Amistad Fall/Winter 2010
Howard University’s Amistad Literary Journal Fall/Winter 2010 Editors Faculty Advisor Dr. Tony Medina Managing Editor Khalid Rashid Muhammad Reviews/Interviews Editor Zahra Gordon Poetry Editors Ife-Chudeni Oputa Kimberly Curtis Fiction Editors Andrew Wattley Britney Wilson Nonfiction Editor Olubunmi Audifferen
Thanks go to Dr. Dana Williams, Chair of the Department of English, for her support with this issue and to Dr. Tony Medina and his Poetry Workshop class for aiding in composing and reviewing Amistad Cover Art by Félix Ángel "Ridge" 1990 Fom the "Mountain" Series Mixed media on acid free board 20 x 16 inches
Editor’s Note Dear Reader, It has been a wisdom-laden journey to set Amistad on its course toward liberation, to let free creative thoughts against a continuous struggle. The year is 2010, and sometimes it feels that conditions we face today aren‘t too far a cry from 1839. We‘ve made progress past forced physical labor, made gallant strides in the fight for equality, have gained the tools to work toward continued freedom, but there are still battles we must address within and out into the world we share in our day-to-day struggle toward progression. The dreams of our youth will always carry us to our future. These dreams scream for change, progression, and adaptation. Sometimes reality feels nightmarish by what we see on our televisions, in our newspapers, from the mouths of some of our leaders. In these troubling times, a clear mind is necessary to deal with such issues as oil spills in the Gulf Coast, neglected communities, religious tension, and let‘s not forget this thing called race. It‘s enough to make one want to go mad. Stay cool. There is still a struggle many of us face, but let‘s remember that the year is 2010, not 1965 or 1839. Maybe our dreams really scream for balance, maybe peace. It is a great honor to release Amistad in these times. Contained within this issue are wise sentiments from important writers and thinkers, as well as fresh energy from a new generation of creative minds. What are words if they do not have a net effect of proactive improvement, and a will to survive and thrive? One idea that is necessary in these times is logic over emotion. We hope this issue restores a voice deep inside to speak out against injustice and motivates many to meet conflicts head on and to fight for what is right, true, and good. There is material in this issue that will bring tears, anger, smiles, and, ultimately, thought. An old ship carrying slaves named La Amistad (meaning ―friendship‖) was the stage of a revolt led by an African captive named Sengbe Pieh (known by many in the United States as Joseph Cinque) from Havana to Puerto Principe, Cuba. There were around 60 captives on this ―friend ship‖ who fought to take back their freedom and return to their homeland, Africa. 3
These captives were illegally taken from Africa to Cuba aboard the slave ship Tecora prior to boarding La Amistad. It was on July 2, 1839, that the revolt took place, which after a court case in Connecticut and an appeal to the Supreme Court in 1841 resulted in their being sent back home to Africa.
Amistad uses this true-life narrative as inspiration to continue to struggle toward good, love, and equality. Change is hard, but it takes a strong, honest, and sincere heart to effect positive progression. Do remember the value of community, and also that it is much healthier to smile and enjoy the ride than to go off the deep end. We hope you are not only entertained by this issue, but inspired to friendship. Peace, Khalid Rashid Muhammad Managing Editor, Amistad September 8, 2010
Contents 8 Takiyah Harper A Simple Prayer 9 Tony Medina Rumsfield Confesses in a Mosque in Harlem 14 Parneshia Jones Auto-Correcting History 16 harold terezón el salvador, 1986 17 Anais Strickland untitled 18 Interview Humanity & Empowerment: In Conversation With Sonia Sanchez 26 Philip Lucas Morning Haiku Review 28 Meilani Clay affirmation 29 Lamont B. Steptoe No Body Knew My Name 30 James Shields The Last Supper 31 Amiri Baraka Our Victories Give Our Enemies Strengths 33 Dr. Brenda Greene Acceptance Speech for International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent 38 Britney Wilson Poet for All Black Women: The Legacy of Carolyn Rodgers 40 Khalid Rashid Muhammad The Fifth Inning: One Voice Crying in the Wilderness 44 Félix Ángel Obsession 45 John Reynolds III Freedom Blues 46 Kimberly Curtis Nat Turner: Unsung Hero or Murderer? 49 James Shields Lil‘ Boy June 50 Song Zijiang aubade 51 Vanesa Evers Shaping Memories, Book Review 54 Zahra Gordon Tribute to Lucille Clifton 55 Kirsten Hemmy Anniversary 56 Omore Okhomina (O.O) Kwansaba for Lucille 57 Khalíd Rashíd M. Pirate Sublime 58 Leslie Robertson Toney Connected to the Divine 59 Carlton Curtis Cries from the Grass
65 Marita Phelps Lift the needle and watch it all unwind 66 Harry J. Elam Jr. My Brother, Gang Starr‘s Guru 69 Kimberly Curtis Jamaica‘s Nanny 70 Kevin Estrada Pedestrian Dilemma 71 Nolan Chase What‘s Goin On??? 72 Philip Lucas Yes, Black People Live Here 73 Jeffery Walker Soundtrack of my life 74 John Reynolds III Black Check 75 Colleen J. McElroy The Memory of Skin 77 Zahra Gordon Wheels of Love: Nikki Giovanni‘s Bicycles Review 80 James Shields Resuscitation 81 Daniel Gallant Onstage at the Nuyo 83 Ricardo “Chef” Noel Trapped (R.I.P. Derrion Albert) 84 Aziza Kinteh Reciprocity 85 Brenda Connor-Bey Reading Signs 86 Andrew Bovasso Loews Theater, Jersey City 87 Lisa Louie Hallelujah Ghost 94 M. Nzadi Keita Anna‘s Arithmetic 95 Nolan Chase Her Move 96 Khalid Rashid M. Freedom Blues 97 Nicole Williams Spiritual Detox 98 Gerardo Pacheco If You Ever Visit Huhi 100 Roland C. Barksdale From Dreams of Enslaved Ancestors to Africatown, Alabama
107 Fletcher Williams Box Office 1 108 Tony Robles Feathers 114 Nolan Chase In Studio 115 Tia Coles Gift 116 Lamont B. Steptoe Tribute to Dennis Brutus 121 M. Nzadi Keita Unsent Letter to Delaney 122 Lauren “Sunset” Croom For Those Without an Umbrella 6
123 Fﾃｩlix ﾃ］gel Football Player 124 Jonathan B. Tucker Djali Come Save Me 126 Leslie Robertson Toney Ocean and Earth. Tobago, West Indies 127 Alexis K. Barnes Funeral Services for Dorothy I. Height 134 Contributors 142 Editors
A Simple Prayer -Takiyah Harper We are no longer property so we can‘t be protected dejected and rejected by a country that doesn‘t want us here without shackles so they bind us mentally blind us to their sinister deeds fueled by greed and hate our sons cannot breathe free in this rancid air lingering with malevolence tears pour from my heart to quench anger‘s thirst for our daughters who will never know love because lust greeted them first why? why must my race wear the back brace from carrying the rest of the world? we refuse to come together so we struggle separately no one cares to save the race that spawned humanity I plead insanity as we kill each other Just so we can breathe this rancid air that reeks of malevolence So I exhale for those who can‘t for those overcrowded on this earth waiting for heaven or hell to come
looking for heaven because hell reigns on earth after 400 years they still treat us like serfs over populating the lower class so everyone else can live the American dream no dreams here just nightmares of police that spew lead into the backs and heads of our youth this world breeds so much pain and how many black men must be slain before the value of black life depreciates? But appreciation of black life starts with the community they‘ve divided us so much but that‘s what we used to be we are the chosen people and it‘s for this reason that we suffer acting as a buffer between misery and elation with both knees to the ground I extend my arms to God where is our Moses as we wait for salvation? If we must continue to suffer and be branded with shame please lord, don‘t let it all have been in vain Amen. 8
Rumsfeld Confesses in a Mosque in Harlem -Tony Medina
Tinsel Clown Although I don‘t usually admit it I‘m a closet fan of Barry Manilow Liberace, Jim Nabors & Pathmark cheeses. Sometimes, when I‘m Feeling frisky, I stalk the lingerie isles Of Bloomingdales or Victoria Secrets Running my sweaty palms along the Lower backs of mannequins in Glow-in-the dark lace tinsel tasseled things. I fancy myself a latter-day J. Edgar Hoover in red satin Pumps & purple lamé—a devil in a blue dress Clarence Thomas ain‘t got shit On these hairy hips! II I hate it when they call me Rummy. III
Viagra Falls I always wanted the kind of girl That stalked me in my sleep With a tall glass of champagne thigh & a lemon slice of thong I always wanted the kind of girl That would obliterate Viagara from Stock market scales & 9
CVS pharmacy shelves I always wanted a girl that could sail From my mind to my bed at any given time Who could rhyme who could rhyme As she stepped to my mic, amplifying the Ecstatic operatic Figaro! Figaro! Figaro! In me like an early morning shower Of steaming hot water & Irish Spring I always wanted a girl I could take home To Mama in her birthday pajamas A girl who‘d drool with glazed donut eyes While she navel gazed in front of the tellie Instead I get someone who grates On my nerves with a squeaking, Fingernails-across-the-chalkboard Voice of insecurity & paranoia Don‘t get me wrong, I don‘t need A girl who‘s Martha Stewart, Julia Childs, Wolfgang Puck or Chef Boyardee But somebody slipped me a Blow-up doll whose head is like a sieve Who agrees with all my vile pornographic pleas Who lives life on her hands & knees Oh please Oh please, don‘t send me A Republican a Democrat a Liberal A shithead or a flake Don‘t send me Condoleeza Rice With weapons of mass destructions Smeared over her red white & blue Black tits & pitchfork thighs I want someone familiar with 10
My little white lies IV
Barney‘s Drawers If I were on a Reality TV show I‘d be sure to perambulate Among the raw quartered bovine Screaming blooding murder From the mouths of freezers Like wounded soldiers in a foxhole Climb onto the frozen foods bin Obliterate each fancy smancy Name brand individually sliced Lump of pasteurized cheese with my Grandmother‘s false teeth Gyrate in purple Barney drawers Violently hump the refrigerated Supermarket atmospheric pressure Crawling along my jaw Until I got sick & shit my drawers Until I was beat down by nightsticks Of the nightshift security crew Dragged out like Blanche DuBois By the paramedics, always relying on The kindness of strangers V
Allergies Apologies, Nah Son, Suck on These I can‘t talk about peace without crying Non-violent resolutions make my eyes itch I‘m allergic to reason The only logic I know comes from The rude end of a big stick The barrel of a gun 11
We Bombed in Baghdad
Should be the condolence In the program at my wake My tombstone‘ll read like a mandate: Grim & Pallbear it! Can this really be Why I get the big bucks Bringing video games to life? Where are my glass slippers? Who will drink out of them Once my clawed, corn-on-the-cob Hamhock bunioned feet are Sandblasted free of them This is what I contemplate At night of late The taste of her skin Clothes I took from the dead Songs that remind me of junior high ―God Bless America‖ ―Born on the Fourth of July‖
Don‘t cry dry your eye… Don‘t push me ‗cause I‘m close To the edge, I‘m tryin not to lose My head…it‘s like a jungle Sometimes it makes me wonder How I keep from going under— Huh huh-huh huh huh-huh Where does it come from This hunger to masticate The shins of A-rab elementary School girls? When I had the chicken pocks I rolled them in my blanky & Sent them to the last reservation 12
Standing Would you have loved me More or less had I kept them To myself I care I share I know what it‘s like To go without Hell, the china in my grandmother‘s Cupboards was made out of Styrofoam & plastic I have feelings I hurt The last words my mother said to me After she polished off her last Bottle of O.E. was—
I‘m drinking to blot you out!
Where‘s my jockstrap? Where‘s my jockstrap?
Before she keeled over Face first into a puddle Of her own vomit Can this really be my life? Where are my glass slippers? Where are my glass slippers? You know In our house We were never with clothes
Auto-correcting History (for President Barack Obama ) -Parneshia Jones Spell check does not recognize this name –yet. It tries, with a red underline alert, to tell me that this is wrong, that my letters are misplaced, leading my complicated PC, with its perfect vocabulary, to believe no such same name exists. It offers suggestions to fix what history has already confirmed. These letters, round-about, with all their beautiful curves and angles, their intricate folds forming perfect Bs and As and the roundest O, shaping a name that has awakened us all. Barack and Obama cause key stroke duels between my auto-correct and me. Not willing to give up, it plugs in Brick and Abeam, trying to hold on tight to its King‘s English. This name isn‘t a mistake. No slip of the keys on my part. No half asleep or dazed typing, no hurry rush of tidal wave words and wonder. Every letter in this name comes with purpose. Each key stroke is meant. I highlight the name, click ―add to dictionary‖. I auto-correct my spell check. 14
It must be understood the he exists, that we exist. We are real and breathing. We are hungry and re-writing dictionaries. We are poets and presidents. We have made it known that his name, our names, every Black letter birthed from the blinking cursor is permanent and correct.
el salvador, 1986 -harold terez贸n
their sky vanished before they knew whose god triumphed, inhaled the earth, & heard the air explode
Anais Strickland untitled
Humanity & Empowerment: In Conversation With Sonia Sanchez
On a rainy day in March, which was already jam-packed for Dr. Sonia Sanchez with radio interviews and a book event for her latest release Morning Haiku, Amistad Journal had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the poet, professor, and activist; and we didn't just listen; we were in awe of her wisdom. Khalid Muhammad: It wasn‘t until I read your book that I heard of Brother Damu. Is there anything you would like to say about him? Sonia Sanchez: That poem actually sums up Damu because he was all of that. He was one of the few black people besides myself that actually got involved in the peace movement, and he did it down here from a black perspective. Every time I saw him, he was dapper. I mean you could say he looks sharp, he looked cool, but dapper was the word for him. I mean smooth, silk-toned dapper, you know. And I was searching for closure for that piece, and I remember once he brought me down to do a program for him for Peace and there were actually some people at that conference asking me why did I involve myself with peace, really, when there were so many other issues that affected black folk. Tony Medina: The interesting thing is that when Askia [Touré] was in town last spring he talked about how you guys were the first ones to basically go out to San Francisco and create black and African American studies in the late 60s. Zahra Gordon: Yeah, in Dr. Jamie Walker‘s class she lectured us on your teaching one of the first African American studies classes with the feds monitoring it. And my question would be, since you‘re not only a poet, but a political activist and that the personal is political, how do you write about painful experiences? Is it healing? Or hard? SS: Well, I think there are two questions there. One is that I‘m not a revisionist, so when I went out to San Francisco State to teach the first African American studies course I didn‘t know what we were doing. I knew I had come through the university and never seen myself except from the negative point of view. That much I knew. I wasn‘t crazy, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of something that would change that for any African American student or any kind of student. What we were doing is that we were putting the African back on the world stage, and we started doing that in the university where you have 18
all kind of literature in there and people would study everybody‘s literature but not ours at all. We didn‘t have any books so what the students did is that they mimeoed Cane, Souls of Black Folk, all these books, Richard Wright. Our hands were a constant blue. Langston Hughes‘s poetry, they mimeoed, Marcus Garvey‘s book that he had done years before. When you came to the class we‘d have probably three syllabi, but they were all mimeoed, there were no books. I was home one Wednesday because I was not teaching that day and there was a knock on my door, and it was my landlord, he said, ―Professor Sanchez there are two men who want to see you,‖ and I opened the door and a guy went ―FBI FBI,‖ and I said, ―Oh, is something going on down the street. And he screamed out loud and said, ―You‘re teaching Dubois, Garvey, Hughes, Wright.‖ And I‘ll tell you how naïve I was, I said, ―Yes. It‘s black literature.‖ KM: What year was this? SS: 1967. And he looked at me like duh, are you insane? Don‘t you get it? And you know how when you‘re in a foreign country and people don‘t understand what you‘re saying you begin to speak slowly. I began to say slowly, ―Yes. I teach black literature. I teach Dubois, Garvey. Because you can‘t do it without them.‖ And he turned to my landlord and said, I‘ll never forget it, ―You should put her out of this house. She‘s one of those militants on campus.‖ And I‘m still struggling as to why this man is so concerned about me teaching Souls of Black Folk, the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, Richard Wright, all these people. I‘m still trying to figure out what‘s the deal here. The landlord said, ―Well, I‘m gone Professor Sanchez, I think I‘m finished here.‖ Snow (a dog given to Professor Sanchez as a present) came and sat next to me and looked up at the guy, and this guy was still furious; he was red in the face. The other guy stood still as dank water. He did not move. He didn‘t move his head to the left or right; he just stood there looking. And he put his hand in my face and said, ―I said you‘re teaching…‖ And Snow went for him, jumped up in his face and he said, ―Lady, get your dog.‖ And I said, ―Snow…‖ Actually, I said Snow with a new appreciation. Snow stilled, and he never took his eyes off that guy. And finally I said to him, ―Hey, I have nothing more to say and you keep saying the same thing over and over again.‖ So I opened the door, and I said goodbye, and he was fuming as I went out, but I petted Snow for the first time, and I said, ―Snow, you are in a house of vegetarians but I am going to go buy you a steak.‖ And I did. 19
I guess I‘m saying all that to say that later on I called Ms. Hudson, the curator at the Schomburg, the woman who had let me read all those books in the Schomburg and then sent me to Richard Moore, who owned a bookstore and who was from the Caribbean, and Mr. Bishow who owned a bookstore where Malcolm went all the time with a sign that said ―Each one, Teach one.‖ And when I got there they had not a gift-bag but two bags, shopping bags, of books for me. I had to take a taxi home, which I could ill afford. Mr. Moore had books from the Caribbean that we mimeoed from. By the end of the year, though, we went to the library, and they had re-printed Cane. But we knew at that point that once that happened that not only were we doing something, but that the country was looking up. TM: Did you maintain a relationship with her? SS: Oh yeah. I took my students to the Schomburg. You know, wherever I was teaching. We chartered a bus from Amherst College. We came down, spent the day at the Schomburg to do research. You're not going to a library up here at the school; you're going to the Schomburg where I first met scholars sitting at a long table doing research. That's where you go to do research and we'd take the bus. I used to take them down to the village to eat and they'd say, ―We don't eat that food you eat.‖ So I would turn them loose in the village and just say you have got to be back here at this time to go, and they all returned. It‘s amazing. No one was hurt because it was just like a day in New York we went to the Schomburg. We went to Liberation Bookstore. TM: She used to take her students in Philly from Temple on a bus trip to Harlem Liberation Bookstore. One time I was in there browsing around buying books, and then it was Sonia Sanchez and a whole bus load of students to show support. It‘s ironic that we're talking about Liberation Bookstore, because they went under, and they're selling the entire inventory. They‘ve been trying to buy them out to gentrify Harlem for over 15, 20 years, and Una kept holding it down over there. SS: You know who her father was? Her father was Marcus Garvey's engineer when they made that trip, and they had to turn that boat around. That was her father. KM: I want you to talk about silence and how that relates to the haiku.
SS: That's what I have not said. I‘ve inferred it in the radio shows, right. I‘ve said that when I read from this book now that the value and the import of the haiku is the silence and that‘s the silence I‘m trying to teach to our young people and also in the poetry world. The poetry world has gotten loud. I‘ve sat at a poetry reading and people clapped and screamed, but they really didn‘t hear what the person was saying. If you clap that loudly and scream that loudly then you really did not hear what that person was saying. I compare it to the sanctified church. Poetry has become sanctified now. I didn‘t like the sanctified church, but what I did like about it was the movements. This country is run by scientists, you know. They're some wise people and they know how to keep us from thinking. When you‘re silent, you're thinking, but also when you're silent there's movement. When we actually were doing some of the most damaging stuff, we were very quiet. You're not out announcing what you‘re doing. Therefore, I‘m always so amazed at young people talking about what they gon‘ do to America. And I think that you've never been active, how you going to do that? So there they become just words: America, you're a stupid motherfucker. You know, America is not a stupid motherfucker. You can call it a lot of stuff, but it doesn‘t stay in power the way it does being a stupid motherfucker. It‘s a very wise country. So wise that if you come with something that is seditious, America will say, ―Okay that's seditious; I‘ll open up and as long as I control them--that's okay.‖ That's how wise this country is. I remember when people, and I‘m not being elitist when I say this, but I remember when people who got on planes were people who had money; they were upper-middle class, middle class. Poor people did not get on planes. But capitalism is something else again. It says, how do I keep you from coming up against capitalism? I will bring you into the arena of capitalism. So one of the things you‘ll hear might be a cleaning lady who says I‘m going on vacation to Hawaii and you say really? And she's like, oh yeah I got my credit card and I can pay for that and pay for the hotel and come back and the rest of the year pay that off. But it‘s more than just sending you to Hawaii. It is this faction of the capitalistic mind: I might have a hard job working in hospitals cleaning up behind people, but if I can go to Hawaii for one week once a year I will not complain about this country, and I become more like the people I‘m watching on the idiot box than where I‘m living. So it‘s a wise country that can do that. But it‘s not to say that they don't still have problems in America.
