Congrats to all the graduates! Happy Birthday to the Geminis and Cancers!
by Wanda Sabir, Arts and Culture Editor
Congrats to all the graduates! Happy Birthday to the Geminis and Cancers! Don’t miss the Virtual Global Libations and Prayers for African Ancestors of the Middle Passage on Saturday, June 12, 8:30-11:30 AM PT. Visit FB@remembertheancestors and FB@maafabayarea and YouTube@ADASI.
Gosh, it is getting more difficult to keep up. I know a lot more than makes it to the page. We are “opening up,” yet the consequences of this opening are untested. Keep on your masks, folks. and keep at a safe – 6 feet – distance.
I am still Zooming a lot and have no desire to sit in a closed space with strangers, or people I know either. I find myself breaking out in hives when people hug me once I leave my office or workspace.
I am hella anxious. Nothing personal; do not touch.
Dana King, the ancestor woman
I had a great conversation with Dana King, artist, whom I call the ancestor woman. She just channels the energy so well into bronze, stone, iron, steel, vinyl tubing. We spoke on Wanda’s Picks Radio Show on Malcolm X’s birthday, May 19. I was gushing, so I hope the recording makes sense.
Invited to visit her studio in the Fruitvale, I said yes, and was wowed by the fortress space that looks inconspicuous from the busy street corner. It is better to not draw unnecessary attention to one’s work nowadays when so many are suffering.
Inside, women artists assembled ancestor bodies while others assembled the heads. We walked around the corner where a friend with a studio offered to host the ancestors until Golden Gate Park staff picked up the first 100 or so completed works.
Dana is a slender woman who is moved by spirit. It is good she can channel her fire into steel. The former award-winning journalist is passionate about African people and our history. These African ancestors are her gift to a collective soul we embody yet can no longer name.
In King’s bronze memorials, energy is transferred and transformed. “African Ancestral spirit lives” is all one can say who has been in the presence of a King tribute – whether this or her first commission, “A Man for the People,” Berkeley, Calif., 2016, which honors the Honorable William Byron Rumford, the first African American elected to the California State Legislature from Northern California in 1948.
He wrote the Fair Housing Act, which was rolled into the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Imagine that: The Civil Rights Act which changed everything for everyone except Black people – well, we benefitted a little – was a piece of important legislation written here.
When the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened in Montgomery in 2018, there on the grounds of the lynching memorial in bronze were three generations of Black women, an elder and a pregnant woman walking during the Montgomery Bus Boycott – Dana King’s commemorative work, “Guided by Justice.”
We often speak of the ancestors as if they are an imagined presence rather than a real energy we can tap into at will. I have been practicing this with spirit guidance shared at Acorn Center for Restoration and Freedom in Atlanta and Afrikan Healing and Wisdom at InsightLA, both virtual Black spaces.
Gina Breedlove’s sound medicine is the tool used to traverse various chakra, and InsightLA’s African wom(b)en-centered healing centers various practices: mindfulness and Ifa. And of course, we continue to meet bi-monthly as Black Wom(b)en at the Wombfulness Gatherings – Facebook @wombfulness. We had a great session May 22. The next gathering is July 17, 10 a.m. -12 p.m.
I was speaking to a person who shared with me insight gained through Isabel Wilkerson’s book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent.” He hadn’t known America’s treatment of its African or Black residents modeled for Zionists in Germany, Israel and the Apartheid regime in occupied Azania or South Africa.
I told him he had no need to know, as he benefited from systemic racism. It is this ignorance of the cyclical nature of history under Eurocentric rule that calls for what Dana King names a “Monumental Reckoning.”
Isabel Wilkerson’s book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent” is the story of the people she describes in “The Warmth of Other Suns.” Caste or legislated exclusion is the continuation of the saga once these people, Black people – denied every right or privilege except the right to die for this nation – move away from the South in the largest mass exodus in US history.
Some Black folks left in the ‘40s to work in the war industry, others left in the early ‘60s, just before Dr. King and El Hajj Malik were killed. Now people are returning to the homeland to try it again. Up-South was good for a time, but home is home – ya know? Land and trees and the ancestors.
America is the prototype for Zionism or white privilege worldwide, whether this is Israel’s establishment in 1948 or as a model government for repressive regimes throughout the Western world from Germany under Adolf Hitler in 1933-41 to Hendrik Verwoerd, architect of Apartheid, 1958-66.
It’s great what’s happening in Namibia. German soldiers killing of the Herero and the Nama because they resisted the theft of their land 1904-08 was Germany’s “practice” Holocaust, yet the 10,000 Africans were not remembered, even though this genocide was not a secret. If this story interests you, read John Edgar Wideman’s “The Cattle Killing.”
