by Wanda Sabir
Happy birthday to the June Geminis and Cancers. Happy Solstice and safe travels to all those Returning to the Motherland this 400 Year Anniversary Celebration and Remembrance.
On the fly
SFDocFest 2019 is May 29-June 13 at the Roxie and Brava. There are many African and African Diaspora films this year, local films too. Don’t miss “Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts”; “Soar Torian Soar”; “Circles”; “Recorder”; “Our Bodies Our Doctors”; “A Growing Thing”; “Barstow, CA; The Land of High Mountains”; “Dusty Groove” (listen to blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks, where you can listen to interviews with directors).
‘Coffee, Rhum, Sugar & Gold’ at MoAD
The Museum of the African Diaspora’s “Coffee, Rhum, Sugar & Gold,” curated by Dexter Wimberly and Larry Ossei-Mensah, continues through Aug. 11. In this exhibit, which deconstructs visually across a range of materials and expressions utilizing iron gates dipped in porcelain, sugar coated hymnals, sacred texts, rosaries, shredded cardboard matts, beaded tapestries … Wimberly instructed docents to encourage patrons to read the carefully crafted texts near the art before posing a question.
There is also work which uses video, almost like flashback or return to a time before freedom. All the work queries colonialism and its stain on Blackness and how indelible is the damage. We see this query played out in artist’s choices and revisited here after meeting with negative criticism elsewhere. The public gets used to seeing an artist work in a certain way and resists change, berates the creator for the rupture. I am happy Angel Otero, Puerto Rican artist, who lives and works in Chicago and New York, persisted anyway. The wrought iron gates remind me of railing, balconies, staircases in New Orleans and Haiti and West Oakland.
A special series of films from the Caribbean Diaspora, “Still Here,” is presented in three parts: May 8-June 9, June 12-July 14, and July 17-Aug. 11. “Still Here” explores stories of migration, displacement and survival in films by eight artists who represent a spectrum of the African Diaspora. In addition to these films in MoAD’s theatre, free after admission, Cornelius Moore has curated Caribbean in Motion Film Series which begins Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m., July 10-August 7. MoAD is located at 685 Mission at Third Street in San Francisco.
Dignity Images: Bayview Hunters Point is also up in the first floor gallery through Aug. 11. Curated by American Artist, the work looks at how the selfie blurs the line between private and public. Does social media desecrate or malign the self-image? How is integrity maintained where there is no space for reflection? In walks American Artist with the idea of “dignity image.” It is a personal image that is not shared via social media. Philosophically, this image that is withheld is “a nonverbal assertion of agency,” it is a “performative persona of self.” The exhibit is curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah and Emily Kuhlmann and the workshops take place in Bayview Hunters Point, supposedly “the Most Isolated Neighborhood in San Francisco.”
I am not sure if Bayview residents would agree. Given Joanna Haigood’s Zaccho Dance Theatre’s “Picture This: Bayview Hunter’s Point,” the performance piece that incorporated dance, video interviews, music and other texts into a work that excavated the stories and lives of a community left unexplored – a rich community James Baldwin visited at the height of the ‘60s unrest. Take This Hammer is the film KQED made documenting the conversation with the youth – elders now.
When I spoke to American Artist, they told me that they worked with youth at BAYCAT. I think the oldest participant is 65-70? Everyone was familiar with cell phones and social media. In the exhibit, though, artists share their “dignity images,” which seems to defeat the purpose (smile). There is a video playing which shows American Artist and youth talking about their work. Interesting the idea of dignity image juxtaposed with that of commodities traded for human life. African labor created the wealth colonial subjects borrow – what a twisted fate. African descendants in the Diaspora and in Africa, borrow what we rightfully own plus interest.
Let’s Talk: National Day of Drumming and Healing June 19
This year on June 19, the day when Africans in Texas learned that they were free, also marks a recognition of the 400 Year Anniversary of the first Africans enslaved in America. From Angola, these Africans landed at Ft. Comfort, Virginia, in August 1619. Congress has enacted a bill and elected a 400 Commission to mark this historic moment with a program: “Let’s Talk – National Day of Drumming and Healing.” Throughout the country on June 19 there will be activities honoring African Ancestors of the Middle Passage.
In Oakland, 5:30 to 9 p.m., at Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th St. in downtown Oakland, we will be screening the film “Sankofa,” directed by Haile Gerima, followed by a facilitated conversation. Come early, 5 p.m., and you can make a drum or rattle. The event is free; however, donations are welcome.
