Current Picks
Wanda’s Picks June 2014
Written by Wanda Sabir   
Sunday, 01 June 2014
Happy Birthday Geminis! Congratulations graduates!

We remember. . .

Mary Yuri Kochiyama (May 19, 1921-June 1, 2014), revolutionary to the very end, passed this morning. Her daughter Audee Holman was with her. Details will be forthcoming. Zakkiyah, Shukuru and I went by to see her on her birthday, May 19, 2014. Audee and family friend, Carl,  were there as well.  Audee offered us birthday cupcakes with decorative blue frosting (smile). Yuri was sleeping as we talked and then she awoke ravenous and allowed the nurse to move her to a chair for her meal. She drank lots of orange juice and then ate her dinner between thank yous for the cards and plant Zakkiyah and I brought her (smile). Although, she didn't really remember me she let me give her a kiss and waved goodbye as we left. It was a very good day.

Imagine my surprise when I hear of her transition this morning. I was thinking about driving to Berkeley to see her again Friday, May 30, with Sister Sheba who was up visiting from Sacramento to see Elder Ronald Freeman who is getting ready to travel this month. He will need money to complete his pilgrimage. Cashier’s checks and money orders can be sent to Elder Freeman at P.O. Box 30756, Oakland, CA 94604.

Just yesterday I went to the matinee performance of Larry Americ Allen's The Expulsion of Malcolm X, which always makes me think of his friend and comrade, Yuri. I remember when she adopted me into her circle of friends, how honored I was. Me? She'd always greet me so warmly and would call me to talk for hours, and when I'd visit she'd tell me stories about the people on her wall of fame in her Oakland apartment.  I could have spent the night if she’d had space (smile). Caretakers would check-in with her on her medications and see if she needed anything. She was always gracious and full of life. I loved to see her with Richard Aoki, to hear the two of them talk about Japanese Internment and the organization they founded for the Internment survivors. She spoke about Malcolm X joining her at such meetings when he was in town. She shared postcards he sent her while traveling.

Richard didn’t stumble into the Black Panther Party, he already lived on the same street. It is the same with Yuri, from the moment her family was interned and she saw what this country did to her sick father, she was radicalized for life. She'd be a presence at political rallies and events up to almost the end of her life. Holding onto her walker she stood tall and unflinching for justice. We talked about her writing political prisoners--lots of them. I asked her how she kept up with all the mail and she showed me. I remember when she started forgetting things and losing her memory. She'd keep lists and ask visitors to write down their names and addresses, so when they left she wouldn't forget they had been there. What a fighter!

Audee is such a great daughter. She invited me to one of Yuri's famous birthday bashes. Hamdiyah and Shukuru, two other great friends, told me about going to the movies with their friend. I bet that was a lot of fun. I'd wanted to get her a copy of Crime After Crime, when Yuri couldn't get to the screenings, but the gesture slipped through one of many goodwill cracks (smile).

Here is a piece I wrote when Yuri invited us to dinner to meet her friend, Peter Bailey I remember the Critical Resistance Conference at Laney College several years ago where she spoke with Angela Davis, captured in the film Mountains That Take Wings    The film:

Here is Yuri (27:27) sharing her thoughts on her comrade Marilyn Buck:    I took a lovely photo of Yuri with comrades at Sparks Fly for Marilyn

Dr. Maya Angelou, poet, playwright, civil rights activist made her transition April 4, 1928 - May 28, 2014. We offer our condolences to her family, especially her son, Guy B. Johnson, whom when I met him told me that the person in Dr. Angelou’s series of autobiographies was a character, that he lived off the page.

And so he did, the last time I saw Guy was at the ceremony to honor the completion of the Remember Them: Champions For Humanity Monument, by Oakland sculptor Mario Chiodo, is located in the Henry J. Kaiser Memorial Park at the corner of 19th and Rashida Muhammad Streets. My mother tells me she would turn on the TV when I was a child so we could watch Dr. Angelou perform, sing and dance. I don’t remember this introduction, but perhaps these early visages of the statuesque beautiful black woman stayed with me through all of the volumes of her life until I met Guy with his mother at one of the now legendary San Francisco Poetry Festivals in Ft. Mason where I took a photo. Guy graciously agreed to an interview for one of my classes at Holy Names College later that same week. I went  by his Berkeley home where I met his son, wrote the paper, got an A, yet kept seeing Guy in Oakland where he worked until retirement at literary events where he’d always encourage me to keep writing.

We hope he will join us this February 7, 2015, at the West Oakland Library’s 25th Annual Celebration of African American Poets, 1-5 p.m. Its theme: Still I Rise, taken from Angelou’s legendary poem, whom we will honor that day. Calling all poets and relatives and friends of poets who participated or attended the African American Celebration through Poetry over the past 24 years.  We are looking for stories, poetry and reflections from all who witnessed many historic moments on and off the stage at the Oakland Public Library’s longest running public program. Send photos and reflections to This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it Let us also know if you’d like to help that day and in the months preceding.

“Madagascar Made” Reception

January this year TaSin Sabir published her long awaited photographic memoir “Madagascar Made: Reflections on My Journey Home.” Celebrate the release of this wonderful sojourn to her homeland off the coast of East Africa, Madagascar, at a book party and reception at Joyce Gordon Gallery, Sunday, June 29, 2 p.m., 406 14th Street, downtown Oakland, (510) 465-8928. There will be Madagasy music, dance lessons, food and of course books (smile). Movie: ,

Free Performance in Oakland

In pen/man/ship, playwright Christina Anderson brings together disparate threads—repatriation to Africa, penal colonies, and the Atlantic slave trade in reverse as a remedy for surplus humanity, as a way to justify its continued commodification in the person of Charles Boyd, surveyor and captain of the voyage and ship that sails for Liberia (1896). Trauma and terror stalk those aboard, all except perhaps Ruby, the lone female on deck, maybe Adrian, a musician, and eventually Jacob Boyd, Charles’s son, as Sir Charles fills himself alternating with scripture and rum to quench his empty soul, yet finds himself still dry. . . too many leaks.

There is a free performance of the Magic theatre’s amazing production of Christina Anderson’s Pen/Man/Ship at Laney College Theatre, 900 Fallon in Oakland, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 1:30 p.m. It continues in San Francisco at the Magic Theatre through June 15, 2014. Located at Ft. Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, shows are Tuesdays, June 3 and 10, 7 p.m., evenings Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. with weekend matinees on Sundays at 2:30 with a 7 p.m. show as well Sunday, June 1. Tickets are $20-60 with $5 off for seniors and educators. All student tickets are $20.

Virgin Play Series

The Magic is also presenting the 2014 Martha Heasley Cox Virgin Play Series on Monday nights (6/2 & 6/9, 7 p.m. at ACT’s Costume Shop). June 16, 6 p.m. Sojourners by Mfoniso Udofia is read at the Commonwealth Club of California, 595 Market Street (between 1st and 2nd); Montgomery BART Station. Visit

Reparation Reflections

Saturday evening Carnaval weekend found me at The Chapel, a former mortuary now San Francisco club with attached restaurant. I’d heard about the venue, but never been inside. However, SambaDa called and Sister Califa introduced me to lead singer Dandha Da and well I hopped on BART and headed over. It was a hard choice with Angela Davis and Sonia Sanchez pulling me equally hard, as were the Black Women reinterpreting Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. I wondered, what those labias were talking about (smile).

In any case, with Spring Quarter looming ahead at Pacifica and final grades to compute here at home, I was chilling out, trying to practice abdominal breathing and focus— Admittedly I’d been reading multiple books and articles this quarter on dreams, not interpretation, no, we’d since passed that a couple of quarters ago with Freud’s opus, The Interpretation of said phenomena and Jung’s associative dynamics in reference to one’s dreams. These new social scientists, one I really like a lot, Dutch Jungian psychoanalyst, Robert Bosnak looks at the images in dreams as an “embodiment of their own intelligence” in his book by the same title (10). He does not see dreams as needing interpretation, that to do so is to rob the dream of its thingness. So anyway, I have been trying to remember my dreams and to figure out if they are a part of a global dream, that is, have a larger resonance outside of my particular circumstances.

So I read these articles which called for what the writer called “A radical change of perspective,” at the same time another psychoanalyst whom I am also reading, Stephen Aizenstat, Ph.D. (co-founder of Pacifica) gives, in his book, Dream Tending: Awakening the Healing Power of Dreams, a series of practices to actively engage one’s dreams. Often, psyche speaks through one’s dreams, the names of yet another textbook, by Russell Arthur Lockhart, whose collection of essays, the first in a Jungian Lecture Series, where he spends a few chapters speaking about how daunting a task it is to speak about Jungian psychology in Dr. Jung’s absence. In fact, one of  my professors, Dr. Joseph Cambray, said that he is post-Jungian and that one cannot expect the field to remain vital and responsive if it fails to adapt. I think the same is true with all ideologies, no matter how useful or seemingly sacrosanct. I am speaking here of religion. The film, Al Nisa: Black Muslim Women in Atlanta’s Gay Mecca, a documentary in Frameline 38: San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival June 19-29, 2014, challenges the rigidity of monotheism,

In between watching films about the politics of Breastmilk, dir. Dana Ben-Ari, the title of another film which opened March 23, and Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek, dir. Leah Mahon, subj., Derrick Evans (2013) juxtaposed with the wonderful article written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Black Classic’s Press founder, Paul Coates, on Reparations, in the  May 2014 issue of the Atlantic Monthly I read this wonderful book by Jamaican writer, Beresford McLean, Broken Gourds (2004).

“My God, how do we move forward in a circular world?” the Broken Gourds narrator asks. Great question when we see travesties repeated and black people denied justice on all civic levels from local to national. I hadn’t known that Rep. John Conyers, the lovely man who employed Mrs. Rosa Parks when she moved to Detroit after her family was literally run out of Alabama when her action Dec. 1, 1955 led to the bus strike that paralyzed the state transportation system for a year and brought economic hardship on its white businesses, proposed a study of Black Reparations for slavery which to date has not been ratified ( 

When you read about the systematic plan to keep black people from owning homes in Chicago in Coates’s article and how after organizing and winning in court, today this same black community has the highest levels of murder, unemployment, under education, infant mortality, and blight, Reparations certainly seem in order or at least a study, which Rep. Conyers has been calling for, for 25 years –such tenacity. I think we should lean on the other senators, representatives and the president to make this a reality. Coates cites statistics that state upper income African Americans earning $100,000, yet live in neighborhoods with white people earning significantly less, $30,000.00. The article also stated that the cycle of poverty is generational, so even if a person comes from a family with education and perhaps owns a home, there are no guarantees this will save one from hardship, because black people still do not have a wealth base or rainy day funds generated over several generations.

