Monday, July 17, 2006

Superman Returns

TaSin and I went to see Superman Returns. I mistakenly thought it was Batman Returns or something like that. It wasn’t until I was reading the story’s introduction and trying to figure out where Morgan Freeman’s name was in the credits that it dawned on me that the film was going to be a lot different than I expected because though I remember Superman from the comics and afternoon TV, I hadn’t seen any Superman films, never read a comic book and remember vaguely the original actor suffering a riding accident and being paralyzed. So I’m sitting there and well…I started to analyze the film.

My mind only operates in the revolutionary mode…I see in black and white.

My daughter told me to turn off the analysis, and I really tried to sit there and let the fable of white supremacy wash over me, but hell…I couldn’t help myself, the parallels were so obvious, especially when Superman appeared so flawless, so perfect even in his mission which was to save the world.

In this episode he’d been gone on a quest for too long, evil steeping while he was away and was now ready to pour. His lady, Lois Lane, was so pissed with him, she wrote this Pulitzer Prize winning scathing feature entitled: “Why the World Doesn’t Need a Super Hero” or something like that.

Superman as God

Deep blue eyes, his father someone unearthly, his woman, well he doesn’t really have a woman, just a vessel he conceives a son. And so the story continues – the Jesus story as painted by Michelangelo all over again.

The ®2006 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. artist’s updated depiction of this on-screen god has blue eyes, his dark hair always in place…even his lift-offs are perfect…and despite his weakness he cares about humanity more than his life.

Yes, there is the obligory death scene and return to life. Hum…I think he even tries to walk on water, but that’s another story. Isn’t it? No, the son of god is capable of this too.

Why does the world need a superman? Well, for one if he exists then our responsibility to save ourselves is eliminated. If this savior looks like the dominant culture then our insecurities are reinforced, and Bush & Co. rule! If superman is the savior then God is not a part of our community. Therefore, we are powerless.

This might not be a Pulitzer Prize winning syllogism, but you get my drift.

I wanted to believe all those who believe in superman are super wimps, yet, the superman idea is so attractive, and so not could the minds of the innocents escape unscathed?

As Superman flew through the air, both he and his nemesis Clark Kent airbrushed and computer-enhanced to perfection, all I could do is sit back and watch the story unfold. Transported to another world where Black people appear on the news but not in any significant roles in the film I thought, if only this were make-believe.

I tried to watch with an open mind but had reservations about the subliminal effects of such blatant white supremacist propaganda. There were no African people in the newsroom at the Daily Globe where Superman’s alias worked nor were there were heroes or heroines who looked like my people there covering events, shaping public opinion. The only non-white characters were victims.

Then when it came out that Lois Lane had a son, guess whose son he was? The immaculate conception all over again…or was it? That aspect of the story remains unexplored, but as the absentee dad departs once again he tells Lois that he’s always around—

Just like god, right? Ready to drop in for a quickie?

Art: TaSin Sabir "Imagine Superman as a Blackman;" concept Wanda Sabir

Thursday, July 13, 2006

101+ Women Honored at Black Expo

When I got the e-mail or phone call, maybe both that I’d been nominated as a woman making a difference in the Bay Area, I felt honored someone noticed, then when Emiola Omoyo called to tell me not only was I nominated all the women were going to be honored, all 101 women, I was like wow – that’s a lot of sisters.

The evening was elegant from start to finish, Sister C. Diane Howell and The Harvest knew how to make a sister feel special. At the reception people greeted one another, it was like a special club, everyone – almost everyone in gold, white or a combination of the two. The e-mail must have been one of the many I was too inundated with work at the time the event was shaping up to notice. Teaching will do that to a person, especially when one is teaching an accelerated Critical Thinking Course – I was sick for three weeks after my grades were due.

So anyway, I had on black – I thought I looked elegant…pink and gray pearls around my neck and at my ears. Sister Bishop Ernestine Reems had on a black dress and Ave Montague had on a black suit too, so I wasn’t alone.

However, Karen Brown, and this pretty sister I met in the elevator, Georgia W. Richardson, in a white lace affair were visions of loveliness. I felt like a model on a runway…we climbed the stage from two different directions…then after a photo with the hosts, we then took another photo once we came down off the stage, and walked down the center aisle to the well-wishes of folks I hadn’t known were in the audience.

