Thursday, November 26, 2015

Wanda's Picks November 20, 2015

This is a black arts and culture site. We will be exploring the African Diaspora via the writing, performance, both musical and theatrical (film and stage), as well as the visual arts of Africans in the Diaspora and those influenced by these aesthetic forms of expression. I am interested in the political and social ramifications of art on society, specifically movements supported by these artists and their forebearers. It is my claim that the artists are the true revolutionaries, their work honest and filled with raw unedited passion. They are our true heroes. Ashay!
Gregory Pardlo, author, Digest

1. Gregory Pardlo, Pulitzer Prize winning poet (2015) for his collection, Digest. He will be at San Francisco State University, December 1, 2015, 12:30-2 p.m.

(L-R) Elita Tewelde, with directors: Eliciana Naciemento & Adimu Madyun
with Kele Ntoto at recent screening Maafa SF Bay Area presents:
Homecoming: African Diaspora Films.
Photo: W.Sabir

2. Elita Tewelde, executive producer, Walk All Night: Drum Beat Journey, with co-Director; Producer Mallory Sohmer.

Sister Iminah's Melanated Hair and Beauty Show 2015

3. Taeva Shefler, attorney, Director of Legal Visits, VP, CA Prison Focus; with Matthew Gossage, Dir, Breaking the Box.

4. Sistah Iminah, Singer, Songwriter, Dancer. “Naturally Melanated Hair and Beauty Show 2015." It will be held November 27th from 12pm-6pm at the Black Repertory Group Theater off Adeline St in Berkeley. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Chi-Raq opens Dec. 4

Director, Spike Lee’s latest film, “Chi-Raq” (2015), is an adaptation of the Greek playwright Aristophanes’s play “Lysistrata.” Set in Chicago or Chi-town, its street warfare juxtaposed to that in Iraq, the film’s battle involves Spartan warlord Demetrius “Chi-Raq” Dupree (Nick Cannon) and rival Trojans, led by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes). When a girl-child is killed by a stray bullet, Chi-Raq’s girlfriend, Lysistrata, already fed up with the ceaseless conflict between black men, decides to use creative tactics to end the battle.  For Lee’s “Lysistrata,” portrayed by the beautiful Juilliard-trained actress Teyonah Parris, the party is over.

In a recent phone interview, Parris says she was inspired in her portrayal by women like Leymah Gbowee, Assata Shakur and Nina Simone. Chicago’s South Side has been under siege with more casualties than the War in Iraq.  These brave women see that if Chicago is allowed to go under, it will not be the last American city to topple. Its perpetrators are infected with what Dr. Joseph Marshall (Alive and Free), calls a disease or sickness plaguing black communities everywhere. What has happened to a people who do not see its humanity reflected in each others faces?

Both Teyonah Parris and Nick Cannon, Parris as Lysistrata and Cannon as Chi-Raq, a rap artist who wages war, show through their contentious relationship how individuals can change. Both on a precipice swinging oppositional to peace, the two actors evolve as life affirming values merge and dissolve.

Perhaps what Priestess Lysistrata, (whose name means “desolving armies,”) does well is remove the irreligious aspect of sex from praxis. All of a sudden when the boys can no longer get a “piece” without “peace,” perhaps what emerges is Oshun, the Yoruba warrior goddess of love, who demands respect. Sex is no longer trivialized when life becomes, once again, sacred.

So as Lysistrata moves from enjoying the bling to examining the systems that make her lifestyle possible, she steps not out, but literally into the line of fire as a leader of the women. Change, atonement and hope emerge, something audiences can take away from “Chi-Raq,” the film, experience.

After two powerful interviews with lead actors, Cannon and Parris, I am still just extrapolating, as I have not seen the film, only read a review, and watched multiple interviews with the director, Spike Lee.  Yet I have seen staged performances of the work here with the African American Shakespeare Company in San Francisco. Its production directed by the stunning and brilliant director, Rhodessa Jones, director also of the Medea Project, Theatre for Incarcerated Women. Another production was at Contra Costa College in its theatre department. It was set in the present and used multimedia, and original music.

In “Chi-Raq,” Lysistrata takes her sex strike inspiration from Leyman Gbowee, the Nobel Laurette and Peace Activist, who with other Liberian women, ended the second civil war. America is a country founded on violence, its media a shameless marketplace for sex and violence, especially against women. Lee and co-writer, Kevin Willmott’s film, “Chi-Raq,” flips this so that audiences see a woman protagonist not just save her peoples, but also return to the men, who are also vital to the solution, their humanity. It's brilliant!

On the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March, its leader, Min. Louis Farrakhan also a Chicagoan, not to mention our First Family, President Barack Hussain and Michelle Obama, the strategic release of “Chi-Raq” at this moment in this country’s history, pre-Paris attack, says much for director, Spike Lee’s ability to allow the muse, mixed with political and social urgency to dictate his steps whether this is “4 Little Girls,” “Get on the Bus,” “Malcolm X” or “When the Levees Broke.”  “Chi-Raq” lifts the conversation to a national level in a way only recent Oscar awardee, Lee, can. The film has an all-star cast including: Jennifer Hudson, D.B. Sweeney, Harry Lennix, Steve Harris, Angela Bassett, John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson.

