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Most of us do not intimately know the complexity of our historic American slavery.

Most of us do not realize that we Blacks were enslaved in the United States (246 years from 1619 – 1865), almost a century longer than we have been citizens of our country (154 years from 1865 – 2019).

Most of us think the problems of our past do not matter as much as do the potentials and possibilities of our present (shifting from chattel slavery to political freedom, as it were).

Most of us do not really know, nor do we care to know, not to mention undertake the task of extensively researching our history on these shores.

After all our departure from Africa was so long ago. The reality of the 21st century offers so many opportunities, why should we focus on the long ago and the forgotten? Why even acknowledge the ancient past, when we are now an integral part of the 21st century body politic?

Now that we can vote, and Jim Crow is dead, plus we have elected Obama, a Black president, isn’t it time to move on? 

Yes, it is time to move on. But. Moving on should never mean forgetting from whence we came. Rather than be oblivious of, or worst yet, ashamed of our past, we should study and celebrate our history of struggle and survival. Indeed, as our ancestors taught us: if we know the beginning well, the end will not trouble us.

Moreover, I admit my own amnesia. I never fully understood my individual social self because I did not fully know my collective history. Oh sure, I knew the mythology and the general outline, but the minute specifics, quotidian details, like most of us, I just didn’t accurately know who I was in the time and place continuum.

For example my father served in World War II and the Korean conflict. I spent a year in South Korea, high atop a mountain nuclear missile base. I never talked to him about his experiences. And for that matter never spoke with him about my experiences even though both father and son shared a similar stint in a far eastern setting.

Sometimes soldiers choose not to bring home the realities of their military service even though that service was pivotal in their manhood development. In other words the social shaping of our consciousness is more important than the varying shades of our color. In the final analysis, color alone does not trump consciousness, or an awareness of both our individual and collective reality–who “I” am and who “we” are. Too often we not only do not recognize that we precedes me, but more importantly the me is not only an integral part of we but that there can be no “me” without a “we”.

Just because I was Black did not mean that ipso facto I understood the deeptitude of Blackness. Experience is important, even critical in some cases, but experience is not sufficient to fully grasp who we are or what the potentials of our future are. “Being” does not equate to “understanding”.

For example, I never knew that cotton grown in the south was different from the cotton grown in Asia, or that there was an international premium placed on crops that came from Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and Louisiana as opposed to cotton produced in India. Indeed, I had never even thought about the particulars of cotton fiber wherever it was grown. In this regard, reading the details researched and revealed in The American Slave Coast–A History Of The Slave Breeding Industry, by the husband and wife team of Ned and Constance Sublette, was critical to undoing my own self-ignorance.

Ned and Constance Sublette photographed in New York City on July 14,2015.

The Sublettes devote a whole chapter (The Cotton Club) to a discussion of the reality of cotton as the single most important cash crop export of early American agriculture. 

At well over 700 pages, The American Slave Coast is the gold standard of slavery tomes. Extensively and impressively researched, what is truly remarkable is how the authors weave together the diverse threads of facts, figures, and miscellaneous information. Particularly evocative is the way they expound on the subtitle denoting that American slavery indeed was a “slave-breeding industry”.

Most books on slavery avoid dealing with the cruel and deliberate feminization of how this industry worked in a young country that, until its expansion westward, was largely bereft of gold and other valuable minerals during its formative years. In addition to the physical conditions, the Sublette’s do not shy away from the infighting for dominance that went on between the planting and manufacturing classes, both of whom had a particular relationship to slavery. The peculiarities of the dialectic of slavery intertwining with material and social development in a new nation is a fascinating story generally untold in such subtlety and detail.

It is not enough to simply say we are a nation of immigrants. There were three contending groupings: 1. the native peoples, who had to face the onslaught of 2. a massive European invasion that callously employed 3. the inhuman introduction of Africans as slaves in the new nation. This is not an easy tale to truthfully tell, especially because the interaction of the three groupings is largely lied about and seldom taught in all its complexity and, yes, in all its savage betrayal of the founding principle of “all men are created equal”.