It’s too bad the tickets were so high; I know a lot of people I could have invited who would have loved to come. As it was, most the tables were corporate sponsored. Sister Diane knows how to work the market.

The dinner was nice…as was the company. Sitting waiting to receive the plaque I made some new friends – I was seated next to Terri J. Vaughn, Take Wings Foundation, and Mother Mary Ann Wright was nearby as was Barbara Rogers, in fact, I had Barbara’s plaque, she had Elena Serrano’s who wasn’t there.

Even though it was kind of hectic and people were flustered, I’m glad I was there this evening. I had to take two St. John’s Worts because I was so nervous, I could get out the door, but when I arrived Gloria rescued me and talked to me until I found some friends to go hang with until the grand entrance.

We had these cute wristband corsages. I’d never had a corsage before. I missed out on all the high school dances and things like that because at Muhammad University the boys and the girls didn’t socialize, so there were no dates and my ex-husband never bought me a corsage, so the white or yellow roses for our wrists was a sweet touch as were the baseball style caps with the words Phenomenal Woman on it.

There was also a corporate goodie bag filled with items one would never buy. We were serenaded by Gregory Ballad at evening’s close. It would have been better I think if he'd sung while we had dinner before the next phase of the evening's event and a really talented band. I wanted them to roll up the carpet a dance…especially after dessert.

But it was a staid and proper affair. I only say a couple of fingers popping when the band played I’m Every Woman.

Towards the end Tarika Lewis, also an honoree, performed a number on her violin – I hadn’t seen a violin with a wawa pedal before. It was a really cool sound.

The hotel manager was there and spent a long time with Mother Wright talking to her about ways he could help her feed more people. I thought the entire evening a great example of committed men and women who want to share wealth with their communities such as Ernest Clark, Seville Real Estate, and Ralph Grant, Grant & Smith CPAs, who both received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

I wonder how these values trickle out into the mainstream so that corporate greed is lessened and capital more evenly distributed so that all win.

The Harvest is taking youth to the 1st Annual African Economics, Science, and Technology Summit and Trade Mission in Senegal, West Africa, this December. Call (650) 771-1336 to see how you can sponsor a youth.

Pictured from top left to right: Wanda Sabir, Maafa San Francisco Bay Area, and Terri Vaughn, Take Wings Foundation; Deborah Vaughn, Dimensions Dance Theatre, Wanda Sabir, and Ave Montague, San Francisco Black Film Festival; Mother Mary Ann Wright, and Wanda Sabir. Mother Wright had her 65 birthday on July 11, the day before the event.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

2006 AIDS Walk San Francisco, Sunday, July 16

The AIDS virus has been around too long for African people to be the highest reported numbers of new infections. The funds raised here for organizations like Black Coalition on AIDS (BCA) will do much to address the health disparities which continue to exist in this country where health and well-being is not a given for all.

I remember in the early years of the AIDS Walk when African Americans didn't necessarily see the impact of the HIV virus on their lives and the potential devastation of our communities. I remember when Muslim friends further alienated the sick with fingers pointing blame -- we've come a long way in certain respects, yet, with the increasing number of infections in the heterosexual community, especially among pre-menopausal women (newly divorced and dating), well much is left to be done.

I was there on those frontlines with Gary Harmon, Dr. Slaughter, both deceased, Supervisor Keith Carson, and others, advocating for services for African Americans, especially in the East Bay, where there wasn’t even an AIDS Office at the Department of Public Health. I set up the AIDS Volunteer Clearinghouse at the Volunteer Centers of Alameda County with the support of Nisa Kali and Nora Silver at the Volunteerism Project, in collaboration with Volunteer Center and AIDS Service Providers throughout the greater bay area: San Francisco, Contra Costa Country, Marin, Solano, San Mateo, and of course Alameda County, even within the county, state and federal prisons: adult and juvenile.

This is when I met Gerald Lenoir, former executive director at Black Coalition on AIDS, where I received emotional and practical support training; Gloria Lockett, director of Cal-PEP AIDS Research where I learned about how to take the prevention message to the street; and Rebecca at WORLD whose magazine showed us how the epidemic was global long before the first World AIDS Conference and appropriate treatment protocols for women were given the serious consideration they deserved.

