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I was blessed to meet James Baldwin, who was introduced to me by my mentor Tom Dent. Years before, in the mid-sixties when I was in high school, James Baldwin was the second of my triumvirate of literary heroes. First was Langston Hughes and third was LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka).

(From left) Kalamu ya Salaam and Tom Dent and others meeting with James Baldwin at Dent’s apartment in New Orleans.


Over the years, I met, talked with, and became a friend of James Baldwin, who often visited New Orleans. Eventually, an essay I wrote was published and subsequently used in the liner notes for the CD-release of A Lover’s Question, Pierre Van Dermal and David Linx’s European release of Baldwin’s music and spoken word album.

No surprise that I am smitten by Eddie Glaude’s discussion of his new book–Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for our Own. In a short NPR interview, Claude explains why James Baldwin remains significant as a witness and writer who spoke to the world about African American conditions and culture.


Here are three levels to consider. Sister/woman does some deep work. Check it, if you can.

  1. Confederate monuments
  2. Shakespeare and inclusiveness
  3. Soul food

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Photo: Daniel Meigs



You Want a Confederate Monument?

My Body Is a Confederate Monument

The black people I come from were owned and raped by the white people I come from. Who dares to tell me to celebrate them?



NASHVILLE — I have rape-colored skin. My light-brown-blackness is a living testament to the rules, the practices, the causes of the Old South.

If there are those who want to remember the legacy of the Confederacy, if they want monuments, well, then, my body is a monument. My skin is a monument.

Dead Confederates are honored all over this country — with cartoonish private statues, solemn public monuments and even in the names of United States Army bases. It fortifies and heartens me to witness the protests against this practice and the growing clamor from serious, nonpartisan public servants to redress it. But there are still those — like President Trump and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell — who cannot understand the difference between rewriting and reframing the past. I say it is not a matter of “airbrushing” history, but of adding a new perspective.

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I am a black, Southern woman, and of my immediate white male ancestors, all of them were rapists. My very existence is a relic of slavery and Jim Crow.

According to the rule of hypodescent (the social and legal practice of assigning a genetically mixed-race person to the race with less social power) I am the daughter of two black people, the granddaughter of four black people, the great-granddaughter of eight black people. Go back one more generation and it gets less straightforward, and more sinister. As far as family history has always told, and as modern DNA testing has allowed me to confirm, I am the descendant of black women who were domestic servants and white men who raped their help.

It is an extraordinary truth of my life that I am biologically more than half white, and yet I have no white people in my genealogy in living memory. No. Voluntary. Whiteness. I am more than half white, and none of it was consensual. White Southern men — my ancestors — took what they wanted from women they did not love, over whom they had extraordinary power, and then failed to claim their children.

What is a monument but a standing memory? An artifact to make tangible the truth of the past. My body and blood are a tangible truth of the South and its past. The black people I come from were owned by the white people I come from. The white people I come from fought and died for their Lost Cause. And I ask you now, who dares to tell me to celebrate them? Who dares to ask me to accept their mounted pedestals?

You cannot dismiss me as someone who doesn’t understand. You cannot say it wasn’t my family members who fought and died. My blackness does not put me on the other side of anything. It puts me squarely at the heart of the debate. I don’t just come from the South. I come from Confederates. I’ve got rebel-gray blue blood coursing my veins. My great-grandfather Will was raised with the knowledge that Edmund Pettus was his father. Pettus, the storied Confederate general, the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, the man for whom Selma’s Bloody Sunday Bridge is named. So I am not an outsider who makes these demands. I am a great-great-granddaughter.

And here I’m called to say that there is much about the South that is precious to me. I do my best teaching and writing here. There is, however, a peculiar model of Southern pride that must now, at long last, be reckoned with.

This is not an ignorant pride but a defiant one. It is a pride that says, “Our history is rich, our causes are justified, our ancestors lie beyond reproach.” It is a pining for greatness, if you will, a wish again for a certain kind of American memory. A monument-worthy memory.

But here’s the thing: Our ancestors don’t deserve your unconditional pride. Yes, I am proud of every one of my black ancestors who survived slavery. They earned that pride, by any decent person’s reckoning. But I am not proud of the white ancestors whom I know, by virtue of my very existence, to be bad actors.

