The 30th annual Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry: It’s nothing short of amazing … this grace

If you missed her, Nicia De’Loverly, poet, shown here attending the 30th anniversary poetry celebration, is performing Friday, Feb. 7, 7-8:30 p.m., at 2301 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. Happy Birthday, Nicia. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

by Wanda Sabir

This poem is water
It is palm wine to the ancestors
Ones with heads up, lips parted
Utterance stuck in throat
It is fresh water with peppermint
It is nommo
Words into flesh
A magic hue
Sun kissed by time

This poem is libation to
30 years and 30 first Saturdays in West Oakland

18th and Adeline

Sometimes we sang happy birthday to
Langston Hughes – Feb. 1
Bob Marley – Feb. 6
Jamal Ali – Feb. 6

Vaughn Boatner, Damu Sudi Alii and Garrett Murphy were there Feb. 1. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Mr. Nathaniel Kilgore – rhetorician, Berkeley grad. Now that man knew words. Lived at Oak Center 1 Apartments, rode his bike when Black men were not riding bikes, wearing bike tights, cycling shoes, gloves and a helmet – in bright orange he was cool and visible. He taught me to own the street before bike lanes … before biking while Black became an anomaly. 

Ashay to Mr. Kilgore

Ashay to Lee Williams, who listened to trees, and to Joy Holland. who arrived with bags packed for Africa filled with African American legacy: fountain pens, stop lights, telephones, telegraph machines, home security systems, cure for polio, Black beauty supplies, blood transfusion, paper bags, ironing boards, computer operating systems, showers and portable heaters, air conditioners, gas masks and peanut butter.

Garrett Morgan Sr.’s stop light and gas mask; Madam CJ Walker’s African American haircare line; Lewis Howard Latimer’s light filament and telephone; Sarah Boone’s ironing board; William B. Purvis fountain pen and paper bags; Marie Van Brittan Brown’s home security system; Dr. Charles Drew’s work with blood plasma, blood banks; Dr. Daniel Hale’s open heart surgery and Henrietta Lacks’ immortal cells cure for polio, HPV-18 (human papillomavirus 18), herpes, leukemia, influenza, hemophilia, Parkinson’s disease, certain types of genetic diagnoses, cancer, AIDS.

Heroes of the struggle Gene Howell Jr. and Avotcja, came to celebrate poetry at the West Oakland Library Feb. 1. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Ashay, Ashay to these inventors whose parents were often formerly enslaved, didn’t always have the opportunities we have now to attend school yet they accomplished so much. 

Ashay to mixed media artist and poet Arnold White for his “Oaktown” and “Bag Lady.” Arnold would host the Poetry Celebration after party at his North Oakland Galleria. 

Ashay to poet ancestors Richard Brown, Shahid, Monica Pree, Kamau Seitu, Sister Umus Salaama, Brother Omowale “A Love Supreme” Cutten. Melvin Dickson was a friend of Edy Boone, who introduced us. Melvin gave me my first poetry gig. I wrote a poem for the Huey P. Newton Libation at deFremery Park 31 years ago – the year before Richard Moore and I sat down with the West Oakland Branch Librarian – Southern Black Woman who went into her petty cash drawer to make this program possible

Libations for the poets still here: Avotcja, Gene, Karla, Makeda, Najeeba Jaja. Call your own names … We pour to the collective presence and say Ashay

This liquid amber is for the safe arrival of precious cargo. . . so many ancestors

Young poets honored us with their presence. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Ashay for Ms. Delilah Beasley, maverick Oakland Tribune journalist and civil rights activist who recorded California’s African trailblazers and their fight against the slave trade

Imagine slavery in a state named after a Black Queen Califia?

This water is for the oceans traveled and those who jumped or were tossed over … we remember you and honor your presence here today


What’s left of the stew is the roux what we use to start over … it contains the secret sauce passed through blood and bone cross lineages tied in knots and then hidden away for times like this

To those within the sound of my voice, reach into those forgotten sacred places and say Ashay

This pot liquor is for days like this. It is the balm not in Jerusalem or even Elmina … it is California conjuring by way of Louisiana and Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas … migratory patterns – like birds searching for a place to nest, our ancestors came West

The salve smooths wrinkled minds and calms what trembles. It also contains medicine for what is scattered or diseased, chafed or scarred. It lives in our African souls and is self-rejuvenating

Touch it and say Ashay

The Poetry Celebration, always intergenerational, is older than these poets. In meeting them, the elders learn where poetry is going, and the youth learn they have shoulders to stand on. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Catch the butter trickling down your chin after a plate of pancakes with syrup granny sent Peaches to the tree to tap or perhaps to the hive where one queen bows to the other – a royal exchange 

We pour this sticky sweetness, this flavored staff of life, this everything we are … we – tree people, honey-bee people, dry-bones walking ‘cross water people – are here because our ancestors believed in something … got to believe in something

Why not believe in Blackness 

Ancestors are names on ledgers carved into our hearts
We are they and they are we


This libation is for Piri Thomas, Sarah Webster Fabio, Pat Parker, Zora Neale Hurston, Jimmy Baldwin, Mary Ellen Pleasant, Ms. Biddy Mason, Ruth Waddy, Noah Purifoy, Col. Allen Allensworth, Brigadier General Charles Young, Edsel Matthews, Koncepts Cultural Gallery; Ben Hazzard, artist, professor, Reginald Lockett, Juke Box Press, Unofficial Poet Laureate Oakland, CA – He said Yes … 

It is for James Weldon Johnson and the Hon. Noble Drew Ali, Hon. Marcus Garvey, the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, Dr. George Washington Carver and Dr. Carter G. Woodson … Here’s to Sojourner Truth and General Harriett Tubman Ross too


400 years 500 years after the first kidnap and the last
We are … still here

This libation is the sound of silences heated with heartbeats we invoke with this ashay … this bit of matter … this piece of Atlantis … along a crooked trail of tears spilling, overflowing into waterways south and west – (Indian and Pacific)

Here we are together on Langston Hughes’ Birthday weekend again. . . Friday, Feb. 1, 2002 a stamp was released and we celebrated – Gwen Ifill, maverick journalist is honored today, Forever.

Libations for the reunion 1525-1672 in California and in Virginia 1619-2019:

400 years 500 years after the first kidnap and the last
We are … still here

A people whose ancestors built America yet earn no royalties. The note is due and copyright pending. We are a people who do not believe in sampling.

In the Poetry Celebration group photo, from left are Mama Makeda Esi, Karla Brundage, Avotcja, Guest, Jimi Evins, Makmud Murray, Thamsanqa Hlatywayo, Ms. Emma, Reginald Alexander, Garrett Murphy, Dr. Juanita Alexander, Zakkiyah Capehart Bolling, Bryant Bolling, Baba Saa Shem, Wanda Sabir, Khalilah El Amin, Gene Howell Jr. and Charles Curtis Blackwell. – Photo: Children’s Librarian Celia Jackson

1990-2020 we are still here

In Oakland – Oaktown, a city that could and did because Africans came, settled and stayed, from Harriett Smith aka Makinya Kouyate’s family from Madagascar to Jenny Prentice, Jack London’s Black Madonna – he loved this woman: wet nurse, surrogate mother; to the Hon. William Alexander Leidesdorff founding African father of this state and of the City across the Bay

We are
It is – all of this is possible
Because of Allah, God, Olodumare 

Amazing grace

©January 2020

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at Visit her website at 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