This film, which is not for children (Rated X for strong sexual content including dialogue, nudity, language, some violence and drug use), shows how the women take the bull by its horns and bring it to its knees. Adults (and mature teens, 15+) need to see this film. With the war on black people raging unabated across the nation, the urgency cannot be stressed enough.  “Chi-Raq” presents an option.  This film can start a much needed conversation.  The film opens Dec. 4 at the Metreon in San Francisco; the Elmwood in Berkeley; Camera 12; AMC Cupertino 16 and Eastridge Mall 15. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wanda's Picks Wed., November 18, 2015

This is a black arts and culture site. We will be exploring the African Diaspora via the writing, performance, both musical and theatrical (film and stage), as well as the visual arts of Africans in the Diaspora and those influenced by these aesthetic forms of expression. I am interested in the political and social ramifications of art on society, specifically movements supported by these artists and their forebearers. It is my claim that the artists are the true revolutionaries, their work honest and filled with raw unedited passion. They are our true heroes. Ashay!


1.Interdisciplinary artist Lindsay C. Harris was born in Southern California in 1986 and raised in Santa Fe, NM.  Receiving her B.A. in Africana Studies; Art from Vassar College and M.A. in Arts Politics from NYU, she is an arts educator, writer, critical thinker, cultural worker, comedian, designer, and performer.
Her Evoking the Mulatto is a multiplatform narrative and visual art project examining black mixed identity in the 21st century, through the lens of the history of racial classification in the United States.

The series culminates Thursday, Nov. 19, at 6:30 pm in a screening of all four episodes of Evoking the Mulatto followed by a panel discussion featuring Harris, a project interviewee, and New School Director of Office of Civic Engagement and Social Justice Judy Pryor-Ramirez at the YouTube Space NY. The panel will be moderated by cultural programmer and arts administrator Maura Cuffie. The event will be live streamed on NBPC’s YouTube Channel,

"Blue Ink Trees," Malik Seneferu, artist
2. Malik Seneferu, internationally renowned artist, joins us to talk about "Home Coming," his current exhibition at the African American Art and Culture Complex in San Francisco, opening Nov. 20. Home Coming showcases several of Seneferu's explorations into art making. Mostly known for his paintings this exhibition concentrates on Seneferu's ballpoint pen drawings and miniature hand carved sculptures made from ivory soap and wood.

3. Isaura Oliveira, respected and celebrated Brazilian choreographer and educator, brings Bahia to the Bay Area this month culminating with free programs this week.

Ms. Oliveira- Artistic Director and choreographer, was born in Salvador-Bahia, the cradle of African Brazilian culture, where African traditions and the arts are constantly maintained and nourished. This is exactly from where and how Isaura built her cultural-artistic experience. Isaura also has a BFA in Dance from Universidade Federal da Bahia, where she worked as performer, researcher and community dance instructor. She has devoted her extraordinary talents to work in academic, artistic, community, educational and health venues. A multidisciplinary artist, Isaura is an actress, dancer, choreographer, costume designer and cultural educator.

Isaura appeared in a PBS and BBC-TVs documentary "Dancing #5: New Worlds, New Forms" in 1993, as the representative for Brazilian dance. Her classes, lecturers, and performances left a lasting impression at Smith, Radcliffe, Wellesley Colleges; Brown, Wesleyan University, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Stanford, UC Riverside University; as well among several community venues such the Motion Pacific in Santa Cruz-CA, Spontaneous Celebrations and The Dance Complex in MA.

Isaura performed ANCESTRAIS - her acclaimed solo performance of dance, theater and multi-media, on the Festival Cantar da Costa in Genoa, Italy and at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Kresgie Auditorium in 2001. In California, Ms. Oliveira choreographed Dimensions Dance Theater for Down the Congo Line Project:"CONGO IN BRASIL". As cultural educator, she teaches and choreographs for youth and adults. While Oliveira's work as a performer and choreographer demonstrates deep ties to the language of dance, music and experimental theater, the concept and narrative of her creations are genuinely rooted on the spirituality and culture of African Brazilian roots.

Week three:  

Friday, Nov. 20- FREE Concerts:  
6:30pm Teatro Brasileiro de Dança: the Bahia in Oakland Collective: "de corpo e alma"  and  
7:00pm Namorados da Lua- Brazilian Band
Hosted by Friday's @ OMCA -Oakland Museum of CA.

Sunday, November 22: Closing Festival

11 am - Introductory remarks by Dr. Yvonne Daniel & Dr. Sheila Walker.
Guest of honor MESTRE ACORDEON,  speaks on History of Capoeira and his many stories not told yet

 In acknowledgement to the work of: Mestre José Lorenzo e Mestre Themba.

2 p.m. Live Samba de Roda and fresh African-Brazilian cuisine included the ACARAJÉ of Baba Carlinhos  @ Humanist Hall, 390 27th Street, Oakland, CA

Further info:  Facebook: Teatro Brasileiro de Dança: the BAHIA in OAKLAND Collective

Saturday, November 14, 2015

American Black Beauty Doll Artists Show and Sale

A little retail therapy is guilt free when one keeps the dollars circulating in the black. Black as in black community, that is. I decided to ride my bike to Oakland and after stopping to make copies of a flier at Kinkos (make sure to ask for students discounts), I walked through the Webster Street Tube. I’d tried to ride for a short length, but the walkway narrows to make this nearly impossible. I think the noise is worse than the exhaust. I also didn’t know that I’d brushed against a wall until I arrived where I was going and noticed a black streak on my sleeve.

The walk wasn’t too long. I looked forward to the literal light at the end of the tunnel. And there it was. I propped my bike against the wall when I walked out to climb the stairs to see where they led. Above there was a barren partial cul-de-sac. I rode down 7th and then crossed over to 8th which I then took to Castro over to 14th Street where AAMLO is.