Among the apologists for the Southern cause and for its monuments, there are those who dismiss the hardships of the past. They imagine a world of benevolent masters, and speak with misty eyes of gentility and honor and the land. They deny plantation rape, or explain it away, or question the degree of frequency with which it occurred.

To those people it is my privilege to say, I am proof. I am proof that whatever else the South might have been, or might believe itself to be, it was and is a space whose prosperity and sense of romance and nostalgia were built upon the grievous exploitation of black life.

The dream version of the Old South never existed. Any manufactured monument to that time in that place tells half a truth at best. The ideas and ideals it purports to honor are not real. To those who have embraced these delusions: Now is the time to re-examine your position.

Either you have been blind to a truth that my body’s story forces you to see, or you really do mean to honor the oppressors at the expense of the oppressed, and you must at last acknowledge your emotional investment in a legacy of hate.

Either way, I say the monuments of stone and metal, the monuments of cloth and wood, all the man-made monuments, must come down. I defy any sentimental Southerner to defend our ancestors to me. I am quite literally made of the reasons to strip them of their laurels.






She has a cookbook, get to it if you are interested.


I’m a Trane man. My brother Kenneth plays trumpet–has done so professionally: marching bands in New Orleans streets and so forth. One guess who his main man is. But it wasn’t always so.

Yes, Kenneth dug music almost from when he was born. We both laugh about the time he got back at me during one of our pre-teen scuffles. I had bought Miles Sketches of Spain. Our minor altercation ended when he scrapped a fork across the soft grooves of my record, and simply said: “nah”. That was the end of the fight. I was totally deflated.

I mean I got over it. Eventually. But back then on that particular occasion, I was crushed. I could listen to music but he could make music. In later years, I played drums while I was in the army, but I couldn’t read music. My artistic arrow was aimed in another direction. I learned to write in the literary sense. To write extremely well. Eventually I could write insightfully about music.

One of the people I wrote about was Miles. I even met him once when I was the executive director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation.

Today, both Kenneth and I agree, there is something special about Miles. For those who have not yet got to Miles (yes, every year somebody comes of age who has not yet gotten next to Miles) here is an article (Miles Davis: where to start in his back catalogue) that offers a starting point. Begin with Kind of Blue, everybody digs that particular album, even if they are not into other Miles recordings. Even a Trane freak like me, and besides Coltrane is killing on Kind of Blue. That way you get two for one.







My man “Stan The Man” (Stanley Taylor) hipped me to this ebonic-ly rendered “pas de deus”. I had planned–well, not really planned, more like I had idly thought about something else–when this ship sailed into port. Being somewhat aware, like anyone in the know does, I shook the tiller and tacked in a different direction when the winds of chance (or is it winds of ‘change’) blew beauty my way.

Check this March 29, 1972 production featuring an eight-piece jazz ensemble led by composer-saxophonist Lucky Thompson. This is much more than merely a hip television show from back in the day.

The elegance. Refined, and yet, relaxed. The lean (look at Ossie, on the set, his legs crossed, wryly, even slyly, regarding the straight-up posture of his stunningly serious/seriously stunning consort). The articulation (Ruby makes you wish there were more letters in the alphabet so you could hear her recite them). This cultured couple who personified what we wish for when we wish for love.

Ladies and gentlemen, behold a miracle: Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee reciting a program of poetry by one of my hometown heroes, Bob Kaufman. Need we say more?





I read a lot of books but not a lot about Europe. Yet I have to admit: Johny Pitts has got me hooked. I knew about him from a number of references over the years. I just never read his book. I thought I was not that interested in reading a travelogue about traveling around Europe. Oh, how wrong I was.

I have been to Europe, spent weeks in England and Germany, visited France a number of times. However, after devouring Pitts’ book, I realize that I had not spent much time in the black communities or with Black citizens of various European countries.

My two brothers have frequented there, as have my nieces and nephews, good friends and even my three daughters. I don’t have antipathy for traveling through Europe but neither did I have any deep affinity for those foreign spaces and places. I should have known better.

Indeed, when I go back through my own travels, it’s really clear: I’ve learned a lot and spent a good bit of time there, especially England and Germany.

