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Here’s a New Mixtape

From Montréal’s



Congolese-Canadian DJ Bonbon Kojak comes through with the first installment in a mixtape series from Moonshine, a Montréal-based “afrocentric collective” that, apparently, hosts secret parties on the “Saturday after every full moon.”

The collective is home to Pierre Kwenders, Bambii and Boycott, and has featured acts such as DJ Windows 98 (Arcade Fire’s Win Butler), Shabazz Palaces, and Uproot Andy.

In Espoir 2018, Bonbon Kojak leads us on a high-octane journey through the sounds heard at these underground Montréal soirées.

Espoir 2018 is an uplifting selection of songs about hope and self worth, celebrating the new sonic breath of African dance culture from old to new,” Bonbon Kojak tells Okayafrica. “The year 2018 represents the utopia of the 2000s…. an opportunity to recreate the world. Motivate youth to continue working for a better future.”

Stream the mix above and check out the full track list below.


Track List
1 – Shimbalaya – Afro Panico – Prod. Leo Beatz
2 – Mabele – Oscar neves (Uproot Andy & geko jones remix)
3 – Instrumental Afro Trap ( Prod #3) – Fabio Dms
4 – J’habite à Paris – Manu le Boss
5 – Ntanina Kwame – Cabo Snoop & Kyaku Kyadaff
6 – The One Connection – Afro Panico
7 – Kia Lumingo – Urbano De Castro (Uproot Andy & Geko Jones Remix)
8 – Shonta mu Mbingu – Spilulu
9 – Celebration (extentend version) – Heaky k Ft Kestro
10 – Baraka iyi mwaka – Spilulu feat Karibiona ( Instrumental)





August 16, 2016

August 16, 2016










by Sarit Luban


Photos of Courtney Bryan by Elizabeth Leitzell.

Photos of Courtney Bryan by Elizabeth Leitzell.

Courtney Bryan is fluent in many musical languages. A composer and instrumentalist since childhood, Bryan spans classical, jazz, and experimental styles. When she weaves these styles together, they sound surprisingly organic and intentional. With arrangements ranging in size from solo piano to guitar trio to full orchestra and chorus, her original works resonate in the spaces between old and new, sacred and secular, particular and universal.

Bryan has released two independent recordings, “Quest for Freedom” (2007) and “This Little Light of Mine” (2010). Her latest live premiere of a new work shared a date with the one-year anniversary of Sandra Bland’s death in police custody (which occurred on July 13, 2015). And not by accident. Bryan, along with poet Sharan Strange and vocalist Helga Davis, had been preparing for that date for months. The three women collaborated on a musical memorial to Sandra Bland through a commission by The Dream Unfinished, an activist orchestra gathered to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter in a genre often known for its adherence to convention and even conservatism.

While pushing the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable within the concert hall, however, Bryan gracefully refuses to be defined by her non-conformity, acoustically or politically. Her upcoming projects include scoring for puppet theater, expanding an art song by Florence Price and Langston Hughes into a 45-minute installation, and an orchestral commission for the Colorado Springs Philharmonic inspired by “America the Beautiful.” The latter, Bryan says in light of her recent compositions condemning police brutality, is an affirmation of her willingness to hope that maybe things can get better. 


SARIT LUBAN: How did you end up connecting with The Dream Unfinished and then getting involved in the project?

COURTNEY BRYAN: I got an email from them after they heard a piece I did for orchestra and recorded sounds performed at Lincoln Center called “Sanctum.” It was an artistic response to police brutality. The sounds I used had the voice of Marlene Pinnock, a Black woman who a bystander filmed being beaten by a cop on one of the L.A. freeways. She’s one of the victims of police brutality who lived to talk about it. I used the interviews she gave when she first saw the videos of herself being beaten, and I also used recordings of people protesting in Ferguson. I didn’t start out that project thinking I would do a piece on police brutality. I was writing a piece inspired by different sermons I heard by Shirley Caeser and Reverend C. L. Franklin, the father of Aretha Franklin. But the topic of those sermons was kind of related to a lot of incidents that were happening and my piece evolved into that. So I was happy to then get asked to write something specifically related to Sandra Bland.

“Sanctum” has recordings from marches and protests, which struck me as so explicitly political. I’m curious if you regard your music that way. Would you call that piece political, and if so, how intentional was that? 

To describe my music in general, I’m very interested in sacred music and bridging the line between sacred and secular. What’s going on right now with police brutality, an issue that’s been on my mind, fits along with that. My primary interest is conveying different emotions through music and hopefully bringing that out in other people, no matter what the music means to them outside of the sound. But with that piece, I did make certain choices. Using the recording of “hands up, don’t shoot” was a decision very specific to this time period. I got advice from mentor composers that were like, do you want to write a timeless piece or do you want it to be specific to now? I think they were trying to warn me against something that might not have the same meaning 10 years from now or that some people might miss. But artistically I felt like those voices were part of the piece. 

World Premiere and Commissioned by American Composers Orchestra at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 9, 2015, Conductor George Manahan

Sanctum, for orchestra and recorded sound, explores the sound of improvisation in Holiness-preaching traditions. I draw inspiration from recorded sermons, The Praying Slave Lady by Pastor Shirley Caesar, The Eagle Stirs His Nest by Reverend C. L. Franklin, and Reverend Charles Albert Tindley’s hymn, Stand By Me. Included are the voices of Marlene Pinnock and of activists in Ferguson, Missouri from 2014. Sanctum is my artistic response to recent events of police brutality. By employing techniques of layered repetition, rhythmic intensity, sounds of moaning and whooping, and voices of the past and present, Sanctum invokes solace found in the midst of persecution and tribulation.

Sanctum was commissioned and premiered by American Composers Orchestra with the generous support of The Jerome Foundation and The Peter Heller Fund.…ans-is.html


As a composer freelancing or looking to get pieces commissioned, do you think there are any risks to that? 

That’s why it was so nice when the commission from The Dream Unfinished came along. I took a risk with the last piece, but then someone else asked me to do something specifically on that thing. There is always the risk that certain donors won’t have the same interest. They might say, “I don’t want to mix my art with my politics” or “I have different politics.” Even when I had the piece performed at Lincoln Center, some people did seem very uncomfortable when they heard the voices saying, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” I had them go from left to right; I was very aware that I was surrounding the audience with these voices. 

