26th Annual Celebration of African Americans and Their Poetry at the West Oakland Branch Library
|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|
|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.
|Mama Ayana, Willie Francis, Charles Allensworth|
|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|
|Wanda, Portia, Rochelle|
|Andre La Mont Wilson is front page news|
|Leroy Franklin Moore|
|Bilaliyah and her daughter, Brianna|
|Steve D. McCutchen|
|Iya Halifu Osumare, Ph.D.|
|Gene Howell, Jr.|
|Marcus and his girlfriend|
|Dr. Penn shares|
|Student and Teacher, Chowadi & Halifu|
|Audience and Poets|
|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.