ZG: So I have a question about how you feel about President Obama and the ways in which he represents change and ways he doesn't represent change. Because it‘s like you say, poor people didn't used to fly before, but it‘s not to say that they don't have any problems in America still. SS: Well, you know my dear sister, when you can fly to and have a vacation in Hawaii every year, the problems lessen. So that's what I‘m talking about. That's the expansion of capitalism. It includes you in the accoutrements of democracy. Think about it: I might be poor, but every year I go to Hawaii or to the Bahamas or some place. Now, we were poor growing up in Harlem. There was no way on earth we could go to the Bahamas. We ate, we had a place to live, we went to school. It‘s a different kind of thing that happens now. If you don‘t want the poor people to rise up you‘ve got to engage them in this capitalistic way of thinking, that is, with debt you put everything on credit cards. Also, feeling that you are entitled to a vacation. I never felt like I was entitled to a vacation anyplace, you know, because I couldn‘t afford it. But it‘s different now. This thing is orchestrated so well that people simply don‘t have time to diss America when you have so many accoutrements of this America. Anyone who tells you there's no change doesn't have eyes, there is a black man in the White House and a black woman and two little black kids, and I don't know if that dog is black or not and that might be, for some people, show, but it also reflects the whole idea that people in this country could envision a black man in the white house. Of course, there are still many people who cannot, but those who could envision it was because you had the artists and people in power. My dad told me that we would never have a black president in America and I said ―Oh, yes we will.‖ He said, ―Well not in my time,‖ and he was right; he died before it happened, but I said, ―In my time‖ and he said, ―Well, why do you think that?‖ I said, ―Because you brought me north and you gave me a northern landscape to move on, and in that northern landscape I saw the possibilities of me and other people.‖ Barack Obama is a result of all the activism in America. But the people around him don‘t have that human element; they're all like business, you know -- I got my business suit on, I‘m running the world kind of thing, but what's missing is that human element. That's why Reagan was so popular. He wasn't saying crap, but they gave him catch phrases, and he had that human feel. That's why Roosevelt was so popular; he had that human quality. Why do people love poets? It‘s because we have that human point of view. That‘s it; it‘s that humanity that comes through every time in a piece; that's what we say, ―I‘m 22
one of you.‖ There's nothing you've experienced that I haven't, and that's the point. That's what he has to start to convey to people. I am that human counterpart of you. He's not a radical. You cannot elect a radical president in America, period. You can elect some radical congress people, some radical senators but you can elect someone who will be a little bit human towards the populace, and that‘s what we have some presidents be. They handled Barack wrong. When a problem comes, they throw him out and say you go out now and teach people what is. That's not the way you do it, and they will wear him out that way. ZG: Do you think that we, as young writers, have to put humanity at the forefront of our work and the other things that we do? SS: I think everybody has to if you're a poet, a professor, a teacher, or doctor, or dentist, an accountant, or garbage worker, or a health worker, a mother, a father. At the core has to be this sense of humanity towards other people. That's what this is all about, finally. Your generation will really have to answer this question of what does it mean to be human. It will have nothing to do with color or hair or how you look or what job you have, it will deal with the whole idea of the human being surviving on this earth, finally, and there will be some things we'll have to learn for that to happen and re-learn and some things. We'll have to discard certain preconceived notions about each other as women, as men, as black and whites, as Latinos, as brown people, yellow people. It‘s a whole different way of looking at ourselves in the world and a lot of that will stem from people really beginning to learn how to love themselves. If you really don‘t love yourself, then you cannot love anyone else. It becomes an impossibility, and I don‘t mean a superficial thing. I mean the whole idea of liking who you are, period. That's a hard thing to do, because we're not taught that. If you're a female, you're not taught to like how you look. That's what all this plastic surgery is all about, and if you're male, you're taught that if you don‘t have a good job or a car, you ain‘t worth crap. You can't be an artist. People will say what does that mean? Or you can‘t take care of me in that way that I‘m accustomed to. All of that exists at some point. KM: How do we begin our language work? I work in [D.C.] at basically an allblack middle school where many of the kids are considered to be special-ed … How do we get these kids singing and writing? They are a group who are voiceless in a sense. How do we bring voice to the voiceless? 23
SS: That‘s not an easy question, you know, and there's no one answer to it … That's when you become the creative teacher. When I first started to teach writing, a lot of the young people coming in had not been taught how to write papers. One of the ways that I helped some of the young people is that I would tape them on a tape recorder, then have it transcribed, and have that person read it, and say, that‘s what you said. That‘s interesting for someone to look up and say, those are my words. At that, I jumped and said, see what you wrote. A lot of the students were speaking Black English, and they were stressing that you have to speak so-called ―proper English.‖ We would listen to it; I would play [the recordings] in class, and you could hear the musicality of this language, the beauty. Jimmy Baldwin had said that a Black English was a language, not a dialect; it‘s a language. Isn‘t that beautiful, language? Now we have to translate it into this dead Western language for college. When you authenticate their language, that's a step forward. I authenticated the way they spoke. There's nothing wrong with the way that you speak. The problem is that larger society. The problem is that they don‘t want to hear it like that. Now, you can put it in a poem, but we‘re talking about if you‘re doing a paper. Now, how do we translate it? Anytime there is any kind of translation from any language to English, you lose something. I tried to make them feel powerful. I said to them that‘s a powerful language; it‘s a beautiful language. It is a language that we learned to speak out of necessity, as Baldwin said, to protect ourselves. The hard work is the translation -- how do you say this instead of that. I would get it transcribed and have them look at it. It‘s easier to change language if you have something down than if you have nothing down. KM: Are you dancing around the idea that it is a thing of self-esteem, selfidentity. Everything you said made me think of a reflection. You know, you have a kid look at his writing, appreciate it, and finally say, ―Okay, that‘s me. I can speak now.‖ SS: Yeah it is. TM: How does someone empower you? When you hear [Sonia] talk, or hear her poetry, or other poets you admire? KM: I find connections, relations.
TM: You have to do that with the children you are teaching. You gotta make them love themselves. Part of the Black Power and Arts Movement was about that whole thing James Brown had laid down, ―black is beautiful.‖ Reversing the negative stereotypes that society puts on you. These kids in this so-called special-ed have a lot of things they have to contend with, and you gotta be able to allow them to break out of that and chop away at those stereotypes and feel good about themselves. You have to encourage them and make them feel good about themselves. Empower them with language, as she said, first. The way they naturally speak is important. SS: You make them understand, then, that they are speaking a language. You know, that‘s empowering …
Morning Haiku Review -Philip Lucas
Morning Haiku, by Sonia Sanchez, is the poet-professor‘s first newly published work in nearly a decade and features 29 new and selected republished pieces. The style Sanchez approaches her poems with is as varied as the subjects she touches on in the 104-page book. Sanchez does not adhere to the traditional 5-7-5 syllable structure of the Japanese form. Her work follows no structural rubric and changes from one piece to the next. However, her Haiku - or ―Sonku,‖ which refers to Sanchez‘s personal adaptation of the form - make for bold and original poems that offer a refreshing lyrical and rhythmic range. In her introduction, ―haikuography,‖ Sanchez vividly illustrates the transformational power the haiku form had on her at the age of 21 in New York City. Sanchez tells readers she recalls finding herself within the haiku form the first time she encountered it and being profoundly moved in the process. ―From the moment I opened that book, and read the first haiku,‖ Sanchez wrote in the book‘s brief introduction, ―I slid down onto the floor and cried and was changed.‖ Sanchez‘s work in Morning Haiku ranges from celebratory homage poems to pieces written in remembrance and sorrow of lost loved ones, friends, and noteworthy international figures, such as Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, who recently passed away after a lifetime of public service. Nearly each piece gives an intimate insight into Sanchez‘s perspectives on the world‘s events and the people affected by them. Many of Sanchez‘s poems in the collection focus on the lives and achievements of historical figures in music, history, and civil rights. ―9 Haiku,‖ a poem Sanchez wrote for ―freedom‘s sisters,‖ pays respect to nine women who revolutionized the struggle for women‘s equality. In 30 lines, she outlines the achievements of Fannie Lou Hamer, Betty Shabazz, Dr. Dorothy I. Height, and Rosa Parks, among others. Among some of the book‘s strongest pieces are ones that have been republished from other journals and magazines, including ―19 Haiku,‖ a poem written for Emmitt Till originally published in Southern Quarterly (2008). Another one of Sanchez‘s republished works is ―21 Haiku,‖ written for the late Odetta Holmes, an African-American folk singer whose voice came to encapsulate the struggle of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. One of the most haunting works included in the book is actually a republished work entitled, 26
―Haiku Poem: 1 year after 9/11,‖ which was originally published in the Philadelphia Sunday Inquirer Magazine in the fall of 2002, just after the terrorist attacks. Instead of simply recreating scenes and emotions from that pivotal day in New York City, Sanchez uses each two-line stanza to pose a question-which, nearly a decade after the attacks, remain largely unanswered. Another one of Sanchez‘s most emotionally evocative pieces in the collection is ―Sister Haiku,‖ a poem delivered in fourteen three-line stanzas, which outlines sexual abuse at the hands of a family member. In this piece, Sanchez demonstrates a keen ability to transport readers to the emotional center of sorrow and indignity. Sanchez‘s craft in constructing short, but varied, work appears to capitalize on the use of an understated line or stanza to make a shocking, and sometimes unexpected, point. Sanchez also vividly recaptures her surrounding environments and turns sensory experiences into art. She uses provocative imagery and even occasional onomatopoeia to artistically recreate experiences such as hearing Ray Brown play the bass, taking in the art of the Philadelphia Mural project, or simply appreciating John Dowell‘s ―Tranescape,‖ a painting of legendary Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. The book itself is a quick read from cover to cover. However, like most poetry, Sanchez‘s work is not something to simply be read. Sanchez‘s work in Morning Haiku commands readers to appreciate the variety and individuality of each piece before slowing down to meditate on their respective meanings. The haiku offer a chance for readers to consider the gravity of every subject Sanchez writes on, from the celebration of visual or musical arts to mourning loss and remembrance. Morning Haiku by Sonia Sanchez is a collection of poetry that not only commemorates the achievements of artists and activists but also remembers those lost in recent years. Sanchez‘s work in her new book provides readers with a perspective of both noteworthy and unexposed people and events in world history. It is, in every sense, an excellent and timely example of the many ways a writer can convey her message without sacrificing truth for beauty. ~~~
Morning Haiku. Sanchez, Sonia. Boston: Beacon Press, 2010. 104 pp.
affirmation -Meilani Clay
my thighs jiggle now stomach rounds more than i like media corrupts vision of self in mirror i could not be a model
i did not love me when body was taut and smooth did not sing love songs praising the beauty i held blind to the need for such things
my tongue is still mute kept silent by past hatred new realities still a much distant future new lullabies unwritten
No Body Knew My Name -Lamont B. Steptoe I am unremembered A saltwater African Beautiful and kind Fated to serve a cruel master Who raped me at will I bore seven children Lost seven more When my master grew old I poisoned him
Mistress freed me when he died Where was I to go? What was I to do? I found some work Domestic to be sure I worked until I could work no more Survived in a hovel on a black back street They found me a week after I died Took me to potter‘s field Buried me in a pine box Ain‘t none of my children here One day I‘ll walk to heaven Ask for ‗em by name
James Shields The Last Supper
Our Victories Give Our Enemies Strengths they did not have before (6/15/2009) -Amiri Baraka Obviously our victories deal a terrible blow to our enemies. Indeed, to the enemies of humanity in general. But the fact of our winning allows the most evil elements of society to organize around the idea of their defeat. To organize the shredded minds of the dangerously ignorant, the deeply racist, and the maniacs shaped by white supremacy, both the long time active ones and now those who can be activated by the terror of having to face the reality that the term â€•white Americaâ€– is now open fiction and that this is a multinational nation. We must go back and look at the Weimar Republic again. I cited it before in an article written before the election called Obama & the Tragic Errors of Weimar pleading with the most advanced among us not to split up the Communists from the Social Democrats, and they from the Liberals & the Progressives. In such a conflicting maze of disconnection among the left, their enemies the straight out bourgeoisie, conservatives, the nationalists and the Nazis took power and fascism ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. The Holocaust and the Second World War were some of the effects of this. The problem was that once a socialist republic had been declared after World War One which was never really that and the communist party and the other revolutionaries spent too much time and energy combating that fraud than the right who using that split, seized power and the same year, 1933, closed the Reichstag after the suspicious 911 like event which burnt down the Reichstag. This same kind of process was underfoot here in the US with the false elections of George Bush, the wars in the Middle East aiming to dominate the oil under the military control of US corporations with Israel as colonial surrogate. The looting of the US national treasury was also part of this, even beginning to move the center of international finance to Dubai. The Obama election brought a halt to this in part because of the US weariness of the fake wars costing 10 billion dollars a month and then the financial collapse with 6000 people a day still being foreclosed. Plus, the attacks on the US constitution to justify the rightist takeover, including torture. The US takeover of 19 banks and the bankruptcy of General Motors, Chrysler, Lehman Brothers, and the intention to put more restrictions on the financial gangsters of the US & its global imperialist confederates is a definite 31
step ahead. But for people, who claim they have some information to scream about ―this is not socialism‖ makes their claim of knowing what socialism is dubious. [Karl] Marx sd in the 19th century that the bourgeoisie would, in their relentless extraction of maximum profit from the people, force them to default, and, in turn, the banks would fail and this would provide a strong motion toward socialism. What is lacking here is an organized Left Bloc to push and demand and organize for further retreat of the capitalist establishment, winning middle forces away from the backward. The election of Obama showed that this could be done. But some of the same people here who were actually supporting Hilary Clinton spend most of their time putting down Obama, rather than organizing to push whatever openings and opportunities ever leftward. The anarchists, of whom too many so called Black Nationalists have become past the domination of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movements, prefer to rail against Obama with as much, if not more, energy than they railed against Bush. The same kind of infantile leftist anarchy aided the defeat of David Dinkins. He wasn‘t militant enough they screamed, so they got themselves a real militant, Rudy Giuliani. Even in the face of the McCain backwardness, some other people here wanted us to throw our vote away rather than defeat McCain. Obama was the only other candidate that could win. And these people claim to be leaders of the community, but since 98% of the Afro-American people, and over 60% of the Latino and Asian Community, plus progressive whites voted for Obama, it means they were tailing and are tailing the people even now. If we do not consolidate what power Obama‘s election has given us access to, then we are foolish. After the Weimar declaration of socialism, their internecine struggles allowed any hope of socialism and even any hope of democracy to be toppled and fascism march in. With the mad cries of the Limp Balls and Newts, whining Chain yees, O‘Reillys, Murdochs, Fox, Hannitys, can there be any doubt where the undermining and defeat of Obama‘s policies will lead us? We have to find ways to further what Left imitative has been offered us and organize a broad united front to move forward, not stand around whining about socialism in the sky. Or we will get real fascism on the ground.
Acceptance Speech for International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent -Dr. Brenda Greene Good Evening Dr. Haki Madhubuti, Quraysh Ali Lansana, fellow inductees, Dr. Trudier Harris, Jan Carew, Dr. Maryemma Graham and Samuel Allen, special guests, faculty and students. Thank you. I am both humbled and honored to be inducted into the International Literary Hall of Fame with these esteemed writers and scholars and to be asked to be part of this gathering as we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing and as we honor the life and work of our fearless leader, poet, scholar, activist, university professor, educator and institution builder, Dr. Haki Madhubuti. To be recognized by the larger community and one‘s peers, is truly moving and is affirming to my life‘s work to inspire, educate and provide young people, students, my elders and the general public with programs and experiences that underscore the value and impact of the arts in their lives. I first give thanks to God who is with me always and who has given me blessings and the passion to do His work and to make it my life‘s work. I stand on the shoulders of many and I am deeply grateful for all upon whose shoulders I stand on and those who have been on this journey with me. My mother instilled in me the importance of the work ethic and of doing the best you can. She demonstrated the importance and value of doing what is necessary to realize your dreams and keep your eyes on the prize. My sisters have always been there for me and have shown me love and respect. My father, who I call the armchair philosopher, continually reminds me of the value of living the life of the mind. My sons, Talib Kweli Greene and Jamal Kwame Greene, have taught me so much and I am continually inspired and motivated by them. They too have pursued their dreams with passion. I thank my close friends and colleagues, who have mentored, guided and have been staunch supporters of all my endeavors.
This occasion is also very special in that it recognizes and celebrates the lifelong achievements of Haki Madhubuti, a man who embodies the spirit of selflessness and commitment to nurturing and supporting young people, writers and artists at every level. He does not ask why. He humbly and steadfastly does the work that is necessary to improve and sustain the lives of our people. He and his life partner, Safisha, have truly been role models for me and for many writers, artists, educators and activists. And as an educator, writer and mother, I feel a kinship with them. As I prepared my remarks for this evening, I asked why me. I have devoted a great part of my life to pursuing my lifeâ€˜s passion of using the power of literature and language to impact the lives of our youth, our teachers, our elders and the general public in multiple ways. This is not work for me; rather it is a way of life. Yet, I still ask how did I get to this place? What have I done to deserve this honor and to be part of this historic occasion? I can remember being in the audience at Chicago State as I observed writers, scholars, and literary icons being inducted into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent. And as I continued to wonder why me, I began to think of the many blessings that I have received and continue to receive as I engage in my lifeâ€˜s work. The past several months in particular have been especially significant for me. My third grandchild, Ryia and first child to my son Jamal Kwame Greene, was born on March 17, 2010. I direct the National Black Writers Conference and we just ended a magnificent four days at Medgar Evers College where the Center for Black Literature held the Tenth National Black Writers Conference and honored the Nobel laureate in literature, Toni Morrison, who was also our Honorary Chair and who received the John Oliver Killens Lifetime Achievement Award, along with Amiri Baraka, the acclaimed poet and literary activist who received the Richard Wright Award; Kamau Brathwaite, the poet and cultural historian from Barbados who received the W.E. B. DuBois Award and; Dr. Edison O Jackson, past President of Medgar Evers College, who received the Ida B. Wells Institutional Leadership Award. Over 90 writers, scholars and literary professionals participated in this Tenth Anniversary Conference. It was an awesome gathering.
At the beginning of March 2010, I was featured in the New York Amsterdam News as Black New Yorker of the Week. I was also honored in March by the Brooklyn Borough President for my work in supporting writers and literature at the 2010 Women‘s Herstory Celebration. And I was also recently honored by the Von Herbert King Cultural Center, located in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn for my work in serving the community by promoting writers on my radio show, Writers on Writing. This induction into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent is a high point of these past weeks of recognition and celebration. Upon reflecting on the coalescing of these events, at a time in my professional life when I feel blessed as well as more challenged than ever, I remember that our journeys are varied, that God guides us in addressing the challenges that we face and, as Denis Waitley reminds us, our obstacles provide us with opportunities to ride the waves of success. I also realize that sometimes as leaders in our profession, we cannot see the forest for the trees. We cannot inhibit our privileged information so that we might see ourselves as others see us. We do not always consciously think about those experiences and stories that inform our decisions and choices in life and that are often so internalized. It often takes distance and the observations of others to help us to understand and see what we are doing. So, I thank you for this extraordinary recognition of my work among you, my peers, and for creating a memory that will forever be etched into my mind. I would like to share with you two images that continued to permeate my consciousness as I thought about this special event and evening: One was the image of Margaret Burroughs reading her poem, ―What Will Your Legacy Be?‖ at the 2008 National Conference of Artists in New York City; and the other was the image of writers such as Haki Madhubuti, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Jayne Cortez, Eugene Redmond, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Staceyann Chinn, Quincy Troupe, Tony Medina and John Oliver Killens, writers who have used their pen as tools of liberation and as instruments for social change. The literature of these writers represents a critique of the social and political landscape and consciousness of our nation. Their texts represent a legacy that stimulates the imagination and intellect and calls for action and resistance; theirs is a literature that raises an awareness of our responsibility to actively work to support and improve the lives of our people.
These images provide a context for Dr. Burroughs‘ poem ―What Will Your Legacy Be?‖ They embody a philosophy that I try to embrace through my work. Dr. Burroughs asks: What will your legacy be? When you have finally cast off these mortal coils? When you have crossed the great divide? What will your legacy be? When you can no longer run life‘s race. When you no longer have a place. When you have at last completed the circle round and when escape is no longer to be found. What will your legacy be? When you walk into the unknown all by yourself and alone. What will your legacy be? Stop for a moment and listen to me and answer this question if you can. What will your legacy be? When you must cross that great divide into an area from which none can hide. When you, alone, with no one by your side, with no friend to lead you or to hold your hand? What will your legacy be? What deeds have you done in your lifetime which will be left for you to be remembered by? The words of Marian Wright Edelman resonate as I listen to these words. In her book, The Sea is So Wide and my Boat is So Small, Ms. Edelman reminds us that service is the rent we pay for living on earth. Thus, if service is indeed the rent we pay for living on earth, we all have a responsibility and obligation to decide how we will serve and to live a purpose driven life. My work in language and literature is an extension of this concept. The novelist John Edgar Wideman informs us of a Nigerian proverb: ―A person doesn‘t die until the living stop telling their stories.‖ My work has been to support writers who pay attention to their calling to tell the stories of their people. Just as Ida B Wells called Paula Giddings to write her life‘s story in A Sword Among Lions, and Zora Neale Hurston called Valerie Boyd to write her life story, Wrapped in Rainbows, and the letters of Black educators, writers, politicians, enslaved Africans, artists and preachers motivated Pamela Newkirk
to write Letters from Black America, and Frantz Fanon called upon John Edgar Wideman to write Fanon: A Novel. Eugene Redmond was called upon to record the literary life of Henry Dumas keeping his work alive, Keith Gilyard was called to write the literary biography of John Oliver Killens, and Haki Madhubuti was called to keep the legacy and life of Gwendolyn Brooks alive through the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing, and so on and so forth, my calling has been to affirm the stories and literature of Black writers in our classrooms, literary journals, conferences, workshops and symposia, and to provide venues and spaces to keep the stories of Black writers alive. John Oliver Killens reminds us that we must be long distance runners. In living the life of the long distance runner, we must recognize that the race will be replete with obstacles and that we must persist and accept the inevitability of struggle. We must learn to resist the temptation to accept the status quo. We must, as Alice Walker reminds us, remember that we are the ones we have been waiting for. The title of my sonâ€˜s album, The Beautiful Struggle, says it all. Life is a struggle but we can make it a beautiful struggle. We were not promised a rose garden and life for us ainâ€˜t been no crystal stair. So, in the spirit of John Oliver Killens and in the words of Dr. Margaret Burroughs, let us create a legacy and let our voices be thunderous as we create a positive legacy rich with the culture and history of people of African descent. Thank you for this honor and for allowing me to share part of my legacy with you.