The doll artists this year were truly amazing. It was nice chatting with the artists I’d purchased dolls from last year and meet new artists. I like the artists who price their work so that there is something for everyone. I think the highest priced item I purchased was $35. In total, I think I was able to get dolls from four artists. I even entered the raffle, which I never do (smile). No, I didn't win.

One of the artists, Ms. Lillian Holford (79), Created with Care, shared dolls she played with as a child. Her mother or father would only let her play with black dolls, these were made from porcelain. Also on display were her own crafts, two of the dolls were of her grandmother and father (?). She had the photo on the table of her grandmother. She spoke about being born on E 25th street in Oakland, the same house where her mother was born. She had a really cute haircut, her granddaughter fixed her up with.

I took a photo of her and a little six year old and her mother. She gave the child a doll from Africa with an assignment to learn what country she was from. There was also a coloring book on the table she had designed with a child who did not like to read, but with the book they made together, he learned to read and write.

Another artist, Ms. Lillian Black, Lillian’s Dolls and Things, had dolls who looked antique, but she’d made them. All porcelain, they were so cute. Her booth had the designs for the serious collector, similarly the Freckles creator, Bing Ruiter, whose dolls are so beautiful. Statuesque, each one has a story waiting to unfold—big hands and feet, they exuded perfect balance.

She showed me dolls whose hands are replicas of her hands, while others have dolls the artist made decades earlier. So you get two for one. The newest dolls called  Runway Dolls are so cute.  Fashionable, they are really interesting, their feet aren’t real feet and each one has an affirmation attached to their leggings.  Life is really a runway which can run away or get away from us if we squander it.

Freckles dolls are intriguing. I remember my first one, a friend had specially made for me when I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree over 20 years ago.

I also liked Ms. Ruiter’s fairies who are intentionally imperfect. One has Virgilio. Two of her dolls are in a recently published book on doll artists.

I noticed, perhaps more than any other year, the idea of dolls as healers and doll artists as medicine women. One artist, Mabel Ellis, whose journey has taken her from illness to wellness, reflects this in her work, True Devotions. All her dolls are serene. They are believers in God’s grace and mercy and largess. I loved one of her dolls she is working on now, who is bald. She is called Chemo (?)

Another artist, Diane Willis, Praise Doll Company, whose inspiration comes from dreams, is famous for her angels, while Gail Lee, USS, whom I call, "the doll house artist," donates from her sales to her church’s scholarship fund. Last year I purchased two of her famous paper dolls, one for me, one for my granddaughter. The dolls are made of wood and the wardrobe is magnetized. You can even style the dolls hair. We have lots of fun playing with the dolls.  This year I bought a a doll from Jamaica from her. She'd bought it on a trip many years ago.

Karen Oyekanmi, Kissing Kousins, had more fairies who were magnets on clothespins, but these look like flowers. I bought two. LaVera Wilson, Sassy Griot, whom I hadn’t collected before, makes her dolls from wood, wooded dowels and clothes pins and spindles. I bought the Wiz with Dorothy and her Crew. I also got what I call my Traveling Legba, a really cute girl dressed in a red and black suit, hat with a feather and a round suitcase with a little red heart applique. Another girl is holding a dog, who reminds me of my granddaughter and her dog, Kane who was gray with blue eyes. Another little wooden dolls is wrapped in red thread dress, pearl necklace and is holding a present.  On the table were dolls at the beach, in a compound in a traditional African village. There was also a really nice journal the artist created. Next to Sassy Griot was her friend, Stacy Le'Gras, whose greeting cards included little dolls. Quite lovely. The cards all had Africa as a part of the motif.

When I got home I noticed that LaVera had put my items in a bag with a heart stamped on it and a butterfly cutout where her tag Sassy Griot hangs. It was a really classy touch. LaVera and I had a nice long conversation about her work with autistic children and her use of art for healing, especially art which connects a person to nature.  Her dolls were made from natural fibers and products like wood, hair from wool. That line in the bible about “hair” and “lamb’s wool,” was visible in a lot of artistry this year. She said earlier in the year she'd hosted workshops where doll artists made dolls from wood.

Pam Ekkens, who made my Orisha doll (purchased last year), dressed in all white—had lots of dolls in red, blue and white, as if to say, it’s my country too. This year she outdid herself. She had dolls with bodies filled with buttons and pearls—they were just too beautiful.  The hair was so realistic. I think she used lamb’s wool too.

I had to sit on my hands to keep from buying all the dolls that appealed to me and I was only at the American Black Beauty Doll Artists Show and Sale for three hours. When I arrived I’d already missed seeing some of the more beautiful items. There was a Christmas House which was being wrapped as I arrived. I think I will have to get there early next time like I used to.

Diane Willis, Praise Dolls Company, partners with her son who makes dolls from candy. Yes, edible art – smile. She at one time made ceramic dolls and when her mother passed began making the angels. Seems fitting. She had on angel doll earrings. 

Many of the dolls artists come to the craft from a love of art as children. Other doll artists had mothers who were also creative, loved color and encouraged their daughters to make art. Sister Anita Osborne, Black Pearls, showed me a couple of dolls she was rescuing and giving a makeover—new clothes, cuter faces. I saw a before photo, and the work in progress is certainly an improvement.

I heard that a woman came in before I arrived with old dolls in the hopes that the American Black Beauty Doll Artists show was also a place where dolls could get makeovers.  Unfortunately, this was not the case, at least not this year.

Each year, there is a craft table where girls and their parents can make dolls. This year we were making doll book marks. They came out really cute.  I saw a few girls with them in their hands. One of the doll artists gave me her sample (smile). I just couldn’t sit still long enough to make a doll this year. I was having too much fun talking to the women about their craft.

