Sunday, February 03, 2013

23rd African American Celebration through Poetry

Charles Allensworth, Halifu Osumare, Gene Howell Jr.
Deloris Allen shared a song
Maurisa Thompson
Akosua and Leroy Moore
RJ with mom, Bilaliyah
Alexis Ojeda (center), closed the program with an original poem. She is seated with her mother and brothers
Vanessa Rochelle Lewis
My grandson, RJ
Sister Kee
Vanessa Rochelle Lewis
Ayodele Nzinga, Word Slanger

Sandra Mayfield
Mama Ayanna, Mama Najeebah
Leroy Moore
Cinnabar (r)
Ashley Anderson (r)

Angela Davis
My daughter and granddaughter, Bilaliyah and Brianna
Yaya & Paradise
Sonia Whittle & Son
The 23rd Annual African American Celebration through Poetry, Saturday afternoon, February 2, 2013, was really wonderful. Poets were in attendance and on the program who'd been at the Celebration for at least 20 of the 23 years, poets like Gene Howell and Steve McCutchen. With a theme that looked at emancipation from slavery and the civil rights movement that pushed this nation to grant all its citizens equal rights, we had an afternoon full of both inspiring and enlightening work from the elder poets to many youth.

It was pleasant to have youngsters in the audience who stayed the entire 4 hours to share their original poems or a staged reading of a favorite work, which Ashley Anderson did with Langston Hughes's "I've Known Rivers." We closed the program with Alexis Ojeda's work that questioned her civil liberties and the spirit of the law, which is not easy to enforce when prejudice and racism and sexism preclude right attitude.

Several poets shared work which weighed heavy on their heart like Sister Kee and Mama Ayanna, who both lost loved ones, Mama Ayanna a son to intra-communal violence. Azalea's poem had us thinking about what we eat (smile), while Leroy Moore's poem about Rev. Cecil Ivory made us aware of an unsung hero in our midst. Charles Allensworth, in full regalia as a Buffalo Soldier, representing his great great great uncle, Colonel Allen Allensworth was a great lesson in history and the importance of knowing one's family history. Barbara Akousa Williams's poem about her recent brush with mortality was moving, while Jabari Aali Shaw's Ain't Gona Turn Me Around --was a sober accounting of why we have to keep talking about freedom as we seize it when those moments present themselves. Paradise Free Jah Love opened the program with Fanfare, which set the tone for the afternoon of poetry and his Another Day in Oakland is certainly a classic, like is I Love Everything about You but You. . . . We ran out of time and missed the updated version of that classic (smile).

Vanessa Rochelle Lewis's Brown Queen Lulluby was stunningly beautiful--what an ode to young women. It is a hold your head high work that all "brown girls" need to have in their self-esteem kits. Similar to Ayodele Nzinga or Word Slanger's shout out to the "Ordinary Woman" who "Dreams," which Ayo got a standing ovation for the first and shouts of approval for the second.

Steve McCutchen's An Still I Dream was an accounting of the past 150 years, the past 50 years. Only Steve can make history so accessible (smile).

Kinara Sankofa's I Wanna Write a Poem and Where Are You Fathers and Rize, ebbed and flowed into one another like a great book one cannot wait to finish and then once complete, can't wait to read again. Dramatically presented, one forgot she'd been seated listening to poetry for three hours prior (smile).

Maurisa Thompson's shared a new adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, Te's Harmony: A Story of Love at the Cross Roads, A Spoken Word Theatre Piece by Richmond Youth, Saturday, Feb. 9, 6-9 p.m. at El Cerrito High School, 540 Ashbury Avenue, El Cerrito. Luis Rodriguez will give a key-note address. Visit  Maurisa shared excepts from the work. It sounds really fun.

Avotcja shared selections from her new book, closing with Oaktown Blues. Sandra Hooper Mayfield aka Makeda and Doug Katabazi Coleman were Poetry Celebration alumni who always bring work that stimulates us intellectually as we enjoy the presentations. Makeda got a bit erotic for those with linguistic acumen (smile).

Andre LaMont Wilson's multilayer work told the story of his parents, who left him poetry. His work was funny and poignant, especially his poem about brothers with bald heads (smile). Later he shared the work of Monique Harris, who had to leave just before we got to her name on the Open Mic list.

I liked what Gene Howell Jr. said about poems and children, how they have to have names. I didn't catch the name of his first poem, a new poem written just a day earlier and looked at themes for this year's poetry program. His second poem which looked at gun violence in Oakland, was sadly apropos yet so well-rendered.

We opened the program with a libation to the ancestors, led by Iya Halifu Osumare. In Yoruba we sang the chant: "Oyubayo, love and respect to you" as we called out out ancestors names as we stamped our left foot.

By the time the program ended, the sun was making its decline--the sky bright with magenta, purples and blues. Everyone seemed to have had a marvelous time, all the food was gone--I am glad we had real food, so people could stay for the entire program if they desired to. I want to thank Gene Howell for his refreshment donations and Terrence Hewitt for his help with service and clean-up.


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