The stories of men profiled in the article like Clyde Ross who moved to Chicago from Clarksdale, Mississippi, are examples of wrong heaped on top of wrong. That Mr. Ross’s family was cheated out of its land and then his prized pony taken from him by white neighbors just because they could for $17.00, shows just how narrow the road between slavery and freedom. Mr. Ross speaks in a video (link) about the house he worked three jobs for 45 years to own.  When his kids saw him on weekends, they did not know him; this speaks volumes to the price of democracy for this man and his family. They were morally and emotionally robbed as well and should be compensated.

The Battle for Turkey Creek

Derrick Christopher Evans, sixth-generation descendent of the founders of the native coastal Mississippi historic African American community, Turkey Creek (1866), moves to Boston where he attends Boston College, graduates with both undergraduate and master degrees in history, is an adjunct professor there where he teaches civil rights history (1992-2005) as well as teaches American history and social studies in the Boston public middle school system (1991-2001), and history and African-American studies at Roxbury Community College. In the film we see him in the classroom with black boys and girls excited about civics and justice as he tells them the story of his ancestral home, Turkey Creek. Evans also buys property and creates a community garden in this food desert as well as establishes, Epiphany School, (in 1997) a full-service and tuition-free independent middle school for low-income children and families from Boston neighborhoods.

When desecration of his hometown calls Evans back, he shifts gears to save his inheritance and that of the others in his community as big business backed by the local and state government does not see the importance of Turkey Creek, what is left of it, to the region and to the nation.

As 90 year old elder Eva Skinner walks unsteadily on a cane to show Derrick where her two year old child, Daniel, is buried, they find that the grave site has been desecrated, many of the headstones, made from wood destroyed by the developers who callously built housing on a site. This grave site predates the city of Gulfport which has been developed around Turkey Creek, a formally undeveloped and undesirable area in the Mississippi Delta. When Derrick asks her why or how this could happen she says, “People can do anything they want if nobody don’t try to do nothing about it.”

Derrick seeks historic landmark status for the homes his ancestors built; he is told that the buildings do not qualify because no one important lived there. By the films conclusion, Hurricane Katrina has struck the Gulf Coast, Rita and the British Petroleum Oil Spill has also devastated the fragile Eco-system yet many inroads to protect the watershed from further development and preservation of the unique community happen through organizations he founded or co-founded: Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health, Turkey Creek Community Initiatives, and the more recent, BRIDGE THE GULF, an interactive Web-based platform for community advocates, journalists and storytellers.

Broken Gourds

It is the same story in the fictional town where Jamaican author Beresford McLean’s Broken Gourds takes place. When the story begins, Victor Rawlings is trying to divert the road planned  through an area of the village (Albion) that will disturb the gods. It takes the entire length of the book for him to share the story of Brother Walk and Balm Yard and House of God, a place where the gate was always left open, healing was given freely whether body or soul and the spirits of the ancestors were invited to join the community every year, the first week in August when the magical pool filled for baptism.

I won’t spoil the story for you, but is quite the freshman debut novel full of intrigue, twists and turns as the unlikely hero of the story is called, (similar to Derrick Evans), and he listens. Dada or Brother Walk is not without flaws, one of them greed which almost undoes all of his good work, but always a good listener, Brother Walk asks his people for forgiveness and amends.

Raised without a mother by a father who doesn’t understand his son, Dada is unsightly. He has sores on his body which won’t heal and is unsuited for farm work. Dada as he is called then, eats mangoes and has light chores, usually those given to girls, such as fetching water and letting the sheep in and out of the pasture daily. His saving grave is his lovely voice; he sings in the church choir. He also has a good heart and adopts a younger boy whose family throws him out when he is “cursed” with polio at birth. He’s called Twig and Dada gives the boy shelter and food, while Twig helps Dada, who likes to dream, stay focused and do his chores. When Dada receives his gift, cures Twig who is then able to stand straight and walk.

The town is peopled by the former slave masters and their children, as well as newcomers, East Indians, mixed-race African Americans and whites who maintain a social and class distinction from the black people who still provide the labor force, that is, all except Dada’s father Prince, who owns all his land and has his children work exclusively for themselves, so the money stays in his family.

This is something that sets Prince off from the others, yet does not endear him to the white and mixed race black elite. Prince’s wife dies when Dada is a child and Dada, the youngest is raised by his grandmother, who dresses as her African ancestors did. She even practices her African religion, ancestor reverence, to the dismay of her son, Prince.  

Broken Gourds is a story of how there is no conflict or need not be conflict between people based on their spiritual traditions. It is also a story of how when one is just and kind and loving as Brother Walk is, good follows. Evil has no place in a righteous society and such temptations are easily reduced or eliminated when there is a place like Balm Yard and House of God, at the center of a community where a person like Brother Walk mediates between the temporal and the everlasting. In the story, we learn Brother Walk is not the only one offered this task; he was just the only one who answered.

I think about my walk and where I am and though I am not certain exactly where this path is taking me, I have said yes to the ancestors and trust they will protect me along the journey.

Carijama Returns to Oakland at a Cost

Monday, Memorial Day, a day for the Ancestors of Egun filled Mosswood Park in Oakland for a wonderful celebration of life. A friend and I rode bikes to the park; it was a good day to ride—sunny, clear, sane drivers (smile). As we dismounted I walked towards the drums, there I saw Baba CK Ledzekpo was conducting a drumming circle where experienced and novices could call he ancestors together. On stage the San Francisco Carnaval Queen, Valencia Newton, one of the founders of Sistas-wit-Style, a youth run organization whose goal is to build self-esteem, fight obesity and offer alternatives to violent and disruptive behavior to youth in the San Francisco Bay Area, were the first group on stage where they featured members of its various ensembles— I know Val Serrant was proud of the women they have become, all college graduates who still committed to Pan African cultural education.  SambaFunk closed the stage, they followed Juan Escovedo who put on an amazing show, topped only by SambaFunk cause they covered Mosswood Park on stage and on the grounds. We felt pleasantly surrounded (smile).

King Theo Williams, San Francisco Carnaval King in 2001, Artistic Director of SambaFunk! "Carnaval Explosion" and founding member of the Funkquarians’s presented a well-curated day of programing featuring a top lineup of Pan African. Memorial Day 2014 in Oakland was an opportunity for black people to enjoy other black people on a warm sunny day; however, this gift to the community comes at a personal cost to King Theo in the amount of $6,000.00 payable to the City of Oakland.

He didn’t have time that day to give me the details, but the idea that the City of Oakland would charge one of its citizens for hosting in its name a free event is ridiculous and needs to be addressed immediately. For information contact District 3 Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney’s chief of staff, Zachary Wald, Chief of Staff at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it or (510) 238-7032 and and This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it (Theo).

Libations for the Ancestors June 14, 2014

The Annual San Francisco Bay Area Libations for the Ancestors is Saturday, June 14, 2014, 9 AM at the Fountain at Lake Merritt (juxtaposed with Merritt Bakery and the tennis courts). It is an International Libation, everyone is pouring at the same time, which
means we start exactly at 9 AM PST.

2012 marked the 25th Anniversary of the Libations Ceremony. What is significant about this day is that throughout the world African ancestors are being revered simultaneously. In Pacific time zone, that means we are pouring at 9 AM sharp. In Central or Mountain time, 11 AM sharp and Atlantic or Eastern time zone it is 12 noon sharp!

This is our seventh or eighth year participating in the international remembrance of the African ancestors who were bought and sold during the European slave trade. This is also an opportunity to reflect on those subsequent ancestors like Mama Tubman and Baba Denmark Vesey, and ancestors elsewhere in the African Diaspora. It is, a prayer for our survival and an opportunity to greet and support one another in this important work: healing from enslavement: socially, politically, and economically. It is also an opportunity to reclaim our personal and collective power, plus long overdue justice and equality. Visit for information.

Email us at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it   There will be a special broadcast June 6, 8-9 AM PST with organizers of the Libations for the Ancestors and Oakland Juneteenth. Tune in by calling 347-237-4610 and

In other parts of the world our morning will be their evening, but we'll all be in the same day (smile). Though community is important, especially for African people, if you are not able to get to a gathering or cannot host one of your own or are on the move, stop at the designated time and pour libations on the roadside, if necessary. . . . Join us in spirit and at the least pour thanks from your heart then, now and forever more.

2013 in the African Diaspora in the Americas and beyond in Charleston and Georgetown, SC, Hampton, Virginia, Seattle, WA, St, Croix, Virgin Islands, Oakland, CA, Long Island, NY, Portobelo, Panama, West Indies, Cape Coast, Ghana, and Brooklyn, New York, Atlanta, Georgia, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia--Pan African people lifted the names of ancestors who made the journey across the Atlantic and those who died aboard those slave ships and those who returned home (as was the case in Ethiopia that year for Wanda Sabir).

Stop what you are doing Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 9 a.m. PST and pour libations for our African ancestors who were taken against their will from Mother Africa. Ask them for strength and endurance. Freedom is a constant struggle. For those who'd like to pour libations in unity. Join us at 8:30 a.m. We will pour precisely at 9 AM. Bring your drums and other percussion instruments to celebrate our ancestors' lives. Bring flowers, breakfast pastry and fruit to share.  It is traditional to wear white, but for those who know me...bring yourself, it's what's inside that counts.

Feel the power of that moment as we recall their greatness of spirit and give thanks. Ashay!

In Oakland we met at the fountain at Lake Merritt, across from the Merritt Bakery where the fountain is: E-18th Street at Lakeshore Drive. We can meet there again this year. It is a nice spot, easy to locate and wheelchair accessible.

Juneteenth Festivals in Northern California

Oakland, California

Later that day in Oakland, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. is Omnira Institute’s 6th Annual Juneteenth also at Lake Merritt at the Boathouse Picnic Area, 562 Bellevue Avenue.

Juneteenth is an observance of the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation, marking the beginning of the end of slavery in the United States. Besides the singing and drumming for the ancestors, our celebration is rich with the prayers of the traditions of the people captured and forced into slavery.

The celebration June 14, led by Awon Ohun Omnira, includes using some of the old songs of our U.S. ancestors with the Ring-Shout, which demonstrates the living link to African culture. Look for them on Facebook and bring a blanket or chairs for seating.

Juneteenth at Allensworth

Juneteenth at Allensworth State Park, the Historic Black Town is June 14th, 2014, Saturday, 10:00 am - 4:00 pm, (661) 849-343 and

Juneteenth San Francisco

San Francisco’s 64th Annual Juneteenth kicks off at the Rotunda at City Hall June 13, 2014, 12-1, followed by a reception that evening, 6-9 p.m. with a double feature movie at the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton Street, where the parade will begin Saturday morning, June 14 at 8:30 a.m. There is a lot planned: job fair, fashion show, pony rides, plus lots of live music and performances.

