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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, 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 (University of Virginia Press 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

 

 

 

He be from the third generation of 20th century blues men. Men what took to the road with a guitar, a story and a song. Some of them could of done something else. Had enough intelligence to get to, in and thru somebody or the other’s college or university. Was especially smart for a colored man of them times, but the blues had done grabbed them up and wouldn’t let go. Or leastwise, at first they thought they was the ones holding on, when really they was caught up in the grips of something stronger them themselves. A birthright that skipped over and around quite a few mens and a woman or two, but was never wrong about the chosen ones. A guitar, a story. A song. Sounds sweet to me.

 

Six time WNBA all-star, 5 time All-WNBA first-team honoree,  4 WNBA titles, the only 3-time winner of the WNBA Wade Trophy, 2 NCAA titles at UConn, 2 Olympic gold medals, and a 2011 WNBA Rookie of the Year. Maya Moore is a beast. One of the best ever to play professional basketball. Ms. Moore’s stats are GOAT-worthy. So why in the world would she stop dribbling, stop shooting in February 2019?

She was 29, on the ascendancy as a professional players. Had another year before she reached 30, the golden year of athletic prowess. What was she thinking? Why stop when she was so near the top?

In sports, far too many choose to continue chasing after monetary rewards. There are not many Saul-to-Paul stories in professional sports. Muhammad Ali refusing to be inducted into the U.S. Army is the most noted of that small group who sacrificed glory and gold to stand for principles. 

In Maya’s case giving up the pursuit of financial security and personal happiness was not a solipsism. She had not secretly joined a cult, nor decided to switch from one sport to another. No. None of that. She wasn’t ill with an incurable disease nor blinded by love. She had not loss the age-old tug that impels young athletes to succumb to the pull of feeling responsible for the financial well-being of their family and friends.

Maya Moore was a true believer. She decided to work to secure the freedom of others. Specifically, Maya Moore dedicated her life to voluntarily working full time to obtain the freedom of Jonathan Irons, a man who was convicted and incarcerated in 1998 when Maya was only eight years old. Maya did not meet Irons until 2007. Her story is simply inspiring.  

Most of us may not know her name, but all of us need to know her story. Although the daily routine of training constantly, playing full time in the WNBA, and traveling as a professional baller in Europe and China during the off-seasons had taken a heavy toll, somehow, Maya was able to dig even deeper and undertook the daunting task of working to free an incarcerated man she had never met before.

Two decades into the 21st century, in the 2020 year of a world-wide pandemic, when we all are beset by almost paralyzing social anxiety and by seemingly unending economic and political uncertainty, Maya Moore is steadfast in working for criminal justice reform.

Her calculation had been simple: what would it profit a young woman to gain the world in exchange for her beliefs in her fellow man? That’s an age-old question that Maya Moore answered by the example of her dedication to a cause greater than herself.

She was not forced by the strictures of the coronavirus to give up a lucrative career. Her choice preceded lock-downs and massive street demonstrations. Her 2019 decision was based on her profound belief in the principles of justice. She worked quietly and consistently. You didn’t and won’t often see her on television. Despite her professional achievements, she is not a household name.

As cliched as it may sound, Maya Moore is truly a freedom fighter. Born in Jefferson City, Missouri, Maya was reared by her single mother, Kathryn. When Maya was 11, they moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Shortly thereafter, the mother-daughter team ended up in Atlanta, Georgia. In a 2010 Atlanta Journal Constitution article, Maya proclaimed, “My faith is the core of who I am”.

We may not all have the basketball talent of Maya Moore or the spiritual dedication she exhibits but nevertheless we all can follow her example. Maya Moore is a stellar athlete who demonstrates that there is more to life than the love of basketball.

 

 

 

 

In Honduras, a Journalist Explores an Activist’s Murder

A conversation with Nina Lakhani, author of “Who Killed Berta Cáceres? Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet”

In March 2016, gunmen stormed into the home of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres and murdered her in her bedroom. The killing came after years of threats against Cáceres and her powerful grassroots activism. Just a year earlier, she had been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for leading a successful campaign against the construction of four large dams in Indigenous Lenca territory—a project involving the Chinese company Sinohydro and the International Finance Corp., in partnership with a Honduran company.

Honduras remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activism. Most killings go unpunished, but seven men were convicted of Cáceres’s murder in November 2018. The hitmen included army officers, and two had received military training in the United States. Nina Lakhani, now the environmental justice correspondent for the Guardian US, covered Cáceres’s grassroots movement for years while based in the region and was the only foreign journalist present at the trial.

