Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Wanda's Picks Radio Show, Wed., Nov. 8, 2017

This is a black arts and culture site. We will be exploring the African Diaspora via the writing, performance, both musical and theatrical (film and stage), as well as the visual arts of Africans in the Diaspora and those influenced by these aesthetic forms of expression. I am interested in the political and social ramifications of art on society, specifically movements supported by these artists and their forebearers. It is my claim that the artists are the true revolutionaries, their work honest and filled with raw unedited passion. They are our true heroes. Ashay!

1. Luisah Teish on Sacred Space (archived: Wednesday, March 14, 2012).

2. Orisa Urban World Conference 2017: Adium & Khalilah Madyun with Daktari Shari Hicks join us to tell us about the Festival which started Nov. 2-Dec. 1.

Link to show:

Songs: Zion Trinity's "Opening Prayer for Esu Legba," WolfHawkJaguar's "Prosperity Movement."

Monday, November 06, 2017

African American Day of the Ancestors: Reviving Our Gravesweeping Ritual, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017

Gravesweeping Brooms

Iya Wanda Ravernell, founder Omnira Institute

Iya Wanda Blake

Iya Wanda Ravernell and Iya Wanda Blake completed the ritual

Sweeping the Graves

Sweeping the Graves

Gathering Flowers to put on the clean gravemarkers

Awon Ohun Omnira Choir members

Iya Nedra in front; Wanda B.  and Wanda R

Iya Wanda R. and Iya Wanda B. clean the big headstone

Sweeping the graves

Sweeping the Graves

Iya Nedra

Sweeping the Graves

Iya Nedra

Sweeping the Graves

Iya Nedra

Iya Nedra with her Egungun 

Sweeping the Graves

Markings at the Gravesite

Iya Wanda B. (L) with Iya Wanda R. consult

Iya Wanda B. (L) with Iya Wanda R (R) consult

Iya Wanda Ravernell sweeping the graves

Sweeping the Graves

Sweeping the Graves

Sweeping the Graves

Feeding the Ancestors

African American Day of the Ancestors

Feeding the Ancestors

Oya returns

African American Day of the Ancestors

African American Day of the Ancestors

Water bowl

Pouring out the water

Pouring out the water

Returning with empty bowl

African American Day of the Ancestors

African American Day of the Ancestors

Farewell Ancestors song
Wanda Ravernell, founder, Ominra Institute

African American Day of the Ancestors

African American Day of the Ancestors
Sweeping the Graves of the Ancestors November 5, 2017

Sunday at Evergreen Cemetery Omnira Institute hosted for the second year, an African American Day of the Ancestors, with a revival of the Gravesweeping Ritual, an African American tradition where the community gathers to honor the ancestors by cleaning the gravesites.  This particular grave sweeping is special because it honors those people killed in Jonestown, Guyana 59 years ago, many of the deceased children—

As we stood on the hill, a panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay just beyond the site of the mass grave is marked with a plaque dated November 18, 1978, the date of the massacre. Brother Tobaji Stewart (Apon, Iya drum), Calvin Holmes (Itotele drum)  and Brother Sosu Randolph (Okonkolo drum) along with Awon Ohun Omnira choir led the ensemble through the sacred chants and songs—

We met at the cemetery gates on 64th and Camden in Oakland where we washed ourselves with blessed herbal waters to protect us along this journey of remembrance. We then lined up behind the drummers and beside singers and walked in procession up the hill to the Jonestown Memorial.  The majority present, dressed in white, walked up the hill—others met us halfway there like Iya Nedra who then joined us. An elder, she said she was doing this for the ancestors as she struggled up the steep path alone, refusing my assistance.

I wore funeral attire from Ghana—red and black with Gye Nyame symbols in the pattern. The Adinkra symbol represents the omnipotence of the creator.[1]  The ancestors keep us connected tangibly to a spiritual system that honors the unbroken relationship between the realms—the earth and the heavens, the seen and the unseen, the born and yet to be born.

I’d just learned that morning that Sister Intisar Sharif had died the previous day, a beautiful woman whose life was dedicated to our children, especially orphans. As head of the Early Childhood Education Department at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, she started a certificate program for grandparents who were now parenting their grandchildren. This support group grew into a large community support system replicated throughout the bay area, maybe country.  She also was a pioneer in making sure black children had quality preschool education—a Montessori trained scholar, this methodology was one she used in communities traditionally without such innovations in child development.

