National Center For Race Amity Conference 2014

12 Dec

I was procrastinating on writing this post on the National Race Amity Conference in Norwood, Massachusetts that I attended in mid-November.  Then, the Ferguson indictment decision for police officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown case was televised, and I was overcome with sadness and anger, and immediately blogged about that the night of the decision.  I procrastinated some more, and then the heartbreaking decision to again, not indict.  This time it was the white policeman who caused Eric Garner’s death by placing him under a choke-hold.

I thought, how do I write about the conference [Read more…]

Wendy Jane’s Weekend Sounds: Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk

7 Dec

James-Brown 1968 concert

I feel it. Our collective and individual souls feel broken over the non-indictment of Michael Brown, and now, Eric Garner.  I hear all of your outpouring of anger, sadness, hopelessness.

Yet, I also feel something else going on.  I see black people expressing their anger and outrage and call for change in organized marches and sit-ins.  I see black, brown and white people marching together saying, “Enough!”

Still, we feel down, we are not certain.  We are in a funk.  We need some funk to get us out of this funk.

On April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, James Brown was scheduled to play the Boston Garden.  Mayor Kevin White almost cancelled the concert due to the unrest in the city the night before–Boston had a volatile racial climate due to forced busing and school integration, and White worried the concert would potentially bring more violence into the downtown area. It was black city councilman Tom Atkins that urged the mayor to not cancel the concert and to televise it free, locally in an effort to keep people home, and the streets calm.

James Brown through his musical talent and grand presence had the exact impact the mayor and city officials had hoped for.  Brown even, during a charged moment when some young men, mostly black, kept jumping up on the stage, and white police officers were forcefully pushing them back off the stage, was able to see the potential for racial discord, and asked the police officers to step back,. Brown  talked directly to the young men and the crowd, and asked them to have some respect for themselves, and for him.  The men listened, and the show went on.  It was a quiet night on the streets of Boston.  James Brown, and his music had brought people together, and brought peace to a city overwhelmed with grief and upset over the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now, I’m not saying that UK deejay, music producer Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars come close to wearing the cape of the Godfather of Soul. And it is clear  Uptown Funk is definitely influenced by James Brown’s sound.  But, it’s not such a bad thing when you’re feeling broken, to get up off of that thing and dance on a Sunday.




SOURCE:, Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars, posted by VeVo


Photo credit:


25 Nov

Meanwhile in Ferguson…that’s the facebook post, friend Chris Tera posted tonight, followed by a Happy Thanksgiving greeting, admittedly a sarcastic one.

As I waited to hear the grand jury decision on the Michael Brown case, my tv turned to CNN two hours before the announcement was to be made, my stomach tensed, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of feeling this exact same way while I waited for the Rodney King verdict.  Tonight, I scrolled down both my twitter and facebook feeds, keeping up with what people were feeling.  Many black people seemed to doubt an indictment, but still there was hope that for once, justice would prevail.

Then prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, finally came on the television at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time, and gave his lengthy, condescending, as one friend described “knife turning,” slanted completely in favor of police officer Darren Wilson dissertation of the process by which the grand jury came to their decision, which according to them showed there was no probable cause to indict the officer.

Three hours later, I am still sickened by this decision.  I always say that I am not a political person, but as a human being, how can I not be extremely sad, disappointed, even angry, at the decision to not prosecute the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, and will now not even go to trial before a jury to decide his fate?  How can I as a white person not stand up for what is happening to far too many black men and black boys in this country?  How can any of us not see there is something very wrong here, and that all of us, white people especially, have to care, and take action to be part of the solution–to recognize that there are systems in place that are unequal, that black boys’ and men’s lives are being taken under circumstances that white boys and white men’s lives are not.  As black people across the country, and people all around the world who are watching are feeling, can’t we show them, that, yes, black lives matter?  Because black people are truly feeling that they don’t.  Tonight’s verdict proved this to them again.

I am still processing tonight’s events, and what that means for us as a nation, and know that we have to, as Michael Brown’s parents urged us to do, focus on positive actions we can take to make the world a better place–one where black boys are not being shot and killed for carrying toy guns, or stealing a package of cigars, or wearing hoodies on their walk home.  We need to dismantle the systems that allow this to happen without repercussion.  We need to all of us work together to do this, to balance the scales that are way out of whack, to do the right thing that will show every life is a life to be valued.