Juneteenth in Berkeley, CA

Berkeley’s Juneteenth, Adeline at Alcatraz through Adeline at Ashby Avenue is Sunday, June 15, 2014, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

San Francisco Black Film Festival

The Sixteenth Annual San Francisco Black Film Festival, June 12-14, 2014, displays an array of diverse themes that inspire the human spirit this 16th Anniversary Showcase. SFBFF is also hosting a “Celebrate your Father in the Video and Essay Contest.”  The San Francisco venues this year are: the LUSH LIFE Gallery at The Jazz Heritage Center’s Media & Education Room, 1330 Fillmore Street; The Burial Clay Theater at the African American Arts & Cultural Center, 762 Fulton Street; The BooM BooM RooM, 1601 Fillmore Street; Dolby Laboratories, 100 Potrero Avenue and others. Visit for details.

Juneteenth in Richmond, California

West Contra Costa County celebrates Juneteenth Family Day Parade & Festival in Richmond, California on Saturday, June 28, 2014 10:00am - 6:00pm. The Juneteenth Parade begins @ 10:00am on Cutting Blvd. &  Marina Way South Parade ends @  Nicholl Park on 31st & Macdonald. The Grand Marshall Dr. Helen Benjamin,Chancellor of Contra Costa College District Featuring the Wells Fargo historic stage coach, African American Horse Riders, the Vallejo Corvette and many more. Juneteenth Festival Begins @ 11:30am to 6:00pm @ Nicholl Park on 33rd & Macdonald. Please join us for two stages of entertainment, ethnic food, kids expo, local vendors and so much more. Visit

Juneteenth in San Jose
June 1, 2014, 11-7 Second and St. James Street

Juneteenth Vallejo in a New Location

The African American Family Reunion Committee and Greater Vallejo Recreation District in partnership with La Clinica proudly present Vallejo's 26th Annual Juneteenth Celebration, Saturday, June 21, 2014 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at City Park.  

Juneteenth in Sacramento

Festivities at this 21st Annual Celebration of Freedom culminating atWilliam Land Park is June 20-22, 2014.

Juneteenth in Stockton

Togetherness Day is the theme at the 39th Annual Stockton Juneteenth Celebration, 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Taft Community Center, 389 Downing Avenue, Stockton, California.

Zimbabwean Music and Dance

Great Night of Music and Dance from Zimbabwe Saturday, June 7, 2014, at Ashkenaz Music and Dance Center, 1317 San Pablo Avenue, in Berkeley, features Julia Chigamba and Chinyakare is a fundraiser for Chigamba Cultural Center in Zimbabwe. Special Guests include: Lamine Bangoura, Abby Fritz and Kelly Takunda Orphan.Doors open at 9 and the show starts at 9:30 p.m. Visit

Precious Drop Dance Production

Precious Drop is an evening length dance, music and multi-media production that illuminate our exceedingly variant human relationships to water. Overseen by the omnipotent, pan-cultural water spirit, Mami Wata, a unified tale is revealed, woven of ‘traditional’ African fable and current event that explores this intrinsic and invaluable resource throughout place and time. By way of experiences both mundane and sacred, the journey probes a spectrum of inquiries between abundance and scarcity, reverence and disregard, solution and destruction. In gratitude and celebration for Her bountiful gifts, direction is forged towards a more promising future.!blank/c15oy

Precious Drop takes place at the Malonga Casquelourd Theater, 1428 Alice Street in Oakland, Saturday, June 14, 2014, 7 p.m. and Sunday,  June 15, 2014 2 p.m. For tickets:   For a preview watch:  General Admission is $15
Children & Student's (with valid school ID) are $10. Children 5 years and younger are FREE.

On the Fly
California Music Industry Summit
at the Kaiser Center Tower, 300 Lakeside Drive, Oakland, June 13-15, 2014 The 13th Annual Documentary Film Festival begins June 5-19, 2014,   36th Annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, June 5-29, 2014 Prevent Fast lanes on the Internet for profit seeking corporations. Contact the FCC to do the right thing and issue rules to preserve the democratic nature of the Internet


Theatre Rhinoceros presents: Walk Like A Man, by Laurinda D. Brown, 2006 Lambda Literary Award-Winner for "Best Lesbian Erotica,” directed by John Fisher in its Bay Area Premiere, May 28 – June 15, 2014, Wed. - Sat. - 8:00 pm / Sun. - 3:00 p.m. at The Costume Shop in San Francisco, 1117 Market Street, San Francisco,   

Michael Gene Sullivan’s “Fugitive Slave Act”

Lorraine Hansberry Theatre and the Museum of the African Disapora present a Staged Reading of the Fugitive/Slave/Act by Michael Gene Sullivan, directed by the playwright, Saturday, June 7, 2014, 2 p.m., at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission Street in San Francisco. Admission is free, though RSVP is requested: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it or (415) 318-7140.
fugitive/slave/act is a historical drama based on a true story from the turbulent days before the Civil War. Told in the form of a greek tragedy, it follows the story of William Parker, the leader of a community of ex-slaves living free, and Edward Gorsuch, the slaveowner pursuing his "property," and who could not accept a world where he was not a master. In 1851 they met in the town of Christiana, Pennsylvania.

A year earlier, to appease the slaveholding states, the United States Congress passed the "Fugitive Slave Law," which decreed that an escaped slave was no longer free by simply reaching a "Free State." Not only could their ex-Master now pursue escaped slaves anywhere in the Union, a "kidnapper" had the right, under this law, to forcibly deputize anyone, forcing them to help. To resist capture, or refuse help in capturing, were suddenly federal crimes.

And just as suddenly communities of escaped slaves north of the Mason-Dixon line were imperiled, in danger at any moment of being dragged back to hell. So when a group of escaped slaves in southern Pennsylvania got wind that their former master had decided to recapture them they had a choice: try the run for Canada or do something no one had done before: stand and fight. They fought, and the bloody clash, known as the Battle of Christiana, almost started the Civil war a decade early. And the resulting sensational trial galvanized the nation - but galvanized it into two virtually separate countries. Some called it justice, some called it treason, all called it inevitable - a battle that had to be fought in a country divided.

for colored girls is Project 1 Voice’s Choice for Its 4th Annual Juneteenth Reading

Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in association with Project 1 Voice Black Theatre National presents a Benefit Staged Reading this year is Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem“for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf, with simultaneous Staged readings at over thirty African-American Theatres from coast to coast. Darryl V. Jones directs the San Francisco Reading at the Creativity Theater at the Children's Creativity Museum (formerly ZEUM), 221 Fourth Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. All money goes to Lorraine Hansberry Theatre. For tickets call: 415-474-8415 474-8800 or visit

The 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

The 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Struggle Continues is a free event that provides an opportunity for the whole community to reflect on the road to passage of the Civil Rights Act, the gains and setbacks of the last 50 years and the ongoing struggle for full human rights in the United States.  The program will honor iconic civil rights attorney Howard Moore, Jr. and will feature Angela Davis, Clayborne Carson and Elaine Brown.

The event is Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM at Beebe Memorial Cathedral, 3900 Telegraph Ave. Musical guests include Platinum Grammy-Award-winning recording artist D'Wayne Wiggins and Tarika Lewis with Strings of Soul and Amaevolution.

There will also be an exclusive preview showing of excerpts from the documentary film Freedom Summer by Firelight Media, which premieres on PBS on June 24, 2014. The film documents the Freedom Summer of 1964 when hundreds of students, civil rights workers and organizers joined with Mississippi residents and risked their lives to register African Americans to vote.  Directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker and MacArthur "Genius" Fellow Stanley Nelson.For more information, sponsorship opportunities and to RSVP for this FREE event at:

San Francisco Green Festival con’t.

Maria Farinha Filmes’s, director, Way Beyond Weight (Muito Além do Peso), Braizil, 2012, 84 min., Portuguese and English, with subtitles, is a frank and alarming look at childhood obesity from infancy through 12 and how this affects the longevity. Children today live shorter lives than their parents and grandparents.  Juxtaposing interviews with children and their parents, with nutritionists and doctors, advertisers and school cooks, we meet children who have stage 2 diabetes, watch parents give their infants a bottle of coke, hear of a child who has had a stroke and when told she needs to lose weight, says years later that she has been unable to do so. We meet families in Brazil and America, families who live in rural areas and those in the city—today’s parents seem to be besieged by large corporations who push foods heavy in sugar and fat on children who spend more time in front of televisions and computers than in school, 3 hours to 5 hours. In one scene a child says physical education is 15 minutes of the day and there is not activity. Another child said that at lunch time the kids sit in the cafeteria and if they run around they get into trouble. Children whose health requires them to eat fruit of vegetables often eat in the bathroom stalls so as not to bring attention to themselves.

Parents seem to have relinquished all control of their children to the sugar pushers and fats godfathers. It’s a legal crack with just as lethal consequence. A mother of an obese daughter, said she had to quit working at MacDonald’s because she felt like a drug pusher, her child the victim. I remember Doggy Diners and Frosty Freeze, we ate there a couple times a year; other than that we ate at home— and our school lunches were cooked at school and we had vegetables daily and on certain days we might have fish sticks or a burger or a hotdog, but that was seldom and even then we had apples and oranges and other fruit, milk and fruit juice to choose from, not soft drink, with the meal.

One father profiled with four children spoke of how he says no 10 times and then on the 12 time he gives in. Even when the director showed children and adults how much sugar was in the coke of fruit nectar or fat in the chips or cookies—for some nothing changed.   

A healthy food advocate said that since eating is something we do often in a day parents can use this opportunity as a bonding time with children to prepare meals together, certainly eat together and turn off the television. One little boy asked his mother if she could buy him a friend. Now how said it that. We see him with two dogs later on. He has to lose weight, but this is compromised with his anxiety makes him binge. And this is a little kid, under 12 years old with high blood pressure.

Ultimately what happens in the home is not the responsibility of the child, it is the guardian or parent’s job to make sure the child is healthy and even if TV is easy, the advertising is doing irreversible harm to our children who will not be in any position to lead if they are unhealthy. Parents are not the victims here—children are;

All of the parents interviewed love their children, so they need to demonstrated this by taking responsibility for their nutrition and stop purchasing foods that are killing their children. A fat child will most likely grow up to be a fat adult. Obesity is at the top of the chart for early death.

Parents need to know that they are in control and can refuse to buy the products being marketed. Okay, this might mean getting up earlier and cooking the child breakfast instead of opening a carton in the car and calling this unwrapped packaged food breakfast—sugar, salt and fat in a can, box, cellophane, the point it, how many generations removed from its organic food source.