Brother Tobaji spoke about the meaning of the opening song—it spoke about the bodies of the deceased and the state they were in when they left . . . . I remembered the tragedy at Jonestown and how for days and weeks the dead were left to rot and decompose in the heat where they lay.  By the time forensic doctors and investigators were ready to identify the dead, their identifying marks were gone.  Evergreen cemetery was the only cemetery which agreed to bury the over 900 bodies – I don’t know what the area is called, but there is a bench nearby and a building.

Tobaji Stewart pours libations
I saw the names of my cousin Mary Lewis there on the hill.  I’d just called her name during morning rituals and then as I walked back down the hill, I saw other family names on headstones. 

As Brother Tobaji, drummers and singers, played Mojuba: Recitation of spiritual lineage, we were invited to call the names of our ancestors, then Iya Wanda Ravernell handed out two sheets of paper to each of us with names of Jonestown Massacre Victims to recite.

We called the names of the 900-1000 people multiple times.  This year I had numbers 550-687.  Last 
year I had 1050 to 1049.  We wanted to let these ancestors hear our cries as we lifted their names, silenced for so long.  Iya Nedra brought her Egungun Mask this year; initiated into this society she spoke of the ancestor dances and lamented the fact that she had not danced in years.  Her Egun costume was on the opposite end of the Oya altar.  She took off her shoes, feet covered in efun or white chalk and danced. 

Tobaji Stewart pours libations
In front of the drummers were several altars—with water and flowers and a rod with ribbons on it.  Symbols were drawn along the concrete borders surrounding the site where three large grave markers held the hundreds of names— Baba Tobaji Stewart poured libations and called the ancestors to open the ceremony once we were at the burial site.

Iya Wanda Blake had brooms with ribbons and different colored handles prepared for the sweeping and she also had prepared a special sweeping drink for the ancestors, for the earth, for us which she poured on the stone markers as we sweep the graves as we began Oro Egun or songs for the ancestors with Awon Ohun Omnira.

This was the part I had been waiting for, the actual sweeping. As I looked at the names of those lying below—I felt even sadder that so many lives had been taken from us.  Iya Nedra spoke of the children, families left behind and the impact this violent loss had on her students whom she hadn’t known were “those children.”

Several times Iya Wanda Ravernell took her wand and waved it over our heads, walked around the graves sweeping the energy, Oya, diety of the gravesite, very much present that afternoon as she always is.  The spirit of the children was also present that afternoon—I wish I’d brought some candy for them and some bubbles from the car.  Next year.

As the emotions rose several members present felt the ghosts, spoke in tongues, relayed messages from those departed ones. We were attentive to the missives and promised to remember and act.  It was a humbling, fullfilling experience to be present once again on a November afternoon to sweep the graves of our ancestors.

Baba Tobaji cooked a meal for the ancestors – black-eyed peas, collard greens, cornbread and yams.  After the graves were swept, and flowers laid on the tombs, the meal was served.  The liturgy continued nonstop through the entire ceremony.  The songs then shifted to those honoring the deities—Elegba, Oshun, Oya, Obatala, Shango. . . . The Farewell song – hands waving so long, until next time— closed the rite  and then Tobaji spoke about the significance of closing the circle.

We then had to wash ourselves with the herbal bath. 

Iya Nedra had put efun or chalk on our foreheads—it was a full moon that weekend and the lunar energies were also felt.  My friend, Neter Aa Meri drank a special brew he’d made for the full moon ceremonies that weekend—rum, vodka, red chili peppers, garlic, ginger . . . for the moon which is in Aries.

Wanda Sabir at Dad's gravesite that evening
I took a plate to my father in Hayward.  He is interned at the Chapel of the Chimes in Al Jannah Ar Rahim (Garden of Mercy).  His birthday was two weeks prior, also on a Sunday.  He would like the black eyed peas and yams and greens with corn bread.  I saw other families with their loved ones that night at the cemetery visiting with their dead. I had a bit of the meal with Daddy, so he would not feel that he was eating alone.  It was delicious.

