Friday, September 26, 2008

Wanda's Picks at

Today was a little smoother than weeks past. I know, after a month and then some, I should be a pro, but I am still struggling with the music uploads and I'm still not savvy when it comes to uploading recorded interviews. I'm paying my brother for his time, but this past Wednesday, Sept. 24, I didn't play a prerecorded interview. It was live, and I was nervous.

I'm always nervous, and I'm always anxious. I wonder if the butterflies ever go away? I'll have to ask one of my veteran radio friends whom I admire like Greg Bridges and Walter Turner and Safi wa Nairobi, and Ayanna Aisha and Kiilu Nyasha...I know plenty of folks who sound so competent on the air. I wonder how much preparation they put into each show. I prepare two hours in advance on the day of, and for weeks leading up to the day. I prepared too much. I almost had too many guests.

I thought I had 30 extra minutes so invited Robert Stewart onto the show, then had to uninvite him. He is playing at Yoshi's in San Francisco Monday, Sept. 29--the Robert Stewart Experience, which is sold out :-)He'll be my guest October 24.

Anyway, I'm enjoying the stretch and the challenge radio gives me. It was great talking to Ramona Africa, MOVE 9 and International Friends and Family of Mumia Abu Jamal, this morning and Pam Africa. But Ramona was the surprise guest. I'm sorry Ida McCray, Families with a Future, wasn't able to call in. Hamdiyah Cooks, California Coalition for Women Prisoners and All of Us or None, was great. It was kind of her to squeeze us in in the window she had open before she went to her conference.

Author and political activist, Robert King, Angola 3, was feeling more expansive than usual as he told us about the break through in the case facing Albert Woodfox (A3) and by ripple effect perhaps Herman Wallace (A3). The judge ordered the court to retry Albert of let him go in 120 days! That's like phenomenal and so encouraging!

Emory Douglas, the great political artist, was on the line today also and it was great speaking to him about the Black Panther Party and his inspiration for the art...society and the need for justice. He spoke about the FBI's abduction of BPP co-founder, Bobby Seale to Chicago for the Chicago 10 Trial, where he was bound and gagged and shackled, unprecedented in US history. The parallels were within reach--slavery. All Seale wanted to do was represent himself at a trial where the organizers of a protest against the Republican National Convention in Chicago 1968 were being cited.

It's a basis of a new film airing on affliates (ITVS) this fall season. Check the listings at the website.

I am looking forward to Critical Resistance 10. It's great seeing all the folks opposed to the prison industrial complex under one roof, especially in an election year.

I spoke to Jahmela Biggs and Amaya Alonso Hallifax after I finished speaking to Ramona and Emory. The two women are currently in the play Yellowjackets at Berkeley Rep. It was a pleasant conversation.

I ended the show with Sherri Young, Executive Director of the African American Shakespeare Company, which has been around 15 years this year. It's an amazing feat to have such longevity--black theatre too? I think this reflects the strong leadership the organization has in Sherri, her vision is consistent and with Bonnie and now Victoria, Artistic Director, the organization continues to move forward.

Get out to see MacB and Yellowjackets before they close. MacB or the MacBeth Project closes October 5. The Yellowjackets closes October 19.

Labor Day

TaSin wished me a Happy Labor Day this morning at 7 AM. We'd just completed Imsaak and we gearing up for the long day of deprivation ahead. I guess this is the wrong attitude. Let me try this again, we were gearing up for a day of meditation and character and soul building...cleansing the nafs or spirit self, washing the soul...kind of day during the final days of the Blessed Month of Ramadan.

26 years ago, I was at Alta Bates Hospital laboring over this child, now woman...lovely in all ways. She's been a blessings--as some surprises are. Neither one of my children was planned per se, but both are a blessing and I think I am a better person for their love.

Wanda's Picks Sept. 26, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

Revolutionary Movements: Remembering Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Comrade George Jackson, and Col. Allensworth

This morning was as hectic as usual. I was in the bed at 2 AM and trying to get up at 4:30 AM and still almost missed logging in on time at 8 AM. It was the usual hectic frenzy as I received music I needed two days ago, 5 minutes to air time, guests calling me on the cell while I'm talking and unlike weeks past, I couldn't take a music break, so I had to ignore key voices because they couldn't call in. I also had a different kind of dilemma, which I know how to handle in the event it happens again: landlines are the best vehicle for Internet radio, but it a person has to use a mobile phone they should not use a hands-free device. Oh my goodness! Wait to you hear the interference on the line in the first half-hour. It was horrific, but wade through it, the panelists in the studio give great insight into the life of a marvelous brother and community he fostered, which continues to this day.

The exhibit BJ has curated reflecting our brother's life, is not a minute too soon. It's a great tribute to his life, as opposed to his death.

What came out of the conversation between many of the guests today, especially the men, yet, it was a young man, Eli who put it best when looking at the poverty in Ghana and poverty in America. He noted that the type of art HipLife artists sing about is loving, despite the difficulty, yet their peers in America sing about death and strife and other topics that point to the harsh philosophical terrain they have to navigate--these are the inheriters of the legacies of the men like Sundiata Tate, David Johnson, George Jackson, Robert King. I found the reflection thoughtprovoking. I can hardly wait to listen to some of the music and see the film: "Home Grown."

The battle isn't over.

Col. Allensworth was also fighting for his rights as a citizen when he founded the black town in Tulare country 100 years ago next month, October 11. Alice C. Royal's Allenworth, The Freedom Colony, A California African American Story, with Scott Braley and Mikey Ellinger's book, is a document that is a continuum of this unfortunate story black people have been cast in for too long.

There is a free program at Merritt College in Oakland, Saturday, Sept. 20. I think it begins at 11 AM. It a family affair and for everyone. As Baba Abrams says, "Black History is American History."

It is initiatives like Lee Mun Wah's Walking Each Other Home, A National Conversations on Race which helps us put the dilemma in a context small enough to actually see it and do something about it.

Racism is big, too big for any one person to handle all by him or herself, but if we become committed to working our way through this to heal our nation beginning with the people next door, or the one's we might meet this weekend at the First facilitated conversation, then...I don't can only be a step in the correct direction.

We closed the show with Nkrumah's words given at a speech that called for African nations to unite. This was prefaced by Nii Amah Hammond, a wonderful culture worker and percussionist with the West African Highlife Band, and the African Groove Connexion, and Hedzoleh Sounz a wonderful band that came to the United States in 1974 on tour with South African artist, Hugh Masekela.

It was, to say the least, one of my best shows.  Visit

Oh, if you haven't listened to From the Archives, check out my interview with Patrice Rushen. This Wednesday, I might have one Mary Monroe, novelist.