I don’t know why no one said they planned to turn off the TVs; however, when more parents turn off the TV sets and unplug the laptops and electronic toys and engage their children in more meaningful activities, the marketers will get the message in their bottom lines, and start supplying healthier alternatives—fresh food. The dollar is the most persuasive bargaining tool consumers possess, yet too frequently we let the market shape us, rather than vice versa. Parents need to be more proactive –Way Beyond Weight, is a three fire alarm which is destroying too many innocent young lives.

Chasing Mehserle, A Review

Chanaka Hodge's Chasing Mehserle, directed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Sean San Jose, continues the story of Watts and his mom, Willie, whom we meet in Mirrors in Every Corner, Hodge's first major play, also staged at Intersection for the Arts. Many people were not hip to Hodge until recently, so it wasn’t surprising that once the lights went up after the little over two hour drama that the prequel (Mirrors) would fly out of her hands as she autographed them in the lobby to the dismay of those of us who were at the end of the line (smile). The theatre was full at Z-Space, tickets for the run’s extension after the Intersection run May 8-24, closed to much acclaim.

This is hip hop theatre which opens with the chorus – four actors seated on the stairs in the aisles talking back to Watts (on stage) in disbelief or affirmation as the prologue unfurls. The tight ensemble cast features: Tristan Cunningham, Halili Knox, Danez Smith, Michael Turner, Jonathan Williams, Dan Wolf, Isiah Thompson with stunning Visual Design team: Joan Osato with Thayer Walker and Matt Jones; Darl Andrew Packard on Lighting Design and Beat and Soundscape designer Juan Wonway Posibul Amador.

Chasing Mehserle is not about Oscar Grant, actor Michael Wayne Turner III's "Watts" clearly states during his lengthy prologue. Articulate and well read, Watts, as in brilliant, so brilliant his insight is blinding--he reminds me of James Baldwin, whom he reads. Baldwin was also brilliant. He also could not live in this country, so he left it never to return except to visit. Watts, unfortunately, cannot escape so he draws and studies maps; perhaps he is looking for a space within his world to occupy without fear. In the meantime, he has lived inside his house for 17 years. It isn't safe for this black boy to leave home, so he reads and reflects and surfs the web and drives Willie, his mom a bit crazy.

A kid just out of juvenile and looking for a job gets drafted from the chorus (seated on the steps next to me in the audience) as Watt's alter-ego narrator with an opinion. Yep, the boy has attitude. Puck (actor Danez Smith), is as magical as his namesake in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night Dream. He knows he is imagined, but then, so are the caricatures dangling from the mouths of police who shoot black boys like Oscar Grant dead. This does not stop Puck from arguing with the protagonist as he pulls him out of harm’s way more than once or corrects Watts's linguistic choices or loses himself in reverie or contemplation.

The Rodney King beating drives Watts inside and Mehserle opens the door. Something about Oscar’s story touches Watts, opens wide a layer in his trapped black psyche. He obsesses over Mehserle, over Oscar as he runs the BART platform scenario over and over and over in his mind. He has to interview everyone who knew the BART police officer who killed Grant, which takes him to Marin county.

The chase gives his life tangible meaning--perhaps Watt's crusade allows his ideas to crystallize finally around something tangible. The fear suddenly has legs. He can leave the house, go downtown which he last visited when he was a kid with his mom and siblings, shopping for school uniforms. The happy memory recalls yet another incident when Watts was afraid. As he shares this, a moment of camaraderie with a stranger shifts quickly into confrontation when Watts pretends to be hard and is almost killed.

Watts is working through the trauma. It is not post-trauma; it walks with him, yet, he is no longer chained by it. Watts is picked up by a rich white boy looking for adventure at a Grant protest. Lyle is like a virus of a flea, Watts can’t shake or exterminate him, plus his mom, Willie (actress Halili Knox) likes that Watts has a friend, so she lets Lyle stay in Watts’s room.
It gets stranger.

The years tick by as trial leads to Mehserle’s acquittal. The scenic design includes visible collage on two scenes, a juxtaposition of Grant's final moments on the platform to flowers from blood red to white. The only physical set a stair riser between two screens. On the riser is a flat top and open space in the back Watts has papered with maps and plans. Two animal claws hang in the wall as well—this is the room he and his roommate share. It is a porch, a bedroom and entrance to the house Watts’s mother Willie holds onto with a thread. It is home and it is safe.

Watts lives in West Oakland, Oakland, a sun in his universe, a place where he sees young men like himself venture out and never return. One young man has been shot six, seven, eight times; the cast laughs—“the man can't seem to die.”  But what a life he has. Is imagined pain any less than what this neighborhood legend experiences because he has nowhere to hide? Do we blame Watts for staying in doors?

One of the themes running through James Baldwin's seminal The Fire Next Time also runs through Searching for Mehserle who is not condemned, just questioned on the social circumstances that allow killers to walk free. Baldwin asks white America the same question in 1963. What are the residuals behind Mehserle’s act on the other Oscars? What precedence does judicial sanction set for boys like Watts when he is stopped by a California Highway Patrol Officer as he speeds down Highway 5 to LA for Mehserle's trial?

When he is pulled over, Watts whose knowledge of police brutality is solely intellectual, tastes fear and as he speaks to the hand holding the gun which does not waver. The position he assumes is automatic –as if his entire life was a rehearsal for this moment.

Throughout the play black boys like Watts are lying prostrate on stage—one by one they just fall prostrate, assuming the position as one by one they are accosted or eliminated by forces the audience cannot always see. The lines blur as reality and Watts’s internal narrative become one and the same. The difficulty Watts has with black manhood is emblematic of other black boys raised by black mothers who do not see themselves with a future let alone a life.

Yet, Watts is not a cliché.

At some point, Watts's crazy idea to find Mehserle and kill him, which is as fantastic as the idea that he will find him and speak to him, gains credibility and his mother joins him on this quest. Eye witnesses to this Grant's assassination (Willie included—I wonder why she never shares this with Watts; he never gets her story on tape) share the horror --their voices trembling with the memory they cannot erase. That this happens on President-elect Obama's watch (January 1, 2009)  is an insulting foreshadowing of his presidency, one wrought with the deaths of other  black boys like Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, black women and other incidents on BART as recent as less than a month ago when Nubia Bowe is accosted, beaten and arrested, March 21, 2014. Her arraignment Monday, May 19, 2014, is ironically Malcolm X's birthday. It is also the day that “Quest for Democracy “rally and lobby day is called by All of Us or None and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and others at the Sacramento State Capitol.

I do not know what the outcome was for her case which has a court date in early August. Charges should be dropped, all Nubia did was question the police officers on their treatment of the men she was traveling with, who were not dancing and soliciting money on BART, and for her query she is pulled off the train at Lake Merritt station arrested and beaten, taken into custody and then beaten again. Her arrest eliminated her ability to get a job in her chosen profession.

As Watts says "this story is larger than Oscar Grant." He's right. The systemic criminalization of black skin in young male, and often female, bodies holds these victims captive. It didn't matter that witnesses on the train stated that Nubia and her male friends were not dancing or soliciting money. It did not matter that neither Nubia nor Watts had prior convictions.

It did not matter when in Watt's case Lyle (actor Dan Wolf), the car thief, confessed; the highway patrol officer looked at actor Lyle's white skin, dismissed his guilt and took Watts away to jail where the young man said later he had to strip nude and suffer other indignities.

While Watts is in jail Lyle is put up in a Holiday Inn at the LA county taxpayer's expense. The Mehserle trial just happens to be concluding; Watts and the object of his chase in the same facility.  It is at this moment Mehserle give his "I'm sorry speech." Obviously prompted by legal and political opportunism, the confession rings false and comes way too late to listening ears . . . Oscar's duppies or errant ghosts, the walking dead and those being prepped for the gauntlet.   

We notice how Lyle is cast in all the “white” roles, all of them suspect. . . .

Nubia speaks of similar indignities and brutality. She was chained and put bleeding in a straight jacket which limited her mobility. Instead of allowing her to at least sit upright, the police constrained her and then tipped her over into a puddle of urine on the floor. A spit bag kept her from asphyxiating:

The ending is as haunting as the tale which is not over even as the cast assures the audience that it is still alive . . . the question is, for how long? I watch actor Michael Wayne Turner III (Watts) return to us; it takes a while for him to collect the pieces. Bravo Chanaka Hodge for another episode in this American tragedy. Chasing Mehserle is at Z-Space, 450 Florida Street, in San Francisco through May 31, 8 p.m. It is sold out, but one never knows. . . .

When Wells Run Dry: A Review of Christina Anderson’s pen/man/ship

Perhaps it’s not a good idea to jump on a ship whose destination one is uncertain? Unfortunately for Africans in the Diaspora, our ancestors were not given a choice, but the crew members, along with Ruby Heard and Jacob Boyd, volunteered for Charles Boyd’s mission—he an unscrupulous and unreliable navigator (read narrator) whose quest for power leads him to participate in another illegal transport, this time New Afrikans, in a reverse trade route, centered in economic gain just like that first 300 or so years earlier.

Christina Anderson’s pen/man/ship which opened theatrically at the Magic Theatre late May and continues most fittingly into the Juneteenth season, is set on a ship in the middle of a Transatlantic horror in the late nineteenth century. Legal slavery is over, but echoes of the lash still haunt those aboard a ship headed for Liberia. No one except Sir Charles who hires the men and the ship, and later his son, Jacob Boyd, know the true reason for the trip—a reverse passage in more ways than one. 15 men are the crew and one woman who is leaving behind a country and a way of life—Southern and American which hinders her freedom, if not stifles it all together. She is on the run, but then so are most of those aboard the ship—Cecil, one of the crew, stands apart with his accordion—its wailing voice at times rivalling the sea.

Imagine a penal colony of black people where those found guilty are shipped off or away from family, friends and loved ones in America to Africa.

The whaling sets sail September-October 1896—Did Captain Ahab have to pawn his ship after the fiasco with Moby Dick? Was Charles Boyd the meal, his continued refusal to leave his room not arrogance, rather a whale’s indigestion? Maybe the continued biblical reference refers to Jonah?

Why take the scenic route to Africa, when it is not the journey rather the destination which is the aim, or is it? Is this the reason why shrewd businessman, land surveyor, Sir Charles Boyd charters a ship which used sails rather than steam? Is this why he tosses his fate on the elements, especially Tempest? Does he believe he has the winning chip?

Wrapped in pride, actor Adrian Roberts’s character wears his tattered robe to glory as his ship sinks. What a fool. When he falls no one mourns him, his ship log where he dutifully keeps the only record of his thoughts, fails to solicit forgiveness or pity or even love for those he has wronged. Even at his most abhorrent, Robert’s character’s stoic acceptance of his solitude, no isolation, does nothing to arouse pity or compassion in the crew, his son, Jacob,  shipmate, Ruby or eventually Cedric, his one friend. Perhaps this is why he keeps the log; there he can revise the truth until it fits its quarters.