Fred Ali Batin Sabir, her father with meal

[1] Allahu Akbar—God is greater.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Doctors Without Borders present: Forced from Home: An Interactive Exhibition

Doctors Without Borders presents:  Forced from Home: An Interactive Exhibition Designed to Expose the Realities of the Global Refugee Crisis (Oct. 30-Nov. 5)

Just across from Lake Merritt in Oakland, 10th Street parking lot of the historic Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center which houses the Calvin Simmons’s Theatre, neighbor to the Oakland Museum of California and Laney College, sits a refugee camp.  Forced from Home is a 10,000 square-foot outdoor exhibition hosted by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the international humanitarian aid organization which delivers emergency medical care around the world.  MSF, privately funded so that its reputation as nonpartisan remains in-tact, is in Oakland through Nov. 5, 9 AM to 5 PM.  MSF staff, not all doctors or nurses, lead free tours which offer visitors a glimpse into the lives of unprecedented 65.6 million people who are internally displaced, refugees in a foreign land, or in limbo— stateless (like the Rohingya). Statelessness also reminds me of the Indigenous people of this land whose tribes are no longer recognized.  Unlike being stateless, those without tribal affiliation are legally disappeared.
When one joins a tour which takes minimally 1 hour to complete—longer if you stop to watch other virtual stories from Mexico, Afghanistan, Southern Sudan or Iraq, write postcards to workers abroad for the holidays, times when family is missed most or postcards to legislators to support policies that promote peace.  At the start of the tour you are given a card which tells you the country of origin and whether or not you are a refugee or an internally displaces person or other categories of persons who wind up in MSF camps. 

My card said I was from the Republic of South Sudan, a new country.  I had an ID number with a stamp: Internally Displaced Person over my photo.  There was a line for my gender and DOB, date of issue of the card and expiration date: 13/May/2027. I know Dinkas from Southern Sudan who now live in Santa Clara County and in Oakland, so I felt comfortable in my identity; however, I did not know what I was going to encounter next.

Professor Sabir with students from her English class ,
 College of Alameda,  at Forced from Home with guide
After being assigned a country, we then face certain situations which cause us to lose our homes.  Exhibition themes: “Push Factors”: War, religious conflict, food shortage, safety can make people flee. “On the Move”—How do people, once displaced navigate their journeys. Then there is “Legal Status”: What rights does the fleeing person retain as she crosses borders? “Basic needs”: How do families find food, shelter, maintain basic hygiene and access technology as they move from place to place? “Health Care” is of course an important issue. Many ailments caused by poor sanitation and poor nutrition.  Then of course, “Shelter” is primary and hardest to secure for multiple reasons. By the time we get through the list, we can see how all factors are linked to one another, some more than others. Visit

I don’t know how refugees are greeted at an actual encampment, but there are people wearing MSF vests at the gate who hustle us to our next stop. Questions assault our ears as we try to figure out what this place is. I don’t remember too many smiling faces greeting me hello. 

After our identity is established, we are then led to a tent where we watch a virtual 360-video—the people on the screen are life-size and talking right next to you as you turn to watch all the stories.  The people are from Lebanon, Mexico, Tanzania, and South Sudan, regions where the largest populations of displaced persons currently reside.   We listen to an Iraqi father seated with his wife and daughter share how he lost his home and now all he has is a wood-burning stove.  The video and others like it, plus the large photos of hospital trauma centers, people on the run—smoke from explosives visible in the  back

Elvis (MSF) shows Wanda around opening day
ground, emphasize how dire and urgent the needs are for so many people. Imagine people living just like us here in Oakland, finding themselves without basic necessities. Imagine being confined to a camp because the country where it is located says you cannot enter, despite UN rules which state such is unlawful.  Generations of refugees live in one camp for decades.  The average stay in a camp is 17 years, I learned on my second tour. 

It is crazy to think that “84 percent of refugees are hosted by developing regions.  The top six refugee countries are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Uganda, and Ethiopia.  The six wealthiest countries, including the US, host less than 9 percent of the world’s refugees” (UNHCR, Oxfam). 

MSF builds hospitals like one in Afghanistan, highlighted in a large photo. The hospital is rubble. It was bombed, aid workers and patients killed.  I can see the sadness in Elvis’s eyes as he looks at the photo of a place he helped build, now gone.  He tells me how it is his job to make sure the MSF staff are safe. Sometimes he has to have staff pack up—all except perhaps 1 doctor. 

Elvis, Kenyan, gave me a private tour—with MSF since 2003, he is the person who goes into the region first with a doctor, logistics/mechanic person, to do an initial survey and set up.  He told me how the tents pre set-up are labeled for the kind of care needed in a particular area.  The medical tent we visited was for cholera. It had special beds made from canvas, easy to clean with a hole for the bucket to catch the diarrhea.  Chlorine bleach is the disinfectant of choice.  He said that there would be someone at the entrance and exit of the tent to spray the person with antibacterial and to keep the germs from spreading. 

