Tuesday, March 27, 2007

When I dropped my Rescue Remedy on the floor this morning before class started I was kind of worried. I'd have to find a way to stay calm without a homeopathic remedy. But things went well and I wasn't nervous as the panelists arrived early and the room filled with people I knew and more whom I didn't. I was really happy to see people from the community and students.

The event today at the College of Alameda: "California's Incarcerated Women, Who Are They and Why We Should Care," touched people on a lot of levels, especially since we began with the film: Charisse Sumate's "Fighting for Our Lives." It placed the issue straight where it needed to be: some people are not treated as human beings and that's wrong.

Visibly absent were the deans, president and VPs. I wonder why? Absent also was the POI Shirleen whom I thought would take photos for the archives.

All of the panelists gave outstanding insight on the prison system and thematic ties to their lives whether that was employment like Francine West, who is a retired state parole officer to the service providers who spoke of how this work grew out of a need they themselves recognized while inside like Yolanda Beene who plans to open a home for women parolees and their children.

What I found most enlightening was the need for peer support from people with similar history when one is released. All of Us or None is such a support group, one of our panelists, Hamdiyah Cook co-founded.

The need for volunteers was stressed as most of these agencies: CCWP, Ida McCRay Robinson's Families with a Future, and Marlene Sanchez and ED of Center for Young Women's Development.

Everyone agreed that though internal repair was neccessary to fix a penal system where the guard make $100,000s of dollars with no more than a high school education--what Francine called "paycheck people," until Kiilu Nyasha's call for a revolution took place. This is a fight college students need to get behind because it is their peers who are most effected.

Though we didn't get to write letters we have plans to reconvene after Spring Recess and write letters of introduction. I think a follow-up activity could be to show a series of films on the prison system and have discussion sessions afterwards.

I put all the extra information in the Student Services Office and Ms. Camille Hopkins can put interested students in touch with providers and/or me for more information.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Barack Obama for President

Folks were lovin’ Senator Barack Obama Saturday afternoon in Oakland when they finally got inside the enclosed Frank Ogawa plaza area. The police presence was minimal, volunteers everywhere in green Obama 2008 tee-shirts on a lovely St. Patrick’s Day. The sun played hide and seek – water distributed by volunteers to those who wanted refreshment. It was truly a day to remember—like a first kiss or marriage proposal. The courtship short and sweet.

Everyone was there: Kamala Harris, Eva Paterson, Oakland City Council members, County Supervisors, State Assemblyman Sandre Swanson. I was seated between Baba Eddie Abrams and Shelah Moody, in front of a former West Oakland neighbor, a member of Haiti Action, and
Willie Ratcliff our publisher.

Though the rally for the 2008 Presidential ticket started an hour late folks stood in the sun grooving to the old school music provided by the live band which was very good some of its members homegrown.Mayor Dellums came out first to welcome the senator to his city including in his greeting that of Barbara Lee who stood. Both his protegee: Lee and Supervisor Keith Carson were seated nearby.

Obama was introduced by a veteran from Oakland. I don’t know what neighborhood he grew up in, or what schools he attended. I don’t know why he enlisted in the first place and what he did in Iraq. I don’t even know why Obama choose him to speak, a white man in a black town, but anyway, he was there and he introduced Obama who came down the center aisle from City Hall like Mr. America, shaking hands as people went crazy – Vote for Obama placards waving, his name spelled out on cards. It was quite the frenzy.

During his talk he paced the stage greeting everyone near and far away – his body language inclusive. He had no notes and his talk referenced his decision to run, the climate in this country that made this inevitable, and why we should vote for him. He talked about the campaign trail, one his family was on with him, and the America he loved, one which was driven by the people, a people who don’t lie down and roll over just because the president tells them to.

He mentioned the war and that he’d voted against it and a bill he has introduced which calls for the withdrawal of the troops beginning in May 2007 and finishing by July next year. He also stated that by the end of his first term there would be universal healthcare.

Just in front of me Willie Ratcliff, the SF Bay View publisher jumped up frequently, arms raised in agreement with Obama as others joined him all around me in the reserved dais. Hundreds of others encircling the seated area. Tee-shirts were on sale for a donation, buttons, and bumper stickers. By the time I made it to the table, all the souvenir items were gone.

