The Feminine Pronoun Series #25: Ferguson is Everywhere

In this episode I reflect on the impact of Michael Brown's murder and the Ferguson Uprising on my social justice advocacy, my writing, my teaching and my parenting.

An extra special thanks is owed to the ARTIVISTS and to Reverend Sekou and the Holy Ghost for the incredible song, "We Comin" that appears toward the end of this episode.

ARTIVISTS STL can be followed on twitter at @ArtivistsStl

Reverend Sekou and the Holy Ghost's music can be purchased at http://wearefarfetched.net/album/the-revolution-has-come

 

The feminine Pronoun Series #24: The Winds They Are A’changing

You may think this sounds all "woo woo," but there is a spiritual shift in the universe. I think we all feel it. Even the violent images of black death to which we've been subjected, are harbingers of spiritual ills that need a strong medicine. In this episode I attend a retreat for women of color who are activists and healers (or both) in order to recenter, recharge, and strengthen eachother for what is inevitably to come. The retreat, named WIND AND WARRIOR, was held at The Flowering Lotus Meditation and Retreat center in Magnolia, Mississippi. It is a wonderful space that is centered around Buddhist practice and owned by a black woman. There were 24 of us from all over the country. We were Latina, Somali, and black women/spirits. We were writers, and yoga practitioners, and priests. We were working to help our communities, heal, navigate immigrant status, counter mass incarceration, respond to white supremacy and heal.

Do enjoy this journey with me!

 

The Feminine Pronoun Series #23: These Are the Times That Try Women’s Souls

In this week's vlog I watched the democratic convention and spent time with the Hurston Hughes Scholars. HHS is a self organized group of black parents and teachers who read black literature and invite guests like me and fellow poet Cheeraz Gormon to share our work with them. Coincidentally, I was in the presence of the Mothers of the Movement in Ferguson and then I watched them speak at the Democratic 2016 convention. I was both moved and frustrated by their appearance. #StrikeForBlackLives

 

The Feminine Pronoun Series #22: How Does One #StrikeForBlackLives?

In order to create the societal pressure for real police reform, a movement must happen. Movements are built one step at a time. organizing, conversing, writing, and publicizing are all a part of movement building. Over the last week, I have made a commitment to talk with as many smart people as I can about the #StrikeForBlackLives and how we can use work strike out and economic boycott to pressure the president to create an executive order that will tie police federal funding to measurable reform. I learned so much in a short time, and just like I predicted the #StrikeForBlackLives has become a better, more targeted and more complete idea as a result. Check out this journey. And join with me at strikeforblacklives.com

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In the wake of the homophobic and racialized killings of the 49 patrons of the Pulse nightclub, and of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, we are realizing that the culture of policing must change. To that end, a nationwide work strike called #StrikeForBlackLives is being planned. Slated to begin the day after labor day, and last the remainder of the week, #StrikeForBlackLives asks US to have AT LEAST ONE day of absence (Tuesday, September 6) which is the #BlackFolksOffDay. The remainder of the week can be taken off if you can RISK or AFFORD it. The minimum sacrifice is ONE DAY of work strike and ONE WEEK of economic boycott. We Can Do This!

 

How to Grieve and Dream at the Same Time

This week's vlog follows me through a day of workshop with the inimitable Bhanu Kapil.  Bhanu Kapil is a conceptual poet who recently worked for 15 years at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Sponsored by the Pulitzer Arts Center, this day long experience for metro area poets was named "How to Grieve While Dreaming."  Of course, both themes -- dreaming, and especially grieving -- are particularly resonant after the letter after last month's racialized gun violence. It seems the whole country is grieving.  In the midst of that grief the dream of a U.S. that denounces toxic white supremacy and violence must be nurtured, however.

 

