Monday, August 28, 2017

“Whose Streets?” dir. by Sabaah Folyan and Damon Davis A Review by Wanda Sabir

At one point black men were content to hold up the corner.  Seated on crates, older men would reflect as they watched the youngsters playing ball, youth strutting with newly discovered charisma and power, and parents holding onto their babies’ hands as they acknowledged the men with either a smile or greeting.  Their wives sat on porches drinking tea, chewing snuff, watching the little ones or perhaps gardening or pulling weeds.

Laughter illuminated these sacred spaces filled with love, the balm a protective covering for all in its embrace.  Such was the Ferguson, Mike Brown grew up in.  Just finished with high school, he was thinking about his future when his life was taken randomly as if black lives are temporary without a future tense.

“Whose Streets” (2017) by Sabaah Folyan (writer, director, producer)
and Damon Davis (director, producer), is a question Ferguson asks the world—Michael Brown (18) multiplied by so many others, too many in a town where black and white walk along a delineated line—“unequal” about the only aspect of the Dred Scott decision that remains: “The court found that no black, free or slave, could claim U.S. citizenship, and therefore blacks were unable to petition the court for their freedom.”[1]

We see Dred Scott on one of the street signs in the film, “Whose Streets,” a document that shows why it was important to highlight for the world—the other Ferguson towns throughout America and abroad, places where capitalism has erased human value, the strategies and spirit of a people who fed up and ready to move on the police galvanized everyone eager to not let Mike Brown’s death be in vain. 

Brittany Ferrell and Kenna
It became a family affair for Brittany Ferrell (25), a college student and single mother. She models for her daughter Kenna over the 3-4 years leading up to the verdict in the Brown case what resistance looks like and her daughter gets it.  Ferrell and other queer friends found Millennial Activists United (MAU).

David Whitt, father of four and husband is moved to act when he hears shots ring out near his apartment door. He decides to start filming police activity especially the excessive violence. “He and his chapter of Copwatch become guardians of Mike Brown’s memorial, rebuilding it when it is vandalized and later removed. His counter-surveillance of local police results in his eviction and the eviction of other activists in the neighborhood. While fighting for justice, Whitt also struggles for his family’s livelihood.”[2]
“Underground hip-hop artist and activist Tef Poe arrives at Canfield Green to see blood fresh on the street. Tef is one of many who refuse to go inside, even when faced with military weapons and an enforced curfew. While on the frontlines he meets Tory Russell, a powerful speaker and activist, and together they form Hands Up United.” Russell leads a march to the police station and in the midst of anger and frustration tells his constituents that it will take more than a day to get 500 years of answers.

Reimagining the dilapidated community of North St. Louis, Tory proposes a solution from the ground up. He launches a Books and Breakfast program and takes over a building to provide cultural resources and basic necessities for the community." 

“Whose Streets” exemplifies what the great Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael) stated about and organized black people, that there is nothing we cannot accomplish.  Although the police man who killed Mike Brown escaped punishment, “Whose Streets” shows how the people still won and continue to win.

Damon Davis, co-director, East Ferguson resident and artist, painted hands held up – in surrender or confrontation, and plastered the posters on the external walls of businesses who supported the new resistance movement and abandoned buildings boarded up after the civil unrest settled down.

He met with Sabaah who’d come to town to on an ethnographic fieldwork assignment—she’d been collecting stories, when one of her contacts recommended Damon as a person who could help her shape the narrative and introduce her around. 

“Whose Streets” is a horror story. In no way is the violence skated over or obscured as police march into pedestrians, throw canisters of tear gas without provocation. People with hands raised sling words at their opponents, yet instead of responding nonviolently, the police swing their sticks and fire their weapons.  Sabaah said that after the major news outlets left each evening, the police dropped any semblance of decency.

What is beautiful about “Whose Streets” is the peoples’ will and commitment to not relinquishing their power and right to claim what is theirs—their neighborhoods, their streets and their right to occupy both.  When scavengers show up to take photos and claim aspects of what for Mike Brown’s friends and family is sacred ground, the altar is dismantled and the community refuses to go on camera or participate in a public spectacle for the politicians.

Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes’s soundtrack is exceptional—the words and music pulsing with energy like the folks on the screen. It is one adrenalin filled moment after another. We think we know the story, but unless you were there for an extended length of time, you really do not know what happened—

Through the characters profiled, the audience gets a sense of the movers and shakers who serve as backbone to a larger number of people who up to Mike Brown’s death were passive and unresponsive. Even the leadership—I am thinking clergy and civic leaders, does not get active seeking a just outcome for the Brown family until the national spotlight makes them make a public statement. 