San Francisco Bay Area Juneteenth 2019
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery. It was on June 19 that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that all slaves were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official on Jan. 1, 1863. This day is celebrated by African Americans in honor of their ancestors, who received notice of being set free on June 19, 1865.
Juneteenth Freedom Celebrations take place throughout the month of June throughout the state; however, we have a lot going on in Northern California from San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Richmond to Sacramento, Vallejo, Emeryville, San Jose and Folsom. Allensworth has a regular program on Juneteenth. The park is open 10-4 daily.
Earlier in the month, on Saturday, June 8, 11-1, Omnira Institute will host its Annual Juneteenth Ritual of Remembrance at Lake Merritt near the Boat House. All are welcome.
Earlier that morning is the Annual International Libations for African Ancestors of the Middle Passage, also at Lake Merritt at 9 a.m. Please arrive by 8:30 a.m. and wear white. This ritual remembrance is for people of African descent. Our special guest, Baba Michael Khubaka Harris will share California stories of emancipation and freedom and sacred ancestral sites like the burial ground in the San Francisco Presidio where 100s of Buffalo Soldiers are buried, as well as the story of a 17-18th century African American church in San Francisco’s Union Square.
Two Juneteenth Events in Folsom – June 8 and June 29
The first is the 2019 Folsom Juneteenth, “Reclaiming the Past: Pan African Heritage” along the American River Parkway on June 8 at 10:30. The second is “Reclaiming the Past: 2019 Negro Bar Juneteenth Celebration of Pan African Heritage in Early California History,” the 170th Anniversary of Negro Bar, Alta California, Saturday, June 29, at 10:30 am, in Negro Bar State Park, Folsom, California 95630.
Together, we will explore Chinese, Russian, Mormon, Miwoc, Mexican and other cultural stakeholder groups who originally lived in the town Negro Bar beginning in 1849, the original Gold Mining District. Our collective and authentic legacy throughout the Folsom Lake National Recreational Area remains the greatest California Gold Rush story never told. Come celebrate freedom with our festive beach fashion show and party.
Juneteenth at Berkeley Art Museum, Pacific Film Archive
Berkeley Art Museum, Pacific Film Archive celebrates Juneteenth with a screening and discussion at 12 noon featuring artist Mildred Howard, whose work is on view in “About Things Loved: Blackness and Belonging.” Following a presentation of the new documentary, “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” the artist joins in conversation with Leigh Raiford, UC Berkeley associate professor of African American studies, and Lawrence Rinder, BAMPFA director and chief curator.
A 30-minute film by award-winning producer, director and editor Pam Uzzell, “Welcome to the Neighborhood” explores Mildred Howard’s long family roots in the Bay Area and the impact of gentrification on local residents. Howard’s mother, Mabel Howard, moved to San Francisco during World War II and became part of the growing community of African Americans in South Berkeley, where she spearheaded many significant political and community projects. Today, her renowned artist daughter Mildred can no longer afford to live in her lifelong home city.
BAMPFA is located at 2155 Center St. Berkeley, 510-642-0808, firstname.lastname@example.org, https://bampfa.org/event/screening-and-discussion-welcome-neighborhood.
Juneteenth Celebration at Allensworth
Hosted by Friends of Allensworth, the celebration is June 8, 2019, 10-4. Visit http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=583. There’s great entertainment, great speakers and, of course, fabulous free tours of the historic buildings, given by the Friends of Allensworth docents. Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park is located at 4011 Grant Dr., Earlimart CA 93219, 661-849-3433.
“In the Town” is June 15, 12-6 p.m., at Eastmont Town Center Parking Lot, 73rd and Bancroft, Oakland. It’s free.
Join California Black Agriculture Working Group and guests for a special 2019 National Juneteenth Freedom Day Tour beginning in the lobby of the SF Presidio Officers Club as we explore our unique past, present and future at the SF Presidio. Together, we will explore the role San Francisco played in the National Underground Network to Freedom, Wednesday, June 19, 4-6 p.m., at the Presidio Officers’ Club, 50 Moraga Ave., San Francisco 94129.
89th Annual San Francisco Juneteenth Parade and Festival
2019 marks the 89th year Juneteenth has been celebrated in San Francisco. This year, it’s on Fillmore between Geary Boulevard and Golden Gate on Saturday, June 15, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Parade is at 11 a.m. Visit http://sfjuneteenth.com/.
This year’s parade is dedicated to Rachel Townsend, the stalwart leader of San Francisco’s Juneteenth, who passed away earlier this year. In her honor, the parade has been renamed the Rachel Brooke Townsend San Francisco Juneteenth Parade. Bring the family and come spend a day celebrating African American culture and community.