When I walked into the upstairs gallery at the museum library, Palate Pleasures Catering was busy fixing plates. I saw another display of preserved and missed the beautiful dolls dressed in African fabric. There were so many lovely dolls, made from cloth – standing together like sentinels. There was also a display with work from all the doll artists.

Ms. Bourgeois had her Raggedy Anne dolls and doll purses for sale across from the Freckles dolls near the entrance or staircase. I caught her sewing and asked for a photo. She obliged.

I left too late. By the time I walked out and was nearing Broadway, the sun was down a beautiful crescent moon was visible. I decided to definitely not chance walking back through the Webster Tube at night and chose to ride Embarcadero to Alameda. That was an adventure. I was happy that I’d ridden these Oakland streets in the day time before as I took the more less traveled or at least traffic free detours towards the Park Street Bridge. There was night time road work near the 5th Street entrance to the freeway, with traffic moving slower than me. I was happy for the extra lighting and men at work and the additional company along the road which is not a busy thoroughfare at night. As I passed Coast Guard Island entrance, signs pointed to more detours. As I was wondering how to cross the road to get on the bridge, I saw another cyclist who assured me I was headed in the right direction.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

MAAFA 2015: We Remember the Ancestors

As we walk through the Doors of No Return, we are shackled symbolically – this is what the rope represents. – Photo: TaSin Sabir

As we walk through the Doors of No Return, we are shackled symbolically – this is what the rope represents. – Photo: TaSin Sabir

The 20th anniversary of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Maafa Commemoration, Sunday, Oct. 11, was really lovely. The day was slightly overcast, and when I arrived there was a drumming circle, with Afrikans dancing and singing. The lit walkway leading to the Doors of No Return and the shrine before the ocean was inviting, yet no one seemed anxious to make that journey – we knew where that path lay and were not looking forward to the turmoil – so the children of the children of the children of that time long ago stayed on the shores and watched the sea.

The sea foam covered the edges where the ships departed. Caked foam spread where the spirits of our ancestors rose higher than buildings and marched toward us all morning. Several times during the ceremony the tide actually entered the circle and wet our feet. This was a first.

The foam from the waves was really thick on the shore. Several times during the ceremony the tide actually entered the circle and wet our feet. This was a first. – Photo: TaSin Sabir
The foam from the waves was really thick on the shore. Several times during the ceremony the tide actually entered the circle and wet our feet. This was a first. – Photo: TaSin Sabir

We started the procession once the sun rose at 7 a.m.; the journey was long yet everyone was patient, both the freed and captive and those on the precipice waiting and wondering where they were headed.
As I mingled with the captives like a spirit or familiar, I noticed a patience and loving kindness among everyone there, as we knew we could not continue until all of us had made it, however long that took – and that was OK. The roar of the ocean was tremendous, overwhelmingly tremendous. The ancestors were with us and there was no denying it.

Our elders were present 20 years later and, though I could not capture it on film or tape, I will never forget the stories people told of who was not there – the missing, those who had departed too soon and those who were struggling to remain on this side of the precipice. We did not forget and have not forgotten any of them. I think the time is certainly ripe for doing the rescue work.

As the circle formed and we moved closer together, Zochi started the liberating movement meditation he called Mu-i Taiji or fearless within divine. He led us through the 10 centering intentional affirmations which are, he says, “grounded in the work of self-cultivation and social activism.”

The procession took at least an hour for everyone to go through the Doors of No Return, where on the other side there was a chain of shackles (rope) which symbolizes captivity. I had time to greet everyone as they progressed through the horrors of the Middle Passage. The drummers who played outside the Doors were really strong and powerful.

The elders embraced the youth in multiple concentric circles. We wanted to let them know we hold them up and support them, that they were not alone. Sister Omitola Akinwunmi meditates. – Photo: TaSin Sabir
The elders embraced the youth in multiple concentric circles. We wanted to let them know we hold them up and support them, that they are not alone. Sister Omitola Akinwunmi meditates. – Photo: TaSin Sabir

Everywhere I went I felt the preciousness of the moments, whether that was a conversation with a brother who had been at the ceremony 20 years ago, or meeting a sister and her husband from Sacramento, the woman a former classmate from Visitation Valley Junior High, where we were both students in seventh grade.

The red flowers were given out for the Ritual of Forgiveness. – Photo: TaSin Sabir
The red flowers were given out for the Ritual of Forgiveness. – Photo: TaSin Sabir

Later at the Egungun program at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, I met another classmate from that period in my life. I was 37, 20 years ago, when Rev. Donald Paul Miller and I started this community celebration of our ancestors. Now, in its 20th year, the need is greater than ever, not just to honor our ancestors, but to preserve life.

This commemoration we looked at our legacy as a people and how we have a legacy of forgiveness and love, a legacy we are not allowing to come forward when we kill or hurt one another. What Dr. Nobles calls suicide (when we kill each other) is not a part of our legacy as a people.

Brother Tahuti was present at the ball named in his honor. Sister Adama Fulani Mosely did a really special dance with a masked egun (ancestor). The Egungun spoke to us multiple times; one of his messages was to love one another.

Paradise hosts the Tahuti Ball for Brother Tahuti, who would surely have joined us for Maafa again this year; instead, he joined the ancestors in June. His presence was felt at the ball. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
Paradise hosts the Tahuti Ball for Brother Tahuti, who would surely have joined us for Maafa again this year; instead, he joined the ancestors in June. His presence was felt at the ball. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

The program featured musical and poetry performances. I couldn’t stay for the entire program, but it was really lovely. Paradise knows how to throw an ancestor party.