Poet For All Black Women: The Legacy of Carolyn Rodgers -Britney Wilson The Blacks in the Arts Movement of the 1960s coincided with the political quest for ―black power.‖ Writers and poets like Larry Neal, Haki Madhubuti, and Amiri Baraka strove to represent black people on their own terms apart from the usual styles and depictions of blacks that had formerly brought their art to mainstream white America. Black artists were determined to describe life as they knew it in the most realistic and purposeful ways and to reject the notion of art being a mere pastime or experiment. In keeping with this tradition, female poets like Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and Carolyn Rodgers sought to bring their perspective into the movement for artistic (and political) freedom, independence, and rebellion. Ms. Rodgers was born on December 14, 1940 on the South Side of Chicago. The youngest of four children, she began writing poetry as a young girl and participated in writing workshops at the Organization of Black American Culture. She was a student of fellow Chicago-native and black female poet, Gwendolyn Brooks. Ms. Rodgers received her bachelor‘s degree from Roosevelt College in 1965 and a master‘s in English from the University of Chicago in 1980. In addition to her work as a poet, she lectured and taught at several colleges and universities, including Fisk University, Emory University, and Columbia College in Chicago. Known for her use of black vernacular and free verse, Ms. Rodgers‘ works consisted of themes of revolution and womanhood and, later, of spirituality. Some of her works include Paper Soul (1968), Songs of a Black Bird (1969), and How I Got Ovah: New and Selected Poems (1975), which was a finalist for the 1976 National Book Award. In ―Poem for Some Black Women,‖ Carolyn Rodgers reflects the multidimensional nature of black women. She incorporates her own individual feelings and tribulations into their collective struggle. Describing their emotions, accomplishments, and responsibilities, she says: ―we are lonely.\we are talented, dedicated, well read\BLACK, COMMITTED.‖ Although they are all of these things, they still lack in many areas: we need ourselves sick, we need, we need 38
we lonely we grow tired of tears we grow tired of fear we grow tired but must al-ways be soft and not too serious… not too smart not too bitchy not too sapphire not too dumb not too not too not too a little less a little more add here detract there .lonely. Her concern with the plight of black women made her an important figure in feminist literature. She understood the contradictory dilemma of the black woman‘s independent sense of survival and her dependence on the whims, support, and approval of society. While black women ―need‖ love, care, respect, and attention themselves, they must balance the needs of others at the same time by making sure to appear ―not too‖ much or too little of anything that might be expected of them. The constant internal and external tension that this creates is evident in her work. ~~~ On April 2, 2010, Carolyn Rodgers died of cancer in her native Chicago. She was sixty-nine years old. In appreciation of her life and work, we honor her legacy and proudly assert that she is not only a poet for ―some black women‖ but a valiant voice for our people.
The Fifth Inning: One Voice Crying in the Wilderness -Khalid Rashid Muhammad
Strangely enough, this sense of never being at home, this sense of not truly belonging anywhere, produces a friction that sets off the sparks of poetry. If I am always at the margins, then I am by necessity the observer; if I am always on the outside, then I am by definition independent; if I am never anchored to one place, then I am free to wander; if I am never blinded by loyalty, then I am free to speak the truth as I see it. -Martin Espada (From E. Ethelbert Miller‘s Interview with Espada on April 17, 2007) This bitter earth Can it be so cold Today you‘re young Too soon you‘re old -Etta James ―This Bitter Earth‖ In the prologue of Ralph Ellison‘s timeless novel Invisible Man, he uses lyrics from Louis Armstrong‘s ―What Did I Do To Be So Black and Blue‖ to anchor his discussion on invisibility while capturing the soul and music of being both black and having the blues. ―I didn‘t want to become another Ralph Ellison,‖ begins E. Ethelbert Miller‘s latest memoir, The Fifth Inning. Loneliness, the blues, depression, love and loss, and sports are central themes explored in The Fifth Inning. While Invisible Man sings the blues of race, The Fifth Inning sings the blues of aging. Imagine the pensive pitcher alone on the mound humming Etta James. This is Miller approaching 60 years old. ―This is the story of the individual alone on the pitching mound or in the batter‘s box. It‘s a box score filled with remembrance. It‘s a combination of baseball and the blues,‖ the book‘s inside jacket reads. Flip a few pages, note a list of published works, continue past the title page, and stop at the acknowledgements page and notice thanks to Busboys & Poets and its owner, Andy Shallal, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), Kirsten Porter (the editor & third base coach for the memoir); love sent to dreamers and poets;
and a toast: ―May all our lives go into extra innings.‖ From the Fifth Inning one learns that E. Ethelbert Miller is a husband, father, fan, and poet. ―In baseball the fifth inning can represent a complete game‖. Miller uses the only thing he claims to know, baseball, to analyze his life as he approaches 60 years old, the end of the fifth inning in this exhibition called life. Should he retire from the game, leave his work for scholars to pick apart, put the pen up? Would his life be considered a success or failure? When writing for so long with many books out-of-print, what‘s the point in writing anymore? It‘s not possible that all his friends will forget him. Alice Walker resurrected Zora Neale Hurston‘s body of work. Baseball is distinct from sports like basketball and football in that it has no time clock. The fantasy is that a game can go on forever. Maybe E. Ethelbert Miller loves baseball because the ‗E.‘ stands for Eternity. Continue writing throughout eternity, never strikeout, master time, and play the never-ending game. Become a legend and play forever. But it‘s mostly fantasy. Miller dislikes the Boston Red Sox. He explains that it wasn‘t always this way, ―I didn‘t grow up hating the Boston Red Sox. Looking back on my childhood, maybe it was this team that introduced me to poetry. I just loved saying the names of the guys who played for them. Names like Carl Yastrzemski, Bill Monbouquette, Tony Conigliaro, and of course Pumpsie Green. Pumpsie. Yes, he was one of the first black players on the Red Sox. I had his baseball card. Pumpsie. A name as different as some folks find Ethelbert today.‖ Pumpsie was the first black player to play for the Boston Red Sox. He played for four seasons with the Red Sox, and migrated to the NY Mets for a season before leaving baseball. It is the Red Sox‘s treatment of Pumpsie, who was meant to be, for the Red Sox, what Jackie Robinson was for the Brooklyn Dodgers. They purchased Pumpsie in 1956 and utilized him as a pinch hitter, as an afterthought, and hardly gave him the playing time one might expect from the Red Sox‘s first black baseball player, taking into account the importance of the negro presence in baseball during this time of civil rights. Langston Hughes‘ ―I, Too, Sing America‖ could have been Pumpsie‘s blues song. How do people remember Pumpsie, the human? How does one cope with failure? Why is winning so hard?
Age ain‘t nothin‘ but a number; you‘re only as young as you feel; time is of the essence -- common adages spewed on a daily basis to help modern culture cope with aging, and to also learn to value the moment. Read through the 41
Fifth Inning and notice the spirituality and compassion present within. He includes quotations and anecdotes from his life to make sense of losing friends and family, as well as celebrating them. Reetika Vazirani and Liam Rector were both close friends lost to suicide. Spiritual and love poets harbor much of humanity‘s pain; maybe the ‗E.‘ really stands for Empathy. A brother leaves his younger brother a blank black sheet of paper to remember him by upon his death. Why communicate in metaphors? Family must communicate, even if it‘s not with words. Miller takes pride in family and fatherhood. No longer able to play sports with the vigor of youth, he lives to guide his daughter, Jasmine, and son, Nyere. He continually encourages his kids to stay healthy and educated. His children are now adults with college degrees building their own legacies. He is also a mentor for generations of poets, continually fathering, always fathering words. It seems the days turn blue when exploring the solitude of his own life pursuits. Langston wondered as he wandered. Did he also worry about failure as he wandered? ―The unexamined life is not worth living,‖ apologizes Socrates (from Socrates‘ Apology). Always examining life, Miller keeps a blog at http://eethelbertmiller1.blogspot.com in which one will find a daily analysis of what is going on in Miller‘s world. He is the silent man with many words and many friends. ―Did your daddy ever listen to the blues or did he listen to himself?‖ a question he proposes will be asked of his children one day. Ma Rainey‘s black bottom gave August Wilson an escape from his blues. In the memoir he speaks of Etta James: ―I took comfort in Etta‘s voice. Her songs touching my head, pressing my spirit against the wall.‖ He continues, ―The blues find their way to your door on those days and nights when you simply don‘t talk to the person you live with. It‘s called being civil. Instead of yelling and throwing things and waking up neighbors, you keep the disagreements under water like you‘re drowning them until your own voice is gasping for air‖. How does one free blues? It‘s hard being anything but blue when one functions as an island surrounded by a sea of blue faces. There is always someone dying in his life, always another teammate striking out. A career as poet and activist calls for a strong heart that battles the darkness of life with light and the will to keep throwing and keep hitting into extra innings. In love, one must embrace struggle. This is a poem dedicated to the memories of poets Lucille Clifton and Ai, from his blog on March 30, 2010: 42
SPEAKING OF THE DEAD (for Lucille and Ai) They say death comes in threes. You count two poets down in just a few weeks. Maybe you're the third. The person caught looking at the third strike that kills-. the rally and the reading. Maybe another poet hears about your death and finally reads your poems. Maybe they're thinking their number is up too. Maybe next time they might be the first to go. - E. Ethelbert Miller Elusive and erratic; ―E evokes every ecstatic emotion‖ (―What Does the E Stand For?‖ line 12). The Fifth Inning is essentially a meditation on age, baseball, the blues, and coping with feelings of failure. Humanity does not always love him back, but he always swings the bat, challenging time. ~~~
The Fifth Inning. Miller, E. Ethelbert. Oakland: PM Press, 2009. 176 pp.
Fﾃｩlix ﾃ］gel Obsession
Freedom Blues -John Reynolds III
From the blood of ol‘ Nat Turner sprang Pegasus From the blood of ol‘ Nat Turner sprang Pegasus On his majestic back to liberty, he‘ll fly us. His wings‘ll fly my people to the stars and back His wings‘ll fly my people to the stars and back I‘m talkin‘ about my Pegasus, stately and black. Legend has it in Virginia, Nat Turner said Legend has it in Virginia, Nat Turner said You‘re gonna see a winged horse put my bondage to bed. He‘s gonna fly to the plantations, ‗bout high noon He‘s gonna fly to the plantations, ‗bout high noon Won‘t be a minute too late, or a minute too soon. Black people are gonna meet at the whippin‘ post Black people are gonna meet at the whippin‘ post and ride Pegasus to freedom, Nat‘ll be the host. From the blood of ol‘ Nat Turner sprang Pegasus From the blood of ol‘ Nat Turner sprang Pegasus On his majestic back to liberty, he‘ll fly us!
Nat Turner: Unsung hero or Murderer? -Kimberly Curtis
Nat Turner‘s story is frequently only mentioned in history textbooks. None seem to have the audacity to tackle such a controversial subject. But, Kyle Baker, an American comic book artist is able to brilliantly recount his life, through his graphic novel Nat Turner. The main reason that the author decides to relate Turner‘s story is that he realized that almost nothing was known about this important figure. Turner led a slave rebellion in Virginia in August 1831 that would later inspire powerful black history icons like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Baker believes that if Turner made such a great impact on these important individuals, then his life should rightfully be documented. The author also takes the opportunity to document the horrors of slavery, while leaving the readers with a very important message: reading can bring freedom. Nat Turner was an American slave born on October 2, 1800 that led a slave rebellion in Virginia on August 21, 1831. This rebellion is now known to be the greatest uprising in the antebellum South, resulting in the death of 56 whites. Turner grew up very religious and experienced visions which he interpreted as messages from God, and subsequently became noted in his community for his prophecies. In February 1831, he began to regard various atmospheric conditions as signs that he should prepare for a slave rebellion. The first sign he saw was of a black man‘s hand reaching over the sun, he took this as an indication to begin planning for a slave rebellion. After the final sign on August 13th, he began his rebellion on August 21st. The author does not illustrate Turner‘s life without first detailing the transatlantic slave trade. The novel begins in an African village that is under attack by slave hunters. The story follows one of the village women as she is captured and taken on a slave ship, where she witnesses and endures the many horrors of the transatlantic trade. After this, the author segues into documenting Turner‘s life from his early childhood: teaching himself to read, his father running away, to his adulthood: becoming known as a visionary and a leader of his people. Turner is able to mobilize and lead many Blacks in his rebellion, which Baker details in suspense driven images.
By far, the most powerful technique that the author utilizes is recreating dramatic and dynamic duotone images. He is able to realistically capture the intense emotions on every characters face and the often gritty details of battle. This is the bonus of the graphic novel form; every picture represents a part of the story. Nat Turner is innovative. It takes full advantage of art as a medium to shed light on a ‗dim‘ aspect of Black history. Here, the author depends on images to tell the story, which is an antithesis to prose and poetry that strive to create images through words. With every read of the graphic novel some new detail of the story that one may never recognize emerges, some new mental connection is formed that shapes the entire piece. The most noteworthy image is of the flaying (removal of skin) and beheading of Turner after he is captured and hanged on November 5, 1831 (198). The author employs more than just imagery in his novel. He makes use of motifs and visual contrasts. An example of this can be seen in the beginning, when a group of slave hunters on horses massacre an African village (41), this scenario is repeated later on in the story but this time with enslaved people slaughtering whites. This demonstrates the reversal of power that takes place under the guidance of Turner. There is also the recurring motif of the white plantation house, an image of oppression and white superiority (138). This image is most prominent throughout the scenes of the slave rebellion. This portrays the act of rebellion as a force that deconstructs white power. The author makes use of the rich historical context of the early 19th century. The author does not only chart the journey of Nat Turner but demonstrates what the journey from Africa to America is like for enslaved Africans. Some are already aware of this but the author did depict something that others may not have known -- sharks followed slave ships waiting to consume the bodies of deceased Africans thrown overboard. He also demonstrates laws that were enforced during that time against the enslaved population, example: that enslaved Africans were prohibited from drumming (a form of communication). One of the characters in the novel has his hands cut off for practicing this. To explain these instances in the novel the author employs historical notations and explanations. One of these notations refers to the narrative of Frederick Douglass as the author uses an instance in Douglass‘ life in a scenario depicting Turner‘s youth. The author creatively and actively engaged historical documents, which reinforces the historical authenticity of the novel.
The critical acclaim that Bakerâ€˜s novel receives is well deserved as he accurately depicts the life of Nat Turner via a graphic novel â€“ something that has never been done before, through vivid duotone images. This graphic novel is a historical document. It justifies the significance of Nat Turner and allows the audience to understand why this Black leader and prophet was known but never discussed. It shows why this individual was powerful enough to influence the likes of Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X. As they already hold significant places in Black history, then, naturally, so does Nat Turner. Moreover, the author leaves us with a stirring message in his preface. If Turner is able to accomplish so much in that restricted time period by the mere fact that he learned to read, who are we not to accomplish great things when we have not only this ability but access to unlimited resources.
Nat Turner. Baker, Kyle. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2008. 207 pp.
James Shields Lilâ€™ Boy June 49
Aubade -Song Zijiang
dark night has given me dark eyes but I use them to look for light - Gu Cheng tiredness has already faded in the office drizzle is like long prose melding strong wind midnight lingers in empty Taipa streets not willing to leave even when the overpass has fallen asleep dim streetlamps cannot reach leaves‘ veins or the dimmest corner of the heart on that strange and empty green stands a tree, embarrassed, perhaps we‘re the only ones awake here is the crossroads again which way should I take? I just want to move forward is there a wild dog ahead? or an untold fairy tale? head up, can‘t see starlight but the dawn‘s light I walk towards it
Dr. Joanne Gabbin’s Shaping Memories, Book Review -Vanesa Evers Dr. Joanne V. Gabbin‘s Shaping Memories: Reflections of African American Women Writers is a collection of essays and creative pieces that highlight authors‘ expressive beginnings: Nikki Giovanni, Paul Marshall, Ethel Morgan Smith, Opal Moore, Sonia Sanchez, and Toi Derricotte, to name a few. Shaping Memories is comfortably nested around a gathering called Wintergreen Retreat held in Blue Ridge Mountain, Virginia. The event includes many of the authors mentioned previously, as well as others. The Wintergreen Retreat, also called Wintergreen Women Writers‘ Collective, which dates back to 1987, is a gathering of a handful of women who encourage, help and edify each other. This gathering is a safe haven for African American women writers and other creative outlets to feel accepted and regain peace of mind in a world that is not so yielding to their presence.
Shaping Memories is divided into six sections, ―Women in Community,‖ ―Negotiating the Academy,‖ ―Silence… A Dangerous Luxury,‖ ―Spirit Houses,‖ ―What Roots Us,‖ and ―A Sanctuary.‖ Each section offers an opportunity for the writers to express their experiences while maneuvering within the academic world as well as personal situations. The women who participated in Shaping Memories are connected in many ways: dedication to overcome major obstacles that stood in the path of success and education, difficulties of acceptance in a Caucasian-male dominated field, English and Literary Studies, and triumphant experiences faced by many African American women writers. Shaping Memories calls to attention several issues confronted by African American women, such as spirituality, losing loved ones, family and overcoming hardships. Dr. Gabbin has included her own story of triumph as she fought her way up the academic ladder in a field that she was born to be a part of, African American literature. In 1985, when the all-white English department at James Madison University was full of resentment over Dr. Gabbin‘s recruitment, she did not show one sign of defeat and took her well deserved place on the faculty and introduced them to true literary academia. Many of the other authors had similar occurrences in their lives when dealing with academy. Dr. Gabbin‘s selection can be located under the ―Negotiating the Academy‖ section.
Taking a closer look into the book, I would like to discuss sections from three writers: Paule Marshall, Joanne V. Gabbin, and Opal Moore. Interestingly enough, Marshall‘s piece is an excerpt from her own article entitled, ―Shaping the World of My Art.‖ This title presents a commonality between all of the writers in the book because it addresses the source of Marshall‘s beginnings and therefore, connecting their experiences. As a child, Marshall recalls listening at the kitchen table as her mother and her mother‘s friends would tell of their day at work. While listening to these stories, Marshall began to learn the essentials of narratives: telling stories by giving imagery and expression. Without attending her mother long day of work, Marshall had a full understanding of the day‘s events. Marshall‘s childhood indeed helped to shape her art. Dr. Gabbin shares quite a different experience in her essay. She addresses the difficulty she experienced while breaking into academia. Dr Gabbin‘s educational background includes: Morgan State, B.A., University of Chicago, M.A. and Ph.D in English. She struggled to be accepted into the predominately Caucasian male ran academia, English. As she walked into the English departments at the various schools she taught at; it was obvious that the faculty was not sure what to do with such an educated African American woman who was well-versed in English literature, ―From a young girl, I knew the crashing sound of racism. However, many years of teaching in the university has given me armor that protects me against a system that is still not fully open and egalitarian.‖ Throughout Dr. Gabbin‘s teaching career, she refused to take disrespect from her colleagues and students. She deserved the status she obtained in academia, and worked hard to get there. Dr Gabbin also drew from her childhood and strong educational background, dating back to primary school; she was determined to acquire as much knowledge as possible while growing up. Those values have stayed with her and helped to shape not only her art but her academics as well. The last section I will address is by Dr. Opal Moore. Her essay is sprinkled with prose and poetry. She opens her section with a beautiful piece excerpted from ―The Garden,‖
We are all Eve, we girls/ Betrayers at birth, Eaters of apples/ Bibles and Boys are not safe/ I am nine. I have been given my fate/ Feel the poison
in me, sweet and tart/ as apple sugar illegally melting/ in Sunday mouth/ My sister is seven. A black hole is growing on her baby teeth. We are Eve, new generation. This poem speaks to the purpose of her section and presents one of the major factors that some of the writers addressed, religion. Religion is Dr. Moore‘s main concern in this section. She questions the use of religion in creative outlets as well as a women‘s role in religion and church. Dr. Moore switches back and forth between character and ―self‖, an interesting dynamic that helps the reader to understand the exact situation she is addressing. Dr. Moore uses religion as a catalyst for conversation in a creative setting. In her use of storytelling, Dr. Moore is able to transcend her audience into her childhood. She embraces her religious past and, in turn, it helps to create and shape her aesthetic. While each section offers a new and different perspective of what many African American writers experienced, the essays and creative pieces also flow perfectly in and out of each other causing the reader to learn and appreciate the struggles and sacrifices that paved the way for many African American women writers. For all of us who were unable to attend the retreats mentioned previously, this book accomplishes the private conversations that took place in the early mornings on walks, late at night around the camp fire, or even in cabins twenty years ago. This collection gives those of us who are yearning to be pushed beyond our limits the glimpse of hope and the fight conquered by African American women who have come before. Each essay is filled with encouragement and the necessity of not only personal relationships but familial relationships as well in our lives. Shaping Memories presents the importance of maintaining personal and familial relationships in order to aid in the shaping of our own art. If not for some parents, teachers, and friends, we would be missing any one of the authors present in this powerful collection. ~~~
Shaping Memories: Reflections of African American Women Writers. Gabbin, Joanne Veal. Jackson: UP of Miss, 2009. 245 pp.