I remember when Rebecca and her HIV-negative husband became the proud parents of twin HIV-negative girls.

I recall AIDS Volunteer Clearinghouse trainings and recruitment efforts for AIDS Project of the East Bay, The Center for AIDS Services, Project Open Hand (where I volunteered for a long time delivering meals to clients in my West Oakland community).

At that time there was the AIDS Walk, an AIDS Dance-a-thon, an AIDS Exerciser-a-thon, and other fundraisers. One year, I think I participated in them all.

The AIDS Volunteer Clearinghouse was the answer to culturally sensitive service provider recruitment and training, so that the volunteer pool would reflect those infected with the disease, both in sexual orientation and race. The funding ended in 1995 and with it the program.

I remember before taking the job at the Volunteer Center, my cousin Roland Lewis died in a New Orleans hospital emergency room because my auntie had to drive him to Charity after the Mississippi hospital near home in Picayune told her they wouldn’t treat him.

I recall going out of business…hoping the larger organization -- The Volunteer Center, would absorb the mission and continue to provide professional services to these grassroots organizations. I don’t know if this has happened.

But 10 years later, 15 years later these mom and pop HIV/AIDS prevention shops are huge institutions with big budgets, evidence that instead of working themselves out of a job, for some reason the need is steadily growing.

Friends like John Iverson, ACT-UP East Bay, are in their 15-plus year with the AIDS infection, t-cell count good. It really is possible to live with AIDS, not that anyone wants to.

Prevention is best, not necessarily abstinence…a stupid policy this government under George W. is attaching to funding where prevention education is working, places like Uganda.

You can join us Sunday if you like: Black Collective Walk - 1332. Visit my personal page at

I didn’t mean to be so long-winded, but hey after 25 years…one has a lot to say. Thank you for supporting AIDS Walk San Francisco with your tax deductible donation.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sister Makinya Kouate

Saturday, July 1, Sister Makinya celebrated her 80th birth year. As in years past the affair was held at the water's edge, her late parents present and honored with much ceremony witnessed by Sister Makinya's loved ones, friends, family and age-mates.

Sister Makinya shared stories about her life. She also told us about how she established the first Black Student Union in the country at Merritt College in Oakland, years before San Francisco State University's department, though Merritt College for some reason is always eclipsed in the narrative history even though Jimmy Garrett (SFSU), according to Sister Makinya, monitored closely how Merritt students were able to achieve this without violence, although San Francisco State University was not.

This renaissance woman is also responsible for the establishment of Kwanzaa as a seven day ritual ceremony for African people beginning in December 1967. She told me about how she and Fred T. went to Los Angeles to visit Ron Karenga, Ph.D., in December, 1966, where Karenga handed her two mimeographed sheets with the principles and few instructions about this new black holiday.

December, 1977, Karenga visited the Kwanzaa ritual here and was according to Sister Makinya, "Blown away by what they'd done with it."

Immediately following this, Dr. Karenga (founder of United Slaves or US, and Kwanzaa) began to commercialize Kwanzaa, and bring in white people, the first at a workshop in the Redwood School District, where teachers were charged $75. When panelist Sister Makinya asked one of the facilitators about the white presence, he responded that Kwanzaa as well as United Slaves was now universal.

At the same time, Karenga who hadn't published his Kwanzaa manual yet, according to Sister Makinya fictitiously republished his 1978 Kwanzaa book with a 1965 publishing date (I don't know how one can legally do this.) Karenga also added the extra "a" to the spelling of Kwanzaa to facilitate the copyright change.

Sister Makinya's book about Kwanzaa is entitled: "Classic Leadership Manual."

This week when I visited Sister Makinya at her home in Berkeley we spoke about Queen Califia, the queen whose name became the name of this state: California. I told her that from what I've read Queen Califia was a mythical character, from a novel written by a Spanish author (John Templeton). Fascinated with the story, Cortez set out from Spain searching for the island where the Amazon warrior queen lived, a place he found off the coast of Southern California. (The mural of her exploits is in the Room of the Donns at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco, also in the Senate chambers at the CA State Capital.)