At the same time, I’ve learned that when I worry too much about what people will think, I don’t write really good music. I’m also a Black woman, and I’m a Black woman in the classical world. A lot of times it would seem the thing to do is not to bring attention to that. Maybe try to blend in, not do a piece about a Black woman who was victimized by a policeman or a concert about women of Black Lives Matter. But I don’t think hiding ever helps. Whatever matters to you, go for it, and know that some will lose interest in you and you also might find a community of people interested in the same things. 

When did it become clear to you that you were a composer? 

I’ve always written music and played piano, so I didn’t really separate performing and composing. I would create songs on the piano, since I was five or so, and my parents would record them for me. When I was in elementary school I had a teacher named Jean Curtis, and I would say, “Here’s a song I made up,” but she would tell me to use the word “composed.” So from early on I was identifying as a composer. It wasn’t until later, in high school and going into conservatory, that I realized how people separated things: Are you a composer or are you a performer? Are you doing this style or that style? 

I went to Oberlin Conservatory for undergrad and I started off with three majors: classical piano, jazz piano, and composition. It was assumed that you wouldn’t graduate with all those, but it helped me find out what I was into. The first thing to go was actually classical piano. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but I realized it was a very specific career path to become a concert pianist. And I could tell that wasn’t my path. Around that time I was still worried about titles, but I think the choices were making themselves for me, that composition is my main focus. It was tricky, because I was existing in different worlds: the classical and the jazz world, performing and composing. Later, through my time at Columbia working with George Lewis on my doctorate in composition, I was taking all these different things and trying to put them all into my work, not separate them by style or process. 

You’re from New Orleans and you eventually ended up in New York, although you’ve recently returned to your hometown. With all the different styles that you’ve combined into your own sound, do you think these places and their musical heritages influenced your writing? 

Definitely. In New Orleans, music is everywhere. There’s the brass bands and the second lines; there’s always some excuse for a parade. Marching band was a really big thing for us in school, and a lot of us got our performance experience that way. I played clarinet for a while just so I could be in marching band. 

I’ve also played in church everywhere I’ve been, and I’ve been involved in different denominations so I’ve learned different styles of playing. I find that the way I approach music is very related to my role as a church musician. In that setting you’re trying to bring some sort of emotional catharsis during the service. For some people, that’s their counseling during the week. In New Jersey, for many years I was at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, and that had a profound impact both on the music I write and perform and on my scholarship. 
New York City itself, there my music did became a little more…I don’t know if it’s hectic, but the pace of the city has affected my music. I’m excited now coming back to New Orleans to see how things will change. I’m getting into the rhythm of New Orleans, which is so different than New York or New Jersey. I’m interested in exploring it naturally in my music.


Sarit Luban is a freelance writer in Boston, MA. Follow her on Twitter: @suhreet. 









19 August, 2016

19 August, 2016





US law has long seen

people of African descent

as fugitives


An Emancipation Day parade, Richmond VA. c1905. Library of Congress

An Emancipation Day parade, Richmond VA. c1905. Library of Congress

Occasionally, a mistruth spreads that the Second Amendment to the US Constitution was based on the need for slave patrols. It wasn’t. It grew out of an old republican fear of standing armies as instruments of tyranny. But the surveillance of black people and Americans’ obsession with guns and the right to bear arms do have a deep and long entangled history. Though they did not originate for this purpose, the fact is that armed militias in the US quickly developed into racist, anti-black enterprises. Militias were meant to protect property rights, after all, and in the slaveholding republic, slaves were very valuable property. So in 1792, when Congress enacted the first Militia Act, it restricted the right to bear arms to white male citizens. To do so, it had to exclude African Americans, some of whom had served in the Continental Army during the revolution.

In the South especially, militias often doubled as slave patrols, hunting down and punishing runaway slaves or suspected runaways. In the 19thcentury, before Emancipation, over 90 per cent of the African American population was enslaved and the legal regimen of slavery defined runaway slaves as fugitives from the law, as criminals. As a result, no black person, free or slave, was ever above suspicion in the eyes of the law. The legal encouragement to see African Americans as fugitives was not just in the South. The fugitive slave clause of the Constitution and the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 recognised southern laws of slavery in the North, even facilitating the kidnapping of northern free blacks into slavery. In short, American law treated people of African descent as fugitives.

Abolitionists, anti-slavery lawyers and politicians came together to oppose the repressive reach of this regime that rendered African Americans fugitives. Opposition to the slave regime terrified slaveholders and their allies, and in reaction, in 1850, they passed the draconian Fugitive Slave Act. The Fugitive Slave Act called on all adult white male citizens and officials in the North to assist slaveholders and apprehend fugitive slaves, or risk heavy fines and imprisonment. Abolitionists condemned the ‘lawless law’, which they said flouted due process. It denied suspected fugitive slaves trial by jury, redress in northern courts, and basic legal protections. Often condemned by conservatives and slaveholders for advocating their own ‘higher law’, abolitionists insisted that the state and the law be held accountable to the principle of human rights. ‘Equality before the law’ regardless of race was the gold standard that the radical antislavery senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner, upheld.

Nineteenth-century African American abolitionists argued, in essence, that black lives mattered. David Ruggles and Charles Langston countered the extreme implications of the Fugitive Slave Act by arguing that ‘self defence’ and ‘self preservation’ was the first law of nature. Two of the most famous fugitive slave cases in the decade before the US Civil War were those of William ‘Jerry’ Henry in Syracuse and Anthony Burns in Boston. Henry and Burns were detained and arrested on the pretext of stealing, a 19th century version of stop-and-frisk, before being remanded as fugitive slaves.

Perversely, the 1850 law also added a monetary incentive for commissioners who ruled that that the suspect was in fact a slave, not a free person. They received $10 for remanding fugitives versus $5 for setting them free, adding bribery to injustice, abolitionists claimed. (Today’s version of this perverse policy is for-profit policing, where counties prey on vulnerable and poor minorities for revenue.) These unjust policies moved many to action. Abolitionists attempted to forcibly rescue suspected fugitives from northern jails and courts. In the Burns case, such attempts resulted in the death of a federal marshal.