Why are we unmoved by any of the man’s tribulations, when he has much to pity in his life: his recent loss of his wife, his weak and spineless son, Jacob, plus his fear of the journey to Africa, despite his bravado? Is it in the way Robert’s portrays him that leaves us so cold?  

Charles’s continued alcoholic stupor buoys his temper and seeming grasp of the wheel, when with each inebriated Sunday service his grip on the fragile spiritual mirage he maintains steadily vanishes. 

In a powerful scene when Cecil pour out Charles’s last bottle of rum, the drunken man licks his hands as he wipes the liquor from the bench, yet leaves a huge puddle of gin undisturbed on the floor . . .  Are we to believe his arrogance keeps him from taking this step into our waiting hearts? Okay, I thought to myself, get on your knees Charles and lick the floor, but he let all the beverage sink into the floorboards while withdrawal symptoms made his body begin to tremble as he hallucinated.  A true drunk, a man who has been drinking for 20 years each evening would have wallowed and thus earned my favor. At a certain point, one’s body takes over and one cannot control one’s impulses.

Yes, Charles is the beast he abhors or calls his crew.

If there are tumultuous waves at sea, Charles is the ill wind that blows harm. Stuck between the pages of the bible, he reads the verses which fortify his position. He is not looking for truth, just absolution and grace—to receive, not to give.

Even when he stumbles bleeding from a chest wound inflicted on deck into his cabin one night in an earlier scene, the concern is for the man overboard, whom we hear is the youngest crew member, well-liked, a good boy now gone forever. Would that the man overboard been Charles, not Monty Samuels.

The voyage is intense and long, yet Charles remains unmoved—stoic and taciturn, he starts and ends his journey none the wiser. Perhaps it is his inebriated state that is the reason for this inappropriate response? It could also be the way pen/man/ship is directed or Charles is interpreted. Whatever the reason, the character shifts not in his perspective except on paper in his log—it is an intellectual change when what is needed is more blood and real pain— a lot happens on this journey, much of it avoidable if not for Charles’s presence.

Charles is a stiff, inflexible man, whose ideas about women, men and blackness are already decided when he boards the ship and keeps a distance between himself and the men, whom he sees beneath him. He stays in his cabin drinking and on Sundays reading select portions from the bible and singing hymns with his dutiful son. He finds Ruby’s questions and ideas contrary to his about religion and women her way to undermine his power.

Imagine a black crew traveling to Africa to establish a penal colony there for wayward Negros at home? Anderson’s writing is charged as Ruby and Jacob spar, he at times uncertain as to his allegiance—does he side with Dad or his girl? Is she really his girl?

Ruby belongs only to herself. Doubt her calling card, and with it she raises questions, heightens all encounters with a judicious clarity fitting her mounting role as mistress or siren of the sea. Tangela Large’s Ruby is riveting and powerful. She never trembles even when Charles stands imposingly over her and threatens to break her bodily. Her Ruby is a perfect match for Adrian Robert’s Charles Boyd.

Ruby is the fly that eludes the swatter. She buzzes and buzzes. Mysterious until almost the end, we wonder why she is on board with all these men headed for a place known only in the imagination—homeland, true for some, for others a place of danger, especially for a woman alone. What is her story? What made her appeal to Jacob to let her board his father’s ship?

Ruby is the linchpin that holds the board pieces in place or lets them scatter and fall. The men love her and she honors and respects their trust. She is flirtatious and wise, innocent and often indiscreet. She pushes Charles, then holds a mirror to this man he is not anxious to see.

The journey is an opportunity for Jacob to grow up and be a man, Ruby to find true freedom from fear, Cecil to know his beauty and Charles to come to grips with the man he has been running from for the past twenty years. In the capable hands of the cast, Ryan Guzzo’s direction and the skilled storytelling inherent in Pen/Man/Ship, each meet his or her goals.

Charles drinks to forget or perhaps he drinks to remember, or maybe the alcoholic stupor he lives in is how he survives the shipwreck. As the waves crash and the vessel is tossed –the natural elements find a parallel universe inside the characters.

I love plays which have at their center, strong black women and Christina Anderson’s Ruby,  a brilliant red jewel, is such. From the moment she joins the two men, Charles and Jacob at their Sunday ritual and invited to share a scripture, reinterprets it—to their horror; the gauntlet is drawn and the challenge taken up between the two stronger energies on this voyage.

Who will win, and at what cost? Is Charles, a land surveyor, willing to sacrifice all he has planned and kill them all? His refusal to speak to the men after the tragic death of the youngest shipmate or crew member, the men’s refusal to lift the sails until he does and Ruby’s appointment as spokesperson for them makes for a dicey plank both Jacob and Cecil tread, Jacob son and lover, Cecil crew member yet Jacob’s friend.

How will it all end? Will the great whale be captured or will it surrender?

When she first arrives on board, Ruby speaks of how the ship’s smell makes her ill. Jacob says it’s the whale blubber, blood and sweat.  Charles says the ship full of men is no place for a woman and wonders over the course of the journey about this woman’s audacity. How dare she think she is equal to him with as much right to express herself intellectually as he?!

Actor, Eddie Ray Jackson’s Jacob is the dutiful son and undecided boyfriend, trying to keep the peace. Tyee Tilghman’s Cecil with his accordion is perhaps the most interesting of the four characters with speaking roles on the ship—we hear about the captain and other mates, but they have no tangible presence in the story. Cecil like Jacob brings his loved one on board, his captured in the “box,” what he calls his accordion. Like a ventriloquist, he seems most articulate when communicating with it. It is the voice of his soul—it is when playing that he forgets himself and is truly beautiful.

Notions of civilization and beauty and black people, whom in a certain way Charles wants to escape or at least contain, Ruby is running toward, while Jacob stands immobile trapped by a deed committed in err that binds him to his father. I am not clear what he did exactly, visit a brothel? Whatever it was his father kept him from being charged and now he is aboard the ship to pay his debt which broke the family coffers, or so says his dad, Charles.

Jacob’s sentence is indeterminate; Ruby is also an escapee—running from a society that treats her people as less than human, only to face similar judgment aboard Charles’s ship.

When one enters the theatre, we are immediately thrust into the interior of the ship—in the bowels so to speak where the foul odors mingle with historic lineage and legacies, much unresolved.

Just beyond the confined spaced is a ladder leading to the deck—We hear laugher as the waves rise . . . silence at night as Charles walks the emptied floor above. Both Jacob and Ruby sleep within view, Charles’s cabin between theirs. Cecil bunks with 14 other men. The captain is also elsewhere.

Suddenly the deck appears in front of the audience as Jacob and Ruby speak to the men or Cecil serenades us with a song. There are provisions tucked under rafters, Jacob’s sketchbook where he draws pictures of the men and the bibles he and his father hide inside cubbyholes. When the play starts Charles stands on the deck light shining on him, his arms outstretched—is he king? At the end, this same light returns, yet a few elements have shifted, powerful elements. What does the closing light mean? Why is Charles still its centerpiece?

The Magic Theatre is located at Ft. Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco. Call (415) 441-8822or visit www.magictheatre,org The play runs through June 15, 2014, Tuesdays, June 3 and 10, 7 p.m., evenings Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. with weekend matinees on Sundays at 2:30 with a 7 p.m. show as well Sunday, June 1. Tickets are $20-60 with $5 off for seniors and educators. All student tickets are $20.

Free Performance in Oakland

There is a free performance at Laney College Theatre, 900 Fallon in Oakland, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 1:30 p.m.

Virgin Play Series

The Magic is also presenting the 2014 Martha Heasley Cox Virgin Play Series on Monday nights (6/2 & 6/9, 7 p.m. at ACT’s Costume Shop). June 16, 6 p.m. Sojourners by Mfoniso Udofia is read at the Commonwealth Club of California, 595 Market Street (between 1st and 2nd); Montgomery BART Station. Visit

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 08 July 2014 )
Wanda's Picks July 2014
Written by Wanda Sabir   
Wednesday, 02 July 2014

San Francisco Says Farewell to Dr. Maya Angelou

Glide Memorial Church and the City of San Francisco’s celebration of native daughter, Maya Angelou, Sunday, June 15, 2014, featured speeches from luminaries like former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, the current mayor, the Hon. Ed Lee, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Janice Mirikitani and Pastor Emeritus Cecil Williams, prayers and songs, and special tributes by Guy Johnson, Dr. Angelou’s son, and singer, Valerie Simpson.

There were many high energy points in the well-orchestrated afternoon celebration of a woman whose creative and humanitarian work defies compilation (smile). Yet, work wonders the Glide family did from the carefully chosen visual moments juxtaposed with prerecorded Maya Moments, which made her presence so palatable, that by the time Pastor Williams and his lovely wife, poet Janice Mirikitani came forward to share, the sanctuary lights starts to play with us as Spirit Maya played with our collective visibility—the room almost dark and the lights flickered off and on. These were her great friends, as Ms. Mirikitani, former San Francisco Poet Laureate stated when she shared her Maya stories and her friend’s directive to write—followed a poetic reflection on Angelou’s life.

As she was about to leave, her husband, Rev. Williams asked her to stay on stage—it was a really sweet loving moment (smile). Rev. Williams then shared many stories about Sister Maya, his good friend, yet, the story one that stands out is his reflection on Angelou’s influence on his wardrobe.  The story explained the wardrobe change as he donned his sacred African robes (stage right) before he stood at the microphone to bid his friend a public goodbye.

It is because of Angelou’s embrace of her African self that Rev. Williams says he began to wear dashikis and a huge Afro. Photos of this Rev. Williams in his over 50 year public ministry in San Francisco at Glide Memorial, the church he and his wife co-founded in 1963, to serve the poor, were a part of the celebratory slide show which also featured Dr. Angelou and a younger Guy Johnson, his son, Colin. She gave many sermons there over the years. There was a large screen outside on the blocked street, picnic tables with awnings were also there facing the huge screen for the overflow audience. There were also huge posters of Angelou on the entrances to Glide which many of posed in front of (smile).

After the commemoration everyone was invited to share in the repast: free chicken box lunches.

Located right in the center of San Francisco’s TL or Tenderloin District, the intersection of Ellis and Taylor streets, renamed last year “Rev. Cecil Williams Way,” honoring the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Glide Memorial, 330 Ellis Street (main entrance) ( ).

As first one then another guest reflected his or her relationship with Dr. Angelou, there was much humor first from Mr. Brown who spoke of how he seemed to find himself often on Angelou’s “short list,” to the Hon. Lee who said she admired Dr. Angelou’s balance between the personal and public, something she struggles with.

