Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Warrior Bends Her Knee in Prayer

False Starts
by Wanda Sabir

I’d been watching a sliver of new moon on the western horizon Monday evening

It was dark on the beach. I was looking for a stick, yet kept picking up seaweed tublars instead, until I found the perfect implement to write her name in the sand
I wrote her name big—

 I wrote her name B-I-G-big in the sand
As crescent moon slipped beneath a blanket of clouds

Offering salutations and supplications . . . to dear Dhameera
for a life well-lived

I am at Lighthouse Mosque for El Hajjah Dhameera Carlotta Ahmad's Janaazah or prayer service Wednesday afternoon. I learn later this place is where the Black Panthers and radical Christians met, now conscious Muslims meet. It was a Black House, a space for social justice. Brother Jerome showed me the image of Malcolm X he’d painted decades ago. The shape of El Hajj Malik’s head with iconic glasses is still visible beneath layers of yellow paint. We see its outline on the exterior wall just below the circular stained glass window. 

The masjid is on the other side of the freeway overpass on 42nd Street below Telegraph. I park by someone’s home, sofa inviting . . .  the living room near a trailer bus. It smells like urine in the street.  I wonder about the people in this neighborhood, Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor’s article fresh in my mind, the forum on homelessness in the City of Oakland at Allen Temple last week resonating too.

Brother Raouf explains the Muslim funeral prayer to guests inside Lighthouse. He explains the three Takbir or Allahu Akbar[1] salutations, and the supplication between each one: recitation of Al Fatihah or the Opening chapter of the Qur’an, Durood-e-Ibrahimi
 a prayer for the prophets, then at the third Takbir, a prayer for the deceased, yet to be born and the ancestors: her mother Betty Opal Simon Johnson and dear Mark Simon, younger brother preceded her.

Dhameera's Janazah is also a prayer for the community. The Janazah prayer concludes with As Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullah or God’s Peace and Mercy on everyone present and those absent too.

As the women pray outside on the lawn, the mosque full, my grandson Legend has tears in his eyes as he leans on his mother TaSin’s chest. He feels the sadness. The hearse pulls off, Khalilah and I walk to my car and head to 5 Pillars Farm in Livermore for the burial.

Stuck in traffic we reflect on Dhameera and others we will see soon: Brother James, Sister Elretha, Sister Ummus Salaama, Brother Zareef, Sister Nabeehah, Brother Saladin. . . .

Dust to dust.

There are more cars at the cemetery than I have ever seen before.  It is also hotter than ever before too. There is a cooler with water for us.  I welcome its refreshing sweetness.  Later I pour a bit for Dhameera on the ground as Brother Raouf speaks as family shovels the dirt on her form and then the bulldozer dumps the rest of the soil on the site.

Father seated, daughter, Veronica, to his left. 
I sprinkle three rocks. We move closer together. Her father, Joseph (Bunny) Simon, Sr., 
seated at her feet.

Dear Dhameera
What can I say
Words disappear at the thought
of your gentle passage into
Dawn’s early light two days ago

Your Brother Imams bless your head and feet with recitations from the second chapter of the Qur'an: The Cow or Sura Al Baqara [2] (1-5): 

"Alif, Lam Meem [3]

This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah --

Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them,
And who believe in what has been revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith].

Those [have right] guidance from their Lord, and it is those who are the successful.
Yes, whoever submits [her] face in Islam to Allah while being a doer of good will have [her] reward with [her] Lord. And no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve." 

I change the Al Baqara (85-86) recitation at your feet, for other verses here:

"Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise; and [those who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who was the righteous" (2:177).

But among them is [she] who says, "Our Lord, give us this world [that which is] good and in the Hereafter [that which is] good and protect us from the punishment of the Fire" (2:201).
Dhameera, Saadat, Azizah, Yusuf and his wife; and Nisa

Birds dip their wings, as the sun burns memories
Etched in flesh
Dhameera too dear to forget
Shadows fall on
Rendered darkness
Sweetness lingering on her frail form beneath mahogany earth
Lumps of earth
Children and family bid farewell
Her name sketched on a plaque
“Dhameera Ahmed”
January 11, 1950-July 24, 2017

Azizah and Nisa (front),
Yusuf and Ismael (rear)

Married 41 years

Her anniversary a day of black liberation
Brother Saadat + Dhameera
4 children:
2 daughters
2 sons;
A Sister
A dear father

I remember meeting her 40 years ago. She was holding Nisa’s hand.
Nisa was my student at Muhammad University of Islam No. 26
She had a sweet lisp
Later I would have my first child on Dhameera’s birthday
Bilaliyah and Azizah would play together with YaSin and Sharifa and other children
Bilaliyah . . . Dhameera . . . Ashay!

She like the other warrior women, was my big sister, and like big sisters didn’t hang out with me
A school principal, she and Dr. Intisar Sharif brought Montessori education to the Oakland Public Schools. I remember her work at Yuk Yau Child Development Center in Chinatown.