Visit to see more photos. Please complete the questionnaire. We are also looking for 20th anniversary reflections to publish on the website. If anyone took any footage, especially of the drumming, please send to

Maafa 2015 talk

Every year, I prepare a talk. This year was no different. However, like last year, I didn’t feel compelled to share it, since everyone in this expression, where we passed the microphone around the circle, expressed what I’d planned to share and more. There are a few action items in the reflection, which is why I want to share it now (smile).

One cannot think about John Coltrane (Sept. 23, 1926) and not reflect on “A Love Supreme,” recorded with Elvin Jones on drums, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and, of course, Coltrane on tenor saxophone in 1964. The suite, divided into four movements, includes “Acknowledgement” (which contains the chorus – “A Love Supreme”), “Resolution,” “Pursuance” and “Psalm.” When I reflected on “Psalm,” for which Coltrane wrote the words, I thought it perfect for this year’s commemoration. With Brother Larry Douglas on trumpet, with Brother Bryant Bolling singing the song with us, we committed the words to heart that morning.
I noticed a patience and loving kindness among everyone there. The roar of the ocean was tremendous, overwhelmingly tremendous. The ancestors were with us and there was no denying it. – Photo: TaSin Sabir
I noticed a patience and loving kindness among everyone there. The roar of the ocean was tremendous, overwhelmingly tremendous. The ancestors were with us and there was no denying it. – Photo: TaSin Sabir

“The Psalm” speaks to the four little girls killed early morning, Sept. 15, 1963, while they prepared for a church service, in Bombingham (oops, Birmingham), Alabama. It also speaks to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the same year Mississippi’s NAACP field secretary, 37-year-old Medgar Evers, is shot in his driveway that June 1963. “A Love Supreme” is composed the year of Freedom Summer and the Freedom Democratic Party headed by Fanny Lou Hamer (1964). Even though the Democratic National Convention refused to seat the delegation, Hamer and the delegates stood firm. Love is also what kept those families on the battlefield when the bodies of James E. Chaney, 21; Andrew Goodman, 21; and Michael Schwerner, 24, were uncovered.

Love is not abstract, it is personal and tangible. It is legislation like the Civil Rights Act (1964); it is also a conviction in the Oscar Grant case (2010); clemency in Geronimo ji jaga’s (1997). When you love someone, that person can count it and measure it, save it for days when all he or she has is toast and nothing to spread on it.
On the other side of the Doors of No Return – Photo: TaSin Sabir
On the other side of the Doors of No Return – Photo: TaSin Sabir

At such times love makes the dryness disappear. Love helps us remember plenty when scarcity surrounds us. Love is honey when we have to swallow so much daily in environments where Black people are not welcome in majority politically constructed public spaces.

This love supreme gives us agency; it is the trust we have in ourselves and in a creator who is in charge. This love makes it possible to not only function, but thrive in the most horrendously stifling circumstances.

This is what love will do for a person; this is what love will do for a people. Again, love is not abstract. Black people participate in the world that is more than what we see tangibly. We know there is more, but at the same time acknowledge what we see as also important and, out of respect for this, we acknowledge the presence of both matter and spirit.

John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” is an acknowledgement of the presence of the creator, a Mother-Father-God, and our participation in this love. The love is strong because we are here, our ancestors are here, jinn and men are here. Even Satan is here making trouble for the disbelievers like it does, but we don’t worry, because we have each other this morning and forever after … and this love is supreme.

Afrikans filled Ocean Beach in San Francisco, a shore far from the original Doors of No Return, reflecting the forced disbursement of Black people around the globe. – Photo: TaSin Sabir
Afrikans filled Ocean Beach in San Francisco, a shore far from the original Doors of No Return, reflecting the forced disbursement of Black people around the globe. – Photo: TaSin Sabir

Last Maafa Commemoration, I made a friend. I think we were friends before the Maafa Commemoration, but last October when Kwalin proposed to Delene and she said yes – well, that was pretty special. He is about the age of my older daughter and I learn a lot from him. I am happy that the young couple moved here from Atlanta to California. Our community is richer for the gift of their presence and my life is richer for knowing Kwalin, systems analyst, and Delene, physician.
This summer, I made another friend; her name is ChE. She is a multidisciplinary choreographer and I met her at Armstrong Park in New Orleans. Her dance company performed in Congo Square at a healing ritual for New Orleans on the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. ChE is younger than my younger daughter, but when we met and started talking and I learned that she lived in Oakland; we promised to touch bases when we returned. I called her and she returned the call. She is participating in the protest in Oakland at Lake Merritt the day we are at the beach. The new Oaklanders have complained about drumming at the lake. These transplants want the drumming stopped.
Again this year, we welcomed Delene, a physician, and Kwalin, a systems analyst, transplants from Atlanta. He proposed to her at last year’s Maafa. – Photo: TaSin Sabir
Again this year, we welcomed Delene, a physician, and Kwalin, a systems analyst, transplants from Atlanta. He proposed to her at last year’s Maafa. – Photo: TaSin Sabir

I give you these two examples of two new friends to illustrate love. Love is the person you open your heart to and befriend. It is that simple. Love can be counted and measured and, then again, it cannot. We don’t count the ways; we just do it. Today, I want everyone to meet two or three new people and exchange email addresses and phone numbers and call each other in one month to see how the other person is. Ask the person what he or she has been doing to stay free in a society that wants to ship Black people back to Africa, no – back to the plantation, no – I mean into servitude – prison.
Saturday, Oct. 10, was Thelonious Monk’s birthday. He is the one who wrote “Straight No Chaser.” We want our walk to be straight, our thoughts and our actions correct, our behavior upright, not for any other reason than that’s who we are as a people.

