Saturday, February 20, 2016

Albert Woodfox Freed!

Albert Woodfox being queried at his release 2/19.
Photo credit: Reuters.

Friday, Feb. 19, Albert "Shaka Cinque" Woodfox, the remaining member of Angola 3, was released from prison after nearly 44 years in solitary confinement. His release ended the longest documented time spent in solitary confinement by any prisoner in US history.

Footage of Woodfox's release from Feliciana Parish Detention Center shows him walking with his brother Michael Mabel's arm around his shoulder, then in the car fielding questions about his release, thoughts about solitary confinement, Angola State Prison, and freedom. As his brother announced, "I am taking him away now," Woodfox stated that he wanted to visit his mother's grave site. He was not allowed to attend her funeral when she died.

Saturday, February 20

In a phone conversation with Robert King (A3) this morning, he described the wait at the Feliciana Parish Detention Center in St. Francisville, La., yesterday as "hot, but worth it."  Standing outside the prison reminded King, he said, of his release 15 years ago, also in February, February 15, from Angola State Prison located in the same parish up the road a bit.  King said the crowd wasn't huge yesterday, but it was mighty (smile).  It's a great day for justice today and Woodfox's release (on his 69 birthday), "gives others hope."

Earlier that month Ashé Cultural Arts Center had scheduled a screening of the film Panther: Vanguard of the Revolution, dir. Stanley Nelson, at 5:30 p.m. to celebrate Albert Woodfox's birthday that day. The panel assembled that evening included: Theodore Quant, Malik Rahim and Parnell Herbert. When the news of Woodfox's release that day was announced to the audience and that newly released comrade would come by later that evening, people stayed after the screening and discussion.

The evening turned into an actual birthday party for Woodfox whose entrance was greeted with tears of joy, shouts, foot stomping and much joy. At Ashé were Woodfox's comrades in the struggle for liberation, human rights, dignity and freedom. The party was as much his as theirs and for that reason that much sweeter. 'Cause NOLA folks know how to throw down (smile)-- the felicitations continue for Woodfox this afternoon with another party hosted by King's family with barbecue and more birthday cake.

Friday, February 19
As we drove down to Chowchilla to visit with incarcerated women at the Central California Women's Facility, the largest women's prison in the state, I called King to see if he expected Woodfox to walk out free that day. He was cautiously optimistic at 6 a.m. PT, so the big smile in the text he sent me after the court released Woodfox (several hours later) was celebrated that afternoon by the California Coalition for Women' Prisoner's visiting team as we debriefed over a late lunch (4 p.m.).

Freedom is a Constant Struggle
Michael Mabel with his big brother, Albert Woodfox, 2/19.
Photo credit: Billy Sothern

Yet, Woodfox's release was not without stipulations, the main one was to not contest the murder conviction (Brent Miller) which had a 42 year sentence. His release gives him credit for "time spent." It is the same with Robert H. King who put his right (not left) hand on the bible when he agreed to the false terms offered, so he would as Albert did, walk free.

The compromise or last judicial word, is not the last word, because Albert Woodfox, Robert King and Herman Wallace's trials, sentencing, confinement, and the context of their release (Herman just two days before his death), shows without a doubt how immoral the American judicial system is. Justice is not a part of its system nor is truth.  Punishment, often cruel and unusual punishment, not human dignity and rehabilitation are implicit goals of incarceration -- Therefore, the conclusion of this chapter of the A3 story is proof that the entire system needs dismantling.

Woodfox's victory is all of our victory. Without a doubt, Woodfox's freedom from physical bondage is the kind of shift in the wind which should lift our sails and increase our resolve to continue the fight until All of Us (those in minimum and maximum incarceration) are freed from such tyranny. Dr. Frances Cress Welsing said we are at war, that the systemic killing and incarceration of black men and boys is central to a strategic battle being waged by a white supremacist system looking to continue racial dominance.

For coverage see:

Albert Woodfox is Freed TODAY on his 69th Birthday!!

Take a deep breath everyone,

Just moments ago, Albert Woodfox, the last remaining member of the Angola 3 still behind bars, was released from prison 43 years and 10 months after he was first put in a 6x9 foot solitary cell for a crime he did not commit. After decades of costly litigation, Louisiana State officials have at last acted in the interest of justice and reached an agreement that brings a long overdue end to this nightmare. Albert has maintained his innocence at every step, and today, on his 69th birthday, he will finally begin a new phase of his life as a free man.

