Saturday, September 23, 2017

John Coltrane Day 2017

We partied John Coltrane into Saturday, September 23, what would have been the great composer, musician, human being's 91st birthday.  Friday night, his friend and band mate, Ferrell "Pharoah" Sanders brought his quartet to SFJAZZ, part of a week long series of concerts curated by Coltrane's son, Ravi Coltrane, who by the way, joined Sanders during the second half of the program for a duet. 
There are two more concerts in the series, tonight at 7 and 9:30 p.m. featuring: 2016 Grammy nominee, Ravi Coltrane, Nicholas Payton, trailblazing guitarist Adam Rogers, bass star Matthew Garrison (son of John Coltrane Quartet bassist Jimmy Garrison), and the acclaimed drummer Marcus Gilmore, grandson of jazz legend and John Coltrane collaborator Roy Haynes. The ensemble will perform the 1964 masterpiece, A Love Supreme

Tomorrow night the show is a nod to the 2016 ECM release In Movement for which Ravi Coltrane recieved the Grammy nomination for Best Improvised Jazz Solo. He is joined by Legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette who performed with John Coltrane early in his career and Matthew Garrison, the son of John Coltrane Quartet bassist Jimmy Garrison. The show is at 7 p.m. Sept. 24.

Always gracious, even when people project his father onto him, Ravi is a consummate artist whose expansive body of work continues a legacy or inheritance from both mom and dad, Alice and John Coltrane. The last concert she played with Ravi, Charlie Haden, and Roy Haynes was one of those special moments, I was happy to be present. I remember looking down on the floor where she sat at the organ.

I felt the same kind of energy, that is, I was happy to be in the room, when Dewey Redman was in concert with his son, Joshua Redman. It was the senior Redman's birthday too and I recall going back stage to meet him and being invited to the party. Sweet man.  I met his widow again when I was in New York at a concert series featuring the many musical faces of Wadada Leo Smith.

But back to Friday night. Everyone was in the house. I immediately spotted Arch Bishop Fanzo in the lobby with his wife. He had his soprano saxophone in a music case for Ravi to borrow. Since the concert was sold out, they were waiting to be seated. I hope they got in.  Sunday at Saint John Will I Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church-Jurisdiction West, 2097 Turk Street, San Francisco will be the 
Annual Manifestation Day Celebration from 12-4 p.m. Everyone is welcome to the free event

Back stage later on were Pharoah's daughters and granddaughter; former wife and friend, Shukuru Sanders; other friends, among them, Kash Killion and Gary Bartz and a wonderful artist who presented the giant with a collage she'd made of his image.

The set opened and closed with the original, "The Creator Has a Master Plan," followed by other classics I knew but couldn't name. I will have to get back to you on the set list (smile). Always participatory the audience was encouraged to clap as Pharoah danced. He looked great that evening dressed in blues, the color both illuminating and effervescent -- radiant.
Playing tenor with perhaps one of the most celebrated tenor saxophonists alive, Ravi Coltrane held his own as Sanders soloed and then left center stage to Coltrane who bent sound, repackaging his dad, John Coltrane's "Ole," in a way that was both familiar and startling new. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Wanda's Picks Radio Show, Friday, Sept. 15, 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!
Dr. Lynn Morrow, Heritage Keeper

8:00 AM – 
We are joined by 2017 Heritage Keepers Honorees: Dr. Bisola Marignay, Educator, Writer, and Leader, Self-Healing with Negro Spirituals Workshops and Dr. Lynne Morrow, Educator and Choral Director, The Pacific Edge Voices and Oakland Symphony Chorus and Friends of the Negro Spirituals co-founder, Ms. Lyvonne Chrisman. The award ceremony (a free event) is Sat., Sept. 16,1-4 p.m. at the San Francisco Main Library (Koret Auditorium), 100 Larkin Street.

Professor Stephen Best, Ph.D.

8:30 AM --  Professor Stephen Best of UC Berkeley's EnglishDepartment, who was instrumental in developing the James Baldwin film series at BAMPFA wich started Sept. 14 and continues through Nov. 16.
Stephen Best is an Associate Professor of English at UC-Berkeley. Professor Best is an alumni of Williams College (B.A., 1989) and the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., 1992; Ph.D., 1997). He is the author ofThe Fugitive's Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession (University of Chicago, 2004), a study of property, poetics, and legal hermeneutics in nineteenth-century American literary and legal culture. Currently, he is working on a new project on rumor, promiscuous speech, and slavery's archive.

Professor Best is a member of the editorial board of the journal Representations. Recently, he co-convened a research group with Saidiya Hartman at the University of California's Humanities Research Institute on "Redress in Law, Literature, and Social Thought" (funded through the Mellon Foundation). His work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Humanities Research Institute (University of California), and the Ford Foundation.

Pete Nicks, dir., The Force

9:00 AM -- Peter Nicks, 
The Force, his new film which goes deep inside an embattled urban police department struggling to rebuild trust in one of America's most violent cities at a power-keg moment in American policing. The Force opens today, Sept. 15, at a variety of Bay Area venues. The big Oakland opening is tonight at the Grand Lake theatre. Other locations the film is screening are: Landmark Embarcadero in SF, Landmark CA in Berkeley and the Smith-San Rafael in San Rafael. Visit The Force on Facebook at the website:
The Force Official Trailer

Dr. Shakti Butler, dir., Healing Justice

9:30 AM --  
Shakti Butler is a multiracial African-American woman (African, Arawak Indian, and Russian-Jewish) whose work as a creative and visionary bridge builder has challenged and inspired learning for over two decades. She is the producer and director of groundbreaking documentaries including The Way Home, Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible, and Light in the ShadowsCracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity uses story, theater and music to illuminate the larger frame of structural/systemic racial inequity. She joins us to talk about her latest film: Healing Justice with a world premiere Sat., Sept. 16, at the First Congregational Church of Christ, 2501 Harrison Street in Oakland. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wanda's Picks Radio Show, Wed., Sept. 13

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. Patricia Nunley, Ph.D.—ABPsi, joins us to talk about "the Political Climate and How it is Effecting Our World." The onversation which is centered in the concept of Nommo from the Dogon in Mali, is at the West Oakalnd Boys and Girls Club, 3233 Market Street, Oakland. It is a free event. 