With the demise of slavery, the policing and disciplining of African Americans did not disappear or diminish, it grew. Black codes criminalised black economic independence and mobility and legal and extra-legal violence curtailed black freedom throughout the South. During Radical Reconstruction, the attempt to establish an interracial democracy after the Civil War, these state laws were overthrown and federal laws and constitutional amendments established black citizenship in the country.

But after Reconstruction, it was open season on black people. Lynchings, racist pogroms, and vigilante violence accompanied state repression in the form of convict leasing, debt peonage, segregation, and disfranchisement. The use of black convict labour, ‘worse than slavery’, also fortified the regime of fugitivity for thousands of blacks. African Americans were defined as quintessential criminals in law and popular culture. In the urban south and later north, the hyper-policing of black people and neighbourhoods accompanied the professionalisation of police forces and gave birth to our modern scourge: police brutality against African Americans. The mass incarceration of black men in particular, even in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement and the election of the first African American president, continues to undermine citizenship and prolong black fugitivity.

The state of fugitivity, or the criminalisation of blackness, has outlived the institution of racial slavery and continues to haunt the United States. The wanton killing of black men, women, and children, whether at the hands of the police or private parties, ought to belong to the dustbin of history. Historically, black Americans have been the preeminent victims of the policing powers of the government. American society has viewed armed black men as a singular threat: from the era when slave rebellions were defined as petty treason against the state, to when returning black veterans from the First and Second World Wars were targeted by racist mobs, to the Black Panthers.

Given the peculiar history of racial oppression in the US, the fear of the armed black man is almost reflexive. The right to bear arms may not be racially restricted in law but it has always been suspect for the likes of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and other black men. One can imagine how Micah Johnson and Gavin Long, who, after all, had risked their lives for their country, became enraged at the never-ending stories of black deaths. One need not condone their actions to understand their frustration. As Mahatma Gandhi put it: ‘An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind’. The slain black police officer Montrell Jackson epitomises the nihilism of violence. It is high time, then, to stop making gun ownership the marker of citizenship and to stop making blackness the marker of criminality.

Maisha Sinha is the Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.  Her latest book is The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (2016).




September 10, 2016

September 10, 2016





For Diamond Reynolds,

trying to move past

10 tragic minutes of video


Diamond Reynolds’s live stream of the police shooting death of her boyfriend

On July 6, Philando Castile, 32, was fatally shot by a police officer
at a traffic stop outside St. Paul, Minn. His girlfriend, Diamond
Reynolds, live-streamed the aftermath on Facebook. Editor’s
note: This has been lightly edited for clarity.

(Courtesy of Diamond Reynolds)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Two police cruisers had just pulled up to the apartment building, their second visit of the day, but this time Diamond Reynolds barely bothered to look up. “Always something,” said Diamond, 27, as she shoved the contents of her closet into a cardboard box. She had six hours left to move out or risk eviction. Her short-term lease expired at 5 p.m., and the past several weeks had convinced her that East St. Paul was no longer a safe place to stay.

Maybe the police had been called to break up another dice game at the loading dock or to investigate the latest tenant complaints of black mold. Maybe they had come because of the neighborhood fight that culminated with someone trying to set the apartment building on fire that morning, forcing Diamond and her 4-year-old daughter, Dae’Anna, to evacuate their home at 4 a.m.

“Why are the police out there?” a neighbor asked, stopping by the open doorway of Diamond’s apartment.

“Who knows?” Diamond said. “They’re here enough to pay rent. It’s trauma or drama every day.”

She had been feeling the impact of policing on every moment of her life since July 6, the day an officer pulled over her boyfriend, Philando Castile, in the suburb of Falcon Heights for at least his 46th minor traffic stop in the past 13 years. “Again?” Diamond remembered saying to Castile that day, as the officer asked to see his license and registration. Castile, 32, reached down toward his waistband, where he kept not only his wallet but also a gun that he was licensed to carry. The officer shot him four times, and then Diamond took out her phone to record, just as she had done during a few of Castile’s other traffic stops. “Stay with me,” she told her boyfriend, as blood spread across his white T-shirt and she started to live-stream on Facebook.

For those next 10 minutes of video, she had become both the emotional catalyst and the cleareyed narrator in the debate over American policing: somehow composed, somehow cordial, continuing to live-stream even as the officer aimed his gun in her direction and screamed profanities, telling him “yes, sir” and “I will, sir” and “no worries” while she spoke into the camera and contradicted his version of the shooting in real time.

The governor of Minnesota had called her actions “heroic” and blamed the deadly shooting on racism. President Obama had posted his own Facebook message in response to say the country had a “serious problem” with “racial bias, year after year.” There were retaliatory shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and peaceful demonstrations in 37 cities, during which protesters marched and demanded consequences.

Diamond had gone to New York a few days later to appear on “Good Morning America,” leaving behind an apartment that was ransacked and robbed while she was away, and so far the main consequence she noticed in her own life was how one crisis spiraled immediately into the next. No more boyfriend to watch her daughter while she worked nights at the dollar store. No more paycheck to help cover her rent. No more roommate with a pistol to make her feel secure in St. Paul’s most dangerous neighborhood. No more car to go searching for a new apartment, because the car was Castile’s and had been seized as part of the investigation. No one left to help her move except for a social worker who said the only place available for a single mother with limited income and a previous eviction on her record was a dingy two-bedroom across town in a neighborhood that was almost as bad.

Every day took her further from those 10 minutes that had come to define her. Whether it was instinct or shock that had taken over inside the car, she was the one whom millions of viewers remembered as dignified, as unafraid, as somehow calm at the center of an American crisis. But now her life was becoming ever more frantic, and her composure was giving way to insomnia and panic attacks. The one thing she hoped might bring some relief was to move.

“I seriously need to get out of here,” said Diamond, now on the phone with the social worker. “Can I please get some help? His stuff is everywhere, and it’s way too much.”

The social worker told her not to worry. She said she would be helping coordinate the move by phone.

“So it’s just me?” Diamond said. “Are you serious?”