Wanda's Picks

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wanda's Picks Sept. 12, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Imam Warith Deen Mohammed

pictured:Bilal, Islam's first Muezzin

A tree has fallen and those that heard it fall, weep draft
by Wanda Sabir

I missed a call from my girl, Zoe, to tell me that she wouldn’t be able to attend the memorial for Imam Warith Deen Mohammed today in Chicago—Sept. 13, 2008

I haven’t written my Imam Warith Deen Mohammed reflection yet, so here it is. I was supposed to go to a concert at the Oakland Museum at 2 p.m. and here it is, 6 p.m. now 9:32 p.m. and I missed Tauheedah’s surprise birthday party, and I am almost done at 10:52 p.m. I have only moved to throw clothes from the washing machine into the dryer, take supplements, drink water and greet a friend who dropped by to say hello.

I remember the first time Iman Warith Deen Mohammed visited the school—Sister Clara Muhammad School; we were at the Oakland site and the director was giving him a tour and they skipped my classroom and I didn’t get introduced. In the thirty or so years he was leader I never met him face-to-face. Funny, my daughter did and when I told her he’d died Tuesday, she didn’t know who I was speaking of.

A great man has departed the realm of the living.

I recall the news his father had passed. We were in San Francisco, the year 1974 and I’d just graduated from Muhammad University (high school) and thought I’d be able to attend Savior’s Day. Someone, I think the minister, at that time John Muhammad or Minister Majied, promised the valedictorian a roundtrip ticket. I knew I was going, so I packed my bags and waited patiently. I’d made myself a new garment top; it was a lace covered sharkskin—white, and I think I’d planned to wear my rhinestones: earrings and necklace with it. I waited and waited and no call came and then before I could get there, perhaps in the year to come, the messenger died (almost one year later to the day, I sat in my room waiting).

I knew I wasn’t going to the funeral. I don’t remember any of that. I don’t remember his last address or the one the year afterwards. No other images or words come to mind. I’m sure I was at the mosque that Savior’s Day 1975 with everyone else listening to the amplified address, seated on the sister’s side of the auditorium with my notebook. I took notes for my family. Daddy seldom attended. He was content to hear my report backs from the front. Funny, how he’d argue with me when he wasn’t there. It was just more of the patriarchal madness I ignored. It could have also been ageism.

Over the years, after the Messenger passed, some of the reports issued from headquarters, (which remained in Chicago) were hard to believe like the dietary restriction lifts. I recall Sister Elretha taking me and someone else to Fisherman’s Wharf to a restaurant to have shrimp and crab.

They’d missed shellfish and when the messenger died, the list of “cannots” did too. I wasn’t of the same thinking—I didn’t think his death meant no more fasting, eating shellfish, catfish, soy products, short skirts, marrying infidels, disregarding the Ramadan fast in December, but my beliefs were not among the more popular.

I kept doing what I’d done before and listened and watched as some people in the community without an anchor stopped coming and went back into the streets: drinking and smoking cigarettes, and participating in other behaviors no one was going to kick them out of the community over.

Gone were the gatekeepers—captains and lieutenants. There was no more FOI or MGT, Vanguards and whatever the male equivalent was called, for the male youth group. We were on our own. It was like a parent had died and now we were grown—well maybe teenagers. And if the adults were teenagers, I was a child, but an observant obedient child. I recall all the chairs coming out of the auditorium on Fillmore and Geary and red carpet installed and the first session on the floor, the men in front of the women, no longer on our side. I also recall the new flag hanging behind the rostrum. Gone was the crescent and star in the center, the initial letters for the terms: freedom, justice, equality, Islam in the four corners. The new flag still had the red background, but the center image was of an open Qur’an with golden lines radiating from its spine. Arabic script was written under the open book: La Ilaha Illah, Muhammad Rasulullah. “There is no God but God and Muhammad is His Messenger.” It’s on the masthead of the Muslim Journal, gone was Muhammad Speaks (

It was a real shake-up, but I was for the ride and I held on.

We didn’t know what to expect after the Messenger died. America probably expected black people to take over. I’m sure the powers that be never expected the mild-mannered son, Wallace Dean Muhammad to lead his father’s community, now his community, on a journey which would end here Sept. 9, 2008—he began by getting out and touching people. He wanted us to know him as a flesh and blood man: he was real, had a sense of humor, made jokes, loved his wife and his kids, got sick…a regular fellow who was constantly evolving and growing each day he was allowed to see sunshine once again.

After the dust settled, Minister Farrakhan emerged as the leader of the Nation of Islam, and those of us who followed the Honorable Elijah Muhammad continued to follow his son, Wallace Dean Muhammad, who later changed his named to Warith Deen Muhammad. It meant “inheritor of the faith of Prophet Muhammad,” not his father, (but it meant that too).

He wasn’t that old—my dad’s age. They were even born the same month and year, October 1933. Everyone knew this because the Messenger’s family history was a part of the catechism we all learned –I taught my students in Muhammad University, (which Imam Warith Deen changed to Sister Clara Muhammad School after his dear mother). We learned all the messenger’s children’s names and birthdates, especially this son’s because he was the “inheritor” of the faith. We’d known he was special before his dad died. Only he was in the photo with his dad and a photo of W. Fard Muhammad on the wall over the two. Imam Warith Deen was holding a Qur’an. W.F. Muhammad is the man who taught Elijah Muhammad about Islam and proclaimed himself God. This photo was seen as proof by some that he was indeed the one to carry on the work his dad had begun back in 1930 in Detroit.

I felt at times Imam Mohammed was dismantling the community. We went from Nation of Islam with land and property to the World Community of Islam in the West and the American Muslim Mission quickly…losing our communal holdings too quickly, or so I think when I drive through the old territory where we once had thriving businesses. I don’t know why we didn’t own the property we used for our meetings and business developments.

Imam Warith Deen, scholar and teacher encouraged us to call ourselves Bilalians. Many of us toyed with calling ourselves “Bilalians” after the great muezzin or caller to prayer, Bilal Ibn Rabah. He was a black Ethiopian slave Prophet Muhammad freed when the Islamic community was the new monotheistic religion on the block—Christianity and Judaism its older siblings.

At the time the terms Negro and African American, weren’t as en vogue as black, so when WCI members checked “other” on census and other forms, a lot of us, I know I did, wrote in “Bilalian,” it didn’t hurt that my husband, at the time, had taken the same “Bilal” and that we named our first child, a girl, after him, “Bilaliyah.” This naming ceremony was an opportunity to educate others about our Islamic ancestry which we could trace beyond American captivity back to the motherland. Later on, I learned about Muslims from Africa on the slave ships that continued to practice in captivity.

