Wanda’s Picks for August 2020

by Wanda Sabir

We are losing so many loved ones this year. Beloved heroes like Rep. John Lewis (Feb. 21, 1940-July 17, 2020) and his friend and mentor Rev. C.T. Vivian (July 30, 1924-July 17, 2020) and Rev. Joseph Lowery (Oct. 6, 1921-March 27,2020), dean of the Civil Rights Movement.

Denise Gums, well-loved wonder woman

Here in Oakland, we lost Wonder Woman Denise Adele Gums (Oct. 26, 1953-July 22, 2020). I met Denise when President Aristide was in exile. I think I sat next to her and after chatting at the event with her about Haitian politics, I could tell this was a sister I wanted to know. Her work, grounded in Christ or God consciousness, like aforementioned honored ancestors, looked at African Diaspora unity. Denise saw the church as a sanctuary and its role one of liberation theology.

Denise Gums

She wore colorful wraps, baubles on her wrists and hoops dangling from ears. Denise’s smile, even masked, was palatable. Oaktown to the core, the eldest of four, she attended Oakland public schools, Bishop O’Dowd High School, class of 1971. She then attended Holy Names College.

A woman who knew how to have fun while working for systemic change, Denise worked as a community organizer and always knew where the pulse was on an issue. Denise was well-loved in the African immigrant community here and abroad and was first call for current events whether that was China’s treatment of African immigrants or COVID-19 in Congo. She got the information and immediately sent it out.

She was first to model African-centered face masks, riding the bus to Berkeley to support an African woman-owned business. A founding member of Bay Area Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) in 2006, Denise was a Race Woman, in the spirit of the Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

Muadi Mukenge, board member of Priority Africa Network, and presenter at several Bay Area Friends of the Congo events, says, “Denise was an ally in the struggle for women’s rights and for peace in the Congo. She attended many events and lent her voice and solidarity to the Congolese community. She is known by people from many African countries for her warmth and sense of justice.”

Pierre and Maria Labossiere, co-founders, Haiti Action Committee, write of that first meeting in 1982 “when Denise was emcee at an event for the late Father Gerard Jean-Juste then visiting from Florida. The community gathering was in support of Haitian refugees who were fighting for the right to political asylum. We became great friends that day and rarely has Denise missed an event or demonstration in support of the people of Haiti.”

Denise Gums displays her wares.

Nunu Kidane, founder and director of Priority Africa Network, recalls Denise’s ties to the African community, especially the Nigerian community associations and elected officials. “She was committed and intelligent,” Nunu says in a recent conversation. “I was impressed by the breath of her knowledge and strategic thinking.”

Melvin Phillips, neighbor and classmate, recalls Denise worked closely with the late Father Jay Matthews and Father Edgar Haasl, Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Pentecostal clergy and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in her role as community liaison for Clergy United of Oakland and the Bay Area Interdenominational Ministry Alliances. This was in the ‘70s and continued to the present. Denise helped in Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale’s campaign for Oakland mayor and went to jail often while protesting for housing rights. Pierre said, she’d give her purse to one of them to hold for her until she was released. She made “good trouble.”

Even without official titles, Denise knew how to cultivate and maintain relationships. Gerald Lenoir, now strategy analyst for Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, recalls Denise fondly. He says Denise was a big asset. She was a bridge between the church and the community and brought her cultural work to BAJI when he was founding director. A member of the St. Columba Catholic Church in West Oakland at that time, she and the church choir took “good news” to other Catholic churches on Sunday mornings, so in demand were they (smile). Denise shares a bit of that skill in a “We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest” freestyle tribute to Gerald at his retirement party in 2014 (video).

The last time I saw Denise, she was standing at Lake Merritt smiling and waving as she documented our twice monthly – first and third Fridays – car caravan. We waved at each other. Later she told me she crossed the street and explained to the curious men exercising near Embarcadero the protest objectives: BLM, end police violence, voter rights, 2020 census. I looked at my phone the day I learned she died, July 20, and saw two texts in WhatsApp about Rep. Lewis date stamped 4:15 and 5:07 a.m. (Nunu and I both reflected on that last message.)

Denise supported immigrant rights and African entrepreneurship. She loved film and volunteered at the Oakland International Film Festival. She worked at the American Red Cross training disaster relief volunteers. More recently she worked as a Special Education teacher; she loved children, especially those children she taught at Oakland Public Schools and worried about the effects of distance education and the digital divide in our community.

Denise Gums was a tireless advocate for just causes.