Tribute to Lucille Clifton* -Zahra Gordon lucille if i be you let me not forget that i too come from afrika dahomey and magic traveling with bare breasts blindsided and full of war songs oh lucille if i be you let me not forget that great black widow who put a shotgun to the / heart of her son's white father and who they hanged and lucille if i be you let me have the courage to write about my own mother and the roaches in our kitchen. ~~~
This poem is dedicated to Lucille Clifton and modeled after her poem "harriet."
Anniversary after Lucille Clifton, “sorrows” -Kirsten Hemmy Long past midnight, unseasonably warm. A slow fog gets caught, catches building edges & alleys, the street. I drive the long way home, past the old place on Everett, turning at the last moment down that starlit stretch of poverty, shotgun houses & lawn ornaments, bullet-riddled street signs, trash at road‘s edge. In the neighboring lot, same rusted couch & mattress too, clothes & food & refuse, signs of vagrants passing through, numb shadows & light. It‘s been a year—blue skies & blue days, blues of the body, my body trudging through space & time, relearning what it is to be linear & present. My own blood has spilled a dozen times & for that I am thankful. I do not hate him, I assure myself, not even his broken heart. Comforts now privilege & this street, all silent & barren, looks different. I stop at the driveway, where I learned fear. (A small country we made, a house but not a home.) I‘m alone but it‘s not the same. Even the spectrum of dark has changed. Inside the house, who knows what might remain. Who would believe even our sorrows might be beautiful. Perhaps somewhere an echo of love, even if it is only a single voice.
Kwansaba For Lucille -Omore Okhomina (O.O)
On the heap of sunshine that was her loving lap, sometimes I sat to listen. To pretty words. She would read and ask that I always remember them: Those pretty words. Said, That in her darkest hour, a poem saved a life, unborn, from knaves, even knives: pretty words.
Pirate Sublime -Khalid Rashid M. Paddling the sea Searching for serene sirens No stopping until found Until jewels are all mine Gems of this earth Seen in seas of pages Seized by Beautyâ€˜s cadence Angelic lyrics from your tongue Drip into oceans Opus blown into winds Last night a lullaby You whispered a fantasy Your love flowed from your lips Spell blinded me to nirvana Eyes hypnotized, whatâ€˜s the time? Where are we? Today, we can go for a walk Dance to the drums of our hearts Dream beneath trees Today, even the rain is serene Warm, spring eve marching forth Slow dancing our presence into April Rhythm of your hips Rocking the ship Your movements flood my deck Your grace, immortalized Eternity in your smiling lips
Leslie Robertson Toney To the Divine *Drummer at Artscape, Baltimore, MD, USA*
Cries from the Grass -Carlton Curtis I knew it was late, the only company I had were the buzzing orange streetlights that made islands of light, and the sound of canine and insect mass communication; dogs emerged from behind wire fences and wooden gates to roam play and bark contently. Crickets and fireflies rose from the nether and dazzled my senses with light and sound. I knew the screaming cries of crickets came from the grass that lined the Accompong cemetery at the edge of Accompong town and from bushes and wilderness beyond, but I could not tell which was which. I saw ghostly fireflies that could kiss my nose and ones flashing in the distance between leaves and trees beyond, but I could not reach out and grab one. The faint green glow made a mockery of my eyes; I could not tell which was near or far. I could feel all the lights and sounds coming from each yard at the top and the bottom of the dirt paved road, in their subsistence farm plots and out in the distance from hills, valleys, and streams surrounding me. They called out to me but I could not decipher a word. I remember Aunt Emma, my grandmother, saying to me the last time I came here that I should never point at graveyards at night, as a duppy would come and bite my fingers off. Standing at the gate of the ancient graveyard, I held my hands up and thrust all ten pink fingers into the darkness, daring whatever spirits lay in the bushes and under the grass that carpeted the hand carved headstones to test me. My heart beat fast as a victorious grin inched across my face and felt a satisfying thrill run through me. I made special effort not to believe in duppy stories so the spirits could not touch me. A voice from my world pulled me back to reality. â€•Where you is bwoy?â€– it was my uncle Troy. I hopped on gravestones and ran back up the steep, muddy ditch that lay on the side of the road leading up to the house on top of the hill; my new sneakers, so slick with mud that I could not see the lights in the heel anymore. He cautiously stepped down the road to come and help me up the steep incline. He smelled mostly of rum and a little bit of weed. I have always associated the overpowering odor of Appleton Rum and fragrance of marijuana with him; it was his signature, a man full of weakness. 59
We finally made the climb, stepping from an island of light to another to the top of the hill to the house where we were staying for the next few days. It was small, mostly wooden and ancient. It may have been older than its inhabitant, my mother‘s mother. I had never thought of her as my grandmother even though she was; I don‘t know why, it may have been the fact that she was called by everyone Aunt Emma, never Mummy or Grandma. She served as a source or fascination for me in my youth. I was steeply versed in skepticism and the doctrine scientific process. Now I have realized, however, these things only served to hide my nihilism about the world. She told stories of ancient people and things that were fantastic and outlandish to my already jaded ears. She also held her superstitious beliefs close to her despite never missing church mass in 40 years. As she saw me enter the gate, she faintly exclaimed, ―Come give me a hug, my child,‖ she grabbed me and held on. She smelled old, like clothes long forgotten in the back of a closet. She was a stout, malt colored woman; the type of stout that came with age, and she was wide. ―Her bosom is large,‖ I noted to myself uncomfortably as she buried me in it. The years had chipped away at her teeth till there were only scattered bits of enamel left, but time had not robbed her of her smile. The lines in her aged face seemed to me like a well defined river delta that ran from her eyes and cheeks and ended at corners of her mouth. I spoke under my breath, ―Goodnight, Aunt Emma.‖ ―Yes mi child! You get so big, it seems like the other day we had to chop the tree over your head,‖ she said fondly. A few years before this, when I was just 4 or 5, thereabout, my parents took me into the country to cure my asthma by tying me to a banana tree and having a local farmer chosen by Aunt Emma to chop the trunk just above my head. They stood bemused as I shook in terror of my impending decapitation. Before I knew it the tree fell down behind me with myself still tied to the trunk. The horror of the situation, in fact, triggered my asthma and neither my parents nor Aunt Emma who observed silently from behind my parents seemed to be alarmed.
I took myself and ran into the hills hoping to get lost out of spite of my parents for trying to execute me. I ran, and climbed, and jumped furiously for hours; I did not stop once, for I realized I had the breath to run and move without pause, and my asthma never returned. I distrusted my newfound vitality for it was beyond my comprehension. I began to distance myself from my parents and Aunt Emma since then. A large Lexus X5 pulled up at the top of the hill and out of it steps Troy‘s brother Oral. Oral was a minister by trade and preached fiery sermons in the New Hope Church of God in Kingston. His sermons would whip people up into a frenzy of chanting in tongues, crying, and vehement praying in an almost orgiastic manner. It was because of him that I didn‘t believe in God. I knew he was playing his audience. I could tell by the fire in his speech that if he said ―God‖ fiercely a few times that some old woman would fall to her knees to throw her abundant praises to God. God got his share of the praises and he would feed his ego with what was left. With his white collared shirt and black pants shimmering in the moonlight, he stepped up the dirt paved road to greet us at the gate. I saw Troy shoot him a reserved glance as if he knew the words that would come out of Oral‘s mouth. The night wore on and I left, sick to my stomach, because I wanted to be grown and had drank some rum. The little house I sat in swirled around my head. I went in a room and collapsed on an old, musty bed pushed up against the corner of the linoleum lined wall. My arm fell to the side of the bed that was against the wall and I inquisitively starting touching whatever I felt under the bed. I felt an iron pipe with wood shaped around it. I pulled it up and realized that it was a gun, an ancient looking musket. I remember reading about muskets in the American civil war; I also remembered them firing this gun off along with the blowing of the Abeng to signify the beginning of the festival to commemorate the First Maroon War. It looked surprisingly clean for its age, which was hundreds of years old. Aunt Emma came to check up on me and to give me some bitters to detoxify me from the rum. I asked her if this gun still works and she say proudly; ―But of course. Mi keep it clean ‗cause it is important for the celebration. It used to belong to mi daddy, who got it from his grandfather. He said this gun kill many 61
white man in the maroon wars. That is why we have land to live on. It was our maroon ancestors defend this island so we generations have a home free from trespass.‖ She exhaled and caught her breath. ―It was when I was a child that they stop kill white man in Accompong town an‘ start let in tourist for money. Many years passed since then, but we mus‘nt forget our self. Even though you face pale, you come from good black stock.‖ She grinned and asked me if I was better, I nodded and gave her the gun as I went back to bed. As I dosed, I imagined black men and women, so dark they shined like old bronze statues, stalking in the grass, killing white men in British redcoats in the bushes and hills behind the house. I imagined they held no fear of death and fiercely defended their families and freedom by utterly destroying the British troops who tried to recapture them. I imagined a British general who had to come to the maroon stronghold, first to beg for his life, and then to beg for a peace treaty to be signed because they were being butchered en masse, and they feared that all the whites on the island would be massacred. My ancestors reversed the roles and bound the enslavers with unadulterated fear, a fear they hid with bogus science and philosophy to denigrate the black race to beasts. They knew they were not just enslaving beasts of burden but lions, whose pride they had tried to break. I saw the pious smile of my great-great-grandfather as he buried some buckshot into the brain of some miserable soldier. I realized that I was of noble blood, of a heritage grounded in pride and violence. Soon enough I was awoken by the smash of a bottle. It was Troy and Oral fighting in the yard. Oral had a swollen cheek and I had come in time to see the other cheek get bruised as well. From the argument I gathered that Troy was taking white women out of hotels on request to score hard drugs and have sex with them. I also gathered that Troy was now a staggering drunk filled with alcohol and a hurt ego from being lectured by his brother in front of his family.
―Who is you!‖ Troy grunted as he grabbed Oral‘s collar. Oral said nothing now, trying to make himself look like a martyr with Troy appeared to have the devil awoken in him. ―Take yourself out of my business, bwoy!‖ he yelled. ―Go back to town! Go on back and trick poor people money out of their pockets and take your shit out of my business!‖ A twisted smile formed from his mashed lips and mockingly said, ―You think you are Mr. Tuff Gong? Try this shit with police next time they hold you in lockup, since you is mister tuff gong‖ He bellowed a laugh that echoed over Troy and everyone else. We could all feel his judgment of his brother. Troy would get held in lockdown for illegal possession of drugs but he would never use it himself. Oral bailed him out every time and lectured him about going to church every single time. The indignation of having his ego trampled pushed Troy to the brink. He ran inside and reached for the musket, loaded by his mother for the celebration in the morning and shot Oral in the chest. Oral fell back into the wet grass and bled out there. I froze silently, watching my grandmother cry out in pain of my uncle‘s injury. The bullet had hit the right side of his chest. He was already dead. My Grandmother ran to him and screamed and wailed over his chest as if trying to use her large bosom to keep his soul from leaking out of his body. I thought of my ancestors just then, I thought of their mouths open, filling in the silence between my grandmothers hiccupped pleas to let him live, with their own cries from the grass. Meanwhile, Troy had fled the scene and disappeared. I got word years later that he got married to a white woman and now lives in Miami. He sent me pictures of his kids with her and they are as pink-skinned as I was when this horrific incident occurred 20 years ago. His smile looked forced, like his cheeks pulled his lips apart just to show his teeth. We attended the funeral some days later while still in the country. The sky was a billowy overcast day that looked as if it had intentions to rain. My grandmother threw dirt, wet from her tear soaked palms onto the lowering casket. I could only be sad for her sadness as I did not get to know Oral
whenever I went to the country. I took her hand and wiped it clean with a rag I had in my pocket. I felt so small. I had no words to comfort her. I looked up at the silent sky with its heavy clouds waiting to burst. I asked them to wait a bit longer, now was not a good time for rain. It poured later in the evening before the sunset, the sound of leaks from holes in the zinc roof dribbled into the house. I could hear the wind dance with raindrops to create a steady lulling rhythm as if the sea suddenly began rolling across the zinc roof. The sound lulled Auntie Emma to sleep. I went out later that night to enjoy the cool, damp night air; the kind I was told not to go out in because I would catch cold. I held a jam jar in my hand and a mission close to my heart. Carefully treading along the wet grass, I grabbed fireflies out of the air and even a cricket that landed on my bare feet. I caught a few fireflies and that one silent cricket and bottled them for Auntie Emma. I headed back to the house because the moon was high in the sky so I figured it was midnight. I woke her up and showed her the glowing jar. ―I caught peenywallies and a grasshopper,‖ I said. She smiled at me; ―They must be free you know. The peenywallies won‘t flash and grasshopper won‘t make noise if locked in a jar.‖ She walked to the door and opened the jar and let them out into the night air. She did not smile as they floated away; her eyes searching the night. She closed her eyes said a prayer under her breath. I did not try to hear it; it was not my place to know. Instead I watched the cricket hop away into a bush by the side of the yard and began chirping. I traced the path of the fireflies as they drifted away into moonlight.
Lift the needle and watch it all unwind -Marita Phelps The beat drops Your heart pounding like an audio system A song like this aint worth missin Veins pulsing Bleeding internally With no sense of direction Your bitter cold flesh Fiends for the sharp tip Lids lay low Head held high Sway and sing slow Let the medley of this familiar tune Take your high to another level Your legs loosen Your sight is stray Your body numb To each and every note that circulates A scratch never sounded so good DJ play my song! Remix, rewind now amplify You live by the needle you know you will die by
My brother, Gang Starr’s Guru -Harry J. Elam, Jr. ―Positivity, that‘s how I‘m livin..‘‖ So goes the lyric from my brother‘s early hiphop song, ―Positivity.‖ My brother Keith Elam, the hip-hop artist known as GURU—Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal—died this week at the too-young age of 48 because of complications from cancer. ‗Positivity‘ was what he sought to bring to the music and to his life, and for me that will be a large part of his legacy. In February of this year, my brother went into a coma, and I traveled across the country from my home in California to see him. At his bedside, I stood and stared at his overly frail frame, his head that he had kept clean-shaven for the last 20 years uncommonly covered with hair, his body connected to a sea of tubes and wires. I listened to the whirl of machines around us and took his hand. As I did, my mind flashed back to now-distant times, so many memories. And I saw us as teenagers at the beach on Cape Cod playing in the water together. And I saw us as boys, driving to school. My brother was five years younger than me, so we attended the same school only for one year -- my senior year, his seventh-grade year -- at Noble and Greenough School, and I would often drive us both to school. Invariably, I made us late, yet my brother, never as stressed as me, was always impressively calm. At school he endured the jests and teasing from the other boys about being my ―little brother.‖ I was president of the school and had charted a certain path at Nobles. But my brother found his own creative route at school, as he would throughout his life. His journey was never easy, never direct, but inventive. Through it all he remained fiercely determined with a clear and strong sense of self. Over the years I had proudly watched my brother perform in a wide variety of contexts. While at Nobles, we had a black theatre troupe known as ―the Family.‖ In 1973, we put on a play entitled ''A Medal for Willie,'' by William Branch, and because he was only in the seventh grade, Keith played only a small role, but even then you could see his flair for performance, his comfort on the stage. At home, our older sister Patricia would teach him the latest dances, and he would execute them with verve as I watched from the sidelines, impressed with his moves, and not without a few twinges of jealousy since I‘ve always had two left feet. As a teenager he raced as a speed skater. I do not remember how he became involved in the sport; I only remember traveling 66
with my family to watch his meets in the suburbs of Boston. I do not remember if he won or lost, I do know that he always competed with great ferocity and commitment. When he announced to me that he was dropping out of graduate school at the Fashion Institute of Technology to pursue a career in rap, I thought he was making a grave mistake and warned him against it. But as always he was determined, and in the end he would succeed beyond perhaps what even he had imagined. Early on in his rap journey, he visited me in Washington., D.C., over a Thanksgiving weekend. I was teaching at the University of Maryland then, and we went to what was perhaps the most dreadful party we had ever attended. As we hastened out the door, I apologized for bringing him to this party. My brother replied ―let‘s write a rap song about it,‖ and we did. The lyrics made us laugh as we collaborated on the rhyme scheme and rode off into the D.C. night. It is one of my fondest memories, this spontaneous brotherly moment of collaboration and play. Keith‘s big break came with Spike Lee‘s film ''Mo‘ Better Blues,'' with his song ―A Jazz Thing‖ underscoring the credits. I watched that film over and over again just to hear my brother at its end. Soon he was on to creating his first Jazzmatazz album with others to follow, and he became credited for creating a fusion between jazz and hip hop. To be sure, that fusion owes something to our grandfather Edward Clark and Keith‘s godfather, George Johnson, who introduced Keith to jazz by playing their favorite albums for him. He credits them both on his first Jazzmatazz. That first Jazzmatazz album featured musical heroes of my youth, Roy Ayers, and Donald Byrd, and here was my brother featuring them on his album. And with this success, came tours. I have seen him perform all over the world, and each time he would give a shout out from the stage to his brother and my wife, Michele. And I was so proud. It sometimes struck me with awe that all these people were there to see my brother. I watched him deal out magic; he was in his element feeling the crowd, and them responding to his groove. This was my baby brother, the kid with whom I once shared a room. The kid whose asthma would cause him to hack and cough and wheeze at night keeping me up. But when I would complain, my parents would send me out of the room. The message was clear: Love your siblings, whatever their frailties. Shorter than me and slighter of build, my brother suffered from asthma and allergies his whole life, but he was always a survivor
Back in 1993, when he played at Stanford University, I was in perhaps my third year as a professor there. As I walked into the auditorium that night, the assembled audience of students looked at me with a new awareness, ―that‘s the Guru‘s brother,‖ not that‘s Professor Elam, but the Guru‘s brother. And I was, and am, the Guru‘s brother. I admired and loved him deeply, my little brother. And I was and am so proud of him, and how he made his dreams reality . And with the outpouring of love that has crowded my e-mail with his passing, I know that he touched so many with his music. My brother cared deeply about family. He raps of my parents in more than one song. They are featured on his video ―Ex girl to next girl.‖ It was one thing seeing my brother on MTV; it was another seeing my parents. His son K.C. was the joy of his life. The doctors told me back in February that there was not much chance of my brother recovering from the coma. But my brother has always been a fighter, always been one to overcome surprising adversities, so this seemed just one more. We prayed that he would again prevail. But it was not to be. Still his drive, his spirit, his energy, his positivity will live on, and so will his music. ―that‘s how I‘m livin…‖
~~~ Originally published in Boston Globe, April 23, 2010 (EDITOR‘S NOTE: Boston-born Keith Elam, who rose to fame as Guru, founder of the rap group Gang Starr and a person who sought to merge rap and jazz, died earlier this week. His brother, Harry, a distinguished professor of drama at Stanford, has written this remembrance).
Jamaica’s Nanny* -Kimberly Curtis Women‘s thighs are for seducing but yours for catching bullets blazing fires raising metal meets skull: death blood: the tears you shed other leaders: peacefuleasily lead; our independence you fed.
~~~ *Nanny of the Maroons, one of Jamaica‘s national heroes, a powerful slave rebellion leader.
Pedestrian Dilemma -Kevin Estrada i know the beggar hugging the building isn't God or a god down from heaven to test who can spare any change the reason i stop to give her my last dollar is because she probably has not eaten all day and i meant to take out a quarter instead of the bill with a piece of scotch tape on it
Nolan Chase Whatâ€™s Goin On 71
Yes, Black People Live Here -Philip Lucas Name the county after Dr. King they said, it‘ll be enough So we ignored all their work, sitting at the back of the bus Not the marchers, preachers and non-violence teachers, But the ones wearing Afros, leather jackets and black power fists. They never teach us, but get mad when we don‘t know Our own history, richer than Starbucks and lakefront homes In daycare thirteen years, nearly eight hours a day learning Chemical reactions, grammar, fractions of what we should. Did teachers forget who they once feared, Or were they just left out of the books? Did our parents forget about free breakfast, Or is the past too much to explain? The Panthers sprang to life in the Golden State, No one knows that Seattle was next in line We rode the same buses, went to the same schools Full circle and they‘re back to self-segregating. Gunshots ring out where solidarity once lived Rent got too high and it moved out with everyone else Hatred reigns supreme again, we‘re doing the dirty work We don‘t know our history, we don‘t know what to do. Or, is it the other way around?