Coltrane, Tyner, Jones – and I am not sure about Garrison – all these men also played with Miles Davis. Davis was also a genius. Yes, he had problems – hope by now he has worked them out – but when he’d turn his back to the audience to pay better attention to the music, his world, he gave us an example of how sometimes we have to just step away from the crowd, turn our backs and go inside to check in with self.

This is why we are meditating, reflecting, being still today. It is a practice we need to adopt. There is too much coming at us all the time. We have to do like Miles, turn our back to it. Miles has a song called “So What!” It is on his album, “Kind of Blue.” Sometimes as Pan Africans, Black people in a world where we sometimes wonder where we belong – we have to step back, turn our backs on the madness that tries to and often succeeds in consuming us.

Larry Douglas’ trumpet welcomed the sunrise at Ocean Beach – the iconic old Dutch windmill in the background. – Photo: TaSin Sabir
Larry Douglas’ trumpet welcomed the sunrise at Ocean Beach – in the background the iconic old Dutch windmill, a reminder of the Europeans who treated Afrikans like chattel. – Photo: TaSin Sabir

We have to remember “A Love Supreme.” We also have to cultivate an attitude that says, “So What!” “I turn my back; I refuse to participate in the nonsense. I am bigger than that because my God is the God of a Love Supreme and, within this love, I even have space for you who despise and hate me. I love myself and life itself and refuse to participate in any behaviors which distract me from A Love Supreme.”

Baldwin said this to his nephew James, who was angry. He told him that he couldn’t let the enemy make him lose his form. He is God’s image, that Love Supreme. Coltrane writes, “God breathes through us so completely … so gently we hardly feel it … yet it is our everything. Thank you, God. Amen.”

Monday, November 09, 2015

Artists In Reponse to State Violence and Gentrification Nov. 8, 2015

I went to an amazing performance tonight at a community arts center called, EastSide Arts Alliance in Oakland. It was interdisciplinary work around the themes of State Violence and Gentrification. What came up for the curators this evening was the effect of violence on one's mental state.  How does the state treat the mentally ill, is what Cat Brooks asks in her work, which looks at institutionalized violence against a vulnerable population. Her character, based on the life of Natasha McKenna, who as tased to death April this year. McKenna who has schizophrenia, was in jail for allegedly punching an officer in Faairfax, Virginia.

Brooks's McKenna (37) says that she has been tased before. She described how the electric shocks feel as it courses through her 130 lb. body. She cries and asks for mercy, and when she gets none after four shocks, laughs when a nurse is called and asks rhetorically, if she is okay.

All the narratives take as their genesis true stories. These stories are tragedies. There are no heroic conclusions or happy endings.  More than one work asks about those left behind, like the mothers whose babies are slaughtered.  What about the children who are left mother and fatherless?

Is she is crazy? Is he mad crazy? If so, then what about a society where such killings are normalized? Isn't this kind of attitude crazy as well?

Poetry was central to multiple work this evening as well as woven into the tapestry of Artists in Response. Marvin K. White's reflections on growing up in West Oakland and the 67 Suenos artist's reflection on black and brown, how much historically we share, was equally compelling. I loved a line from the 67 Suenos poet, who said, Harriet Tubman was the original Coyote.  EastSide Arts is also honoring the 50th Anniversary of the Black Arts Movement and the Chicano Arts Movement presently.

The NAKA piece "Becoming a Daily Routine," looked at how police violence for so many youth in Oakland, is "a daily routine' where they are stopped, guns pointed at their heads; sometimes triggers pulled. The piece featured Hector Torres, movement artist with Tarrance McClellen, flautist and beat box artist, and Tane Madrigal, poet and movement artist. The piece was directed by Jose Navarrette. It was really powerful as one poet stepped over himself, lying still on the pavement-- dead.

Shakiri's work, "Crazy Black Woman, Ghosts in Tow," invited call and response.  Again, the question asked was, what happens to parents who have lost children to violence--  the mother character in this work, (another true story), is definitely not the same woman before the incident. That she is still reeling off kilter from the loss of her child, questions the notion of sanity. It asks if there are certain injuries beyond repair? Healing is impossible as the mourning cycle, the grief wells up like a spring, again and again.

What does one do when she cannot move beyond this point?

She tells us, "My son was shot . . . " and as she says it, she hits her chest with her fist (hard). The thump resonating her lived experience; where it lived in her own body. The thump is also the bullet that took her son, its entrance and his exit.  

As the dancers, Yemanya Napue and Shakiri (choreographer) share the story with us, they were also erecting an altar first in our hearts and minds, then in space. I hadn't known the story was based on an actual event, but it resonated with me for all the black people killed daily, all the lives ended violently.

So what do "we" individuals, "we" community, "we" ubuntu-- do with all the loss? Where do we put the grief? How do we function when the clouds get so heavy we cannot see our hands in front of our faces, let alone our feet? Perhaps this is why I fell Thursday evening when I left the reception for "Sentence Unseen," a Central Works West art exhibit which looks at incarcerations impact on the children, in this case, teenagers and young adults. I left the African American Museum and Library, Oakland, walked down the stairs towards Martin Luther King Jr. Way and tripped on the uneven sidewalk. I was flat on my face so quickly, there was no way to prepare for the falls impact.