On the other side of the ward was another section with beds covered in mosquito netting. Presented with different scenarios as Dinka from Southern Sudan, I had to think about what I might take with me in the five minutes I had before I had to leave—I chose bottled water, a blanket, my keys, a cell phone and a motorcycle.  Elvis told me that people would probably take the motorcycle from me or try to jump on it, so more often people walked.  I also learned the only money that spends internationally are American dollars. 

At the next stop, I had to pay the person to get through. He wanted my shoes, so I had to leave them.  We passed by buses, canoes or boats.  Some people walked. Others hiked.  Boats built for 20-40 people were carrying hundreds. The fake life jackets were lined with cardboard and the floors were often filled with excess fuel -- gas and seas water make an acid which burns the skin of the women and children seated in the bottom of these boats.  These treacherous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea were often unsuccessful.  I decided to keep walking, even though a bus ride was an option if I could raise the money-- $2000 US?!  

Sometimes an escaping family would make it to a border and the police would not let all the family members cross. This happened to me. I could not leave, but my cute daughter was allowed to cross.  Without access to media or international attention, people trapped at the borders often die.  The government does not supply food, water or any kind of humanitarian aid.  I worried about my daughter who was allowed to cross. I hoped she would not be kidnapped or sexually trafficked. 

By the time I get to the end of the journey, I don’t have much left to barter with. I notice that some of the other refugees or IDPs nearby have their passports. I didn’t grab mine when I left. Perhaps I should have instead of keys.  I thought about grabbing photos, but my photos are saved in Dropbox and Google Drive so I can access them from a cloud. 

When I get to a camp, the first thing I see is a store.  Elvis says, no matter where he is in the world and no matter how bad it is, someone sets up a store where refugees barter for goods. The cell phone charging station uses solar power.  I see a toy car too. All I have left is a blanket and water bottles. I wonder about their liquidation value.  Perhaps I can offer a service like letter writing or babysitting. 

The first station Elvis’s team sets up is for clean drinking water, hand washing, and a toilet.  Americans use a lot of water daily, while the average refugee uses about two gallons.  He asked me if I wanted to try swatting in the stall—I remember all too well the toilets in Africa where one swats to do her business.  There is no tissue--your left hand serves that purpose. 

What makes MSF so successful is its integration of services with community members who are hired to work alongside international aid workers.  From Kenya where he worked in HIV services, treatment and diagnosis, to his work internationally, Elvis says that he could not have the kind of job he has now at home.  His loyalties would be split, so he does not work at home where presently there is unrest over the election results.   Dadaab in Kenya is the largest refugee camp in the world, home to majority Somali refugees. The Somali refugees are trapped. The Kenyan government will not let them into the country. 

The other larger camp seemed to be in Southern Sudan where for a long time, the environment was stable.  However, Elvis told me of a bombing there which killed a lot of people.   MSF built these more permanent shelters in Sudan and has been a presence there for years.  MSF has had a long presence in Congo where it still provides aid. Elvis said they, MSF, treats everyone—the aggressor and the victim.  MSF also advocates for the displaced persons, refugees and migrants who are not able to find safety.  They ask larger governments to step up and provide sanctuary for displaced persons. 

The irony of Oakland’s own burgeoning homeless or Internally Displaced population is not lost on me. I think about the poor to no response by the current municipality to the needs of citizens who do not have adequate housing or sanitation. The sanctioned camp on Peralta and 35th Street, recipients Winter 2016-17 of compassionate care, must have exhausted civic supply given the poor maintenance or removal of port-a-potties, handwashing facilities and regular trash and garbage pickup.  Cold weather is coming in now and with it winter storms and illness for those exposed to the elements. San Francisco started inoculating homeless residents against hepatitis C, caused by inadequate sanitation.  Alameda County has not been proactive on this potential public health emergency.  Our homeless populations are also “Forced from Home;” however, unlike those refugees escaping violence and persecution, these are American citizens have certain rights, among them the right to shelter and food and safety. The problem is bigger than one city; however, if the cities in the Bay Area collaborate and plan, suffering can be mitigated and long-term solutions put into immediate action. 

DACA and immigrants without the proper documents face deporting.  At the Jamaican Independence Day Dinner in Berkeley, the Honorable Audrey Patrice Marks, US Ambassador, spoke of young Jamaican men at risk for deportation. This is a big issue on the East Coast where larger populations of African Diaspora live.  Somi sings of her neighbors-- new residents, on her current album which she brought to Oakland in concert late October.  She speaks of how connected she feels to Diaspora in Harlem, historic names lining boulevards. However, these names are all that is left of the African American community which made this place home.  Priced out of the market, Harlem is no longer an indigenous black geography.  While it is great there is a newer black population inhabiting these sacred spaces-- the reason why Africans can move in is because they have the income to afford to do so. Once again people have been “forced from home.”