2. Kheven La Grone, playwright, AeJay Mitchell, director of The Legend of Pink, which opens the 2017-18 Season for Theatre Rhinocerous, previews 9/13-9/16 matinee at 3 p.m. Opening night is this Sat., evening at 8 p.m.  Learn more at

3. Johanna Brown & Ms. Billie Cooper join the playwright to talk about the historic period referenced in the work. 

4. Shakti Butler, director, World-Trust: Social Impact through Film and Dialogue, joins us to talk about her latest film, Healing Justice. It debuts this weekend, Sept. 16.

Music: Sweet Honey in the Rock (Hope), The Pyramids (Otherworldly, Memory Ritual), Ruth Foster (Stone Love), Thao and the Get Down Stay Down (Human Heart), Kim Nalley (I Wish I Knew What It It Would Feel to Be Free).


Monday, September 11, 2017

SF Fringe Opening Weekend

Cat Brooks © W. Sabir photographer
I went to two shows Sunday evening at the SF Fringe Festival at EXIT on Eddy.  The first play, Tasha, by Cat Brooks, directed by Ayodele Nzinga is the story of a young black woman society sees as crazy. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, she grew to be the object of discrimination in the small Southern town she was born and raised.

The multimedia performance features footage from the cell where Tasha was being tased. It is a compelling story of the social stigma of mental illnesses and questions the normative wellness practices which target those persons who are different as if difference is suspect and needs to be eliminated.

Tasha also shows how little support there is for parents with children (later adults) who do not want to be medicated to fit into this pseudo normative. What if, Cat Brooks asks, what is seen as normal is really aberrant? Who in their right mind would want to adjust to that? Another question the work Tasha asks the audience to contemplate is why violence is the first response to the unknown? Tasha's response to state violence is self-defense, yet she is outnumbered and is no match for the armed intolerance whether this is guns or drugs.
Tasha tells her captors multiple times from the cell floor where they have her restrained and prostrate that she wants to go home. She tells this to the nurse, a character whose haunting observations clarify perhaps what the audience as witness refuses or is unable believe. Tasha is one of many women abused by this American judicial system. The police chief says to the press (in another video clip), Tasha should not have been in their custody. She should have been somewhere else, that her department's job was to enforce "law and order" not protect the vulnerable.  

Law and order for Tasha meant silence. When the men dressed in protective gear, pulled Tasha from her cell, force her to her knees and then prone, as she moves under the weight of 4-6 men, the playwright externalizes their thoughts so we can hear what they are thinking. None of the thoughts convey sympathy for Tasha, just annoyance at her resistance.

Other shows are: 9/12 and 9/13.  
Listen to an interview with Cat Brooks at


Amy Mihyang Ginther's Homeful is sweet work. It is a coming of age story and a travel log of a transracial adoptee who doesn't seem to fit into the definition of American. As we travel with Amy to Senegal and walk into the slave dungeon in Goree Island, get stranded in Argentina or fall in love with the protagonist in England then escape to Dublin all the while staying in touch with Mom in New York via email, a delightful story emerges of love and home across multiple landscapes where the feisty Amy armed with verve and ashay, wins almost all showdowns.

Unlike Cat Brooks's Tasha and her mother, Amy can traverse landscapes unavailable to the Tashas in this world. Amy never seems stuck, her life fluid -- home, something she can count on because her mother's love is there, her father, siblings and an array of friends (she introduces her audience too) are also present for guidance and support.

This show continues the personal saga for Amy who tells the story of meeting her adoptive family in another show. I am quite amazed at her fluency in multiple languages. Visit to listen to an interview with Amy at

KPFA Posse: Kirsten Thomas, Cat Brooks & Mitch Jeserich
(UpFront Hosts) 
 © W. Sabir photographer
Amy Mihyang Ginther (Homeful) © W. Sabir photographer

SF Fringe 2017 Artists: Irma Herrera (Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name
 with Amy Mihyang Ginther (Homeful) 
 © W. Sabir photographer

Friday, September 08, 2017

Dispatches from Beaumont, Texas

New Light Volunteers
I had a conversation Sept. 5 with Sheryl Ball. A cousin of Sister Afua Holt, journalist, I caught her in the middle of preparing disaster packages for the community in Beaumont.  One of the coastal cities, I'd heard a lot about Beaumont, Port Arthur and other areas nearby. Ms. Ball said she'd had people staying with her. When one family left for home, another stepped into his or her shoes.

Though hit hard, everywhere was not flooded. However, there are areas of Beaumont still underwater and without electricity and water.  
I had an opportunity to speak to Sheryl Ball in Beaumont, a small town near the Gulf of Mexico, I heard the entire city was under water – but Mrs. Ball said she didn’t experience flooding. However her brother who lives on the outskirts of Beaumont in a trailer park, experienced water up to the cars. He had to leave once the rain started in earnest Sunday, August 27. It got up to 47 inches she said; however, they went back.

It was flooding on the highways headed to Rose City and along Hwy. 105, Hwy. 90 toward Liberty and Dayton as well.  The north end of Beaumont is still flooded.  Many elders in that area refused to leave. They said they would tough it out, but today, someone called and reported the 30 people stranded there without water and electricity. They didn’t leave, Mrs. Ball said, because they didn’t have anywhere to go. They also didn’t leave because they felt their apartments would be burglarized.