In anticipation of his release this morning, Albert thanked his many supporters and added: "Although I was looking forward to proving my innocence at a new trial, concerns about my health and my age have caused me to resolve this case now and obtain my release with this no-contest plea to lesser charges.  I hope the events of today will bring closure to many."

Over the course of the past four decades, Albert's conviction was overturned three separate times for a host of constitutional violations including prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate defense, racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson, and suppression of exculpatory evidence. On June 8th, 2015, Federal Judge James Brady ordered Albert's immediate release and barred the State from retrying Albert, an extraordinary ruling that he called "the only just remedy." A divided panel of the 5th Circuit Court of appeals reversed that order in November with the dissenting Judge arguing that "If ever a case justifiably could be considered to present 'exceptional circumstances' barring re-prosecution, this is that case." That ruling was on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court when news of his release broke.

On behalf of the Angola 3 - Albert Woodfox, Robert King, and in memory of Herman Wallace - we would like to sincerely thank all the organizations, activists, artists, legal experts, and other individuals who have so graciously given their time and talent to the Angola 3's extraordinary struggle for justice. This victory belongs to all of us and should motivate us to stand up and demand even more fervently that long-term solitary confinement be abolished, and all the innocent and wrongfully incarcerated be freed.

For more information about the Angola 3, visit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 19, 2016
Contact: Laura Burstein,
202-626-6868 (o); 202-669-3411 (c)

Albert Woodfox, Longest-Serving Solitary Confinement Prisoner, to be Freed from Prison After Four Decades

Statements from Albert Woodfox - One of the 'Angola 3' - and Attorneys George Kendall and Katherine Kimpel

February 19, 2016, West Feliciana, LA -- Albert Woodfox, who spent more time in solitary confinement than any prisoner in U.S. history, will be released this afternoon from custody after more than four decades in the Louisiana prison system. Mr. Woodfox, who turned 69 today, continues to maintain his innocence for the murder that sent him to solitary confinement for more than four decades. He pled no contest to two lesser crimes before being set free.

"I want to thank my brother Michel for sticking with me all these years, and Robert King, who wrongly spent nearly 30 years in solitary.  I could not have survived without their courageous support, along with the support of my dear friend Herman Wallace, who passed away in 2013," said Mr. Woodfox.  "I also wish to thank the many members of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, Amnesty International, and the Roddick Foundation, all of whom supported me through this long struggle.   Lastly, I thank William Sothern, Rob McDuff and my lawyers at Squire Patton Boggs and Sanford Heisler Kimpel for never giving up.  Although I was looking forward to proving my innocence at a new trial, concerns about my health and my age have caused me to resolve this case now and obtain my release with this no-contest plea to lesser charges.  I hope the events of today will bring closure to many."

The extreme and cruel solitary confinement endured by Mr. Woodfox and his fellow prisoners, Herman Wallace and Robert King, known as the "Angola 3," drew international condemnation.  The unnecessary and inhumane use of solitary confinement was particularly stark in light of Mr. Woodfox's exemplary conduct record for decades.  In fact, in the midst of litigation, the Wardens of both institutions where Mr. Woodfox was held in solitary confinement admitted that he had exemplary conduct records.

"Although we are overjoyed that Albert Woodfox is finally free, it is indefensible he was forced to endure decade after decade in harsh solitary confinement conditions, longer than any prisoner in the history of the United States," stated George Kendall, attorney with Squire Patton Boggs, LLP.  "Albert survived the extreme and cruel punishment of 40 plus years in solitary confinement only because of his extraordinary strength and character.  These inhumane practices must stop. We hope the Louisiana Department of Corrections will reform and greatly limit its use of solitary confinement as have an increasing number of jurisdictions around the country."

Mr. Woodfox and Mr. King, along with Mr. Wallace, brought a civil lawsuit in 2000, challenging the constitutionality of the State of Louisiana's use of indefinite solitary confinement.  Mr. Woodfox and Mr. King confirmed that a primary goal of the ongoing litigation is to help bring light to the fact that there is no penological justification for how the State of Louisiana currently uses solitary confinement and to create incentives for reform.  As Mr. Woodfox explained, "I can now direct all my efforts to ending the barbarous use of solitary confinement and will continue my work on that issue here in the free world."