I remember her work at the Oakland Unified School District with Sister Warrior El Hajjah Nabeehah Sabree Shakir (1949-2015)

She was Marilyn Buck’s friend, Yuri Kochiyama’s, Sekou Abdullah Odinga's, and friend to so many others political prisoners and prisoners of war locked up, but not locked down.
Can’t Jail the Spirit  was her gift to me.
Can’t bury spirit either.
Spirit rises.

She was at San Francisco State when the student strike for Black Studies occurred. She raised her fist for Black Power as a member of the Black Panther Party.  The San Francisco native was one of the honorees at the 50th Anniversary exhibit: All Power to the People at the Oakland Museum of California.

She organized the Lighthouse Mosque Community to serve meals to the adults living at a hotel on Jackson Street in downtown Oakland. The hotel residents had food Monday-Friday, but nothing on the weekend. I remember how excited she was one Sunday when she and Brother Sadat set up the luncheon smorgasbord so that the residents could make their own lunches and how much that pleased them.  Choice not charity. Dignity not dependency.

Sadaqa is giving without strings attached.

We went to the Oakland International Film Festival’s 50th Anniversary of Alex Haley’s Roots and sat near the Black Panther Party section of the house. We also went to see Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed and had plans to see Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon together. I wish she’d been able to go with me. I would have liked to hear what she thought of it. We’d had plans to see Daughters of the Dust at her house with friends. I know they had fun at the sleepover. Her schedule was so busy, with family trip to Yosemite for Mother’s Day, Brother Saadat’s birthday early July, Spa Sundays and saline treatments on Thursdays. We also missed Shifting Movements: Art Inspired by the Life and Activism of Yuri Kochiyama (1921-2014). Just couldn’t fit it all in.

We spoke often and TaSin would share her greetings with me on Fridays when she saw Dhameera at Juma Prayer. She would always say, “When are you coming to visit me? I miss you.”

I wish she’d been able to attend the Muhammad University High School Reunion (1974-1975), that would have been nice. I did text her a photo I saw of her as a younger woman in an album that Sunday afternoon.

I will miss her. Dhameera Carlotta Ahmad (née Carlotta Basseau Simon) was a huge presence in a world that is shrinking. I am happy our paths were one at some point and shared many subsequent intersections.

Her burial was on Oya’s day [4]. Oya, guardian of the cemetery, spirit of the winds or transformation and change.

I wore a blue dress, the color of Yemanja [5] and on my earlobes brass cowrie shells with the Akan Adinkra: Kwatakye Atiko, a symbol of bravery and fierceness, in honor of the warrior woman: Yeye Dhameera Ahmad. [6]

                                                       Ashay, Ashay. . . Ashayo

Here is beautiful tribute Brother Khalid Al Waajid produced:

[1] God is Great!

[2] In addition to these verses of Surat-al-Baqarah, it is recommended for those present at the grave-site to remain for a while reciting other surahs and verses of the Qur'an such as Surat al-Fatiha, Surat-a;-Ikhlas, Surah YaSin, Ayat al-Kursi, seeking forgiveness and supplicating (dua) for the deceased


Oya is a “proud, self-willed woman. She is described as a tall, comely women, who at the same time is a fierce, bearded Amazon. She is called a woman who grows a beard (becomes more fierce than a man) on account of war [or danger]. The beard is symbolic of transformation (Gary Edwards and John Mason, Black Gods; Orisha Studies in the New World p. 94).

[5] Yemanja: mother goddess, the “personification of motherhood’ (Edwards and Mason Black Gods, p. 85).

[6] Kwatakye Atiko symbolizes the “hair style of an Asante war captain,” the “symbol of bravery and valor.’ ‘This symbols is said to be a special hair style of Kwatakye, a war captain of old Asante.’ The symbol has come to represent bravery and fearlessness. It is also given as an earned title to any brave [daughter] of an Akan community.” W. Bruce Willis, The Adinkra Dictionary

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

SF Mime Troupe 2017 Opens with "Walls" at Dolores Park in San Francisco

SF Mime Troupe 2017 “Walls,” A Review
By Wanda Sabir

What makes SF Mime Troupe the award-winning theatre it is, is its amazing work which is always topical and timely. Its current production, July 1-Sept. 10, “Walls” is no different. Playwright Michael Gene Sullivan, SF Mime veteran’s new work looks at federal immigration policy from George W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton to Barack Obama and Donald Trump. The quartet has much in common, each president responsible for policies which criminalize its immigrant population. Surprisingly, we hear President Obama often on the issue, his tenure one of the more draconian against immigrant populations. “Walls” looks at the xenophobia such scapegoating fosters, along with hate crimes masked by pseudo-patriotism. Heavy? Yes, but the pacing, excellent direction, cast, Mime Troupe humor, stunning songs and surprising rumba, make the medicine easier to swallow.