She is being interned at Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland. Visit the site for updates on funeral arrangements. You can also visit the website at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, where Denise was a member. She is survived by her mom, Mrs. Thelma Gums, and two sisters, Deborah and Karen Gums, aunts and an uncle, cousins and of course too many friends to count. She is preceded in death by her father, Mr. Louis Gums, and brother, Kevan Gums.

If anyone is interested in helping with burial costs, please contact Mr. Osagie A.D. Enabulele, community leader, 510-393-6262. The funeral service is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. Check the Chapel of the Chimes for the details on the virtual ceremony.

Black August

Black August is a time of reflection on African Diaspora revolutionary politics, rebellions, resistance. We remember the lives of fallen comrades, especially those like George Jackson and Marilyn Buck and Safiya Bukari (now ancestors), behind enemy lines, bodies once confined but spirits free. We hosted a couple remarkable MAAFA Virtual Townhalls in June and July. 

The first, June 28, honored the legendary activist and artist, Beah Richards, whose centennial birthday was July 12 (1920-2020). We showed LisaGay Hamilton’s film, “Beah: A Black Woman Speaks,” which takes its title from her poem by the same title. The director joined us afterward for a discussion in Zoom. For the second townhall, July 26, just a week ago, Melanie DeMore hosted a Gullah Stick-pounding workshop. If anyone is interested in joining us Aug. 23, send a message through wandaspicks.com We post response narratives afterward in http://maafasanfranciscobayarea.blogspot.com/.

Patricia Wright is FREE!

We are so excited to welcome home Patricia Wright, whose sentence was commuted and she was released July 21, just after her birthday, July 17. Snatched from her family 24 years ago, son Alfey Ramdhan, just 11 or 12 at the time, recalls how hard it was growing up without the person he trusted the most. 

Patricia Wright, 69, is greeted by her sisters July 21. Finally released from prison after 23 years, she had fought repeated bouts of cancer. The campaign for her release by her family, the California Coalition of Women Prisoners (CCWP) and many more has been one of the longest and strongest freedom campaigns in California.

Photos show Patricia surrounded by siblings, children, grandchildren and friends. Everyone has on masks and some hold “Welcome Home” signs and flowers. She is the first woman released on a list of incarcerated women with health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Alfey said he and siblings took his mom to the beach and watched her enjoy the fresh air and spray on her face. The family went to get dinner and had ice cream for dessert. Patricia went shopping for new clothes; however, she had to sit in the parking lot to get her bearings, so much had changed since she was last home. 

Patricia enjoys long-awaited hugs from her children and grandchildren. To win her freedom, she had to overcome the dreaded sentence of LWOP, a life term without the possibility of parole, meaning death by incarceration. Between 1992 and 2017, the population of people serving Life Without Parole in the U.S. grew by 400 percent, most of them in California.

When asked how he and the rest of his family stayed so devoted to Patricia Wright and fighting for her release all these years, Alfey said everyone knew she was innocent, that she had nothing to do with the crime. And Patricia, her faith in her creator never wavered. We hope to catch up with Patricia soon to talk to her about freedom and her short and long term plans.

Joyce Gordon Gallery

Recovery ACT: Art, Culture, Technology is at Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th Street, Oakland, CA, and online July 10 through Aug. 29. See http://www.rootsartistregistry.com/recoveryact.html. Gallery featured artists are Alexandra Antoine, Alex Bershaw, Ellen Bepp, Rohan DeCosta, Patrick Dougher, David Graves, Kay Hickman, Al Johnson, Oding Muata, Eric Murphy, Najee Omar, Martin Segobia, Malik Seneferu, Amir Abdul-Shakur, Katie Sugarman, Lordy Rodriguez, William Rhodes and Leisel Whitlock. 

The artist talk is Friday, Aug. 7, 6-9 p.m. in the gallery and via Zoom. The poetry reading is Saturday, Aug. 8, 2-4 p.m., and is hosted by TeaRoots.org, featuring SF Jazz Poet Laureate Genny Lim, journalist Wanda Sabir and Former MoAD Deputy Director Michael Warr and more. Additional programs to be announced. To register for events, visit https://recoveryactexhibit.eventbrite.com

More webinars, online ZOOM meetings

Paths to Empowerment: A Conversation about Cooperative Governance in Arts Organizations is an online Zoom meeting Thursday, Aug. 27, 7 p.m. The cost is free. And Eventbrite RSVP is required: www.eventbrite.com/e/paths-to-empowerment-a-convesation-about-cooperative-governance-tickets-114463810338. The Facebook event is at www.facebook.com/events/1617729515085813/.