 

Lakhani puts Cáceres’s life and death at the center of her new book, Who Killed Berta Cáceres? Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet. She spoke with Foreign Policy about Cáceres’s activist education, the experience of covering her killers’ trial as a foreign reporter, and questions that remain about the case.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Foreign Policy: At what point during your reporting on Berta Cáceres did you realize this could be a book?

Nina Lakhani: I guess I was spending another Friday night fact-checking a story about Berta. It was a story that we were just about to publish about her name appearing on a [military] hit list, I think. I never wanted to write a book, but I thought, “Maybe I should. It’s one of those stories—someone else is going to come along and do it.”

As I wrote those stories, there was such a reaction. I started getting lots of harassment; there were lots of attempts to discredit me. The heat sort of turned up. As a journalist, that instantly makes you think, “There’s a whole load of people that don’t want any of this information to get out.” That’s really where the seed was planted. It started out as an idea of an investigation into her death, but I think quite quickly I realized that to understand why she was killed, you had to understand who she was and where she came from and the period that she grew up in and became a political adult in.

To understand her life and death, you have to understand the context: the geopolitical context, the global economic context, the military context, the social context, all of those things. Neither her life nor her death happened in a vacuum. I tried to use her story as an arc to try to tell this wider story of Honduras. There aren’t really very many books written about Honduras in English. It’s a difficult place to get a grip on. It’s complicated, it’s dangerous.

It’s not the complete story of Honduras by any means, but it provides some sort of historical context about what’s happening today.

FP: When did you first start reporting in Honduras?

 NL: I went for the elections in November 2013. The idea was to go and cover these elections, which were really the first proper elections since the 2009 coup. I stayed for two weeks and that’s when I met Berta and interviewed her the one and only time. And then I went and did some stuff in the Aguán [River Valley], where at the time campesinoswere being killed—involved in this land conflict with these palm barons. I remember thinking, I’d never really been scared before as a reporter. It’s just militarized to the hilt. I’d been told, don’t stay in the same hotel more than one night because there are spies for the military and police everywhere. After three nights, we’d run out of places to stay.

FP: How do you think the environment in which Cáceres grew up shaped her activism?

 NL:  She was born in 1971. She grew up as the proxy Cold War was kicking off in Latin America. The Guatemalan Civil War was up and running, and there were social uprisings in Guatemala and in neighboring El Salvador and Nicaragua. Her mom, her maternal grandmother, and her maternal grandfather were all involved in social struggles in Honduras. A lot of activists, guerilla fighters, and thinkers from the region would come to the family home. It became a real hot point for people to rest, to debate, to discuss tactics. She grew up in that environment, hearing people talk about local things but in a global context. I think that’s something that really defined her right to the end, what made her really extraordinary.

On a more personal level, her mother was a nurse and a midwife. She’d accompany her mom to rural outposts to help poor women—mainly Indigenous Lenca women—give birth. These were villages that had been utterly abandoned by the state. There were no basic services: no roads, no light, no running water, no health care, no education. I think that experience of just seeing the massive inequalities, and especially how the impact on women was especially harsh, was very important for her.

And then she went at a very young age to join the war effort in El Salvador—she and her then-partner, who later co-founded their organization [the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras]. She wasn’t a fighter, but she was there on and off for more than a year. It was clear to them that people were taking up arms not because of political ideology but because they were hungry, they were desperate. They were fighting against really deep-seated inequalities.

What they wanted to do when they got back to Honduras was [something that didn’t involve arms]. So they came back and formed their organization.

FP: After reporting on this for years, was there anything that surprised you once you started digging into your research for the book?

 NL: This is true for all of my reporting in the region, but I guess just how in Honduras and the region—including the United States—political power is the second layer of power. It is the economic elites that control everything. In the case of Honduras, they control the banks, the media, retail, everything. And they control the courts, the justice system, the politicians—because they are the ones that give them good or bad press and put money into their campaigns or not. It’s so blatant in Honduras that the vast majority of laws have been written to favor this status quo. That can be said in many countries, but how blatant it was [surprised me]. As did the really deep-seated impunity and corruption.

And as a woman reporting somewhere like Honduras, the everyday misogyny, machismo, just walking down the street, that’s something that you have to think about. Honduras isn’t unique in this, but it is particularly difficult.