Here is my facebook poem-a-day, a tribute to Michael Brown and Ferguson, made from my friends’ status updates.


facebook poem-a-day (from your status updates)


ferguson decision is imminent
stay safe, st. louis friends
praying for the people
in ferguson
grief is the
price of love
And there it is.
this is a
fucking heartbreak.
this man has
no decency.
he is on national tv
turning the knife
is that dude
still talking?
we got the message
so stfu already!!!!
no indictment
in ferguson
go figure…
our lives seem
to have no value
guiliani said
that ish
out loud
to your face!
“southern trees
bear strange fruit…”
and apparently so do
the trees in ‪#‎ferguson‬
you cannot
fix a problem if
you won’t even
admit that it is
in fact a problem!
my heart is heavy…
about to
a few
insensitive folk
“communities of color
aren’t just making
this up”
praying for peace
to all parents,
the verdict is out:
go home, hug and
kiss your children
and tell them
you love them

Thanks to contributors: Chris Tera, Mark Santow, LeAnn Coleman Nash, Andrea J Sparkman, Kelly Quinn, Junot Díaz, Donald King (2x), Marcia Wilson, Warren Leach, Carmen J. Head, Marg Cappelli, Denitra Letrice, Ken Harge, Karen Oldham-Kidd, Wendy Grossman (quote from President Obama), David Hayes, Robert L Burnside





Wendy Jane’s Weekend Sounds: This Little Light Of Mine sung by Odetta

16 Nov

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer

I just got back home from the 2014 National Center For Race Amity (NCRA) Conference in Norwood, Massachusetts, and am full–full of all that I got to experience–the inspirational speakers, panels, and attendees, new and old, I got to connect with.  I am full of gratitude for being able to be there, and for the theme this year of how women have impacted the work of Race Amity, or the positive cross-race, cross-cultural collaborations that have improved race relations and have moved us closer to recognizing we are all connected, all one human race.

I will be blogging about the conference this week, but wanted to post a song inspired by a moment in the documentary shown today: Standing On My Sisters’ Shoulders, about the transformational, world-changing work of black women, as well as white women, during the Civil Rights movement.

In one scene, June Elizabeth Johnson, a student activist for the SNCC, retells how on a bus trip to do civil rights work, their bus was stopped by a police man who stated their bus was too yellow, too much like a school bus, and they were shut out of doing the work they intended to do that day: registering to vote.  While the passengers on the bus became fearful of what was happening, the legendary Fannie Lou Hamer was on the bus, and began to sing, This Little Light of Mine, which June said inspired everyone, just calmed people and energized them to keep going with their mission to live lives equal to whites in this country.

Here Odetta sings This Little Light Of Mine.  Her spoken intro to the song here perfectly reflects the message of the NCRA Conference.  I can’t wait to share more on that in the coming week.


SOURCE:, This Little Light Of Mine, by Odetta, posted by thelawnet


Photo source:

Dear White People, The Movie: Go See It

31 Oct

dear white people

Dear White People:  Don’t be a white person’s voice trying to critique a movie made with a black person’s voice and point-of-view.

Okay, that was not said in the movie, but I recently read [Read more…]

Memphis, More on “My People/Not My People” and An Evening’s Kiss from Willis Earl Beal

24 Oct

Memphis, More on “My People/Not My People” and  An Evening’s Kiss from Willis Earl Beal


Willis Earl Beal

Willis Earl Beal

Memphis, the film, not the place. But it is the place, a film about place, about a young man who goes to Memphis to make a record, but instead discovers that he needs to discover himself, what matters, what doesn’t.  The story told is non-linear, almost non-narrative, and holds a loving gaze toward Memphis as a work of art–it’s music, it’s people, it’s churches, and it’s natural surroundings.  The description given here is more concrete even than the film itself, which my photographer friend Tina said, “flowed like a moving photo book or series of photos – slow vignettes about a very specific place but with lots of detail left out in between. ”

I came to find out about the film, which I saw several weeks ago at the Cable Car Cinema in Providence, by my friend Nate Kelly.  Nate had noticed that the film was directed by a man with the same name as a former roommate he and his then girlfriend, now wife, Cathy, (a super-close friend of mine) had lived with in Prague  during the 1990’s.  Turned out, their Tim Sutton, is the director of Memphis.


