Monday, February 03, 2020

30th Annual Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry, Sat., Feb. 1, 2020

The 30th Anniversary of the Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry at the West Oakland Library, Sat., Feb. 1, was really awesome. It was like old times, that is, lots of folks in the audience. Lots of young people, young men and children came to listen. I wrote a new poem for the ancestors who keep us inspired and lifted up. I got lots of flowers and even a tee-shirt with buttons from a friend who was in town from New York. He and his wife used to live here. Raymond Nat Turner. Yep, that is the name his mother named him. She was a revolutionary mama who fed him the 10-Point program for breakfast -- 

LaQuita, a lovely artist from the African American Quilters Association brought three quilts to share with us. I brought some of my framed photos of scenes from Mali, Gambia and Senegal to share and to decorate the room. I started the program with a poetic libation. It was a new poem I was really excited to share.

We had so much food-- I hear the shrimp cocktail was a hit. The cake was too, both the chocolate and the vanilla. I didn't have to tell the people more than once to help themselves. Gene Howell, Juanita Alexander and her husband Reginald were so helpful setting up the refreshments. When Khalilah El Amin arrived with the sandwiches the table was already set.  All the food looked appetizing and festive.

The poetry, oh my goodness . . . so celebratory of our people's greatness. We were inspired. People left lifted and ready for more, whatever it takes to keep their heads up and their minds focused on what counts. It was like family sitting around telling stories of what we did to get where we are, just in case we forgot. Sometimes we do forget the milestones, especially when surrounded by people who don't know our legacy.

Everyone present knew the legacy and this was a moment to stop and just sit in memory-- let memory cascade over out heads and land in places we'd forgotten exists. I didn't know everyone, but I knew a lot of those present. My only regret is that one of the poets had to leave before she could share her poem. I hope she will allow us to put it in our 30 Anniversary Anthology and share it at our book launch.

Here is the program and some of the photos I took. Brother Khalid videotaped the program for us, so once it is available, I will embed a link.

30th Annual Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry @the West Oakland Library, 1801 Adeline Street

Theme: 400 Years of African American History re: Californian’s African American Pioneers

Dedication: To all the words spilled in this room that grew wings and sailed home; to all the poets who graced the stage, danced their words into the ether spaces there now and forever after. . . . We thank you for consecrating this ground with your lives. May we keep walking in your lexicon. . . . Happy Birthday Langston Hughes (Feb. 1, 1902 – May 22, 1962).

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Program:

Ms. Wanda Sabir, emcee     
Libations . . . 1990-2020 

AndrĂ© Le Mont Wilson --
This Plot; Ghost

Nicia De'Lovely – The Apology;
a song: “Hold On Change Is Comin’”

Ann Marie Davis – Ourselves Walking; We Digress
Avotcja, poet


Audience Guests

Damu Sudi Alii aka Albert Griffin, Jr. – “Song of Somaya”;  “Naomi” (My Pleasantness), and “Revenge”
Steve McCutchen – The Price of Yesterday
for Mumia

Eric W. Davis aka Sami A. Mateen
  --“Keep on Living”; Little Brother

Douglas “Katabatzi” Coleman –
“I want to write a poem”

Zakiyyah Capehart Bolling and Bryant Bolling— "Can I get an Amen". Bryant will sing, "Amen", "This Old Hammer", and " Trying to make Heaven my Home.

Vaughn Boatner – “Remember Me”

Karla Brundage – “America I Am Leaving You”;
“The Revolution Will Be Televised”

Charles Curtis Blackwell
“Ambiance of the East Transplanted in Oakland” 

Gene Howell, Jr. – Setting a Black Table

Tracee Coltes with family and friends

Makeda Esi –  “The Night before Christmas”
& In the Midnight Hour 

Donald "C-Note" Hooker  -- Journey to African Futurism

Hassaun Ali Jones Bey
– Interpretation of a Thomas A. Dorsey song

Tracee Coltes, featured poet

Mama Makeda Esi, poet with guests: Makmud Murray and Ms. Emma

Closing of Featured Program Selection

The closing poem honors Langston Hughes's birthday. We were to recite it together, but it was after 4 p.m. and we ran out of time. "Let America Be America Again" sums up the theme, 400 Years of  African American History. After 400+ years why is "belonging" still a question American descendants of Africans enslaved in what is now the United States of America, have to contemplate? 