Talk about unseen, unseen on the darkened, unlit street was the hazardous cracks in the pavement. My friend told me to pick up my feet. Even then, I couldn't have anticipated the huge crevice there. it was like the earth opened up and I fell inside. Grief is often so large it can consume, eat us alive as it has the dead boy's mother and so many other mothers and fathers and friends and loved ones. 

I jumped up so quickly, those who came to my aid, wanted me to sit and collect myself. I stood still and made sure everything worked. I left a obsidian rock on the sidewalk. I couldn't believe I had fallen again. I thought this was past; my younger daughter jokingly said that I should ask my son-in-law to teach me how to fall safely, since I seem to end up on the ground a lot. The next day, when I went to have my Ori washed, Mrs. Abimbola said that she had Ogun on the altar with Obatala and Esu, because it was Ogun who protected me. She said I could have broken a bone or been mortally injured.

Ogun's presence reminded me of the journey our ancestors took into the vast Diaspora. It was Ogun's presence, along with Yemanja who saved our humanity, despite attempts to steal our souls. Ile Ife is the original concept of Diaspora. Ile is house and Ife means to expand or grow. What is the Diaspora but a larger space, our community spread out over vast territories. In our case, we did not anticipate its largess, but the Orisha did and prepared our ancestors for it whether this was having us carry seeds in our hair so we could plant native plants when we reached our destinations or helping us find suitable substitutions where necessary for rituals and medicines. The Gods of Africans in the Americas, Diaspora Africans morphed, just as we did into New Afrikans. There is much that is familiar, yet with a difference. Our New World spirituality served a particular purpose, the devil we met in the West was a different kind of evil., and the kind of resistance Diaspora Africans waged for centuries up to now, is directly connected to the kind of spiritual power we carried in our belief and value systems. I don't think all sizes fit all or that the ways of our ancestors was incorrect of wrong.

We are here because what African Ancestors of the Middle Passage believed and how they worked the juju or nkisi worked. Those Africans who remained on the continent, do not know what we have suffered, what we continue to suffer. They cannot know or even imagine what it is and to assume or presume to do so is an arrogance I find insulting. 

Perhaps the New African has a new Odu? Perhaps the stories of our survival and prosperity need to be added to the canon and studied. There is a reason why some of us ended up here. Instead of the critique of what was loss in translation, perhaps the question should be what have we gained and what did we hold onto which is now lost to those who have philosophically moved on? What can Diaspora Africans share with indigenous Africans? Perhaps it is our warrior spirit?  (We continue to battle for our human rights, then and now.)

Despite the obstacles and barriers to our humanity, our ancestors held on and because they held on, and taught their children to hold on, we are still here now. That grieving mother is here now. She had to carry on because she has another son to raise.

I got up off the ground and with ice and Epson salts and African Shea butter and Arnica and turmeric and MSM and when if gets a bit too much, Advil, Devils Claw, Bromelain, I have been managing the pain.

Kiandanda Dance Theater performed "Oyo Bisso," a work that addresses the issue "freedom."  Byb Chanel Bibene writes in the program that Oyo Bisso, translated as "'This is us," represents the challenges that come with the vulnerability moment with the body. Like blossoming roses, we rise and fade in a cycle of lamentation, resistance, pain and the battle to move on with harmony in life."

As long as freedom is an issue, it means that someone is trapped, constrained, contained, not at liberty to decide his or her fate. All bars are not physical ones, so what we have to do is eliminate the barriers to movement.

The company first performed the work in a community garden in San Francisco's Bayview Hunter's Point as a part of SF Trolley Dances in October. This performance was expanded in a number of ways, but the basic movements remained--

Dressed ceremonially, Kiandanda waifed and wandered like a breeze, the kind one imagines lifts souls so they can fly. Floating, becoming airborn, flying . . . waxing and waning as dust settled then defied gravity, Kiandanda dancers reflected the Maya Angelou poem recited called, "Equality."

Nikole Klaymoon's Embodiment Project looked at black boys killed by police and reflected on what their mothers and fathers are feeling. All the dancers had ritual clay on their faces and bodies, the kind of clay that one wears for the ancestors. Typical to Klaymoon's work, the narrative really held the work together as much as the bodies -- pens and paper and ink on the lit canvas before us. All the emotions collided as center stage two men danced. A centerpiece, the story revolved around them as they held space for all the black boys named and unnamed, as Embodiment evoked the spirits of the ancestors.

In containers like makeup, this clay was smeared on arms and faces alongside the tears-- Has it come to this? Mourning as routine as morning ablutions? No, of course not. Within the piece was resistance to the violence and the attacks. Perhaps at center were also lives which are stuck, while others at the same time transcend.

This clay was on the altar Friday at Mrs. Abimbola's. It is a part of the altar I took home for Obatala. My head was washed with coconut water; it felt really cool and refreshing. My head was then wrapped in a white cloth. I slept in the cloth.

Artist's Response to State Violence and Gentrification is also a ritual washing; it cools the fire so we can think and plan and act. Resistance is an attitude. We are at war, a war we can win, if we stay alert, listen to our hearts and create alliances (ESAA--smile).

Artists in Response to State Violence is a part of a a series of Community Forums which began Nov. 1. The first of the series called When Drums Became Dangerously Loud.

The series continues Nov. 11, 6-8 p.m. with Cultural Gentrification/Artists as Agents or Resisters.