Oh, another book I just read, which is a fascinating story about ancestral memories, is “Makeda,” by Randall Robinson.
Misdemeanor citations are law enforcement’s excuse to harass vulnerable people.
Enslavement of African people was a model experiment. The parlay of the industry into other forms of legal captivity captivated other leaders worldwide – still does. George Wallace, Bull Connor, Bill Clinton and others up to the recent President Trump modeled policies that sanction murder by the state with no consequences.
People want to hold hands and act like the problem affects everyone … Yes, there are hate crimes against other people too. However, the true victims remain African American.
Everyone except us benefits from civil liberties or laws that make certain behaviors illegal. For my people, even with legislation, we do not benefit consistently. If laws are not enforced, they are useless. El Hajj Malik El Shabazz speaks to this in an interview at UC Berkeley, Oct. 11, 1963. He says America pretends Black people are citizens when, if we were, there would be no need for civil rights. The laws that already exist would apply to us.
There was no reason for George Floyd’s death. There are laws that protect citizens from such abuse from law enforcement. At most, what Floyd was guilty of was a misdemeanor.
Brave New Films’ “Racially Charged: America’s Misdemeanor Problem“ shows how misdemeanor citations are law enforcement’s excuse to harass vulnerable people. Using a counterfeit bill, which is what Floyd was accused of, is not a felony charge and the city could have given him a ticket. Other recent stops that resulted in death or maiming, like a broken taillight, is not an offense that involves arrest either: The city could just mail the owner a fix-it ticket.
Carrots and copper
With more years behind me than in front of me, I am taking time to reflect on what is past that continues to serve my good and what needs to go. I am reminded as June rolls onto the horizon of a unique sorority I am privileged to belong to.
One of five Gemini sisters, I am the last one left. Sister Nida (June 1), Sister Laiqa Louise (June 14), Sister Dorothy Ummus Salaama and Sister Sadaqa are ancestors now. I remember going to Sojourner Truth Manor, where Sister Sadaqa would cook a duck for our shared birthday meal.
Sojourner Truth is on Martin Luther King Jr. Way – old Grove Street. It’s across the BART tracks from old Merritt College, now Children’s Hospital Annex.
We’d shop for the bird at Housewives Market. Later, I met Arnold White, the artist, there with my daughters. I remember my excitement when Housewives was going to be the site of a shared community co-operative living space and then membership priced out all the people in West Oakland at that time.
Community development was not the goal; gentrification was – our presence swept away. I missed the writing on the walls. I guess I wasn’t tall enough to scale them.
We sat around talking as the duck did its thing in the oven. Smelling delicious. When the duck was ready, I’d take a polite slice once it had cooled. I brought vegetables and bread, others brought desert and beverages.
I don’t remember the details of their lives. I was just encouraged. In the midst of the lives we were swimming … these women did not drown. In fact, they put on bathing suits and carved out time to lie on the beach and relax. Four generations of beauty queens.
Sister Nida rode camels in Egypt and took vacations in Hawaii; she knew how to have fun. She did not allow worry to clutter her life. An entrepreneur – her shop, Marrakesh, an oasis in Berkeley for the weary – we would sit in her swivel chair and big mirror and imagine ourselves as we could be, and she would make it happen.
Photo albums fell over themselves for attention – her travels documented in these picture books she would tell us stories about. A film buff, we’d also travel cinematically via popular and classical Black cinema.
Housewives was going to be the site of a shared community co-operative living space and then membership priced out all the people in West Oakland at that time.
I might enter with questions; however, I always left feeling unquestionably more beautiful than when I entered. Black women need spaces like Marrakesh and tour guides like Sister Nida Ali.
She helped where she could and allowed the adults in her life to live with the consequences of their choices. She did not micromanage anyone else’s life.
Sister Nida Ali is my angel, watching out for me. When I called her before she died, she told me: “Call me whenever you like, Wanda.” It was the company, this grown Black woman, Black Muslim women company, that I treasured. That I miss.
I was the youngest in the party at Sister Sadaqa’s. I didn’t have children and then I did. I didn’t have a husband. And then I did. Sister Laiqa Louise, school secretary at Muhammad University when I attended, could hear then and later she couldn’t. Sister Sadaqa could still dance.
Old didn’t have a number; it was just grace and a knowing. Was she 70 or 80? Who knows. Sister Nida and Sister Ummus Salaama were probably in their 50s and Sister Laiqa in her 60s, while Sister Sadaqa was ageless. No one knew her age and I don’t think she was telling.
Sister Sadaqa was independent and lived in what we thought a supportive facility until she no longer could take care of herself. She fell and was moved to a convalescent home. She hated it. I had another child and could not support Sister Sadaqa as she deserved though I advocated for her wishes.