Their case, which is pending, is supported by extensive reports from two nationally-recognized corrections experts.  Those most recent experts' reports, from 2015, are publicly available and include extensive detail about the State system's failings (;  As a federal judge wrote, the extreme length of Mr. Wallace's and Mr. Woodfox's solitary confinement was "so far beyond the pale that this Court has not found anything even remotely comparable in the annals of American jurisprudence."  See Wilkerson v. Stalder, No. 00-304 (M.D. La. Feb. 1, 2005) (Doc. No. 105 at 21).

"It is past time for our nation to leave behind its shameful legacy of being one of the only developed countries in the world that still relies so heavily on the outdated and ineffective corrections practice of indefinite solitary confinement," commented Katherine Kimpel, partner at Sanford Heisler Kimpel, LLP. "That Albert Woodfox served over four decades in solitary confinement shocks the conscience and is a national embarrassment.  We should take advantage of the growing national consensus regarding corrections reform to ensure that, if our society were to be judged by entering our prisons, we would not be found lacking."

Attorneys for Mr. Woodfox said he will now be able to receive the medical attention he desperately needs.

If you would like to speak with attorneys for Mr. Woodfox or leading experts on solitary confinement conditions and reform, please contact Laura Burstein or Jamie Moss at, 202-626-6868 (o), 202-669-3411 (c); or jamie@newspros.com201-788-0142.

'Angola 3' Case Background

In 1972, Brent Miller, a young, white guard at Angola prison, was killed. At a time when Angola prison was highly racially polarized, investigators eventually honed in on four suspects who were politically active Black Panthers.  Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace were two of those men.  No forensic or physical evidence linked Mr. Woodfox or Mr. Wallace to the crime, the fingerprints found at the scene, or the bloody knife found nearby. Several alibi witnesses placed both men in different parts of the prison and away from the scene of the crime at the time of the murder.

Mr. Woodfox was originally convicted in 1973 of the murder solely on the testimony of three inmate witnesses.

However, as Mr. Woodfox learned decades after his original trial, these inmates were provided attractive incentives by the prison officials for their testimony, including promises of improved housing and a pardon.  State officials also suppressed inconsistent statements by these witnesses.

Eventually, Mr. Woodfox's 1973 conviction was overturned because of discrimination in the selection of the grand jury that indicted him.  He was retried in 1998.  Despite the fact that two of the State's three inmate witnesses had died, and despite the fact that they never were adequately cross-examined because of evidence hidden by prison officials, their transcripts from the prior trial were admitted into evidence and Mr. Woodfox was again convicted.

After many years of appeals, his 1998 conviction was set aside in later 2014 and he was recharged in 2015.  His lawyers waged a vigorous campaign to exclude from any new trial the prior testimony of the deceased witnesses who never were adequately cross-examined.  However, both the trial judge and the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Louisiana denied those motions, meaning that the prior statements would again be used against Mr. Woodfox at a new trial.

Although Mr. Woodfox and his legal team remained optimistic about the possibility for an acquittal at a new trial, concerns about Mr. Woodfox's health mounted as he approached his 69th birthday. Mr. Woodfox decided to bring the case to a conclusion with today's action. His plea of "nolo contendere" or "no contest" to two lesser charges is not an admission of guilt. It means simply that he does not contest that the State would present evidence at a new trial from witnesses who said he committed this crime. Mr. Woodfox continues, as he always has, to maintain his innocence.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

RACE, A Review

Stephan James as Jesse Owens
Photo by Thibault Grabherr - © 2014 Focus Features, LLC
RACE: The Jesse Owens Story
by Wanda Sabir

“RACE” (2016) is the story of Jesse Owens’s triumphant wins in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin just before WW2. Nicknamed “The Buckeye Bullet” for his legendary speed – the Owens story or “RACE” shows how he distanced himself from socially constructed hurdles which ran counter to his personal goals. Directed by Stephan Hopkins, the film features rising star, Stephan James (“Selma”) as Jesse Owens, cute Kayla Stewart as “Gloria Owens” at 2 ½), Shanice Banton (as Ruth Solomon Owens, wife), Jason Sudeikis (as coach Larry Snyder), David Kross (as Carl “Luz” Long, Olympian long jump competitor) and Eli Goree (as Dave Albritton, Olympian high jumper).

Stephan James & Shanice Banton
Photo by Thibault Grabherr - © 2014 Focus Features, LLC.
1936 is a time in world history when Hitler’s Germany and America vary only slightly in their treatment of non-Aryans (WASPs). At one point in the film, after earning his first gold medal, Hitler refuses to greet the winner as is customary. This déjà vu moment echoes loudly when Owens returns home and President Franklin D. Roosevelt does not acknowledge Owens, just the white Olympians at a state dinner Owens is not invited to.

However, the outstanding track and field athlete, Owens (Sept. 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) doesn’t waste anger on white noise –  There is a scene in the locker room at Ohio State University where the black athletes are insulted by another coach who wants the these students to leave the locker room so white students can shower. Snyder, Owens’s coach, shouts the man down and tells his champion that at home and abroad he will meet bigots and racists who will try to upset him and to ignore them. Synder tells Owens to focus his attention inside where a voice lives which is his center, his ally, his coach, his conscience. We watch as the young man hears this voice speaking to him until that is the only voice audible – it is a great moment in the film.

In “RACE” we witness Owens earn his greatness as he trains through rain storms and chilly winter days. We see him drink water with lime and Coca-Cola. He might have a gift, but we see in James’s portrayal of Owens that success is cultivated.

Stephan James & Jason Sudeikis 
Photo by Thibault Grabherr - © 2014 Focus Features, LLC.

Writers’ Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse’s “RACE” is a politically astute spin on the phenomenon “white noise.” Owens body, at least in the film, is sacrosanct—no one touches him; his enemies just yell obscenities, so the young athlete learns to turn the sound down, then mute white supremacists’ collective voices over and over again. It is a skill black boys today would be well-suited to notice and utilize when this lesson is applicable.

“White Noise” is what Bob Moses and Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer and Bayard Rustin trained volunteers to note and then ignore, so the noise would not get in the way of their work. The students who signed up to register Southern black people to vote in places like Jesse Owens’s hometown of Oakville, Alabama, shut off “the white noise” to protest segregation in its many manifestations like inequality in education, employment and politics. Sometimes the noise got so loud, Owens and other black athletes expressed internal doubts, but their singular ability to pull the plug, pay the vendors, be still and focus allowed each to reach a state of certainty and peace.
Stephan James
Photo by Thibault Grabherr - © 2014 Focus Features, LLC.

The insults follow Owens from the locker room, the field(s), stadiums, even to events where he was the guest of honor. In the beautifully shot film, we see Mr. Owens dressed in a tuxedo and his wife also elegantly dressed, yet the doorman directs the honoree to the kitchen entrance and freight elevator. Like Jackie Robinson, Owens’s life was visibly shortened by white terrorism. Systemic and structural racism kills black people. White supremacists policies are antithetical to health and well-being.

Tommie Smith & John Carlos at 1968 Olympics
When Tommie Smith and John Carlos held their fists up at another Olympic event, Mexico City, years later in 1968, I am certain they reflected on Owens whose shoulders they stood upon. While the “Hail Hitler” salute went uncensored in 1936, the “Black Power” salutes for justice and human rights for black people were greeted with scorn by the same Olympic organization.

Actor, Stephan James’s Owens is no caricature, nor are any members of the black community in Cleveland, Ohio, where Owens returns home as often as he can. “RACE” shows a black community with dignity even when faced with discrimination. It is this dignity that stands in stark contrast to a white population which really cannot fathom what James Cleveland “JC” Owens (renamed Jesse Owens) experiences. At one point, Owens’s coach agrees that he does not know what Jesse experiences as a black man; the coach also admits he is not a good listener.

Actor Andrew Moodie as Henry Owens, Jesse’s dad, doesn’t say much, but he holds himself with quiet strength, as does his son. He tells the NAACP representative that white people would hate his son when he returns with medals or if he stayed home. Racism was not logical nor was a strategic boycott guaranteed to do anything for black people at home. His mother, Emma Owens, portrayed by Michèle Lonsdale Smith shares some of Jesse’s early childhood illness. Amazingly, this frail, sickly child (who could still pick daily 100 pounds of cotton) grew up to be a world champion. She knows her youngest child, and first to attend college is bound for greatness. Owens is the son of a sharecropper and the grandson of slaves. Though young, he carries a legacy bigger than himself. The shackles continue to have tangible weight despite Owens’s success on a global stage. While in Berlin, segregated sleeping arrangements and eating in the cafeteria cease. However, Owens is not confused, even if others are. He is never allowed to forget his place.

Jeremy Irons and Stephan James
Photo by Thibault Grabherr - © 2014 Focus Features, LLC
Many times in the film when Owens’s coach would get angry because of the treatment Jesse and other black athletes received from other OSU coaches, players and white umpires, Jesse would tell his friend to not worry, that he would take the score, one second short, walk around to the kitchen entrance . . . not respond to the indignities because these people were not shouting his name. He did not answer to any of them—they did not know him. All they saw was RACE.

The closing of the film shows archival footage of the real.

Can racism be normalized? Certainly. A human right so despicable can become the rule or the law much too easily. Note the contagions spread across multiple landscapes past and present. Legality does not necessarily equal morality, Robert H. King, Ph.D., (Angola 3), states. And he should know after spending 29 years in solitary confinement for his political beliefs—

 “RACE” (134 mins). Rated PG-13, opens in theatres Friday, February 19, 2016. I don’t know why it is rated PG-anything. Is it the racism that parents should cautiously expose their kids too?

Wanda's Picks Radio, Feb. 17, 2016

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. From the archives August 29, 2014 show: Middle Passage walk, Theodore Rush, Fetch Clay, William Rhodes

2. Playwright Tanya Barfield joins us to talk about The Call (Feb. 20-Mar.12) at Theatre Rhinoceros in SF. Her plays include: Of Equal Measure (Center Theatre Group), Blue Door (Playwrights Horizons, South Coast Repertory; Seattle Repertory, Berkeley Repertory and additional theaters), Dent, The Quick, The Houdini Act and 121 Degrees WEST. She wrote the book for the Theatreworks/USA children's musical: Civil War: The First Black Regiment. Ms. Barfield was a recipient of the 2003 Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Playwrights, 2005 Honorable Mention for the Kesselring Prize for Drama, a 2006 Lark Play Development/NYSCA grant and she has twice been a Finalist for the Princess Grace Award. She has been commissioned by Playwrights Horizons, Center Theatre Group, South Coast Repertory, Primary Stages and Geva Theatre Center. She is a member of New Dramatists and serves on the membership committee at The Dramatist Guild.

3. We close with a conversation with Emerging choreographer Wanjiru Kamuyu whose work is a part of Black Choreographer's Festival this weekend, Feb. 20 at Dance Mission. Her career began with its genesis in New York City.  As a performer Kamuyu has worked with Jawole Willa Jo Zollar of Urban Bush Woman, Bill T. Jones (Broadway show FELA!), Molissa Fenley, Julie Taymor (Broadway show The Lion King (Paris, France)), Nathan Trice, Tania Isaac, Dean Moss, amongst others.  Visit

As a choreographer her work has received wonderful reviews from the New York Times and Le Figaro (Paris, France) as well as gaining a Wayne State University (Detroit) Maggie Allesee Department of Dance Copperfoot Award (2012).

Kamuyu’s work has been presented in New York festivals DANCENOW, Cool New York and Harlem Stages’ E-Moves series, LaMama Moves, Joyce Soho, Chez Bushwick and Movement Research, as well as in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, California, Europe and Africa.

Kamuyu is engaged in various international residences and is commissioned to create work and teach at esteemed US universities such as Wayne State University, University of Michigan, Mills College, Stephens College, Stanford University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Towson University, Spelman College amongst others.  She has also taught in London (UK) Paris (France), Johannesburg (South Africa), Nairobi (Kenya) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).

In 2007 Kamuyu located to Paris, France collaborating with directors Jérôme Savary (musical theater) and Hassan Kassi Kouyate (theater).  In 2009, Kamuyu founded her dance company WKcollective.  She continues to work between Europe and the US. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wanda's Picks Radio Show, Wed., February 10, 2016

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! 

Morning Guests:
Link to show:

Laura Elaine Ellis is Executive Director of the African & African American Performing Arts Coalition (AAAPAC), a San Francisco-based, nonprofit organization founded in 1995 by a collective of artists who were looking to create better performance opportunities for African and African American performing artists as well as to produce shows that reflect the aesthetic and cultural representation of the African and African American experience.  As AAAPAC’s executive director, Laura Elaine Ellis has co-produced successful events such as the Labor of Love Dance Series, The Quilt Project: Pieces of Me, and numerous presentations under the banner of the Black Choreographers Festival.

Joslynn Mathis Reed hails from Detroit Michigan and founded Mathis Reed Dance Company in 2014. Joslynn’s movement and choreography is driven by a high-energy fusion of hip-hop, modern and ballet forms, resulting in her own unique style. Joslynn holds a B.A. in Dance/Theater Arts from California State University, East Bay and an MFA in Dance Performance and Choreography from Mills College in Oakland, CA. Joslynn has trained in Dunham, Horton and Graham Techniques. Photo of Joslynn.

Emerging choreographer Wanjiru Kamuyu’s career began with its genesis in New York City.  As a performer Kamuyu has worked with Jawole Willa Jo Zollar of Urban Bush Woman, Bill T. Jones (Broadway show FELA!), Molissa Fenley, Julie Taymor (Broadway show The Lion King (Paris, France)), Nathan Trice, Tania Isaac, Dean Moss, amongst others.

As a choreographer her work has received wonderful reviews from the New York Times and Le Figaro (Paris, France) as well as gaining a Wayne State University (Detroit) Maggie Allesee Department of Dance Copperfoot Award (2012).

Kamuyu’s work has been presented in New York festivals DANCENOW, Cool New York and Harlem Stages’ E-Moves series, LaMama Moves, Joyce Soho, Chez Bushwick and Movement Research, as well as in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, California, Europe and Africa.

Kamuyu is engaged in various international residences and is commissioned to create work and teach at esteemed US universities such as Wayne State University, University of Michigan, Mills College, Stephens College, Stanford University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Towson University, Spelman College amongst others.  She has also taught in London (UK) Paris (France), Johannesburg (South Africa), Nairobi (Kenya) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).

8:30 AM

Chris Evans, an interdisciplinary artist trained in music and dance, works in and through performance broadly defined. She is a member of Bandelion Dance Theater and collaborates regularly with Byb Chanel Bibene, David Boyce, Sheena Johnson, Ernest Jolly, and Randee Paufve. Through these collaborations she aims to create moments of community that revere, challenge and lovingly hold our imaginations, bodies, stories, and expression.

David Boyce has been experimenting, innovating and improvising with the Broun Fellinis, an avant jazz group he co-founded for 20 years. He is a long time Bay Area musician who has explored a range of different musical genres – jazz, post rock, hip hop, world music, electronic music, and Afro funk. His music has taken him to Europe, Japan and Canada as well as around the US. Currently, he performs with Broun Fellinis, Katdelic, The Afro Funk Experience, Black Quarterback, David Mihaly's Shimmering Leaves Ensemble, The Supplicants, and Black Edgar's Musik Box.

9 AM to 9:30 AM

The African American Shakespeare Company's first time staging of George C. Wolfe’s contemporary, devastating and satirical masterpiece, The Colored Museum tackles thorny issues of race and history with in an era time-stamped and hash-tagged by the phrase Black Lives Matter; the production will feature four different directors collaborating to bring the play's eleven vignettes to life as part of what Artistic Director L Peter Callender calls the Company's “season of purpose”

The Colored Museum runs from  February 13 – March 6; Tickets: $15.00 - $34.00 at; more information

Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe, Director: “The Gospel According to Miss Roj”, “The Hairpiece”, and “The Party”

Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe is an award winning actor, director, writer and performer. She has directed around the country at Trinity Rep in Providence, Capital Rep in Albany, NY, WaterTower

Theatre in Dallas, Curious Theater in Denver, Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, 42nd Street Playhouse in NYC, and Alabama Shakespeare, and has taught acting and directing at Naropa University and Indiana University. In San Francisco, she has directed at Lorraine Hansberry, Magic Theatre, GAP Festival at Aurora Theatre, A.C.T. MFA Program, and Bay Area Playwrights Festival. Ms. Cooper-Anifowoshe received a Dean Goodman award for Excellence for her direction of John Henry Redwood’s Old Settler at TheaterWorks in Palo Alto; and several Rabin Award nominations for her work at WaterTower Theatre in Dallas. She has taught at College of Marin and Berkeley Rep School of Theatre. She also directs with the company she founded: Black Artist Contemporary Cultural Experience, which was awarded recognition for Best Ensemble at the 2014 TBA Awards. She earned an MFA in Directing from the University of Iowa, and is Artist In Residence at Brava Theater Center in the Mission District, San Francisco.