She hung up and started to fold Castile’s clothes into a large cardboard box labeled “Rest in Peace!” A few days earlier, she had taken some of his outfits to a laundromat for the first time since the shooting, hauling six loads onto a city bus. But some of the shirts still smelled like his cologne, so she had brought a few outfits back home unwashed to store away for herself.

Almost everything in the apartment belonged to him. They had been dating on and off for four years as Diamond’s life went up and down, and recently they started to talk about marriage and decided to move in together. She and Dae’Anna had come to the apartment directly from a homeless shelter in Red Wing, Minn., their ninth move in less than a year, and by then their possessions fit into one suitcase each. Diamond was a high school dropout with no savings and two jobs at a motel and a dollar store; Castile was a supervisor in a school cafeteria, with a steady salary and a 401(k). He had bought their big-screen TV and their new bed. Diamond had always fallen for extroverts more like her, but Castile preferred to play Xbox and go to bed by midnight. “Isn’t it boring dating a mute button?” some of Diamond’s friends had teased her, but in Castile’s case she was ready for boring. He bought her gifts. He remembered what time to pick Dae’Anna up from day care.

Her phone rang again. “Bad news,” the social worker said and then explained that she had just spoken to the property manager at Diamond’s new apartment, and the unit was not ready as promised. The walls still needed painting. The carpets hadn’t been cleaned. The property manager wanted Diamond to delay her move by at least a few days.

“Oh, hell no,” Diamond said. “We got fights happening over here. We’re being evacuated, and now it’s the weekend and these people are fitting to go crazy. I’m out. I’m not staying here no more nights.”

The social worker asked her to try to calm down, but Diamond interrupted.

“That’s all I’ve been hearing: ‘Stay calm. Be patient. It’s going to get better. Just visualize, visualize, visualize’ — but all I’m seeing is the same exact ghetto.”

In the first week after the shooting, more than 6,000 people had called, emailed or left her Facebook messages, and most of them had offered not only their condolences but also their own version of a solution. The governor suggested an independent investigation conducted by the Justice Department. A U.S. senator suggested a town hall to discuss race. Local mayors suggested new police training protocols. The top civil rights lawyer she hired from Chicago said she should file a lawsuit. The Black Lives Matter protesters said she should lead a march. The Rev. Al Sharpton said do more interviews, more TV, bring in the national spotlight. Her cousin said start an online fundraiser. Her bosses at the dollar store said take two months off to grieve and clear her head. Her family said move out of state, maybe to be with her mother in Indianapolis. A counselor said try a therapy dog, so now she had Cheddar, just 8 weeks old and not yet housebroken, peeing everywhere and always yapping at her feet.

The shared assumption behind all of their advice was that her trauma would lead to something more. Here came healing, here came justice, and as nice as all of that sounded, Diamond soon began ignoring messages and staying off her Facebook page. It had never been her experience that suffering or inequity led to anything.

“Nobody was worrying about me before all this, and nobody’s going to be fixing it all up now,” she said, and so instead of waiting for her caseworker to call back about the condition of the apartment, she decided go see it for herself. She painted her toenails blue and wore eyelash extensions and a pink bow in her hair. She grabbed a small motivational sticker that she always moved with her from one apartment to the next: “Nothing beats a failure but a try,” it read.

The only employee she could find at the new building was a woman from the rental agency, who looked at Diamond for a long minute and then clapped. “Mrs. Reynolds, from the video?” she said, and Diamond nodded, because she was used to being recognized a few times each day. “Wow,” the agent said. “I mean, I’m sorry. Oh, God. That was horrible. It felt like I was sitting there right beside you.”

“Thank you,” Diamond said, and she followed the agent up the stairs toward the second floor.

“You were so calm,” the agent said. “All those bullets? It must have been horrifying. I can’t imagine.”

“Thank you,” Diamond said again, and now they were at her apartment door.

“So dignified,” the agent said, and now they were finally inside the apartment, which smelled of mildew and sweat and smoke. Two window screens were torn. The walls were covered in greasy handprints. The toilet was missing its seat.

“Sorry. We’ll get this all fixed up before you move in,” the agent said, shielding her nose with her sleeve as they walked from the living room toward the back bedroom. The agent handed Diamond a checklist of things to inspect in the apartment and asked her to mark whatever items needed to be fixed. Diamond walked off by herself with the clipboard.

“Floor: Mop dog crap,” she wrote.

“Ceiling: Clean spider webs.”

“Refrigerator: Broken.” “Windows: Need all new.” “Lights: missing.” “Painting: Bad.” “Woodwork: Horrible.”

She took out her phone, clicked on the camera and began streaming a video. Her lawyer had recommended that she avoid posting on social media after the shooting to protect her privacy, so she had closed her Instagram account and dismantled her Facebook page when the original video surpassed 3 million views. But she had always found it cathartic to broadcast her life, so she had taken over a friend’s Snapchat account for a few weeks while he was in jail, since he wouldn’t be using it.

“Hey, everybody,” she said, live-streaming the dark crust on the bathroom sink to an audience of a few dozen strangers. “Anybody got bleach?”

“They said this place would be ready,” she said, turning the camera back on herself. “Don’t think I’m sleeping here tonight.”

She turned off the camera and sat down on the floor to consider her options. For the first time in her life, she had access to some money: $60,000 from an online fundraiser that a friend had started for her and Dae’Anna, but she was reluctant to even touch it. The money had caused a misunderstanding between her and Castile’s mother, who was directing donors to a separate family account. Diamond thought the best way to avoid tension and honor Castile was to stash her money away and save it all for Dae’Anna. She had been using food stamps and trying to spend as little as possible until Dae’Anna would start school and she could go back to work.

Now she picked up the phone to call a friend who lived a few blocks away. Diamond had been forced to move a few times each year since dropping out of high school at 17, and by now she knew all the protocols of being homeless in St. Paul. The shelters were typically full at the last minute. The cheap motels wanted a week’s deposit upfront. She could think of only one other option as she waited for maintenance to repair her apartment.

“Looks like I’m going to be couch surfing for a minute,” she said when her friend picked up. “Can I stay?”