The harsh reality is that some people were exterminated and other people were enslaved, with both the Native peoples and the Africans being viewed as sub-human. While it is currently customary for us to talk about American values, we too often conveniently overlook that at the founding, those values were never meant to include the diversity of non-white peoples whose labor, and indeed, whose actual bodies were the foundation upon which America was erected.

Understand, we weren’t just labor, we were also capital, literally walking currency.

The native peoples had the 1838/39 Trail of Tears through the deep south. This was a force march instigated by Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy.

For the most part, our African ancestors also were forced marched from the interior to slave castles on the coast of West Africa, and then treated to one-way voyages across the Atlantic, followed by auction block, and then dispersal via slave coffles, i.e. long marches, to and through the interiors of dear ole Dixieland.

Our sojourn in the American wilderness was no accident nor coincidental byproduct of American exceptionalism. We were transported here for a specific purpose, a purpose that required not just our labor but also our dehumanization.  We had to defy the strictures of our specific history in order to realize our humanity.

To be fully human and American means that while we celebrate the values, we also must embrace, and where necessary, change the realities. The Sublettes are clear. In the introduction of their book they clearly state the task at hand: “This is a history of the slave-breeding industry, which we define as the complex of businesses and individuals in the United States who profited from the enslavement of African American children at birth.”

The American Slave Coast unflinchingly and patiently tells us exactly what it meant to be American. In order to fully be our contemporary selves, we must confront the breadth and depth of our historic selves. We must intimately investigate and consciously carry our recovered past with us as we move into our future.

In The American Slave Coast On The Rock Newman Show, a 56 minute long video, the Sublettes describe both their intentions and their findings. 

Too often the details get lost and the contradictions and complexities smoothed over, if not completely obliterated or ignored. For those not up to the task of reading our history, there is a short, factual overview of the history of the Atlantic slave trade available online: “Slavery’s explosive growth, in charts: How ’20 and odd’ became millions”.

USA Today illuminates in graphic fashion the growth of an enslaved population in the land of the free.

Take it in. The fullness of our being requires embracing the totality of our history.




Tayari and I gave birth to, and reared, five children. Three of them are daughters. Asante, Kiini, and Tiaji. The youngest lives in the wilderness surrounding D.C., where Tiaji works in the federal government. The middle child, Kiini, whom I sometimes half-jokingly/half-seriously refer to as the president of my fan club, is a professional writer domiciled in the ‘People’s Republic of Brooklyn’. And the eldest of the quintet, Asante, an arts administrator, lives but a few miles away from her obstinate father, on the west bank of our fabled city. However, there are a number of other young women whom I sometimes refer to as my daughters. And of whom I am exceedingly proud. Asali is one of them.

Hail Asali Devan Ecclesiastes. At the end of August 2019 she was announced the new director of Ashe Cultural Arts Center, a premiere arts institution in New Orleans. Asali was a long standing member of Nommo Literary Society, a writing workshop I co-founded with Kysha Brown Robinson (yes, another one of the clan of daughters of Salaam). Asali lived around the corner from my office in Treme. In fact we shot the movies ‘When Love Hurts’ on her front porch and ‘Baby Love’ in her kitchen. Asali is also a major spoken word artist among New Orleans writers, a pantheon of scribes that dates back to Les Cenelles in 1845.

Ashe Cultural Arts Center, of which Asali has become the second director, was birthed by Carol Bebelle and Douglas Redd. Carol, the retiring leader, is a longtime family friend and Doug, well, Doug was my artistic alter ego. He and I literally spent years together in sickness and in health, before his passing on July 18, 2007.

As is apparent from this brief description, I am close to and love a coterie of New Orleans people who are significant members of the New Orleans diaspora, a collection of men and women who give style and substance to our city’s future both locally and on a national basis.

Again, all hail, Asali Devan Ecclesiastes, an embodiment of Sankofa women–one who never forgets her past as she confidently strides into our future.


Bill Withers. If you over forty, you probably got a Withers favorite lyric, or at least a saying or phrase from his catalogue that makes perfect melodic sense on the merry-go-round of your own life. If you younger than forty and don’t have a Withers diddy that touches you, by and by, once you hear his music after going through some personal life experiences, you will have a phrase, or even a whole song, that sticks with you as you get on with your getting on.