Soundtrack of my life -Jeffery Walker life prisms of broken glass shattered against skin too few in years to duck fading light like night resurrection from day heard stories of when the world was flat when spices were made from rocks chartered across seas to flower bland soil we roamed the earth barefoot bronzed skinned offspring raised by summer sheltered by mother who hummed hymns of him in the kitchen next to the stove july was always present accompanied with drums pounding vibrations ranging six to sixteen notes convulsing bodies quivering with rhythmic seizures the ghost was present and sleep was evident so mama tucked us in at night singing lullabies while crickets strummed violins playing fleeting melodies into the wind twilight was plain pain was often kin to cravings yet tears stood no chance bred on rations packages packed in plastic carried in brown boxes consisting of cans fruits beans and beef poverty was a gift given to us by our uncle due to lack of accreditation there were no deeds no wills no verification no census only things we knew no lawyers just schooled old school scenes of addicts junkies folded over curbs embroidered arms skin inflicted sin curled into knots not long ago mama still sang what a life
Black Check -John Reynolds III Sometimes the barbershop is my only link to blackness. A place where humming clippers snip snipping scissors and swiveling chairs-full of black men reign. Often the barbershop is my only link to blackness. A place where skillful hands swish razors across salt and pepper beards and young stubble-filled heads. Always the barbershop is my only link to reality. Where young men married the sisters Johnny â€—Guitarâ€˜ Watson taught us to ta-ta and Eddie Floyd knocks on wood in time to ringing telephones rustling magazine pages and faded color TV pictures in our floor-tiled boardroom. Where I see my reality of what blackness is.
THE MEMORY OF SKIN - Colleen J. McElroy Q: From what country you are? A: America, the U.S. Q: But you have the black skin! A: And so does my president. --conversation in Cambodia skin is they say your first memory the lunge toward the magnet of mouth the sigh of skin brushing against skin the utterance without a word for color and we are no more than bodies falling into bodies - skin never sleeps nor erases its origins you say: I never think of you as black as if only color could let you think of me at all â€“ know that skin tells the bodyâ€˜s history surely as heart or lungs or eyes and by the way no melting pots or salad bowls no paper bag tests to blur beginnings call it political anatomy/skin the commodity/ the history of who I am and how I came to be here under duress under stress - know that I am into and under 75
my skin â€“ that false window shade pulled tight look - I am here fully constructed thriving on difference as American as five or six generations can produce â€“ I am a daughter of the African diaspora and so much has been engineered to come between what I am and how I see myself
The Wheels of Love: Nikki Giovanni's Bicycles -Zahra Gordon The idea of a love poem is one loaded with imagery of romantic relationships and sensuality. So, the unassuming reader may expect exactly that from Nikki Giovanni's Bicycles: Love Poems; they may expect pieces overflowing with passion, with intimate details of secret love affairs. Even though Giovanni brings this romantic fervor to the book, she simultaneously redefines love poem imagery. Bicycles is not merely romantic; this is a book that deals with aging, the love of self, a book that pays tribute and a book that ultimately says, ―love of humanity is love itself.‖ Giovanni ties this theme of love of humanity into the movements of a bicycle, the circularity and as she says the ―trust and balance‖ they require. The book both begins and ends with poems on the 2006 Virginia Tech University killings, where Giovanni is a Distinguished Professor of English and lost students in the incident. Bicycles opens with "Blacksburg Under Siege: 21 August 2006" a piece that deals with the idea of safety, "But we will be the same... / willful ignorance will overpower indignation every time... / That still does not make us nice... / and it sure doesn't make us safe" (Giovanni 2). Giovanni tackles the idea of prejudice and how the harsh actions of others also lead to this tragedy. The closing poem, "We Are Virginia Tech" has the same subject matter but is rather a call for the university to redeem itself and to recognize the comparable suffering happening all around them: We are Virginia Tech We do not understand this tragedy We know we did nothing to deserve it But neither does the child in Africa Dying of AIDS (Giovanni 107) Not only does she mention the pain of this massacre, she mentions the pain felt - for varying reasons - in Mexico, Iraq, and even the Appalachia. These are both love poems though they are not romantic. These pieces exude the need for humanity, for the love of humanity and speak to the lack of that type of love that causes incidents such as these. These pieces also speak to the great 77
internal love it must take to have the ability to write a book such as this after that much pain and suffering for not only did Giovanni have to deal with the Virginia Tech massacre but also the death of a mother and a sister. In between speaking of humanity and the loss of loved ones Giovanni brings the sensuality that we expect from love poems, she brings the romance. And she does all this in simple yet poignant language. In the title poem, "Bicycles" this is most evident: Midnight poems are bicycles Taking us on safer journeys Than jets Quicker journeys Than walking But never as beautiful As my back Touching you under the quilt (Giovanni 29) It is this intimate writing that brings the idea of the love poem to the forefront and highlights Giovanni's ability to be ultra sensual without shame. It is also evidence of her versatility, her ability to shape and mould the typical love poem into the non-typical, the unique. Giovanni's ability to do this is also evident in "Free Huey," a poem for Essence Magazine where she discusses the founder of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton. This piece may be more along the lines of what readers familiar with her reputation as Black Arts Movement poet would be looking for or would want. On the surface this may seem solely political, but what is an expression of love more than the fight for equality? Giovanni speaks to this. This is how the wheels of Bicycles turn: they are unexpected and force you to question: how is a poem about Huey P. Newton a love poem? How is a poem about jazz a love poem? How is a poem about the massacre at Virginia Tech a love poem? How do you write love poems after witnessing so much death? But this book is the answer, and if you read carefully you can see the love in every 78
piece. Now this may not be a Giovanni classic, for the lyrics are not particularly as searing and explicitly political as her previous work but the book carries a great message: the love of humanity.
Bicycles: Love Poems. Giovanni, Nikki. New York: William Morrow, 2009. 128 pp.
James Shields Resuscitation
Onstage at the Nuyo Daniel Gallant A junction of language The road of the word A benevolent tower of Babel A loud living library Stacked to the sky Mathematic and messy Arthritic and nimble We build a tri-lingual utopia We conjugate politics here on this stage We propagate law in this square wooden ―o‖ We slam scrolls of holy word down to their atoms Against these verse-weathered brick walls This house is an anvil This house is a kitchen This house is a woodshop This house is a dojo The houses of Congress The houses of Parliament The house that Ruth built Couldn‘t even pay rent On a house that mints words Like the house that we conjure here To hold in our verses When champion wordsmiths And young vocal lions Roar up on this stage We must dare to write epics on walls and in congress Let rhyme scheme set interest rates and soliloquies wage war. Let us breathe out rare accidents And imitate the sun Let us tear down the tower And Babel it back up 81
Let us write a utopia In quartos and folios And chapbooks and playscripts And circling watchfires Where the spoken word glows Against backdrops of parchment And the keystrokes of a thousand Nomad poets set the tempo for the next millennium.
Trapped (R.I.P. Derrion Albert) -Ricardo “Chef” Noel Why do we persist to ride the never ending ride? Why do we strive to keep death alive? Is it our fate to hate or is this cycle innate? From the hunted to hunter We gather brothers mothers, fathers, sisters, sons, like strange fruits with no roots We devour us. Satiating hunger pains. Our minds remain the same, emaciated brains. Why, why, why...must we go up and down round and round, loop-the-loop? Dazed in a maze amazed by this incessant phase we evolved Lynch‘s plan. No clan not the Man our man‘s man, brothers, mothers, sons, fathers, daughters, us trapped in a wheel no fortune no fame. Insatiable pain.
Reciprocity -Aziza Kinteh Whisper in the wind rhythms and rhymes, Billie Holiday tunes, incantations for peace, the name of your first love, scat sounds to bebop, your birthday, favorite recipes, all things sacred, cultural, and familiar; So when the wind whirls every which way and around again, you can catch the coolness of your breeze, whispering in the wind.
Reading Signs -Brenda Connor-Bey I didn‘t want to be a backwards thumb The Universe always give us hints, open arms and hands waiting to catch or guide us every day. My grandmother said many times, ―God and his angels speak to us. We need to pay attention. Look for those signs.‖ I was the caulborn child whose eyes turned inward, who sang with flowers unfolding in springtime mist. But I tossed aside that gift of unraveling language. Understanding dust-shaped patterns where invisible doorways opened. Where treasure chests ripe with mysteries, dreams the size of gold nuggets & possibilities reclined on beds of silk. Everything was there for the taking. Everything known and unknown. Only drawback: you had to admit what you saw was as real as the hand attached to your wrist or the hunger gnawing your insides out. I didn‘t want to be a backwards thumb Spanked by old folks wisdom, my wish granted, ―Be careful what you ask for…‖ the favor became a cacophony of silence, a blindfolded existence. Loneliness became a pleasure, treasured like expensive perfume. My life became a masquerade of little-girl-dress-up, shoes too big, spindly legs tottering, lopsided clothes, and ragtag hats slipping over eyebrows. Nothing worked. The snickers of those watching my attempt to shift my shape into something never meant to be made me remember: lost dreams cannot be tossed away. The phantom who calls that place home will never let anyone rest until his name is called.
Andrew Blaize Bovasso
Loews Theater, Jersey City
Hallelujah Ghost -Lisa Louie I. Sunlight guides us to the wall of glass doors, the afternoon yawning behind us, unseen, indeterminate. I push open one of the doors and hold it for my brother. As we step into the silent building, a rush of cooled, recycled air passes around us as if anxious to flee, and the sun behind us writes our shadows long and rubbery on the red brick wall of the foyer opening out before us. At the tip of my shadow's head, I spy an empty balcony much like the one over which I once accidentally dropped a Bible onto a bald man's head. Beneath the balcony stands sturdy rectangular brick pillars exactly like the ones my brother and I had chased around and around until our father caught our wrists and held them in his vise-grip hands. ―Daddy handcuffs,‖ he'd called it. ―This place is the spitting image of First Assembly,‖ I exclaim. My brother nods without speaking. Approaching the building from the outside, we had seen a nameless and aging structure that appeared like it had once housed a bank or a commerce center. Nothing about its indifferent facade had prepared us to walk into the church space we had known throughout our childhood. II. Singing hallelujahs in perfect time with all the other worshipers gathered that Easter Sunday, her parents followed the worship leader. When he held a microphone to his lips, closing his eyes, and lifting a hand above his carefully coiffed hair, as if offering a hand to God in the sky, they lifted their hands and closed their eyes too. She shifted her feet and stared down at her hands resting on the wooden pew in front of her. She knew all the songs that they were singing because she used to sing them too, and before, when she had known who she was, she had believed that she meant every word. But today she was numb and silent. Above her hands, she saw the curve of her breasts and the upside-down V of cleavage peeking above the low cut of her thin dress and the loose blouse she had worn over it. God made them, she thought with a saucy smile. And after all, she was invisible. In church, that was the way it had always been when it came to the things that mattered. When the head pastor stepped up to the pulpit and began whispering fervently to God through the microphone, her parents bowed their heads along with the rest of the congregation. A man in his fifties, the pastor was dressed in a formal black suit and a blue tie, but he appeared to her as someone who 87
would be more comfortable in a cowboy hat and boots. She looked around. She was surprised to see a few black faces in the crowd. In her childhood church, almost everyone, except for her and her family, had been pale-skinned, a condition which no one had liked to discuss. Before, whenever a church boy looked her over for a date, she had always blamed it on her Asian face, as if it were an unfortunate birthmark, the first thing that anyone saw when they beheld her. After that, she was certain she became as see-through as her blouse, as insubstantial as a spirit caught between worlds. Most of the congregation stood quietly in a prayerful pose. A few of them whispered ―thank you Jesus‖ in husky tones as if Jesus were giving them a much-needed back rub, while others stared straight ahead with their eyelids shut, their jaws clamped tightly. She suddenly felt sorry for the latter set for the rigidity she saw in their faces. She knew the feeling only too well, holding your teeth together like they form the dike that keeps the waters from crashing through, engulfing and drowning the land. After years of trying in vain to be seen, she had opened her mouth at last and let herself be submerged. Then, from across the sanctuary, she saw a man staring at her. And not just any man. Similar to her, he had tawny skin, high cheekbones, rounded nose, and slanted eyes, the endowment of a mixed-race heritage, and he wore his hair cropped close to his head. Standing at the back in a smart navy blue suit, he was holding a red velour offering bag. He smiled when he saw that she had noticed him. Her breath caught in her throat. This never would have happened to her before. She glanced down shyly, but couldn't resist the second look. He was still staring at her, a boyish tilt to his handsome raven head. She wondered what it be like to kiss a Christian, something she had never gotten to do before. She grinned at him. Handsome, she decided to call him; perhaps it hadn't been such a bad idea to come to church today. Behind the pastor who was intoning into the microphone, the worship leader snapped his fingers at the piano player who touched the first notes of an arpeggio chord, the first drips out of a faucet that grew into a shower. And with the piano music behind him, swelling like the strains of a movie soundtrack, the pastor' voice rose to an impassioned pitch. ―Oh God, how you have loved us!‖ he cried. The pastor was still praying when six ushers, including Handsome, strode to the front of the sanctuary, each holding an offering bag. The nearest one, a man old enough to be her father, turned to gaze at her briefly, his eyes wandering up from her hands and stopping at her cleavage. 88
She studiously averted her gaze and watched another usher fingering his offering bag and studying its empty entrails as if he could read his fortune in them. Then she pondered Handsome from behind, noting his broad shoulders and the wide stance in his legs. He wasn't as tall as she usually liked them, but she thought she detected a singular forthrightness edged in his body, a trait that made her own body wilt with heat. She caught herself, glancing sidelong at her parents, whose eyes were still clenched in prayer. For a moment, she felt a twinge of regret. When she had been a believer, prayer used to be a sweet embrace, a time in which her being longed for God, and not the flesh. That's what she used to tell herself anyway. III. My brother has dissipated into the shadows inside the church. Undaunted, I step down the darkened corridor alone. Nothing but a muted uncertainty accompanies me as I tread through the hallway that leads to my kindergarten Sunday School classroom. I find the door open, and the room's contents clothed in gloom. Something moves. Stepping inside the room, I spy a man down on his hands and knees like a cat, hiding his head and torso under a toddler's table. I quickly flick the light switch. As light floods the room, the man scurries out from under the table, his face frozen in terror like a raccoon on a night highway. I recognize him immediately. He was the teacher who spoke to us with a cartoon cackle in his voice; he favored me because it flattered him that I remembered the weekly Bible verses. ―It's you!‖ I point at him. But as the words leave my mouth, his face and body morph into that of the pastor who cheated on his wife with the offertory soloist, the one with triangular hair. ―You...,‖ I begin to say accusingly, but then he spins around and darts out the side door that opens into the parking lot. IV. Once the offering bags had been passed around to each congregant in the sanctuary, the ushers returned to the front, and the pastor enjoined the congregation to bow their heads in prayer again as he held his hands over the offering bags like a magician. ―Father God,‖ the pastor breathed into the microphone, his voice pleading, ―you gave your son to die for us. Teach us how to give back to you for all that you've done for us.‖ He paused for effect. ―In Jesus' name,‖ he drawled. Faces opened, people awoke and stirred. ―And everyone said?‖ he led them. ―Amen!‖ they shouted, and the ushers moved back up the aisles, cradling the laden bags. Handsome walked up the aisle closest to her and winked at her as he passed. A blush bloomed all over her body until she saw her parents gazing at her dolefully, their eyes wincing as they flicked between her face and her neckline. 89
―Praise the Lord,‖ drawled the pastor from the pulpit. ―Don't you love Easter Sunday?‖ ―Amen!‖ a few voices shouted back. She contemplated the empty cross on the wall behind, marveling that in its plainness, it still managed to evoke the specter of Christ's broken, bloodied body, often in more finite and gruesome detail than anything an artist could have rendered. It used to move her to tears. ―This isn't what we normally do on Easter Sunday, but today the Holy Spirit has spoken to my heart and told me that we need a Holy Ghost intervention, right here, right now,‖ the pastor declared, leaning into the pulpit, scrutinizing them through squinted eyes. She straightened up in her seat. She wasn't prepared for this. ―A touch from the Holy Spirit is in order,‖ he insisted, ―a holy-rollin' wake-up call. For the Lord has told me that there are people present today who have fallen away from God and who need to be confronted with his love.‖ ―Yes, Lord,‖ murmured several from the congregation. The pastor motioned to someone in the back, and to her surprise, Handsome came striding down the aisle. With agile feet, he climbed the steps up the altar and took his place at the pastor's elbow. ―Pastor Jimmy's brought the anointing oil, and we're going to start right now,‖ the pastor announced. ―So who is it?‖ He patiently scanned the faces gathered. ―The Lord is calling to you to come home. Come home right now.‖ Several minutes passed, and then to her horror, she saw her father raise his hand and rise to his feet. ―Our daughter used to love Jesus with all her heart. She used to be a beautiful testimony to the Lord wherever she went,‖ her father said. ―But then something happened, we don't know what,‖ her mother said resentfully, also rising, ―and ever since, she hasn't been the same.‖ Her voice cracked with emotion. Her father put his arms around her shoulders protectively. If the whole congregation had not been watching them at that moment, she would have rolled her eyes with disgust. But before she knew it, Handsome was stepping toward her, and the people in the surrounding pews were gathering. They formed a tight circle around her, putting their hands on 90
her shoulders and back as the pastor prayed into the microphone from the pulpit. Handsome dabbed his thumb across the open oil vial, and stroked it across her forehead before laying his hand on her head. ―Shun-di-dah-laikeem-oo-koo,‖ he babbled, his eyes squeezed shut. The press of all their hands against her body weighed down on her. To her own surprise, she relished their touch. Never before had she felt her solidity as much as she did in that moment. In leaning against her skin, they were giving her substance, packing her form with the soil from which they all came. Tears began to spill down her cheeks. She didn't know anything more about God than when she had arrived that morning, and she still didn't know if she would come back. But she was grateful all the same. ―Hallelujah,‖ she heard her parents say, their satisfaction beaming in their voices. ―Hallelujah.‖ Soon the crowd around her dispersed, and she was allowed to sit down again, her legs shaking. When the pastor and his parishioners turned their attention to someone else, she inched out of the pew and fled to the ladies room. After washing her face in the sink, she stood in front of the mirror and inspected her face intently. Same slanted brown eyes, same button nose, same blue mongoloid spot on her chin. She pulled up the neckline of her blouse, covering any mention of the space between her breasts, and then grinned at herself in the mirror. When she noticed that the grin did not extend into her eyes, she quickly opened the door and stepped out of the restroom into the foyer. On the other side of the sanctuary doors, the pastor was talking about the purity of giving oneself to God wholeheartedly, no matter what the cost. She sauntered slowly toward the door to the section where her parents were sitting, but then stepped back as a man suddenly breezed through the door. It was Handsome. ―Hello,‖ he said, his eyes drifting down to her breasts. ―Hello,‖ she replied, annoyed, but willing herself to ignore his eyes' object. ―I hope you come again,‖ he said, his eyes creeping up to hers suggestively. In a musty college bar, she might have welcomed the adventure that such a move implied, but here, after all that had just happened, it only made her feel dirty. And dreadfully, sickeningly stupid. In that moment, she knew
that she would live underwater, unseen, indefinitely. For however long it takes, she thought sadly. She looked down at her cleavage, and then crossed her arms over her chest. He placed his hand on top of her head. ―Blessings,‖ he said, mussing her hair, and then walked away. V. Passing through the door and into the parking lot, I feel myself dissolve into the air until I am nothing but all-seeing eyes watching. I see a black woman kneeling on the ground beside her daughter who is pushing a plastic truck over the concrete, illuminated by a yellow lamp fixture above. They speak to each other in hushed tones, and I sense that they are waiting for someone and that the mother sits with one ear on guard lest anyone threaten her and her child. The little girl plays quietly, contented, making engine revving noises for her truck. ―Varoom, vrooooom!‖ she says. Her innocence charms me as I observe them unnoticed; if I had lips and a mouth, I'm sure I would smile. Without warning, the adulterous pastor who escaped from the classroom jumps out of the shadows. He pushes the mother aside, rendering her powerless, and pounces on the little girl. He wrestles with the child, tickling her, his body covering hers. The girl squeals not knowing whether to laugh or to cry out in terror. But then the pastor picks her up and turns her over his knee and spanks her. Still not knowing whether she should laugh or cry, the little girl puts her hands on the concrete and tries to crawl away. From the distance where I am wavering, I cannot discern myself what is happening. ―It looks like play,‖ I say as I drift away, ―but it feels like violation.‖ And then my eyes dissolve into the air, and the scene evaporates. VI. She felt like Eve after eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, she thought to herself, her arms still crossed over her chest as she stood beside the car, waiting in the church parking lot for her parents to leave. They were walking slowly in step with the pastor. When they reached the car, they introduced him to her. ―Hey there, kiddo,‖ he said in his twang, and lightly punched her in the shoulder. ―I have a daughter too.‖ He showed no indication that he recalled what had happened in the sanctuary. 92
―And she's grown up so much,‖ her mother gushed though they had only been attending this church for three months. ―And doesn't she know it,‖ the pastor clowned, stretching his face into an expression of mock exasperation. After telling her how swell it was to meet her, he bade them goodbye and swaggered away, waving widely at another car. As the car turned, she saw that Handsome was seated in the driver's seat. Beside him, perched a woman with long blonde hair, her hand caressing his neck. Her parents climbed into the car, exclaiming about how much they liked the pastor, and when they were rolling down the road, they raved about the church service, carefully avoiding any mention of the Holy Ghost intervention that they had subjected her to, high on their certainty that God was holy and that they belonged to the righteous. As they talked excitedly between themselves, she wondered what moment Eve remembered more: leaving the Garden of Eden because she had eaten the fruit, or tasting wisdom for the first time. But as she wondered, she found that she only envied her because she had seen a glimpse of God and known it. Sunlight bounced indolently off the car window through which she stared, and she daydreamed about shedding her dress and blouse and covering herself with a t-shirt and jeans.