As chaotic as her days were becoming, her nights were always the same: She lay awake and fought against her brain, willing herself to think about anything other than that day, until insomnia gave way to fatigue, and fatigue turned into despair and suddenly she was back inside the same recurring flashback. They were driving in Castile’s white Oldsmobile. They were being pulled over again into the right lane on Larpenteur Avenue, except this time it was different. In the flashbacks, Diamond was rarely looking at the man bleeding next to her in the front seat. She was looking behind her, into the back seat, where her daughter had the window rolled halfway down and a small bottle of juice in her hand. She had ribbons in her hair, and she was buckled into a pink car seat to witness it all.

“We need to seriously blow out this birthday party,” Diamond was saying to Dae’Anna now, back at the new apartment, as they continued to wait for maintenance to begin repairs. “Five is a big birthday,” she said. “Five is huge.”

“I want a whole table of different kinds of candy,” Dae’Anna said. “No limits. I get as much as I want.”

“A candy table,” Diamond agreed. “Maybe with some party favor bags, so our friends can take candy home, too.”

This had been their main topic of conversation since the shooting: a late August birthday party for Dae’Anna that seemed to grow in size every day. It had started as a get-together for a small group of friends at a neighborhood park, but in the weeks since the shooting it had built into a carnival staffed by a dozen volunteers. Diamond thought maybe she could rent a couple of bouncy castles. Maybe she could get a photo booth, a live band, piñatas and a cotton-candy maker to crowd out the other images she feared were taking root inside her daughter’s head.

“I was thinking about a clown cake,” Dae’Anna said.

“Can’t have a clown cake without a clown cake topper,” Diamond said, adding that to their long-running shopping list.

They had barely discussed the shooting since that day — not with each other and not with a professional — and Diamond thought maybe that was for the best. But she had gone back over her Facebook video in an attempt to understand exactly what Dae’Anna had witnessed from the back seat, expecting to be unnerved by her daughter’s screams. Instead, for the first four minutes of video, Dae’Anna had said nothing, and so Diamond began to wonder: How was that possible? How could anyone, much less a 4-year-old, keep quiet during those four minutes? The force of four bullets fired from point-blank range shook the car, and Dae’Anna was quiet. Castile rolled his head back between the seats and gasped, “I can’t breathe,” and Dae’Anna was quiet. The officer screamed, “Keep your hands where they are!” and she was quiet. The gun, still aimed inside the car, began to shake in the officer’s hand, and she was quiet. Diamond said, “Please don’t tell me he’s dead,” and she was quiet. Castile gripped his bleeding stomach, moaned, slid back between the seats and dropped his head right toward Dae’Anna’s lap, and she was quiet.

Diamond had taught her daughter to react that way. They had been practicing what Diamond called “survival skills” since before her daughter turned 2. Duck at the sound of gunfire. Make yourself small whenever you feel threatened. Never touch guns or needles. The more scared you are, the less noise you should make. These were some of the lessons Diamond had passed along from one generation to the next, and her daughter had learned them well. “It’s okay, Mommy. I’m right here with you,” Dae’Anna had said that day, as they sat together in the back of the police car and the video continued, and Diamond was still trying to understand why that was the one sentence in 10 minutes of archived terror that always made her catch her breath.

“Candles, glitter sticks, lipstick, carnival games, temporary tattoos, face paint,” Diamond said, reading her way down the list.

Dae’Anna had brought up Castile’s name only a few times since the shooting — to ask what had happened to his car or to say that she missed him. Diamond thought Dae’Anna understood he was dead. But mostly she looked happy playing with the toys that strangers kept sending her in the mail: princess outfits, angel statues, Legos and action figures. Once, a few weeks after Castile’s death, Diamond had overheard Dae’Anna playing with the action figures and saying something to them about how policemen shoot to kill. She had thought about going in to explain what it meant to be poor and black in Minnesota, but how could she tell a 4-year-old a story with no moral and no solution — a story with no apparent end? Maybe Dae’Anna was too young to understand, or maybe she already understood well enough. Either way, Diamond had left her alone to play.

“The one rule at the party is everyone brings you a present,” Diamond said. “Have you thought about what you want?”

“Yes. I’ve got a lot of ideas,” Dae’Anna said.

“Then tell me,” Diamond said, and for the next few minutes she sat next to her daughter and listened.

Again she took out her phone. Again she clicked on the camera. “Okay, everybody. It’s finally happening,” she said, zooming in on a truck as it pulled up to her new apartment. “We’re moving in. Fresh start. This is it.”

She live-streamed as two professional movers hauled boxes up to her entryway. She filmed as her sister and daughter helped unpack. One of the movers recognized her from the video and asked how she had managed to stay so calm. “I just try to be strong,” Diamond said, and then she turned on music and began placing furniture in the living room. She arranged the couch so it would hide stains on the wall and taped a motivational quote from Gandhi over a hole in the woodwork. She bleached the sink, scrubbed the bathtub and lit candles in the kitchen, and after a few hours the place smelled of cleaning supplies and lemon. Cheddar was quiet and happy in his crate. Dae’Anna came rushing down the hall and did somersaults in the living room.

“This place is huge!” she said. She had never lived in a two-bedroom before.

“It’s almost starting to look like a place where you’d want to live,” Diamond agreed. “We can work with this.”

The movers finished their work, and then her sister went home on the bus. Diamond continued to unpack until her back started to ache and the only boxes left to open were the ones labeled “Rest in Peace!” and then she sat down on the couch. She tried to turn on Castile’s TV, but she didn’t know how to set it up. She wanted to go lie down, but she didn’t know how to rebuild his bed. The apartment was quiet except for the sounds out the window of a car backfiring, distant sirens, and now a dog just beginning to bark in its crate. “Can you help me get Cheddar?” Diamond asked Dae’Anna. Diamond got the leash and opened the crate, but before they could make it to the door Cheddar was peeing on the floor. “Damn it!” Diamond said. She dragged Cheddar back into the kitchen. The floor felt sticky. The sink was covered with grime. The windows were missing their screens. Outside the sirens sounded as if they were coming closer.

“How long do they expect me to live like this?” Diamond said. She went downstairs to find maintenance, and one of the workers was standing outside the main entrance with a cigarette.