Valerie Simpson, singer, first moaned, the kind of moan that reaches into the sinewy space between marrow and cell— a place of loss, yet from what we learned that afternoon, Dr. Angelou had been sick for a while and the when she went to sleep her greeting was a bit different for those who caught it. She then sat at the piano and played for a bit, before getting up and continuing to sing: Walk Around Heaven All Day.

What a perfect song for that moment . . . the artist walking strutting standing tall as Dr. Angelou had as she sang. We couldn’t help but reflect on the public Angelou’s life and the celebration such a life deserved:

One of these mornings, it won't be long
You'll look for me and I'll be gone
I'm going to a place where I'll have nothing to do
But just walk around Heaven all day

When I get to Heaven I'll sing and shout
Nobody will be able to put me out
My mother will be waiting and other loved ones too
And we'll join hands and walk around Heaven all day

Lord up above please hear me praying
Walk right by my side
And Lord when my way, when my way gets cloudy
Lord, I need You
Lord, I need You to be my guide

Everyday will be Sunday, Sabbath will have no end
We'll do nothing but sing, God knows we'll pray
And when He says well done your race has be won
That's when I'll walk around Heaven all day

Lord up above please hear me praying
Walk right by my side
And Lord when my way, when my way gets cloudy
Lord, I need You
Lord, I need You to be my guide

Everyday will be Sunday, Sabbath will have no end
We'll do nothing but sing, God knows we'll pray
And when He says well done your race has be won
That's when I'll walk around Heaven all day
–The Caravans

Other soloists and program songs included fantastic performances by Gisele Gemus in My Redeemer Lives, Mallory Maisner in God Is, Dennis Hersey in Hold On Don’t Let Go, and Emma Jean Foster-Fiege in My God Is An Awesome God. The program closed with the choir in We Will Sing Praises.

Belva Davis, journalist trailblazer, another friend, and host of the ceremony, spoke of her friendship, the times she would visit Angelou and Guy and how well her husband (Bill Moore) and the others would get along. It sounded lovely. I am not certain who mentioned it, but there is a box set now of all of the Angelou biographies (smile).

And then, just as we settled into the mourning of this fallen star, Ruby Dee sails by, cosmic dust still in the air as I write this. Here is a link to photographer TaSin Sabir’s slide show:

Charles Blackwell
, Artist

I attended the opening reception for artist Charles Blackwell’s current exhibit  at the African American Museum and Library, Oakland.  When I walked in, the legally blind artist was holding court with a rapt audience hanging on his every word. Imagine losing one’s sight at 19 following a terrible accident? And the loss was gradual until it was gone, as did the young Charles’s dreams. He’d planned to major in art, but without sight he drifted a bit— His degree in social work kept him employed and Blackwell says he discovered his literary voice too. His love of music continued to inspire him. I don’t remember the details around how he came to paint again, but the exhibition at AAMLO attests to the reason why we are luckier for his work which uses as its muse an African in America aesthetic—sometimes one has to look at the painting for a while before the characters emerge; this love of music, jazz specifically infuses Blackwell’s work with an ancient modernity. Most of his work is figurative, the titles just as fun and captivating at the motion of his brush—acrylic on canvas many quite big.  The artist also towers above us, especially me, but it is a height which takes us on sublime journeys, each work a story. A member of poetic jazz ensemble, Congo Square with the late drummer Billy Toliver and others.

Saturday, June 28, 2014, Blackwell was joined by a friend on congas and voice. The poet wrote new work for the reception, each piece sweeping away imperialist fog, bright African Diaspora sunshine rising in the room.

At the reception, there were prints of work not included in the exhibition, for sale. I bought a piece with a chicken –boldly standing front and center, at first mistaken for a rooster—the chicken depicted in Blackwell’s Funky Fried Sandwich Special $7.99, Friday Only, is strutting proudly, one of a series (I learned later) Blackwell has on fowls—ghetto birds who have a thing for smoke houses and greasy spoon restaurants (smile). I also bought a collection of his poetry called Redemption Beyond Blindness.

He states, “Reinventing the intriguing sound of jazz music into a vibrant visual symphony was his destiny. As such his work captures the joyous, surprising, initial impact of fusing with the musician and the instrument as each painted stroke captures a forever moment in an eternal concert. I use my blindness as an asset in my painting. I’ll strain my eyes to see.”  

You can see the other chickens plus much more of Blackwell’s work and another story here:


Author Event at AAMLO

The African American Museum & Library at Oakland and The Museum of The African Diaspora
Present “Authors in Conversation”

Experience the journey of the Black Panthers through guest authors: Professor Waldo E. Martin, Jr.’s Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party and Dr. Rickey Vincent’s Party Music: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers' Band and How Black Power

Courtesy of the Friends of the African American Museum & Library (FAAMLO), African American Museum & Library at Oakland, 659 Fourteenth Street Oakland, CA, 510-637-0200.


Love Balm for My Spirit Child--- A choreo-play based on testimonies from Bay Area mothers whose children were lost to gun violence, directed by Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe, opens at Brava! For Women in the Arts, Theatre Center in San Francisco, 2781-24th Street at York, July 11-20, 2014 shows Fri-Sat 8 p.m.; Sun 3 p.m. Tickets are: $10-25.

Stanley Nelson's Freedom Summer on-line

Watch Freedom Summer which premiered in PBS’s American Experience, June 24, 2014 for a limited time:
Freedom Summer of 1964 was marked by sustained and deadly violence, including the notorious murders of three civil rights workers, countless beatings, the burning of thirty-five churches, and the bombing of seventy homes and community centers.

August Wilson’s Two Trains at the Flight Deck in Oakland Fundraiser

The Lower Bottom Playaz Inc. are hosting an on-line fundraiser this month for their production scheduled to go up in August 2014.

The Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s UNIA is 100

Opening Ceremony for the 100th Anniversary is August 14, 2014 in New York at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.   Thereafter, the UNIA-African Communities League will have workshops and panel discussions, plus a "Red, Black and Green Banquet and Ball on Saturday, August 16, 2014, and a parade and rally at the Marcus Garvey Park on Sunday, August 17, 2014. Most of the events are free and open to the public; however, some of the free events require that participants register in advance.  The Banquet and Ball are ticketed events.

There will be a Centennial Souvenir Journal which patrons can take out ads.

UNIA-ACL is having a joint Reception with the Embassy of Jamaica in Washington, DC on July 20, 2014.  That is the actual date in 1914 when the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey founded the UNIA-ACL in Kingston, Jamaica.  This year also marks the Jubilee Celebration for Jamaica as it celebrates 50 years of having declared Mr. Garvey its National Hero. Visit

James Gayles’s Book Launch

James Gayles: Reflections – A collaboration between painting and literature, July 11 @ 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm, Oak Stop, 1721 Broadway Street, Oakland

“Reflections” is a collaboration of James, Pochino Press and more than 20 national and international writers hailing from cities as diverse as London, Tokyo, New York, Addis Ababa, Taipei, and of course, Oakland. Each writer interpreted one of James’ pieces from over the years including paintings of Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Celia Cruz, Nelson Mandela, and Sarah Vaughan.

Black Rodeo

30th Anniversary Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, July 12 – 13, 2:30 p.m., 9711 Dublin Canyon Road, Hayward, CA, 510.430.1744,

Live Music, Food And Fireworks - Free To The Public in one of the Bay Area’s Most Popular Independence Day Celebrations

The Oakland East Bay Symphony, the Craneway Pavilion, located inside the historic Ford Point Building on the waterfront in Richmond, and the City of Richmond will again join forces to host a family-friendly Target Independence Day Celebration led by the Oakland East Bay Symphony and Music Director Michael Morgan on Thursday, July 3. The evening will also include pre-performance entertainment, food and fireworks. Parking will be available beginning at 5 pm and access to the Craneway Pavilion and Wharf will begin at 6:30 pm. For more information, visit or

Following pre-concert live music featuring performances by top local music groups. At 8 p.m. the Oakland East Bay Symphony, conducted by Music Director Michael Morgan, will begin its set of patriotic, spirited works to celebrate America’s Independence Day including film music by John Williams, a Disney medley, Sousa marches, Jeff Beal’s House of Cards Suite, music from The Sound of Music and more with plenty of audience sing-along opportunities. The City of Richmond’s Firework Display will launch over the water just as the Symphony closes its program. The evening will be hosted by KDFC Radio’s Dianne Nicolini.

The Craneway Pavilion is located at 1414 Harbour Way South in the Marina district of Richmond and can be accessed from the 580 freeway. Seating is limited and will be available on a first come, first served basis. Guests are encouraged to bring their own blankets and chairs.

Art Show

Cuba Exhibit, Talk & Notecard/ Art sale by Josie Webb, Sat., July 19, 2014, 2 to 4 p.m., 500 Williams Street, Oakland, CA

Haiti Action Committee Study Group

The HAC Study Group meets Saturday, July 19th, 2:00 - 4:00pm at the Niebyl Proctor Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, CA. The study group will explore Haiti’s history, current political situation, and the connections to parallel struggles throughout the U.S. and around the world. The regular meeting examines texts and films, analyzes the latest resources, and utilizes discussion and reflection. This month's topic is Resistance to U.S. Imperialism (1915 Occupation & the Legacy Today)

Questions raised: What impact has the U.S. has in Haiti? If the U.S. is constantly giving aid to Haiti, why is Haiti still poor?   When did the involvement in Haiti first start? Why & how did it start? What does it look like today?

Poetry @ Spice Monkey Café

July 12, 2014, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Pandemonium Press presents a reading with host, Leila Rae, featuring: Rafael Jesús González, Robert Pesich, Tony Press, Joyce Young. See The event is free to the public.

1628 Webster St (at 17th; just 2 1/2 blocks from the 19th St. BART station), (510) 268-0170, Oakland, California, 6:30-7:30 PM

37th Annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival

Two weekends of plays; six new plays July 18-27, 2014 featuring new work by Elizabeth Hersh, Rob Melrose, T.D. Mitchell, Don Nguyen, E. Hunter Spreen and Phillip Howze. Visit

Future Topics include: The return to dictatorship; mass incarceration and political prisoners; sweatshops and privatization; the ongoing pillaging of Haiti’s resources; labor activism; COINTELPRO tactics in Haiti and the U.S.; racism; parallel struggles in Latin America; and many more. Visit

On the Fly
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival; San Jose Summer Jazz Festival Fillmore Jazz Festival; Jazz Heritage Center; Stanford Jazz Festival ;
Yerba Buena Garden Music Festival  SF Mime Troupe opens at Dolores Park July 4, 2014, 1:30 music, 2 p.m. show

To listen to an interview with Michael Gene Sullivan and Velina Brown, members of the Mime Troupe Collective, visit: Wanda's Picks Radio (Sullivan and Brown conclude the show). Friday, June 27, 2014 we also speak to the creator and cast of Love Balm for My Spirit Child, filmmaker Stanley Nelson, dir., Freedom Summer, and director Ayodele Nzinga, Ph.D., Artistic Director, Lower Bottom Playaz. Fireworks for July 4th

Black Coalition on AIDS Rafiki Wellness Events July 2014

Tai Chi in the Park with Zochi on Saturday July 5, 2014 from 9:30AM – 10:30AM at Martin Luther King Jr./Bayview Park (5701 3rd Street): This is a special workshop. Come for a gentle yet powerful healing experience. Children and beginners are welcome!