Anna’s Arithmetic -M. Nzadi Keita count the violins in Baltimore the wheels of every carriage in New York City the cranberries in New Bedford horses in Rochester waiting to be brushed and fed barefoot preachers in Maryland count barefoot preachers who see visions or say they do count preachers speaking the Lord‘s Prayer count white teapots with steamy spouts count white teapots someone has dropped and cracked count shirts, shirts, shirts, ironed after soapboard scrubbing count every button count rainwater tips on the porch roof flowers by color, after summer starts, yellow first how many times the crickets call count barefoot children count every flower that closes at night count purple blackberry tongues count red-eye blue-finger green-heel black-scar count horses that break fences circling birds in the evening woods beaks, then eyes count cows with black underbellies, black backs, black arms, black eyes count doors shutting count shadows crossing door sills count women who lose their teeth count women who laugh when their corsets come off count women who don‘t wear them count masts in the harbor at Baltimore count every soul that roams go on and count the watchfulness the stories that fire never burns count these waves 94
Nolan Chase Her Move 95
Freedom Blues -Khalid Rashid M. How many brown eyes Have gone red From the blues? In what syncopated tune Does your soul moan For distant oceans In what meter do song birds In your belly sing Of freedom from lungs and bones How many brown eyes Will go red For the blues? No space to flap wings Blood boils in this cold Deferred dream cavern Birds hear palpitating drums above Reborn wishes weep below Then leap for freedom above So many brown eyes Must go red Freeing blues
Spiritual Detox -Nicole Williams It‘s an out of body experience I‘m watching from a distance As my soul is devoured, My mind overpowered by the demons That have infiltrated my spirit for months now Detached from my own heart My tangibility no longer an ability Incapable of feeling, touching, crying… Yet I don‘t mind the bird‘s eye view because now I see all omniscient, omnipresent, and inevitably omnipotent a divine intervention is what I call it spiritual illness intended for healing I‘m sick, ill And so forced to progress in dealing With my situation To seek restoration Salvation. Thank you for showing me evil Showing me worldly devastation on a personal relation Ship sailed away from the harbor The safety of my comfort zone removed and replaced With glimpses of hellish emotion The turmoil of my soul is the source Of my numbness to niggativity My hurt is my deliverance And you, yes you are my saving grace
If You Ever Visit Huhi -Gerardo Pacheco if you ever visit Huhi, find my parents, they live in a small house covered with mud walls. they must be old by now, but they are waiting for me. tell them you saw me here in the desert, alone, and thirsty. tell them i want to come back home to rest in peace in my hammock. tell them i have not slept for years and i want to dream again. if you ever visit Huhi, go to the cemetery and find a grave, newly dug. find don juanito, tell him i am coming home soon. tell him my parents will pay him with two chickens and a dove if he gives me lots of water when the droughts begin, i am thirsty and you do not know how painful it is to be thirsty and have no water to drink. if you ever visit Huhi, find do単a micaela, mi abuela, and tell her to cook me a good cochinita with lots of red onions, and chiles habaneros. tell her to bring it to the graveyard every dia de muertos, so those who have no one to cook for them can taste it, too. tell her i miss her cooking and her laughter, please if you find her alive tell her i always think about her and my grandfather, el le単ador. if you ever visit Huhi, go to the church and find el padrecito and tell him to offer a mass for my soul, a mass will give me strength. knowing someone is waiting for me makes me happy. tell him i am coming home soon, my parents will pray to the Virgin a whole year. tell him if he has some left-over wine, he can pour some on top of my grave. i am thirsty. if you ever visit Huhi, wait in the dark alleys 98
i once roamed, listen to my cries, be silent, do not be afraid, as it is only me, your old friend, the one who roams the desert. soon, i will arrive at the town where i was born many summers ago. if you ever visit huhi, visit the lagoons, you will be able to find me there drinking water as i am dead and very thirsty.
From Dreams of Enslaved Ancestors to Africatown, Alabama: A Bibliographic Essay -Roland C. Barksdale Sana Butler, a former associate producer at World News with Peter Jennings, brings a fresh humanistic approach (oftentimes missing) to the subject of the black family in slavery and freedom. Sugar of the Crop: My Journey to Find the Children of Slaves derives its title from a nickname, the Rev. John Hood, a former slave in South Carolina‘s Lowcountry, gave his granddaughter. Ninetyone-year-old Herman Hood elaborated on his daughter‘s nickname, ―He‘d say, ‗she was the Sugar of the Crop because she was the sweetest of the whole family.‘‖ Clearly, as the grandfather‘s comments suggest, beyond adversity some former slaves bonded to form healthy loving families. Reminiscent of the slave narratives gathered by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) over a decade she traveled across the country to conduct exhaustive primary interviews with approximately 10 surviving children of freed slaves. What she found is priceless. Everyone I interviewed for this book is now dead, except for one woman. Most died within a year of the interview, Left behind are weeks of tape-recorded conversations that have completely redefined my perspective on American history. Before these talks I had my own ideas of how the children of slaves grew up. I expected them to be an angry and frustrated generation. After all, their parents had survived the single most barbaric period in U.S. history. I thought they might have trouble building strong bonds with their children or handing down anything other than the fear and hatred that remained from being considered someone else‘s property. After our talks, all those ideas changed. They have been replaced with something more inspirational that has opened the door to an entirely new understanding of human behavior in the face of oppression and the unyielding strength that comes from unconditional love. (pp. x-xi) Scholarly works about the black family in freedom and slavery have painted a long shadow. Several theories on the slave family have been proposed without there being a consensus. For the first half of the twentieth century a theory of paternalistic benevolence on the master‘s part coupled with accommodation, promulgated by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips a southerner who taught at Yale, went unchallenged. Paternalistic benevolence inferred that kind masters treated 100
slaves as part of their extended family and treated slaves well. Accommodation held that contented slaves acquiesced to the master‘s will. Kenneth M. Stampp, history professor who authored The Peculiar Institution (1956), challenged the prevailing theory. Stampp emphasized the role of economic interest and highlighted slavery‘s adversity. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan a public policy maker drafted a controversial report which made reference to the black family and social ills, in particular the successive generations of female-headed households as a byproduct of slavery. Herbert Gutman, historian who countered Moynihan‘s report and authored The Black Family in Freedom and Slavery, 1750-1920 (1976), proposed that two-parent households were more the norm during slavery. Around the same time Eugene Genovese, historian in writing Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974) produced a balanced work that revealed both the resilience of the black family and strains placed upon the family due to slavery. Sugar of the Crop: My Journey to Find the Children of Slaves gives voices to freedmen, now, too, a forgone generation and their selfless parents, heirs of slavery. There are profound life lessons about unconditional love and forgiveness to bring home from the motherwit of these ―learned‖ folks. ―When John F. Baker Jr. was in the seventh grade, he saw a photograph of four former slaves in his social studies textbook.‖ His grandmother shortly thereafter explained that he was the great-great-grandson of those slaves, which began his research on the Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation, located in Tennessee and at one time the largest antebellum tobacco plantation in the United States. Over three decades he meticulously conducted oral histories with descendant of former slaves, corresponded with descendants of masters and white tenant farmers, undertook DNA testing, scoured 11,000 documents and found a cache of priceless letters and photographs. His parents initially drove him around conducting interviews when he was ―too young to drive.‖ Beyond adversity the voices of slave ancestors again speak, thanks due in no small part to the persistence of John F. Baker Jr., a descendant of slaves on the Wessyngton Plantation. Through a slave bill of sale he documents how his roots date back to a ten-year-old Jenny (the author‘s great-great-great-greatgrandmother), who arrived on the Wessyngton Plantation in 1802. The genealogist and independent historian recounts what drove him to undertake such a massive project.
When I first started my research, people asked why I wanted to undertake such a project. A number of them felt that it was too painful a subject to deal with, especially for someone as I was at the time… I knew that our ancestors had experienced unimaginable indignities during slavery but felt that I had to continue my research to find out all I could…One thing that encouraged me to carry on my research was the wealth of information I found about my ancestors and others that contradicted what I usually read or heard. (pp. 3132) In step with research to reconstruct slave communities and recount intergenerational lessons which formed the indigenous knowledge systems of an active rather than passive slave community, pioneered by Eugene Genovese‘s Roll Jordan, Roll (Pantheon Books, 1974) and Dorothy Spruill Redford‘s Somerset Homecoming: Recovering a Lost Heritage (Doubleday, 1988), he has crafted an empowering storybook, filled with intrigue, reminiscent of Edward Ball‘s National Book Award Winner, Slaves in the Family (Ballatine, 1999). His quest for truth, albeit seemingly unquenchable at moments, has produced a landmark work which has shed new light into slave status, nuances of both white and African American life in the antebellum era, slave resistance and the ensuing chaos in the aftermath of the Civil War. Baker‘s ―compelling‖ observation, ―nearly every family on the plantation before and after emancipation was headed by a male‖ supports that the two-parent African American family survived slavery, made by Herbert G. Gutman‘s The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (Pantheon Books, 1976). His work would have benefited from the inclusion of ancestry and family charts for the Washington family descendants and African American Wessyngton descendants, though a minor distraction, given there has not been such an absorbing work, so revealing about the hidden African American experience since Alex Haley‘s Roots (1976). Alex Haley‘s Roots, which traced the history of a black family beginning with its African progenitor Kunta Kente, aired on television to wide public acclaim in the 1970s. The family saga spoke to a basic human need yet unrealized for the majority of descendants with slave ancestry to know ―Who my people are?‖ and generated considerable attention, as evidenced by a rise in popular interest about the black family and genealogical organizations across the United States. Up until recent times few dreamed of finding their African ancestry, though a preponderance of evidence coupled with genetic testing 102
have increased the probability. In Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery (Heritage Books, 2008) Melvin J. Collier applies African naming practices coupled with DNA testing for African identification. Firsthand slave narratives, while limited in number, are excellent primary source material. Few narratives, notable being the two volume work, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Oloudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa (1789), exist that tell a firsthand account of enslaved Africans introduction to the Americas. AFRICAN PRESENCE Gustavus Vassa a late eighteenth century African who was born in Benin, kidnapped, and sold, chided the United States for its public policy of racial slavery, moreover the separation of families and underlying economic interests. While a version of slavery existed in Africa, slaves were integrated into society. The first generation of Africans found the odds of stable family formation insurmountable in the British American colonies. Mate preferences likely were transported across the Atlantic. Yet low survivability, which likely was due to strenuous work schedules, poor diets, and inadequate housing, limited family formation. Other barriers included language, same sex living arrangements, and a shortage of black females. The number of black males exceeded females by almost two to one in some regions. Black males were in demand for their physical strength, which was highly prized in a labor intensive agricultural society. Based upon a network of extended families African society maintained strict taboos about marriages to cousins and derided promiscuity. It is generally agreed the African slave trade between the late 15th and mid 19th centuries contributed to some degree of disruption in particular ethnic groups. The claim was born out by Eannes Zurara, 15th century Portuguese chronicler who left stark eyewitness accounts of the horrific separation of families following arrival in Portugal. Communal expressions of calamity ranged from guttural moaning and sobbing to repetitively striking their own faces and throwing their bodies to the ground. These actions typified the customs of mourning in their homeland. Meanwhile motherâ€˜s attempt to shield their children with their bodies met with blows. African male resistance, which would be difficult to squelch several centuries later, was countered with brute strength. Similar scenes likely were repeated, as enslaved Africans disembarked in seventeenth century Barbados and eighteenth century British America colonies. 103
AFRICAN RETENTIONS The degree that African cultural patterns survived in the United States is not settled. Scholars argued in favor African retentions in broad areas, including family structure, story telling, music, dance, folk belief, and particular social norms. Some made the case for the retention of various cultural patterns in situations where need prevailed and voids existed. Others claimed the remnant of Africanisms were insignificant, available only in a small segment of the black population in a limited reach, primarily areas of Louisiana and coastal Georgia and South Carolina. In New Orleans several African-derived percussion instruments were witnessed. It is generally agreed the tar-baby and tortoise and hare folk tales along with spirituals were transported from Africa. Diets that included rice, yams, okra, watermelon, peanuts and sorghum resembled Africa. The cultural transformation from an African-based view to an American typically occurred earlier in the upper southern states than in the lower southern states. The timing of state bans on African imports was an important factor. The later in time the importation was prohibited the increased likelihood African retentions persisted. By 1778 Delaware and Virginia had banned importations of Africans. Around the same time African- derived string instruments survived in Virginia. Five years later Maryland prohibited the entry of Africans; followed by North Carolina in 1794 and Georgia in 1798. Georgia and South Carolina however unofficially entertained the importation of Africans well into the nineteenth century. In the United States the African slave trade legally was abolished by the federal government in 1808. Six hundred thousand Africans had been brought to the United States, according to conservative estimates. South Carolina with its large black majority proved fertile ground for African cultural patterns to survive. By 1720 Africans had held a majority over Europeans for more than a decade. In 1803 South Carolina aggressively resumed the importations of African after a lapse of more than a decade. It is estimated that South Carolina imported almost 40,000 Africans during the last five years. The higher the concentration of African descendants to those of Europeans in a region the increased likelihood the retention of African cultural practices survived. Since Lorenzo Turnerâ€˜s groundbreaking work Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect (1949), it is generally accepted the language spoken by inhabitants of coastal South Carolina and Georgia was a blend of English and 104
language patterns reminiscent of West Africa. South Carolina rice planters specifically sought to import Africans with marketable skills from the Grain Coast, now known as Sierra Leone. In 1685 enslaved Africans, who held knowledge of rice production and basketmaking, showed English settlers how to cultivate rice in the low country. Clandestine shipments of enslaved Africans continued to arrive as late as the 1850s off secluded coastal Georgia and South Carolina. The numbers remained relatively small but likely were concentrated in low country regions with high black concentrations. Conservative estimates placed the figures at a thousand annually over several decades. AFRICATOWN, ALABAMA For the genealogist with Alabama roots, Frazine K. Taylor‘s Researching African American Genealogy in Alabama: A Resource Guide (New South Books, 2008) provide a starting place. Recent scholarly works about the slave ship Clotilda and establishment of Africatown, Alabama offer exhaustive documentation on one clandestine shipment of enslaved Africans in 1860. Natalie S. Robertson‘s The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Making of AfricaTown, USA (Praeger, 2008) provides valuable source material in the form of interviews with African chieftains and brings to the table a sadly often missing voice in the discussions of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from the African shores. Free public access to Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (www.slavevoyages.org), which allows for searching under various variables (e.g. vessel name, name of captain, owner of ship, flag sailing under, purchase place of enslaved Africans, final destination) opens up for more in depth interpretation the Mid Atlantic Passage. Robertson, who teaches at Hampton University, traveled extensively in Africa and Europe in researching the captives of the Clotilda. Her interviews establish a contextual basis for researching an ancestor‘s traditional African name as a source for a place of origin. …I was curious about the fact that the Clotida African named Jabba, and his co-captives from the Middle Belt, retained the names of the places, in which they were captured. Chief Galdima informed that is typical for Jaba peoples, as well as other Africans, who when situated in foreign places, to identify themselves by the regions, towns, or quarters from which they hail. (p. 113) In Dreams of Africa in America: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America (Oxford University Press, 2009) Sylviane A. 105
Diouf, a curator at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, eloquently depicts the heroic efforts to form a sustainable African-centered community in the United States. The Clotilda captive Cudjo, a master storyteller in his own right weaves through African parables and wisdom unforgettable lessons that speak mounds both to the dignity of first-generation Africans and indignities of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, rich African knowledge systems and cultural transmission that indigenous Africans unwillingly brought to the Americas. Diouf is to be commended for with clarity she not only elucidates African retentions of storytelling, burial practices and religious practices in the Americas but provides the first generations voices to transmit their heritage. Recent scholarship on the slave ship Clotilda and Africatown, Alabama help make our dreams of African ancestors more the bittersweet reality.
Fletcher Williams Box Office 1
Feathers -Tony Robles I was working with two invisible men in the Mission District at a supermarket geared towards the poor. One of the invisible men was black, the other Jew. The black one had the whitest teeth I‘d ever seen and the Jew, for some reason, wore oversized caps. They hovered about, peeking between shelves at the shoppers—those dishonest shoppers who might steal a beer or a cupcake. I was the uniformed guard. Just started. I was fully visible. ―Hey‖ said the invisible Jew. ―Yeah‖ I said. He waved his hand in a cutting motion across his throat. He wasn‘t talking to me. He caught the eye of the black guy with the white teeth. They had a non-verbal undercover store detective mode of communication that I could not decipher. I looked at my security uniform with its artificial fur neck and flimsy lining. My white socks clashed with my black shoes. I thought about what I had been only eight months prior. I was working in this same neighborhood knocking on doors inside single resident occupancy hotels (SRO‘s). Many on the other side of the door said two words, ―Go away‖, or didn‘t respond. Those who did open their doors would listen to me talk about tenant‘s rights and how important it was to attend tenant meetings to improve conditions. One tenant spoke to me about his neighbor who‘d play his music loud all night. As he spoke, he twitched and began scratching, raking his nails across his chest, arms—reaching under his shirt and pawing into his armpits. Soon I began to itch. ―I got bedbugs‖, said the man. I ran to the exit. I thought about those meetings surrounded by tenants who would come for the free food. I remembered speaking on behalf of tenants to their building managers who sat like walruses on planks covered with post-it notes and coffee rings—managers who refused to do repairs, who wrote tenants up for minor infractions. I got to know folks—lots of folks. I became the grandson of the old man whose grandson never visited; I became the nephew whose life held promise until 108
some tragedy derailed the dream—I was the void in the empty spaces in the belly that food could not merely satisfy. ―Can you loan me a couple dollars?‖ I couldn‘t refuse. Sometimes I‘d reach in my pocket and find that I‘d loaned my bus fare. I got too close. There was a boundary, but I‘d never noticed it until I walked into it—face first. My bosses cut me loose. I stand looking at my security guard uniform surrounded by shelves of food but no meeting. The invisible black man walks up to me. I adjust my posture. I try to avoid his teeth. ―See that guy over there‖ ―Who?‖ ―The one in the baggy hood jacket‖ I pulled my glasses onto my face. I saw the back of him. ―What about him?‖ ―He‘s concealing a chicken‖ ―Where?‖ ―In his crotch‖ I watched the man walk about—stopping at the chewing gum rack for a minute then looking up. I focused on the man‘s face. He had a familiar nose--the kind that‘d fall off with a good pull. The mustache was a shoe brush. It was Joe Clipman from the Nayor Hotel on 20th and Valencia. He didn‘t see me. He turned around and headed towards the restroom on the adjacent side of the store. ―Motherfucker‘s gonna take the chicken into the restroom‖ said invisible. The invisible black man followed the scent. I followed him. We got to the restroom where the invisible Jewish guy was waiting. ―He has the chicken‖ ―I know‖ ―What are you going to do?‖ I asked.