I remember Amiri Baraka telling a story to a group of us. He said when he was younger, a mentor told him he would dig so and so when he got older. According to Amiri, there are some things you can’t fully appreciate until you have some years on you. A bunch of Bill’s music is like that, requires experience to be fully appreciated.

Indeed, a healthy portion of us are likely to get misty-eyed when we listen to a song like “Hello Like Before“–as we quietly remember a certain touching someone who had caressed us over a decade before. Or when we reflect on a friend or acquaintance  we know who perfectly fits a song like “But She’s Lonely”. 

Bill Withers. He a special somebody. Unlike ninety-nine percent of us, he be the only man that I know of who has literally walked away from fame and fortune, turned his back on the narcotic of an audience of thousands applauding. Regularly resisted and refused lucrative offers to make a comeback recording. Bill Withers the performer has left the building. 

Fortunately, six or seven albums from his fifteen-year period of public performance are available, along with a couple or three videos of him in a television studio. Here is a set I dig from 1972 featuring Melvin Dunlap on bass, James Gadson on drums, Benorce Blackmon on guitar, and Ray Jackson on keyboard.

Bill Withers is an example of a gifted man who has not allowed his gift to push him to keep going long after he should have stopped. Bill was at the top of his game when he gave up being a star.

Maybe it was because he was in his thirties when he started recording. Maybe it is because he is an ornery old man what don’t give a damn about being rich or famous. He made enough to live on and so he only does what he wants to do and later for the rest of the okey-doke.

Still Bill is a magnificent documentary that captures a good bit of both the personality and the mystique of Bill Withers. And here is Stevie Wonder and John Legend inducting Bill Withers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

So there it is. Bill Withers, one of the best song writers who ever lived, who had the good sense and intestinal fortitude to retire when he was on top. We should all be so blessed as to be able to  be satisfied with whomsoever we actually are without striving to be somebody we are not. We should all be  blessed not to need outside validation to make ourselves feel a complete human being.

Bill Withers–a man who stopped–is a perfect example of success. Enjoy his music, learn from his example of playing the game and not letting the game play him.


Most of us are aware that American slavery formally started in 1619 and, thus, in 2019 we are observing both the beginning of slavery in our country and, more importantly, intently interrogating the social structure of this country. Moreover, while some of us are aware that the presence of people of African descent in what is now the U.S.  began well before Jamestown, we also recognize that the dominant story proffers the American tradition as one of freedom from day one.

In the “America is the home of the free” viewpoint, slavery is viewed as an anachronism that does not represent the fundamental truth of who we are, or, at the very least, the best of who we are. On the other hand, some of us, argue that on the deepest level, America was founded as a divided country along racial, class and gender demarcations and continues to be divided.

Perhaps the truth is a mix: to varying degrees, all of us value and aspire to the freedom view, while we simultaneously struggle for and declare that our freedom must be fought for. Regardless of our viewpoint, there is no easy road to social wellbeing.

I believe knowing our history as well as assessing our current condition are both critical. This is especially the case because we in America tend to be less concerned with history than we are fixated on celebrating and enjoying the pleasures and prerogatives of the present. Thus, as a corrective contribution, I join with forward thinking people who study our past.

In particular, I consider the recent work of the New York Times and some of the responses to their 1619 Project.

Sixteen nineteen is not our beginning, nor will the upcoming 2020 presidential election be our ending. We sometimes forget that black lives in the western hemisphere existed centuries preceding the founding of America and our presence will, in all probability, continue long after America is an afterthought in some future time frame. 

In other words, we should be aware of but not consumed by our past. We should understand, but not be limited by our history. Be the Sankofa bird, looking backward as it moves forward. Both awareness of our history and struggling for our future is important.

But, as our African heritage teaches: if we know the beginning well, the end will not trouble us. Whatever we do in the here and now and whatever our future dreams are, we can not and should not ever forget from whence we came. An appreciation of our history is a necessary element in identifying who we are and where we want to go.