Her houseguest went back to pack a few belongings because the state was not going to let anyone return. While they toughed out the storm, someone ran a generator for the elder residents. The owner knew they were stranded yet did not report this to authorities. Speculation is he was too busy taking care of his personal property.  Luckily, everyone is okay.

The couple who were staying with her went home Sunday, and the women who was at the apartment complex arrived Sunday. Major Drive was under water and where Mrs. Ball's brother lives, a big hole where the city is building a megastore flooded his home. Without mail delivery people are dependent on support from their neighbors. One of Ball’s friends “couldn’t get food stamps because she lost her identification card.  She had to wait for the mail man for its replacement. Mail didn’t start back up until the end of last week.

All the evacuees were sent different places, and family members have not been able to keep up with their transport. “One of my cousins is in a shelter. I don’t know where he is.” Mrs. Ball said.  Her son who lives off 11th and Fannett Road, told his mother the water stopped just below the wall sockets in his house, while another relative said the water stopped at the foot of his driveway.”

When asked about a curfew, she said there is none there.

Since she was at her church, New Light, when I called, I was able to speak to Pastor Tina Egans, who with her husband serve the 
New Light Christian Center Beaumont congregation. Text to give:71441NewLight   There are four (4) churches in Houston and one (1) in Beaumont.

Pastors Tina and Terry Egans, live in the Northern area in Houston—Spring area. They didn't have any flooding there; however, the couple are familar with disaster relief: Ike, Katrina and now Harvey. One of the churches in Houston was used as a shelter for initially 60 people, eventually 400. The fire department broke into the structure in their rescue efforts. It is a large building, the Old Lakewood building. People were stuck there for three days. The Red Cross could not get to them. Metro buses couldn't get to them. The pastors were calling Congresswoman Sheila Jackson that Sunday, August 27 when the storm hit.

On the road, the pastors have been going back and forth between Houston and Beaumont. She said the longest it took to get back to Houston was three hours. When Cyprus Creek started flooding they couldn't pass. On August 30, they were about to get on the road again.

The church has a Credit Union in Houston which will be a tremendous help to their 20,000+ members, including those people in the community who also lost everything.  They have four distribution sites, and New Light plans to have a FEMA representative on campus. Lot of people might not have access to technology, so at the One Stop centers, people will be able to handle all their business under one roof.

Wanda's Picks Friday, Sept. 8, 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. Wanda Ravenell and Wanda Blake join us to talk about the free 4th Annual Black Eyed Pea Festival, Sat., Sept. 16, 11 t 6 p.m., at Oakland Tech on Braodway between 42nd and 45th Street. 

2. Amy Mihyang Ginther's Solo Performance, Homeful, in SF Fringe Festival at EXIT Stage Left, 156 Eddy St, SF, 90 Minutes: 9/10, 8:30 p.m., 9/15, 8:30 p.m., 9/16, 4 p.m., 9/20, 8:30 p.m.

3. Michaela Harrison joins us to talk about The Healing Room, LIVE with Joy Clark and Monica McIntyre at Brava Theatre, in San Francisco, Thursday, September 14 – 8-9:30 p.m.

Link to show:

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Wanda's Picks Wed., Sept. 6, 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. Raissa Simpson, Artistic Director, 4th Annual Push Fest; Halifu Osumare, Ph.D. choreographer featured in the Festival

2. LET IT FALL: LOS ANGELES 1982-1992 opens September 1st in San Francisco at the Roxie Theater.
About the Director/Producer/Writer John Ridley

John Ridley won an Oscar® for writing 
12 Years a Slave and is the creator, director, and executive producer of ABC’s Emmy-winning series “American Crime,” which is currently airing Season Three. His limited series “Guerilla,” with Idris Elba, Freida Pinto, and Babou Ceesay co-produced by Fifty Fathoms and ABC Signature for Showtime and Sky Atlantic on Showtime.

a multidisciplinary artist whose work has been presented locally, nationally, and internationally, Charlie’s interactive installations, paintings, and performances engage complexity, identity, and perception. She joins us to talk about a new project: Truthiness at The Flight Deck in Oakland. 

4. SF Fringe 2017

am - Michael Washington Brown of BLACK!
Four individuals describe their personal experience with the word "BLACK!" and unpack how their stories, their lives, their perspectives have been impacted by this word, positively or otherwise. Are there similarities in these individuals’ experiences or has society 'bought into' the stereotypes that exist? And, if so, why? Sept. 15 at 8:30pm, Sept. 16 at 4pm, Sept. 20 at 8:30pm, Sept. 22 at 8:30pm
9:40am - Dazié Grego-Sykes of Nigga-Roo
Nigga-Roo is a multidisciplinary performance inquiry into Black identity that bravely dissects Blackness as an original, necessary social construct. As Blackness is rooted in slavery and saturated in caricature, creator Dazié Grego-Sykes utilizes black face, spoken word, movement, and monologue to disarm and disrupt in 60 minutes of stage-time. Sept. 9 at 9pm, Sept. 10 at 4pm, Sept. 17 at 8:30pm, Sept. 21 at 7pm

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Dispatches from Houston

FEMA tag, property has to wear.
Chattel Slavery relic?

I spoke to Jonathan Chartian this morning. Released Dec. 14, 2016, he is confined to his home when not at work, his job suspended since Hurricane Harvey.  He is really concerned about the excessive show of police and military presence, which is not protecting the rights of citizens, rather complicating an already volatile situation between black and brown people and law enforcement.

Between 12 midnight and 5 a.m. everyone who is not traveling to or from work has the potential for arrest. And even those with reason to be traveling, are accosted by police who are ticketing residents, like Chartian’s “uncle who was pulled over—and asked where he was going.” After a litany of questions, he was ticketed for running a stop sign. A neighbor was also pulled over for as he returned from Ft. Worth.  Chartian said “People are losing money. If there is a 12 hour job, the shifts are breaking down early.”