I’d never heard of New Africa or New Africans, so in retrospect, I think this was Imam Mohammed’s way of showing us our special history. And then he began to write books while continuing the fourth Sunday talks nationwide.

What one noticed immediately in those early years was the decentralized governance. I think the ministers, now Imams went to Chicago to visit Imam Warith Deen for conferences, but he also travelled here. I don’t remember if the Savior’s Day-thing continued after his father passed, I just remember thinking that our new leader lacked his dad’s charisma. He was no Malcolm X or Louis Farrakhan, but if his dad felt him worthy of this enormous task, I was going to ride the train with him. He was also named after his father’s hero Wali Farrad Muhammad, alias Wallace Fard (

What was the alternative? I didn’t want to try navigating this ship alone or even worse, disembarking. This was my life, these were my friends, this was my history; I didn’t know anything else besides this, so I stayed. Mama had left Daddy and Daddy never objected to Imam Warith Deen’s directives. He was a freethinker anyway. Outside the constraints or boxes membership leaders might want to impose, my dad always did his thing—whether it was “lawful,” Islamic lawful, NOI lawful, or not. He was the law.

So me and my little brother Fred stayed and kept going to the mosque, named changed to masjid. Everything was gradually shifted to Arabic terms. Imam Abdullah was appointed imam over the community in Oakland once Imam Warith Deen bought the property on Bancroft and 47th for the Bay Area to have a school. I remember the friction this caused, but Imam Abdullah was a lovely man and Imam Warith Deen’s teacher. From Fiji, the elder teacher, loved our imam and was almost a surrogate dad. He was a beautiful introduction to us of true Islam and its humanity. He loved Islam and the prophet, and was a gentle presence in the East Bay community. I stayed in the San Francisco mosque or masjid, where Imam Ousman Mekki was leader at that time. I think John Muhammad left when the Messenger died and started his own community.

I let Mekki deliver my wedding vows, instead of my friend, Imam Abdullah. Bad choice, but I yielded to pressure from my fiancé and father—no more than tribalism. They liked Mekki because he was black, even after they knew he was a snake. Long story.

Okay, so Imam Warith Deen Muhammad is continuing his goals of growing his community up…while connecting us with a worldwide Muslim culture. He’d been aware of the vastness of this faith, that it touched all cultures everywhere. He encouraged us to take the Qur’an from the shelves and read it. He encouraged us to take Muslim names and disregard those Xs. There were no more lessons from Chicago. When someone wanted to become a member of the community they took Shahadah or witnessed initially in the Minister or Imam’s office, later in front of the entire community.

We learned to perform ablution and began to make five daily prayers and fast according to the Islamic calendar. There were Arabic classes and Hadith classes. I never knew the difference between Sunni and Shiah for a long time—Muslims were Muslims—submitters to the will of the creator.

I didn’t know one sect didn’t acknowledge the other. Later I learned that Imam Warith Deen was Sunni and that the direction he’d led us in was the same. I found out later that his questioning of his father’s path began while in prison as a war resister. His transformation, like Malcolm’s also occurred behind bars.

I missed the cohesion of the Nation—gone were the snack shops, bakeries, restaurants, sewing factories, grocery stores, eventually schools, except the one in Oakland, youth clubs which is how I’d term “Vanguards.” I felt kind of like I was out there alone. I’d enrolled in college—UC Berkeley, and was around other people, some Muslim, others non-Muslim. I was studying Arabic and back at the ranch, so to speak, the inherent sexism in the traditional Islamic structure prevented me from sharing what I knew with the community. I’m not sure if I felt more intellectually free as a member of the Nation of Islam, but because there was a structure women shared, I felt as if the audience was larger and the brothers loved us, spoke and treated us like brothers or fathers, uncles, depending on their ages, and would protect us with their lives. All this disappeared with the second coming….Men stopped walking us to our cars, not to mention over time, speaking.

It wasn’t until years later, when men like Abdul Nassir went to Berkeley and took classes would there be Arabic classes taught, by that time I would have gotten married, dropped out of college. Even though after three years in Arabic—I was fluent, my husband didn’t want to learn from me.

Yes, we had a long way to go as a community, 30+ years ago.

With the new structure was a new set of mores. It seemed as if those who were closest to the Qur’anic literal interpretation of life were the in-crowd. I just wanted love and after the Nation dissolved so went the love, at least an expressed love—a love you could feel disappeared. I began to look outside the community for models of this…I ended up in the smaller community in San Francisco at the Muslim Center once I got divorced, and eventually joined a Sufi community for a bit. Smaller, these communities were more loving, but the separation of sexes led to feelings of dissatisfaction. I also started my ecumenical fellowship and started also attending churches with friends on occasions like the Resurrection Day.

While active in the community here, I missed all the trips to Mecca. I guess I wasn’t a part of the inner circle or group. Whatever it was, I wasn’t invited. When Imam Warith Deen was in Los Angeles speaking when I was still living at my father’s house, I had to pay for bus tickets for my brother and I, which meant I didn’t have money for board after I paid for the room. I would have been okay but I didn’t get paid that week. I think they said they ran out of money—whatever it was Fred and I ate sandwiches with meat we’d purchased and put on ice in our motel sink. Sister Elretha invited us to breakfast that weekend and we were able to vary the meal. But we felt we had to be there and hunger was not something that bothered us.

My brother and I were used to doing without. Our dad was sick and often out of work, so when the mosque ran out of money and the school didn’t pay me my teacher’s salary, or the check bounced, we didn’t eat and when we did, it was beans. We ate beans daily, plus Whiting H&G. Sometimes the diet varied between beans and sausage, beans and bread, or beans and brown rice. I think, from time to time, we had eggs. We’d put vegetables in the beans and keep a pot in the fridge. The type varied between small white and pink to pinto. For years this was our diet. It was many years after Warith Deen took over before I could trespass into dietary cannots to eat red beans, black eyed peas, and greens. In “How to Eat to Live,” these were foods prohibited I still think, for good reason. We were also told to watch our sweets and stayed away from refined sugar.

To date I haven’t made the pilgrimage to Mecca, but I have fond memories of speaking to my late God-grandmother, Sister Elretha about her trip. Now her experience is not one I’ll have whenever I go. She was the guest of a sheik and was treated like royalty.

After a while, especially after my divorce, I stopped attending the masjid in Oakland as much. I started going to the one in San Francisco, where my dad attended. By that time, his law and Islamic law were pretty much one in the same. Imam Abu Qadir Al Amin and Imam Faheem Shuaibe had reconciled, besides this, San Francisco was far enough away for each to have his own autonomy.