Reading Afropean pulled my coat. Made me look anew in the mirror of my interactions. Where I previously saw only isolated visitations, I now see a pattern. And beyond that, I also see how much I missed, how much more I could have learned and, yes, even enjoyed–not only learned about others, but indeed, learned about myself.

Don’t sleep on Afropean. What we don’t know diminishes us. The first part of Pitts travelogue describes encounters with Black Americans in France. We ugly Americans who think we are so Black and beautiful.

I caught a glimpse of myself in that mirror. Although Pitts wasn’t writing about me, he caused me to reappraise a part of my own identity.

Moreover, Pitts is an excellent writer, excelling at what I call the (Langston) Hughes tradition of Black travel; seeing the world without losing a sense of self. His vocabulary is expansive but always in touch with his individual and simultaneously our collective identity.

A major bonus is that Pitts is also a photographer and an insightful blogger. His book includes internet links for both his website and his photography.

This book is no public relations puffery shouting out big ups to Europe. Expertly and sensitively written, in giving us an honest view of himself and his European environment, Johny Pitts not only shows us the depth and breadth of his world, he also shows us deep truths about our own existence while expanding and reframing what it means to be Black–literally surviving in a racial, gendered, and class-structured “White man’s” world.


From Addis to Capetown, Accra to Nairobi, Poland to New Zealand, and all of them other spaces and places in between, from all them jurisdictions regardless of whomsoever is nominally in charge. No matter.

We all have a favorite Marley song (or two, or three, four or more, maybe even most of them, all of them). Even some of us who don’t even much listen to reggae, we light up when his bright music come drifting through the atmosphere.

Him not come from no great big place with world-power government. Him not born with no silver nothing all up in his mouth. Him British father, him Jamaican mother, him new world prodigy who be old world wise.

Many, many, plenty of us have a Bob Marley story to tell. I saw him at a sound check in New Orleans one day and became a believer. As a journalist, I have been to a bunch of pre-concert prep sessions. Stage hands and lights-man, announcer and roadies running around making sure such and such is righteous. The star usually appears, if he or she even shows up at all, they appear very briefly. Just to make sure the volume is right, the placement, the backstage set, all a ready to roll.

When Marley run on stage, literally come bounding forward, even for the brevity of a perfunctory run through, he was more than all business. I saw the man close his eyes and sing. I saw the man throw his body thrashing about, possessed by a higher power. I saw the man. And I was afeared. Afraid he was going to hurt himself the way he flew through space singing and dancing like this was his last moment in life and he was giving it his all, leaving nothing behind but a small handful of us, our mouths hanging open. We had just witnessed a miracle.

How he was who he was, how he passed this way, made this world merry. Seriously, for real, wasn’t nothing fake. No show business. No look at me, I’m a star. No requesting or demanding special treatment. No entourage of hangers on. 

Bob Marley.

So this is a song in remembrance of him, of what he did for all he a touched, for all of we. Just a little pretty diddy that meant, and continues, to mean so much: No Woman, No Cry. For all the Black women of the world, this is a song for you, whether you know it, have heard it, don’t know it, “who the hell is some, what you call him: Bob Mr. Marley”. Don’t matter. This is your song.

No matter how terrible was yesterday, how bad is today (and, yes, it is bad), how hopeless it seems tomorrow might be, or how, to the contrary, you might just tiny, tiny, tee-na-chie, cross your heart and hope to die, carry forth because you know and will never forget that we be the survivors. The Black survivors. And we shall overcome.

No matter who you be or what you do (or don’t). No matter. Some how, we shout the Marley song. We are convinced. We know, embrace, and act on the profundity of his music.

He is gone but his music is still here. Not just on records and tapes. But here within us. Deep. All up inside us. Ears. Eyes. Heart. Skin. He and we. I & I believe. Marley made the world a better place when he sang. When we listened to him. Everything. This is a Bob Marley song for all the women of the world, letting you know that there are some men dedicated to the proposition of our empowerment, to the making of a better world, to the promise: every little thing is going to be alright.


This elder’s eye contained and projected a vision deeper than a flash. She saw and shot what was important to see in our world and each other. Our world. Mississippi during the civil rights movement. Each other. Non-violent soldiers on the battlefield of humanity. An insistent ‘we are’–we are here, we are human.