Police have converged on Houston from as far away as California, yet a black child was kidnapped and raped by white men for five hours this weekend.  One wonders who are all these armed men and women supposed to be protecting.  Chartian says that what is not shown on the news are the armed white racists who pose a threat to black citizens. Elders in the community are trying to keep the black youth calm, so that a war is prevented, a war black people will lose given the fact that they are certainly out gunned.

“The looting is over with,” Chartian says, “why would anyone break into one of the flooded homes? Trader Truth – the rapper’s house still under water. He said he saw an alligator on his porch, [so] he is spending his time helping donate.”

Returning citizen, eldest child, father and husband says his 13 year old daughter is worried by all the armed militia and doesn’t understand their presence. He says businesses are closing early so their employees can get home. “No fast food after 7 p.m.” He also said empty grocery store shelves are gradually getting full again, but banks will not let clients have more than $200 at a time and ATMs are of service. “People have to budget their cash, because even if it is in their account, they cannot access it.”

“It’s a scary feeling.  No ATM money. We have to use money orders. Can’t find too much cash. Bank won’t cash checks.  We have to hold back on our rent.”

People in shelters in cities and smaller counties not affected by Harvey are also in a bind. If they take 
off the identification bracelet, they forfeit FEMA benefits. Chartian’s brother is in a shelter in Austin. “He has to abide by all rules. He lost everything. [More often than not, if a person is in a shelter, he or she] is going back.” 

“My mom lost everything, her apartment and car. She called us at 12 and my brother rescued her and took her to our sister’s house, so she is not eligible for assistance, even though her apartment is beyond repair. People who went to shelter get aide first. Even though his sister documented everything there is no funding to help her mother find another place.

There is a rumor Chartian says that Houston is not going to get the type of monetary aide requested until sometime next year. Some of his friends told him that they dropped donations off at a larger shelters, but were told not to bring anymore donations there. “They are trying to get people out of the shelters. It’s bad. They are giving people flu shots and tetanus
 shots if they were in the water.”

“Right now the death toll is at about 60+. The dive teams can’t go into some of the homes which are still underwater.  Some people chose to stay in their residences.  Addicks Reservoir [overflowed for the first time in history August 28.] Barker Dam was still cresting, so many residents there road out the storm; however, now they are turning the lights (releasing the pressure on the dam) [causing flooding].”

The presence of toxic and environmental hazards in residential communities are also of concern to Chartian, who recently became aware of a paint thinner facility not far from his home. There don’t seem to be any zoning laws or community input regarding the kinds of industries that can set up shop regardless of the danger to human life.

A member of the Self-Defense Family and Mandingo Warriors. “These groups fought for better treatment for our people behind bars [in Texas].” He said. “Living arrangements and better food were outcomes. Even though the Texas prison system don’t pay us for work, we have a great educated system.”

“We had to fight for these systems. There was segregation in prison. Lots of bloodshed. Coming home was a big accomplishment for me after serving 18 years, Dec. 14, 2016.”  He is in school studying for a barber’s license with plans to open a shop. His wife, TaRosalyn Reed, has a business, La'Roz Accessories, already making handbags.

The area where he lives in Harris County was not flooded, however, those with mansions near the reservoir are being flooded by the slow release of water. “A lot of areas are not going to be rebuilt.” He said.  Some areas of Houston have been “underwater for two weeks. So many people are displaced in areas like Southside Southeast Houston, Huntsville, Kingwood area, along the Interstate, in Rose Sharon – a river that runs through there, Liberty County.”

“Beaumont and Port Arthur are also flooded. There is no water.” He says his uncle took a big truck and went to rescue his niece who was stranded at a college there.

Earlier in the crisis parents were stuck without “milk, water, pampers.” One woman broke into a church for shelter. She and others rescued so many people she was seen as a hero, but she was willing to take the rap for breaking and entering if charges were pressed.

“The hurricane and flooding is taking a toll on the people.” Chartian said. He said the municipality is “preparing us for a 15 day black out.”

Monday, September 04, 2017

Economics of empire drowns Houston

Economics of empire drowns Houston

September 4, 2017
by Wanda Sabir

Houston Black United Front, in this building they own, is headquarters for Black relief. NBUF reports: “Update Friday, Sept. 1, 7:45 a.m. Today Friday, Saturday, Sunday starting 10:30 a.m. through 5 p.m. NBUF, 2428 Southmore Blvd, Houston 77004, along with allied formations, volunteers, community partners, will be accepting donations and deploying assets to targeted areas for clean-up and relief distribution. Wear appropriate clothing for work.” Check for more updates on Houston NBUF’s Facebook page.

As Houston Drowns

As Houston drowns
in storm of such force
as never before recorded
there is thunderous silence
in the press as to its cause
& silence, too, about
the same happening
in Bangladesh, India, Nepal,
Pakistan, Kashmir
due to the same cause.
Science is not silent though;
calling bread bread & wine wine,
it names the cause of climate change:
the economics of empire
with its scorn for the Earth,
with its technology for profit
fueled by the remains
of ancient forests & the life they bore
distilled in the dark entrails
of the Great Mother that birthed us
& now punishes our arrogance
to possibly heal herself
with our demise.
& the scoundrel fools that govern us
tweet on.
– © Rafael Jesús González 2017, Berkeley poet laureate

Houston’s encounter with Hurricane Harvey

The North American African’s visceral response to the Lone Star State, Texas, is complex, yet not complicated. If ever a geography was seeped in policies that inhibit the freedoms of Black and, more recently, Brown people, Texas is that state or should we say country? Like California, another country with a GNP reach beyond these shores means that what happens in Houston impacts the nation, whether citizens realize this or not.
Hurricanes are not unusual to the region, yet Hurricane Harvey dumped more water on the region than expected and caused much displacement and damage. The last monster hurricane to hit Houston was Ike in 2008. The prediction was that Ike was hundreds of miles wide. Winds at more than 100 mph. And – deadliest of all – the power to push a massive wall of water into the upper Texas coast, killing thousands and shutting down a major international port and industrial hub.
However in the wee hours of Sept. 13, just 50 miles offshore, Ike shifted course. The wall of water the storm was projected to push into the Houston area was far smaller than predicted – though still large enough to cause $30 billion in damage and kill at least 74 people in Texas. Ike remains the nation’s third-costliest hurricane after Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. According to journalists Neena Satija, Kiah Collier, Al Shaw and Jeff Larson in the excellent research piece, Hell and High Water (2016), Houston is a sitting duck waiting for the ‘perfect storm’ if it does not adequately prepare its infrastructure.

