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