Jazz and Blues Concert, featuring vocalist Anna Maria Flechero
Sunday, July 6, 2014, 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Jazz Heritage Center, 1320 Fillmore St., San Francisco. Small plates and beverages will be offered.

Soul Line Dancing with Ramona moves to Thursday evenings - July 10, 17, 24 and 31, 2014 from 6:30PM – 7:30PM. Bring the family to join the fun and learn the moves. This is a great class for all learning levels!

Movie Night Friday July 11, 2014 from 6:00 PM– 8:00 PM. The African American Health Equity Council joins BCA in presenting a Friday evening movie series. Snacks and popcorn will be provided. Bring the whole family!

All events (except where indicated) take are free and take place at 601 Cesar Chavez Street at Pier 80 in San Francisco, CA. For more information call 415-615-9945;

Also, SF AIDS Walk is less than three weeks away, Sunday, July 20!  Support BCA with a donation. Walk with BCA. Visit

Two stories on African American Emancipation in one weekend! It doesn’t get any better than that.

Michael Gene Sullivan’s fugitive/slave/act staged reading Saturday, June 9, 2014, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, a collaboration between Lorraine Hansberry Theatre and the Museum of the African Diaspora, all in San Francisco. MoAD now hosts a traveling show, like LHT has been for the past maybe four years, its doors temporarily closed. The LHT’s brief sojourn on Post St. and then a short stay at Ft. Mason Center, something for those of us with a historic institutional memory dating back to when Stanley and Quentin were alive and LHT on Sutter Street at the Sheehan Hotel was displayed by new owner, Art Academy University.

I can’t get used to this purposeful LHT diaspora situation, now MoAD closed for renovations on the road as well. The count is up— another black institution in San Francisco and beyond whose doors are closed; let’s not start taking names: Jazz at Pearls, Rassela's Jazz Club & Restaurant, Marcus Books on Fillmore; I hear Floyd Pellum’s 57th Street Gallery in Oakland needs more support to keep its doors open . . . but back to Lorraine Hansberry Theatre.

Promoting another theatre’s season is not what I’d call a “season,” but this wandering troupe called BATA which stands for Bringing Art to the Audience, has –on the plus side, brought black playwrights and new work to many audiences who’d never heard of LHT, despite having heard of playwright, Lorraine Hansberry’s too oft-produced A Raisin in the Sun (opened on Broadway in 1959).

She isn’t a one hit wonder writer either, yet not since Stanford University’s student summer theatre project back when Dr. Harry Elam was chair, (he is a University Provost), and more recently San Francisco’s Multi-Ethnic Theatre’s production of To Be Young, Gifted and Black, a compilation of the late Hansberry’s writing and interviews (1962), by Robert Nemiroff, has anyone given us a bit more to chew intellectually from this brilliant award-winning playwright’s canon.

I am not saying don’t go see Margo Hall in Raisin at California Shakes in Orinda, but I am just asking – why?  Why aren’t any of these plays Lorraine Hansberry’s BATA happening for real?

Project 1Voice—1Voice,1Play 1Day, 33 black theatres from coast to coast doing simultaneous reading of for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange, was Monday, June 16, 2014, 7 p.m., at Creativity Theatre, 221 Fourth Street (at Howard). All funds go to LHT. Buy on-line at or call (415) 474-8800. Directed by Darryl V. Jones, it features Margo Hall, Haili Knox, Shoni Bennett, Brit Frazier, Dawn L. Troupe and others.

Michael Gene Sullivan’s fugitive/slave/act is a story where the black man would get the girl if he didn’t already have her—I think this works better, because Parker’s woman is no shrinking violet or Kerry Washington as the “Broomhilda Von Shaft” character who almost blows it for Django Freeman (Jamie Foxx) who is coming to save her. No, Parker’s wife is politically savvy and so fearless her brother-in-law speaks of her with awe. Condensed to ten actors who portray multiple characters, Sullivan has pared this epic into a two act masterpiece.

fugitive/slave/act is the true story of William Parker, whose brick house in a community of formerly enslaved Africans is staging ground for black resistance. A posse of white men armed with legally binding (or so they think) warrants authorizing them under the Fugitive Slave Act to to reclaim escaped “property.”

Known historically as the Battle of Christiana, Christiana, a small village in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, this battle is waged successfully by black men. This earlier September 11, in 1852 is cited as the precursor to the Civil War. (Funny, California becomes a state just two years earlier in 1850, the same year the law is passed).

What makes fugitive/slave/act so entertaining is the absence of apology and the strong male and female characters, especially Parker (actor Marcus Henderson) and his wife, Eliza Ann Elizabeth Howard (actress Velina Brown), Parker’s neighbor, friend and brother-in-law Alexander Pinckney (actor Reggie White), plus Samuel Thompson (actor L. Peter Callendar), whom Edward Gorsuch (actor Jarion Monroe), Thompson’s former owner was looking to get back when he set off from Baltimore, Maryland, by rail two years later. Gorsuch’s arrogance and belief in his right to Colin Thomson (actor Marshall Kline) and the other three Africans who had run away, never wavered in the least. He stood his ground, literally and foolishly, as did his son, Dickenson Gorsuch (actor Craig Marker).

fugitive/slave/act captures the love and camaraderie and bravery of these Africans who knew their human rights even if the Constitution of the United States didn’t agree—yet. Within Sullivan’s drama is space for love –Parker for his wife, who is fierce herself. To hear her speak to the runaway Africans hiding in her attic, one of the junctions on the Underground Rail Station, as she both blew the horn to alert others in the area of the intruders and calmed the jittery black people in her care—was with a firm and loving kindness in her voice.

There is music and a discussion of the bible, a book with multiple, often conflicting interpretations. In one scene with Gorsuch who is quoting scripture, Parker’s friend, Alexander Pinckney, tells him that he must not have read far enough in his book.

Sullivan’s play skillfully uses a Greek chorus (actresses Cathleen Riddley, Lauren Spencer) to fill the audience in on how this fugitive slave law is shaping policy across the county as word of the Battle makes news headlines. The trial is compelling, especially the idea that one could be found guilty of treason and killed because one refuses to participate in the capture of other human beings.

During the Q&A, the playwright says his interest was in the legal definition of treason, then and now. Is treason selling-out your country or selling-out your soul? Can a man be convicted of treason and hung for holding onto his principles even if those principles go against the law of the land? Castner Hanway (actor Tim Redmond), a Quaker neighbor who’d come to the battle scene upon request, is also on trial later with Samuel Thompson and other African men on the scene that September Eleventh day.

In Act 2, we sit in anticipation wondering how the trial will proceed in the absence of Parker and the two other men sought after. The US courts did not believe a black man could have orchestrated such a successful self-defense strategy, so Hanway is given all the credit and charged with treason.
Word reaches Canadian officials before the three black men arrive, so to see how they are received by the immigration official, who welcomes the three men into his country, is a vastly different reception from what Parker and his friends are used to in America. Frederick Douglass is involved in their escape to Canada, even though Sullivan was unable to add this part of the escape to his play.

Douglass does give a riveting speech in Act 2 which lays the ground for the ethical underpinnings of men like Parker, Samuel and Pinckney who’d experienced slavery and took their freedom, despite the appearance in the play of Dr. Samuel Cartwright, a quack doctor who uses false science to justify enslaving other human beings. Chair of a Committee appointed by for the Medical Association of Louisiana, 1851, his “Report on the Diseases and Physical Peculiarities of the Negro Race” for the Medical Association of Louisiana, 1851, Dr. Cartwright looked to support enslaving Africans from stating black physicality and mentality made us best suited for servitude—from Negro knees propensity to work best on the ground to the use of coveted the lash as incentive.

It was a rare white man who did not believe he was within his right to own black people. There are current parallels when we watch the increase in prison labor and other forms of cheap production to keep prices down; what was slavery but a way to increase profit and lower expenses? I loved it when Gorsuch asked Samuel, “Wasn’t I a good master?” and Samuel doesn’t answer.

The Raw Truth

Sunday, June 8, 2014 at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church in East Oakland in the fellowship hall we met William Grimes’s great-great-great granddaughter, Regina E. Mason who with Michael Lange as “Mr. Grimes,” tells the story of the first formerly enslaved black man’s autobiography. With his memoir, published in 1824, William Grimes predates Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs who didn’t write their stories by themselves, rather had a white editor substantiate or validate their works. Grimes is unapologetic and quite graphic in his recall of the horrible slavery experience the moment he opens his mouth. 

Mrs. Mason stands next to a table with a few books and shares her journey to find William Grimes and when she gets to his work, the book comes alive as Michael Lange, who’d been seated patiently dressed in the period clothing—top hat, fitted coat with tails and a cane, gets up and starts speaking.

It’s a conversation between relatives, one deceased (smile). Mrs. Mason even brings the audience into the conversation when we fail to laugh on cue. I think we are just riveted to her every word and Mr. Grimes’s, listening so closely, the tale woven to well together . . . we don’t want to slow down the momentum which starts and ends at a high point.

Mrs. Mason shares with her audience how while in grade school she wondered why she didn’t know who her ancestors were with any specificity like her white classmates. She told of feeling shortchanged. She asked her aunt about the family heritage who shared what she knew.
A story from her aunt with three clues would start Mason on a 15 year journey much later when she was a mother with two small children. Perhaps Mrs. Mason wanted to spare her children the embarrassment of not knowing their heritage, so with just a name and a geographical location to go on she started researching her family’s genealogy while at the same time looking for clues to this William Grimes character she’d heard of so long ago.
A proper sleuth, Mason shows how one has to follow one’s instincts even when one can’t find a logical connection at first—she seems at times led by spirit to certain artifacts, ledgers and data. Mason doesn’t tell us how she knows where to look, but we have a feeling that she probably took a genealogy research class or workshop at the Mormon Temple Library in Oakland.

How did information from one source lead her to a San Francisco library where she found an important piece of information? Working at UC Berkley she had access to their extensive research libraries; is this where she discovered William Andrews, Ph.D.’s work on her great-great-great grandfather?