Hurricanes are not unusual to the region, yet Hurricane Harvey dumped more water on the region than expected and caused much displacement and damage.


Each year in the Bay Area and elsewhere, Black people celebrate Juneteenth, the day enslaved Africans learned they were free. Most Black people in the Bay Area, given migratory patterns, have folks in Texas. One of the larger U.S. territories, it features centrally in the heritage of many of us.
Houston, while no longer the capital of the state, as the fourth largest city in the nation, what happens in Houston impacts the continental U.S., especially environmentally. Houston’s manmade waterway is home to multiple refineries and chemical plants, which at this writing are reacting to the change in temperature.
In Crosby, East Harris County, at the Arkema pharmaceutical chemicals plant, trailers have exploded, are about to explode and are burning. Sunday, Sept. 3, the plant set the other trailers on fire to lessen the impact. Residents within 100 miles of the plants in Crosby remain evacuated; however, the environmental impact of the chemicals released in such infernos has not been addressed yet.
If the contaminates leak into the water, it could cause irreversible harm to the Galveston Bay wetlands and species there. Refineries, shut down Aug. 28, according to Forbes, have lost 2.2 million barrels per day of refining capacity, which means gas is going up and maybe airline tickets.

Houston, while no longer the capital of the state, as the fourth largest city in the nation, what happens in Houston impacts the continental U.S., especially environmentally. Houston’s manmade waterway is home to multiple refineries and chemical plants, which at this writing are reacting to the change in temperature.

Houston is also a cultural center, a place where there are historic Black communities, even Black townships, like East Liberty founded by the ancestors of San Francisco Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff. Historic Black neighborhoods affected by Harvey are, according to Afua Holt, Pacifica journalist: Pleasanton in the Fifth Ward, Greenpoint in the Northside, and Tidwell and Mesa areas in Northeast Houston.
As we watched the news forecast following Hurricane Harvey’s trajectory when it hit the state and cities surrounding Houston, the images and reports were unbelievable as the water kept rising higher and higher until at one point the entire city looked to be under water. Yet despite the massive flooding, according to the New York Times (Sept. 2), only 50 people across eight counties died compared to 1,833 in New Orleans. However, in Africa last month, floods killed 25 times the number of people killed by Hurricane Harvey, in multiple countries from Sierra Leone to DRC.

As we watched the news forecast following Hurricane Harvey’s trajectory when it hit the state and cities surrounding Houston, the images and reports were unbelievable as the water kept rising higher and higher until at one point the entire city looked to be under water.

Citizens from within and outside the state, stepped up and with boats, kayaks and other rescue equipment and saved hundreds of lives. As veteran Pacifica journalist, Afua Holt, stated in a recent interview Houston citizenry responded to the challenge posed by Harvey and continue to do so. Holt, who lost her house after Hurricane Ike damages grew prohibitive, is from Galveston Island, one of two natural ports in Texas. It is here that enslaved Africans were brought into the region. There and the port in New Orleans, she said.
Sam Houston, president of the Republic of Texas (1837), didn’t allow building in certain areas of Houston, state capital at that time, because of flood zones. However, Houston has no zoning and recent development has ignored this, requesting permission to develop areas like The Woodlands and Sugar Land. What’s crazy is developers selling people homes built in reservoirs. When the gates to the dam are closed, the water of course traps the families inside who have had to evacuate.
The Army Corps of Engineers, who by the way released water from breaching dams or levees, flooding the more affluent Houston suburbs, stated it was not aware if the homeowners knew what they were purchasing, but many developers knew. In other areas of Houston not known to flood, FEMA flood zone maps, which are not up to date, could have saved property damage and/or lives.
With the airports shut down until Aug. 31, some highways still impassible, post offices closed, Ben Taub, the largest hospital serving Houston’s more vulnerable community, also shut down during the storm, public schools delayed two weeks, one wonders about the capacity of the government to handle the growing crisis which is still not over as other storms approach and the water in the northern regions heads toward the Gulf.
Brother Kofi Taharka, chair of the Houston Black United Front, said they have teams going out daily surveying and helping Black residents both with assessment and direct service. Presently there is a list of items people can order online through an Amazon account. Money is also welcome and if anyone is interested in volunteering, that is also a possibility, especially skilled disaster workers. When I spoke to Brother Kofi, it seemed that if someone could staff a command station at the building HBUF owns, that might be helpful, but I would call first.
Dr. Robert King, Angola 3, told me that Malik Rahim and others were headed to Houston to help with the recovery efforts. Rahim, co-founder of Common Ground Relief, first responder to Hurricane Katrina devastation, hosted preliminary classes for volunteers before preparing to head out.

