The Global Reach of Blackness

Today I presented about Fannie Lou Hamer. This is a presentation I've done many times now, but because of the audience it was quite different. Because the audience was European and specifically people from the Balkan Peninsula, I stopped much more frequently to explain terms. I spent time on "sharecropping" "Jim crow" and explaining why voting was a signature battleground for Mrs. Hamer. The group was thoroughly engaged and asked probing questions.

 

One particularly resonant question had to do with why African Americans faced discrimination when it was clear that we had added so much to the culture. The audience member cited the arts specifically.

 

From my brief time in Europe and reading Toni Morrison, I came up with this explanation.

 

First I explained that the system of enslavement was very intimate in the US. I talked about how Thomas Jefferson had a family with his wife and a family with his slave, and (to forget complicate matters) the slave was his wife's half sister.

 

I then talked about how white people in the US gave up ethnicity to just be "white."

 

I didn't say this at the time, but they gave up their songs, and cuisines, and religions, and ancestral memories.

 

I told them that being "white" in the US is an identity that is built in opposition to being black. So, in many ways white people need black people around to provide their identity. This explains the schizophrenic "I hate you/ don't leave me" psychodrama that is much of US race relations.

 

I have to say, that after spending time with such a diverse group of ethnic Europeans-- people from Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, -- I have never felt sadder for white people gave up. There is so much beauty in a multivariate whiteness that isn't self conscious and tentative. That is backed up by thousands of grandmother stories.

 

Later, I spent time with my smaller individual group whose focus is hip-hop and protest poetry. I led them in a quick and dirty lesson on prejudice, discrimination, and structural or systemized bias. Then they wrote activist mission statements. Finally, they drafted some poetry of their own.  I played Gil Scott Heron's "The Revolution will not be Televised."  I also shared a poem with them that I wrote called "Caveat."  It is a feminist poem with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as the major figure. I share it for the students whose voice may not be geared toward the "rah rah" of hip-hop, but more toward introspection.

 

Then my co-teacher Dj Goce arrived. What a delightful gift he is!  Goce is Macedonia's venerated hip-hop pioneer and producer. He brought in his turntables, his beat machines, and tons of personality. His deep knowledge of the music and the culture and his producing gift is prodigious.

 

So many artists have talked about the deep love and appreciation that black music gets globally, but the sit next to this Macedonian man as he argued for a return to socially conscious lyrics in hip hop. All while spinning vinyl was simultaneously surreal and enlightening.

 

Tomorrow, the students will go "crate digging" in a local record store and work to create a complete social justice project that combines poetry and hip hop.

 

Here are some highlights from the day:

 

 

“Friend is Worth More than a Dollar”

Today I rose super thankful for not having to sleep in the airport, and then slog through an eight hour flight, a two hour flight, and then a two and half hour drive . . . unwashed.

 

My grandmother used to say, "A friend is worth more than a dollar."  Her reasoning being, if you are in a strange town stranded (like I was), one dollar would not get you a room anywhere.  A friend, however, (cue: praise hands) will (cue: Aunt Esther saying "Whoa Glory!") have a couch, a floor, or may even pay for a hotel for you.

(cue: sanctified choir chord changes)

 

CUE: HAPPY FEET!

 

So I was able to spend the night in a safe and welcoming place because of Neal and Tayari, who are now in my will.

 

After that, I rode a train and a bus back to Dulles, and besides a slight heart attack when the gate agent claimed my reschedule was invalid, I arrived in Skopje, Macedonia and then my final destination of Ohrid without  (an additional) hitch.

 

Check out the video here:

Mississippi Meets Macedonia

I am traveling to Macedonia in southeast Europe to lead some training for the IDEA organization.  The International Debate Education Association (IDEA) "gives young people a voice through education, debate and by raising their awareness about worldwide issues."

I will be serving as the expert/trainer in the areas of protest poetry and Hip Hop lyrics.  There are also comics, and graffiti artists serving as well.

Over the next week, I will be sharing the following topics:

-Defining Bias

-Defining White Supremacy

-Moving Toward Activism

-Creating an Activist Mission Statement

-Protest Poetry

-Writing Your Own Protest Poem

-Writing a Group Protest Poem

As I write this, I am supposed to be going into my second day in Macedonia, but as I prepared to travel to southeast Europe, I ran into a few . . . glitches.  Okay, someone was struck by lightening on the runway.  Omen?  Check out this video and  see.

 

 

A Special FATHER’S DAY episode of the FEMININE PRONOUN Series (#19)

This is a "very special episode" of the FEMININE PRONOUN Series. Father's Day is coming up and I am the daughter of a Poet. Eugene B. Redmond is a foundational Black Arts Movement poet, professor emeritus, cultural griot, and author of Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro American Poetry. I may be biased, but he is also the CUTEST of the BAM poets, and the BEST smelling! I hope you all have an awesome father's day, and even if you've lost your dad, or you don't have a relationship with your dad, celebrate a step dad, an uncle, or even a little boy who you think is going to be a awesome father one day!

The FEMININE PRONOUN series # 16: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

This episode finds me moving from my various roles of artist, daughter, and mother. What's cool is I get to inhabit all of them at the same time! From a multi media poetry reading with my father for the nine network, to Cinco de Mayo on Cherokee Street, to a wonderful Mother's Day breakfast with the whole family at Goody Goodys in his historic north St. Louis. Enjoy!

 

The FEMININE PRONOUN Series #15: Poets are Witches

I flew to New England and read my work at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. While there, I stayed in Salem, Massachusetts and read with two other sister poets and fellow Cave Canem alumnae, Jarita Davis and Antoinette Brim. Were we like a coven? Maybe. Check out this witchy episode where I cast a spell that brings all sorts of fabulous poets of color right to your screen!

The FEMININE PRONOUN Series #14: #blackpoetsspeakout

The #blackpoetsspeakout movement was started by Jericho Brown, Mahogany Brown, and Amanda Johnston in the wake of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri. This episode finds me traveling to participate in a #blackpoetsspeakout reading in Columbia, Missouri. The reading featured poets from the Cave Canem organization, as well as local poets and faculty from the University of Missouri. In the spirit of protest, we all met to lift up the verse of black poets and the safety of black bodies.

The FEMININE PRONOUN Series #13: The Kids Are Alright!

In this episode I prove that poetry works with seasoned adults, college aged readers and writers, and high school "novices." I travel from Illinois's capitol, where I read for the state legislators, and the Illinois Humanities administration, to McKendree University,  and I end with the brilliant young scholars in East St. Louis Senior high school's poetry club.  And guess who really blew my mind? Psych! You'll have to watch and see!