I stopped paying attention to personalities and focused more on the scripture and what felt right. Eventually I stopped going to the Muslim Center. After my dad died, there really wasn’t much community there for me any longer, plus all my old friends like Brother Nu’man and his wife had died.

I still can’t say I have a faith community. I still uphold the pillars of faith and fast during
Ramadan, plan to go to Mecca with my brother some time in the future, believe in the oneness of the creator and creation, and agree that all faiths are connected even when others fail to acknowledge my existence.

Imam Warith Deen established a place called New Medina in Mississippi where my friend Genevieve bought land to build a home. This is such a New African concept, I wonder if he was influenced by this. His father always told us that we were a world within a world, so my feelings of isolation, are not without substance or ground, especially with this name my father took on: Ali Batin, two of the many attributes of the creator, “the most high” and perhaps the most “hidden.”

Anyway, I am invisible to most and I have gotten used to such autonomy, loneliness, whatever.

Imam Warith Deen really put black American Muslims on the world map, just as his father put Islam on the American map—before Elijah Muhammad there was no Muslim in America movement. Ready to assimilate, the immigrate Muslim population was invisible. We were not. We would fast and dress in hijab when others claimed various reasons to justify their weakness—some still do today. I remember fasting while traveling, even though I didn’t have too.

Immigrant Muslims would signify on me as a child when I’d go into their liquor stores and purchase cigarettes for my dad, or later on as a youth when I’d go buy some candy. They’d ask me questions—quizzing me about my faith as if they were the gatekeepers. Little did I know that the majority of Muslims worldwide were not Arab, the locus certainly not in the Middle East.

This false superiority was challenged by Imam Warith Deen’s leadership and subsequent mainstreamed community. It helped his cause when doors were opened to all. Immigrant Muslims, most from Pakistan and other Sunni communities, now were a part of our community too, not to mention the white groupies who’d been denied admission before. But for the first time, their hypocrisy was challenged.

I’d been raised as a soldier in Allah’s army. It wasn’t figurative like that of the Christians. I’d learned marital arts. We had security; I was serious about the revolution and I’d learned to respect the command of those in charge. Even though the propaganda said, “White people were devils,” I knew there were black devils too, that skin color was not what made people evil, it was their hearts. White skin privilege made it easier for some to participate in the dominant paradigm which kept my people on the bottom; plus we had the added problem of low self-esteem, a residual side effect of this disease, an infection permeating all aspects of the social and economic realm—this was one of the reasons why I loved the Nation of Islam so much. It was a black nation…all my friends were black and I could meet all my needs inside the community. I didn’t have to go outside for hardly anything at all.

We had officers, lessons –there was a manual and a plan. And even when all of the external structure seemingly fell away when our leader, Dear Holy Apostle died, and his son took over, it was there, it was a part of us, which is still there and will never die.

I am a black nationalist and revolutionary sister precisely because of the Nation of Islam and what the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught us. I was a part of what the Black Panther Party called the rank and file. I was the one who believed and followed the spirit of the word and wasn’t caught up in the dysfunction at the leadership level. The dirt touched me, but not enough to make me forget or want to erase my entire life’s history.

I believe we are all born Muslim and then society slowly robs us of our nature. I don’t believe in original sin. I do believe that evil exists, but I also believe that love is the answer to everything that ails us and should be the motivating force behind all we do.

When I’d hear certain statements by Imam Muhammad, especially around Black Nationalism and African ancestry, I was shocked initially given our history and given his father’s beliefs. But since I never had an opportunity to ask him about it I’ll just say that he never wanted us to forget our stake as a people in America, or our ancestors who lived and died for this country. To forsake this country is to forsake that history and that sacrifice. He didn’t think we should all go back to Africa and leave America forever. I don’t believe this either. I think Africa should reunite with its children in the Diaspora, and that we can then develop our global economic structure more effectively as we heal and mend the centuries old rift between us.

I say: we claim it all—Africa and America; this is the only way we’ll ever get free. Islam in this case was the vehicle, but it’s not the only vehicle.

My work has been to look at healing…we never spoke about this enough after the Messenger died and when he was alive, I don’t think it was addressed in any kind of strategic way. No, this is not true.

The messenger cleaned up our diets and bodies, helped up develop self-discipline by fasting outside of Ramadan, and cleaned up our minds with teachings of self-love and self-worth. We were also encouraged to read and inquire and grow mentally strong. He also introduced the idea that we are deaf, dumb and blind to the knowledge of self, and until we know ourselves –ancient to the future, we will continue to be slaves and servants to the enemy.

This is an aspect of black self-development, both spiritually and emotionally, the decentralized governance didn’t speak to enough, but with advisors like Dr. Na’im Akbar and others the information was there, just not implemented in any kind of way that would have had us talking about mental illness and curative measures. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad didn’t let an opportunity pass without speaking to our need to heal our bodies and our minds and our spirits.

We didn’t focus on white people and what this nation was or was not doing for us, we focused on ourselves and our community and how we could provide for our own needs.

Under Imam Mohammed we continued to embrace our sisters and brothers in the prison system, but there was no investigation into what kind of support they needed to stay free—not in 1975, but later such was established by people like Imam Qadir Al Amin and Sister Hamidah Cook, Not in Our Name.

The link between the black liberation movements was also not exploited, or explored. Sister Tarika Lewis tells me how many revolutionaries joined the Nation of Islam to escape detection. I supposed J. Edgar Hoover didn’t have us under as much scrutiny as BPP. Undercover, these warriors remain silent to this day. I just met some of these heroes and heroines in the past two years at Black Panther Party reunions.

Funny, how without a blink in consciousness I can call Imam Warith Deen Muhammad’s wife’s name, Sister Shirley. I know he had children, but by the time he was leader, the catechism had ceased and his extended family was not a topic of research the way his father’s was. I just know they exist.

Imam Warith Deen, Min. Louis Farrakhan and I think that’s it…the philosophical lineage between El Hajj Malik and his teacher the Honorable Elijah Muhammad ends with Farrakhan.

I didn’t remember to bring the book I teach: “Children of the Movement” and get his autograph the last time I saw Imam Mohammed, when my daughter was honored at the “Human Excellence Awards” program in San Francisco at Grace Cathedral. I always thought it interesting that we had to host our programs in rental facilities, that as a community 78 years after the birth of Elijah Poole, we still are not the sovereign nation he and peers and/or mentors like: the Honorable Nobel Drew Ali, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Booker T. Washington, W.E. B. Dubois, Ida B. Wells, Madame CJ Walker, Mary Ellen Pleasant, and others, dreamed of.