I try to write in such a way that the words explain themselves, clearly state what I mean to say, and give a flavor of my personality. However, more and more often, people are asking me to share my background, my thoughts and feelings. Who were my parents, what was it like growing up in New Orleans participating in the civil rights movement, so forth and so on.

Here are two pieces. First is an interview conducted by Thomas Chisholm that focuses on my participation in the Octavia Butler project, the book titled Octavia’s Brood. Second is a short essay I’ve posted some decades ago, which explicitly states my position: I do not protest, I resist.

Hopefully there is something of value in both these selections. Use what you can, leave the rest alone.


* * * * *

I Do Not Protest, I Resist



Like most writers, figuring out how to economically support myself is a major problem. I have worked as an editor, as an arts administrator, and as the co-owner of a public relations, marketing and advertising firm. I have freelanced on projects ranging from $10 record reviews to commissions from publishers. Economy necessity is a major influence on what I write.


I have written commercials whose messages I personally reject like a radio jingle for a Cajun meat-lovers pizza when I don’t eat red meat. Of course, like many others, while I try to steer clear of major contradictions, I have done my share of hack work.


Doing what one must in order to survive is one major way in which the status quo effectively shapes us. As a writer, money making options are surprisingly limited. We all know and face the wolf of survival. There is no news in that story.


But wolves run in packs, and survival is not the only predator. There is also our own desire to succeed—I remember reading about “the fickle bitch of success” and wondering why was success described as a “bitch.” I have my own ideas, but that’s a different discussion.


Success is a very complicated question. We can easily dismiss “selling out” our ideals for a dollar, but what we can’t easily dismiss either in principle or in fact, is that we all want our work to reach the widest possible audience. On the contemporary literary scene, reaching a wide audience almost requires going through major publishers. Participation in the status quo makes strenuous demands of our art to conform to prevailing standards, one of which is that the only overtly political art worthy of the title art is “protest art”.


Capitalism loves “protest art” because protest is the safety valve that dissipates opposition and can even be used to prove how liberal the system is. You know the line: “aren’t you lucky to be living in a system where you have the right to protest?” Without denying the obvious and hard won political freedoms that exist in the USA, my position is that we must move from protest to resistance if we are to be effective in changing the status quo.


The real question is do we simply want “in” or do we want structural change? Most of us start off wanting in. It is natural to desire both acceptance by as well as success within the society into which one is born. But, in the immortal words of P-funk President George Clinton: “mind your wants because someone wants your mind.” Those of us who by circumstance of birth are located on the outside of the status quo (whether based on ethnicity, gender or class), face an existential question which cuts to the heart: how will I define success and is acceptance by the status quo part of what I want in life?


While it is simple enough to answer in the abstract, in truth, i.e. the day to day living that we do, it’s awfully lonely on the outside, psychologically taxing, and ultimately a very difficult position to maintain. Who wants to be marginalized as an artist and known to only a handful of people? Given the choice between having a book published by a mainstream publisher and not having one published by a mainstream publisher, most writers (regardless of identity) would choose to be published, especially when it seems that one is writing whatever it is one wants to write.


Without ever having to censor you formally—after a few years of rejection slips most writers will censor and change themselves—mainstream publishers shape contemporary literature by applying two criteria: 1. is it commercial, or 2. is it artistically important. Either will get you published at least once, although only the former will get you published twice, thrice and so forth.


Unless one is very, very clear about one’s commitment to socially relevant writing, even the most revolutionary writer can become embittered after thirty or forty years of toiling in obscurity. As a forty-seven-year-old (this essay was written in 1994) African American writer, I know that if you do not publish with establishment publishers, be they commercial, academic or small independents, then you will have very little chance of achieving “success” as a writer.


I sat on an NEA panel considering audience develop applications. One grant listed Haki Madhubuti as one of the poets they wanted to present. I was the only person there who knew Madhubuti’s work. I was expected to be conversant with the work of contemporary writers across the board. But how is it that a contemporary African American poet with over three million books in print who is also the head of Third World Press, one of this country’s oldest Black publishing companies, was unknown to my colleagues? The answer is simple: Madhubuti is not published by the status quo. He started off self publishing, came of age in the 60s/70s Black Arts Movement and is one of the most widely read poets among African Americans but all of his books have been published by small, independent Black publishers.