They’d given out placards which Obama signed for those near enough to get his attention. He was the perfect celebrity—reporters who’d been denied access to the pit jumping on the speaker stands to get shots of the senator up close despite the calls from security to move.I don’t know why it always amazes me when the black press is denied access. All the press allowed inside the enclosure were white mainstream media outlets, not the black press. One woman tried to evict me and Baba Eddie Abrams from our seats twice, yet said nothing to media representatives behind me taking up an entire row with their cameras and notebooks.

I just don’t know sometimes about our folks.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ravi Coltrane tonight

Pianist Andy Milne sent me an email telling me about his gig at Yoshi's Monday evening. I hadn't noticed the gig so I was happy for the reminder. Andy is one of my favorite pianists. It had been many moons since I seen his band Dapp Theory.
When I checked the line-up Ravi Coltrane was also on the list. Hum. So even though I was tired I dragged myself out the house yawning all the way down Seminary to San Leandro Blvd. to the freeway, thinking about all the papers I needed to be grading and yet there I was headed to I-80 checking my 26 messages dating back to February. Had I heard the term "slow down"? Did I even know what the phrase meant?

I pulled into a great parking spot, then I noticed an even better one, the same spot I'd occupied the evening before at the Randy Weston gig, Weston another great pianist. But as I was already a tad late I decided to let my car stay the two blocks away and head inside.

The club was comfortably filled. I got a seat in a booth and the set hadn't started yet. Yes, of course they were waiting for me.

It was perfect. My companion loved the band, his exclamations of "Right on!" "Yes!" and other more articulate grunts and shouts kept me alert and wondering if he'd also been at the first set.
His early exit answered that question.

The band was great, bandleader Ralph Alessi, trumpet, is a good writer and the music was relaxing while at the same time an intellectual challenge that could swing.

I was tired so I didn't stay around to greet Andy, but as I left the club, Ravi was standing out back talking to someone. I greeted him and he said that this tour was the first since his mom had passed.

I had to get back out there. He admitted more like a question.

Of course, I responded, as I noticed the difficulty evident in his shielded eyes, rounded shoulders and covered head--he wasn't the same man I'd greeted after the phenomenally spiritually uplifting performance at SFJAZZ last year with his mother on organ accompanied by Roy Haynes on drums and Tom Haden on bass. The awesome Ben Street was on bass Monday night.
I could see Ravi found it hard creating music in a world his mother and friend Alice Coltrane was no longer a part of.
Monday night the vibe was fittingly somber or contemplative on the second set, Ravi said all the band members: bassist Ben Street, pianist Andy Milne, drummer Gerald Cleaver, and of course band leader Ralph Alessi, were his friends-- a good place for a free fall.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Alameda County's New Detention Center

With a view most of us could only wish for, Alameda Country Juvenile Justice Center is just below Camp Sweeney, yet near John George Psychiatric Hospital and Alameda County Animal Control Center --I won't even comment on the obvious linguistic connotations. Saturday afternoon the full parking lot and smiling faces were an incongruent blight on the lives of the 200 children --girls and boys about to call this place home April 1.

I was surprised at my own lethargy. The idea that this was a place built to lock up children ages 12-18 left me full of sorrow. It was so sad. Then when I saw the cells --just like the adult models--in the maximum security section where kids weren't allowed contact visits, it was like wow, how can we keep the kids out of here?

How much money did this place cost the tax payers? A mere $176 million to house 360 youth at capacity--200 beds are already full. Why isn't this art budget $2,381,340 and $1,666,940, going into public education to keep the kids from coming here in the first place?

The architect said three youth got jobs connected to the design and construction of this place. But that's just three out of too many left without alternative choices.

There was a promotional video where the artists talked about interacting with the children to find out what they liked and what they wanted to see. James Gayles also conducted workshops with some of the boys. But the children's art is not what we see inside.

This is a prison folks, I wanted to scream. One woman when told the current facility was built on land where Camp Chabot once sat, asked if "the camp" was a part of Parks and Rec. It was unreal.

Outside of facility huge sculptures: "Hope Destination Sculpture" and "Tree of Life Gateway," sat in the landscaped garden, while tiny ceramic insects decorated the sidewalk--a place none of the children would see until released, I suppose.