Six thousand prisoners in five Texas prisons were evacuated. This is the Ferguson Unit (Prison), where men are sleeping on the floor with “roaches, rats, ants & F’ing snakes! It’s hot as hell, no AC,” reports Nanon Williams, one of those men, to Gloria Rubac of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement.
I spoke to Gloria Rubac, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, also on Saturday. Rubac told me about a call from Nanon Williams, who was sent to death row as a child, the sentence later commuted to life, about the rising water outside the prison – drowned looking cars. He asked that she call the prison and tell them about the flooding. At first the prison officials denied his claims, and then with repeated calls Rubac and other concerned citizens forced the prison officials to respond to the pending crisis and move the men. Prior to Williams’ call to Rubac, there was no plan to relocate the men inside the Ramsey Unit in Rosharon, Texas.
The men were sent to different locations throughout the state. Williams, who was sent to Ferguson (north of Huntsville), told Rubac, It is hot as hell, no AC, and they are sleeping on the gym floor with roaches, rats, ants and f’ing snakes! Those who have their own little fans that TDCJ sells are not allowed to plug them in. They may be able to go to commissary on Tuesday but can only spend $10!
Rubac said, “This hurricane along with Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s un-planning for any disaster and their utter contempt for prisoners means a nightmare for those men and women locked in these concentration camps for the poor.”

Rubac said, “This hurricane along with Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s un-planning for any disaster and their utter contempt for prisoners means a nightmare for those men and women locked in these concentration camps for the poor.”

Women impacted

As in all disasters, the inequities based on race, class and gender become amplified. Oya Remi Ifalade, founder of the all-women organization Tribe of Power: Sisterhood Building a Nation and Connection shared in an interview Sept. 2 that TOP serves woman and children, many of the women, quite a few pregnant who were already homeless and living in their trucks before Harvey hit. The Star of Hope Shelter, on TOP’s list to visit, provided services to many of these women (and their partners) whose lives continue to be in jeopardy.

Tribe of Power is another organization worthy of your support:
Ifalade, Katrina survivor, artist, mother, says in the two days since the water receded and the roads opened, TOP has served about 1,000 pregnant women, children and babies in the Fifth Ward, Rockport area, and 59th and Tidwell. TOP set up in Valley Way at the Lakeview Apartments where they gave out formula, diapers, wipes and lunches. Tribe of Power bartered with a church in the area that was providing shelter but didn’t have food. For the bag lunches, TOP got infant formula, which was perfect. There was stories this week of mothers with children who were stranded without water and food.
Houston is one of the places Katrina survivors were sent after the flooding and many remained. For these same survivors to once again face such devastation is not easy. Ifalade says at first she hesitated before entering the flood damaged homes – she didn’t want to trigger the memories. She spoke of the dreams or nightmares –  floating bodies and water, lots of water. She says the first thing Houston volunteers smell is the raw sewage.
When Katrina hit, Ifalade was 21, pregnant with her now 12-year-old daughter. Her son, whose birthday is Monday, Sept. 4, was 1. She literally came of age during a tragedy which has certainly shaped her work. In school presently, studying to be a registered nurse, Ifalade, who is a trained emergency responder and a midwife, has a displaced family staying with her.
TOP, she says, has plans to secure housing for the mothers and their babies. For those who want to help, there is a fundraising campaign in progress now. The founder also stated that if anyone wants to send goods, to in-box the organization and someone will send the donor an address for shipping.
I asked Ifalade her assessment of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s handling of the emergency. She said if he’d called for massive evacuation, those who lived in areas like Beaumont and Port Arthur, cities along the coast, many with large Black populations, would not have been able to leave. Both cities were completely submerged.
When I spoke to Brother Kofi at HBUF, he said teams of volunteers were going further out as the roads opened to assess the needs of our people. The drinking water supply to these areas was also interrupted as Southeast Water Purification Plant failed.

Houston NBUF Hurricane Harvey relief volunteers are working daily to support Black Houston.

Hurricane Harvey, Sept. 1-2, 2017: Interview with National Black United Front (NBUF) National Chair Brother Kofi Taharka in Houston