She got pneumonia at the place on Fairmount Street near Kaiser and died. Before she passed, she gave me a copper bracelet and told me to wear copper and drink carrot juice.
I didn’t know Osun then; I do now. Sister Sadaqa gave me her Champion juicer too. I kept it for its name even when I stopped juicing.
I am eating carrots again. The juicer was green like algae, kelp … green like the tops of trees in the forest when the sun washes them with her kisses. I loaned the juicer to a friend when she was pregnant. I hope it has nourished other homes where souls sit and meditate on grace and wholeness and infinite connections. Happy Birthday, Geminis.
‘Monumental Reckoning’ 402 year later
On the first-year anniversary of the toppling of the Francis Scott Key monument in Golden Gate Park, 350 Ancestors are preparing to shake things up in a town known for earthquakes.
Artist Dana King, a woman who channels African ancestor energy into bronze, has re-peopled the 350 ancestors stolen from home in the spring of 1619 on the San Juan Bautista, a Spanish slave ship, which left Luanda, Angola, with 350 kidnapped Africans set for the new world.
Along the journey to the Gulf of Mexico, two English ships, the Treasurer and the White Lion, captured some of the African cargo, later trading the 20 or so Africans for a meal and other provisions at Old Point Comfort in what is now Hampton, Va., thus beginning the slave trade, https://historicjamestowne.org/history/the-first-africans/.
“350 is close to the number of years Africans were enslaved here, too, since 1535 when Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés first colonized Baja California, utilizing 300 enslaved Pan Africans.” – MAAFA 2019 Proclamation.
Why is this nation still singing a song that promotes violence – gun violence, at that? Francis Scott Key, like so many other dead white male criminals, took up public space. These monuments represent what this nation honors – bloodshed. Dead white men are coming down all across America, and the San Francisco Commission on Historic Buildings has to address this changing landscape.
Why not take down all the public art that does violence to the psyches of citizenry, whether that is on a plinth in Golden Gate Park, a mountainside, even on currency – “from sea to shining sea”?
The “Monumental Reckoning” interrupts. These ancestors are a visceral wrecking ball intended to break up, smash, disrupt notions that do not belong in a free society. With the legislation on the books to eliminate slavery from California’s Constitution and a bill to pay reparations to enslaved or imprisoned women forcibly sterilized, what “Monumental Reckoning” does is challenge us to imagine what it means to live as a truly free people.
BLM is slogan. The “Monumental Reckoning” demands change in how we run the city, county and nation.
These Black-on-Black figurative statues’ oval faces are attached to bodies made from coiled tubing wrapped around an iron core. Their hair swings in plaits, a bit playful – seeped in wonder at the gathering of so many sisters after such a long time apart.
Instead of distinct heritage symbols, Dana King allows each patron an opportunity to project our lineage forward as these ancestors embrace us as well – they are the family we have been missing. The 350 can carry us home literally as the moonlight catches a likeness in oval worlds.
The ancestors can help us remember a place where we had language and land and family. The 350 are the chain that remains unbroken, even if it often feels that way. The brokenness is what binds us to one another, Bryan Stevenson says. So true. What is broken mends stronger.
However, there is a problem – the ancestors are ready to go.
This Juneteenth in Golden Gate Park, Dana King says: “We will honor the enduring spirit of these 350 ancestors.” It is even more fitting that it is the place where slave owner and racist government official Key was ensconced that the Hon. James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” lights a literal consciousness.
However, there is a problem – the ancestors are ready to go. In fact, more than 100 4-5-foot-tall Black female ancestors are already on site in the Green Room. However, the SF Historic Preservation Commission has taken the item off the Wednesday, June 2, agenda to vote whether or not to approve the installation of the words.
What is there to think about? On the sesquicentennial or 150th anniversary of James Weldon Johnson’s birth June 19, 1871, the song he composed, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” which is proposed as a national hymn by Rep. James Clyburn, would “bring this country together.”
A nation which almost buckled under a pandemic and a coup – not to mention multiple state sanctioned acts of violence towards Black citizens, which has municipalities across the country looking at dismantling the police –needs a rallying cry. A call for San Francisco to “lift” its voice in peace and justice, harmony and liberty would mend a riff that is growing wider and wider. What did James Baldwin say about the “fire next time”?
The words will be displayed across the Temple of Music in the Golden Gate Park Music Concourse for June 18, 2021-June 20, 2023. Send a letter to the Commission: https://www.monumentalreckoning.org/letter-to-hpc.
Dana King is looking for 350 Black women in white with their families for the inaugural event. If you’d like to be a part of the growing constellation, show up June 18, 5 p.m. Sign up in advance so we can be in touch. MAAFA SF Bay Area is proud to be a supporter and participant in “Monumental Reckoning”: https://www.monumentalreckoning.org/constellation.