Friday, Nov. 13, is Oakland's Geography of Resistance Grand Finale, 6-9 p.m. also at Eastside Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd., Oakland, CA.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Romeo and Juliet at African American Shakespeare Company through Nov. 8

Romeo and Juliet Review
by Wanda Sabir

Jazara Metcalf & Wilgens Pierre as
Juliet and Romeo
Romeo and Juliet at the African American Shakespeare Company in San Francisco is amazing. Amazing might be an overused word, but my first articulated thoughts—off the chain, while a uniquely visual, albeit cliché, still falls short descriptively when applied to what is certainly one of AASC’s best productions. Having youth in a cast with seasoned older adults is nothing new for AASC, but to have them as stars is quite remarkable.

Jazara Metcalf (Juliet), Justin Foster (Paris),
Audreya DeShazier (Lady Capulet)
The afternoon I attended Juliet and Romeo were portrayed by Jazara Metcalf and Wilgens Pierre, who were superb. I also liked the parents, specifically Juliet’s mom (actress Audreya DeShazier) and her nurse, (actress Karen Travis). With 70s hits as the sound track, the Montegue friend, “Mercutio” (actor Thomas Times) is nothing but trouble— Sporting a huge Afro, Mercutio’s mouth is as quick to start a brawl as his hand to grab his knife.  He kept the brew stirred up whenever he saw a Capulet, his friends’: Benvolio (actor Christopher Howard) and Romeo’s (actor Wilgens Pierre) arch enemy.  Much less the firecracker, Benvolio intercepts a potential fight when we first meet him.  Pushed by Juliet’s cousin 
 Tybalt who with his boys attack him and Mercutio, the friends of course fight back.  For some reason, Tybalt (actor David McKneely) wants to keep the animosity stirred up. He even tries to start a fight at his Uncle Capulet’s house later on when he sees Romeo, a guest. His uncle has to threaten his nephew with bodily harm before the boy leaves.

LeShawn Holcomb (Balthsaar), Wanda Sabir, Karen Travis (Nurse)
McKneely’s fine looking Tybalt is the kind of personality that keeps adding fuel to the pyre long after it has simmered and nearly gone out. While Times’s Mercutio is a similar type, the two of them certainly partially responsible for Romeo and Juliet’s double suicide, there are other guilty parties as well.  Ortiz as Juliet’s father, Capulet, puts on an excellent fire and brimstone performance when Juliet refuses to marry Paris, the man her father has chosen for her. Ortiz’s irate and stern Capulet pushes his daughter, Juliet, over the edge where she fearfully takes the drug which feigns her death, and fools everyone including, unfortunately, Romeo.

I love the balcony scene between Pierre and Metcalf’s Romeo and Juliet. They are so cute. As Juliet writes in her diary reflections on Romeo, son of her family’s enemy that she wishes his name were something else and he listens from the shadows and then appears startling her. He does not know she knows his name until she calls it. He is so excited, his face upturned in a smile. He retreats to return often as they say goodbye and then Juliet remembers something else she forgot to say and he returns.

The next day when Nurse (actress Karen Travis) takes a message to him, Juliet’s other mother is so funny when she stalls and makes her girl wait to hear Romeo’s answer. The wedding is swift and Friar Laurence (actor Fenyang Smith) is a great ally for the young couple, first Romeo, and then Juliet.

I had not remembered the plan for Romeo and Juliet to relocate (after Juliet’s rebirth) care of the Friar. The problem was Romeo never got the note, because there was a plague and roads were closed Too bad no one just picked up the phone, (the setting was 1970). But then, it wouldn’t be Shakespeare’s R&J, now would it? His tragedies are sad and even when their is humor, someone has to die and in this story quite a few do, most necessarily as is the case when there is no sickness and youth is a factor.  So even though I knew the ending would be sad, I nonetheless found myself wiping tears from my eyes--

I also didn’t remember how young Juliet’s mother was when her daughter was born. Perhaps we can forgive her her callousness when Juliet does not want to marry Paris (Justin Foster) despite his attractiveness, kindness and genuine care for Juliet.  Her heart was enamored elsewhere.  Nurse tells Juliet to marry Paris and forget Romeo, but had she known how much the two youngsters loved each other she probably would not have trivialized the legal relationship as she did.

It is just a fabulous production from start to finish. The fight scenes, all the scenes with Nurse—she is so funny except when her baby is found dead. Other great scenes are the camaraderie between Mercutio and Benvolio—they spend a lot of time talking. All the scenes with the Montagues (Gift Harris and Brittany Sims), the saner of the two royal couples are great. These actors provide a great contrast to the other royal couple. The olive branch seemed to wave more vigorously on the Montague side than the Capulets, especially with Tybalt leading the charge. Lady Capulet also pushes revenge when Tybalt is killed, despite an eyewitness account by Benvolio (who is consistently on the side of peace). The pretty and elegant, Lady Capulet accuses him of lying. It is the levelheadedness of Monica Cappuccini’s Prince Escalus who spares Romeo's life.
Gift Harris (Montegue), Jazara Metcalf (Juliet), Thomas Times (Mercutio),Audreya DeShazier (Lady Capulet), Karen Travis (Nurse)

R&J show how easy it is to keep mess stirred up, and how easy it is to diffuse it. All one has to do is stand down and open one’s heart, as the two youth did to one another. Both parents realize too late that the warfare was not worth the loss of their beloved children. Nothing can bring their heirs back.

The set and costume design are also great, as is the choreography at the party. African American Shakes production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, directed by Sherri Young and L. Peter Callender, in partnership with Oakland School for the Arts, is up for one more weekend, Friday-Sunday, Nov. 6-8, at the Burial Clay Theatre, 762 Fulton Street, in San Francisco. Visit

To listen to an interview with the cast and co-director visit: (or click on the title link).