Wanda Sabir: Were you affected by the flooding or were you in an area that was OK?
Brother Kofi Taharka: We were in an area that was OK. Third Ward … Houston has a lot of bayous, so some people close to the bayous got some water in their homes or apartments, but for the most part we were spared.
Pretty much all areas got touched some way or another, but some more so than others. We have a building we are using for distribution. Many brothers and sisters from a lot of organizations went out to some of the more impacted areas today, Sept. 1.
WS: The area they were in, and they were looking for African people, right?
KF: Yes. I guess you would call the area far Northeast Houston. That’s one area. But certainly our people are everywhere. I mean all over the place. When you look at the shelters, the ones in the city, you’re going to find a lot of us there, because those are people that have lost everything. And then they’re the most vulnerable, because they don’t have the resources like other people may have to go back to their apartment or to pack up and go to Dallas or stay with family or whatever, you know.
That’s one population and then you have some people are working class and older Black neighborhoods that were flooded and they need help gutting out the house. We did some of that work today as well as distributing relief items. It’s hard to get the full real assessment, in my opinion, because it’s still a dynamic situation, and you can’t depend on mainstream media, because the place is so big you can find pockets of people that are getting no media attention.
WS: I share a story I heard on the NPR about a family that was not rescued when the waters rose, who needed help this week, but the rescuers didn’t help them because they didn’t need to evacuate any longer. What they needed was food, water and money to pay their rent for September. The flooding meant the adults could not go to work and they had no money, because they had spent it on school uniforms.
The family decided to drive to Austin. It was better than sitting in the water damaged apartment.
KT: I haven’t verified for myself that people are being passed up. And this is the other thing Hurricane Harvey is having a regional effect. There are whole areas Beaumont and Port Arthur where there are lots of Black folks. The storm turned on Wednesday and instead of coming back to Houston it went over there. They’re like twin little cities. One of them was pretty much under water. I see the news but I’m not getting many on-the-ground reports from people.
Also the way things work here, that water, even though it might be north of us, ultimately it’s coming down to the Gulf of Mexico. Dams, streams, bayous, tributaries and they’ve been doing these so-called controlled releases. Neighborhoods that were fine wind up getting evacuation notices because the dam broke or bayou overflowed. That could be in Houston proper or surrounding geographic areas. So it’s really a trip trying to keep up with everything.
WS: What about the nuclear plant?
KT: I hear him ask one of his comrades: How far is Crosby from Houston? About 45 minutes? Maybe 30 minutes. Sixty miles or something.
When he returns to the conversation, he says: Someone from out of town let me know about that. Then I woke up the next morning and saw the reports on the news and saw the president of the company saying that it was a fire and not an explosion and that is no danger. So a reporter asked how do you know it’s no danger, and he said I really don’t know because the monitoring equipment got flooded out and it’s too dangerous to send in any people in there. Now I’m seeing on the news that something exploded. It’s hard to keep up with everything.
WS: They said they weren’t going to shut it down. I was just thinking about what happened in Japan and how we’re still feeling it on the West Coast. Sunday they did set fires to the rest of the trailers.
Taharka again speaks to his comrade. Is that an ammonia plant? They make plastics.
When he returns to our conversation, he says: This whole area is full of chemical plants, plus the oil – and you know the gas prices have shot up. There were people trying to get here from Dallas and they’re having a hard time getting gas. The gas is $2-plus to $5 a gallon.
WS: Wow. Is your airport open? Can people fly in?
KT: It’s like incremental progress in terms of mobility by car or by any mode of transportation. I think both airports are back open. Every day is something new because it’s fluid. I don’t think either one of them are at full scale.
WS: How many organizations are there focused on the Black community?
KT: I was saying the ones that are working with us are about six. Some of them are small community-based organizations. Some community centers in the African Community focus on our people by and large. The Nation of Islam here has a very vibrant mosque. There’s the Shape Community Center. There’re quite a few we have a good connection with. This is in addition to the groups that have been out there with us providing the people power over the past few days.
WS: So what’s going on with the disabled people? Were people able to get to them? And get some out of their houses? And help them with assistive technology? That’s really hard and these kinds of disasters people that are in wheelchairs. People that are blind. People that are elderly.
KT: That’s in some of the reports that came back today. They’re gutting out the houses – basically take the carpet out, take all the furniture, all of that out of the house. The house belonged to a person in a wheelchair. He had been stuck in that filthy house after the water went down. I want to say they had about 50 brothers and sisters out there today. They were really going in and taking everything out of his house. I don’t know in terms of an aggregate or something, because all I have is anecdotal information now.
In response to my question about more people to contact, he has Sister Oya Remi Ifalade from Tribe of Power call me when she returns from the field. She shares with me a list of organizations who are affiliated with TOP and BUF: Houston Unity Tribe, The Black List, Long Distance, The Houston Museum of African American Culture, Ile Orunmile Shango, Osun Golden Harvest Temple.
What is the weather like now? I ask.
KT: It was cooling off because of the rain, but now it’s getting hot and humid again. It is coming back to our normal August-September weather. One of the things we’ve been doing through Amazon is fundraising. People have been ordering things and having them shipped to us.
What came back from the field today was in that particular area people need a lot of cleaning supplies. That makes sense like bleach and stuff? You got to deal with that water damage or that mold will set in. People all over the country sent them, but we just got them today because UPS and FedEx are back up and running.

6:30 the following morning

NBUF posted this message on Facebook Sept. 1 with this photo: We’re excited to announce that we have starting to receive your donations from our Amazon Wishlist! We got our first FedEx delivery this morning! THANK YOU! Today we are sorting through donations at 2428 Southmore Blvd., Houston, TX 77004, and will begin distribution to those in need TODAY! We will be here FRIDAY, SATURDAY & SUNDAY, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. To donate, click
WS: Last night you gave me an overview of the situation. The Black United Front of Houston is working with some allies.
KT: It’s probably around 8 or 9. Supporters can look over at the Amazon wish list and select items from the list and have them shipped to us.
WS: Malik Muhammad’s name is on the flier. I learn he is the national vice chair for organizing and training for the National Black United Front and that Brother Kofi is the national chairman.
I ask him to tell us a bit about the National Black United Front?
KT: It is a community organization that started in 1980 in Brooklyn, New York. Malcolm talked about a concept of ‘the united front.’ Kwame Ture and others before them too. NBUF in 1980 was a grassroots, kind of like an umbrella organization for the different formations.
We still operate on the principle that no one person can speak for the entire Black community. We’re not so much an umbrella organization as a member organization with just different chapters in different cities. The kind of work that we have done over these years has ranged from international, national to local work that falls under the general direction of self-determination. A lot of it has been social justice activism, police terrorism, death penalty, prison industrial complex, housing discrimination, being advocates in our community, programming.
On an international level, we organize with other groups: the We Charge Genocide campaign in 2001. We went to Durban, South Africa, with the Durban 400. And that was around the crack cocaine piece. You may know Rev. Herbert Daughtry of Brooklyn, N.Y.? He was the first national chairman. Then Dr. Conrad Worrill was the national chairman out of Chicago for about 25 years. I can go on and on. I have been in the organization for 25 years myself. I was a young then, Wanda. They are trying to call me an elder-in-training now (laughter).
All are self-sufficient. In Houston, we have an Independent African School on Saturday, a community garden, a feeding program and support for political prisoners.
In answer to my question about San Francisco Bay NBUF organizers, Taharka says: Years ago Dr. Oba T’Shakawas affiliated with the NBUF. He is actually one of the founding members in 1980. For a long time, he was a representative in the [San Francisco Bay Area] and for a long time had a cadre to organize and work under that banner.
WS: Across the country and internationally, how many organizations are there.
KT: I am not going to answer that question. I told people, Wanda is going to ask me an intelligence question. We aren’t that big, but we have a large body of work behind us. What I say is the people who know don’t say and the people who say don’t know. We have some representation in about 10 cities.
WS: I was speaking to Brother Mullah, writer, activist, whom I met at the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 19, who said that given what happened in Houston with Hurricane Harvey, we needed to develop a way to respond as a community to disasters – similar to how Malik Rahim’s Common Ground Relief organization responded to Hurricane Katrina.
The city of New Orleans discounted on the 10th anniversary what Common Ground Relief did, but the grassroots organizations recognized its importance and honored Malik for his leadership. CGR saved peoples’ lives and established institutions like a health clinic that is still serving the needs of the Algiers community to date. CGR was all volunteer, like the Black Panther Party’s programs for the people.
Malik Rahim, founding member of the New Orleans chapter of the Black Panther Party, says CGR came from BPP organizing strategies. Similarly, CGR did not get any municipal support. They were successful with setting up long term housing for women and children, setting up a One Stop Center for people to use phones to get in touch with their loved ones to let them know they were OK, use computers, get a set of clothes, find resources and services, get transportation to other locations.
I was just thinking of the National Black United Front as a first responder to save our people. And you mentioned that Houston is so huge.
KT: We have Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest. But in the city, it’s an old way that they don’t use officially that I know of because that is how it used to be. It’s by wards, kind of like New Orleans. It’s so much larger than New Orleans and the dynamics of disasters and emergencies are somewhat different. I will say that the area that we are in was not maximally impacted. We’re in southeast.