Grown Women Dance Collective’s Juneteenth Celebration through Dance
“Fallen Heroes, Rising Stars: A Juneteenth Celebration Through Dance” celebrates Grown Women Dance Collective’s 10th Anniversary. Performances are June 22 at 6:30 p.m. and June 23 at 2 p.m., Tickets are $25-$35, available through Eventbrite.
SF African American Chamber of Commerce Annual Juneteenth Awards
This year’s topic is “The Future of African American Businesses – Shifting the Paradigm,” on Friday, June 28, 6-9:30 p.m., in the Green Room at the War Memorial Veterans Building, second floor, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Tickets are available through Eventbrite.
Family First Foundation’s Juneteenth
We Are Connected by Our Roots presents its 12th Annual Juneteenth Celebration in Oakland, Saturday, June 22. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., outside the West Oakland Youth Center, 3233 Market St., Oakland. It’s free.
A Juneteenth Lunchtime Drag Queen Story Hour
Drag Queen Story Hour, featuring Beatrice L. Thomas, aka Black Benatar, is just what it sounds like – drag queens reading stories to children. DQSH captures the imagination and play of the gender-fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real.
Come to a special Juneteenth celebration and bring a picnic lunch to enjoy in the park. All ages welcome: June 19, 12:30-1:30 p.m., suggested donation $10, at the Berkeley Art Center, 1275 Walnut St., Berkeley.
32nd Annual Berkeley Juneteenth Festival
On Sunday, June 16, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., in the Alcatraz-Adeline Corridor at Adeline and Alcatraz Avenue, Berkeley will be celebrating African American culture and traditions with great entertainment, food, kid zone, arts and crafts and more.
38th Annual Juneteenth in the Park Festival in San Jose
The African American Community Service Agency presents its 38th Annual Juneteenth in the Park Festival in San Jose Saturday, June 15, 12-7 p.m., at Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park, 194 South Market St., San Jose. Kids 12 and under enter for free all day; general admission is free before 1 p.m., $10 after. A VIP ticket is $25. Visit www.bayareajuneteenth.org, call 408-292-3157 or email email@example.com.
AACSA Sankofa Open Mic Night is Friday, June 13, 6-8:30 p.m., at the Continental Bar, Lounge and Patio, 349 S. First St., San Jose. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The purpose of the event: “If you got something to say, say something” – elevating the voices of young adults and creative minds to express themselves through spoken word, song and rhythm. You must be 21 or older. The cost is $10.
2019 Juneteenth at the State Capitol Celebration
Celebrate Wednesday, June 19, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., on the California State Capitol’s West Steps, 10th Street and Capitol Mall Drive. Juneteenth at the State Capitol honors the ancient ones, focusing on our Pan African heritage during Spanish, Mexican and U.S. influences along our journey toward freedom. Together, we will celebrate the special year 1865 and invite all our relations to join the 2019 Juneteenth Celebration of Freedom.
1619-2019 marks a very special occasion to commemorate 400 years of enslavement and affliction since the first shipment of human cargo, prisoners of war, from the Kwanza River in Angola, was hijacked on the open sea in the Bay of Campache, Mexico, and brought to the English Colony along the St. James River in today’s Virginia. Today, on Juneteenth, we celebrate the past, present and future of our very unique California Pan African Heritage.
2019 Stockton Juneteenth Heritage Tour
“Voices to be Heard” will celebrate the amazing legacy left by our ancestors and elders, as we continue a long and difficult journey towards freedom. The tour is Friday, June 7, 6-8 p.m., and starts at the historic Elk Street Colored School, 300 S. Monroe St., Stockton, CA 95203.
The historic Port of Stockton community was a major station in the California segment of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, part of the “Lost Story.” Join us and discover how the historic Stockton Waterfront District provided refuge for free and enslaved people of Pan African ancestry before, during and after the establishment of the City of Stockton in 1849, the dawn of the California Gold Rush Era.
The Black Church and responsible civic organizations anchor the research and documentation of the journey towards freedom. Block 27 of the Stockton Rural Cemetery is where our ancestors are buried; sharing their collective history will begin to speak again, in profound ways, to modern day victims of the “Lost Story.”
Juneteenth Soul Food Dinner
At Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement, 5959 Shellmound St., Emeryville, she says: “My family came to San Francisco and the Bay Area from Port Arthur, Texas. They were part of a wave of Southerners in the Great Migration that decided to set out for a place that they could call their own. Juneteenth, celebrated every year on June 19, marks the 1865 announcement of the abolition of slavery in that very state, Texas. For me, it’s a time to reflect, to gather with family and both to celebrate what we have achieved and to take note of all that remains to be done.”
