flesh. The Rivers family buffers the younger family.
The Rivers’ survival and even the Hunts’ survival all these years, despite its colonial dysfunction portrayed well by the female dynasty headed by matriarch Mrs. Hunt (actress Aunjanue Ellis), is why Beale Street exists in the first place. All American streets are extensions of temporal docks, gang planks our ancestors walked across to this shore.
These two families, including daughters Adrienne and Sheila Hunt, portrayed well by Ebony Obsidian and Dominique Thorne, are the reason why Tish and Vonny exist. We see this often in the narrative scene Tish shares of her younger self and Fonny taking a bubble bath. They are because their people are.
Fonny learns early on that freedom is not determined by one’s circumstances – that one’s parents can be enslaved, but this does not mean he has to be. Fonny says he doesn’t like the term artist, but his ability to imagine something else is what allows him to carve an escape route into another body – wood then flesh. He dreams big dreams of a loft in an area of town Black where people are denied access; he sees the child Tish carries before the child’s birth; he also imagines a world where Black men are respected, despite white hatred and Black fear, which he refuses to imagine.
As Fonny and Tish mature and fall in love, the Rivers and Fonny’s father Frank Hunt (actor Michael Beach) keep the world steady, stable, safe for their children whom they love with all their heart and soul. It is this promise that keeps Fonny alive when captured; it is this promise that allows Tish to stay hopeful for the baby she carries who too wants some of that Hunt-Rivers love. Water is also a theme in the work as is its presence in most Diaspora stories – in this way, Jenkins nods to August Wilson, his more immediate heir, as Baldwin perhaps nods to Langston Hughes, another Harlemite who too “has known rivers … ancient rivers.”
Rivers are the place where our souls are nurtured and fed. Hughes, at 17, writes as he crosses the Mississippi River on a train to visit his dad in Mexico, a dad who abandoned his family: “I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. /”My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
Fonny is accused of raping a Puerto Rican mother; however, Fonny’s crime, as is his friend, Daniel Carty (actor Brian Tyree Henry), confirms when he is released is these arrests are more a plot to instill fear into Black men so that they willingly surrender their souls. So Daniel is charged with stealing a car, when he cannot drive. He takes a plea because he has marijuana on his person.
Jenkins’s Beale Street examines closely the institution of legal slavery called prison and these characters inability to avoid capture on streets littered with landmines.
Nonetheless, Fonny loves his girl Tish unabashedly as he chisels a world in his image, this dynamic in direct opposition to a paradigm that believes Black women, his Black woman is a commodity for consumption – his fist an appetizer. Fonny does not let anyone hurt his girl.
He tells Tish when she tries to shield him from a police officer, that he is the protector, not her. One wonders later if his ego lands him in prison, the officer getting back at the young man for standing up to him at the store where Tish is accosted. Fonny stares down Officer Bell (actor Ed Skrein) as he gives him his address when asked. It is an uneasy moment.
The uneasiness institutionalized racism introduces into what is this wonderful celebratory moment for both Tish and Fonny to start their own family is something both Baldwin, Hughes and Jenkins (if you know his “Moonlight”) attest to, as does Fonny. It is a fire in paradise burning long after the forest is abandoned.
Like Jonestown, Guyana, 40 years ago littered with hundreds of Black bodies, voices are silenced and forgotten except for art. Both fictional and real members of this Beale Street fraternity agree that art is a tool for liberation, that and, of course, love. The film opens in theatres Dec. 14.
40th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre
On the morning of the Nov. 18, the 40th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre, Dr. Jynona Norwood chartered a bus from Los Angeles to transport the three panels honoring the People’s Temple members massacred at Jonestown. For the past 40 years she has been a lone voice in the wilderness calling the names of the 917 people killed there.
Earlier in the program the panels were arranged incorrectly. Dr. Norwood, stopped the service and had her friends place them correctly. It is unfortunate that the plaques cannot remain. The faces of the 305 children are so beautiful. After the service concluded, as Ms. Catherine Mazzuco sang, family and supporters filed by the memorial as many stopped to find in the exhaustive list their loved ones’ names and photos.
Giovanni Rodgers and her sister, Mary Johnson Rodgers, lost seven family members at Jonestown. They grew up in Bayview. She was only a year old when the massacre took place. Her Uncle Poncho Johnson, a musician, would send messages to the family before he was killed.
Later that afternoon, once the dedication to the 305 children killed at Jonestown concluded, Jim Jones Jr. waited with others to set up their memorial to his father. Dr. Norwood said to desecrate the site with Jim Jones’ name was like having Hitler’s name at the site where Jews were interned.
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.