Still working at twilight, Houston NBUF volunteers – people helping people – hand out supplies sent by people far away responding to their Amazon wishlist, at Donate today.
Volunteers went out to Northeast Houston where people were flooded out of their houses. They actually caravanned. To be most effective, we need a minimum of four teams when we talk about disaster or emergency response. People have been trained either from an independent African-centered perspective and like survival training or from a combination of is called the community emergency response teams. This has something to do with government training that is supposed to be community based. Some of the people I have spoken to are frustrated because it is hard to get enough people to focus on that outside of when there’s an emergency.
Everybody wants to talk about it now, [however], we were talking about [being prepared] after Katrina. Two hundred thousand of our people came here to Houston. There are so many familiar paths between Houston, Texas, and New Orleans, Louisiana. People have certainly been taking it more seriously but nowhere near what you would say is the capacity to deal with the sheer numbers of people they were talking about here. Houston has over 2 million people in a metropolitan area. Maybe 3-4 million people. This region has maybe 6 million people. New Orleans may have been about half a million people. All of those dynamics play into how you organize.
Certainly, people have been focusing on this type of organizing. The question is capacity. It’s easy to say we need to do for self. I saw that in Katrina, Wanda. When we’re seeing buses of our people coming here and we’re saying, “Oh! What are we going to do?”
Food, clothing, shelter, safety, security. What do we actually control? What do we control so that they don’t have to go to the Astrodome and depend on government assistance? As they say. it’s real in the field. That’s the real deal beyond rhetoric, ideology. Wait a minute. What can we do? Like you say, what do we have in place?
I’m saying we should consistently build our capacity. When you’re organizing that way, as you know, then it’s not just about disasters, you are organized to do anything that you want to do. Don’t get me to preaching. (Brother Taharka, a D.C. native, laughs). I have preachers in my background.
WS: I mention the People’s Community Medics founded in 2011 by Sharena Thomas and Lesley Phillips here in the Bay Area in 2011. PCM do free trainings and also travel to areas in the country that need support like Standing Rock. Their expertise is in supporting those who are resisting the government and might get hurt through the counter attacks by police specifically: tear gas, cluster bombs, gunfire, etc.
KT: I think I have seen it on Facebook.
WS: What do you need?
KT: People Power is always helpful, but the needs may change depending upon the dynamics of the situation. Our target area is just one particular area. It is very large. Anytime there is water damage there is a consistent need for volunteers to clean and gut houses. However, one of the challenges is making sure that we are able to get to and locate those particular communities. Specific focus is locating those African people. We deal with all of humanity and we won’t turn anyone down, but we are searching and seeking out our communities specifically. Before I would tell a thousand people to come here for that particular purpose, I want to make sure we continue to get more information about where people are and where people stand and those particular situations.
And then there’s another population who have lost everything and might not be able to return to their apartments or living spaces. Most of those people are in shelters, major, big city shelters. There’s been a tremendous outpouring of support: donations and volunteer help for people who are staying at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the Toyota Center and other county and city facilities. I don’t know where those people are going to be because it keeps changing. They might just need some clean underwear and socks and something to eat at this stage for them. Ultimately, they’re going to need mid-range and long-range assistance and that’s where you see entities allegedly like FEMA. Where are they going to be placed?
We’re learning more every day. We’re constantly assessing what it is our target population needs the most in a given time and in a given area. I am leery of mainstream media, but I have to depend on it to get a certain level of information, because I haven’t been around the entire city. I really like to speak from facts. Something that people are reporting directly or that I am seeing myself.
I would say that Houston is getting all this attention and the surrounding areas – these are not suburbs – that are 30, 40 minutes, an hour or more away are not getting the same level of media focus or resource focus. I think I mentioned to you Port Arthur and Beaumont. These two areas have large African American populations. All I know is what I see in the media coverage. I don’t have any on the ground verification of where things stand there. There will be assessment and deployment into areas like this as the needs change for people.
WS: Would you say the Black United Front is like headquarters or a command post for deployment to areas like Port Arthur and Beaumont? You and the collaborating teams come together to work out the most effective plans to address the multiple needs of Black communities across the region?
KT: Yes. We were able to send people out into Houston to identify target populations. We spent three days gathering information as we organized donations and arranged deployment of people power to one particular area. That’s what we did yesterday, that’s we’re doing today and what we’re doing tomorrow (Sept. 1-3). We have not reached the capacity to go beyond that.
I’m mentioning Beaumont and Port Arthur because I know it’s happening. Once we finish our current operation, we will do more assessment and deployment. We’re not a total clearing house; there are number of Black roofs but I’ve been a bit too overwhelmed to be in good communication with all of them to see what they are doing. My brother told me that there are some people who have gone to Beaumont and Port Arthur. (Brother Taharka at this time has not been able to verify this or learn what they found there.)
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at Visit her website at throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at