―Shhhhhhh‖ they replied in unison. The Jewish guy decided to walk inside. ―I‘ll pretend I‘m taking a piss‖ He walked through the door. A minute went by. He came back out. ―That was a pretty fast piss‖, I said. The two invisibles glared at me. ―He‘s eating the chicken‖ Both invisibles shook their heads as if agreeing on some scientific theory. I kept my mouth closed. I thought about Joe inside the bathroom. I could see him cradling that herb chicken. I could see him smacking his lips, licking his fingers clean while straddling that porcelain pot. To the invisible men Joe was scum, a thief, someone that should be locked up for daring to take what was rightfully his. I thought about how useless it all was, working as a tenant‘s rights organizer one moment and a security guard the next—on stakeout in the toilet in pursuit of a chicken thief. I hadn‘t even seen Joe enter the store. A security guard with A.D.D. How did I ever get a guard card? ―We‘ll get him when he walks out the exit door‖, said the Jew. ―Probably on crack‖, said the black. I could see Joe on the pot stringing chicken bones into a necklace. I remembered the time he went to a meeting between tenants and hotel owners at the San Francisco rent stabilization board on Van Ness Ave. There was Joe, drunk and raising his hand to speak. He never spoke. There was the Hindu hotel owner wearing a suit topped with a baseball cap with a bent bill. He talked about tenants being destructive and how visitor policy rules needed to be enforced. ―Let‘s keep it real‖, he said, using cheap hip-hop hand gestures he‘d learned somewhere for emphasis. When the meeting adjourned, there was Joe decked out in camouflage pants and knit cap pulled down like a beret. On uneasy legs he walked up to the hotel owner and said,
―I must say, I find your behavior to be less than professional‖. The man looked at Joe like yesterday‘s refuse. We stood at the bathroom door like three impotent chimps. I got bored. I decided to make a move. ―I‘m going in‖, I said. ―Just go back to the entrance‖ black invisible said. ―We got it covered‖. ―Like shit‖, I said. You guys are scratching your asses. I‘ll bet that guy doesn‘t even have the chicken‖. The black and Jew invisibles were shocked. I wasn‘t supposed to talk; I was only supposed to stand. I even surprised myself. I shoved through the door. The air was warm; half-fragrant, half-pungent. I heard a slight noise, like the rustling of paper. ―Hey Joe‖ I said, ―Is that you in there?‖ The rustling stopped. ―Joe?‖ I said again. ―Yeah, I‘m Joe. Who the hell are you?‖ ―It‘s Anthony‖ ―So, what do I care?‖ ―Anthony…the tenant organizer. Filipino guy…remember?‖ There was more silence. ―Anthony. Oh yeah…I remember you. Howya doin‘?‖ ―I‘m good, just surviving‖ ―I ain‘t seen you in a while. Whatcha been up to?‖ ―Well…I got a job. I—― ―That‘s great, good to hear it‖ 111
―Well, what I‘m trying to say is—― ―Hold that thought‖ I obeyed. I could only hear the smacking of lips and chewing of bones. The aroma of cooked fowl became more pronounced. I was starting to get hungry. ―Joe? ―Yeah, I‘m here‖ ―Look, what I‘m trying to say is that I‘m working as a security guard at this market‖ ―Is that right? I didn‘t see you when I came in…‖ The florescent lights on the ceiling hummed. A dead fly lay frozen in the milky luminance that flickered slightly. I felt my heart beat into the floor and my breath becoming shallow. ―That‘s great Anthony, congratulations‖ ―Thanks Joe. But look man, they got these plainclothes guys in here, you know, the one‘s that look for shoplifters and—‖ Suddenly the toilet flushed as if in cosmic defiance. ―And‖ I continued, ―They think you got something‖ ―Like what?‖ ―A lemon herb chicken‖ Joe again was silent. Then he began to cry. He was one who could never hold back. He always gave—money he didn‘t have, food, clothes, booze, and laughter--to those worse off than he. He expected others to be as giving as him but they always held back. It seemed he was always at odds with the odds and with the wind that blew its scrutiny in his face, always against him, never at his back. Never holding back ―I hate myself‖ ―Don‘t say that‖ 112
―Yeah…I got the chicken. I‘m just hungry that‘s all. I have no money. I‘m not a bad person‖. ―I know that Joe‖ My eyes became moist. I would have looked at myself in the mirror but there was no mirror to reflect on. I looked down and saw something move from under the stall partition. It was a piece of chicken wrapped in cellophane. ―It‘s good Anthony‖, said Joe, ―Tasty as hell. Have some‖ I took a bite. He was right. It was juicy and flavorful. ―What do you got Joe?‖ I said through grease stained lips. ―A wing. It‘s my favorite part of the chicken‖. And on that wing we talked, catching up on things—laughing above the drone of the artificial lights of that supermarket and the invisible men that inhabit it.
Nolan Chase In Studio
Gift -Tia Coles You took it away from me again Only your lack of memory forces you To forget that we are grown and Your regrets quickly leave their home Where you once talked calmly to you And me. Things are not the same. Often brings me shame saying weâ€˜re related. You took it away from me again That light that pushes me forward, up That beat that keeps me steady, straight That breeze that washes me clean, crystal That love that steals my pain, free That sun that cools my mood, chill. I know you wish you kept it.
Tribute to Dennis Brutus -Lamont B. Steptoe In my bedroom is a tiny metal pyramid given to me by South African Poet, Dennis Brutus. Since his death on December 26, 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa at the age of eighty five, it has become even more precious to me. Dennis had gone to Egypt several years ago for the reopening of the Library of Alexandria which had been burned to the ground shortly after Egyptâ€˜s conquest by Alexander the Great. The powers that be are trying to reconstitute the library by making an appeal to the world to donate volumes to the library. Dennis was there for the momentous occasion of the reopening of the library and was kind enough to bring back this object to commemorate the event. In the dresser of my bedroom is yet another object given to me by Dennis. It is a Schaffer fountain pen, the kind that actually uses ink from a bottle or cartridge. Dennis was big on using such pens because he had taught himself calligraphy when he was told that he had very bad handwriting. Anyone who was fortunate enough to have him autograph something could testify to how beautiful his signature and inscription is as a result of his mastership of the art of calligraphy. His passing has now made such objects something sacred, something holy, something magical. I consider myself to be very fortunate in owning such items. Dennis was my mentor for over twenty two years, us having met in September of 1986 when I invited him to be an artist-in-residence at the Painted Bride Art Center during my tenure as poetry consultant for the organization for eight years. Meeting him at the Philadelphia International Airport, I think we immediately liked each other in the first five minutes. Early on in our relationship, he said in that baronial way of speaking of his, â€•You know Lamont, you should be interviewing me!â€– And interview him I did on more than ten occasions as the events of South Africa became more and more critical, finally leading to the complete emancipation of the country from the Apartheid government. Across the years, as I watched him take on the powers and principalities of injustice, I grew to respect his courage and the suffering he had endured for such a noble cause as justice. So moved was I by his example, I founded 116
Whirlwind Press to begin publishing his work which other than Three Continents Press and Heinemann had mostly been published by small presses and even in the case of one collection self published by a press he founded Troubadour Press which published Thoughts Abroad under the nom de plum John Bruin since his work was banned in South Africa. Dennis had an amazing mind for problem solving and for coming up with creative solutions to difficult situations. He could as the parlance goes ―make something out of nothing!‖ This is a particular talent that many people coming out of oppressive environments are capable of manifesting. I saw it in the Vietnamese people when I was a soldier in Vietnam and how they would take what we as Americans considered trash and turn our trash into something altogether different, sometimes converting it into military ordinance to use against us Americans. Dennis used this gift in a creative and philosophical manner as he battled the injustices of South Africa and then later on toward the end of his life when he felt that his work with and for the African National Congress had betrayed his principals on the global stage attacking the evil magic of the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the World Bank. Having taken a bullet in the back for his beliefs with his blood staining a Johannesburg street, his credentials were impeccable as poet and activist. But somehow with all the notoriety that he was able to generate globally, he still remained humble in the role of a servant. American literature is rife with egos and personalities that have not paid nearly the dues of a Dennis Brutus and yet march about as if they were minor gods and goddesses forgetting that what talent they do have comes from a higher power and that is why what we poets possess is a ―gift‖ that can be diminished at any time by ill health or some other personal disaster. As one of the world‘s great poets, who could use language at such a superlative level, Dennis always remained humble in his craft. He was more driven by his activist positions than he was in always getting something into print. Many were the times when I had to urge him on to complete a poetic project or write new poems for a collection because he was totally consumed with projects that required action in the streets! Dennis loved demonstrations and was totally immersed in flying all over the world literally to incite, inspire, encourage people from all walks of life to take to the barricades to fight injustice! He seemed to be rejuvenated each time that he returned from such encounters. How many professors in America are so moved to participate - oftentimes at his own expense - in struggles ranging from debt release from ogres like the IMF and WTO to 117
environmental concerns and the rights of indigenous peoples while still holding down a position as a University professor? Dennis exploded the classroom outside of the ivory tower and made it meaningful to real life and real issues that affected the common people worldwide. On these journeys is oftentimes when he would write his poems on the backs of envelopes, postcards or in the margins of leaflets produced for such demos. Dennis had a mercurial mind that could grasp the full import of a situation, or a personality or a political principal and then come up with unique and efficient responses. Young people were the fuel for many of his ideas. He loved young people and the ideals that they possessed and he wanted to be there to give them the benefit of his wisdom, knowledge and passion. This is what drove him. But in private moments, and I saw it many times, his mind would drift back to the past and recall many lost comrades who were consumed by the struggle, either by political murder or self destructed from the rigors of exile. He could never release the tragedy of those lives. He carried it with him throughout the years as he aged. His poetic heart that contained so much LOVE, as any poet‘s heart should do, was burdened by such memories and helped him create memorable poetry that will last throughout the ages. Dennis was a GIANT KILLER and never turned away from enjoining the battle, but when the battle was over, his gentle and tender nature emerged. His loss physically sickened me. The grief of his departure was so overwhelming that I became sick for weeks. It was not just my personal loss of a friend and mentor, it was also the loss of one of the world‘s great warriors for truth and beauty. Still the world goes on but to what? What chaos awaits us without the wisdom of a Dennis Brutus? What madness will our political leaders lead us into without that ―voice crying in the wilderness?‖ What will we do without this Troubadour?
I am the exile Am the wanderer The troubadour… That my own personal journey as a Blackman, poet, and photographer led me to the side of such a stellar figure on the world stage as a Dennis Brutus is a grace that I will forever be grateful for as long as my breath lasts. Long before I met him, I was told by a psychic that I would meet a man who would have a profound influence on my life and that I should learn all I could from him. I 118
can‘t say that during the time I was with him, I consciously recalled these words, but when I received news of his passing they came bubbling back up into my mind as if they were red hot lava. Had I done what was prophesied? Often in these modern times, whether the person we are dealing with is famous or not we often take it for granted that they will somehow last forever or that because of our own diminished self worth feel that they cannot be that important. How does the saying go? Familiarity breeds contempt. At all times, I was totally conscious of who I was dealing with and how blessed I was to have him in my life. There were many around me that envied the relationship I had with this man, envied the carte blanche to his life. Dennis was a consummate writer of letters and cards via snail mail, in spite of the fact that he was the first to speak to me of emails and faxes! He took advantage of all that was available to him to help him organize protests and demonstrations. He moved effortlessly into the twenty first century and mastered all the means to communicate. The over one thousand pieces of correspondences I have in my possession are examples of the kind of relationship we shared. Not many folks of his caliber are willing to be so accessible to a mentee. Poet Samuel Allen whom I‘m blessed to also call a mentor is another poet who was/is willing to share via snail mail with me. These should be examples to up-and-coming writers of the kind of relationships they should develop with wiser and more mature artists and activists. I‘ve always been one even as a child to be somebody that wanted to just sit at the feet of the elders and listen to their stories. That inclination has paid off for me in my mature years. Just as Dennis‘ experiences of being shot and then being imprisoned on Robben Island to break stones with Nelson Mandela shaped his ethos, my experience on the battlefields of Vietnam shapes and continues to shape my ethos. That both of us endured such nightmares and survived to create literature of our experiences, I think welded the respect we had for each other as human beings. I listened to much of what Dennis proposed I should be about in becoming an effective force against the darkness that attempts to consume the world. When he suggested that I go off to Nicaragua during the Sandinista Revolution, off I went to commiserate with the revolutionary poets of that country, no matter that it was a danger zone and I would once again be putting myself in harm‘s way. I returned much richer for having done so bearing witness to what that kind of intense struggle demanded and what sacrifices were being made. Following my return, I went off to visit the country again the very next year, this time in tow with my other mentor, Samuel Allen.
Dennis taught me the value of risk and the value of courage. At the very beginning of our association, he told me the story of his first public speech in South Africa and how he was approached by an older man he spoke of his promise but put the thought in his head that ―endurance was the key!‖ Then he went on to say, ―Lamont, writing is a long distance run and requires stamina and endurance!‖ Endurance is the ultimate virture -more, the essential thread… At the end of his life, Dennis Brutus was championing ―Another World Is Possible!‖ He wanted us all to rail against corporate globalization but he wanted us to join forces with the kind of globalization that would benefit the disinherited of the world to come together as one demand global justice.
I am a rebel and freedom is my cause ………………………………………………… My cause is a dream of freedom And you must help me make my dream reality Dennis was a complex man, a haunted man, a man of fire and thunder, a man of blossoms and rain. One can read profound poems written by him that are love poems to both individuals and countries. His energy was enormous! He used airplanes like taxicabs! In his eighties, he visited Mumia Abul Jamal on Death Row, battled cops in Seattle, hurling back tear gas canisters beyond the barricades. He had audiences with writers, poets and political leaders whose resumes fill libraries. Too often, he demanded nothing but plane fare and hotel accommodations for lending his name to causes. What others might have turned into huge honorariums, he turned into exemplary action. I write this in my apartment where he once visited, set in my study, where he let me pile book after book on his lap and show him scores of photographs. The final book, I published for him, indeed, has such an image of him here in my rooms! Leafdrift was the final collection I published for him on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, earlier, I had published Airs & Tributes and Remembering. It was an honor and a blessing to walk at his side, break bread with him and witness his blazing spirit ignite the souls of all who would listen! 120
Unsent Letter to Delany - M. Nzadi Keita ―If a free thought seek expression, Speak it boldly; speak it all!‖ – Martin R. Delany Halifax, I have heard, is cold beyond Rochester, a kind of cold I never got used to. There, I never laughed until the kettle smoked and the door was latched. But if the real Halifax feels the way I dream it I would live in linsey woolsey all my remaining years. A woman like me is not for packing and dashing. I like to take my time. But Halifax sounds like a silk fan, opening the great insides of music. What do I know, your smile pretends not to say. But you don‘t know the story of Baltimore, my teacher and my gift where I scoured the captain‘s cuffs and walked along the water, back from church where color rushed down the banks from verandas made of glass: Violins in the late afternoon, twilight cellos, marking angel landings. Yellow angel chases across the harbor, cleaning up for angel waltzes. Angel whimpers and moans I could almost see. Say one name and all that comes to lift me: Halifax. Green as an onion. Green as the heels of God.
For Those Without an Umbrella -Lauren “Sunset” Croom There we sat in bliss on a bench together happy in our new thing but I had no idea the weather would bring rain a heavy Coltrane Blue Train kinda rain getting us running kinda rain taking cover under whatever would suffice This rain came outta no where, or so I thought, but you pointed out fog on the horizon and a forecast cloudy with a chance of nebulas loss of interest So now I look pressed to escape it with no umbrella and high heels on ta boot you‘re fine in your rain slicker suit like you always knew we‘d part ways in a silent storm that would occur mid-day when we sat in bliss together happy in our new thing which of course is now heavy with heart strings and wet after thoughts that might drip on and soil your worn in never damp Soul Soles
Fﾃｩlix ﾃ］gel Football Player 123
Djali Come Save Me - Jonathan B.Tucker Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Know your history. Give thanks to the Sumerians for creating the written word some 5,000 years ago. The alphabet makes it possible to record our experiences for future generations to recount, reread, retell, and realize where we erred. And even before the Sumerians wrote it down, for thousands of years we have remembered our histories thanks to traditions of oral storytelling. Give thanks to the African Griots and Djalis for remembering and retelling the stories, songs, and poems of our past. You keep us sane Djali, when times get crazy. But where are you now, oh great storyteller? My history has been binded in books And bubbled in multiple guess tests to grade me. I need a poem to save me. I need moms to teach herstory to the babies, But mom was taught his story and mental slavery, Told that men have power and women have babies, Told of good and bad, but not about all the maybes. Djali come save me. Mommy come raise me, Cuz daddy‘s been putting you down for too long And since he don‘t come around I haven‘t heard of his song, And in fact I don‘t even recognize the sound of his voice, as my own. Why is herstory that of a single parent home? And history always, ancient Greeks and Rome? Djali what‘s wrong? Why are so many boys‘ memories of father history like ancient Rome? He ain‘t sent a check, and he went out to roam, Went out to bone when he ain‘t yet ready for home. His story is war, no hero, just conflict and beef with his own. Now he‘s gone daddy gone, and where‘s the love? Mom please sing your song, For you‘re the only Djali most us kids ever hear of.
Gone daddy gone. I need a poem to save me. Doing the same thing expecting different results is crazy, So I‘ma stay with my baby. Djali come save me. I‘ve studied history and herstory but OURstory evades me. I‘m going crazy. I need a poem to save me.
Leslie Robertson Toney
Ocean and Earth
Tobago, West Indies
Dorothy I. Height Dies at 98 Civil Rights Leader Honored Over 3-Day Period Alexis K. Barnes Howard University News Service Published: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 Updated: Thursday, April 22, 2010
WASHINGTON â€” For more than a half-century, women and people of color have had a fighter for human rights, a leader for equality and a crusader for a better world. You can find a picture of this warrior in the National Womenâ€˜s Hall of Fame tucked among the likes of Clara Barton, Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth. Dorothy Irene Height, who dedicated her life to education and social activism, died of natural causes at 3:41 a.m. Tuesday at Howard University Hospital in Washington. Services will be held Tuesday through Thursday in Washington. Height, 98, who continued to work until her hospitalization last month, was chair and president emeritus of the National Council for Negro Women (NCNW) and chair of the executive committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "She has always said her life is a life characterized by service," Alexis M. Herman, Height's confidante and former U.S. Secretary of Labor, told the Howard University News Service. "She is the ultimate statement of what it means to be a public servant. She's given back, she's always given herself to worthy causes. Always." Height has encouraged political figures such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, President Dwight Eisenhower and President Lyndon B. Johnson to create legislation and promote acts that benefited women and African Americans. And she has had the ear of every president since then.
―We advanced in so many ways, but at the same time the poorest seem to be poorer, and the poverty among us seems to be entrenched,‖ Height said. ―However, I am always an optimist, because I have an abiding faith. I believe that somehow the right will prevail. We have to keep working. Justice is not impossible. We can achieve it.‖ With the advancements of her people, Height reveled in how far African Americans have come. ―In my lifetime, I have witnessed the evolution of desegregation, the spread of civil rights and the rise of possibilities for people regardless of race and sex,‖ Height said. ―I have also recently witnessed the passage of our health-care bill, something people of all different races and genders can applaud.‖ Herman, who is overseeing the funeral arrangements, said that services for her mentor are as follows: Height will lie in repose for a public viewing from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday at the NCNW Dorothy I. Height building on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., will conduct a public Omega Omega Service at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Howard University. Height served as national president of the sorority in 1947. A public ―Community Celebration of Life‖ memorial will begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Shiloh Baptist Church. The funeral service, which is open to the public, will begin at 10 a.m. at Washington National Cathedral. The burial service will follow at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Maryland.
A Gifted Student and Speaker Born on March 24, 1912, in Richmond, Va., and reared in Rankin, Pa., Height was a gifted student, winning a $1,000 scholarship after excelling in a national oratorical contest on the U.S. Constitution. Her skills awarded her entry into Barnard College, but upon arrival, Height was denied entrance into the institution. Barnard had a two African Americans-per-academic year limit, and Height would have surpassed the quota. 128
Instead, Height earned both bachelor‘s and master‘s degrees in four years from New York University in educational psychology. Later, she continued her education with post-graduate work at the New York School of Social Work and Columbia University, whose educational system includes Barnard and three other undergraduate schools. She was awarded 36 honorary doctorates from institutions such as Howard University, Harvard University, Spelman College, Bennett College, Princeton University and Columbia. Barnard later honored her with the Barnard Medal of Distinction at its 1980 commencement. Height began her life of public service as a New York City Welfare Department caseworker. Leading the Christian Youth Movement of North America during the New Deal era, Height worked tirelessly to prevent lynching, desegregate schools and the armed forces, reform the criminal justice system, appoint more African-American women to government positions and afford free access to public accommodations. She served as vice president of the body and was chosen as one of 10 American youths to attend the World Conference on Life and Work of Churches in Oxford, England, and a YWCA representative at the World Conference of Christian Youth in Amsterdam, Holland. The young Height‘s next trip was to Hyde Park, N.Y., where she and nine other American youth spent the weekend in the home of Eleanor Roosevelt to plan the World Youth Conference to be held at Vassar College. Height continued her life of service and her quest to improve the gender and racial gap in the nation into adulthood.
Joining Forces With Mary McLeod Bethune While serving as assistant executive director of the YWCA in Harlem, Height caught Mary McLeod Bethune‘s eye as the young woman escorted Eleanor Roosevelt into a National Council for Negro Women meeting.
Bethune, NCNW founder and then president, wanted Height to volunteer with the organization and join forces in demanding equitable education, employment and pay. 129
Joining NCNW in 1937, Height began dedicating her time and efforts to helping improve equality among women and African Americans. Drawing inspiration from Bethune, Height served as NCNW president for more than four decades from 1957 to 1998 eventually becoming chair and president emerita. To counter claims of the "vanishing black family," Height created the Black Family Reunion Celebration, which has offered a blend of information and entertainment nationwide for 25 years. She also was an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. where she served at president from 1946 to 1957. In that capacity, she worked with the sorority to establish leadership and educational programs. Between NCNW, Delta Sigma Theta and YWCA, Height still managed to find time to serve as a consultant on African affairs to the Secretary of State and a voice for the President's Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped. She was also a member of the President's Committee on the Status of Women and organized ―Wednesdays in Mississippi,‖ which opened dialogue between black and white, southern and northern women in the 1960s. Internationally, Height taught as a visiting professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Delhi in India and was engaged in NCNW assignments in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America.