Rep. John Lewis, Good Trouble

They called him the moral conscious of Congress: Rep. John Robert Lewis from the little town of Troy, Alabama. Friday, July 17, was a seismic event – two major leaders, Rev. CT Vivian (95) and Rep. John Robert Lewis (80), made their transitions.

As the carriage carried Rep. Lewis’s still body across the EP Bridge, a place where he led the 1965 march which came to be known as Bloody Sunday, I wondered, why at a time when monuments to civic criminals are being removed that EP Bridge still carries the name of an avowed racist? Why hasn’t this honorific been removed? A few days later, in Washington at the Rotunda, this sentiment was articulated.

John Lewis

Every time EP’s name is evoked it honors its namesake. Such juxtaposition is a hypocrisy no more stark than this image – human rights’ greatest defender, John Lewis’s presence in a casket crossing in a horse drawn carriage this place one last time.

Red rose petals on the ground recall all the blood that Sunday morning, a lot of it running down the face of a young John Lewis. Alabama residents should rename the bridge John Robert Lewis Bridge for a man whose life was a bridge for justice and freedom for his people.

For those young people 18 this year, too young to have known Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this young son of former enslaved ancestors was King’s emissary. Rep. Lewis continued his hero’s walk to freedom traversing bridges like this first one philosophically and later materially all the days of his life as a Freedom Rider, SNCC president and later on as Atlanta City Council person and finally as a congressional leader for 17 terms (33 years). 

It was as if Dr. King never died, the oath John Lewis pledged at 18 just as prescient then as now at 80. He was an active member of this democratic society. He was a visible opponent to injustice. He used his pen to enact laws, his voice to say no to unethical policies and his body to interrupt or halt what he felt was detrimental to American people.

Let the people say Àṣẹ, Amen, Hallelujah and So Be It.

Film festival

The 17th Annual International Ocean Film Festival goes virtual with Reconnecting Summer 2020 featuring all 54 films, plus online panels, discussions and audience Q&A July 30-Aug. 9. See www.intloceanfilmfest.org.

‘River City Drumbeat’

“River City Drumbeat” (95 minutes), directed by Marlon Johnson and Anne Flatté, opens Aug. 7-21 at Roxie Virtual Cinema. The film captures Edward “Nardie” White’s 30-year run as leader of the dynamic Louisville, Kentucky, River City Drum Corps and chronicles his passing of the baton to former student Albert Shumake. It is a beautiful story of a legacy using art to build character. 

“River City” shows how community is what matters in a child’s life. The drum is the heart; it is a mother’s love, the first voice, the most important voice a child hears or perhaps feels. White’s program builds men and women as it provides space for parents to grow into their roles. The music is awesome; we dance as we cheer and cry and marvel at these young leaders groomed and stepping into responsibility with ease and joy. Art is what will save us. It keeps us human. 

Listen to Albert Shumate talk about how River City Drum Corps saved his life, literally. Wanda’s Picks Radio Show broadcast on July 13 a special on “River City Drumbeat” with the directors, Marlon Johnson and Anne Flatté, joining Albert Shumake. Listen at http://tobtr.com/11773949.

Too seldom are success stories, feel good stories about our youth on newspaper front pages, yet, despite absent local and national acclaim, this is that story. RCDC founder, former Boys and Girls Club director Edward “Nardie” White has made a significant impact on Louisville youth, their parents and the community that holds them. With Shumake as the new director, Mr. White can finally retire and be the artist he’s wanted to be all along – not that these young lives he’s molded are not his largest and most important work. 

The young drummers learn discipline as they also celebrate African heritage. They recite important values in their pledge and learn the importance of community as the interconnections of human life are illustrated in the drum corps. 

Winning is not the goal, Mr. White teaches the youngsters. There are tangible awards directly connected to hard work and practice: excellence. There is also the added value of peers who literally have each other’s backs as the older students, like Imani V. Keith, teach the classes and share what they have learned with the young ones coming up. 

The co-directors, Marlon Johnson in Miami and Anne Flatte in San Francisco, are introduced to each other by Owley Brown, producer, who was raised in Louisville and understands the power of music to change lives. Mr. White noticed Albert Shumake and said, “He is not going to be an athlete,” and steered young Albert into art. White’s wife “Iya” Zambia Nkrumah, whom we meet through reputation and in archived footage, mentored Albert too and watched over him. She saved him from the typical racialized academic tracks where Black children are stuck. She told him he was college material when his teachers and administrators did not see his potential. 