True, she could have existed and now we call her a myth. Similarly with the film about Kwanzaa due out in December, moderated by Maya Angelou, a film A.K. Asante says he wants to be a positive film about a positive African celebration, I wonder if Asante plans on calling Sister Makinya (I gave him her number in May.) I also wonder if he knows about the earlier PBS doc. about Kwanzaa.

I wonder about people with public amnesia when setting the record straight threatens the false sense of power these men employ. Sister Makinya could, like Queen Califia, recede to the mythical realm. She said Karenga tells people who ask, that he doesn't know a Sister Makinya.

Funny how this man named Maurice who learned how to perform Kwanzaa at the Postal Street Academy was honored as the person responsible for bringing Kwanzaa to San Francisco.

You can imagine his shock when at the Center for African American Art and Culture as he accepted the honors when his teacher, Sister Makinya stood up.

It's not even a question of invisibility, it's a question of integrity and what drives people to reinvent their lives based on falsehoods.

The sister who described herself as sassy Saturday, twirling around in her beautiful birthday dress, does not worry about the intellectual thieves because she knows what she has done. For all who are interested in the truth, all one needs to do is check the public record or talk to those who were there in 1966, 1967-1977, like Fred T., Leon Williams, and Avotcja.

This is certainly one area among many in the African community which needs a healing; both individuals: Sister Makinya and Dr. Karenga, have done great work for our community consistently for all the years between their last conversation with each other.

Photos are from the ritual gathering 7/1/2006 at Lake Merritt. Credit: Wanda Sabir

Kékélé: Congolese Rumba

Kékélé was in town Monday night and I didn't want to miss a single moment of what I presumed correctly would be an outstanding night of music and dance. It only took one song before dancers were up on the floor during the second set. During the earlier show at least two, many three precious dance-moments passed before patrons braved the embarrassment of being the first person on the dance floor and let the music propelled by three lead singers: Nyboma, Loko Massengo, Wuta Mayi (Bumba Massa too ill to travel on this tour) lead guitarist Syran Mbenza, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Mvondo; congero, Sungu Debat; traps drummer, Komba Matwala; accordion player, Joeffrey Arnone, and bass guitarist, Vincent Hamandjian -- have its way with them.

What's so great about Kékélé is that fact that it's a super band. All its members were already successful recording artists in bands like: Rock-a-Mambo, Les Bantous, O.K. Jazz, Cubano Jazz, Trio Madjesi, Bella Bella, Afrisa, African All-Stars, Quatre Étoiles.

Syran Mbenza, guitarist said Congolese music was “out of breath...(that in what) the young groups were playing, there was a real deformation of our music, in the dance, in the rhythms. There were no more songs, no more melodies. We thought about this and decided we had to get back to the rumba, what we played in the past. We were born into rumba; it's like a culture for us. Our music was becoming decadent. We had to wake it up again” (Banning Eyre).

Mbenza called some of the rumba giants living for the most part abroad in Paris to his home for a jam session which led to other such sessions over the next year –1999, at one musician’s home or another. Suddenly the hum turned into an oh yeah once the men took their classic tunes -- recollections of, if not a perfect past, certainly a nostalgic boyhood rife with European colonialists in the guise of Catholic missionaries places where boys had access to instruments and musical training if they converted.

These tunes before the revival weren't being played anymore in Kinshasa, rumba Congolese almost completely obscure back home.

In the 50s, 60s and 70s though, rumba’s heyday, was a time of celebration, celebration of a liberated Kongo…the possibilities of Black self-rule! Then after a reign of terror presided over by the US and Belgium tyranny preceding and following the murder of the country’s first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba and the appointment of Mobutu, the musicians of Kékélé’s generation offered an assessment of the reality.

In Rumba Congo – Africans in Cuba and Congo were able to reunite after centuries apart – Mantanzas and West Africa in this music on the airwaves, in the streets and eventually in person – truly diasporic harmony!

Rumba Congo reflected the moods and syncopations of the cities and towns, the voices, attitudes and energy of Kongo people. As with most African music, there was a lesson in the song, one which while not distracting certainly allowed one an opportunity to reflect as it echoed in one’s head later on. What made Congolese Rumba so unique was the fact that everywhere in Africa people were dancing the rumba…truly the first international African music.