FP: How do you think that culture of machismo shaped what happened to Berta Cáceres—not only her murder but also her treatment leading up to it?

 NL: I think that was a key part of the context in which she lived and in which she died: the machismo and the racism. You see in the phone evidence that was discovered in the murder investigation just the casual racism used to describe Indigenous people all the time. The idea for this economically powerful group that a woman, and an Indigenous woman, could interrupt their plan and project—never mind the allegations of corruption—was just unacceptable.

The fact that they chose to kill her in her home, in her bedroom, in her pajamas—it was a real, “We can do whatever we want to you. We are more powerful, and we can dominate you.” The state’s case should have been framed in the terms of a gender-based and a racist killing, but it wasn’t.

FP: What was the experience of attending the trial like as a foreign journalist?

NL: I attended the trial every day, and I worked closely with people involved in the trial. In Latin America, they have a legal system that is based largely on the Spanish legal system. There are no juries. You can have a private prosecution occurring at the same time as the state prosecution. Her family were recognized and identified as victims and were mounting a case that was going to be very different to the state’s case. At the very last minute, they were expelled from proceedings so that didn’t happen.

It was really difficult. The trial had been due to start in September 2018 and then was suspended on the very first day because the victim’s lawyers requested that the three judges be recused. As I was writing up that story, there was a press release shared on social networks from a false group that we believe strongly to have links to military intelligence claiming that I was a violent insurgent and linked to organize crime, that I wasn’t a journalist, and declaring me a persona non grata. And then another one was released maybe 10 days later calling me a terrorist.

I stayed in Honduras because we were wondering if the trial was going to be restarted. That period itself was incredibly difficult because the risk to me had gone up massively.

Trials without juries are not particularly interesting, because the prosecutors don’t have to make a compelling case. It’s very document-based. The state’s case was based on the phone data. The family’s lawyers had  been expelled. [The family] had boycotted the trial. So sometimes it was about six of us in what was the most emblematic trial in Honduras’s modern history. I was the only foreign journalist that covered it.

I had interviewed seven of the eight accused in jail. They knew who I was. The attorney general’s office wouldn’t speak to me; the spokesman accused me of being involved with groups with a dark agenda. It was hostile. It was uncomfortable. And my security situation meant that I was going between the court and where I was staying, trying to change my route of transport every day. It was an intense experience. There was a sort of strategy in place to harass and intimidate.

What’s different this time? Why are the protests having such a major impact?

Well, in terms of opinions about the status quo, a lot has changed. However, there is one major difference, a difference that affects every social event, every public demonstration, every situation involving police/civilian conflicts. 

The difference is not the particulars surrounding the happening. Yes, in many cases there are obvious wrongs, and in some cases there are grey areas where it is hard to determine right and wrong. But, regardless of time of day. Regardless of location. Regardless of the nature of the event. None of that is the significant difference.

The difference is twofold: 1. is technology, the other is 2. participation of protestors.

In many of these cases, there are videos of conflicts with the police that are broadcast nationally and internationally. In previous years, it was typical that there would be conflicting stories about what happened.

Particularly when a person is killed by the police, follow-up investigations and even the rare court cases, were dependent on witnesses, with the police being considered not only the expert witness but also their report considered the defining explanation of what happened.

Unfortunately, police versus public engagements usually devolved not only into conflicting versions, but the police were most often adjudicated as expert/truthful witnesses. In other words the courts generally accepted that the police versions and discounted the public’s version. Particularly when the issue involved Black people, regardless of the race of the police officer, the civilian involved was usually criminalized. The encounter quickly, or eventually, was characterized as the police against a violator of law and order.

Technology, particularly the video camera on the majority of cell telephones, literally offers an incontrovertible alternative viewpoint that can literally trump the so-called expert testimony of the police.

In terms of public perception of the police, while video testimony is significant, the critical change is not solely technology. The most significant change is the participation of ordinary civilians as protestors, a participation that is fed by the large number of people who, because of the virus, are now home, beset by “cabin fever”, and who now spend a more than ordinary time watching cable television, which over the last half year have been consumed by stories about first the virus and second, protests of police activities, particularly the murder of Black victims.

The vast majority of protestors would “normally” not be in the streets. However, because of the virus lock-downs, literally hundreds of thousands of people are able to protest, when they otherwise might be at work, at school, or elsewhere. 

Moreover, protestors are no longer mostly aggrieved minorities. The average American who has never run afoul of the police, not even for a traffic violation, now feel impelled to join in protests against systemic oppression.