“Windows, mirrors, walls — come on now. Let’s go,” Diamond told him. “You promised me you’d get this done.”

“Sorry. We’ve been extra busy today,” the maintenance worker said.

“I’m trying to give y’all a chance,” Diamond said. “I was expecting more.”

“It’s not usually like this,” he told her, and when she continued to press, he began to explain the reason for the delay. Residents had been complaining about a tenant who lived down the hall from Diamond, he said. There had been reports of people coming and going with $20 bills and vacant stares, and the St. Paul police had sent an undercover officer to investigate possible drug activity. Now two maintenance workers were busy helping the officer gain access to the suspect’s apartment.

“The police are up there right now,” he said.

Diamond shook her head in disbelief. “This is what I was trying to get away from,” she said.

She stood there while he finished his cigarette, waiting for him to offer some kind of a solution. He stared back at her and shrugged.

“Sounds like I’ve found the right place,” she said, and then, trying to remain calm, she went back to the boxes upstairs.





September 3, 2016

September 3, 2016




5 Queer Black Female

Authors Who Will

Blow Your Mind

Wide Open

These writers are using their voices
to clear out racist, sexist and homophobic
spaces to make room for all of our stories.


Hashtags like #BrownGirlMagic, #BlackGirlsRock and #CareFreeBlackGirl represent a movement of self-definition led by black women for black women. A self-definition that seeks to motivate, push and create space for black women to stand up straight in the crooked room that is America’s commitment to distorted and backward portrayals of black women’s humanity.

Similarly, stories written by queer black women have been instrumental in creating an inclusive, diverse space within the larger black female community. Having queer black female writers freely penning their own stories challenges the notion that there is one way to be a black girl.

Writers like these inspire us to reclaim our narratives and embrace the ones that we have yet to create, eliminating the fear of painting the strokes of what it means to be a black woman with one brush and with one color—especially as it relates to black love and black sexuality.

Meet five queer black female authors who are using their voices to clear out racist, sexist and homophobic spaces to make room for all of our stories:

Nicole Dennis-Benn

Nicole Dennis-Benn JASON BERGER

Nicole Dennis-Benn

In 2012, Dennis-Benn made history in her native Jamaica when she tied the knot with her wife, then-fiancee, in the first same-sex wedding on the island. And now, in 2016, Dennis-Benn continues to create ripples of change with Here Comes the Sun. Her debut novel, which Dennis-Benn calls a “love letter to Jamaica,” puts the tourism industry, homophobia, the legacy of colonization and poverty front and center. The book follows the hard but necessary decisions that Margot has to make to be able to pay for her younger sister’s school fees. During the day, she works at a luxury hotel. At night, she sleeps with rich white men for sex. Amid this duplicity, she also has to reconcile her feelings of passion and love for a woman in a society where being who she really is could kill her.

Naomi Jackson

Naomi Jackson LOLA FLASH

Naomi Jackson

Even though her debut novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill, mainly focuses on themes of family, mental health and separation through the eyes of Dionne and Phaedra—two sisters sent away to spend the summer with their grandmother in Barbados while their suicidal mother attempts to make sense of her world in New York City—Jackson uses what happens to the character Jean close to the end of the novel to begin a meaningful discussion about what it means to be queer in the Caribbean.

Mia McKenzie


Mia McKenzie

Mia McKenzie is the founder of Black Girl Dangerous, an online safe space created to “amplify the voices of queer and transgender people of color.” Her debut novel, The Summer We Got Free, is a complex story that is at once murder mystery, political commentary and a queer love story about what it means to be truly free. McKenzie takes no shortcuts in creating memorable and enduring fiction: strong character development of not only the protagonist, Ava Delaney, but also of supporting characters; a gripping plot; and attention to themes of family, loss and redemption. All of these elements make it easy to fall in love with all of McKenzie’s characters and allow readers the space to have their own awakenings.

LaShonda Katrice Barnett

LaShonda Katrice Barnett LASHONDABARNETT.COM

LaShonda Katrice Barnett

LaShonda Barnett’s Jam on the Vine follows Ivoe Williams, a brilliant black journalist who escapes Jim Crow laws of the South to live in Kansas City, where she and her lover, Ona, start the first female-run African-American newspaper. Barnett also penned the short-story collection called Callaloo & Other Lesbian Love Tales.

Chinelo Okparanta


Chinelo Okparanta

Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees was released in 2015, a year after Nigeria’s then-President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill that criminalized same-sex relationships; violators of this law could face up to 14 years in prison or risk death by stoning. Okparanta uses the star-crossed love of Ijeoma, an Igbo and Christian, and Amina, a Hausa and Muslim, to demonstrate her ongoing commitment to chronicling the lives of gay and lesbian people in Nigeria.

Kara Stevens is the founder of the Frugal Feminista, an online community committed to helping black women be happy, be wealthy and be brave. Connect with her on Twitter.

















[UPDATE 09/07/16, 2:30pm: Kanye has just addressed the controversy his call for “multiracial women only” caused. In a new interview with VogueWest says the concept came from a conversation with collaborator Vanessa Beecroft (herself the subject of much art world scrutiny) and wasn’t meant to exclude anyone. “How do you word the idea that you want all variations of black?” he said, adding that “the ten thousand people that showed up didn’t have a problem with it.”]

PREVIOUSLY: Over the weekend, Kanye West tweeted out a NYC casting call for “multiracial women only” to model his forthcoming Yeezy Season 4 collection. The request immediately drew protests both online and IRL, however, thanks to its wording. 

And while white people crying “reverse racism” were definitely a component of the backlash, the more relevant dialogue came from POC who called out the inherent colorism, or the implication that dark skin does not meet “traditional” beauty standards, that pervaded West’s phrasing:

yezzy-05 yezzy-06 yezzy-07
One such person was a woman who appears to go by the name “babyscumbag” on hersocial media, and who showed up to protest the casting this weekend with “They want black features not black girls” scrawled across her chest. She also held a poster that read, “‘multiracial only’ = lightskin only…you ain’t slick, Ye”, as well as a quote from West’s 2006 Essence interview, in which he says multiracial girls are referred to as “‘mutts’.” 