Listen to a radio interview with two MSF clinicians: Luella Smith, MSF Emergency Physician and Otto Gonzalez, MSF Nurse at Wanda's Picks Radio Show.

Put Your Ideals into Practice:

For those interested in working for MSF there is a recruitment information session, Wed., Nov. 8, 6-7:30 p.m. at Berkeley Public Library, North Branch, Community Meeting Room, 1170 The Alameda, Berkeley. Visit

Wanda's Picks Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017

This is a black arts and culture site. We will be exploring the African Diaspora via the writing, performance, both musical and theatrical (film and stage), as well as the visual arts of Africans in the Diaspora and those influenced by these aesthetic forms of expression. I am interested in the political and social ramifications of art on society, specifically movements supported by these artists and their forebearers. It is my claim that the artists are the true revolutionaries, their work honest and filled with raw unedited passion. They are our true heroes. Ashay!

1. Rodney Ewing, "Days and Occasions: the Unexpected Griot," at Southern Exposure Gallery in SF. His open studios is Nov. 10-12. Pacific Felt Factory 2830-20th Street #202 San Francisco, CA 94110

During the month of September, I have been creating an installation on the front wall of Southern Exposure's gallery. The piece is from ongoing project called "Days and Occasions" where I create a narrative based on observations and conversations that surround me every day. This specific iteration of the work is titled after the traditional West African griots that perform the role of community historians – public speakers or singers of stories documenting local history for social gatherings and public ceremonies. With this installation I am sharing my collection of neighborhood oral information.

Current Exhibits
Djerassi Artist in Residence, Woodside, CA
April 25th through May 23rd 2018

Veteran's Views: Art By Those Who Served, Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, CA
November 11th, 2017 through February 4th 2018

Days and Occasions: The Unexpected Griot, Southern Exposure Gallery, San Francisco, CA
October 6th through December 2nd, 2017

Recology Artist in Residence: Recology, San Francisco, CA
October 1st 2017 - January 31st, 2018

Vanishing Point: Three Point Nine Art Collective.  
Katz Synder Gallery, San Francisco, CA

May 7th, 2017 through October 2017 (closed)

2. Doctors Without Borders present: Forced From Home Exhibition Oct. 30-Nov. 5 at Henry J. Kaiser Center (outside). Visit  Interviews with: Luella Smith, MSF Emergency Physician and Otto Gonzalez, MSF Nurse 

3. Jayson Johnson, writer/ director, Redress

Jayson earned an MA in film production from Eastern Illinois University and then took a marketing position working for legendary film director Francis Ford Coppola. Jayson worked on several successful wine and food ventures and then transitioned over to Coppola’s film studio, American Z Jayson worked under film pioneers Walter Murch, Richard Beggs and Mr. Coppola himself. Jayson took Coppola’s advice to ‘go out and become famous’ and now works as a producer. Jayson works full time as a freelance producer for Strike Five Films.

Visit this link:


Luella Smith, MSF Emergency Physician

Luella Smith is an emergency physician who has worked with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) since 2006, including several missions working directly with displaced people. She has worked in Sudan, Niger, Central African Republic, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Cote d'Ivoire, Syria, Philippines, Nigeria, Libya, Jordan, and Yemen. Most recently, Luella was a medical referent for three months in Amran Project, Yemen where MSF was providing care for internally displaced people. Luella lives in New Brunswick, Canada. When not on assignment with MSF, she provides medical care to indigenous populations in Northern Canada. Luella received her medical degree from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and her bachelor's from the University of the Philippines.

Otto Gonzalez, MSF Nurse

Otto Gonzalez is a nurse and nursing supervisor who has completed four missions with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). He has worked in Tanzania, DRC, Chad, and Honduras. Most recently, Otto supervised outpatient services and national staff nursing supervisors for four months in Nduta camp in Tanzania, which supports Burundian refugees. Otto lives in Bay City, Oregon and, when not on assignment with MSF, works as a nurse supervisor at Tillamook County General Hospital. He received his nursing degree from Clatsop Community College.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wanda's Picks Wed., October 25, 2017

This is a black arts and culture site. We will be exploring the African Diaspora via the writing, performance, both musical and theatrical (film and stage), as well as the visual arts of Africans in the Diaspora and those influenced by these aesthetic forms of expression. I am interested in the political and social ramifications of art on society, specifically movements supported by these artists and their forebearers. It is my claim that the artists are the true revolutionaries, their work honest and filled with raw unedited passion. They are our true heroes. Ashay!

1.Whose Streets interview with directors, Sabaah Folyan; Damon Davis. Review 

2. Bobbyie Waters, African Americans for Balanced Health & Phillipe Matthews, Executive Director of the, a 501c3 talk about HAPI:The Role of Ecomonics on the Development of Civilization, Fri., Oct. 27, 5:30-9:30 p.m. at the Guild Theater, 2828 35th St., Sacramento,

Sat., Oct. 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Dr. Ephraim Williams Family Life Center, 4036 14th Ave., Sacramento: 877-491-2224 (AABH).

3. Rebroadcast Johanna Haigood, Dir. Zaccho and Jeff Raz, Associate Director re: "A View from Here" which celebrates the work of artist Marc Chagall closes this weekend, Fri.-Sun., Oct. 27-29 at ZACCHO Studios: 1777 Yosemite, SF.

Music: Miguel Zenon, Zion Trinity


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

22nd Annual MAAFA Reflections

Maafa Commemoration 22
By Wanda Sabir

What I loved this year was all the celebratory dancing from just before our ancestors crossed into the unknown territory to landing on these shores and celebrating life and the possibility of freedom which remained physically just beyond reach for centuries.

In small steps as we regained agency over ourselves, even if our bodies then and now continue to be exploited, liberation was a bit sweeter. 

Dancers leaped into the air as if to fly home to the ancestors along the West Coast of Africa where so many were detained in conditions too horrible to imagine, yet we must imagine and remember to heal from a trauma—the MAAFA which continues to haunt our gene pools. At the beach that morning Brother Clint, Sister Lola, Brother Kwalin and Lady Sunrise led the primal cry, a sound pulled from within, from the depths – the moan where we felt multiple aches, bruises bandaged were uncovered, the sores aired, the blood allowed to drip into the sand.

Even our sorrow is beautiful.

For the first time in the 22 year commemoration the people danced the Wolosodon as drummers evoked the energies of those gone before. It was beautiful watching both adults and children, young and old, prepare for the journey as our ancestors did.  Jazz began at the dungeon site and the improvisational dance that is black life continues to shape the landscapes we terry on briefly before legislated elsewhere.

It is difficult to be black in America, perhaps elsewhere too, but we have our ancestors— black deities and angels who not only have a say but control what is unseen. This is where true power lies, so we danced for those spirits whose lives cycle or course through our veins born and yet to be born, present that morning, present always—no further away than a libation or call.

We danced the wolosodon along the path leading to the Doors of No Return and Dundunba – the Ritual of Forgiveness where we released those burdens we no longer felt necessary to carry any further. With each rose petal we filled a hole and dropped the items inside and then covered the hole so that none would escape to re-infect our aura.
“Dance of the Warriors” when we made it through the horrific sea journey to shore. Later that morning we learned how to channel our energies into fearlessness – Mu-I –a martial arts form based in Maat led by Zochi.  Mu-I followed the

Fleet Week ended that day, a day honoring war.  We honored peace. Those people on the beach who were not invited respected our ceremony, inquiring afterward of Brother Clint, how it went. (Last year someone called the police who told us the use of amplification on the beach was not permitted. This year we were finished before the park ranger trucks came through.)

There were many obstacles in the way this year most of them on the road to the beach where the waves were mighty.  Both sun and moon were in the sky together Sunday morning witness to the four heart shaped Mylar balloons guests released from the circle – I just hope no bird choked on the remains of the offering.

Theo had a flat tire on the Bay Bridge while Brotha Clint ran into a horrific car accident en route from Vallejo.  Sister Taliba whom I met at the world premiere of Donald Lacy’s film, Hidden Treasure earlier that week, lost all her keys and had to leave her car in Oakland and hire a locksmith to get into her home. 

I was still at the beach at 2 p.m. when she called and I went back to look for red rose petals where she might have buried her keys during the Ritual of Forgiveness. I kept finding blue items—a blue sliver of wood, a bottle cap with a bare foot on it, a piece of a label wrapper for bottled water, but no rose petals anywhere.