Michael Gene Sullivan Director “Soldier with a Secret”, “Symbiosis”, and “The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play”

Michael Gene Sullivan is an award-winning actor, writer, and director whose work includes pro-ductions at the American Conservatory Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theater, the Denver Theatre Center, Theatreworks, the Magic, Marin, Aurora, and Lorraine Hansberry theaters, the S.F. Playhouse, and the San Francisco and Berkeley Shakespeare Festivals. He is also a member of the Tony and OBIE award-winning (and never silent) San Francisco Mime Troupe, where he has acted in and/or directed over 30 productions, and has also, for the past 15 years, been Resident Playwright. His scripts for the SFMT include Red State, Posibilidad, For the Greater Good, and last year’s SFMT hit play about police brutality, Freedomland. Mr. Sullivan’s non-Mime Troupe dramas, musicals, and satires include the all-woman farce Recipe, his one person show, Did Anyone Ever Tell You-You Look Like Huey P. Newton?; a stage adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: his historical drama fugitive/slave/act, and his award-winning stage adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, which opened at Los Angeles’ Actors’ Gang Theatre under the direction of Academy Award winning actor Tim Robbins, and which has since toured nationally and internationally, and been published in two languages. Mr. Sullivan’s plays have been performed at theaters throughout the United States, as well in Germany, Australia, China, Greece, Spain, Columbia, Argentina, Canada, Mexico, Scotland, and England. Mr. Sullivan’s directing credits include work with the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Mystic Bison Theatre, Street of Dreams Theater, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe. He is very happy to be back with the African-American Shakespeare Company, where his previous work includes directing the critically-acclaimed adaptation of Julius Caesar, and his performance as Prospero in the Tempest. Mr. Sullivan is also a blogger for the political website The Huffington Post.

9:30-10:00 AM

Hattie Carwell, Co-founder and Executive Director, Museum of African American Technology (MAAT) Science Village, Oakland, CA

Hattie Carwell is Co-founder and Executive Director of The Museum of African American Technology (MAAT) Science Village in Oakland, California. She creates programs and exhibits to share the African Americans role in technical developments and the fun of science. Since 1983, she chairs the Development Fund for Black Students in Science and Technology and recently served as President of the National Technical Association and the Northern California of Black Professional Engineers.

As a health physicist with the U.S. Department of Energy, she provided radiation safety program oversight at several National Laboratories. At the Department’s Berkeley Site Office, she served as High Energy and Nuclear Physics Program Manager and later as Operations Lead managing Environmental. Health and Safety oversight for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She served as a nuclear safeguards group leader at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria. She is a graduate of Bennett College and Rutgers University.

Monday, February 08, 2016

26th Annual Celebration of African Americans and Their Poetry at the West Oakland Branch Library

Mama Ayanna
Thamsanqa Hlatywayo and Iya Halifu Osumare pour libations
Sister Najeebah Jaja

The 26th Annual African American Celebration through Poetry was bright and lovely. For a winter day, it was down right too pleasant to be real, but conjurers work this kind of literal magic-- whether this is the words of Avotcja calling sweet mangos from the sky goddesses or Andre La Mont Wilson's decision to not accepting the sentencing-- He's a black dude who is not taking a bullet, even for liberty. Nope Crispus Attucks, the America you gave your life for, has treated your bloodline shamefully.

Sister Najeebah Jaja read from The Riper the Berry a story about choices, one's black boys need reminding of, while Ericka Andrews encouraged us with dance and affirmation. The best we can be is ourselves. Monique Carter admonished us to "Stop the Violence," use words, love one another, be tolerant, mistakes do not have to be deadly. Descaro Hester is a master of the metaphors, especially sports illustrated (smile). 

Focus had us the ball park, while "The Fight," had us ducking and dodging blows, perhaps landing a few, but not nearly enough to claim victory. When one' foe is oneself, there is no winning.

When I arrived the African American Quilters Association loaned us two lovely quilts to beautify the room. Dr. Marcus Penn's photos from Ghana and Paradise Free Ja Love's original artwork, umbrella's with #blacklivematter decorated the stage and Brother Renaldo Ricketts's shared his lovely paintings.
Audience members listen attentively
Tracee Coltes
Andre La Mont Wilson

Tracee Coltes's "Black Lives Matter" and James Cagney's "The Road to Revival," for Maya Angelou; "Know Your Divinity," and "You Have the Right" . . . spoke directly to issues of power and the need for redistribution.

When Katabazi (Douglas Coleman) introduced Claude McKay's poem, "If We Must Die," he said that Winston Churchill recited this poem to encourage Congress to join Britain in fighting Germany (1941); in another account, the recitation was to encourage Britons in their defense of democracy (1940) and justice in WW2. (This event, unfortunately, never happened). The poem was written in 1919 in response to the Red Scare. 