The tragedy has ignited a spirit that was not going to retire any time soon.  On the fourth anniversary of Mike Brown’s death—“Whose Streets” is a necessary rallying cry, the film itself a wonderful model of what a community can do to change a system stacked against them.

For each community experiencing these types of daily rehearsals of injustice, somewhat like a catechism, the strategy will change dependent on the particular landscape.  “Whose Streets” provides a model and as such validates Ferguson citizens’s right to resist and demand justice. Similarly, the citizens of Charlottesville deserve the same validation.  State violence might be normed as is that of white racists against black people, but it is not a norm we accept.

With humanity on the chopping board, “Whose Streets” shows ordinary citizens: beaten and intimidated standing up.  The world is what we make it and often just remembering the streets are a public space, that anyone is able to cross or walk on this marked piece of highway, is liberating for a lot of black youngsters who do not know safety or freedom.

The film opened on August 11, but today, August 9, we wanted to celebrate Mike Brown’s life – The New Parkway in Oakland,  is hosting a screening tonight.

Here is a link to an interview with the directors in April when the film debuted at the San Francisco International Film Festival:


Monday, August 14, 2017

Destiny Muhammad plays Alice Coltrane, a musical libation and salutation

Destiny Muhammad, Harpist from the Hood treated her East Bay family fans to a concert celebrating the Sonic legacy of Alice Coltrane. The tenth anniversary year of her ascension, it is fitting for such tributes to take place, this one, the second this year. Her ensemble for this concert Sunday afternoon featured once again: Ranzel Merritt on tenor sexophone, Ruth Price on drums, Rebecca Kleinmann on flute, Giulio Xavier Cetto on bass and Laura Klein on piano.

There were two sets, the second was graced by the presence of Archbishop Fanzo King, Queen Mother King and other members of the Church of St. John Coltrane. Destiny, dressed in white with a beautiful coral colored robe. Near her harp was an altar with a photo of Alice Coltrane and a bowl of tangerines and a lit candle. There were two other altars on either side of the stage, candles lit, lilies in shallow bowls on white stands.

Ruth's drums in front of the acoustic piano -- Laura and Destiny directly across from one another and as they played, it was as if there were two Alices in this wonderland. Ranzel and Rebecca were directly in back on stools and bassist, Giulio was to Destiny's right. The intimacy of the musicians added to the tight arrangements and performance.

The Destiny Muhammad Project (minus Ruth).

Laura Klein

Ruth Price and Ranzel Merritt

Rebecca, Ranzel, Giulio, Ruth and Destiny (missing Laura). 

Destiny conducting

Taking a bow: Ruth, Laura, Ranzel
With compositions taken from three albums in her first concert this year at SFJAZZ, this concert also included Alice Coltrane's work from a McCoy Tyner album recorded on Blue Note. This was after her husband passed and Destiny said the work was almost a reconcilitation between the two artists who both loved John Coltrane.

The maestro shared stories like this throughout the hour and a half set. The full house whispered and shouted their appreciation as Ranzel channeled Pharoah Sanders, Ruth pushing and driving -- the two artists reaching heights we could only look on in awe. Destiny featured Laura often, Alice Coltrane first a pianist whose work spanned multiple traditions-- straightahead, blues and gospel . . . . the band rocked with Laura in the lead -- her hands all over the keyboard as her body traversed the space as well. When I walked in Giulio was laying the ground for the classic Journey into Satchinanda. On this and other tunes, it was lovely hearing Rebecca's additional interpretations.

John Coltrane bought his wife a harp, but made his transition before it arrived. Influenced by the harp, Destiny told us its influence on Coltrrane created what he called sheets of sound.

I think one of the songs Laura played was Turiya and Ramakrishna. Another was a song written when her husband died from music he'd started but hadn't completed. The song is called, Something about John Coltrane. When Destiny mentioned the selections some folks in the audience went wild.

Destiny closed wirh A Love Supreme, her lovely voice singing the recitation we were invited to repeat, which we did.

Upcoming Events:
Destiny Muhammad is performning in a Tribute to John and Alice Coltrane, Sept. 24 at Cafe Stritch in San Jose, 4-11:30 p.m.

All photos: Wanda Sabir

Here is a link to an interview with Destiny, followed by an interview with Ranzel on Wanda's Picks Radio, Wednesday, Aug. 9.