Sunday, February 05, 2017

27th Annual Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry

A little rain never stopped this show in the 27 years it has been happening at the West Oakland Branch Library across the street from Lil Bobby Hutton Park at 18th and Adeline Street. This year, we didn't have any youth or children on the program, but Randolph Bell brought his daughter and the two enjoyed a bit of the program before they headed to their next stop.

Halifu Osumare and Gene Howell Jr. 
A lot happens in the shortest month of the year, which highlights the historic legacy of black Americans. For the other 11 months, the megaphone is all but silent. Nonetheless, we know without black people, America would not be the America it is today -- from the traffic light and light bulb, to blood plasma and the ball point pen, refrigerator transport systems and home security system, ice cream and ice cream scooper (with spring) ironing board, swiveling sprinkler system, dry cleaning process, automatic elevator shaft closing, computer, clock, watch, folding chair. It goes on and on, especially when we include the theft of Henrietta Lacks's immortal cells renamed HeLa, were used to develop the vaccine for Polio, travel in outer space and used to research for: "herpes, leukemia, influenza, hemophilia, Parkinson's disease, certain types of genetic diagnoses, cancer, AIDS, cloning, the effects of radiation
Mr. and Mrs. Alexander
and toxic substances, and in vitro fertilization."

It is said, Mrs. Lacks is the most important woman in medical history. Unfortunately, everyone made money from her cells, except her young children and husband in dire poverty when she died.
Avenging the Ancestors Coalition is an organization in Philadelphia which has a list of inventions invented by black men and women. ATAC says: We did it. They hid it.  Grounded in the Akan concept of Sankofa, ATAC explains that genius is political and if the person with the idea was owned by another or the competitor was more powerful, then theft would go without prosecution. In the case of Lacks, the doctor(s) just hid his research from the family and ignored Mr. Lacks refusal to cooperate by stealing Mrs.Lacks's cells.
Sister Afua and Retired Professor Jim Lacy

Poet Darlene Roberts (R) and Friend

Poet Charles Blackwell and Nefertti 

Lee Williams II and Mrs. Williams

Ann Marie Davis

This 27th year, we had a full audience—lots of volunteers and a nice mix of both new and old faces. People stayed until the end, because the poetry was so good—I mean outstanding. 

Paradise Free Ja Love

Steve McCutchen

Tique and Husband
Rahim (R) with Partner

Audience Members

Karla and Friend Poet

Tyrice (poet)

Lee and Wife perform
Halifu Oṣumare and husband, Gene Howell Jr. 
Rahim Sabir opened with a nice live drum interlude. Later on, Rahim also accompanied me with my poem. That say we had duets and sole performances; however a highlight of this year was the tribute to Lee Williams, Sr. a longtime supporter of the Celebration.  Tique, eldest daughter, shared a few Lee Williams standards and Lee II and his wife performed songs from an upcoming recording. It was fun listening to Lee and his wife perform, especially the song: “Mo Grown” where the singer laments his errors and “Hard,” where the singer says life is hard because “he forgot about God.”

Gene Howell, Jr. and Halifu Oṣumare performed a duet—their poetry full of loving metaphors—Gene’s “Le live da la femme noire or Black Woman Book,” Halifu’s answering “Where did you come from” felt unrehearsed. It was as if poetry were their livelihood, their breath, all else unnatural or pretense.

Steve McCutchen shared stories about NASA and the black mathematicians and scientists he knew as a child, in his poem “A Lever and a Place to Stand.”
Ava Square Levias and Angela Wellman
His tribute, “Conversation,” to his friend Lee Williams was also lovely. At times his voice sounded like Lee’s.

Darlene Roberts shared a meditation on the N- word. However, it was a poem she wrote for Lee which he never heard, which took us back to Victor’s Café in Oakland and to the Western Addition Cultural Center in San Francisco where Darlene, as President of the International Black Writers in San Francisco would host monthly Saturday meetings.

Reginald Wilkins led us in a meditation on black life and black love and resilience and resistance with his tow pieces, “I Can Breathe” and “It’s Supposed to Be Easy.”

One of the artists brought this lovely quilt and shared its meaning
with us
Andre La Mont Wilson

Andre La Mont Wilson

Andre La Mont Wilson

Andre La Mont Wilson
Andre La Mont Wilson’s work is biographical and this year his selections, centered on his parents, Mom and Dad: “Heartache”; “Note in a Pot”; “Sankofa.” Both parents were poets and left him lots of poems when they passed. Andre said that his dad, a ceramicists would send him pots for presents. He says, he would have enjoyed a visit from Dad more until he found the note in the pot. 
Quilt Artist with Rahim Sabir (drummer)

Final Hugs

Rahim and Girlfriend

Randolph Bell (educator and artist) with daughter

Avotcja (poet) with Reginald Wilkins (actor)

Sister Najeebah Jaja Martin (poet) with Brother Makmud

Thamsanqa Hlatywayo and Brother Jim Lacy

Cheryl Ajirotutu, Ph.D. (volunteer)

Tique (Lee Williams daughter shares his work)
Douglas “Katabatzi” Coleman

Douglas “Katabatzi” Coleman
Douglas “Katabatzi” Coleman’s work is always excellent; however, this year, his choices: A New Song; Blood Run; and Emancipation” were stunning artistically. He spoke about education in “A New Song.” The pedagogy in the new song youth will sing would “model peace and contentment. . . . Let’s teach the youth a new song, with rhymes and verses that they belong.”

In “Blood Run”, the poet challenges us to value black lives while acknowledging that this world’s values should be rejected. He writes: “Abandon notions of racial superiority/Embrace the common humanity/that we may explore our destiny/Let’s practice reciprocity.”

Karla Brundage’s work was self-reflective. What is public education and who does it serve and fail to serve and who cares when the neediest needs remain unaddressed. Her closing poem – Maafa Crossing was really great! She said she wished she had a rapper for the poem and a brother from the audience volunteered. He was really good too.

Jasmin Strange
Jasmin Strange arrived just in time. Her stories about the poetry were almost as interesting as the
Tyrice and Karla

Jasmin Strong and Wanda Sabir
Avotcja (poet)
Women's March 2017

work. The second poem had a refrain, “I see you,” which reminded me of something important. When we fail to acknowledge each other it contributes to the eerie displacement we see often in allies, doorways, street corners.

Tyrice Deane’s poems interrogated the notion of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in relationship to black people’s transport to this nation.


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