Katabazi's original work "Blood Run" and "Emancipation" spoke to the ground we are planted in. Nonetheless, it is a rallying cry and call to action. Sometimes life is not worth living if it means submitting to such indignities Black people have suffered since the disease of white supremacy and racial dominance has become the rule of law across the lands.

It was great to have Brother McCutchen back with a stroll down history's multi-lane highway: "Still Standing, Still Rolling." Perhaps part of this longevity is attributable to our ability as Paradise says, "The Unplug from the Matrix." His "Black Names Matter" was another new contribution to one of just a few present whose presence goes back 26 years: Paradise (helped me organize the first few readings and always supported the program over the years), Gene Howell who both participated, brought his sons, co-hosted (with Wanda) a writing workshop for a few years at the library and then took the workshop to Barnes and Nobel's Bookstore in Jack London Square. He shared favorites like Coffee. I remember when he wrote that one.

Dr. Halifu Osumare blessed us with a libation while our brother Tamsaqe played drums. It was pretty awesome. Later she returned with a poetry medley. Each selection had a introductory story. Many of the pieces celebrated black womanhood.

Yes, this last reading was like old times, where the work is wonderful and so is the company. 

Dr. Ayodele Nzinga's selection from "Cotton" and "The Horse Eaters" used cut to the bone imagery. Out people are survivors.


Charles Allensworth

Mama Ayana, Willie Francis, Charles Allensworth

Monique Carter

Iya Osumare, Marcus and his girlfriend

Paradise Free Ja Love

Paradise surrounded by his work

Charles Curtis Blackwell and Gene Howell, Jr. 

Audience appreciates the work

Zakiyyah and Bryant Duo

Ayodele Nzinga, Ph.D. 

Faithful supports listen attentively

James Cagney

Descaro Hester

Wanda, Portia, Rochelle

Audience supporters

Andre La Mont Wilson is front page news

Renaldo Ricketts

Leroy Franklin Moore

Ericka Andrews

Bilaliyah and her daughter, Brianna


Steve D. McCutchen

Iya Halifu Osumare, Ph.D. 
Gene Howell, Jr. 

Marcus and his girlfriend

Audience member

Dr. Penn shares

Student and Teacher, Chowadi & Halifu

Audience and Poets



Friends Reflect

Dr. Penn shares

Zakiyyah G.E. Caphart and Bryant Bolling duet, poetry and original music is always wonderful and this year the selections honored lives taken too soon like Mario Woods, Children and Feminine Energy.

Mama Ayanna Mashama's "Full Moon Sankofa Meditation of Ancestar Love," honored her father as she spoke stories of unmarked graves and sacred lives hidden or unmarked. We traveled with her to the southern town where her father's remains lay, a town, a site she'd never visited before. Tears came to her eyes as she shared reconnected with her departed father, like a boomarang returning home to the sender. Perhaps a homecoming pigeon is more apt a description. It sounded like a much needed familial reunion, an opportunity to reflect on family strengths and values and commitment to each other-- the blood is important.

Leroy Moore has a new book out Black Kripple Delivers Poetry and Lyrics (2016). He told us about a local hero, Joe Kapers, music producer, who is celebrated every August (since 2013) in Oakland.

Marcus L. Penn, "The Poetic Penn," shared quiet soul stilling work on themes which touched us deeply like the loss of a parent, a friend or mentor and the peace we are capable of reaching for and finding, inside.

Charles Allensworth read from an essay on Octavia Butler's Earth Seed. Butler's work calls us to re-frame the paradigm even if this means destroying the framework. sometime the absence of form gives birth to new forms.

I closed the reading with a piece I'd written for the program. It is an ode to Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, who died last month. I am still processing her departure, so I did what writers do, wrote a poem. The audience helped me with the chorus--"It's a Love Thing, Yeah!" (The Whispers).

I'd like to thank the Oakland Public Library for supporting community programs, especially Susy Moorhead and her staff. I'd also like to thank Gene and Halifu for setting up before everyone arrived, to Portia for videotaping, Brianna for making hero sandwiches and helping with set up and packing her grandmother's bag at the end of the program. Thanks to Khalilah for serving, and to Charles and Renaldo for help with setup. Thanks to Paradise for the great art! Thanks to Marcus and Renaldo too for their artwork. Thanks to the African American Quilters Association. Thanks to the Friends of the Oakland Public Library.

See everyone next year, first Saturday in February, 1-4 p.m., 1801 Adeline Street, Oakland, 510-238-7352.