What might cause this massive participation of people who heretofore had not had a history of protesting police activity? The answer is not simply an opposition to the behavior of the police. Rather, the mass of protestors are also angry not only about a specific incident regardless of how egregious, the protestors are also upset about the virus, the lock-downs, and the major down turn of their personal economic situations.

Consider that a number of the protestors are people who are recently unemployed with no assurance of when, if ever, they will be able to return to work. Perhaps for the first time in their lives, protestors are questioning the fairness of the system overall, especially the fairness of and the “MAGA” philosophy of the Trump administration vis-a-vis the majority of people in the world, a majority which is overwhelmingly non-white.

Because people who are under economic stress and strain are all over the country, and because police assaults continue, we have real and imminent conflict situations that must be addressed. These police vs. civilian confrontations take place at the same time that the ordinary American citizen must now deal with public health/pandemic issues, financial issues (which are exacerbated by the extreme costs of health care), and governmental affairs under Trump, which include wholesale repeal of Obama-era rules and regulations, as well as multiple, documented examples of lies and deceptions told by President Trump and his administration. Millions of us perceive our individual as well as our social lives to be under assault.

Either we confront our numerous problems head on and make positive social change or we will be consumed by the negative consequences of our perilous existence. Regardless of what we do or don’t, for sure, nothing will be as it was.

Like Sam Cooke presciently sang “a change is gonna come”. The nature of our inevitable life changes will be determined to a large degree by our actions here and now. Thus, most of us viscerally understand that today is the time to act. Moreover, because of the confluence and overlap of diverse individual and social issues, a significant percentage of us are “fire up” and ready to engage in activism to address the numerous problems of the day, problems which transcend the limits of race, gender, education, and economic status. For the first time in a long time, most Americans perceive that many, if not all, of us are indeed beset by common problems.

> Joy Denalane–Jazz Open Stuttgart 27 July 2006

Recently, I woke up one morning thinking about a jumble of unrelated dreams and realities. I do not know specifically from where a focus on Germany came. I have been to Germany twice, once for a conference and the second time to participate in a theatre production. I was in Munich for over two weeks and had a number of memorable experiences. Once, as I stumbled around trying to find an out-of-the-way site, an elderly man approached me. He asked could he help me, as he saw I looked lost. I thanked him and was directed on how to find the place I was seeking.

That was years ago, well before Katrina, but I have never forgotten the situation. I had been influenced by American culture to think of Germans in terms of Hitler and as promoters of white supremacy. Fortunately, I’ve successfully worked through my issues with pre-judging individual people based on group stereotypes.

One of my most enjoyable German experiences was musical encounters with Afro-German recordings. Of that cohort of musicians, Joy Denalane is my favorite. Her father is from Soweto, South Africa, her mother is from Berlin, Germany. She is a singer who does both soul music and German music, singing in German and English.  I used to get a kick out of introducing her recordings to friends. 

Here is a radio broadcast, Jazz Open Stuttgart July 27, 2006, shortly after Born And Raised, her third major label release. She’s not only deep into the music, Joy also relates her life story in this concert. Enjoy.

 

>> ‘It’s not enough until everything changes.”
On 2nd degree murder charges being brought up against Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, Minneapolis protestor Zoe Schaeffer says, “I won’t be satisfied until I can wake up and have kids and have them not fear their lives for just being black, for being darker than other people … It’s not enough until everything changes.” — MSNBC

 

It is a cliche but it’s also a truism–everything must change. That’s the way of the world. Everything changes. Even this crazy moment.

Given the turmoil following the murder of George Floyd, what happens next is the more relevant and more pressing question. When will systemic change actually occur?

Political observers are calling June 2020 an inflection point. Classically, an inflection point is a moment of crisis engendering momentous change, the moment when the old authorities unavoidably must and will be overcome.

Can the old guard  hold on regardless of the undeniable reality of an uprising that is visible literally worldwide? Will the youth overtake the elders, especially those old (mainly white) men who are in charge?

Even though everybody seems to know that nothing can or will be as it was yesterday, nevertheless, despite what they might say for televised sound-bites, by calling for calm, civility and an end to rebellion, far too many police and politicians act like they favor moving back to the past rather than proceeding forward into a more equitable future. Regardless of the dangers, all across America there is an unstoppable mass of demonstrators who are demanding change. Caught in the middle of contending and contradictory forces, insistent citizens are marching on behalf of justice not only for George Floyd but, indeed, justice for all. 