We went from Mason halls to cathedrals to other convention centers. Do-for-self –collectively, kind of fell off and do-for-self as capitalists became the norm. I didn’t like the way our community was becoming less black and more immigrant philosophically. It was as if black people were encouraged to forget their blackness and African heritage and disappear into Islamic culture, so the men married Muslims from other races and cultures and so did, to a lesser degree the women. The attire looked more Arab and Middle Eastern to the point where the sisters were encouraged to wear hijab, even the facial scarf or complete coverage and with this came more sexism and physical abuse—a silent epidemic in Muslim society…this one no different.

So one day I said, no more. That day, I’d attended one of the Imam’s public lectures and this imam from Texas was insulting in his delivery. I didn’t agree with most of what he said and I decided that I was not going to attend any more masajid where women were not allowed to lead and where the women sat behind the men or were sequestered behind walls in another room.

I broke my rule a couple of times to attend Masjid Al Iman in Oakland because I like Imam Yassir Chadley, and more recently at Imam Musa’s masjid in Alameda, but when the men would not speak to me and looked through me when I spoke to them, it was like, okay, this is it—no thank you. It was Ramadan too.

My brother turned me on to the Universal Submitters and I used to attend there until he stopped going. The tendency for idol worship among human beings is such an issue. It seems if we don’t guard against it, we slip into it and this is a form of bondage and I value my freedom.

So I am going it alone and yes, I feel lonely, but since I live in a Muslim household, I can find support for the fast and see my daughter reading Qur’an and see my sister-in-law praying and if I want companionship in the daily prayers I can find it at home. I have people to talk to about scripture and can read the Arabic and can have a discussion with me. So I am blessed. I might not have a public ummat but I do have an ummat, and because I grew up in this community, I always have a home…I can always find a familiar face in the assembly.

Submission is my home. I lost touch with the daily workings of Imam Mohammed and the community. I wasn’t aware of the Mosque Cares, the signature not-for-profit entity he elected to represent his mission in the end ( What I do know is Imam Warith Deen was consistent. His goal was to raise his people, complete his father’s work and perhaps it is done. I know I certainly feel like an adult.

One of the things people told me when I made 50 this year, was that I was now grown. The tendency to blame others for one’s troubles and to give away one’s hard-earned credits for success should be over when the child is grown. Imam Warith Deen was a great parent to the community, and now another leader doesn’t need to step in….grown people lead themselves.

I’ve gotten emails and copies of posts in the on-line funeral guest book. Men are offering themselves as the new leader for this nation. I guess along the way they stopped listening ‘cause the Imam was clearly not about idol worship and though his followers wanted to canonize him, he resisted such to the end.

I hadn’t known, until reading an article about the funeral Sept. 11, where 8000 people were counted in attendance that he rebuked his father’s leadership several times and was not allowed to come home. His daughter said he reconciled with his father (the last time) just six months before the leader of the Nation of Islam died February 25, 1975. I forgot the differing points of view between Imam Warith Deen and Min. Farrakhan, the rivalry between the two and the split until the breach was healed in 1999. This split was not something fostered by members of our community, as I recall and Imam Mohammed said as much to Farrakhan. I always looked to members of the NOI as my Muslim brothers and sisters. I saw them in the early stages of evolution…and if the NOI structure was useful then more power to them.

I think my participation in the World Community of Islam in the West and American Muslim Mission, must have stopped around the time the name of the community shifted to the American Society of Muslims. It was hard to find Muslims who were about the work I was interested in, the uplift of black people and healing our community, whether that was looking at HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, women’s rights or African American self-determination. In his embrace of what we used to term “true Islam,” it often seems as though Imam Warith Deen threw out the baby with the bathwater. I see now such was not necessarily the case.

What he did was revolutionary, but he was not a black nationalist. His work was revolution of the black spirit and the vehicle he chose was one that worked for him, Islam, not that this was the only vehicle.

For him to have departed this life, the ninth day of Ramadan and to be interned on a day associated with evil, the prime target people who claim the same faith he did, was an opportunity, many cited in Chicago Tribune articles I read, to change the day of national mourning into a national celebration of the life of a man devoted to service.

I can’t think of a man who loved his people more than Imam Warith Deen Mohammed did, no matter how frustrating or personally tiring or taxing to the spirit this was. His story is not the story one hears when heroes like Martin King and El Hajj Malik is told, because he lived—and to live while society’s heroes are saluted only once they are deceased is hard too.

He lived as his big brothers, Malcolm and Martin, were cut down. I wonder if this is the reason why outside of Chicago much more noise hasn’t been made by the nation at the transition of this man. It is the same noise I expected when Ray Charles died and was buried, his memorial eclipsed by that of a criminal, Ronald Regan (I think…or some other dead president).

President Bush should have made a statement; Imam Mohammed’s death should have been in the national news, throughout the week. Even now, outside of the mentions in the Oakland Tribune and other local papers past one-day coverage 9/10, I have to do an Internet search.

Perhaps he lived too long—a 74 year old black man less than a month from his 75 birthday?! I say, more cause for celebration, but I’m not on those editorial boards. We should call and complain at and other network stations.

It is way past time that he was cover story on one of the major news magazines—even now, the opportunity hasn’t passed. The stories written about Black Muslims as if we were some kind of plague on the nation (America) were somewhat appeased when the Honorable Elijah Muhammad died and his more mild-mannered successor took the reigns of this organization.

We weren’t Muslims; the propaganda separated us and made us: black Muslims as if there was a difference. To date, a Muslim in America who is black is a black Muslim and presumed one who converted to Islam and is not as authentic a model as an Arab-Muslim-model is, when such couldn’t be further from the truth. This is the reason why I think Don Cheadle’s latest film, “Traitor” is so good. In the film he is a Muslim raised in Sudan, moves to the United States, fights in the army, and then finds himself trying to correct a wrong. He reframes the image of Muslim and how a person’s faith can manipulated by others who don’t value life. Sameer values life and weeps when life is lost, even in war. (Watch an interview at and

The Honorable Elijah Muhammad called us a nation and this country a beast about to be destroyed, a country we wanted no part of. His son disagreed. Imam Mohammed participated in American society becoming the first Muslim to deliver an invocation to the US Senate (1992) and in 1993 and 1997 he was the first Muslim to recite Qur’an at presidential inaugural interfaith prayer services (Chicago Tribune).

Imam Mohammed made Islam more palatable to mainstream America and made it easier for immigrant Muslims to realize the American dream, a dream still elusive to most African Americans, Muslim and otherwise.

Just as Martin King, a little older than Imam Warith Deen, more his late brother Herbert Muhammad, former manager for Muhammad Ali’s peer, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, laid the ground for religious tolerance in America between Christians and Jews—we all believe as Muslims that we’re all “people of the book,” and share a common prophetic lineage. In steering his father’s community into Orthodox Islam, he pacified the detractors and their henchmen who were out to discredit our integrity, those who said Islam was a front for terrorism.

Not here, it wasn’t.

Remember, the Nation of Islam was established before WW2, just after the Depression. This predates the Jewish partitioning of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Movement. It predates the pronounced immigrant population throughout America today, where there are enclaves of South Asian Muslims and East Asian Muslims with mosques and schools. There is a Little Kabul in Fremont, California, and in Detroit where Temple No. 1 was established in the ‘30s there is a huge immigrant Muslim community today.

When the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (October 7, 1897-February 25, 1975) accepted Islam and he and his wife Sister Clara Muhammad began to build a nation, Islam was not the fastest growing religion in the world and America was not familiar with the religion or people who followed Prophet Mohammed, (PBUH), let along the Messenger of Allah, a black man from Sandersville, Georgia, the child of sharecroppers, hailing distance of the plantations which so many other blacks in America had escaped from during the great migrations north and west.

Elijah Poole, one of 13 children to Willie Poole, Sr. (1868–1942) and Mariah Hall (1873–1958), was added to the watch for a black messiah when he came out as leader of this new movement. The NOI’s ability to realize its full potential was compromised by the human tendency to deceit, both of one’s self and of each other, fed in this case by the tendency of most black people to distrust other black people, especially those in leadership positions.

Though Elijah Poole had a third grade education, and was the son of a minister, he wanted to excel and do better than his parents, just as his son, Warith Deen, wanted to do the same. Warith Deen graduated from high school and went to college. Throughout his life he studied his religion so that he could serve his creator and his community to the fullest of his ability and encouraged all of us to do the same.

His father, Elijah Muhammad’s story is remarkable and despite his mistakes, I think the good certainly outweighs any wrongs his leadership and human frailties might have caused to taint this remarkable record as founder of a great example of black autonomy and leadership—from the belly of the beast we were able to do great things, and despite the dissolution of this legacy due for the most part of graft, the fact remains, we did it. I liken the mistakes to the mistakes New African nations are making to date, mistakes many of us have expertise we could share to help prevent or stymie its continuance, but how many folks who know allowed access to people in power who need to know.

I hadn’t known that Imam Warith Deen Muhammad also spent time behind bars as a conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam and that his objection to his dad’s leadership during the ‘60s and ‘70s was continuous as was his expulsion from the community again and again for his principled disagreements with dad—he and Malcolm agreed, yet unlike Malcolm, Warith Deen was publically forgiven. (His father was also jailed for draft evasion, even though at the time, he was too old to serve (1942).

The Imam was truly amazing and the breath of the work and evidence of his love for his people is not truly known, nor its loss really felt, but despite the absence of news and the fact that the planet hasn’t stopped rotating–a tree has certainly fallen and a pause for this great man’s life is due, now and forever after.

His was a life given to service and I thought when I heard he’d passed, that perhaps his work was done. Similar to the work of playwright August Wilson, who died as soon as his final play of the ten-work series had had its debut, just before his 60th birthday.

He was a quiet man who life was like a dew drop on a leaf—its silent impact immeasurable. When he was around, one sensed his deep commitment to his work. Kindness beamed from his expressive eyes and though famous one never felt any airs or visions of grandeur. He was approachable and attentive. I was just shy and never crossed the threshold into his line of view other than a nod his way. I hope the journey home is swift and his reward all he one could hope for.

I also pray Allah ease the hearts of his loved ones left behind, his wife, children, grandchildren, siblings, other relatives and friends.

Visit You can listen to archived lectures, and purchase recent books.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

East Bay AIDS Walk, Sept. 6, 2008

Yesterday, hundreds of people gathered at the tenth annual East Bay AIDS Walk. Better attended than in years past, we had a fun time, raising awareness and money for a worthy cause. AIDS is one of the number one killers of black men under 25. It is perhaps second to handgun violence, if it isn't first. Visit to make a donation and see how you can help stop the spread of this disease. There is a celebration dinner for walkers and planners, volunteers and sponsors, October 2, I will bring a reportback of how much money was raised and perhaps have Joe Hawkins, the founder, on my radio show the following morning, Friday, October 3.

Photo credit: Wanda Sabir, all rights reserved.

Maafa 2005 Hurricane Katrina continues

The film "Trouble the Water" made its Bay Area splash this weekend in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose. Visit There is a trailer and music there also. We sold copies of "Words Upon the Waters" and "Oakland: Outloud" a PEN Oakland collection of poetry featuring many of the same poets. We raised $135.00 which we are sending to Common Ground Relief, an all volunteer organization and first responder to the survivors 3 years ago with medical assistance, housing, food, clothing, legal assistance, and now soil and wetland restoration, housing rehabilitation.... We also are sending money to LIFE of MS, the Biloxi site, which serves the poorer residents along the gulf with disabilities.

The subtitle is: this film is not about post-Katrina victims and survivors, it's about America.

Trouble the Water: Review
By Wanda Sabir

I saw an amazing film this week, Trouble the Water, talk about Amazing Grace…its sweet sound…wretched souls once lost and finding themselves, blinded they now see. Sometimes it takes living through something as catastrophic as Hurricane Katrina and busted levees, flood waters and thoughts of dying, to shake one from the stupor one was drifting in for most, if not all, of one’s life.

Trouble the Water is such a story. It’s the story of Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her husband, Scott Roberts, who managed to survive Katrina and save others in their Ninth Ward neighborhood.

Like the debris floating in the flood waters, Kim and Scott were also floating without anchors prior to a challenge that pulled on a strength they knew they possessed, but hadn’t actually utilized to its potential; but death does that—as one’s life passes in front of her eyes…one either sinks or swims.

As one watches the film, Kim with a camera is interviewing her neighbors and asking them if they are leaving as she packs her freezer with ice, goes to the store to buy meat and interviews the proprietor who tells her, he isn’t leaving either. She wakes up her uncle, passed out in a stupor and he wanders off to a place where he’ll be indoors. She calls friends and relatives to alert them to elders who are alone and don’t possess phones so someone will look in on them so they don’t drown.

What’s really sad is the story we see later in the film about one such relative, who drowns in a convalescent home that wasn’t evacuated, and other stories about government's response to the victims: refusing the weary rest at the empty army base--this story juxtaposed with President Bush's advice over the air in Washington, DC, admonishing people in the Gulf that "everything is being done--no resources spared which can help with the recovery." At Frederick Douglass High School, where Scott and Kimberly ended up, the soldiers laughed at the victims--the comments were, "they didn't know basic survival techniques." Excuse me?! These two people had just braved the worse natural disaster in US history!

Trouble the Water, directed by Carl Deal (Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11) with director, Tia Lessin, used the early and priceless footage Kim took prior to their meeting her and Scott, in Alexandria. Kim and Scott had the safe house; their attic supplied with ice, food and cheer. Her cousin Larry, along with Scott, rescued people during the storm floating in without anchors in the storm waters. There they all stayed until the men evacuated them one at a time to higher ground.

As Kim’s footage showed the storm and the people inside the small room, frightened –Kim always positive and cheerful, while other archival footage: radio streaming were voices of other New Orleans residents calling 911 and asking for help. The operators answered the frantic callers with, “When the water level decreases we’ll be able to help you." The distressed caller's response was, “So I’m going to die?” Silence greeted this conclusion.

Once the water receded and the Kim and Scott and the others left the shelter they headed to Alexandria to Kim's favorite uncle's house. The Roberts’ couple packed a truck with 20 people and their pets (cat, and dogs) and headed north. When they arrived, all Kim and her uncle could do was hug. One could feel the relief mixed with sorrow. He told them they could stay in the house as long as they liked. There they stayed the night and then went to an American Red Cross Shelter as there was no electricity or plumbing at the house.

Her uncle had lost his mother, Carrie Mae in the storm. The Convalescent home hadn't evacuated her and the bodies had decomposed. It was hard to identify the remains. That was so sad. Kim and Scott made sure everyone was settled, before continuing on to Memphis; it was the first time Scott had been out of New Orleans. The couple hoped to make a new start.

Throughout the entire crisis, Kim shows how she can think on her feet. It was cool witnessing the extended family taking care of one another; this is how these folks were able to survive.

Early footage of Katrina showed black folks and white folks looking for water and other resources like food to survive, yet the black folks were called thieves and the white folks, survivors. Trouble the Waters is a more balanced look at a population off the radar. As Kimberly says often enough, "no one cares about the 9th Ward and its inhabitants. No one came looking for the dead;" death’s stench is unbearable from the porch where Kim and Scott went into homes of friends and family to see if they’d gotten out. Many hadn’t.

Nor has the recovery been any better, three years later. Just as another friend, adopted along the way, Brian, who couldn’t get any FEMA money because he’d been in a half-way house and didn’t have an address, was told by Kim not to worry, people are still in the streets –those who stayed because the housing supply is insufficient--I saw them--long lines of homeless men crowded on the sidewalks, waiting outside the doors, spilling into the streets at a shelter near Ashe Cultural Center in New Orleans, just this summer when I went home for a family reunion.

On the one year anniversary, Kim and her friends are commemorating the dead and their survival and police roll up and tell everyone to put their hands in the air. Kim is ordered to stop taping. The 9th Ward two years after that looks relatively the same…the neighbors Kim speaks of gone, the neighborhood-- formally occupied homes are, if not gone, are vacant. For miles and miles, all one sees are weed covered foundations where The Road Home and other such programs that penalize the victims, have prevented people from returning. Blight notices are posted on vacant, signaling preemptive demolition. Many of the owners are still in the Diaspora and not able to return.

Kim’s mother died from AIDS when she was 13, yet earlier than this she learned to survive the streets, stealing food to feed the family and then selling drugs to support them. It was a rough life, but not one, one hasn’t heard of before. Often one’s choices are almost made for you….When a child has to take on the responsibilities of an adult, in America; it’s not possible to do this legally when one is a certain age. Kim speaks of the need in her eyes which went unanswered. It is a call she responds to as an adult when she sees it in other's eyes--no more heroically than when the storm approaches and she and her husband are caught, even now in the storm’s aftermath one, two, three years later--she is still advocating for her neighbors, her friends, her relatives, her people.

The 9th Ward was like a world unto itself…similar to other urban enclaves throughout America, South Central, Bayview Hunter’s Point, West Oakland, East Oakland, South Berkeley, North Richmond, East Philly, Southside Chicago, South Bronx…as long as the life didn’t spill into the economically affluent side of town, the folks under siege –the siege of poverty and unrequited opportunities, it was allowed to fester and grow.

Katrina was the headlights on a vehicle left idling too long. It was the vision of all these American citizens drowning, then crowded on highways, outside the Superdome, fainting from heat and exhaustion…dying, that should have created a greater need to address this uneven recovery that continues to this day, even after hurricanes Rita and now Gustav...Ike.

Trouble the Water is troubling, yet it is people like Kimberly, Scott, Larry and Brian that give me hope. I know Kim is not going to let the government sleep on them…they are going to raise hell until the high water is no longer a threat to life and liberty for all, especially the more vulnerable like her little brother who was left to die along with other prisoners in the Parish Prison. His testimony is stunning; especially his comparison of what it was like in those prisons...locked up and left to the slave ships.

He’s still having nightmares.

Kim’s music comforts her. One of the songs on the soundtrack which is played towards the end of the film when Kim and Scott are back in New Orleans, is "Amazing." It’s about her life, which is pretty amazing…amazing that she’s alive and that she’s so upbeat and positive.

When I think about this 24-then, now 27 year old woman and what she has survived I am also reminded of our ancestors and what they survived and witnessed and lived through so we could witness their spirit and keep striving for freedom. Scott talks about this a lot. He wants a job, but doesn’t have a high school diploma and a couple years of college. No one is hiring, even though he wants to work.

The potential for stereotypes cast on Kim and Scott, Brian and others we meet are instructive…if nothing else, it tells us to not believe what we read and see on TV. We need to withhold judgment until we can have a more primary experience, which is what film and theater is so good at. At the end of the film, one loves Kim. She is our sister. She is our daughter. She is our granddaughter.

Watching this film, more so than Fauberg Treme and When the Levees Broke, was like being in the hull of that ship crossing the Atlantic. Second Line (dir.John Magary) came closest to the feelings invoked by Trouble, but even then, the protagonists were in a FEMA trailer park, not in the water. Perhaps because "Trouble" starts the day before and we’re there with the captives in the dank darkness and can hear their thoughts, see their faces, the experience is one that stays with you hours later.

I am dreaming about Kim and Scott. I wake up with them on my mind. When I close my eyes I see them, along with the others stranded. I hope they get away.

At the screening in Berkeley, Saturday evening, I’d hoped they would have had a moment of silence for the departed. I’d planned to mention it and then I forgot. These are people whose lives could have been spared. People are still dying and it is just as much a shame today as it was three years prior. A lot went wrong regarding government’s response to Katrina. Trouble the Water is an excellent organizing and teaching tool

FEMA, the American Red Cross and the state of Louisiana and the City of New Orleans needs to watch this and take notes. The opportunity to see other places, to travel to Memphis to start over again, was also an opportunity to see what they left behind…both the good and the bad and make some tough decisions about the direction they want their lives to take post-Katrina, Kim and Scott said.

Scott and Kim were not eager to return to the destructive behaviors of the past. Kim’s writing and belief in God were anchors that held her steady with head above water during and after the storm.

The film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and it will win your heart. Volunteer to help in the rebuilding of New Orleans, and support the Gulf Coast Recovery Bill, HR 4048, by writing your Congress woman and asking her to do so.

I’m trying to get Kim on my show, Wanda’s Picks at this Friday, Sept. 12, during the first hour, 8-9 AM. The URL is

Wanda Sabir, photographer, all rights reserved.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Wanda's Picks

Wanda's Picks Radio Show, Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday, Sept. 5, Wanda's Picks on-line went a lot better. I didn't have as many technical difficulties. I left my window open on and whenever I got mail a door creaked open. I have to remember to close that browser next time. I also had trouble turning the music off once, but overall I think it went well. I really enjoyed speaking to all the guests and am looking forward to talking to guests this coming week.

Confirmed are Jackie Sumell, the artist whose installation, The House that Herman Built is getting international applause. She'll tell us where we can look for it to open next. This house was designed by Herman Wallace, one of the Angola 3, men incarcerated for over 31-35 years at Angola State Prison in Louisiana. The dream house and the published letters are the result of correspondence between Herman and Jackie. Visit

We will also be speaking with Jordan Flaherty, editor of Left Turn Magazine." Visit

Show link:

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Happy Birthday Richard Wright!

My decision to attend the preview of The Oakland Public Theater's "Before the Dream: the mysterious death (and life) of Richard Wright, written by Richard Talavera, directed by Norman Gee, instead of opening night was just another one of the situations I find myself in too often here in the Greater Bay Area, so much to do and not enough hours in the weekend to do it all--even if the dates and times didn't overlap.

So there I was with my friend visiting from DC trying to find this elusive Noodle Factory, now Performing Arts Center in the 'hood, deep industrial West Oakland on Union near 26th Street. We asked a few homeless brethern where the place was, even what street we were on and they knew nada.

Enclosed in storm fencing, with a slight opening to walk through, the only noticeable landmark were the candles and I knew it was also a birthday celebration-Richard Wright's, I later found out. (I'd driven by this location earlier and decided it didn't look like a theatre, besides that it was on the wrong street, I thought.)

What good fortune, to be there on one of America's greatest writer's 100th birthday. After the play ended, we sang happy birthday and cast and audience mingled and ate cake.

The play reflects Talavera's scholarship. I believe he told a friend today he'd been working on the script for two years. The series hosted by Oakland Public Theatre which over 11 hours looked at various aspects of Wright's life from Harlem Renaissance to his pivotal texts Native Son and Black Boy, "Before the Dream" brings together the highlights, and key moments and people, especially authors James Baldwin and Chester Hinds, Wright's friend. The FBI's harassment and his loss of his passport, inability to live with his wife and daughter in England, and his untimely death in France is explored also.

Before the Dream with its poetic phrasing and delightful interludes--haiku, Wrights favored style. At one point a character says Wright had haikus hanging around in his apartment on a clothesline.

I kept seeing Wright, so well did actor, Reg Clay, resemble the man. James Baldwin was also well done, but Michael Castillo embodied the spirit of Chester Himes, his humor and good mood, but more importantly his love for Wright, his friend.

Abbie Rhone was multiple characters from Ollie Harrington to Martin King. I really liked his King. I remembered Natasha Noel from African American Shakespeare Company's holiday play, Cinderella. She is a great evil stepmother. Here she is Julia, Wright's daughter, who is just 18 when he dad dies.

"Before the Dream" teases one intellect and made me want to go and get Wright's collected haiku poems, plus other titles which we mentioned I hadn't read. I wanted to reread Native Son and Black Boy, two of my favorite books of his. Margaret Walker was correct, he was a brilliant man, a genius.

All the words, minus directions, are Wright's. This is perhaps the reason why Clay can interpret the material so well--Wright is present with him on stage.

All those who attended the preview, if we return with a paying guest, we get in free. I think this is a fabulous deal--you know I'm returning before October 5. Though the street address is 1255 26th Street, the entrance is on Union. Union is two block up from Mandela Pkwy. in Oakland.

Free tickets are also available to West Oakland neighbors of the theatre. Call (510) 534-9529. Tickets are $20-$9, sliding scale. Visit

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Umalali & the Garifuna Collective

Monday night, Sept. 1, after being in the house all day, checking the news and calling those relative whom I could reach to see how they fared considering the rain and winds and tornadoes...and finding everyone safe, I went out to see this fantastic ensemble of musicians from Honduras, Belize and Guatemala, descendants of Africans and the Carib and Arawak Indians.

I'd know about the Garifuna people because of a film I saw by a native woman about hos seductive the outside world seems until you get out there and find out how rich she really is. I thought it interesting that the ship carrying Africans capsized in the Americas. The Africans escaped into the hills, flat lands and everywhere they could hide to avoid recapture.

The three women who comprise a fraction of the community they represent musically were a mother and and daughter, Sofia Blanco Arzu, of Livingston, Guatemala, and Silvia Baltazar Rochez, (who now lives in Seattle). The third singer, Desere Diego, performed also. Younger than the two, last night she was a lovely addition to the ensemble who danced and sang and told captivating stories of a little known people in Central America.

They played songs from the latest CD plus songs from Andy Palacio's Watina, and the other Garifuna Collective compilation out just before this, songs performed with original musicians last year at Stern Grove, the last time we saw Andy alive here in the San Francisco Bay. The lovely man died suddenly January 19, this year. Rolando "Chiciman Sosa was in the house last night on segunda and acoustic guitar and vocals, as was Joshua Arana on primaro and vocals. Sam Harris was on lead guitar. Lloyd was on lead vocals and guitar. It was his first time in the states. I didn't get the name of the third guitarist who also danced during the first set on a traditional song: "Chumba Wanaragua." In this song which pulled rhythmically from the shared indigenous and African roots of the Garifuna people, showed more than the other songs, how music and dance mirrored the daily lives of the Garifuna people. There are songs for everything from making casava mill and baking bread to fishing and unsuccessful attempts at gathering honey from a hive.

The second set opened with a lovely accapella song, "Naguwara" by the three woman. In both sets Garifuna people from the audience, men and women, joined the company on stage, saluted the drummers and danced. It was pretty cool. Those folks could dance! The evening closed with a tribute to Andy Palacio and a prayer before we all danced and sang the title track of his last project, "Watina."