Soukous which became extremely popular after rumba receded into the background to the oldies but goodies rack, and was about as obscure as a card catalog is presently in the age of technology (just kidding, I don’t think it was that bad), when Syran Mbenza called his buddies together to discuss the possibility of reviving the music most indicative of their cultural renaissance, a legacy almost trashed by a popular body politic which was too young to realize this music’s historic relevance and value in the current world of shared files, dubs, remixes, market and bottom-line dictates when referencing creativity.

Syran Mbenza tells Banning Eyre in an interview in Paris (2004) following the successful tour just two years prior, how despite Ken Braun at Stern's and C.C. Smith at The Beat magazine’s interest in this project early on, he was worried because rumba “wasn't ndombolo, that music that just makes you dance all the time,” but the leap paid off. Lucky for us! (

“The veteran musicians of Kékélé all came up through the great bands of the 60s and 70s. Papa Noel’s illustrious career goes back to the 50s and the pioneering Congolese group Rock-a-Mambo. Les Bantous, O.K. Jazz, Cubana Jazz, Trio Madjesi, Bella-Bella, Tabu Ley’s Afrisa, Sam Mangwana’s African All-Stars: they all played Congo rumba and they all bred future members of Kékélé. Unlike some of their peers, however, these gentlemen never stopped playing rumba even when it became unfashionable. Papa Noel, Sam Mangwana and Quatre Étoiles were among a loose circle of musicians, including Dizzy Mandjeku, Fan-Fan SeSengo, Samba Mapangala and Ricardo Lemvo, who found the Zairean music of the 90s increasingly decadent and resolved to buck the trends and revive Congo rumba and its Cuban antecedents. Noel and Mangwana recorded and toured together in the late 90s, then Noel dueted with the Cuban singer and guitarist Adan Pedroso and at last went all the way to Cuba to make an album with Papi Oviedo. In 2000 Papa Noel, Loko Massengo, Bumba Massa and three of Quatre Étoiles’ “Four Stars” – Nyboma Mwan’dido, Wuta-Mayi and Syran Mbenza – formed Kékélé”

The debut of the project went for a test drive with the release of Rumba Congo six years ago followed by what was termed a low key tour a couple of years ago ( The band came through the Bay Area with a stop in Berkeley at Ashkenaz. I kind of missed Ashkenaz Monday night. The dance floor at the Community Dance Center is a lot larger; plus there is a door to open for fresh air along with ceiling fans.

It's a great place to get down.

When Emmanuel Nado, deejay, ( me a hug, he commented on how wet I was. All I could say was, Well, I've been dancing since
8 p.m. to Kékélé!

Despite the cramped space – the concert was a blast, an all out success, if the smiles on departing faces were any indicator of the great time had by all last night!

Kékélé’s tour continues through August here and in Canada. Visit their website for the schedule. Next California stop is Grand Performances in Los Angeles, Friday, July 7, followed by another performance in San Juan Capistrano at the Multi-Cultural Arts Series at this library I heard about from Bembeya Jazz (Guinea). Afterwards it's to Chicago for a few days where they'll perform July 9 at the Chicago Folk & Roots Festival at Welles Park Lincoln & Montrose.

Me and Syran Mbensa. Hanging out with the band at Yoshi’s. Emmanuel Nado with band members. Photo credit: Wanda Sabir This is really cool video featuring Loko playing soccer as he performs.

New Orleans in the Grove

Sunday, July 2, at Stern Grove, my friend Alison along with friends celebrated summer birthdays and each other to the sweet music of Geno Delafose & the French Rockin' Boogie who opened for Rebirth Brass Band.

If you weren't there you really missed it. Competition was stiff, I know what with the Fillmore Jazz Festival -- two days of free music, the Stern Grove Festival free and in San Francisco also, at Sloat and 19th Avenue.