Too often success is measured by acceptance within the status quo rather than by the quality of one’s literary work. That is why we witness authors proclaimed as “major Black writers” when they have only published one or two books (albeit with major publishers) within a five year period. There is no surprise here. My assumption is that as long as the big house stands, “success” will continue to be measured by whether one gets to sleep in big house beds.


This brings me to the subject of protest art. The reason I do not believe in protest art is because I have no desire to bed down with the status quo nor do I have a desire to be legitimized by the status quo. Instead, my struggle is to change the status quo. For me protest art is not an option precisely because in reality protest art is simply a knock on the door of the big house.


There is a long tradition of African American protest art, especially in literature. As a genre, the slave narrative emerged as an integral part of the white led 19th century abolitionist movement. One major purpose of the slave narratives was to address Christian senses of charity and guilt—charity toward the less fortunate and guilt for the “sin” of supporting slavery.


But even at that time there was a major distinction to be made between abolitionist sentiments and charity work on the one hand, and, on the other hand, active participation in the armed struggle against slavery, which included participation in the illegal activity of the underground railroad and support of clandestine armed opposition. This meant fighting with the John Browns of that era or joining the throng of insurgents storming court rooms to “liberate” detained African Americans who had escaped from the south and were then ensnared in the web of the Northern criminal justice system which continued to recognize the “property rights” of Southern slave owners.


While the issues of today are no longer revolve around slavery, the distinction between protest and resistance, between charity and solidarity, remains the heart of the matter at hand. To protest is implicitly to accept the authority of the existing system and to appeal for a change of mind on the part of those in power and those who make up the body politic. To resist on the other hand is to fight against the system of authority while seeking to win over those who make up the body politic. “Winning over” is more than simply asking someone to change their mind, it is also convincing someone to change their way of living.


In the 50s and 60s a debate raged among Black intellectuals about “protest art”. Ironically, one of the chief opponents of protest art was James Baldwin—”ironically” because over the years the bulk of Baldwin’s essays, fiction and drama can be read as a “protest” against bigotry and inhumanity, as a plea to his fellow human beings to change their hearts, minds and lives.


When Baldwin started out he wanted to be “free” and to be accepted as the equal of any other human being. He did not want to be saddled with the “albatross” of racial (or sexual) themes as the defining factor of his work. Yet, as he lived, he changed and began to voluntarily take up these issues. I believe life changed him.


The reality is that we can not continue to live in America with the social deterioration, mean spiritedness, and crass materialism which is polluting our individual and collective lives. We are literally a nation of drug addicts (alcohol and tobacco chief among our drugs of choice, with over-the-counter pain killers and headache remedies running a close third). We are suffering horrendous rates of violence and disease. There is a widening economic gap at a time when many of our major urban centers teeter on the brink of implosion: aging physical infrastructures such as bridges, sewer systems, housing; corrupt political administration; and increasing ethnic conflict. Something has got to give.


My position is simple, we live in a period of transition. We can protest the current conditions and/or we can struggle to envision and create alternatives. We can plead for relief or we can work to inspire and incite our fellow citizens to resist. As artists, we have a choice to make. Indeed, there is always a choice to make.


Protest art always ends up being trendy precisely because the art necessarily struggles to be accepted by the very people the art should oppose. Ultimately, protest artists are, by definition, more interested in relating to the enemy than relating to the potential insurgents. This is why we have protest artists whose cutting edge work is rejected by neighborhood people.


Yes, neighborhood people have tastes which have been shaped by the consumer society. Yes, neighborhood people are parochial and not very deep intellectually. Yes, neighborhood people are unsophisticated when it comes to the arts. But the very purpose of resistance art is to confront and change every negative yes of submission into a powerful and positive no of resistance! Our job as committed artists is to raise consciousness by starting where our neighborhoods are and moving up from there.


Resistance art requires internalizing by an audience of the sufferers in order to be successful. The horrible truth is that every successful social struggle requires immense sacrifices, and the committed artist must also sacrifice—not simply suffer temporary poverty until one is discovered by the status quo, but sacrifice the potential wealth associated with a status quo career to work in solidarity with those who too often are born, live, struggle and die in anonymous poverty.