From the South Bronx to Southeast Europe

Today was the final day of the international debate education association (IDEA) program in Macedonia. The two tracks-- visual art (graffiti)/comics and hip-hop/poetry – were responsible for presenting their final projects.
Prior to DJ Goce's arrival, I had taken the students through a series of lessons designed to help them write an activist mission statement, and then poetry and or rap about social justice issues they were working on in their communities.  Some of the themes that emerged  were: child abuse, LGBTQ2 discrimination, ethnic conflicts, and racism.  In general, the theme of FREEDOM could be characterized as the over arching idea that came forward over and over again.
The four groups that emerged were called The Balkanoid Party Breakers, The Illuminators, Freeling, and The Arrival.  The students wrote and conceptualized their performances collaboratively.  After I took them through lessons designed to help them write, DJ Goce and I took them crate digging in order to find sample-able tracks for their poems and raps.
Sampling is a term used to describe taking riffs, melodic lines, and beats from previously recorded records. DJ Goce was able to capture these “samples" on a machine and assign them to different tracks. He could then play the riff over and over in what is called a “loop," or place it in a strategically pleasing pattern on top of a beat.   It was so good to rejoin this version of the creative process. I began writing Hip Hop verse in junior high school, and this version of studio recording was very familiar to me, though I had not done it in years.  I co-produced sample choices choices and came up with baselines.
We spent most of the preview previous day listening to records ranging from Stevie wonder to Brazilian bossa nova. The four projects that emerged were fantastic!
If I want to compare these young people's concerns with young people's concerns in the US, I would have to say that ideas about access and individuality figure more largely in the Balkans than they do in the US. For instance, in the Balkans it would be much more difficult for a young person to say, "I think I will just backpack around the continent instead of heading straight to college." There is a convoluted be VISA process because of the communist history of the countries, and the fact that they are not wealthy countries. In order to go from one place to another, citizens of the Balkans must prove they have a job in a place like England, and even have the employer to sign so that they can travel.
I would say there is a sense that anything is possible among American youth , whereas that sense is more tempered in the Balkan youth.
On the other hand, I would say they are operating with in a culture of normalized dissent and revolution.  I get the impression that young people in the US perceive the recent spate of visible protests as a reemerging phenomena that had been dormant for a time.  In the Balkans because of the history of wars and the recent dissolution of the Yugoslavian republic, the students are very used to the presence of protest and the possibility of protest.  In fact, one of the Greeks students told me that the most popular website in the country is the one that tells you which public services will be on strike for the day.
The students performed their works enthusiastically, and I am excited about how they will use the ideas they worked on in their home communities.
Check out the video here:

Good Beats and Good Eats

Today we went "crate digging."  The students in me and Dj Goce's group all piled into taxis and went to the town center. There was an open air market where used books and used vinyl was being sold.

This process has been really pleasurable and improvisational. The students then went on pick samples and beats to go with the poems and raps they wrote.
Some dope projects emerged. They even sampled my voice.
Later DJ Goce took me under another student out to dinner as a way to redeem Macedonia's culinary reputation. The food at the hotel was bland and forgettable, and Goce described it as "prison food."  I must admit, that I was silently operating under the impression that Macedonian food was just "blah."  I was wrong. Very wrong.  The food has a Mediterranean flair, is diverse in ingredient choices, and highly flavored.  Some standouts were the fried goat cheese, The sautéed peppers salad, The whipped garlic sauce to be used as a condiment, and of course the minced meats wrapped in locally grown pork and filled with home made cheeses.
I was also introduced to rakia, which is Macedonia's version of moonshine. Although it was made with grapes, it was very strong!
Check out the video here:

 

 

Ancient City. Modern Dopeness

Today we went into the town of Ohrid and explored the cultural landmarks. We also took an hour long boat ride across lake Ohrid to a little island (close to the Albanian side), where we saw a church and had dinner.

Macedonia is a place that stands out in the ancient world for its role in inculcating Christianity into the Slavic cultures.
The Macedonian language is a Slavic language.  It uses the Cyrillic alphabet that has 32 letters. It is not a phonetic alphabet, meaning it is not like the English alphabet which can be "sounded out."
The people here have a rich religious legacy, but interestingly, church does not figure largely into their general lives. The comics expert, whose name is Bosko, explained that under communist rule, religion was forbidden. (It's the "opium of the masses" a "tool of the state" and all of that), so church is not the go to institution on questions of ethics or morality. Church has only been allowed to be practiced openly since the fall of Yugoslavia in the 90's.
The director of the IDEA organization, Marjan, and his colleague Mite (pronounced Mee Tay) characterized the orthodoxed services as dark and frightening. They reported that "being quiet" was reverenced and that they looked to stories of charismatic black church in the US with fascination, because of the use of joy and music in the services.
I sang some gospel in my presentation, and more than one person was moved to tears. I appreciated that the same moving feeling I get from the emboldening lyrics and tones made it across the VERY different language and culture. However. I'm not sure I would wish the deeply conflicted place of the church and religion that the US has in our society.
Overall, the town is beautiful and the people are friendly. I have to report that climbing the hills to get the an ancient amphitheater almost killed me, but other than that a good time was had by all.
Check out the video here:

 

 

Your Blues is Like Mine

I have been collaborating with a Macedonian hiphop Dj and producer named Goce (pronounced GO SEE AH). He began to talk about why hip hop was resonant with him and Macedonian people. He sees hip hop as a dissident art, as he came into consciousness of it in 1989 when socially conscious groups like Public Enemy were popular. He explained that Macedonians has endured slavery under Turkish rule. He talked about the particular way the Turks stole and enslaved beautiful Macedonian women, and as a response, Macedonian men began to carve crosses into women's foreheads so they would not be stolen by Turkish enslavers.

He saw himself as sharing the legacy of enslavement with black Americans.   Goce also talked about how the lyrics of indigenous Macedonian music shared the characteristics of blues music.
These resonances gave me a lot to think about. Check out some video here: