Friday, June 16, 2006

Exit Exams in Oakland; Mayoral Races: Oakland, CA and Newark, NJ

Silver Bullets/Golden Arrows
By Wanda Sabir

The Black Commentator co-founders launched their publication covering the mayoral race in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, a city run by, Sharpe James. James was challenged by newcomer, Cory Booker, city councilman, Newark political neophyte. Now I found out about Booker in the POV film, Street Fight: Directed by Marshall Curry, distributed by Ironweeds Films. Ironweeds is a media club, distribution site which promotes community discussion on provocative topics.

Booker is portrayed as the underdog, James arch-villain. Not once in the film, is Booker’s connection to corporate money – a right-wing think tank whose president, Michael Joyce praises Charles Murray, author of the Bell-Curve, a book which uses pseudo-science to prove the intellectual inferiority of African people. Instead, the “street fight,” is said to revolve around Booker’s skin color and his sterling academic record. Nothing, could be further from the truth. Commentator author’s state in “Fruit of the Forbidden Tree: Hard Right Plans to Capture Newark, NJ. Visit

In the meantime, the ballots are still being counted in Alameda country to determine who won the mayoral race, Ron Dellums or Ignacio De la Fuente. As we went to press “of the “76,496 votes counted so far, Dellums has 49.65 percent and De La Fuente 33.37 percent. The vote total will now be updated periodically, rather than daily,” Acting Registrar of Voters Dave McDonald was quoted in Wednesday, June 14, Oakland Tribune.

Why did Curry leave these questionable campaign items unexplored? Also left unexplored were Booker’s ties to a movement for public school privatization, a.k.a., voucher programs. Sharpe James was no saint over his 20 year tenure, but his resignation letter certainly lists achievements in Black community development unmatched by many municipalities. Just check out Mayor Willie Brown’s track record here in San Francisco as a case in point.

Though Amiri Baraka when asked about his new mayor, Cory Booker, called him a “Republi-coon.” Booker is in fact is in fact a nominal Democrat – in name only, which points to the innate trouble with this two-party system. It seems strange that in five reelections as mayor and his appointment to the New Jersey State Senate in 1999, and 2001, that James hadn’t groomed a predecessor. I also found it strange that Cornell West was shown supporting Booker in the film; perhaps he was unaware of the company Booker kept, just as I was.

I wonder why so many of the bright African Americans end up on the wrong side of the street. What Booker’s win this year signifies is the ease with which right wing conservatives court African Americans whose interests lie in advancing their careers not serving the community. I used to think the reason why people run for office was to serve their community.

Note the past tense.

Booker completely staged and positioned himself for political office –living in a public housing projects while tapping into resources like the Bradley Foundation, the primary moneybags for private school vouchers, BC stated in the article: “Hard Right Cash Defeated in Black City – This Time.” Visit

African people need to wake up! This is still Babylon.

Since I’m coming clean, I guess I’ll also fess up to not knowing about Alameda County Superintendent of Schools, Sheila Jordan’s implicit invitation to Jack O'Connell, the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, to send in a Randy Ward to save Oakland Public Schools when she blocked funds to stave off the deficit, Greg Hodge, School Board member, told me. I remember when Jordan was City Council person. The former school teacher seemed to know where her alliances lay then. Now, the situation has shifted to one where children in twelfth grade this week: June 12-16, who didn’t pass an eighth grade math, writing, reading and perhaps history exam – will receive a letter of completion instead of a high school diploma. At one high school, Castlemont, the seniors were all told they didn’t make the grade en masse, a move dismissing their right to privacy. All of them probably felt shamed. It was like informing someone of his HIV status on the school intercom. Read .

The failure of Oakland children is a failure of the school administrators – instead if penalizing the children who did what they were supposed to do, show up ready to learn. This reminds me of the Brian Brooks’ film “Half Nelson,” whose protagonist is a philosophy teacher slash physical education teacher, who is also addicted to crack cocaine. His sidekick is a cute 14-maybe year old girl. Yes, it screams inappropriate – yet the student and teacher bond in a strange dysfunctional way which serves both well. Girl-child’s mom’s a police officer who works too many hours. The girl’s brother’s in prison and his best friend is trying to turn his friend’s sister out. The director, from Berkeley/claims Oakland, wanted to make the film here, but since he was already in New York, he had to shoot it there.

Part of the teacher’s problem was his inability to handle reality, a career where he was penalized for telling the truth to the children he taught, a career where he was penalized for teaching them to be independent thinkers who question authority. Look for it this fall. The metaphor gives opponents a little wiggle-room wherein lies the hope I suppose.

I don’t know what Oakland Public School children or their parents can do at this point, but it would have been great if the principals would have advocated for the children who didn’t pass and let them participate in the ceremony which is about all children have today as a rite of passage, marking change from childhood to adulthood.

Who asked the rhetorical question: why do we allow the enemy to educate our children?

Well, it’s no longer rhetorical; it’s a call to action. If black and brown kids are not graduating with high school diplomas, the road to hell – read crime, prison, death, is a little more slippery. I hope the children with those useless pieces of paper enroll in college, while also attending Oakland Adult School to prepare for the GED or High School Equivalency Test (a.k.a. Exit Exam). Students can’t get financial aide without a diploma or GED. Transfer from the community college system for students without high school equivalencies is often based on an academic contingency agreement which varies from campus to campus – more ice, engine oil, grease on the descent down.

At the College of Alameda, 555 Atlantic Avenue, Alameda, we have a program we are launching this fall called Sspire specifically for vulnerable youth in high risk situations. I teach the English Composition courses. Other first semester classes are Math 201, Introduction to Humanities, College Success, and Dance. Student books are paid for; some of the assignments are shared between classes, as well as texts. “The theme this fall is: For Love or Money.” If you’re interested and you’re 17-24, please call Brenda Bias (510) 748-2209 and ask for information about the Friday orientation schedule this summer.

Sunday, at Sankofa Anamontou: African Cotillion, a really lovely affair, Greg Hodge, spoke eloquently about what the communities’ obligation is to its children, and in return what these young people: Monique Blodgett and Keenan Jones, who have completed their rites of passage successfully, what their responsibility is to those just behind.

Photo credit: Wanda Sabir -- At Sankofa Anamontou Greg Hodge greets Monique Blogett, as Keenan Jones looks on.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Remembering the Ancestors June 10, 9 a.m. PT

Saturday, the weather was chilly...especially near the ocean where the tide was out, at least it was out before we gathered at its mouth to pour libations. With waves roaring in our ears, we recalled the multiple blessings available to us just because others had made this reality possible. In a tight circle we embraced those ideas, as feelings swelled and overflowed, salty like the mist dusting our cheeks, kissing our lips, swallowing our worries with health and well-being.

It was a special gathering for Minister Lezell Williams, as he's moving to Mississippi next month and will not be here in October for the Maafa ritual. For others like Little P, at four months he didn't relish leaving the warmth of daddy's car.

Folks traveled from Vallejo for the ritual. Jason was so excited he was at the beach hours before. Baba Thompson also arrived early -- couldn't find us, so he and his guest wandered over to the Sutro Baths where they saw a barge passing which reminded them of what it might have been like to have had a vessel docking with precious Africans aboard.

I spoke to Brother Osei the next day in North Carolina. He said this had been one of the larger Remembrances they'd had to date.

In Myrtle Beach the tide was high, swift, the water cold. That evening at the Katherine Dunham birthday celebration we poured libations again.

Instead of a prayer, Boundless Gratitude sang. After we'd tossed flowers on the watery graves with prayers and blessings, we ended the ceremony with our Maafa Song.

Maafa, we remember you
The Middle Passage and all that we've been through
We're Still Here
Lest we forget
We look to the sky and cry "why?"

copyright: Brother Clint

Monday, June 05, 2006

Congolese Drum and Dance Conference

This weekend was really fun. My legs are tired, knees more than a little sore, but it was well worth the effort, so many wonderful musicians and artists under one roof at the same time for our edification. I remarked to one teacher, Biza Sompa, that I was surprised that none of the teachers duplicated each other's choreography --from Titos Sompa his elder brother, the man responsible for Congolese dance in this country, to Sister Odile Wanuke, Jean-Armel Mampouya, and Patrice Mbayero.

There's something healing about the rhythms of Africa, African music, and African people playing this music, singing the songs.

I didn't like the imposition of western cultural restraints on what was supposed to be fun. The bossy attitudes and the insistence on lines, was so out of Africa we would have been in a circle not a line, and the ridiculous arms bands for each class, especially for those of us who'd paid for multiple classes -- I had to go stand in long lines after each class for a different colored band.

It was more than a little annoying, especially when one person told me one thing and then someone else told me something different. I was well-- why can't the customer be right or at least get the band for me, since you want me to have it so badly.

Biza and Jean and Odile's attitudes were so cool, I couldn't stay annoyed once the music started, and the woman who was so intent on straight lines did such a great warm-up on Friday and Sunday, as Tupac said in one of his songs: I couldn't stay made at her.

This conference was the best advertisement for on-going classes at the Malonga Center, 1428 Alice Street, Oakland, dedicated to the late master drummer and dancer, Malonga Casquelourd, a student of Papa Sompa -- killed in a tragic car accident by a drunk driver.

Tuesday evenings, 7-8:30 p.m., there is a class; and Sunday at 12 noon-1:30 Mbayero has a class; which is followed at 2 p.m. by Portsha Jefferson's Haitian Dance Class. I think this had to be one of my favorites this week; the dance we performed one of resistance.

There will be Congolese Dance & Drum Camp in July in California and an African Renaissance Celebration in Michigan June 22 to July 2 or 3. For information about the classes, conferences and workshops, contact:

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Remembering the Ancestors June 10, 9 a.m. PT

Dear Community:

Today would have been the 100th birthday of our sister, Josephine Baker. There are celebrations in Paris honoring her legacy as an artist, war hero, philanthrophist and adoptive mother. Visit

Saturday, June 10, we will join the community in Charlotte, North Carolina, and elsewhere this year in their Remembrance Ceremony -- ours in San Francisco, at Ocean Beach, Fulton @ the Great Highway 9 a.m. (12 noon ET) to venerate and pour libations for the ancestors.

Please arrive at 8 a.m. so we can have a drumming circle and share ancestor stories and reflections, dance and celebrate the lives of those who have gone before. (I hope Minister Lezell Williams, Ayanna Aisha and Sister Gerry Abrams are available to pour next week as they have in October.)

If anyone has a portable microphone, please bring it.

We can end as we always do with flowers for the unmarked watery grave sites, and food to share. Please bring cups and plates, napkins if the dish requires it.

Bring water also, and blankets to sit on, since I don't plan on having tables or even chairs. Everyone will have to bring those types of items.

Spread the word. If you can't come to the beach June 10, then at 12 noon ET, (9 a.m. PT) stop and pour libations for your African ancestors who were torn from their land and sold into slavery, then shipped away from home forever.

Read the flier. Brother Osei has added us to the list of participating national and international communities. However, unlike the Charlotte remembrance, the rule for MaafaSFBayArea rituals still applies: AFRICAN People Only.

E-mail me at if you'd like to carpool, give a ride or need one, or have questions. Visit

Peace and Blessings,

Wanda Sabir

The New Missionaries: White Film Makers

I had to leave San Francisco International Film Festival 49, (4/20-5/4), Monday evening, May 1, with about a half-hour to get to Berkeley to meet Stanley Nelson (director of “Peoples Temple,” a new documentary scheduled to air on American Experience, locally KQED, Channel 9). He had a great audience and the lobby was buzzing with comments, many people staying for the next screening, which I too had arrived for.

I asked Nelson if he’d ever thought about doing something on the Maafa, or Black Holocaust. After I explained the concept, he said he was working on a film presently about the economic consequences of the European Slave Trade.

I wonder which direction his work will take given the series: Slavery and the Making of America, and S. Pearl Sharp’s The Healing Passage, both which look at the economics of the brutal business. African faces on Confederate money along with cotton and other agrarian artifacts or tools support the claim that slavery was driven by economic advances, nothing else, despite the duplicitous counterarguments posited by missionaries to the contrary.

I stayed to watch “Iron Island” directed by Jazireh Ahani, (Iran, 2005, 90 min), I saw that it is screening in San Francisco at the about a community that lived on an abandoned oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. It begins to leak so the Captain Nemat (Ali Nasirin), almost a god there, trades their home for land. Set in the present, the film is quite interesting...lots of commentary on the absence of rights for women in Islam; girls sold to old men so they'll have less mouths to feed, fathers working off-shore returning home to the ship to pay debts, feed their families, then off to work again for months on end.

Love is not an option here, Ahmad (Hossein Farzi-Zadeh), a heart sick youth finds out…the lesson almost killing him.

Favela Rising
The film I watched in San Francisco, before heading to Berkeley was “Favela Rising,” (USA/Brazil 2005, 80 min), a great story, minus the political, economic and social reasons for a favela –- an illegal settlement in Brazil where poor people, mostly African live… a place where crime and death are more plentiful than sunshine. In the documentary we meet one of the founders of AfroReggae (in Portuguese), a former drug lord, Anderson Sá.

Interviews are mixed with cuts to police invading the Vigário Geral, Rio’s most violent slum, masked young men with high powered arms descending stairs, residents hurriedly disappearing behind closed doors as bullets ricochet off tin roofs, hit flesh or concrete.

Okay, so what’s wrong with that? Another ghetto-hero-rising-from-the-ashes flick –- real, fictional, whatever…it sells tickets, makes white folks feel beneficent, and is a great ticket to stardom for the lucky director who gets his name on the final cut.

Enter Jeff Zimbalist, whom I’d seen prior to the film screening at a free SFIFF panel discussion, entitled: “The Revolution, Now Playing: Film as a Tool for Social and Political Change.” The director said he’d wanted to make a film about an urban community and felt if he made it about a place here, in the US, American audiences might be too jaded to acknowledge something like a José Junior and Anderson Sá story. So he went to Brazil…spent three years there and now seems inoculated into a mission, the film he said, a tool for social justice and change –- a contract with ThinkFilms for a commercial release just step one in the New York Film Academy and Maine Photographic Workshops faculty member’s itinerary.

Zimbalist, co-director said he’d been interested in working on a story about a community “that worked.” He said stories where people were breaking the odds stacked against them were the kind of stories where he found himself “most activated and alive.” He found such project when film co-director, Matt Mochary called him on a phone and told him about “two leaders of a movement in the slums of Rio, ‘broken individuals infected with idealism, eager for any chance to represent themselves, to share their winning prescription.’” Zimbalist quit his job editing and teaching and went to Vigário Geral to meet José Junior and Anderson Sá.

The co-director forgot to bring a clip to show the audience Saturday afternoon at the Kabuki, but encouraged folks to attend the screening later that day and the following week, which I did.

It was a full house.

Besides Zimbalist, were other directors and writers on the panel: Annalee Newitz, Adam Werbach, and Ina Inaba, moderated by Susan Gerhart, journalist and film critic. When I asked Gerhart why no director’s of African descent were present she paused then told me she didn’t have an answer. I have this thing about being the object of discourse, yet not a participant in it!

I just couldn’t comprehend how a workshop on revolution -- revolution?! could take place without an African director anywhere in sight. Zimbalist wasn’t alone in his mining of African themes. Ian Inaba was also guilty with his film “American Blackout,” guilty in that his producer, a sister, was in the house, as well as one of the editors, a brother was also there that afternoon, yet none was invited to speak, or even acknowledged.

African Diaspora themes are such a treasure trove for folks on the outside, it feels exploitive, somewhat the way NGOs and not-for-profit organizations do, the way they litter third world terrain like liquor stores.

Wherever there is a problem in the world—Tanzania, Congo… Bayview, Fillmore, South Central LA, you name it, someone is profiting from the distress, it’s no wonder a cure hasn’t been found.

Zimbalist states somewhere in the film-notes that he and his co-director gave cameras to local Brazilian youth to shoot the scenes where gangsters were chasing opponents, or fighting with police. This was clearly the more edgy of the shots and it would have been great to meet a few of these cinematographers at the San Francisco debut to talk to them about their work, and how they navigated between art and the politics of “favela” life.

White supremacist attitudes are in the air, irrigating the land beneath our feet, so if we are products of our environment then those who dine on privilege need to check themselves when dealing with cultures which are not theirs. Nowadays “starving children” can speak for themselves.

This aside, “Favela Rising” has all the elements of a great film: compelling story, loveable protagonist, and volatile setting. Shiva, the destroyer goddess is a key element in AfroReggae, an organization which grew from the literal ashes of the favela where the story takes place.

I've seen a lot of films about favelas and the police, Brazilian prisons and the dispensable nature of Black life… a value shared by police, the outlaws and much of Brazilian society. Why is Black life valued so little? Why does the government penalize the poor for poverty?

Why favela in the first place?

Why are African people located on the outskirts of society in illegal settlements? Why is our sister Benedita da Silva seemingly a lone voice and even she now a careful politician who walks on eggshells preaching the gospel, not the revolutionary words of ancestors who resisted European domination?

“Favela Rising” answers none of these questions, yet somehow one knows Anderson and the rest of the Afro Reggae crew know the answers because they are calling on the ancestors from Bob Marley to El Hajj Malik, while sisters sing Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika – the South African National Anthem. It’s a mixed bag there, as mixed as the bag we occupy in the States…AfroReggae, a Pan African movement strategy at its finest.

Anderson Sá is the perfect hero – he’s fearless, loves his people, provides leadership, and is willing to die for what he believes in. His decision to stop being an outlaw and join an organization AfroReggae Noticias (AfroReggae News), which morphed into Nucleo Comunitario de Cultura (“Cultural Community Center)…which became Grupo Cultural AfroReggae or GCAR in 1993, organizations born out of a “desire to counteract the violent drug industry and police oppression,” film notes state. GCAR believes that from the ashes of despair greatness is born is one of the films most exciting moments.

This is where the film begins, with the birth of this new cultural institution with structured facilities throughout their community.

Afro Reggae members provide the change they want to see… and because their work is providing a visible change, they have the respect of the outlaws, if not the police. Crime is down where AfroReggae offers workshops in music, capoeira, theatre, hip hop, and dance in other favelas – 700 in total throughout Brazil, not just Rio de Janerio. Afro Reggae which has a performance arm does not impose its program for social change on any other community unless invited, because what works in one favela might not be the answer in another. They liked music; another favela might want to do something else, like start a community newspaper. Since October 2001 in Parada de Lucas, a slum next to Vigário Geral, where the drug gangs have been fighting since 1983, GCAR offers basic IT/computer courses.