I am also interested in how this story of her family has impacted her children’s lives and what is the response on the white Grimes’s side of the family who were quite prominent and powerful? That afternoon during the Q&A people came from the audience and shared their stories— stories of migration in the ‘60s, stories of integrating the Berkeley police force, career military service stories, and the story of gold in California which is how Grimes’s family decided to travel west, not to mine, but to start businesses and develop a wealth base, one Mr. Grimes lost when he had to purchase himself.

I think what is so wonderful about The Raw Truth is that two lives, nearly two hundred years apart came together Sunday afternoon for the first time with an audience.  Mason’s great-great great-grandfather’s story, Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave, was royally received. Admiration for Mason, who had the tenacity to hang in there literally when like an alchemist, instead of striking gold, more often than not she hit Fool’s gold or pyrite.
The Raw Truth is a homecoming for Mr. Grimes and his California family, whom he did not live with, choosing instead to stay in New Haven, his home even if freedom cost him his property and savings and comfort he had known.

This country owes so much to the families of the formerly enslaved; imagine what this man suffered and then to have to pay for his liberty – a legal debt to the one who owned him even at a cost which he never fully recovered. This is also what happened to Haiti, when it had to pay reparations to France for the bondsmen it lost when France lost the war. 

Frederick Douglass’s wife, black business woman, paid his bondage cost so he could stop looking over his shoulder. William Grimes had to come up with $500.00, a lot of money then and even now to secure his freedom. Fortunately he could liquidate, but this cost him his family, his business, his home.
In the Atlantic Journal article on Reparations (May 2014), one of the person’s interviewed in Chicago about the predatory mortgages black people paid, spoke of how he worked three jobs to pay for his home. That he had to take his kids out of private school and stop their music and dance lessons, that he was gone so much his kids saw him as a stranger. 

Mrs. Mason answered her ancestor’s call. How many of us are ignoring their voices? We need to talk to our elders, imagine Mrs. Mason journey minus those three clues? There are so many stories to tell about our heritage—Mrs. Mason’s family doesn’t own William s Grimes, we all do. His story represents so many others who were not able to set their tales down on paper. 

I wonder about William Parker’s kinfolk in Canada and those who stayed in Christiana, Pennsylvania—certainly there are stories there that need to be shared. I hope Michael Gene Sullivan’s fugitive/slave/act makes it to Canada and to Christiana and someone adds an epilogue to the heroic story.

To listen to an interview with the playwrights visit: Wanda's Picks Radio

Blackbird, A Review

Blackbird directed by Patrick-Ian Polk, which screened at Frameline38 this year, features a star-studded lineup of talent with outstanding performances by newcomer to the screen Julian Walker as Randy Rousseau.
Haunted by Christ, Randy struggles with nocturnal emissions--leaks in his faith which he is unable to stop. Add to this a mother who has lost her mind with grief, younger sister abducted or missing for six years--yellow ribbons dangling from bare tree limbs like leaves or bottle fruit. Is this the new sacred tree? Will spirit descend and rectify the wrong? What can this devote, yet confused young Christian do with these dreams which are consuming his consciousness?

The dreams are so real the audience is confused as well until Randy awakens. By far, this is the strongest component of the film, which also features lovely scenes in church with the protagonist leading the choir in song. Other strong moments are those between Randy and his friends --  who know he is gay even though he denies it. Except for his sexuality confusion, his distraught mother and absentee dad, Randy is a pretty normal Southern boy (smile).

There are lovely moments where the friends (the two boys and a girlfriend) talk to him about his sexuality which is complicated by his feelings of guilt. We see Randy praying fervently for himself and his mother and missing sister. His dad (Isaiah Washington) is no longer in the home, but he is keeping an eye on his son, who he sees as he walks to or from school. He offers him a ride and finds amusement in his boy's assertiveness, even though I am sure it also pains him, when the child walks away.

Washington's character, Lance Rousseau, is the only one who gives his son space to see a different answer to his entreaties to the man on the cross. It is also interesting that Mr. Rousseau becomes the parent Randy calls on for help. Maybe it is his stubborn presence within the physical absence. There are many silences surrounding Randy which operate like voids or open spaces that further trap the faltering youth.

Mr. Rousseau tells his son about his younger life and his sexual trysts attended by his mother, to Randy's astonishment. This makes his son rethink his doubts about his faith. Perhaps he isn't cursed. Perhaps he isn't condemned. Perhaps he is okay just as he is.

His father is a patient man, who participates from the fringes in his family's life--his sorrow is of a different sort and gives another dimension to the concept: abandonment or absence. He is physically absent from the home, yet, he is more present than his wife, Claire Rousseau (Mo'Nique) who does not acknowledge the child she did not lose, Randy. Randy's pain is ours as we watch her ignore his needs, both emotional and physical. Her neglect adds another layer to the complexity of the adolescent's problem.

What will Randy do about these dreams which are becoming more like hallucinations when faced with the person who inspires these dreams? There are fine performances by the young cast, all from Mississippi, Harrisburg to be exact.

I know Hattiesburg, Mississippi. My uncle lived there and Genevieve Bayan and I stayed there when visiting New Medina where Imam Warith Deen Mohammed was speaking. New Medina was to be a Muslim town. There we met Muslims from around the country who had bought land here and were building homes and a school and a grocery store.The conference was at Southern University in Hattiesburg (where director received his undergraduate degree). My uncle and aunt had two homes there. They are in Picayune now. I think my cousin still lives there.

Adopted from Larry Duplechan's novel by the same title, writers Polk and Rikki Beadle-Blair (Metrosexuality, FIT) create a lilting beautiful tale of acceptance and triumph. At times a bit confusing, especially the concluding dream --nonetheless, we see a level of acceptance in this Southern town quite unlike what is anticipated when one thinks about the black church's reputation regarding homosexuality. It is rather amazing that Randy's close childhood friend is "out" and hangs with the minister's daughter and her boyfriend, who agrees to play a gay character in the senior class's closing production, they rename, Romeo and Jules. It is elements like this, which might not have happened were this not a film that adds a nice fantasy element in keeping with the script and the story Polk tells.

Sexuality and sexual questions are ones all the close friends raise, Randy the only one who feels guilty. Mo'Nique's character is mourning and crazed by grief. She has checked out of her son's life and lives only for the return of her daughter, gone now for six years. One wonders how the protagonist has grown into the healthy kid he has given his mother's emotional absence as we cringe as we see the pain her negation has on his young still formative life.

I wonder at Mo'Nique's ability to carry these maternal characters from Precious to Blackbird; she steps so well into these toxic maternal roles given her comedic and dramatic range, yet who wants to be known for such? At least in Blackbird she is allowed a degree of redemption. At the Q&A she states she makes these films to save children.

Polk shares at the Frameline38 premiere how he stumbled across the novel, one in a series, 21 years ago, and how he immediately knew he wanted to adapt it for the screen. He contacted the author then, who gave him the option for $1 and so this work is one from the director's "To do list."

I haven't read the book so I cannot speak to all the additional elements; however, I am sure the older Rousseau's queries to his son about safe sex is a 2014 addition. Maybe not? Nonetheless, I like every scene Isaiah Washington's character, Lance Rousseau, is a part of --even those where he doesn't have lines like when he is in the church seated in the rear listening to his son sing (and leaves before he is acknowledged), or at the end of the film, where we see him taking care of the lawn or standing silently behind his wife and son.

When Randy takes an ad from the a tree for an audition for a film and meets Marshall MacNeil (actor Kevin Allesee) in an abandoned lot, we are afraid for Randy, even when we learn that this attack was a part of the audition. A bit older and a lot wiser youth at 21, Marshall finds Randy's innocence charming and attractive. I like it that Marshall does not take advantage of this. It is in the interaction between the two, a questioning Randy and an attracted Marshall, that the dialogue is superb. Allesee's Marshall is kind, yet frank with Randy as he introduces the questioning kid to a world he didn't know existed, except perhaps in his dreams.

There is a sordidness present in the Piney Woods car park the two visit where young and older men, both black and white, pick up other men who are looking for love and acceptance or a place to hide their desires at least for the night beneath a starry canopy.  There Randy sees someone he knows. This is juxtaposed with a club Marshall takes Randy to to dance, where he says in answer to his friend's query, "What is this place?" "It is a place where 'he can be himself.'"

In this club scene we see the director performing in a band (smile). I failed to mention that Marshall is white, a talented filmmaker, yet poor, his homestead a trailer park. At times it was really hard to understand Allesee's accent on screen, and at the Castro Theatre Sunday night, June 22, 2014, the actor was clearly overwhelmed by the experience, his response to questions a self-depreciating profanity-laced tirade. Hopefully he will relax and get used to the accolades (smile).

Within the film we see a middle class black community, juxtaposed with a white community unable to afford the dreams Randy and his peers have for themselves. It is refreshing to see on screen a community where the kids are law abiding, go to school, respect their parents and believe in God. As such, we have a feeling that Randy's family will work it out and that Randy will resolve the conflict present in his dreams.

The novel is set in Southern California; however, Polk sets it in his hometown, Hattiesburg. I am told, this particular genre fiction (1970s) has as its trope the black man rescued by a white man. This is revealed in the closing dream-scape where a tearful Randy is visited by his classmate Romeo who foretells his future, one where his white friend and lover will save him and provide access to a charmed life when actuality, it is Randy's acceptance of himself and the love he has for his family that saves him.

The physical window that opens where dreams enter the room allows the interaction between the secular or profane and the sacred. It contracts and expands as its multiple dimensions are explored. Voyeurs are extended invitations into this porous psychic space to witness Randy and his friends take turns losing their virginity, and Randy's remorse as he tries to wash his desires away, yet each night they return to haunt him.

I love the bloody hand print on the mattress . . . evidence again of the porous nature of the psyche. The youthful stories of sexual conquest, yearning and disaster are interwoven and connected. It is in his bed that the pastor's daughter loses her virginity. His bed is the true stage in this drama as first one then another character finds resolution . . . demons are exorcised and Christ is relieved of his cross.

Why is it so important to lose one's virginity? When did being a virgin lose its attractiveness? Julian Walker's Randy shows that virginity is an attitude or disposition not necessarily a physical state. In the film within the film we see how this is so. Once again, Walker really carries the work, of course with excellent support from a fantastic cast --professional and otherwise, but it is his lovely singing voice, big eyes and sweet demeanor that share a story of acceptance and love, which with certainly appeal to both parents and youth. What parent does not want for his or her child a life filled with pride and certainty?

It is a story gay and straight audiences can appreciate, because when things are not working out in one's life, they haunt your dreams.

Don't forget to visit Interchange for more reviews and interviews with photos. 

Last Updated ( Friday, 04 July 2014 )


Finding info on was ....
© 2014 Home of
web design: