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Finding Inspiration in Nipsey Hussle’s Beautiful Being

12 Apr

Ermias Joseph Asghedom, known as artist, Nipsey Hussle
(Photo credit: staplecenter.com)

As a writer, and creator, I find inspiration in so much that is around me. In people watching, in nature, in the words of others. Lately, this last one is something I’ve truly needed to lean on. And I know not just artists do this. We all look for inspiration, especially when we are trying to achieve something. When we want to lose weight, we look to others who have lost weight as examples, and perhaps, we post inspirational quotes on our refrigerator. I’m not a corporate business person, but I see a lot of references to motivation and goal setting to achieve success, and climb the corporate ladder. I’m no athlete, but we all know the words, Just Do It, and we look to famous athletes to hear their words of inspiration for when we are trying to keep up with our own physical fitness goals, and our young people listen, as they strive to make it in their chosen sport.

I am grateful to be inspired by such a broad range of gifted and wise people that I cross paths with–people who are authentic, and allow themselves to be vulnerable, people who live to share their light with others, and some who don’t even know they are doing so. For the past year or two, I have felt stagnant and stuck and lacking energy in my day-to-day life, including my day work at a hospital, which I do love, but at times feel drained by, and stale in my approach to provide fresh, useful groups, as an Activities Therapist. I have also felt stagnant and stuck, and undisciplined, in my writing life. I have needed inspiration to lift me up out of the muck of lethargy, self-doubt, lack of motivation, and lack of discipline, and intention.

But I have been working on shifting my perspective, to focus on the daily joy I receive when focusing on the human connection at work. There was a patient at the hospital, who lives with schizophrenia, and who had me come see the inspirational quotes taped all over the closet door in their room. This patient is an inspiration on the unit, both to other patients, and staff. The patient considers themselves a philosopher, and always has positive words of wisdom and encouragement to share in the groups I facilitate. The patient has also shared with me how, when struggling with negative or paranoid thoughts, the patient will visualize themself as a battleship, which is “strong, courageous, inpenetrable, and invincible.” I love that the patient has created this self symbol of strength. It awes and inspires me.

I also look to other artists to inspire me to create, to lift me up, help me find the joy and meaning, and sense of purpose in my own life. That’s where Nipsey Hussle, the 33 year-old rap artist and entrepreneur who was murdered on March 31st, came in. Now, I will admit right at the start, I did not really know anything about Nipsey, whose real name was Ermias Joseph Asghedom. Sure, I had heard his name, and knew he was a rapper, and thought, oh that’s funny, he’s naming himself after the comedian that I knew growing up in the 70’s, Nipsey Russell. But, I didn’t know his work as a rap artist, his vision and accomplishments as an entrepreneur, or his beautiful spirit that shone through the words he spoke. His words about how he was choosing to live his life as an authentic human being, who learned to choose love and vulnerability, over anger, and who shared his knowledge of how through economics, he was able to as he said, “wiggle himself out of survival mode.” Nipsey believes this is necessary for anyone living under the pressure of poverty, and an environment where violence is a threat, to even be able to envision, dream, and desire something different for him or herself.

Nipsey had tremendous drive, ambition, and put in real “pound-the-pavement” hard work. He realized the need for an innovative vision of how to work outside the record industry, where he saw how agents and record executives earned the majority of the profits generated by artists. Nipsey taught himself how to be self-made, and wanted to share that with the people in the Crenshaw district in Los Angeles where he grew up. Yet his reach, of course, extended far beyond Crenshaw. When you possess greatness, and a spirit full with love, your reach is universal. Nipsey inspired people around the world with his artistry, but more so with his actions.

He reinvested in his neighborhood, in the young people coming up in South Central, Los Angeles, by buying the strip mall where he first sold his mixtapes as an aspiring teen rapper. He opened up his company, Marathon clothing store, there too. Nipsey was an investor in other neighborhood businesses he knew were important to have in places like Crenshaw. He knew there were people who were just as brilliant and talented as people who lived in more affluent areas, but in Crenshaw Nipsey saw how the forces of oppression and institutional white supremacy, promulgated lack, and a disconnect from resources and opportunities. To address that, Nipsey invested in a co-working space to assist entrepreneurs in developing their businesses, and a STEM lab for youth. Nipsey envisioned the lab could be a feed for Silicon Valley tech giants in the industry, who never before would consider looking to Crenshaw for such talent.

And, it’s not that I just, as a white person, want to love this struggle story of a Black and Eritrean man, who lifted himself up by his bootstraps, or think that as a white girl growing up in Waterbury, Connecticut, I know anything about what it is like to grow up in a neighborhood like Crenshaw. I even had another patient in the hospital tell me one day, a patient living with schizophrenia, who the other patients avoided because while still psychotic, was unkempt, and so their room and the area outside of their room didn’t smell so pleasant. I practiced extra kindness toward the patient because of all this, and one day the patient said to me, “I appreciate you..no one else understands me here.. but, you get me…I’m from the street…I mean, I know you’re not about that life, Miss…you’re a good person, but, thank you..”

The patient was right. I’m not about that life, but I am inspired, and feel connected to something greater than myself when I encounter human beings who are about love, creativity, and who value humanity, and yes, to other humans who are suffering, too. The patient who told me they knew I was not about that life, and like other people who live with torment in their brain which causes them at times to be in great distress, inspires me with their will and courage and strength, much like the other patient’s symbolic battleship-self, to battle against, and simply live with, the symptoms of their illness.

Hopefully, we can all find inspiration from people who we may not share the same life experiences with, who don’t look like us, and who possess their own talents and strengths. Yes, we have our uniqueness, and yet, we are all human beings, with many of the same shared desires and wishes for our lives. For example, my 80 year-old, Brooklyn born, Jewish dad had even heard of Nipsey’s murder, and brought him up to me during a recent phone call. He heard of how Nipsey had given back so much to his community and shared how he thought that was admirable.

I can truly actually imagine the two of them having a conversation about work ethic, since my dad is always talking about that, and expresses dismay at this generation who he believes is too invested in their cell phones, and not enough in working, or showing gratitude to their families. While talking about my daughter in her first year in college, my dad shared with me in that phone call how ” I knew Pop didn’t have any money, so I waited tables so I could pay for my tuition and books at UCONN…” made me think about what Nipsey said in a video I watched of him, where he shared how “my mother worked hard but we didn’t have a lot, so I needed clothes, but my older brother needed clothes first, and I didn’t want to shame her by asking for things, so I got my first job at 11 or 12 so I could buy some of my own clothes for school…”

And, as if that were not enough, in listening to countless interview videos with Nipsey on Youtube this past week, I have found Nipsey’s words as an artist, words I so needed to hear to help continue to move me out of my stagnant, procrastinating, self-doubting, undisciplined phase, as I try to quietly write something in a genre that is new to me, playwriting.

The words of advice that stuck out for me included, to first define who you are as a person and artist, and to not veer from that, to put aside your self-doubt, and, finally, to make a plan and set goals, because if you have a dream, but no map on how to get there, you can’t know where to go, and any thing that comes up, you will let it derail you. These words came right on time for me. And I know these words are said by others, in similar ways, and, yet, goal setting has been especially hard for me for some reason. I remember when I was doing street outreach for homeless adults with mental illness in New York City, I also had to do some case management. I just couldn’t connect with that practical work. I felt like, I can barely manage my own life, how can I tell someone else how to live theirs, how to achieve their goals? I am still a work-in-progress as a dreamer artist striving to connect a plan to the dreams and aspirations I hold.

Some might say we don’t need to put too much weight on what a celebrity says, that instead we need to look within, instead of outside of ourselves, but I say, it is a positive to be inspired by another person’s journey, and there is no right or wrong way, or place, to seek, and soak in inspiration.

While writing this, I just watched some of the live stream of Nipsey’s funeral at the Staple Center in Los Angeles. His mother, Angelique Smith, spoke with a firm calmness, and her words and spirit were described by many on twitter as “divine,” and “descending from our ancestors..” She spoke of how she could be calm because she was already prepared for the acceptance of death, and she spoke of her sadness over the wicked and evil in the world today that our young people have to live in. She spoke of how proud she was of her son. She spoke of how the only way to heal the darkness, is to be the light, to work to change the world. She spoke of how when her mother, Nipsey’s grandmother, called her to tell her something had happened in the shopping center, that she already knew, and that, in fact, as she was answering the call, she was ascending from the ground as she picked up her hairdryer. She said she was in a position of ascension already. And that all of us have to find a way to ascend, too. She said that the legacy of love her mother started, and passed onto her, that she passed onto her son, and he, being in the public eye, passed on to all of us, that we have to water those seeds of love, and let them grow. She said that Nipsey had an aura and energy that gave her power, and that she will miss that, and she said that, like the fairytales she read as a child of a king, a castle, and royalty, and people coming from far away to celebrate and honor the kingdom, and that today’s service was a celebration to honor Ermais’ life.

Nipsey’s older brother, Samiel, gave a tearful eulogy, laced with stories of the kind of gentle sibling rivalry and revelry that feel familiar to all of us. At the same time, the way Samiel spoke of their bond, and his recognition of how special his little brother was, and how much he wanted to support his brother’s vision and work, were beautiful. He recalled at how at age 11, Nipsey brought home a bunch of computer parts and, though Samiel had doubts about Nipsey’s claims about building his own computer, Nipsey taught himself how to do just that, and within a couple of weeks had built a working computer himself, the same computer he would first use to record his own music.

Nipsey’s girlfriend, actress Lauren London, read a touching, loving text she had recently sent to Nipsey about how much he, and their relationship meant to her. She, like Samiel, spoke about her complete awe and yet growing familiarity with how Nipsey researched everything, was completely self-taught in all that he did. She spoke about how he burned sage in their family home in the morning so that their energy would be a good energy, and that they would bring good energy out into the world each day.

Interestingly, I have recently been working on shifting my energy out of stagnation by doing the tiniest things, like driving a different route to work than the one I always take, and making my home environment more of a beautiful, comfortable space to feel at peace, and to be a space I feel clear, and comforted to write in. At work, instead of worrying about not feeling inspired, I focus on the giving and receiving of light that occurs in the human connection between me and the patients we work with, and with my co-workers, and feelings of stagnation fall away. I will continue to listen to and remind myself of Nipsey’s words and energy when I begin to doubt myself as a writer.

I am deeply saddened that Nipsey Hussle lost his life, and in a violent way, at a young age, when he was trying to do so much good in the world. It is a loss for his family, his girlfriend, his child, his fans, Crenshaw, and the world. His legacy will live on, though, and for that, we can all be grateful, and hopefully inspired, to live the values that Nipsey taught us in regards to dedication in the pursuit of one’s passion, giving back in a real way to one’s community, the sharing of how to do these things, how to spread love over hate, how to treat the ones we love, how to change our energy, and spread good energy, so that we can do good and have good come back to us, even when we may feel our battleship is off-kilter.

Here is one of the many videos of a young Nipsey Hussle I watched this week which I found inspiration in:

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SOURCE:

www.youtube.com, Nipsey Hussle: 7 Secrets To Success, posted by VYBO, October 26, 2017

Why I Can’t Watch The Michael Jackson Documentary. At least, not yet.

12 Mar

me, a couple of years ago in the MJ tee a good friend sent me right after Michael’s passing.

What do you do when your first love dies three times?

I can’t even. How do I even begin to write about all that I’m thinking and feeling, or more like, how do I write about what I don’t want to think about?

Michael Jackson. When MJ died, everyone was all like,

“Wendy, did you hear?”

“Wendy, are you okay?!”

“Wendy, our condolences…”

And, now, these past two weeks, it’s been,

“Wendy, did you hear about the Michael Jackson documentary coming out?”

“Wendy, are you going to watch the Michael Jackson documentary?”

“Wendy, did you see the Michael Jackson documentary?”

And then there was their commentary:

“..it’s very believable..”

“very credible..”

“very disturbing..”

“scary upsetting..”

“heart-breaking”

“sick”

As if I’m not sick over all this. “I can’t bring myself to watch it,” I tell my co-worker, Guy, whose Green Bay Packers screensaver I have changed to every MJ photo imaginable anytime he leaves his computer open. There’s been the Jackson 5 MJ, brown-skinned, fluffy teen afro MJ, white-skinned MJ, plastic surgery gone too far but not so far that I can’t look at him anymore MJ, Billie Jean MJ, and the American Music Awards, sparkly sequin ambassador jacket with Bubbles and Brooke Shields MJ.

Maybe it will make more sense if I share that I was supposed to marry Michael Jackson. I really, really was. I mean, at age 10, I had the scenario all planned out, and the written imagining is one of the many MJ blog posts I’ve posted over the past seven years that I’ve had the blog.

From the time I played the Jackson 5 Third album in my basement when I was in fourth grade, dancing to Mama’s Pearl, in my heart, I had teleported myself to the Jackson’s Gary, Indiana living room, just like how Michael and his brothers sang in “going back to Indiana..Indiana here I come..”‘

Now these documentary people want to take all of that, that adoration and love of Michael and his genius, away from me. I have not watched the documentary and I am not reading any articles about it, but have caught commentary from friends, strangers, and celebrities on social media. My eyes land, spend more time, on the ones I want to see.

“Just them lynching another black man.”

“He’s dead and can’t even defend himself.”

“Why’d they wait until he died to do this?!”

“He was on trial for this for years and he was cleared of all charges. He was found innocent.”

When the child molestation charges first came up in the early 1990’s, I had the briefest, oh no! moment, but quickly and firmly did not believe in these allegations. It was not that I chose to not believe them. I simply did not.

Now I don’t know what to do. Friends who watched the documentary comment on how credible and disturbing the story the two men, who claimed Michael Jackson accused them when they were young teenagers, shared as adults in their 30’s now. While during their original trials when friends I respected said they weren’t so sure he was innocent, it was easy for me to dismiss them, and believe I was right about Michael’s innocence. But now, I find myself wavering. Everyone seems to say the evidence is overbearing in its proof that Michael did these horrendous things I never thought he could have, would have done. Yes, I thought him odd. Yes, I wondered about his sexuality. But I didn’t believe he was a child molester.

“They took down Bill Cosby. They are taking down R. Kelly. Now they’re taking down Michael Jackson. They want to take down all of our successful Black males.”

But what do I do?

What do I do with the box of MJ memorabilia containing the two Michael Jackson dolls, countless magazines featuring Michael on the cover–Time, Rolling Stones–concert programs, MJ pins, earrings, trading cards. And, the fake newspaper my Mom ordered with the made up headline that read: Michael Jackson Admits To Loving Wendy.

And what about the MJ hologram poster my sister Sarah gave me? The MJ playing cards I bought on a visit to Seattle? The MJ decoupaged light-switch plate my sister-in-law Paula gifted me? Or the most amazing Spike Lee first Michael Jackson Memorial Dance Party printed label I peeled off a building on my way back to the subway from the Prospect Park tribute in Brooklyn?

And what about the most fabulous, show-stopping plastic, young afro MJ earrings that everyone always comments on, and the patients at the psychiatric hospital I work with get a kick out of, thinking they are really fun? Except for that one guy a few years back who said, “why are you wearing a dead pedophile on your ears?”

And now I really don’t know what to do. I mean he was said to be the pop entertainer of the century. I mean, Fred Astaire revered him as an extraordinary dancer. He was loved by millions, or probably billions, right? Wait. I just had the thought/question pop into my head, I wonder what Chris Tucker thinks? The comedian and MJ were supposedly close friends. What does Quincy Jones think? What do all the young boys and girls who still wear white gloves and practice their moonwalks think?

Is it true?

Does white America love taking its Black heroes down?

I’m not standing up for anyone who has done gross wrongs, and am not by any means giving any kind of pass to other recently accused celebrities like R. Kelly. I’m not from the camp either that with R. Kelly says, “well, I can separate the man from his music and still listen to his music.” Or at least I think I’m not.

I have not listened to R. Kelly since hearing about his documentary, and trust me, I used to. Ignition was a song I’d sing along to in the car when it came on the radio. I once even almost bought a hipster, heart-shaped necklace charm inscribed with the words, After the party, it’s the hotel lobby.

Guy, that co-worker whose screensaver I was always MJ hacking and I are both on the same page right now about not watching the MJ documentary. He was a huge fan, too. We are also both concerned about whether this means we have to stop listening to MJ music. Guy, in weighing this kind of decision out, said he is fine without listening to R. Kelly, but he is really hard-pressed about having to give up listening to Kelly’s song, Step In The Name Of Love. And, yeah, I can relate. That song is pure, escalating joy. But, never listen again to Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, I’ll Be There, or Never Can Say Goodbye? Do I burn my Off The Wall album?

It’s another death of Michael. It’s the third death to be exact. There was the actual death of Michael Jackson on June 25, 2009. Then, as my friend Anisa, who I met up with at an outdoor film night, right after hearing about Michael’s death, shared, it was as if for her that the Michael she once knew had already died in a way, once he kept going further and further with his plastic surgery, and I think she may have also mentioned, the earlier child molestation charges. She said that his actual death didn’t hit her as hard because of that. I understood what she meant. I too, had frozen my MJ at the time of his Bad album and subsequent concert tour. I didn’t care as much for his later albums, and I was saddened by all the changes he was making to his appearance with extreme plastic surgery procedures and skin whitening. Of course, so much can be written, and already has, about what these things meant to him; about him. Still, his actual, second death hit me hard. Real hard.

That’s why it touched my heart when a good friend sent me in the mail the beautiful artist-made memorial MJ t-shirt pictured above, right after Michael died. Do I have to burn that now, too?

This is where I am at right now. Some may say I am in denial. But I can’t even come to any conclusions just yet. It is enough to think about the falling.

A house of cards collapsing.

A moonwalk abruptly screeching to a halt.

It’s the same question I began with. What do you do when your first love dies three times?