Black. Brown. Yellow. Red. & White. America’s got to have it–and what is “it”–well, that’s the million dollar question. Back in the sixties the old order asked “what do they want?”–“they” being Negroes and hippies. Ultimately, “they” got a Black president but it now seems that people realize that was not enough. Regardless who is the titular head, if there is not substantial change, the president alone will not matter. Electing a new president is necessary but not sufficient to create the society we need.

Today, over arching contradictions are three-fold: public health, police brutality, and economic chaos. The combination of these three negative forces is too much. The yoke is too heavy. There is a difficult reality that necessarily must be dealt with.

In the first week of June 2020, the coronavirus has killed over 110,000 people. After massive demonstrations, health officials warn that there will probably be a major uptick in the number of virus deaths. People’s health is a priority and if healthy living is not made available to all, the entire society may fall ill to the virus.

Literally millions of Americans (as well as people worldwide) are grappling with the seemingly intractable conflict of the police against the people. Physical clashes have gone on for well over a week. This is not a battle of good versus evil. This is a battle against oppression, especially when the oppression is wielded by forces that theoretically are supposed to be forces of protection.

Which brings us to a foundational problem: the majority of Americas are experiencing an economic disaster. Unemployment has skyrocketed. College educated, young whites, who have never even jay-walked in their life, are facing a bleak future and they are not silently suffering. The people–all genders, colors, religions, from a multiple of social conditions–people are rebelling.

Congress is at an impasse in terms of what to do about the dire financial conditions. At least a quarter of the workforce is unemployed. Bluntly put: many people don’t have enough money to live and have no prospects of obtaining substantial, long term relief. One stimulus check, even two more checks, won’t solve the problem. The problem is that living a good life under capitalism requires a stable and regular source of money. It costs more to live a good life than too many of us will ever earn.

No one should be a pauper! Every worker–and yes, that includes the unpaid labor of maintaining a home–in exchange for daily care giving and labor, every worker should receive all that they need to live. But the bosses will not just give it to us. We must fight the powers that be for our right to live a good life.

We must fight for our right to live a good life!

ONE: Resistance to oppression is the ultimate act of self love.

TWO: You do not have to know all the answer to righteously question authority.

THREE: The two necessary acts of love are 1. Love of self, which creates a healthy individual. 2. Love of others, which creates a healthy society. Moreover, the individual cannot be truly healthy if the society they live in is sick.

Zoe Schaeffer reminds us: a better world is possible if we are willing to care about others. Sometimes the future seems too scary to proceed but we must be brave enough to stand and fight regardless of our fears. Forward with love of and for each other. Forward for the health, well-being, and sustenance of each other.

Never go back. Forward for ever.

 

 

 

 

 

Zanj Bar (land of the blacks). East Africa, the island territory in federation with Tanzania. I was there in 1974 while attending the Sixth Pan African conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I have many memories. Two of the most vivid–one is pain filled, the other beautiful; non-intuitively, both were in the same spot.

We were taken to the east side of the island, bordered by the Indian ocean. We  were shown and actually touched the boulders in the water that had iron rings driven into the tops of them. They were used as mooring points for Arab slave ships. Enslaved people were chained to those rocks in the water while awaiting shipment. The other image is from the same shore.

I have traveled literally around the world, New Orleans to South Korea, the Caribbean and South America, plus Europe. The most beautiful water I have seen is the blue/green waters on the coast of Zanzibar. It was an absolutely enchanting moment when we were driven to a shamba, a small farm on the east coast of the island. When we arrived, it was just a nondescript, small, white stucco building. But when we were led around to the back of the building, we were rewarded with the entrancing vista of the Indian ocean washing ashore.

At first we didn’t notice the food-laden tables. Indeed, a number of our brothers and sisters in the British delegation had on swim suits beneath their street clothes. Some, without any hesitancy whatsoever, shed their outer garments and dove into the water.

I just stood there, starring at the water. We also went on a tour –picture a romantic ramble through a casbah-like town, and a visit to a cigarette factory built and maintained by the Chinese government, along with a radio station. 

I’ve walked on the great wall of China, danced in a Cuban plaza, stood atop the citadel in Haiti, floated on the beaches of Barbados, and so forth. But the waters of Zanzibar. Those emerald waters, they were unforgettable.

Asante, the first born of the five Salaam siblings, next year you’ll be in Zanzibar.