Mr. White, who wanted to be an artist, was encouraged to play sports. There was no one to run interference for him. We meet Ed Hamilton, a famous Louisville artist who apprenticed Shumake. Hamilton’s work forms a central aspect of the film, which pivots on rivers and bridges and broken promises – a statue of Abraham Lincoln seated on the shore overlooking the Ohio river as a solo piano plays what could be an interlude to a lifetime to come if nothing changes. 

These children, who are nurtured by their peers and guided by first Mr. White and now Mr. Shumake, learn they have choices. Education is key. Jailen Leavell, class valedictorian, reflects on Tupac Shukur’s poem, “The Rose that Grew from Concrete.” If you know the poem, the question is, why should any child – or flower – have to struggle this hard for a fair shot at life? 

River City Drum Corps in Louisville, Kentucky

In historic Black communities like the West End neighborhood where RCDC was born, there were not many couples like White and Nkrumah who establish an institution to serve Black kids using art to develop “a blueprint for success in life.” RCDC is similar philosophically to the work of Katherine Dunham in East St. Louis, Illinois, Ms. Ruth Beckford here in Oakland, Deborah Vaughn, Dimensions Dance Theatre in Oakland, Dr. Albirda Rose, Village Dancers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

RCDC serves youth 5-18 and is based on the Nguzo Saba or Seven Principals of Kwanzaa. Children from all ethnicities and religious backgrounds are accepted; the majority are Black kids. Unfortunately, Mr. White and his late wife were not able to save all their children over the past 30 years and we learn of some of those casualties in the war that is waged in American communities daily, a war the citizens involved and felled did not start even if often the finger pulling the trigger and bodies falling under its impact look the same. 

Tickets are available at bit.ly/rcdatroxie. View the trailer here and below: https://www.rivercitydrumbeatmovie.com/.

Robert Nesta Marley at 75 

This is the 75th anniversary of Bob Marley’s birth on Feb. 6, 1945. His family has been celebrating all year. Friday, July 31, “Marley” (145 minutes), directed by Kevin Macdonald, opens virtually and in select drive-ins around the country. Locally, the film screens at Smith Rafael Center and Cameo Cinema in the San Francisco Bay, Tower in Sacramento. Visit https://www.bluefoxentertainment.com/films/marley. Watch and share the trailer.

The film is a nuanced story of a man who spent a lifetime searching for sanctuary. Born of a white man and a Black girl-child, he never quite fit in except when he was playing music. He knew his white family and the factory they owned, although his white family did not know their Black brother. When they are introduced to his work, his sister says Bob’s work lifted the family name. However, Bob and his friends worked hard for their success – one person says that they were so hungry when they were boys, they would have to fill up on water and go to bed. This is one of the reasons why his mother left the country for the city.

There are archival scenes of older bands playing instruments they probably made, guitars, banjos. Bob and his friends made their instruments too. There is a great conversation with the record producers who noticed Bob’s writing style – it had depth. His topics weren’t shallow. Religion also gave Bob a sense of place – Rastafari aligned with his beliefs. There is a great scene where Haile Selassie visits Jamaica and when the door opens and he sees so many people awaiting his arrival, he goes back into the cabin and closes the door.

I guess it is unnerving to be greeted as a god.

Intelligent, shy with trust issues, Marley found within his creative voice a stage where he had a place. Macdonald’s Marley features interviews with Marley’s musician friends, children, lovers, producers and archival footage of Trench Town ghetto where Marley lived, the studio that gave him and another friend shelter when his mom left for the US.

Outside of reading a book about Marley, this film is an audio tour of a remarkable life. He grew up with gangsters, but he wasn’t a gangster. He was poor, yet ended up with wealth which he shared. He was disciplined and old fashioned, even patriarchal regarding gender roles.

Marley is both genius and flawed, especially with his relationships with women. His relationship with his wife Rita Marley is complex, perhaps as complex as the politics of the music business. The search for a unique sound as the group performs covers of boy bands and become famous in Jamaica. I love the Lee Scratch Perry studio sessions and Peter Tosh.

Marley suffers exile for his art. His philosophy is simple, yet one wonders about the illness that took his life. 

The music is amazing, letting us watch the Wailers in the small joints with the audience right next to the performers. Given the COVID-19 reality, this film and that time seem lifetimes ago. With each ticket purchase, recipients will receive an exclusive Ziggy Marley song download pack. Additionally, all ticket purchases will be entered to win a grand prize package, including a yet to be released Bob Marley photo book, Marley vinyl and select other Marley merchandise.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wanda@wandaspicks.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 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.