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Now, she’s resurfaced online with a detailed post explaining why exactly she did what she did.

“This is an indictment of not just Yeezy but the entire fashion and beauty industry in which there is a racialized hierarchy of beauty which is a ubiquitous symptom of the legacy of colonialism,” she wrote. “Regardless of whether Yeezy does choose to include darkskinned women in the end, the coded language of the casting call was clear and a part of a broader problem of colorism in the fashion industry.” And a systematic problem she mentioned is evident from the chances of girls walking down the runway depending on the deepness of their skin color. 

She also wrote that this specification for “multiracial only” implies that “Black can only be beautiful when ‘MIXED’ with another RACE.”

“There is a history of wanting to dilute the Blackness of one’s children because of the longstanding stigmatization of Blackness,” she said, adding later that, “The lighter you are the more beautiful you are considered.”

However, babyscumbag notes that at the same time, non-Black women have begun to desire Black features “in a brutal and corrupt form of irony.”

“It’s just facts that Black women are constantly told they are too dark, lips too big, hair to ghetto for all professions,” she pointed out. “Only to see these same features or styles on non-Black women receive praise-(braids, gap teeth)-obviously the problem isn’t the style but the color of the women wearing it.”

Which all leads back to why she did it in the first place: as a means of highlighting how pervasive the Eurocentric beauty standards stemming from white supremacy and colonialism still are.

“It’s not just about fashion it’s about understanding how racism, and white supremacy dictates our understanding of reality,” she finished. “T hese are toxic ideologies need to be unlearned and #ITsAPROCESS.”

Read her entire post below.











MAY 3, 2016

MAY 3, 2016




Why I Chose a

“Small Play”

Over the Big Screen

Lupita Nyong’o on the power​ of
being a part of 


Lupita Nyong’o and Akosua Busia in Eclipsed. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

Lupita Nyong’o and Akosua Busia in Eclipsed. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

For the past two months, I have been performing in the play Eclipsed on Broadway. It’s a powerhouse of a story about the lives of five extraordinary women trapped by a rebel commander during the Liberian civil war. I love doing it, but it’s like running a marathon every night. During my last round of press for the play, a journalist asked me, “Why would such a big star choose to do such a small play?”

Why would such a big star choose to do such a small play? This question felt quite silly. I mean, I’m an actress; why wouldn’t I want to be in an incredible, gorgeous, meaty piece about the complicated choices of women during wartime? But then it went deeper than that. To me it felt like a question about our value system in this culture, the ways we define success for ourselves as well as others.

Perhaps the reporter was placing a larger value on “Hollywood” roles? I turned down a few projects to pursue this one. I knew there was a sense of what was expected of me, but this play felt so important to me that I had to do it, expectations be damned.

I knew there was a sense of what was expected of me, but this play felt so important to me that I had to do it, expectations be damned.


I think as women, as women of color, as black women, too often we hear about what we “need to do.” How we need to behave, what we need to wear, what’s deemed as too much or not enough, the cultural politics of what society considers appropriate for us and for our lives. What I am learning is that the most important questions you can ask yourself are “What do I want?” and “Who do I want to become?”

As an actress, feeling connected to a fully realized, complex character is what I look for first. The size of the role, and the budget, and the perceived “buzz” around the project are much less important to me. As an African woman, I am wary of the trap of telling a single story. I decided early on that if I don’t feel connected to, excited by, and challenged by the character, the part probably isn’t for me. If I’m ever in doubt, I envision the career choices of artists I admire, like Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett, and Viola Davis. They are all fearless actresses who approach every role without ego or vanity. They have a fierce commitment to the moment and the role, whether it’s the lead or a character we see for just one scene. They give it their all, and it shows. The thought of having a career that in any small way might resemble theirs excites me.

The chance to appear in Eclipsed after winning an Oscar was an opportunity to share in the incredible (and too rare) freedom of playing a fully rendered African woman. The playwright, Danai Gurira, has conceived a drama where the only people onstage are women. This allows the audience to be fully immersed in their lives, although the presence of the men around them is deeply felt. So often women of color are relegated to playing simple tropes: the sidekick, the best friend, the noble savage, or the clown. We are confined to being a simple and symbolic peripheral character — one who doesn’t have her own journey or emotional landscape.

We are confined to being a simple and symbolic peripheral character — one who doesn’t have her own journey or emotional landscape.


For me, there is a difference between a trope and an archetype. A trope is a writer’s device that often plays into stereotypes and presumed expectations, refusing to embody originality of any thought. An archetype is a fundamental human motif that exists in universal myth. I don’t mind inhabiting an archetype if it has been given life and interiority. I love the idea of people of color participating in mythical, magical stories, whether that’s as a hero, villain, sage, or sorceress. Or all of the above! I think sometimes a singular catharsis can be found in genre storytelling — as I found when playing a thousand-year-old woman (Maz Kanata in Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and a wolf mother (Raksha in The Jungle Book). I’m able to be more engaged in roles such as those than I would be in playing “the wife” when she is written with no motivation or singularity. Even more important than the genre are the intention of the author, what story is being told, and the power of the emotional journey of the characters. In Eclipsed, Danai has blessed us with five such journeys. None of these women are tropes. They are battling real demons, living with difficult decisions in an all-too-real world stricken with the trauma of war. It’s an incredible gift to play one of them, and it’s liberating to share this view into women’s experiences with a Broadway audience.

Of course, I am not opposed to playing lead roles. I don’t want to be overly cautious; I want to take risks, to try my hand at stories that thrill and terrify me. Partly because of the conversation the industry has been having about women and racial and cultural representation, I have recently decided to participate more fully in the development of roles I choose in the future. There are some projects coming up for me that I can’t wait to talk about. But at the moment I am onstage, night after night, with four incredible actresses, telling a powerful story about women who are rarely given a complex rendering. I look at this play — it’s the first play on Broadway to feature an all-woman cast, playwright, and director, and the fact that we are all women of African descent makes it even more incredible — and I feel profound gratitude to be a part of it. I am proud of my decision to take the time to sit with myself and not get caught up in what others want for me. I look at the beautiful faces of my co-stars: Pascale Armand, Zainab Jah, Saycon Sengbloh, and Akosua Busia, and I see the light and love of my current artistic family, a sisterhood of African women who go onstage nightly and pour everything we have into this story. I look out at the diverse audiences who come to full houses and experience our performances, and feel proud of being a part of sharing this important story with the world. I see a work of incredible power that is transforming lives by daring to offer women of color fully rendered narratives, and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.