A Member of the "Big Seven" Present and engaged in virtually every major civil rights event, Height worked alongside such leaders as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., A. Phillip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and Whitney Young, National Urban League leader. These men were a part of the ―Big Six,‖ which also included James Farmer, founder of the Congress of Racial Equality, Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
This group was essential and highly visible during the Civil Rights Movement, and some historians later expanded its title to the ―Big Seven‖ to include Height. Women weren‘t equally accepted as civil rights leaders at the time, Height said, so if they stood with the men, they were often cut out of photos. ―I learned how to get in the middle of pictures,‖ she explained in a recent interview. Height was not allowed to speak during the 1963 March on Washington because of her gender. In her 2003 memoir, "Open Wide the Freedom Gates," Height said that appeals to include a woman speaker continued until the morning of the march, but that Bayard Rustin, the coordinator and Randolph's assistant, insisted that women were already represented by the various groups and individuals on the podium. "I was seated on the platform a little more than an arm's length from where Dr. King spoke," Height wrote. "As I looked out at that huge audience on the Washington Mall, I found it inspiring almost beyond words." The only woman before a microphone was Mahalia Jackson, who sang the national anthem. "That moment was vital to awakening the women's movement," Height explained. "Mr. Rustin's stance showed us that men honestly didn't see their position as patriarchal or patronizing. They were happy to include women in the human family, but there was no question as to who headed the household!" It was Randolph who introduced Height and Herman nearly 40 years ago. He told Herman that she needed a woman with a "strong hand" as a mentor. "We met for the first time over fried chicken at Paschal's Restaurant," a historic Atlanta restaurant many civil rights activists used as a meeting point, Herman explained. Always working to uplift her race and gender, Height was among a coalition of people and organizations who worked to get Herman confirmed as the 23rd Secretary of Labor during President Clinton's initial term. "I have always believed that I have been richly blessed to have Dr. Dorothy Height in my life," Herman said. Height has also been a mentor to Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women and honorary co-chair of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
―I love, adore and respect Dr. Height so very much, both because of the way she has sowed into our people," Malveaux said, "and because of the ways she has sowed into me.‖
An Asset to Humankind Honored among dignitaries and figures like President Barack Obama, Height is recognized as an undeniable asset to humankind. Because of her efforts, she was awarded the Citizens Medal Award for distinguished service by President Ronald Reagan in 1989, the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP in 1993, the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in 2004. ―Dr. Height is a civil rights icon whose tireless effort on behalf of others exemplifies the social work commitment to social justice and advocacy,‖ said Dr. Elizabeth Clark, executive director of National Association of Social Workers, an organization that awarded Height a Lifetime Achievement Award. The Howard University section of NCNW established the Height of Black Womanhood, an annual conference named after Height that offers workshops and advice to empower women. Yvonette Broomes, recording secretary at Howard from 2007 to 2008, looks up to Height. Broomes, 23, said she and her fellow board members visited Height regularly and grew close. ―Her strength, history and background are wonderful, and she inspires me,‖ Broomes said. ―For her age, to have that drive and motivation to get up and go to work and still carry out her duties is just amazing.‖ Monique Thompson, a senior pre-physical therapy major at Howard, has been involved with NCNW since August 2006 as chaplain and second vice president. She met Height on several occasions. "Dr. Height made sure to put the black family at the forefront and always made sure that it was never portrayed in a negative light," Thompson said. "Dr. Height was a pioneer! Her own woman. Her own boss. She knew how she wanted everything and there would be consequences if it wasn't perfect and up to her standards and liking. Dr. Height is the epitome of a true superwoman." 132
Height's standards have also been apparent by the way in which she carried herself — from her diction to her dress. Throughout her life, Height has worn many hats, literally and figuratively, She typically wore a hat to match her outfit. "She loves hats," Herman said, laughing. "Every hat she wears, she could tell a story." Although Height had an extensive hat collection, Herman added, she can still remember which hats are someone's favorite color and which events she's worn them to, whether it's a speaking engagement or a meeting at the White House. With her legacy of service, Height is a key figure in the annals of American history and the timeline of the Civil Rights Movement. She is the first person to be featured in iCareVillage's "Wisdom of Elders Across America" video series, which was shot in mid-March for Women's History Month just before her hospitalization and 98th birthday. Her oral history is part of the National Visionary Leadership Project, founded by Camille O. Cosby, Ed.D., and broadcast journalist Renee Poussaint in 2001. ―I want to be remembered as someone who used herself and anything she could touch to work for justice and freedom,‖ Height said. ―I want to be remembered as one who tried.―
Contributors Félix Ángel, architect, artist, curator, writer, cultural administrator, with more than one hundred solo exhibitions and three hundred group exhibition appearances in the Americas and Europe. Ángel has published three books, cowritten another, and published hundreds of articles in art exhibition catalogues. The organizer of more than one hundred international exhibitions, he is contributor editor to the Handbook of Latin American Studies of the US Library of Congress. Between 2002-2007 Angel served as Commissioner on the Arts and Humanities at the DC Arts Commission. Currently, he is the Director of the Cultural Center of the Inter American Development Bank in Washington, D.C. Angel has received numerous awards and distinctions including the 2010 Mayor´s Award for Visionary Leadership in the Arts. Amiri Baraka was born Everett LeRoi Jones in 1934 in Newark, NJ. Amiri Baraka's numerous literary honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama, the Langston Hughes Award from The City College of New York, and a lifetime achievement award from the Before Columbus Foundation. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1995. In 1994, he retired as Professor of Africana Studies at the State University of New York in Stony Brook, and in 2002 was named Poet Laureate of New Jersey and Newark Public Schools. In January 2007, his award-winning, one-act play, Dutchman, was revived at the new Cherry Lane Theatre in New York and received critical acclaim and international attention. His new book of short stories, Tales of the Out & The Gone (Akashic Books) was published in late 2006. Digging (UCal) in 2009. Roland C. Barkdale-Hall currently is president of Jah Kente International in Washington, D.C. (www.JahKente.org). He is author of The African-American
Guide to Tracing Our Roots: Healing, Understanding and Restoring Our Families and has scholarly essays on the ―Black Family‖ and ―Inheritance and Slave Status‖ in Oxford University Press Encyclopedia of African American History 1619-1895: From the Colonial Period to the Age of Frederick Douglass. Alexis K. Barnes is a correspondent for the Howard University News Service. Additional reporting by Nicole Austin, Brittany Epps, Phillip Lucas, Melissa Montgomery and Zaria Poem
Andrew Blaize Bovasso lives and was born in Jersey City and works in New York City. He holds a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in photography. Currently interning at Barry Friedman Ltd. and Todd Eberle Photography Studio, he plans to advance and make connections in the art world while simultaneously freelancing in photography and completing his ongoing project entitled Conversations With Dan McNulty in Jersey City, a historical image journey which includes both still photography and video. Meilani Clay is a 22-year-old poet and spoken word artist from Oakland, CA. Her work has been published in a variety of places including feminist website thefempire.com and The Drumvoices Revue 16. She currently lives in Washington, DC. Tia Coles was born in Atlantic City, NJ and spent most of her childhood there. As a Howard University undergraduate student, she majors in English and Minors in interior design. She enjoys reading, writing, exploring the field of cosmetology and spending time with family and friends. Brenda Connor-Bey is an award winning poet, writer and arts-in-education specialist, Brenda Connor-Bey is the first Poet Laureate Emeritus of Greenburgh, NY and author of Thoughts of an Everyday Woman/An Unfinished Urban Folktale. Founder of MenWem Writers Workshop, co-founder of New Renaissance Writers Guild, member of the Poetry Caravan and the Slapering Hol Press Advisory Committee, she is a recipient of a CAPS for poetry, a NYFA for fiction and is a MacDowell, YADDO and Cave Canem Regional Fellow. Lauren “Sunset” Croom is a Howard University Alumnus. Focusing on both Writing and Film Directing, she currently resides in NorthWest Washington DC. Lauren is in the process of publishing her first book and looks forward to the day when her name is synonymous with the term ―Storyteller‖. Carlton Curtis is an English Major at Bowie State University. He was born in, and grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. He is inspired by Caribbean Literature and aspires to represent his country in his prose and poetry. Currently, he is a senior and a regular actor for the drama department of his university. He has published articles for English textbooks and is currently a member of the Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society.
Harry J. Elam Jr. is the senior associate vice provost at Stanford University and the author of several books, including The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson. Kevin Estrada is a Filipino-American poet from Brooklyn. Originally from Daly City, CA, he studied literature at the University of California, Davis where he studied under Clarence Major and Gary Snyder, among others. He has published three books with ILOAN Books. Vanesa Evers graduated from Georgia State University in May 2009, and spent a year as a graduate student in Literary Studies at Howard University. Due to a change of heart, she decided to revisit her first passion: writing poetry. She is currently taking undergraduate poetry classes at her alma mater while applying to MFA programs. Daniel Gallant is the Executive Director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, a multi-arts performance venue in Manhattan's East Village. He previously served as the Director of Theater and Talk Programming at the 92nd Street Y's Makor and Tribeca Centers. Daniel has produced plays and musicals offBroadway and curated thousands of theatrical events for multiple arts organizations, featuring rising artists as well as Tony, Oscar and Pulitzer winners. He produced and directed the benefit shows Five Story Walkup and Seven Card Draw, which featured world premieres of plays and monologues by John Guare and Neil Labute. Gallant's plays, monologues and stories have been staged at venues including Theater for the New City, Center Stage, the Cornelia Street Cafe, Galapagos, Dixon Place and Mo Pitkins, and his writing has been published in anthologies by Random House and Applause/Hal Leonard M. Nzadi Keita is a first-generation urban northerner. She is an alumna of Cave Canem, published in anthologies including Beyond the Frontier: AfricanAmerican Poetry for the Twenty-First Century (Black Classics Press), and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (U. of Georgia). Her essay on Sonia Sanchez appears in Impossible to Hold: Women and Culture in The 1960s (NYU Press). Keita teaches creative writing and literature at Ursinus College. Brenda M. Greene is professor of English and Executive Director of the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York. 136
Takiyah Harper is from New Jersey and is currently working overseas with Peace Corps in Burkina Faso. Kirsten Hemmy is the chair of Interdisciplinary Studies, Philosophy, and Religion at Johnson C. Smith University; a member of the Southern Humanities Council executive board; and the director of the Mosaic Literary Center of Charlotte, NC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the discovery, cultivation, and preservation of contemporary literature and the arts. As a Fulbright Scholar in 2003, she studied politics and poetry in Senegal. Hemmy has also studied in Ghana and is currently completing a book on Emma Brown, an Ibibio freedom fighter and political activist in Nigeria. Hemmy‘s poetry has appeared in Sonora Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Spoon River Poetry
Review, Green Mountains Review, Callyx, Cake Magazine, Midwest Poetry Review, Bellingham Review, Southern Humanities Review, Cream City Review, Smartish Pace, Antioch Review, and elsewhere. She has published interviews with poets such as Yusef Komunyakaa and Ralph Angel, is a recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize, and was the 2009 recipient of the Linda Flowers Literary Award. Her collection of poems, The Atrocity of Water, is forthcoming from Press 53 in September 2010. Parneshia Jones is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award and the Margaret Walker Short Story Award. She is published in several anthologies including Warpland: A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South. Parneshia will be featured in forthcoming anthologies 44 on 44: 44 American Writers on the Election of Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States, edited by Lita Hooper, Sonia Sanchez, and Michael Simanga, as well as Poetry Speaks Who I Am, a book/CD compilation of classic and contemporary selections for children ages 12 - 14 discovering the world and the excitement and trials that go with ―coming of age;‖ published by Sourcebooks. Aziza Zenzile Kinteh is a Poet/Activist, Griot, Published Author, Vocalist, Educator, and Hair Culturalist who utilizes her gift to uplift her culture, promote black womanhood in a positive light, and cultivate a consciousness for social change. Alumna of Eckerd College and Temple University's School of Journalism and Communications; Aziza has been a featured Poet at venues worldwide and host of a local event, ―1st Fridays On Vine ― in downtown Philadelphia. She self published her first book of poetry entitled I Am Aziza
and her work is also featured in five (Now Anthology, The Poetry Ink Tenth
Anniversary Anthology, Hair Pieces, Now! (Then) The Eternal Now Anthology, and Light of Unity) anthologies. Aziza is currently working on the final touches of her second book of poetry, Traveling Lite, scheduled to hit the press later this spring. Visit her website at Aziza-lockdiva.com Lisa Louie is originally from Salem, OR. She received her BA in English from Oregon State University, and her Masters in Teaching from Seattle University. She taught high school in Seattle, WA before moving to Ireland where she lives with her husband and their daughter. She is working on her first novel, The
Sacred. Phillip Lucas is a journalism student at Howard University who is originally from Seattle, WA. He is relatively new to writing poetry, and draws from life experiences to attempt telling stories in more creative ways than journalism allows. Gerardo Pacheco Matus was born in Huhi, Yucatan, Mexico. He is Mayan. Pacheco migrated to the United States when he was fifteen years old. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school and college. Pachecoâ€˜s writing is influenced by his Mayan & Mexican heritage. He uses their magic & history to bridge two worlds that have been in conflict not only with their language, but their culture. Also, Pacheco's writing deals with migration & its social & cultural hardships. Pacheco has published poems in Cipactli Magazine and Transfer Magazine. He has been a Smart Cookie scholar since 2006. Pacheco is a candidate for the MFA Creative Writing- Poetry at San Francisco State University. Colleen J. McElroy is the author of sixteen books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, lives in Seattle, Washington, where she a Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington. Her most recent collection of poems, Sleeping with the Moon (2007), received a 2008 PEN/Oakland National Literary Award. Winner of the Before Columbus American Book Award, McElroy is also a recipient of two Fulbright Fellowships, two NEA Fellowships, a DuPont Fellowship, and a Rockefeller Fellowship. Some of her poems have been translated into Russian, Italian, Arabic, Greek, French, German, Malay, and Serbo-Croatian.
Ricardo Noel also known as “Chef”, is a New York native. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and raised in Queens, N.Y., Ricardo‘s first encounter with poetry was in the 5th grade when his teacher introduced him to the Haiku, a Japanese based poem consisting of three lines formed by seventeen syllables. Ricardo loved this form of poetry, but it wasn‘t until he entered a creative writing class at Howard University conducted by Dr. Tony Medina that he began to explore and fall in love with the different types of poetry. Ricardo is a Senior English major at Howard who aspires to go into education to help stimulate students‘ minds through the use of poetry and other creative devices to promote a love for learning. Omoré Okhomina is a poet, critic, teacher and student. Born in England and raised across Europe, West Africa and the United States; Okhomina is a lover of language and a student of the literary arts. He is currently working on his M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction at Howard University, where he recently earned his Bachelor's of Arts degree. Okhomina is also the author of Ding!, 15 Minutes, Poems for Humanity, and of several essays, including ―The Growing Season‖. His poetry has been featured in the artBeat Collective poetry anthology Pocket Poems (2009). He currently works for the Prince George‘s County Public School System. In the summer, Okhomina teaches a Creative writing workshop for K-6 students at the Lake Arbor Foundation in Mitchelville, Maryland—where he also currently resides. Marita Phelps began writing at the age of thirteen. In 2003, her first play, Don‘t Ever Call Me Black, was produced for professional staged readings during the FringeACT festival of the ACT Theater in Seattle, Washington. She has continued writing since then and is currently working on a degree at Howard University. She will receive a degree for playwriting in 2012. John Reynolds is an English Ph.D. student at Howard University. He is from Detroit, MI and a long time supporter of The Broadside Press. He is the winner of the 2000 Hughes-Diop-Knight Poetry Award from the Gwendolyn Brooks Writing Center at Chicago State University. His poems featured are selections from John‘s recently completed manuscript of poetry, Freedom Blues. Tony Robles. Author of 2 children's books, "Lakas and the Manilatown Fish" and "Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel", published by Children's book press. Coeditor and revolutionary worker scholar of POOR Magazine, an indigenous, poor-people led organizing project that practices eldership and community 139
journalism, redefining what is and who makes news. Check out www.poormagazine.org. Following in the footsteps of his Uncle, the poet Al Robles (www.manongalrobles.org) James Shields is a California-bred, Harlem-based artist who uses a vibrant and colorful commentary to explore various subjects and connect with his audience. The middle child of two educators, Shields cultivated a passion for creative expression, diversity, and altruism at an early age. Accordingly, his work is strongly inspired by a myriad of influences ranging from anime to hiphop music. Each painting embodies an imaginative freedom and innate rawness that is inherent to his influences. An expatriate of Corporate America, Shields uses his art as a vehicle for the physical manifestation of evolving life lessons and well-versed beliefs. His primary goal is to interrupt this generation‘s pop culture paralysis with intelligent and artistic commentary, believing his work will ignite a cycle of imagination and individuality in others. Shields is currently living and working in New York City. Lamont B. Steptoe is a poet, publisher and photographer born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is a Vietnam veteran and a graduate of Temple University‘s School of Radio, Television and Film. He is the author of twelve collections of poetry and has edited two collections by South African poet, Dennis Brutus. He is the winner of an American Book Award, a Pew Fellowship in the Arts and twice won fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His latest collections are A Long Movie of Shadows,Crowns and Halos and Oracular Rumblings & Stiltwalking. He has read his work in Paris,France, Managua, Nicaragua, and Mumbai, India as well as throughout the United States. Anais Strickland, a 22-year old senior attending Howard University, hails from the beautiful island of Jamaica. Although she is an English major, and Caribbean Studies minor, she enjoys drawing and writing stories in her spare time. Currently, she is working towards completing her degree and moving on to secure a career in the publishing industry. She continues to draw and hopes that one day she will be known world-wide for her art as well as her stories. harold terezón was awarded the PEN USA Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellowship in 2006. His work has appeared in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Palabra, Puerto del Sol, and Berkeley Poetry Review. He is currently earning his MFA at San Francisco State. 140
Jonathan B. Tucker lives and works in Washington, DC melding art and activism with his work as a poet and educator. Working with Operation Understanding DC, the Higher Achievement Program, Sol y Soul, and Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, Jonathan has used poetry to engage DC students in issues of social justice and encourage progressive growth. He can be found weekly leading spoken word workshops in schools and attending open mics and slams in and around the District. Leslie Robertson Toney is a Howard University alumna who works in community mental health. She is the founder of Studio Lafoncette Photography whose mission is to marry cultural differences and bring to life the simple elements of humanity that can unite us. For more information go to www.studiolafoncette.com or contact her at Leslie@studiolafoncette.com. Nicole Williams is currently a sophomore Audio Production major and Music minor at Howard University. She plans to one day own her own music production company. She has a passion for artistic forms of expression, and believes they are most effective for communicating the soul's deepest desires. Song Zijiang is a Macao-based poet. Affiliated with Association of Stories in Macao and Virtual Artists Collective in Chicago, he has participated in various poetry writing and translation workshops. His works have been published in Mainland China, the United States, Macao and Hong Kong. His latest book of poems, Wiping the Dim Sky, is published in 2009. He is currently completing his ongoing project entitled Conversations With Dan McNulty in Jersey City, a historical image journey which includes both still photography and video.
Editors Tony Medina was born in the South Bronx and raised in the Throgs Neck Housing Projects, Tony Medina is the author of thirteen books for adults and young readers. A two-time winner of the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People (DeShawn Days and I and I, Bob Marley), his poetry, fiction and essays appear in over fifty anthologies. Medina, who earned a MA and PhD in English from Binghamton University, SUNY, divides his time between his native New York City (where he's lived in Harlem for close to 20 years) and the Washington, DC metropolitan area where he is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University. Featured in the documentaries Nuyorc 1999, Furious Flower II and A Weigh with Words, Medina was an advisory editor for Nikki Giovanni's Hip Hop Speaks to Children. His latest book is My Old Man Was Always on the Lam, as well as Broke on Ice (Willow Books/Aquarius Press) and An Onion of Wars (Third World Press), both forthcoming Spring 2011. Khalid Rashid Muhammad is from Winston-Salem, NC and currently resides in the nation‘s capital. He‘s an aspiring arts activist who loves family, hip-hop, soul, theatre, food, sports, and good vibes. Zahra Gordon is a young Trinidadian poet based in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area. She was a member of the youth literary arts project Arts on the Block, has been published in phat‘itude, Mantis, and was the winner of the 2010 Furious Flower Poetry Contest. Currently, she is studying English at Howard University Andrew Wattley was born on October 31, 1988 and is the youngest of four children. He attended Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet center in Dallas, TX. During his high school career he performed in the drama club and won a trophy for ―Best Supporting Actor‖ as his role of Creon in the greek tragedy Madea. During his scholastic career, Andrew has become part of the People to People Student Ambassador program and has traveled throughout Europe with this program. Most recently, he has been the youngest person on record to be inducted into the Radical Philosophy Association, and has traveled to Cape Town, South Africa with this organization. Andrew is currently a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences at Howard University, with a major in philosophy and a minor in psychology.
Britney Wilson is a native of Brooklyn, NY. Wilson is a junior English major, at Howard University. She was a member of the 2008 Urban Word NYC Slam Poetry team that placed 2nd in the nation at the Brave New Voices International Poetry Festival in 2008. At the same time, she was featured on the HBO series Russell Simmons Presents: Brave New Voices. She is the recipient of the 1st ever Tom Joyner Foundation Full Ride HBCU Scholarship, and she has been featured in articles in the NY Daily News, Scholastic Action Magazine, This Ability Blog, Escape the Matrix Online Magazine, and Diverse Issues in Education Magazine for a combination of her academic and creative achievements. She hopes to effect change and especially to advocate for the three demographics that she represents African Americans, females, and people with disabilities, through careers as a writer and public servant. Ife-Chudeni Oputa recently graduated from Howard University with a BS in psychology. She is currently pursuing a joint MA/MFA in African American and African Diaspora Studies and Creative Writing, Poetry at Indiana University, Bloomington, where she is a Graduate Scholars Fellow. Ife-Chudeni has been published in The Ramâ€˜s Tale. Kimberly Curtis is a Jamaican student at Howard University, majoring in Psychology. She loves taking part in and observing various forms of artistic expression, especially poetry. When she writes, she is inspired by her countryâ€˜s history, culture, beautiful people, places and her past experiences. Olubunmi Audifferen was born on Sunday, August 30, 1987 at University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. She has been writing since she was eight years old. She plans on going to graduate school to earn an MFA.