Doris Derby is one of three founders of the Free Southern Theatre. Somewhere around 1965 or so, FST decamped from Jackson, heading further south to New Orleans. Two of the founders: John O’Neal and Gilbert Moses moved on down the line. Doris decided not to leave, not to abandon those whom she loved, those workers, farmers, and field hands who chose to stay, struggle, live and love each other in Mississippi.

These stalwarts of resistance became not just her canvas, not just the subject of her photography, but indeed the raison d’etre of her images.

Here is an interview and samples of her photography.

All hail Doris Derby.


Ayo Fayemi-Robinson (aka Kysha N. Brown) came at me hard. Unflinching. With the directness only a good friend or family member can get away with. Why did I do a “males only” writing workshop at Southern University in New Orleans (SUNO)?

Although I had been asked by SUNO administrators to conduct the workshop within specific parameters, Ayo wasn’t buying it. Without referring to the fact that I was hired to do a specific task, I immediately responded that the summer session was almost over and I would voluntarily do a co-ed, Black writers workshop. Shortly thereafter, the NOMMO Literary Society was born.

“Nommo” referred to the Bantu concept of the power of the spoken word, or as the bible says: “in the beginning was the word”.

Each NOMMO session had three parts.

Part one was a study session. I brought in a diverse selection of material: literary and political essays, magazine articles—we even read the entire book The Alphabet Versus The Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain. Took turns reading aloud. Even members who had major problems reading. “Read at least one paragraph,” I counseled. No one was laughed at. Anyone who needed help was gladly given assistance.

Part two was what we called housekeeping. Basically we discussed our workshop business and shared announcements concerning relevant events and issues, including announcements of upcoming programs of interest: who is coming to town, speaking at such and such place, date and time.

Part three we took turns reading our work and receiving responses (both critical and laudatory) from members.

Once a month at Community Book Center (Vera Warren proprietor and Mama Jennifer Turner manager) we would do free and wide open public readings. Each member would read and then we would invite anyone in the audience who also wanted to share to step forward and share at the podium (which was painted by member Gabrilla Ballard).

We also actively encouraged feedback; told folk they could say whatever they thought or felt about anything they heard or anything that might be on their mind. Our readings were riotous affairs, sometimes full of laughter, other times seriously focusing on some or the other troubling affair that was going down.

We started on Brainard Street in the offices of Bright Moments, an advertising and public relations company founded by Bill Rouselle and Kalamu ya Salaam. Within five or six years of our founding in September 1995, the workshop moved to my office on Treme Street, where we established a 5000-plus library, from which members could freely borrow. I specialized in Afro-centric literature. We also had a major literary reference section (old and new dictionaries, atlas, and specialized reference books) as well as selected works of philosophy, politics, sociology, and culture.

(NOMMO members: Marian Moore, Kysha N. Brown, Aum Ra Frezel, Carol Santos, Lynn Pitts, Jinaki Fahamivu Flint, Keturah Kendrick, Kalamu ya Salaam, Jarvis DeBerry, Mawiyah Kai El-Jamah Bomani, Nadir Lasana Bomani, Mack Dennis, Chris Williams. Not pictured: Gabrilla Ballard, Karen Celestan, Freddi Williams Evans, Stephanie Hope, Glen Joshua, and Saddi Khali)


We planned for a grand ten-year celebration in September 2005. Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans late August 2005. Members scattered. The workshop never got back together.

Much like scattering seeds in turbulent winds, our dispersal turned out to be a major development. Numerous manuscripts were transformed into books from Runagate Press and a variety of other publishers. Who would have thunk that a small grouping of aspiring writers would turn out over twenty full-length books?


Kysha and I edited Fertile Ground–Memories & Visions (Runagate Press 1996). This was a first publication and represented an auspicious and in some ways both inclusive and audacious debut. Fertile Ground included contributions from a wide range of guest writers including Kofi Anyidoho of Ghana, West Africa, and Kamau Brathwaite of Barbados, West Indies, plus the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective and the Griot Workshop (Liverpool, England). This was the first of an ever growing number of Runagate Press books.



We Black poets in the deep south had not received much national attention after the barnstorming days of the Free South Theatre, careening across the south in the sixties. FST featured the work of playwrights who were local, national, and even international. As one share-cropper wryly observed about FST’s signature production of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist drama, Waiting For Godot, “that fellow, Godot, ain’t coming.”

After Malcolm’s assassination in 1965 and Martin Luther Kings murder in 1968, we all realized that help was not on the way. If we wanted salvation, we would have to save ourselves, and organize our people and our allies in opposition to a recalcitrant “status crow” (as our Bajan brother Brathwaite aptly and accurately identified the status quo).

The intense struggles of the sixties Civil Rights movement led directly to an inward-oriented outgrowth of FST– BLKARTSOUTH, a younger, Black power-oriented poetry and performance ensemble. Poetry of that seventies-era outpouring was serious business, even its caustic comedy had a take-no-prisoners, combative flavor.

No surprise, then, that we opened the last decade of the 20th century with a poetry collection pridefully, extolling the Red, the Black, and the Green liberation colors. Signaling our historic assessment of the previous decade, we titled the collection WORD UP–Black Poetry Of The 80s From The Deep South (Beans and Brown Rice Publishers 1990).

During the last decade of the 20th century, I produced What Is Life?-Reclaiming The Black Blues Self (Third World Press 1994), a major memoir and meditation on the zigs and zags of my life from sixties Civil Rights, to seventies Black Power and the Black Liberation Movement. By the beginning of the new decade in year 2000, I had traveled to Ghana, Tanzania, Zanzibar in Africa; England, France and Germany in Europe; South Korea, China and Japan in Asia; all across the Caribbean, including my favorite island of Barbados; as well as brief sojourns in Brazil and Suriname in South America. In between my international travel, I also visited most of the states of the USA.

In 1998, as we closed out the 20th century, I worked on two poetry anthologies, one local in orientation and the other national in scope. Fortunately I personally knew or knew of a wide circle of poets. As a result I was able to cast a wide net attracting an enchanting diversity of voices for a new anthology.

From A Bend In The River–100 New Orleans Poets (Runagate Press 1998) assembled a multi-ethnic conglomeration of wordsmiths reflecting a rainbow of tongues in the city we considered “the bottom of the bucket”. Located near the end of the Mississippi River, New Orleans was the last major USA port, situated just north of a roots-like flowering of out-flowing tributaries that emptied into the Gulf of Mexico.

New Orleans is historically, and remains in the 21st century, one of the major points of both ingress and egress  for and from the southern United States. Our oft celebrated “Crescent City”, because of its location, nestled in the arm-pit of a deep turn in the ever flowing river, albeit with numerous paths to the gulf, is a veritable linguistic, ethnic, and cultural crossroads, that is predominately Afro-centric in make-up but has generous helpings of Jewish, Italian, and German peoples, along with diverse ethnic pockets of East European and, in more recent years, Vietnamese peoples.

While Bend considers a broad sweep of ethnic influences, 360-degrees A Revolution Of Black Poets (Runagate Press 1998), co-edited by Kalamu ya Salaam and Kwame Alexander, focuses solely on Black Poets



Seventeen years after WORD UP we produced a major document. The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement (Third World Press 2007). Although JuJu was a deep dive into the history of the Black Arts Movement, this book actually initiated a new wave of publishing featuring writers from NOMMO who had now artistically come of age.



Kysha Brown Robinson’s poetry book, Spherical Woman (Runagate Press 2009) was our second post-Katrina publication. It took us a minute to dry out and get ourselves back together. But once we got started, wasn’t no quit in our giddy-up. 



Freddi Williams Evans is a major author of historically-based books for young readers and adults. Her works include A Bus of Our Own (Albert Whitman & Company 2001) with illustrations by Shawn Costello.

The Battle of New Orleans: The Drummer’s Story (Pelican Press 2005), with illustrations by Emile Henriquez, shares with its readers the inspiring story of Jordan Noble whose drumbeats accompanied and inspired the defense against the invading British army.

Evans delves into the semi-secret religious gatherings known as “hush harbors”. For many readers these activities will be a major revelation. Evans’ book Hush Harbor: Praying in Secret (Carolrhoda Books 2008) is illustrated by Erin Bennett Banks.