This dinner is to celebrate the multi-year lease for her business. She has invited her favorite “chef collaborators” for the dinner and some of her most respected community leaders to share some of their perspectives on Juneteenth and what it means to be Black in the Bay. All profits will be donated to Dusty’s Fishing Well, in support of their work with Black youth in the Bay Area.
Flyway Productions’s ‘The Wait Room,’ a review and reflection
Flyway Productions’s “The Wait Room,” which premiered in San Francisco April 19-27, and May 17-18 in Richmond, looks at the effects of incarceration on family members left behind, specifically women. Jo Kreiter, director and choreographer of the work, brought in collaborators from Essie Justice to provide stories which Pamela Z then mixed with music to create a literal landscape wherein dancers perform on a tilting set shifting both by the weight of dancers flying as well as other dancers moving the set on its axis. “The Wait Room” was quite remarkable, especially opening night as inclement weather pushed both dancers, choreographer, designers and audience close to its collective edges. I wasn’t the only person sitting on the edge of her seat.
Kreiter’s reflective choreography served discursive ends as dancers explored in text and form the difficulties inherent in an imaginal carceral structure. The somatic dissonance these women and children experience daily communicated in the flying broken falls frozen attempts at embrace: What happens when a person loses a loved one or a loved one is taken away, out of touch beyond their physical reach?
On both sides of the aisle, cell, room, children, wives, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, allies – wait. The audience listens to the clock tick … as we all wait for the score to repeat the refrain between movements: “And so you’re waiting, waiting hours, two to three days, it felt like forever. … I showed up visiting him. I didn’t know the rules. I would try going once a week; it’s 400 miles. The process of getting to him, it made me so uncomfortable. I remember holding my breath. So much nervousness. And so you’re waiting. No, you can’t go in. No, you can wear those pants. My dad’s hand was on the other side of the glass. I didn’t know the rules and they change between visits.”
It was a cold night in San Francisco. All my invited friends canceled that evening to join me. I nodded understandably as the winds blew through my thin lining. However, once the performance began, the stories the artists told across a landscape that is visceral and emotional and caustic all at once, I’d like to say, I became a bit warmer– nope (smile). It even started to mist. Jo said she came really close to canceling opening night, but I am happy she didn’t.
As the sun set in the distance, dancers sat in chairs, some high on the pole that was the center of the clock, which ticked … time a casualty in a war where race, gender and economics convict certain babies before birth. All of a sudden, the captive mother who throws herself over the side of the slave ship is understood. She refuses to sit lie stay bound to uncertainty. The weight destroys happiness and joy. New life is a weight she cannot fathom – the unknown too much to contemplate. Waiting Room? What will the pronouncement be?
In Pamela Z’s score, we hear women speak of being turned away after traveling so far to see their loved one. Others share special moments once the wait is over and they are in the visiting room. Sentencing is not singular. It affects the person taken from home and his or her family too. Kreiter’s “The Wait Room” shares stories of consolidated loss capitalized: individual, family, community, nation, yet Clarissa Dyas’s flight in the last movement reflects both defiance and strength. These women who wait are not going to give up or give over their loved ones.
The performance was across the street from UN Plaza in San Francisco, then moved to Richmond, California. It heads to New York Sept. 20, where it will be performed outside Sing Sing Prison. “The Wait Room,” a site specific dance honoring women with incarcerated loved ones, is Part 1 of “The Decarceration Trilogy: Dismantling the Prison Industrial Complex One Dance at a Time.” It is also, Jo says, her most intimate work to date, as it explores a private aspect of her life. She also spent many years as a woman who “waited.” The marvelous dancers are Bianca Cabrera, Clarissa Dyas, Laura Elaine Ellis, Sonsherée Giles, MaryStarr Hope, Megan Lowe with lighting designer Jack Beuttler and costume designer Jamielyn Duggan.
The late poet, Sekou Sundiata wrote about the illegitimacy of flesh, people who occupy this skin: “Somebody-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body had to stop you. I watch the news. You always lose. You’re unreliable. That’s undeniable. You’re dangerous. You’re dangerous. You’re unreliable. You’re on the news. You always lose. I could wake up in the mornin’ and without warnin’ my world could change. Blink your eyes. All depends on the skin, all depends on the skin you’re livin’ in.” I could add, all depends on how much money in your pocket and if you have a place to rest your head.
“The Wait Room” is performed just next door to ACT’s Strand Theatre. The alley is fenced off, but there is a doorway with a table where volunteers hand out free tickets. Inside there is a stage, which is lit. A clock on its back … chairs bolted to the surface, a center pole with rope, another chair placed midway up and then there is a chair that moves.
Stadium seating surrounds the stage. Center stage back row is the best seat in the house; however, all the seats, particularly the last rows, are best.
The story is one of women and girls who have loved ones in prison or jail. Their voices are a part of Pamela Z’s soundtrack – the chorus clock ticking and the words “we’re waiting.” Women and girls talk about the visiting room, but mostly about the indignity they suffer to see their sons, fathers, brothers, husbands. I don’t recall stories about visiting mothers or sisters or daughters. Such stories exist and this is Part 1 of a larger work.
The six dancers take the audience through seven scenes: Visiting, Father, Partner, Son; Economics; Race; Shame; Change; This is a Love Story. My favorite parts were Economics, Race and This is a Love Story – has to be a love story, right? How else could these women keep pushing against the forces that are trying to keep families apart if they were not inspired and supported by a force greater and more noble than the systemic violence that is the carceral complex?
The women are resisting systemic annihilation, while the dancers push against the stage structure which is heavy and awkward. It takes teamwork – organized movement – to keep each other safe and to exercise a bit of control on the massive structure that is the criminalizing system masked as justice. The dancer on the stage makes the pendulum tilt from side to side and as it moved dancers fly on ropes from one side to another. Chairs serve as meridians or landmarks in an uncertain future. And so we wait.
The waiting is a place of vulnerability and powerlessness as is the entire visiting process. Women talk about the invasive body searches they undergo to visit, the cost of phone calls and commissary. No bargaining with the Department of Corrections, families pay the exorbitant prices or their loved one goes without.
Certain gestures are repeated like the counting on fingers … the passage of time as one waits, hands hitting palms like Rock Paper Scissors. The desire to visit overrides the indignity. Just listening to women who are denied a visit because a bra has underwire, a child because she is wearing shorts. Women talk about the distance traveled only to be sent home. A child talks about her visit to see her father.
However, the vision of Clarissa Dyas flying freely– completely letting go and letting spirit take her elsewhere, even if briefly, is wonderful to witness. Her flight is the promise – it is what those women and children who wait hope for, a time when their loved one will also move beyond bounds.
I needed to see the work again to be more conversant about the composition; however, I didn’t make it back to SF or Richmond. Hmm, maybe I will catch it at Sing Sing, Sept. 20-22, at 354 Hunter St, Ossining, NY (smile).
Listen to three interviews: 1) Jo Kreiter; 2) Jo with dancer Laura Elaine Ellis, Catalina “Caty” Palacios and Tanea Lunsford Lynx, members of Essie Justice; and 3) the creative team, Pamela Z and Sean Riley.
Sister Sadie Williams, 95, artist
These are pictures my 95-year-old friend, Sister Sadie Williams, drew. She had a solo art show at Pacific Oakland Heights, Assisted Living Community, last month. She is a wonderful photographer; however, when I got the invitation with Lassie, the famous collie, enclosed, I was amazed at how life-like the dog looked. I hadn’t known Sister Sadie was taking drawing classes, but I am not surprised. Sister Sadie is always trying new creative ventures. I attended a really fun music class with her one afternoon at Pacifica. We sang, played percussion instruments and raised a joyful and in tune noise (smile). It’s hard to imagine that Sister Sadie is the matriarch of five generations of family and friends. This is why her guests were such a blended melting pot.
Friends came to see her whom she’d known as children. Retired jurist the Hon. Horace Wheatley with his sisters stayed a while chatting. Sister Sadie’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Theon Johnson III, at Downs United Methodist Church was laughing and joking with her and Judge Wheatley. The 10 drawings in colored pencil had titles like “Unconditional Love,” “Nature’s Jewel,” “Happy Companion,” “Music Opens …,” “Looking Through,” “Breakfast Feast,” “Walk in the Shadow,” “To Be Filled” and “Harvest Gold.” The quilt lying across a chair is for her first great, great grandchild. The fabric pattern indicates the family comes under her umbrella.
In trying to figure out my favorite drawing, I have to say the dog. I like the tomatoes– I can almost smell them from the page, but the dog looks so real I could pretend I have a furry companion if ever I feel lonely. I didn’t see any prices, so I don’t know if the work is available; however, if anyone is interested, let me know, and I will pass on the word to the artist.
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 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.