I look at this play and see nothing about it that is “small.”

Lupita Nyong‘o is an Academy Award–winning actress.





Call for Submissions:

My Africa, My City

deadline: 30th September 2016 

Afridiaspora, a pan-African literary webzine focused on
showcasing beautiful African stories written by African
writers at home and in the diaspora is pleased to
announce a call for submission of our maiden edition
of a quarterly anthology. We seek to bring together
under an umbrella, amazing works of a particular
theme from different parts of Africa.For our maiden
edition, we have chosen the inexhaustible theme of
‘My Africa, My CITY’.  We seek stories and arts that
showcase the colourful cities of Africa. City could mean
several things. From growing up to striking out as an
adult, from memories of loss and gain witnessed by
high towers and impatient city dwellers to feeling
lonely in a sea of people. WHAT IS YOUR AFRICAN
CITY STORY?We call on both seasoned and upcoming
writers to submit their original unpublished work
based on the theme ‘My Africa, My City’. Please note
that you do not have to title your work My Africa, My
City but your work can however be titled after a
particular city if you so want. This anthology will
feature the following genres: Fiction, Creative
non-fiction, Poetry and Visual Arts.
Submission for
this anthology will be received between 16th of
August to 30th of September, 2016
. We aim
to publish the anthology as a free downloadable
e-book by November 2016.

Please note that because this is a non-profitable
initiative, we cannot afford to pay our writers.

Please follow the submission guidelines below for submitting for this anthology:

  1. Submission for this anthology is from 16th of August to 30th of September 2016
  2. Word count for fiction and non-fiction should not exceed 5000 words. We do not accept book excerpts.
  3. All submissions must be sent to
  4. Make the subject of your email ‘My Africa, My City Submission’
  5. Your submission should be a Microsoft word attachment. Do not copy your work in the body of the email and we do not accept PDF.
  6. Submit a bio of not more than 100 words written in third person and a profile picture with your work.
  7. Visual art submission should be of high resolution jpeg files and not larger than 5mb. It should also come with a title and the year it was created along with the artist’s bio.
  8. All submission must be previously unpublished and we do not accept simultaneous submission.











8th Annual Dialogue Only 

Contest (2016)

The Rules: Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. You may use as many characters as you want. Your entry must be under 2000 words. Your entry does not have to follow standard rules for writing dialogue. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. Manipulate them however you see fit. Check out past winners and read our tips for writing good dialogue before submitting your entry. 

The Winner: The winning entry will be the story that most effectively uses dialogue to deliver a powerful and engaging story.

Judges: All finalists will be chosen by the Staff of Bartleby Snopes. Five finalists will be submitted to the final round of voting. The order of winners will be determined by the staff of Bartleby Snopes and our two guest judges. This year’s guest judges are Kathy Fish (author Together We Can Bury It and co-author of Rift) and last year’s contest winner, Rebecca McDowell. All decisions regarding contest winners are final.

Prizes: A minimum of $500 will be awarded, with at least $300 going to the grand prize winner. Our five finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine due out in January 2017. Last year we awarded $1900 in prize money. For every entry over 50, an additional $5 will be added to the total prize money.

Current Prize Money as of 9/9/16: 
1st: $987 
2nd: $329 
3rd: $164.50 
4th: $87.25 
5th: $77.25

2016 Prize Structure:

1st Prize: $300 minimum + $3 for every entry over 50 
2nd Prize: $100 minimum + $1 for every entry over 50 
3rd Prize: $50 minimum + $1 for every two entries over 50 
4th Prize: $30 minimum + $1 for every 4 entries over 50 
5th Prize: $20 minimum + $1 for every 4 entries over 50Entry Fee: $10 for unlimited entries (only one entry allowed at a time; see Response/Notification section for more details). Entry fee is due at time of submission and will be collected through Submittable.

How Entry Fees Are Used: The entry fees are used to fund the prize money and pay for contest advertisements/maintenance. Approximately $1 from each entry pays for required processing fees. Other than this processing fee, all entry fees are used directly for the purpose of the contest or to fund the magazine. 

Deadline: All initial submissions must be received by September 15th. Winners will be announced by October 19th.

Response/Notification: Our contest runs with a rolling rejection process. We will always keep our five favorite stories. You will be notified immediately if your story falls out of the top 5, and you will have the opportunity to resubmit. There is no extra cost for subsequent submissions, but you may only submit one story at a time. September 30th is the final day for resubmissions.

Rights: All rights revert back to the author after publication. 

Submission Guidelines: All entries should be submitted between June 1st, 2016 and September 15th, 2016 using our Submittable page. Your name, contact information, and word count should appear in a brief cover letter. The title of your document should be the same as the title of your story. All submissions are read blind. Please do not send a bio or include any contact information in your document. 

No simultaneous submissions or previously published stories are allowed. If your story is discovered to be simultaneously submitted or previously published, you will become ineligible from competition in the contest and your entry fee will be forfeited. 


By submitting, you are stating that you are the sole author of the work and that your submission has not been published before. Work posted on blogs, message boards, personal websites, etc. all is considered previously published material. By submitting you are also agreeing to all contest rules. 

For regular submissions, please see our Submission Guidelines page.









The Loft Spoken Word

Immersion Fellowship



2017 Grant: Application Deadline is October 21, 2016

The Loft Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship is now open for applications. The Immersion Fellowship is for artists of color and Indigenous artists and provides writers financial support and professional assistance to develop and implement community learning and enrichment plans. 

Winners will be selected to receive grants of $7,500 to underwrite projects of their own design. At least one winner will be a Minnesota resident. Four winners will be selected.

Download Guidelines


Read examples of past successful applications. 

Sample of Successful Proposal/Budget

Sample of Successful Proposal/Budget 2

Sample of Successful Proposal/Budget 3

The Loft Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship is made possible by the Surdna Foundation.