"Let America Be America Again"
By Langston Hughes - Feb. 1, 1902- May 22, 1967

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the
Shawna Sherman, poet
dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
Vaughn Boatner, Damu Sudi Alii and Garrett Murphy
Steve McCutchen, poet, with Baba Ustadi and Baba Saa Shem
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

Audience enjoys performances
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

Andre Wilson, his partner and Nicia DeLovely and
Avotcja enjoy the performances
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Guests enjoy the program

Abdul Kenyatta, poet, storyteller
Garrett Murphy, poet
Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

Karla Brundage, poet with Thamsanqa Hlatywaya
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,                                                                                 
Raymond Nat Turner is now living in NY. He's in CA
to for a few performances and to have a day, Feb. 25,
in Berkeley named in his honor. Visit
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

Open Mic:  Please sign up in advance. Guests can perform 1 poem. If you are a child, let me know I will try to fit you in earlier between sets.

Dr. Juanita Alexander and Mr. Reginald Alexander
Help yourself to refreshments throughout the program which will not have an intermission. Bathrooms are off the lobby.


Thanks so much to the City of Oakland, Mathew Berson, Public Information Officer OPL and to Kathleen Hirooka (Marion) his predecessors. Thanks also to the City of Oakland’s Cultural Arts Division for the Individual Artist Grant to publish the Anthology.

A special shout out once again to Poet Ancestors in the room today; to the West
Audience Guests
Oakland Library staff past and present for 30 years of support, especially the branch managers and library aides and other staff from Veronica Lee to Christine Saed, Kathy, Giovanna Capote, Don Waters, Robert, Jesus . . . to MayGay Ducey to Susy Moorehead. Thanks Rebecca Highland and other WOL staff for taking up the mantel this year.

Thanks also to volunteers especially: Karla Brundage for making the copies, Aqueila M. Lewis with Karla for being the point persons today for the Anthology; Khalilah El Amin for registration; and to Mr. and Mrs. Reginald and Juanita Alexander for the generous donations (food); Gene Howell Jr. for the beverages and the lovely table and altar; to the Friends of Oakland Public Library for their generous donation for refreshments each year, and of course to the genius of the artists and word smiths in the room and in the stars above. Ashay, Ashay, Ashayo and so it is.

Audience Guests
Poetry Anthology Submissions accepted through February—beginning today. We’d like the work in today’s program to be in the book.

Please complete the program evaluation. Also, if you shared work today, make sure you complete the release form and give us your contact information so we can get a copy of your poem for the Anthology.

Stay in touch. Visit We love video and photos. Send to or 510-255-5579 (text, VM). You can also drop here at the library.

There is a binder with poetry and photos from years past. We also have poets’ included in the program who are not able to be with us physically because they are behind bars. We want to be inclusive of all Black community, especially those persons who are forgotten, voices often silenced by physical distance and very real barriers that have been erected to keep us apart. C-Note and Sami Mateen are joining us this year. You can read more work at:

Ms. Alice Aziza Jefferson, teacher, with Akili Dance Ensemble (in front).
The company has classes at Lil Bobby Hutton (deFremery Park) across the street 
We open the program with "Lift Every Voice and Sing"
by James Weldon Johnson, 1871 - 1938. This year Hassaun Ali Jones Bey and Ann Marie Davis lead.

Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

James Brooks, Muhammad Hanif, Raymond Nat Turner
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

Gene Howell, Jr. and Avotcja, both featured poets
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.


Hassaun Ali Jones Bey and volunteer

Nicia DeLovely, poet

Bryant Bolling and Zakiyyah Capehart Bolling (R) with other poets 

Audience Guests
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

From Saint Peter Relates an Incident by James Weldon Johnson. Copyright © 1917, 1921, 1935 James Weldon Johnson, renewed 1963 by Grace Nail Johnson. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.

All photos (c) Wanda Sabir. All rights reserved. 

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