There was much to be enchanted about in Tim’s film, especially,  it’s star, non-actor and real-life musician, Willis Earl Beal. Beal drew me in with his cool non-chalance, angelic singing voice, and dreamy, philosophical, paper-bag drinking, naturalist seeking-self.  Though the film was about the musician’s journey, there was not much of the main character’s music in the film, as the director intended much of the story to be outside of the frame–to happen off-screen, for us the viewers to imagine.  Sutton did not want to direct something that felt like a music biopic, and with his surreal, Memphis, he succeeded.  The film, which used all local, non-actors, will be shown at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. You can check out the trailer and learn more about Memphis and future screenings of  this unusual, artistic film at

After the movie, when I learned during the Director’s Talk with the audience, that Willis Earl Beal’s present life oddly enough now mirrors some of the film version’s protagonist’s, I had to look him up 0n-line to learn more about him.  I wanted to now hear him sing.

I learned that Beal is from Chicago, is 32 years-old, and lived in New York for some time looking to break into the recording industry.  He had some mild success, was signed to a record label, but ended up leaving his label–due to a combination of unpreparedness for the trajectory to stardom, frustration with the industry that wanted to label him as this generation’s Robert Johnson, or the next Ed Sheeran, as well as the lack of control over his artistry.  Beal is now living in Olympia, Washington, writing and recording music in his home, on his terms.

I came across this interview video of Beal, produced by the Amsterdam based music platform FaceCulture.   As soon as I started listening to Beal speak, I was blown away because it was right while I was in the middle of working on the Keith Thompson interview.  In our interview I had had a  conversation where I asked Keith to elaborate on what I thought I heard him say about certain segments of the black community being either “my people” or “not my people,” and, well, you’ll just have to watch and see what Beal has to say about his own experiences with the way black men acknowledge one another, and the-way he sees himself and others.  I found Beal, and his views on race and person-hood mesmerizing.  Take a look, and then a listen to Beal singing Evening’s Kiss below.



Willis Earl Beal Interview by FaceCulture (Part 1)


There are two more parts to this interview that you can click on the links here to view.  In Part 2 Beal mentions Michael Jackson, and influences on his development as a singer.

Willis Earl Beal Interview – Part 2


Willis Earl Beal Interview – Part 3


Here is Beal singing, Evening’s Kiss


Keith Thompson: The Interview, And The Roadmap Into Black Life (Hint: It’s Not What You Think)

17 Oct

Keith Thompson

Keith Thompson


Seems I can’t meet with my new friend, Keith Thompson, without him plying me with little gifts each time I see him. This time it was a [Read more…]

Re-Posting Tribute to Avonte Oquendo, by Vickie

9 Sep

avonte oquendoA friend, Vickie, is a stupendous supporter of WJSS, and by that I mean she retweets every single one of my blog posts, and actually reads them, and comments, and I truly appreciate her for doing so.  Vickie, from my hometown, has a fantastic blog of her own, Taking It A Step At A Time, where she writes about her adventures, and challenges of being a mom to her 23 year-old son, D.C. who has autism.

On her blog, Vickie shares personal stories of [Read more…]

Wendy Jane’s Weekend Sounds: Aloe Blacc – One Inna, produced by Madlib

7 Sep

Aloe Blacc

Aloe Blacc


I’ve posted a few by Aloe Blacc before, but when I heard this come up on Pandora on my walk this past Thursday, my birthday:), I knew I wanted to post it here on WJSS Weekend Sounds.

 Here Aloe is with One Inna, produced by Madlib:






SOURCE:, Aloe Blacc, One Inna, produced by Madlib, posted by Stones Throw


photo credit:

Wendy Jane’s Weekend Sounds: Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5 – Never Can Say Goodbye

31 Aug

Friday, August 29th was Michael Jackson’s birthday. And, you know me. I’ll always take the opportunity to squeeze something about MJ onto this site.

Here’s one of my favorite tunes of his from his Jackson 5 days:




SOURCE:, The Jackson 5, Never Can Say Goodbye, posted by TheSoulKings