For the second year in a row, the Black Women’s Media Project, Sacred Space and the Health and Human Resources Center chartered a bus for East Bay pilgrims and this year they numbered about 40-50. Once again there were many first timers. Big ups to Colette Winlock, Lola Haneef, Lady Sunrise, Brenda Byes and their team members.

During the talk back, ritual attendees spoke of how they measured their year from October to October. We will have to get them to join us for the June Libations for the Ancestors in Oakland too. The Second Saturday in June at 9 a.m. (PST) is the International Libation for the Ancestors. It is a global libation: lists all the places where libations take place.

Brother Neter Aa Meri erected his ancestor altar, a masterpiece as usual; however, this year I also made a community altar which grew as one brother placed a candle from Ethiopia, sisters put candy and other items for Yemanja. I had candy and bubbles for Esu Legba. I liked the idea Dhameera Ahmad’s family introduced at her funeral to blow bubbles for the ancestors.

I haven’t figured where to put the bubbles as a group activity.

We remembered the three Iyas or community mothers who made their transitions this year: Queen Mother Makinya Sibeko Kouate, Hajja Dhameera Ahmad, Iya Jacquelyn Hadiah McLeod.  Another person the community mourns is Baba Dick Gregory.  That morning as I drove behind the slow 5 McAllister bus, I was thinking about Hubert Collins (d. Dec. 2016), my dear friend who would always show us when called with his camera and then make me these lovely albums. 

My first cousin Kevin Clark (58) died that week in New Orleans. He was my Uncle Arthur’s son. New Orleans was spared Hurricane Nate’s fury, but Gulfport was not.  Mobile and Biloxi were Nate
touched down suffered major flooding. I have people these places too.

I was also thinking about Great Aunt Olivia Samaiyah Beyah Bailey (d. Jan. 2017), who at 98 was not about to live in a world with Trump as its leader. She literally “dropped the mic.”

We poured libations for those impacted by the California wildfires and those in Mexico who died in the earthquakes and for the many affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose . . . then Marie, especially those in Puerto Rico and Dominica and the Virgin Islands.   Just up to Sept. 30 there were over 15 tropical storms that turned into hurricanes.  September 30, 13 named storms, eight hurricanes, and five major (Category 3 or stronger) hurricanes had formed in the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. This is an historic hurricane season.

Presently Bay Area air quality is impacted by the raging fires burning in Napa, Sonoma, San Rafael, Yuba City, Ukiah. 100,000 acres burn, 1000s are displaced, there are deaths.  Here is a link to updated news coverage at and LATimes.  We had people at the commemoration from Redwood City, Sacramento, Antioch, Vallejo, Richmond, San Francisco, Oakland.  There were many who were planning to come and sent poems instead like Sister Makeda who sent Sterling Brown’s Strong Men read by Karla Brundage.

There were many people present for the first time like Thomas Simpson, AfroSolo founder. Don’t miss his program, Oct. 19-20. Visit  I was so happy to see Dr. Gail Myers, Freedom Farmers Market, a sister who is lifting up black agarian culture, the literal Roots Culture colonized in city states.  She is hosting a program at AAMLO, Friday, Oct. 13, honoring the legacy of Dr. George Washington Carver called Circling Back. The free program beginning at 6 p.m.-8 p.m. will feature films about black farmers, a panel, and poetry.

We forget black people are the original migrant farmworkers, they called us sharecroppers then, but there was nothing shared. Exploited black folks swindled out of land and livelihood ended up in barren cities where they grew Victory Gardens when the war made such shows of patriotism fashionable. But even before this black folk were growing food so they could eat, they were growing food so the kids could stay well, families could stay well, ‘cause there were no medical plans, just burial policies.

Black people’s labor didn’t just build this country, we also fed it and made it fat.

Dr. Myers brought along her friend, Alice Walker. I was so happy to see Ms. Walker. I remembered the semester she was the topic of my freshman comp class. We read the biography, hot off the presses: Alice Walker, A Life.  We also read The Color Purple and went on a field trip to see the musical starring Oakland born and raised, Latoya London. We also went to see the stage adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Bluest Eye at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre. It was directed by Stanley F. Williams.  Both are stories about black girls.  Morrison’s story is a bit more tragic. The lesson is the same: black girls are at risk and we have to pay attention and keep our girls safe.