We think nothing of the millions of people in this society who live and die without ever achieving even one tenth of the material wealth that many of us take for granted. We think nothing of those who are literally maimed and deformed as a result of the military and economic war waged against peoples in far away lands in order to insure profit for American based billionaires. Somehow, while the vast majority of our fellow citizens are never recognized by name, we artists think it ignoble to live and die without being lauded in the New York Times.


But if we remember nothing else, we should remember this. Ultimately, the true “nobility of our humanity” will be judged not by the status quo but by the people of the future—the people who will look back on our age and wonder what in the world could we have had on our minds. Protest is not enough, we must resist.





Think about it, whatever the “it” is you’re focused on.

London-based brother Samm Henshaw dropped this little something-something on us. Forget the bag of chips, we are going to “Church”. Samm’s song got us all dancing, whether non-believers or true followers, we be getting down with this one.

On one level, there is a literal meaning. It’s Sunday morning, time to go to a house of worship. That is specifically a Christian message. But on another level the house of worship is symbolically the place of fellowship, of community, as well as the site of spiritual rejuvenation and instruction.

And yet deeper than deep, “wake up” could mean to become aware; and church, well, replace that word with “work” and then it means not a specific place but rather a productive activity. Moreover, work does not have to be limited to labor in exchange for a paycheck in a capitalist system. Work could mean struggle for self-determination, self-defense, and self-respect, i.e. “power” in the human social sense, which, on a progressive level, refers not just to the general human condition, but also to specific sub-divisions, especially gender defined foci (feminine, LGBTQ+) and beyond that, work could be about development along with/among social categories such as immigrant, youth, disabled, elderly, and refugees seeking asylum. The song works on so many different levels. Think about it; don’t just dance to it.

Plus, as some welcomed lagniappe, in addition to the original, here are remixes and live versions, with an extra-bonus track that spells out the lyrics.



Set in 1937 Third Reich Germany and focusing on a pair of Afro-German women, Our Rhineland is a drama that proposes a major question: during a period of struggle, would you die to save your sister, your brother, or a close friend?

Our Rhineland was written and directed by Faren Humes, an independent filmmaker. This is one of four films (Liberty – 2019, Macho 2016, Our Rhineland – 2011, and Nasir – 2010) she has thus far completed. Conceiving and accomplishing a project such as this is a daunting achievement especially considering that this movie is set in a different time, different place, and in a different culture.

When I came across this brief but tautly drawn movie I was immediately smitten. Especially by how well the actors were guided through their reactions and interactions. Moreover, the German language script with English subtitles was particularly effective in evoking the choice between the activism of struggle against oppression versus trying to find ways to accommodate and thus survive under oppressive regimes.

While surely silence in the face of lethal oppression equals death, on the other hand activist opposition is often equally a death sentence. Perhaps, in certain circumstances, our choice is, reductively in the final analysis, selectively deciding and acting not only on how we choose to live, but also on how we choose to die. This hard choice was famously articulated by Jamaican immigrant and poet Claude McKay in his 1919, Harlem Renaissance era, anthemic sonnet “If We Must Die”.

Humes shows that how one lives, either accepting or fighting back, is no easy choice and that both sides have consequences that affect and forever alter one’s life cycle. Humes has said “The inherent need for freedom, and how it manifests as resistance once threatened by systems of oppression, is strung throughout all of [my] subject matter.”

Ms. Humes’ work encouraged me to recall my own journey to filmmaking. In the fall of 1964 during my brief, two trimester, stint at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, I was introduced to what was then called “art house” cinema. When I saw “Kanal” directed by Andrzej Wajda, the Polish filmmaker became a life long influence on me.

Before that in 1959 while in junior high school, under the inspiration of Mr. Conrad, my seventh grade industrial arts teacher, I became a photographer. A Yashica twin lens reflex was the first camera I bought.

Over a half century after high school, I saw Faren Humes’ daring project and was thoroughly moved. Subsequently, I have never forgotten this brief masterpiece that became one of my all time favorite movies. Even when I couldn’t remember the film’s title, I could easily recall the bleak but nonetheless inspirational storyline focusing on sacrifice and the particular clash that happens when two who are close have different opinions about which way to go.