Virtual Global Libations and Prayers for African Ancestors of the Middle Passsage
Don’t miss the Virtual Global Libations and Prayers for African Ancestors of the Middle Passage, 8:30-11:30 a.m. PT. Visit Facebook @remembertheancestors and Facebook @maafabayarea and YouTube @ADASI.
Performing Diaspora at CounterPulse
Performing Diaspora 2021: pateldanceworks and Byb Chanel Bibene/Kiandanda Dance Theater is on Thursday and Friday, June 3-4 and 10-11, 8 p.m. PDT at CounterPulse gallery, 80 Turk St. in San Francisco; Saturday matinees on June 5 and 12, 2 p.m. PDT. On Saturday, June 12, 2 p.m. PDT, there will be a livestream and artist Q&A. Find tickets: https://counterpulse.org/event/performingdiaspora2021/.
Kheven LaGrone’s ‘Pillow Talk’
Kheven LaGrone’s “Pillow Talk” is a virtual play directed by Tanika Baptiste at Theatre Rhinoceros. In 1990s Oakland, Baby Boy regularly waits for an older man, Chuck, to drive up. Baby Boy climbs into the car and gives Chuck what he needs. But can Chuck give Baby Boy what he needs? And will Baby Boy accept it? Find out in this exciting African American queer play by local playwright Kheven LaGrone of The Rhino’s 2017 hit “The Legend of Pink.”
The play runs June 11-20, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinee June 20 at 3 p.m.; Sunday, June 20, 5 p.m.-12 a.m. Streaming on demand is available too. Listen to an interview with the playwright and director on Wanda’s Picks Radio Show, May 28.
Oakland Theatre Project’s world premiere of ‘Begin the Beguine: A Quartet of One Acts’
Oakland Theatre Project presents the world premiere of African American pioneering filmmaker and playwright Kathleen Collins’ “Begin the Beguine: A Quartet of One Acts,” which is co-directed by Kathleen Collins, Dawn L. Troupe and Michael Socrates Moran. This OTP is in collaboration with BAMPFA, where patrons can watch Collins’ film as well as participate in a virtual panel discussion. Listen to an interview with Ms. Troupe on Wanda’s Picks Radio Show, May 28.Visit https://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2021/05/28/wandas-picks-radio-show.
AfroSolo Arts Festival
AfroSolo Arts Festival presents its 26th annual season of “Black Voices: Our Stories, Our Lives” during Juneteenth celebrations in a two-program format. Program One is June 9-13; Program Two is June 17-20. Created and produced by Thomas Robert Simpson, the festival’s mission is to nurture, promote and present facets of the African American experience through solo performances and the visual arts.
Program One features the journeys of four formerly incarcerated Black men on their road to recovery and their return to society. Program two features AfroSolo’s founder, Thomas Robert Simpson, as he recounts how his father overcame many struggles as a Black man raising a family in the Jim Crow South.
This year’s festival takes place on-demand via AfroSolo’s YouTube Channel – programs to be posted in June. To make the performances available to a wide audience, the online event is free of charge. No RSVPs are required. Listen to an interview with Thomas Simpson and the cast for week one on Wanda’s Picks Radio Show, May 26.
SFIndie’s DocFest, June 3-20, kicks off with a wonderful in-person film and party
The DocFest’s opening night party “Summer of Soul Roller Disco” features the film “Summer of Soul,” directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary – part music film, part historical record – created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion.
Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just 100 miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Marcus Garvey Park. The footage was never seen and largely forgotten – until now. “Summer of Soul” shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present.
The feature includes never-before-seen concert performances by B.B. King, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Stevie Wonder and more.
The Roller Skate party is at Church of 8 Wheels, 554 Fillmore St. at Fell, Thursday, June 3, 8-10 p.m. Signal the reopening of the city and the return of live events by strapping on some skates. Jam to “Summer of Soul” tunes at the roller disco with other film festival goers and documentary fans after watching the award-winning opening night film. This event is open to the public.
Film and party tickets are $30 and available at sfindie.com. Party Only tickets are $15 and may be purchased at the venue until sold out. Skates will also be available for rent for $5 a pair. I haven’t been to a DocFest roller skate party in too many years!
SF DocFest will screen 40 features and 38 shorts across six different short programs. All films will be available to view on demand anytime during the festival and 36 of the films will also be shown at the Roxie Theater.
Oaktown Jazz Workshop
Oakland Jazz Workshop is streaming a fundraiser on Saturday, June 12, 9:00 p.m. PDT, featugint Richard Howell & Sudden Changes and a special set of original music by MeloDious. It’s a free event, donations appreciated.
Bay View Arts and Culture 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.