New Orleans is near synonymous with jazz. NOMMO member Karen Celestan undertook the task of co-writing Harold Battiste Jr.’s autobiography, Unfinished Blues (Historic New Orleans Collection 2010). It’s a delicate, and sometimes even difficult, dance to work with an author who is also the subject of the writing. Telling the truth is difficult enough without the pressure of attempting to be both honest and to present the subject in the best of lights. Ms. Celestan proved to be up to the task. She seamlessly worked with Harold Battiste to gift us with a culturally colorful story that simultaneously manages to get its facts straight.



Freddi Williams Evans has two important history books on Congo Square in New Orleans, a site that is often considered a major genesis of African American dance and musical culture. The first book is Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans (University of Louisiana at Lafayette 2011).

Freddi W. Evans went on to produce Come Sunday: A Young Reader’s History of Congo Square. This is an important book that includes copious historical references and illustrations. (University of Louisiana at Lafayette 2011).



Everybody know we some second-lining somebodies. Dance in the street at the drop of a hat. NOMMO member Karen Celestan and photographer Eric Waters (my high school classmate) have put together a definitive book with amazing photos celebrating the way we carry on in the streets and by-ways of New Orleans. Freedom’s Dance: Social, Aid and Pleasure Clubs in New Orleans (LSU Press 2018) features stunning photographs and a narrative that presents a cadre of knowledgeable writers who line out the comings and goings of this street tradition endemic to New Orleans.



A collection of writings by my mentor, New Orleans Griot—The Tom Dent Reader (Runagate Press 2018) was named the One Book One New Orleans 2020 selection.


We produced Be About Beauty (Runagate Press 2018), my collection of essays, featuring on the cover, a detail from an extraordinary tapestry by fiber artist Adriene Cruz. This book won a 2019 award from PEN Oakland.



Our next publication, Louisiana Midrash (Runagate Press 2019) was a doozy of a curve ball: an Afro-Jewish, poetic reinterpretation of Biblical stories, Greek literature and contemporary reflections by Marian D. Moore.




Award winning poet Jericho Brown is a NOMMO alumnus who has three important collections: New Testament (Copper Canyon 2014), Please (New Issues 2008), and Pulitzer Prize winner, The Tradition (Coppr Canyon 2019).



Keturah Kendrick is a Nichiren Buddhist, who describes herself as a New Orleanian by birth and a New Yorker by choice. She is a self-determing woman who is simultaneously serious as well as witty. She vigorously interrogates what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. She finds herself literally creating her own path as she travels through life. No Thanks: Black, Female, and Living in the Martyr-Free Zone is her significant book (She Writes Press 2019).




Journalist Jarvis DeBerry was a member of the Pulitzer Prize winning team that reported on the Katrina/New Orleans drowning and resurrection. His book, I Feel To Believe, is an insightful dissection of New Orleans (Runagate Press 2020).


This is a diverse catalogue of literary work that reflects the open-ended and wide-ranging interests that were accepted and celebrated by our NOMMO Black writers workshop. This vibrant circle of scribes have taken up the task of gathering and assembling puzzle pieces of life experiences and cultural practices. We are just now getting our second wind. There is a whole lot more to come.

Moreover, we did not demand nor encourage a specific school of writing. Never trod on just one-way streets. Back alleys, open fields, interstate highways and trails through the woods, NOMMO was a cohort of new-age explorers who traveled howsoever the terrain demanded in order to get to where we wanted to go.

NOMMO promoted the widest range of literary expressions that our authors were capable of crafting. Members of our little workshop produced major works indicative of both serious and broad-based literature.

Honest writing was, and will always be, our calling card. Tell the truth. Shame the devil. Every little thing is going to be alright. And guess what, we ain’t no ways tired; not even close to thru with this writing thing. Still got miles to go. Deep in our suit sachets and leather pouches, we got more than a handful of both minor as well as major literary contributions to create and offer up to our people and to the whole wide world.

Moreover, as both Malcolm and Martin found out, what you see when you get to the mountaintop is the next mountain you’re going to have to climb.

To be continued. Surely. Much more to come. . .


–Kalamu ya Salaam
July 2020, New Orleans