You don't want to miss blues, gospel, and R&B legend Sister Mavis Staples Sunday, July 23, tenor Lawrence Browlee, tenor with the San Francisco Opera on Sunday, July 30; Ska Cubano on Sunday, August 6. There are free children's classes at Stern Grove Tuesday and Wednesday, July 11-12, 11-2, in Hawaiian Dance with Halau 'o Keikiali'i who perform Sunday, July 16. Visit

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Black Panther Party Rank and File Exhibit

Black Panther Party Rank and File

A Review by Wanda Sabir

The foot soldier rarely gets his or her due, yet if it weren’t for what is known as the “rank and file” contingent, movements like the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would have remained a great idea not an actual movement for social change. Co-founders: Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale couldn’t have accomplished this broad-based effort without the brothers and sisters like Jabali who ditched school for the revolution – a “much more viable vocation,” he thought at the time when he moved here from Gary, Indiana. Ruth Beckford set up the breakfast program which fed children daily before school, while others prepared the food, collected donations – served the people in whatever capacity necessary at that moment. Parents like Elaine Brown let other party members raise her daughter, her life dedicated “to the people.”

I’m not certain if the personal sacrifice is visible in “BPP Rank and File,” which at times is unwieldy intellectually and philosophically when one tries to connect the dots or panthers as it were. Perhaps some panthers on the floor, dates, geographical markets, even thematic names of the various galleries…would have been helpful here.

The challenge in such a broad task of portraying history is finding the balance between text and design, aesthetics and content. The opening essay on the wall and an aerial drawing of key historic moments in Party history is not that helpful when looked at in the context of the larger work filling gallery after gallery.

Artist Steve Jones’ piece is about the closest to this “map” in the entire exhibition, yet even here one has to know certain things to truly appreciate the breath of his artistic vision. Nonetheless, it helps – the artist’s two dimensional landscape beginning with Newton’s birth ending with his murder – the two ends of the horizon visible markers along a finite timeline – one man’s life.

Jones’ uses this life to delineate the growth of the Black Panther Party’s key story elements – characters and scenes, like the 10-point program, Bobby Hutton and where he was shot by police, the courthouse where Huey sat while BPP members stood sentinel, dates and/or key words like “Mulford Act,” which rescinded Californian’s right to bear arms.

As already indicated, there are pieces one could miss, especially those not up on “Black Panther Party for Beginners,” which is probably most of us, so a narrative would have been helpful for this piece – to decipher the layers, digging beneath the surface to find the core Jones places in his “draft” of a movement.

There are so many unanswered questions along the precipice….Jones’ perfectly drawn lines. What happened? Why did Newton really die?

Former Minister of Culture, Emory Douglas’ rendering (within the Jones’ piece) of a party member, fist raised in salute to the path, Afro big and loud – Jones’ keen ability to chart this journey – in this case Newton’s and his Party’s, is what the exhibition:

“BPP Rank and File” is about –taking archival material and weaving it between fine art, installations and other work to show how a Brenda Presley (Oakland/San Francisco), a Shelly Sanders (Oakland/San Francisco), a Tekeba Banto (Seattle), or a James Mott (Sacramento chapter), decided to participate in a movement which gave rise to Black resistance and Black organization, direct response to Jim Crow in the north, the continued legal enslavement of Africans post-Civil War south—the institution’s name changed to shield the guilty. The BPP was an answer to the lynchings and police brutality, separate facilities, fear and repression…. What did Langston Hughes say about raisins in the sun?

Not only were Party members hip to the plight of the working class and other subjugated folk the world over, other folk were hip to the movement growing in America, a movement that appealed to the boldness of youth who wanted immediate results after watching their parents terrorized for marching, carrying signs, and singing.

The BPP rank and file members asserted their rights as citizens. Politically savvy – the leadership educated the masses well and the legacy of this was evident at the reception, Friday night, March 17, the hugs, pictures and travels along memory lane lasted well into the wee hours of the night.

Soul Salon 10 situated in one of the only enclosed spaces – what used to be a cyber-café featured the work of the ten artists on the theme of “Risk and Response.” Both here and elsewhere, there was a conscious effort at integrating genres: primary documents explaining the history of the party through rare copies of papers covering the early Black Panther Party days through the end of this amazing organization. All of the papers and other published articles on the BPP like the Gordon Parks exposé in Life Magazine, articles from the San Francisco Examiner, and other media outlets are bound in readers available for gallery patrons to read or skim. There are also listening stations throughout the multi-gallery space, with rare archival footage of Huey P. Newton and other Party members speaking about issues of the day courtesy of California Newsreel.