Here are some past Michael Jackson blog posts. There are probably more than what’s listed here:

Why Are You Wearing Those Michael Jackson Earrings

Calling Michael Jackson

The MJ One Cirque de Soleil Show: Never Grow Up And Still Never Can Say Good-bye

My First Letter To The Editor Published: And Its Barrington Clapback

11 Feb


photo: Joe Wilson, Jr. as Ulysses, and Cloteal L. Horne as Circe, in “black odyssey” at Trinity Repertory Company, Jan. 3 – Feb. 3, 2019 (photo credit: Mark Turek)

On January 23rd, 2019, I got my first Opinion letter published in our local newspaper, The Providence Journal. I was so mad about a review of Trinity Repertory Company’s play, black odyssey, written by the paper’s theater critic, Channing Grey, that I just had to write the letter.

The play, black odyssey, by acclaimed playwright, Marcus Gardley, is a retelling of Homer’s classic, The Odyssey. According to Trinity Rep, the play is how “one man’s journey home from war leads him on an adventure connecting him with his own ancestors and our shared humanity, before finally delivering him back to his wife and son.”

It is an epic tale–a layered journey of storytelling, with song, ritual, and time travel through ancient and current history of the African diaspora, including black American history and culture. The play is two hours and fifty minutes in length.

Here is Gray’s review:

[…]

The Problem With White People Time

22 Jan

If Beale Street Could Talk
Tish and Fonny, If Beale Street Could Talk
(photo credit: The Atlantic)

We’ve heard it, right? People from various cultural groups talking about being on “black people’s time” or “Spanish people’s time.” In other words, the self-effacing joke that when they say they’ll arrive at that family function at 3:00 p.m. and show up at 5:00 p.m., they are not late, and every one already knows they are not showing up at 3:00 p.m.

Then, there’s the joke comedian Chris Tucker tells about the one thing he learned from dating white girls, was, to be “on time.”

There’s beauty in realizing we have different relationships to time. I remember my mother and aunts talking about trips to Spain to visit my grandmother, who had moved there when she retired. As a teenager, I loved imagining the dinners they spoke of, that started around nine o’clock and stretched to midnight with a languorous parade of tapas, wine, espresso, and conversation.

But time can become a problem when white people expect it to unfold in their real time. In all of my noticing, and consciousness-raising of my own whiteness, and whiteness as a whole, I have come to see how when we gauge an art form, or an event, or a social interaction through our white, European-centered lens, sense of etiquette, and what we’ve been indoctrined by white society to deem the way something should be done, we do a great disservice to black people, and of course to any other culture, ethnicity or race that is different from our own. To begin to break down our white-centered gaze, we must first remember how whiteness sees itself as the center, as the norm, and everyone else, as spokes streaming out from the center of the wheel of whiteness.

This whole matter of white people’s time came to my attention last week, when Joe Wilson, Jr., a main actor from the renowned Trinity Repertory Company here in Providence, Rhode Island, posted a social media note about a review in The Providence Journal. Joe, who is black, and who acts in and co-directs the currently running play, black odyssey, was incensed that theatre critic, Channing Grey, who is white, wrote the play “could use some trimming.”

The play, black odyssey, by acclaimed playwright, Marcus Gardley, is a retelling of Homer’s classic, The Odyssey. According to Trinity Rep, the play is how “one man’s journey home from war leads him on an adventure connecting him with his own ancestors and our shared humanity, before finally delivering him back to his wife and son.”

It is an epic tale–a layered journey of storytelling, with song, ritual, and time travel through ancient and current history of the African diaspora, including black American history and culture. The play is 2 hours and 50 minutes in length.

When I read the entire review, I was also bothered by other perspectives of the critic. Grey stated as if it was not enough for Gardley to not only show us “tortured slavery, …but also…police brutality,” it was as if he was saying, the nerve of the playwright to make me confront the ongoing history of black pain at the hands of whiteness. Another line about this being a play for “often forgotten audiences,” gave way to the reality of structural white-centered dominance in the arts, including who gets to say what is considered mainstream theatre.

But, back to white people’s time. When we say a play needs some trimming, we are saying that from our learned white-gaze, what a play should look like, how the story should be structured, how the art of storytelling should be expressed, how the actors should perform their lines, how the stage direction should go, and how tidily edited it should be. We are giving our white-centered critique of another group’s culture, which we do not know. Therefore, how can we critique it?

I can recall a time, of which I am ashamed of, when my own white people time showed itself. It was at a fundraiser several years back, highlighting the good works of local Black businesses. I remember catching myself thinking that the pacing of the event was slow in spots, and that the guests took too much time speaking at the podium. Then I caught myself, and said to myself: “wait a minute! When do white people ever give attention to black businesses, or host community events and notice who is included and who is excluded, or notice much else that black people do and accomplish, aside from our celebrity worship of black artists and athletes? And, so, while knowing black people don’t ever need my permission, or acknowledgment, I quickly jumped to the thought of, “go ahead! You should be taking all the time you want to stop and recognize yourself, and your peers, and to bask in the attention and praise you deserve. And, who am I to say how the pacing of an event should go, if I am only going to consider all the white-centered planning of events I have attended throughout my life?” I realized that my white people time was way off the mark, and I adjusted.