Prison staff showed me a few of the entrances the incarcerated youth are brought in. The court rooms were all closed and off limits today, but there were several. I didn't make it to the basement where I was told the gym was and the rooms looked a little less sterile.

The new facility is self-contained; the kids never have to leave, all services are under one roof. Perhaps this is a tax savings? Maybe the kids liked having to travel to court...at least it was somewhere else.

I've been inside 850 Bryant and the open rooms looked just like the adult versions there also. Checker and chess diagrams on tables, the exercise yards all had murals with images of girls swimming or positive imagery some combined with words.

Though not heavy handed the goal was clear--reality check. Stop and consider your choices. How did you get here? Now how do you leave and stay free?

Most of the staff was of African descent, and I was told most of the kids are kids of color--
over 90 percent. Though much planning went into revisioning the way society looks at child offenders, I wondered why anyone would believe that incarceration ever worked if it's ineffective in the adult population.

Locking people up is not working for the parents of many of these children, why should it be the strategy used to correct aberrant behavior in their children?

A few friends had to leave before seeing the entire facility which is huge. Another person looked like he was about to cry when he saw the tiny cells, the control center where the doors are locked electronically, the officers at the stations in the center of the pods where the children were housed.

I missed the cafeteria, the gym as I said and the minimal security area. A woman whose has served time as a youth offender said the art reflected the lives of the children who were going to see it, yet why couldn't such art be commissioned for children who are not locked up, children who never see themselves projected in popular culture in a positive or transformative way?

One official in the video said the judicial system was doing a service for society...I was kind of blown away. A service? Locking kids up, whether the prison has art on the walls or not is still locking them up. She needs to be working herself out of a job, not into early retirement with benefits.

Again, it was unreal and the voices and the faces and the spirits of the youth just below us in the older facility were the ones whose voices were silent today. There were no interviews perhaps because of their ages, but they could have remained anonymous and sent their comments in writing. I distrust adults who say they have the best interests of the children at heart, but refuse to let them speak.

Prisons are obsolete. We need to shut them all down, especially the pretty one on Fairmount Drive in San Leandro that looks like the Orson Wells' "1984" version of the Ministry of Justice. Remember what happened to the protagonist there?

Fort Apache

Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band were great this evening at the SFJAZZ concert. The Palace of Fine Arts was full when I walked in late for the opening set with Omar Sosa. The Cuban pianist's ensemble was a reunion, all the amazing musicians partners of his from his Bay Area gigging days: Josh Jones on drums, Geoff Brennan on bass, Eric Crystal on saxophones. Sosa played standing up and seated, often strattling his piano bench feet body swiveling between an electric keyboard and an acoustic one.

Certainly favoring the acoustic instrument, he mixed in electronics --Malcolm X's voice one of two I recognized. We sang lines Sosa fed us...clapped or popped our fingers where noted. It was pretty spectacular-Omar Sosa one of our own. It was funny to hear him remark that he'd never played the Palace of Fine Arts when he was a resident artist. So true for so many.
Gonzalez' band came on strong and solid. I'd never seen the ensemble so I was really excited to see them for the first time. I've seen some great trumpeters but this musician has a style I'd never seen, especially with the mute. Nor had I ever seen a horn player shift between instruments so effortlessly.

Wearing dark glasses and a cap turned around backwards or a bandana, he reminded me slightly of Miles Davis, yet he was cool and connected. We knew that he knew we were there and even though he didn't speak except to introduce the band near the end, his playing was more than eloquent.

One minute he was soloing on trumpet, the next he was seated surrounded by five conga drums. The percussion was pronounced, its presence equal to all other musical voices. Gonzalez and drummer Steve Berrios were cool as they surfed new terrain together. Their latest album Rumba Buhaina is a tribute to Art Blakey. I'll have to get a copy.

Personnel featured were Gonzalez, thinner than I recalled --his brother Andy didn't make the date--diabetes complications perhaps? Instead on bass was Junior Terry, alto saxophonist Yosvany's brother, both members of a musically famous Cuban family. Terry played with Fort Apache like he'd been there from the beginning: percussive, passionate and musically inventive especially on a solo near the end of the set. Larry Willis was on piano and Joe Ford was on soprano and alto sax.