At center, in “Walls” is a love story between ICE agent L. Mary and recent arrival Zaniyah Nahuatl (Marilet Martinez) who trembles every time she thinks about the crossing from Mexico into America. Zaniyah lives with Mary who wants her to stay hidden.  L. Mary wants to keep her girlfriend safe, while Zaniyah Nahuatl wants to earn some money to send to her mother back home.  While L. Mary is at work hunting down illegal immigrants – the case load ever increasing, at home, Zaniyah cooks and cleans and takes care of the house.  Zaniyah speaks to her mom often on the phone and though justifiably paranoid ventures out into the neighborhood to shop at Somali immigrant, Bahdoon Samakab’s store.

The two hit it off immediately, dancing around the store as they swap immigrant stories. Samakab (Rotimi Agbabiaka) is a successful businessman whose income supports his immediate family and relatives at home in Somalia. He is not illegal or undocumented, yet neighbors in the community who once befriended him over his 25 year tenure, now treat him with scorn because he is Muslim and an immigrant. As Samakab juggles hard work and financial responsibilities, he complains to his mother whom he speaks to daily about his son who loves all things American except honest labor.

Lastly there is Irish ICE agent Cliodhna Aghabullogue (Lizzie Calogero), who is vigilant in ridding the nation of terrorists and criminals. Cliodhna thinks she has to divorce herself from her homeland to be authentically American, a land and people she loves, perhaps more than they love her.

The drama takes place on the backdrop of a crippled Lady Liberty: her head sits on stage with weather vane crown and one foot. The scale is missing as is any semblance of compassion. When “Walls” reaches its climax, Cliodhna says to Zaniyah that she is not interested in her story or reasons for being in America. It is not surprising that when the tables turn, the same agency, ICE is unsympathetic to Cliodhna as well. If ever, Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), prominent Protestant pastor’s statement of regret over his inaction and support of Hitler’s regime is apropos: “[when] they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”  L. Mary too has much to atone for when “Walls” concludes.

As the audience at Dolores Park packs up, we wonder what our country would look like if such immigration policies didn’t exist. “Walls” certainly put a damper on what could have been a day of jubilation for the home team (smile). However, until the walls come tumbling down— visible and equally impermeable invisible ones, this nation will not know freedom and Frederick Douglass’s question will remain unanswered. Visit or call (415) 285-1717, to find out when a performance is coming to your neighborhood as this free community theatre makes its rounds in Northern California with multiple stops in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Sacramento, San Lorenzo, Richmond, Mill Valley, Point Arena, Merced, Petaluma, Ukiah, Davis, etc.

Most shows start at 2 p.,m. with music at 1:30 p.m. There are post show discussions July 8 at Live Oak Park in Berkeley, and July 26 at Mime Troupe headquarters in San Francisco; August 12 at Glen Park in San Francisco and August 26 at Willard Park in Berkeley; and Sept. 3 at Dolores Park in San Francisco. Listen to a recent interview with actor Marilet Martinez (Zaniyah Nahuatl) at Wanda’s Picks Radio.

Wanda's Picks Radio Friday, June 30, 2017

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. Amy Mueller, Artistic Director,  joins us to speak about the 40th Annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival, July 13-23. (Early Bird special extended to 6/30). Amy is an award-winning director and producer of original theater for over thirty years, and is a leader in the national new play development sector. Since taking the helm of Playwrights Foundation in 2001.Her directing credits include Berkeley Repertory Theatre, San Diego Repertory Theatre, ACT Seattle, A.C.T. Arizona Theatre Company, Cutting Ball Theater, Crowded Fire Theater and many others. She is the mother of two beautiful children.

2. Rebroadcast 8/29/2014 show

3. Marilet Martinez (Actor) is a bilingual actor, teaching artist, fight choreographer, improviser, physical theatre deviser, puppeteer, certified Zumba instructor and SF native. She first worked with the San Francisco Mime Troupe in 2003 as a work shop student then went on to understudy for the company in 2011. She has also taught for the Youth Theater Project. Marilet has performed with ACT's The Strand, Cal Shakes, Berkeley Rep's Ground Floor, Theatreworks' New Works Festival, Word for Word, PCPA Theatrefest, Shotgun Players, Crowded Fire, African-American Shakes, Woman's Will, Teatrovision, Shadowlight Theatre, SF Playwrights Foundation, and more. She is a company member at Impact Theatre and an associate artist with Cutting Ball Theatre. Marilet dedicates this show to her abuelitos and abuelitas for teaching her how to be brave.
SFMT's Walls opens July 1 at Cedar Rose Park in Berkeley.

4. Rebroadcast: Pricilla: Queen of the Desert, at Theatre Rhinoceros: May 27-July 1, joining us are: Charles Peoples III (Adam/Felicia), AeJay Mitchell (Choreographer). Shows are at Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., (at Battery St.) SF.