A student who also loved her work and I followed Alice Walker to Whole Earth Expo from our Alameda classroom to San Francisco where she spoke and signed books.  I wanted my protégé to meet her.  I remember when I saw Ms. Walker at the Howard Zinn event where famous writers, historians and activists read from his Voices of a People’s History of the US.  Alice Walker, his former student, was one of the participants. After she read, I was seated with a couple of VIPs, Marina Drummer and Robert H. King, so I went to the reception with them. (The event was at King Middle School, the school my daughter TaSin graduated from). 

In any case, Ms. Walker was excited and asked me if I had a copy of her latest book, We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For. When I told her no, she then took a copy from the basket her assistant was carrying and gave me one.  I made that book my textbook for the next couple of years. I kept following her to La Peña when she was a part of an event for the Cuban 5 at a book release: Letters of Love & Hope: The Story of the Cuban Five Paperback by author, Nancy Morejon, editor, Alice Walker.

I also saw her again at a wonderful film screening about the literacy campaign President Fidel Castro, her friend launched.  This was before Kennedy attacked the island during a battle called, The Bay of Pigs. I saw her at the Museum of the African Disapora (MoAD) when she was in conversation with the author of Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route by Saidiya Hartman. I would have an entirely different view of the book after leaving Elmina City with Imahkus Njinga Okofu, One Africa. According to her, the book is a distortion of the legacy of African American who live in Ghana. She shared a letter she who outlining the inaccuracies.

I saw Ms. Walker again at Laney College in the audience at a Playback Theatre event. One of my students at that time who was a part of the professional troupe, invited me to attend.

I have a photo of Ms. Walker in my bedroom – yep. Can’t make this stuff up (smile). I am a super groupie – from Temple of My Familiar onward, but she would never notice. I hope.  Her partner would recognize me and smile after I introduced myself to him the first time at MoAD.

I am fine admiring her legacy from a distance.  Seeing her Sunday, October 8, is an opportunity to write all these things down that I have been holding (smile). 

Perhaps the most special time I was able to see her was at the African American Art and Culture Complex when there was a program for the Californian Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) when Hamdiya Cooks was the director. Hamdiya said that Ms. Walker had her over to tea when she was released from prison.  I think Hamdiya shared that story when she introduced Ms. Walker.

All her life Alice Walker has been showing up.  She showed up at Dr. King’s funeral and a week later lost the baby she was carrying along with her will to live. However, she soon shook herself from the apathy and continued the work King had inspired her to start.

A few years ago, her friend Jacquelyn Hairston composed a libretto to her poem, “Why Peace is Always a Good Idea.”  It was performed at AfroSolo and Alice Walker read the poem at a concert preview at the Burial Clay theatre. The AfroSolo event August 2011 was prelude to the Carnegie Hall performance in Feb. 19, 2012—Hairston’s conductor debut with a 300 voice choir. She returned again in 2016.

Maafa 2017-2020

Back at the beach, the waves were high and when I finally went to offer prayers to the ancestors, I was caught unaware by a waves which soaked my shoes, not once but twice. Hassaun who’d walked with me there, said, “the ancestors want your attention.”  Well they certainly got it. I am still focused on the ancestors and have begun to think about next year. 

We are inching towards 2019 which marks the 400th anniversary of the first Africans to set foot on English American soil in indentured servitude.  While white people also served as indentured servants, their servitude had a terminus, black people would be held indefinitely.

There is a bill: H.R.1242 - 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act which passed the House in May 2016, but did not pass the Senate to date.  Everyone should lobby the Senate to adopt and pass the bill so the resources become available to those of us doing the ancestor commemoration work.

(Sec. 3) This bill establishes the 400 Years of African-American History Commission to develop and carry out activities throughout the United States to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619.
The commission must:
·         plan programs to acknowledge the impact that slavery and laws that enforced racial discrimination had on the United States;
·         encourage civic, patriotic, historical, educational, artistic, religious, and economic organizations to organize and participate in anniversary activities;
·         assist states, localities, and nonprofit organizations to further the commemoration; and
·         coordinate for the public scholarly research on the arrival of Africans in the United States and their contributions to this country.
(Sec. 5) The commission may provide: (1) grants to communities and nonprofit organizations for the development of programs; (2) grants to research and scholarly organizations to research, publish, or distribute information relating to the arrival of Africans in the United States; and (3) technical assistance to states, localities, and nonprofit organizations to further the commemoration.
(Sec. 7) The commission must prepare a strategic plan and submit a final report to Congress that contains a summary of its activities, an accounting of its received and expended funds, and its recommendations.
(Sec. 8) The commission shall terminate on July 1, 2020.
(Sec. 9) All expenditures of the commission shall be made solely from donated funds.