I almost had to slap myself when I caught myself using white people time again at If Beale Street Could Talk, a beautiful and deep film, inspired by James Baldwin’s story of the same name. The film was directed by Barry Jenkins, who also directed Moonlight. Stylistically, the film for me, with its use in places, of slow-motion cinematography, and time-suspended close-ups of its actors gazing into the camera, pulled me into another dimension of time, another dimension of being. The film asked me to slow down my i-phone, social media rush of a world, and simply be there in the moment with the young couple in love: Fonny, played by Stephan James, and Tish, played by Kiki Layne. The pacing of the film allowed me to get to know their families, their conversations full of weight, of gold, of lightness of being, their beauty, their love, their knowing determination to survive the reality of their lives living in their skin in 1970’s New York City.

There are a number of scenes where their love is shown through the actors’ suspended gazes at one another, and toward the end of the two-hour film in one of the scenes where Fonny is looking at Tish, my white people time kicked in. I wondered, could I do with a tiny bit less of the slowed moments, but then again, immediately after the thought came, I stopped my whiteness lens, and said, No! It is not for me to critique the movement of this film. Fonny’s loving gaze, the slowed moments that capture the love of these two main characters, and their families, is a love that white America rarely takes the time to see, to experience, to believe it exists.

The love of Tish’s family, the joy of living in all kinds of love–including family and friends–and the commitment to both, and also the deep knowing of the struggle to survive and thrive living as a black person in this country is something most of us white people don’t pay attention to. And so I acknowledged my white-centered lens had too thick of a filter on, and I flowed with Barry Jenkins’ flow. And, the flow was beautiful.

I realized, too, Beale Street’s storytelling wasn’t necessarily for me, or for white people to “get.”Some or all of it’s cultural signifiers and nuances, may skim over our heads, and hearts. But, it’s message of the reality of what it is like for black men to live and be wrongfully convicted–their lives “thrown away” in the unjust criminal justice system, and the impact that has on his families, is of course critical for white people to get. So is the portrayal and reflection of black people’s lives, humanity and narratives, when given dimension, and are seen in the world in a way so rarely seen in films telling white-centered stories, written by white writers, and filmed by white directors. Realizing all of this, I then had, and have, gratitude for being able to witness this story as told by its storytellers, Baldwin and Jenkins. I recalled Julie Dash’s film, Daughters of the Dust, and again remembered, time, and storytelling, is relative.

With all of this talk of white people time as it relates to black art forms and events centering the black experience, I am not saying white people don’t have the right to their own opinion about the quality of a piece of work, or can not share about how a piece of work made them think or feel, but knowing most of all of that is subjective anyway, what I am asking, is that as white people, we first take note of the lens we are looking through, and then, crush it.

Isn’t it about time we did so?

2018 Year-In-Review. What I Wrote. What I Learned. What’s Next.

20 Dec

Rashon Nelson, Donte Peterson
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson

At the end of each year, I look back at my writings here to remember, and reflect on what was going on in the world around me in regards to race, about what I’ve learned, and hopefully, how I’ve grown.

I started off 2018 by writing The Crack Cocaine Center Of Excellence about my anger over the discrepancy on how the opioid “crisis” is being treated now that it is impacting white suburban communities vs. how Black people were treated who were impacted by what was called the “crack epidemic” in the 1980’s.

On February 14th, we learned Valentines Day will now forever be overshadowed by the occurrence of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. In Let Us Listen To All Of Our Young People’s Cries For Help To End Gun Violence. I wrote about how proud I was of the Parkland students for rising up and becoming passionate activists working to end gun violence. Yet, as they garnered the nation’s and the world’s attention, and praise, I, and others, who also praised the Parkland students, wished the same attention was given to the young Black and Brown students in Baltimore, Ferguson, and throughout the country, who have been activists for much longer. They have been activists out of the need to speak on behalf of their communities who have experienced gun violence, and police brutality, and killings by police officers, but have not gotten the same mainstream attention as the highlighted, mostly white, suburban Florida students.

[…]

Hype Man: A Break Beat Play, At The Wilbury Theatre: Timely,Urgent, So Worth The Hype, I Saw It Twice

26 Nov

Hype Man Wilbury Theatre

Hype Man actors, l to r, Phoenyx Williams, Jeff Hodge, Helena Tafuri, (photo credit: Erin X. Smithers)

I knew I wanted to see Hype Man: A Break Beat Play as soon as I heard about its November run at The Wilbury Theatre Group in Providence. And after seeing the play, I knew I had to write about Hype Man’s timely theme of race, police brutality, and the impact it has on the relationship of the play’s three characters: Pinnacle, the white rapper, played by Jeff Hodge,Verb, Pinnacle’s Hype Man, who is black, and is played by Phoenyx Williams, and Peep One, the woman who creates the group’s beats, played by Helena Tafuri. The play written by break beat poet and playwright, Idris Goodwin, was expertly directed by Don Mays, who allowed each actor to shine in their respective roles.

Verb and Pinnacle grew up together, the best of friends, and bonded further through music, and the formation of their own hip-hop group. Peep is a newer addition to the group, but is vitally important with her attention-grabbing beats. The entire play takes place in the group’s rehearsal studio–save one time the set doubles as a television stage–the spare set consisting of an elevated round platform fitted with a mixing table, a stool, and a microphone. I learned from the play’s director, Don Mays, that the tri-colored, at times overlapping, voice patterns painted on the black walls behind the set, represent the three recorded voice patterns of the actors.

In the opening scene of this one-act play, Verb enters and begins fumbling with the sound system. Pinnacle sneaks up on him, and after a good laugh, and greeting one another with a hug, we learn Verb is just returning to the group after a month-long hiatus for therapy, for what Pinnacle later calls Verb’s “wild behavior.” Peep enters in a rush, and apologizes for being late for rehearsal, sharing there was a police shooting by the highway that slowed her arrival. Verb, looking at his phone, reads that police shot a young black male, 17, named Jerrod. Peep picks up her phone and reads that Jerrod had just gotten the news that his grandmother had taken a turn for the worse in the hospital and was rushing to get to her before it was too late. He was unarmed. He was shot with his hands up while running away from officers.

Sound familiar? It is in this moment we, the audience, are about to witness […]

On Being Jewish, On Being A Part Of The Tree Of Life

30 Oct

Me As A Rat (See #10 )

“Mom, some boy called me a kite today!” I told my mother, after walking home from school in third grade. I didn’t understand why he called me that word, but I knew it had to be something mean, because of the tight twisting of his face when he screamed it at me on the school playground.

Right then is when my mother had to teach me the word kike, a derogatory word for Jew. There is some discrepancy on the origin of the word, but some say it was born on Ellis Island when there were Jewish migrants who were also illiterate, or could not use Latin alphabet letters. When asked to sign the entry-forms with the customary “X”, the Jewish immigrants would refuse, because they associated an X with the cross of Christianity. Instead, they drew a circle as their entry-form signatures. The Yiddish word for “circle” is kikel, which got shortened to kike, as a nickname for Jews, and later turned into a derogatory slur. Another story is that German Jews already assimilated in the United States, used kike, a word created from how many Jewish last names ended in ki or ky, as a put down for Eastern European Jews coming to the States, who they saw as inferior to themselves.

It’s four decades later from that day on the playground. But the familiarity of the pain associated at times with being a Jew came back to me this past Saturday when a fellow staff member at work called me over to our hospital unit’s dimly lit tv room to see the breaking news of the murder of eleven Jewish people worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Numbness was all I could allow myself to feel in that moment. Yet, I was forced to remember there are still people who hate me, who want to see me gone; dead, simply because I am a Jew.

Memories cropped up. Here are 10 times I remembered who I was, was not acceptable. […]

What Whiteness Does, And Doesn’t Do, Or, Some Things I Learned During The North Smithfield, RI Proposed Nike Ban Resolution

23 Oct

North Smithfield RI Nike Ban

Beauregard’s Nike Ban Resolution

I wish I was an “in the moment” blogger. The kind that writes about a newsworthy event right after it happens and posts it within the same twenty-four hours. But I’m not. I seem to take my time these days, thinking that perhaps letting the dust settle, helps me process, and consider the story worth telling.

On September 17, 2018, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed in order to distract myself from writing, my eyes fixed on a post from a friend telling of a Town Council meeting taking place that evening in Smithfield, Rhode Island.  The Town Council president called the meeting to put forth a resolution “suggesting” the town schools and businesses not purchase Nike products.  In my immediate WTF reaction, I typed in my Facebook status that I would be going to that meeting wearing full Nike gear. I asked if anyone cared to join me. Never mind that I don’t own any Nike. I am not sporty. I also decided years ago to stop buying their goods when I heard of their labor practices employing children, and paying horrible wages. But I knew I needed to show up. I could not let this meeting in the state I now live in go by without being there to protest it.

Smithfield, Rhode Island is a suburban town of about 12,000 residents, and is situated about twenty minutes north of where I live in the diverse city of Providence. Smithfield’s demographics: 96% white residents. John Beauregard, the Town Council president who called for the resolution, is a former State Trooper. He claims working as such gives him a perspective different from the average citizen. Beauregard stated in a news article about the meeting, that he feels Colin Kaepernick has a high disregard toward police officers, and that Nike’s ad featuring Colin’s image, with the tag line: Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything, is insulting to police officers. In his words, Kaepernick has sacrificed nothing, nothing like the sacrifices that police officers make every day, hoping that they’ll make it home safe to their families. Mr. Beauregard, apparently also part of the gaslighting committee in town, is yet another human being who has done the mental gymnastics necessary to turn Colin’s taking a knee in protest of police brutality and racial inequality, into a threat–in this case–to the very fine town of Smithfield. He sees as the natural solution to the worrisome Kaepernick: have the town not buy Nike products endorsed by Colin Kaepernick. But we know better what his resolution implies, right?

I thought I’d be going to the meeting alone that night without any friends saying they’d join me, but shortly before I was about to go, […]

The Power of Aretha Franklin’s Think

20 Aug

Aretha Franklin Aretha Now

Aretha Franklin

When my daughter Leni was born, like all new babies–in between sleeping, breastfeeding, quiet awake time, and diaper changes–she cried. As a new parent, you do that thing where you try to figure out why they are crying. Is she hungry? Is she tired? Is she gassy? Is she…? But most of all, especially when you are running on little sleep, and you are stressed because you know you don’t know, you just want your baby to stop crying.

No longer married now, my husband at that time, Tim, had bought for me, the 1968 Aretha Franklin cd, Aretha Now. If my memory is correct, he got it for me because it was classic soul, and as a fine artist and furniture-maker,  he believed the history, the context, and the classic, best examples of an art form, were highly important. That they gave us the foundation necessary for appreciating and understanding a work of art. I have mostly always listened to more mainstream popular r & b, soul, funk, and hip-hop. The Aretha Now cd, if I’m not mistaken, was to both upgrade my listening ear, and I even think it was intended for Leni, to from the very beginning of her new life, know what real, best-of-the-best music is. Some babies got Baby Mozart cd’s. Our baby, Leni, got the Queen Mother Of Soul.

On one of those crying moments in the cramped living room of our one-bedroom apartment in New York City, tripping over Leni’s Boppy pillow, I put Aretha Now into the cd player and pressed play. I picked up Leni from her floor seat, and held her close. I rubbed her back to try and get her to calm down. Aretha’s Think came on.

Leni stopped crying instantly. She let her body loosen. Her gaze became alert.

She knew. She knew Aretha’s voice commanded her attention. That all would be all right. That she was in the presence of something beyond explanation. She didn’t need to cry any more. And it was like one of those funny baby videos that you watch and they show the baby crying until the parent makes some kind of funny face, and then the baby immediately stops crying, but just as quickly starts crying again when the parent stops making the face, and then calms again with the face making, and so on. Leni, if she wasn’t fully calmed down, would cry as soon as Think was over, and so we simply played it again. And again. On numerous crying occasions.

And as I danced around the room with my Leni, who is eighteen now and about to leave home for her first year of college, there was nothing to trip over. My dazed, sleepless state, erased, I  floated, elevated by joy.

Rest easy, Queen Mother Of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Thank you for the extraordinary gift you bestowed upon all of us on this entire planet.

 

 

 

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SOURCE:

www.youtube.com

Photo credit: Rhino.com

 

Every Day, Chip Away At De-Centering Whiteness

8 Aug

I really want to say, take big chunks; take a sledge hammer and demo away at that center.  But, I know de-centering whiteness will take time. As I vision in my head another dimension of existence that we have not yet lived here in the United States, as I imagine our world without “white culture” as the norm, or center, two aspects of centered whiteness come to mind:

First is the unconscious existence of white people to not notice that we are at the center of everything in this country. Yet, we engineered it to be so. Because of that we have the luxury to not notice that we can move through this world so fluidly. We can take for granted, and we do, how easily we can live where we want to live, work where we want to work, go to school where we want to go to school, and spend our leisure time where we want to. And, for the most part, we can do all of this surrounded by mostly other white people. We can live, work, and play in mostly white spaces where we feel comfortable surrounded by people who look like us. And our museums, and movies, and our news channels, will reflect all of this back to us, and tell us that our existence this way is real, and it is good. It is our normal.

The second is the centering of whiteness in order to […]

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