After circling a few times, my favorite area was the archives. I felt grounded here and after looking at the artifacts, I felt fortified and capable to venture into the more abstract areas of the exhibition.

Black Panther Party Rank and File is more than one can possibly digest in one tour, even a four hour one; this exhibition is one which requires several tours to allow certain philosophical concepts to sink in. The BPP was not a light-weight organization; people studied, and acquired knowledge applicable today.

All the party members I spoke to opening night, even those who complained a little, couldn’t help but concede Rene de Guzman and Claude Simard, co-curators, in consultation with Bill Jennings, Director of It’s About Time, the Panther Alumni Association and the BPP archive, did an excellent job in showcasing a movement many do not know much about.

Guzman stated, “The Black Panther Rank and File exhibition reflects YBCA’s ongoing commitment to highlighting the Bay Area’s significant impact on world art and politics. The struggle for social justice that characterized the turbulent ‘60s, is still prevalent today, and continues to inspire art making. This project, which brings together art and artifacts, also demonstrates how contemporary art plays a role in civic life, and provides (a) positive impact beyond the conventional confines of museum or gallery settings.”

All visitors agreed on the value of such an exhibition despite any visible weaknesses which for Brother Jabali was the absence of more Party women on the walls or present at the reception, and for Bobby Seale an unarticulated “something,” I haven’t followed up with him to get the details, now that some time has passed. For me, the thin connective tissue linking the larger concepts: black power movement to social action to political activism, to self-awareness, to self-destruction is a piece or aspect of the movement which is noticeably absent— unless the empty peacock chair akin to a vacated throne, is symbolic of this. What remains undefined or clearly articulated is the historic moment which created the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in the first place and how this movement in turn is connected philosophically to the globalization of the Party’s influence, for instance, in work by Paa Joe, Ghanaian sculptures of coffins in the form of historic slave dungeons.

The Party is nothing else was a force, palatable, a medium on could feel and express, so why the silence?

If the BPP were this benign presence gone and now forgotten, then why are former Party members Ray Boudreaux, John Bowman, Richard Brown, Hank Jones, and Harold Taylor – torture victims, still being persecuted? Why is former Party member Aaron Dixon, Green Party, Seattle, is running a successful campaign for U.S. Senate in Washington, against first term incumbent Maria Cantwell (D-Washington)? He said when here a few months ago at an event connected to the YBCA exhibit that his platform is the same as that presented by the Party (10-Point Program). Visit and

All the wheel needs is air, not reinventing.

BPP Rank and File is indicative of the political clime and mood which made it possible for a Ron Dellums to walk in the Oakland mayoral office with more than a 50 percent plus one lead. At some point the people wake up and reclaim their power, a power too easily relinquished to constituencies which did not have their interests in mind.

Even though there is no gallery which allows one to collect one’s thoughts and think about next steps, the art is nonetheless provocative and the photos a part of a collective memory as are many artists’ names. The BPP still resonates in the lives of Americans.

Whether patrons are cognizant or can “count the many ways how the BPP for Self-Defense has impacted American society as reflected in the role and presence of African people on these shores in cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, San Jose, Antioch…when they enter the gallery, remains to be seen. Yet, when they exit, the same is definitely not true.

Once visitors leave the impact is undeniable, however. One cannot deny the fact that the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was a formidable force, a force which called American leadership -- local, state and federal into tangible accountability, which is still calling this government to accountability. Cases like of Mumia Abu Jamal (, and other Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War like Marilyn Buck, (, Sundiata Acoli (, even MOVE members still locked behind bars point to this ( “Black Panther Party Rank and File” gives one an inkling of the power and determination which struck fear into the institutional legs of America causing it to quake.

The exhibit closes July 2 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street, San Francisco. Visit or call (415) 978-2787.

Photo credit: Wanda Sabir
L-R: Steve Jones, artist with Studio Museum of Harlem curator; Derethia DuVal with mother in center, and W.Sabir; Bill Jennings with Jabali (former BPP members); art from exhibit