Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Wanda's Picks April 4, 2012

Today on the anniversary of MARTIN KING's killing, we reflect on healing and survival via a variety of perspectives, beginning at 7 a.m. with a conversation with Ifa Priestess Oyafunmike Ogunlano who portrays the role of "Mona" and "Shola," in Haile Gerima's classic: Sankofa.

Beginning her career on the theatrical stage, Ms.Ogunlano first graced the stages of Washington, D.C. as a proud member of the D.C. Black Repertory Company under the direction of Robert Hooks in such powerful productions as The Blacks, Imamu, Day of Absence, Changes and more. She has appeared in many stage productions including North Seventeenth Street, Homecookin’ and Oursides as member of the renowned the Negro Ensemble Company. With the Nuyorican Poet’s Café she performed in Shango de Ima, Julius Caesar set in Africa and Obatala. She was a member of the Ebony Impromptu Theater Company, under the direction of the late Harry Poe and is also an accomplished African dancer who has danced with the dynamic Olatunji's Drums of Passion, Wo’ se, and Mori Nimba to name a few.

She will also speak about her Ifa temple project, "Palmaras." Visit

I meet her at Iya Nedra's home which is an art gallery. The interview is filled with laughter, jazz playing quietly in the background. I am treated to a green drink, as I gaze past my subject out the window where a panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay awaits. The women, dressed in white, greet me with Alafia, Yoruba for peace. I take off my shoes after I pass Xshu at the door and after the initial oos and aaaas, I ask if I can return on a personal field trip. Iya smiles and tells me any time.

I find Oyafunmike easy to talk to, so easy to talk to I forget I am working and don't ask about her work with Olatunji's Drums of Passion, and what she knows of his work with John Coltrane in New York. I don't ask her about how Gerima happened to have a cast of spirit workers--how did he convene such a super cast or spirit workers? Was it intentional or just fortuitous?

She says that her ancestors told her everyone was handpicked for this work, did they mention why 19 years ago, they felt it necessary to make the Sankofa journey and why Gerima, a man from the continent, Ethiopia, a place never colonized by the west, why he was the man they wanted to do their bidding?

What was in it for him? What did he say of the vision quest that they collectively walked? In retrospect, even if she is angry with him for stealing her work, what were some of the rewards connected to this work she is best known for?

Does hanging onto the anger slow her down in measurable way? If so, what are they?

Hunter Poetry
We open with A. Madyun's Every Breath of Life.

I met Oyafunmike at Adimu Madyun's listening party, where I taped the next interview. It was noisy and Adimu was excited, as we all were. "Hunter Poetry" is a phenomenal project, its message positive and enlightening. We were black folks in the know, rubbing elbows with other powerful Africans, also in the know with know how.

Tico Wells

The circle is still unbroken as are our hearts and souls, evident in WolfhawkJaquar: Hunter Poetry, as well as Sankofa and the legacy of severance it references. John Henry Redwood’s play, The Old Settler, directed by Tico Wells, reflects this endurance and spiritual rejuvenation. It is no wonder given Redwood's background in theology--one wants to think, Liberation Theology, he has written such a provocative play about some very different sistas: Elizabeth, Quilly and Lou Bessie (smile).

As I spoke at length to the director, Tico Wells, I couldn't help but think about the conversation we were having when just moments into our conversation he mentions Dr. Joy DeGruy and Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome as he reflected on his grandfather's silences, which he drew on in his portray "Husband Witherspoon" when The Old Settler opened in 1997.

I couldn't help but remember Dr. DeGruy's statement at the CIIS talk last week to an audience which overwhelmingly did not know her prior to that day, how her father on his death bed asked her to validate his sacrifices, the times he kept silent when he wanted to speak. He chose to live, yet there remained decades later, self-doubt.

Though he told her, "I did it for you," the deeper question unasked was, when I don't behave manly or let someone clearly weaker walk on my human rights and citizenship, am I still a man?

This kind of silence is a form of internalized terrorism. One can remain silent, but to be silenced means one wants to speak and his or her tongue is cut out or muted, like one does to the speakers on one's laptop.

As DeGruy shared this story with the audience. It was a story I never heard her tell before. Instantly as she paused to wipe what looked like a tear, I was clear why she does the work she does, and how the need for this work is verified over and over again, whether it is in the supermarket where she has to do an intervention between parents having a dangerous meltdown--an intervention that saves the child and his or her parents or a personal example.She tells the story of a neighborhood child who threatens to beat her son up because he looks at him.

Not only have we been silenced, we cannot or we dare not look in the mirror for fear the reflection will validate the propaganda about ourselves we have been trying to ignore. The dominant narrative not only scares us, it reinforces the insecurity --cognitive dissonance, DeGruy calls it, that makes the image wobble just as we think we have a handle on our dignity.
This is a lot for an adult to handle, let alone a child?

"You mean to tell me you are going to beat up my son, because he looked at you?!" She asks the child, then goes on to use this waylayed assault as a teachable moment.

Wells went on to say that he was excited when Dr. Vaughn Scott at the Black Rep opened her theatre doors when he asked to produce this play there. The first rehearsals were by phone, the director in Los Angeles, and then when he came north, he expressed surprised at what he found at BRG, a theatre founded by Nora Vaughn, Dr. Vaughn Scott's mother. He found actors willing to do what it took to make a production work, what I would term, a holistic approach. The director found himself doing the sound, something he was not aware he had a talent for. He also learned of the personal sacrifice many of the cast and crew made once they agreed to participate. It seemed to inspire and renew his commitment and hope and belief in the power of art to articulate and tell stories about our people, in particular, which are not being told.

Wells said the public often thinks black actors are so far from reach, when they would welcome an opportunity to come back the the community and share what they have learned and collaborate on productions like The Old Settler. He compares this to elders send their offspring off to university, yet no prevision is made for them to return.

There is a dissonance that happens often on both ends--a strangeness, that can be bridged if both sides recognize the strengths of each: one is not hick and the other bourgeoisie. We came full circle to speak about Martin King and his legacy, one that could be connected to that of the playwright, John Henry Redwood, Ph.D.

John Henry Redwood’s play, The Old Settler at Black Repertory Group Theatre in Berkeley, has been extended April 5-8, Thursday-Friday, 8 p.m., Saturday, 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, Easter Sunday, 5 p.m. BRGT is located at 3201 Adeline Street, Berkeley. For information call (510) 652-2120. Visit

10th Annual Oakland International Film Festival

We close with David Roach, director of Oakland International Film Festival, April 6-8, 2012 at the Oakland Museum, 10th and Oak. Visit


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