Do you split at the crossroads, or do you choose to make an ultimate sacrifice? What I found truly amazing is how deep Humes went in a short sixteen minutes. She was deft in her employment of semiotics, using images to tell complex stories and particularly to center on the importance, as well as the risks, of exhuming and exposing the buried contradictions of a society. Humes’ insightful artwork has won the Director’s Guild of America Student Film Award and an Academy of Television Arts & Sciences College Television Award. Early on Humes evidenced artistic skill and vision. 

Beaucoup years later during an internet deep fishing expedition, I was overjoyed to again come across Faren Humes’ project and now I share the  quarter-hour film. Observe, consider and enjoy.


Doing what no woman has ever done. Can’t say nothing. Just watch and appreciate. First in real time, and then in slow-motion, so you can fully appreciate what she is doing.

Real time:


Slow motion:

There is something alluring about flying through the air. Not in an airplane or aboard a hot air ballon. But propelled by our own muscles, and skill. Hurling, twisting, turning. Feeling free. Momentarily defying gravity.

But inevitably we return to earth, to the floor, the mat. Whatever. Just back down to zero.

This desire for freedom’s flight is not just physical. Indeed, among the people formerly known as negroes there is a deep desire to fly. Fly away. Be flying home.

A centuries old longing for a state not actually remembered, sometimes only mustard seed in size, but there nonetheless. Amidst all the troubles of the world, we still dream of flying.

Which is why talented and multi-awarded gymnast Simone Biles testifying about her personal predicament is so very, very important. Vital for sanity’s sake. In an intimate and terrible sense, none of us can be whole until we are able to reveal our scars, our wounds, our hurts, our losses. None of us.

No matter how high, how far we have flown, all of us, at one time or another, each and everyone one of us has fallen. For some it was just a slip, for others, we crashed. None of us escapes life’s pains–even those who only walk, maybe skip, occasionally hop, but have never, ever exulted in the ether of flying.

The horrible truth is that whatever our courage, whatever our cowardice, regardless, we know we can fall; we all, at one level or another, each of us has our own fear of flying. Why? Because, even for those of us who have only dreamed of flying, we all know that ultimately we are earth bound. By nature, we are all members of the fallen.

However, the true terribleness of the fall is that far, far too many of us did not stumble, nor slip, make a mis-step, nor aspire to go where our center could not hold. The terrible truth is that too often we were pushed. And the pushing most often came from those who were close enough to reach out and touch us.

Listen to Simone. You are not alone. All of us, at one time or another, or another, or on and on, we all have suffered. But let not our failures define us. As sure as we walk, flat-footed on the ground. We need not stay grounded. Even if only in our imaginations, we all can fly.

Each of us has our own idiosyncratic form of flying.

We all should fly. Dream. Believe. Do it. No matter how briefly. Do it.




(February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019)


Many will memorialize her far better than I. Her literature, both creative and critical, will be studied, quoted, repeated for decades, and yes, for years to come. Whether we closely read her words or simply know of her literary accomplishments, we are all better for having shared time and space during the era of her writing. Why? Well, because she helped each of us understand ourselves better, understand our need and capacity to be the fullness of our we whomsoever we be.

Regardless of our own particular specifics, she encouraged each of us to produce as well as taste the fruit and flower of our individual existence. And though we all have our struggles to wage, as our elders knew and taught us: be yourself and be guided by love (sometimes tender, sometimes tough, but in its various and variegated manifestations, both individually and in the aggregate, in order to be fully human, love is what we all need). Know that among us are seers,  wonder-filled sages as love wise as was our so, so special Toni Morrison.

Toni Morrison taught us: in all its wondrous twists and turns, we will come to understand the totality of life (and also death) by and by. Yes, if we live, we’ll better understand it all, by and by.

All hail Toni Morrison!


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Listen and Look

Photo courtesy of Rochelle Ritchie/Barnard College Office of News and Strategic Communications

Toni Morrison:

In Her Own Words

Commencement address to Barnard Class of 1979