Saturday, August 23, 2008

Words Upon the Water

Friday, August 22, at Rebecca's Books, the Bay Area community came out to support the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent catastrophic flooding caused when levees were broken by the wayward barge. Activists and relocated survivors in the San Francisco Bay Area...were present to share stories, give information and renew our collective work and responsibility to keep the pressure turned up until New Orleans and the entire population returned home.

After three years, I agree with CeCe Campbell-Rock that bodies should not be still turning up, people still unaccounted for, and children still orphaned or estranged from loved ones.

Kone Sakura shared statistics and the situation on the ground. He also set the scene for the need for an organization like Common Ground Relief, an organization that emerged from the flood as first responder with health services, housing, clothing, food, and phones and Internet access--all free, nothing subsidized by any government agencies.

He spoke of the black doctors, also first responders who were turned away. Officials told them their services were not needed--I hadn't heard of them. Greg Griffin who runs the free health clinic in Algiers--a Common Ground Relief project, and also a licensed pilot, told me a few years ago, now, he and other pilots wanted to fly in supplies after the levees broke, but the aviation controllers--the US government agency in charge of air space, would not let them land.

I loved Alice Wilson Fried's discussion and reading of her book, Outside Child, and her daughter, Teasha Gable's presentation. She read a poem about growing up in New Orleans; however, it was her story of looking for her family after the storm via phone, and not getting through, but somehow reaching an elder who was alone and without help. It was a wrong number, but then it wasn't a wrong number. Luckily, that story had a happy ending. Teashas got a phone call later to tell her that the elder was rescued by her family.

Nina Serrano's poem about the new cathedral in Oakland, which is shaped like a vagina was funny. It really is too, I thought. Kim Shuck said it angers her that her poem is still relevant three years later, as she spoke about her people who were in the region now called Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Georgia. Zigi and Raymond shared poetry that showed how what happened in the gulf is happening all over the world.

It was as if folks had been in the car with me and Avotcja, and heard the conversation. Avotcja said it was all relative, there were no new stories.

Kirk Lumpkin's reading of his poem from the collection, a part of a longer song, was great. I'd read it last weekend on Donald Lacy's show, Wake Up Everybody, on
I thought it amazing when he told us that Rebecca's Books used to be his home, and then proceeded to tell us what had changed structurally, along with the personalities of its inhabitants.

There were people standing in the doorway, seated behind the speakers. It was a wonderful event! I saw people there I hadn't seen before. Thanks to Kim MacMillon for setting this up for our annual event. Next week, August 29, the Malcolm X Grass Roots organization has a report back on the anniversary at EastSide Arts Alliance on International Blvd. in East Oakland.

Mary Rudge was as gracious as usual. She concluded her reading with my favorite poem about women, the closing line: stones become bread.

Reginald Lockett, Bay Area Poet who died suddenly in May, 2008, was also honored. There is an altar in the store on the piano with his books, flowers and candles. Reggie published Words Upon the Waters on his imprint, Jukebox Press. It was he who turned many of us onto Rebecca's Books and it proprietor, Mary Ann. Reggie's fiance and uncle were present, he was speaking when I arrived. Lindah Martin was seated next to him, but she didn't read a poem.

Rebecca's is a cute black owned bookstore, that specializes in poetry. It is situated in almost the center of the block, just inches into Berkeley...just kidding, it's more like a few feet, I hadn't seen it before. Alkebulan is around the corner on Alcatraz. Black Rep is just up the street, as is the Ashby BART station.

I am certainly going to try to get back over to the store for the second and fourth Friday poetry readings at 7 p.m. The hostess' children had refreshments: tamales,hot dogs, wine, water, chips and soft drinks.

We got out about 11 p.m. We raised about $300.00 for Common Ground Health Center, Survivors for Survivors, and LIFE of Mississippi. Cece told us about a House Bill, which needs our support. I jotted the number down incorrectly. Stay tuned for the details.

There is going to be a rally at San Jose State on August 31 to support this recovery bill. Cece said the goal is to institute a WPA-type work program. She lamented the difficulty of finding a job here, and the need for government money invested in retraining. Stay tuned for the details.

"People seem to forget that for most African Americans in New Orleans, they had jobs." Cece stated as she lamented the awful situation many survivors find themselves in her, like herself, estranged from family and the land of their ancestors. Cece said she hadn't seen her eldest son in three years and though she has been married 25 years, she and her husband have been forced to live separately, when she left New Orleans with the two younger children to come here to safety.

She said many relocated survivors were employed, now they can't find work, here and elsewhere. These displaced African Americans were homeowners too. "They might not have had money to fix the homes up, but they paid their mortgage on time." She said.

After Karla and I shared our own writing, the evening ended and people bought books and mingled.

Karen Fodger Jacobs, another poet, told us about a new film opening in LA this weekend and opening here in two weeks about a woman who rode her bike around New Orleans documenting the devastation. I thought is would be great to have a theatre party. Let me know what you think. Visit to see a trailer of the film which opens here Sept. 4.

I opened a new blog: Please share your Katrina news and look for information about gatherings and legislation. I am launching a blogradio site next Friday, August 29, 8 a.m. The 60 minute show will kick off with interviews and stories of the flood three years later. Stay tuned.


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