Sunday, August 31, 2008

What Desperate Looks Like

My most dreadful love relationship showed up when I was in my twenties. I was lonely and very fearful that I would never find a boyfriend. At 25, I had never been in a serious relationship, had kept my virginity until I was a sophomore in college with very few sexual experiences to follow, and had never had anyone profess their love for they do in the movies. I had convinced myself that I was some kind of freak of nature. During my twenties, there was a great deal of hand-wringing and gnashing of the teeth when I contemplated my love life. You couldn't tell me that I wasn't being punished for being smart and political. No one wants the brainy chick who owns "more books than clothes." And because I could never pull off fake giggles at corny jokes from some of the men I would date, I just knew no man would ever want to get to know me.

Then I met Derek (not his real name). I think we first met while I was in college. Later, I would see him in NYC at a protest or an organizing meeting. He was attentive, charming, serious-minded, industrious, an activist...and married. His marriage was in divorce mode, he'd moved into his own apartment, and his wife and he only spoke if it pertained to their two children. He was free to date, so we did.

I was so happy to be validated, to matter to someone. It's a beautiful thing to see someone's face light up when you walk into the room. I was in heaven...and a little too happy.

Emotions can be very disorienting. I was so into not being single that I ignored the warning signs about Derek. I watched him con people, tell lies, and jip people out of their money. I'd challenge him about all this and he always had a comeback that somehow linked his actions to our 400 years of oppression here in AMERIKKKA. Somehow, his stealing from "the man" was more about reparations than it was about being out of integrity. I made that make sense and I rationalized that all his lying was reserved for OTHER people. Derek would never do that to me. We're activists on the same team, I thought. "Love can make you do wrong."

Fast forward to the end of that relationship: Derek ended up cheating on me; swindled me out of about a $1,000; forged a wedge (temporarily) between me and my father; and then went around the community telling our friends and colleagues that I was crazy. His spiral downward, in community stature and in many other ways, went into free fall soon afterwards. It would soon be revealed that he was conning not just "the white man," but anyone who crossed his path. Other women, unlike me (who was too insecure about speaking out), began to talk publicly. One of them, I think, went on a talk show. After this, the community was all aflutter. His lies were showing up in so many ways. After a while, he simply fled NY and is someone else charming folks via forked tongue.

My love lesson in all this? If you are desperately looking for love, love will demonstrate what desperation looks like. To be desperate is to be "reckless or violent because of despair." With Derek, I had recklessly abandoned what my head told me about this dude...just because I didn't want to be single and alone. I'm so grateful to have lived to learn better. And I'm grateful that my subsequent relationships have be 100% healthier. They didn't all work out, but everybody after Derek was a big improvement...mostly because I grew to be more secure about who I am and what I have to offer.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Quote of the Week: Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman has deeply moved me since I was a little girl. I have been at her feet all my life. In these entries, I'd like to share with you aspects of Harriet that many people are not aware of. Here's one of my favorite quotes, for starters:

"Oh Lord, convert master!" "Oh Lord, change dat man's heart!" ..."Oh Lord, if you ant nebber gwine to change dat man's heart, kill him, Lord, an' take him out ob de way.”
~ Araminta Harriet Ross Tubman-Davis (aka Harriet Tubman), from "Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman" by Sarah H. Bradford (1869)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Verizon Wireless In Bed with "Niggas" (from Put On BLAST! July 7, 2008)

The following Put On BLAST! item was published last month. In fact, it was sent July 7, 2008 at 9:55 am. By 12 noon, Verizon has issued a statement in response to the outcry. The POB! family played a key role in pushing Verizon to address this.

Read the back-story below, then (in a separate post) read my comments on the statements and learn why I'm not dealing with Verizon anymore. They're lame.

Dear POB Fam,

My colleague PAUL PORTER of INDUSTRY EARS sent this info out last night (see statement below). It's a media advisory from him, Najee Ali of Project Islamic HOPE and others, announcing the latest example of racism as demonstrated by a corporation. This time, its Verizon Wireless on the offensive. What is being challenged is Verizon Wireless' deal with Loren Feldman of 138Media.

First, I did my own research this morning in an effort to flush out the story a little more. I watched some of Feldman's video content and was floored. I should not be, though. But, here is what I found...a little "back story" to Paul's press conference today in Los Angeles.

1. Loren Feldman is a video blogger and he is the president of 138Media. He fancies himself as a comedian, tech guy.

2. 1938Media is a satirical video blog started by Feldman in 2005 and they produce video for the web and mobile devices [click here
for reference]

3. Verizon Wireless has inked a deal with Feldman's 138Media.
Starting today (June 30, 2008) Verizon Wireless’ 3 million mobile VCast users will have access to Feldman’s video content on their phone, as well as 1 million Fios broadband cable subscribers via video on demand. The deal, which will pay Feldman an undisclosed license fee, puts the 1938Media brand next to YouTube, and other high profile partners.
4. Click HERE to see the kind of content that could be delivered to your mobile devise if you are one of Verizon's 3 million VCAST subscribers.


Now, Here is the CALL TO ACTION!

Media Contact:
Project Islamic HOPE

EVENT: Press Conference
WHERE: Verizon Store located at 3829 S. Crenshaw Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90018
WHEN: Monday, July 7 2008
TIME: 11:00am (Pacific Time)

Civil rights activist Najee Ali, Executive Director of Project Islamic HOPE, and a coalition of civil rights organizations are calling for Lowell C. McAdam - who is President and CEO of Verizon Wireless - to withdraw the Verizon Wireless contract and distribution deal with Loren Feldman, President of 1938 media.

"Feldman has a history of using the Internet to promote racism and demeaning and negative racial stereotypes against African Americans on his Internet site. He is responsible for and appears in what he calls "TechNigga."

This clip on his [ficticious] website “TechNigga” is racist and demeaning to Africans Americans and women. The Verizon [Wireless] distribution deal with Feldman sends a horrible message that Verizon seeks to partner with racists like Feldman and that Verizon and CEO McAdam find nothing offensive with TechNigga. [McAdam] needs to demonstrate that Verizon understands they should demonstrate corporate responsibility and will not tolerate racism, or bigotry.

Our community nationwide should contact Lowell C. McAdam and let him know that you will boycott Verizon unless this distribution with Feldman is severed. There are plans for an upcoming national day of protest against Verizon stores nationwide if our calls for a meeting and our demands are not met," stated Ali.

Press Conference Sponsors

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Meaning of: Muse

muse (the verb, not one of the daughters of Zeus) - to consider or meditate at at length

muse (the noun; again, not one of Zeus' daughters) - a state of deep reflection

(still...not yet the offspring) - a guiding spirit; a source of inspiration; a poet


Muse (OK, now) - one of the nine daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus, each of whom presided over a different art or science

Quote of the Week: On Love

One of my FAVORITE writers is KAHLIL GIBRAN (1883 - 1931), a Lebanese poet, philosopher, and artist. His most popular work is the classic book "The Prophet," written in 1923. If there is a book that belongs in the library of any poet, writer, thinker, seeker of knowledge, it's this one.

During my mediation this morning, I re-read his contemplation on love. In spite of the gender bias, there is wisdom here:

Then said Almitra, Speak to us of Love.
And he raised his head and looked upon
the people, and ther fell a stillness upon
them. And with a great voice he said:
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
For even as love crowns you so shall he
crucify you. Even as he is for your growth
so is her for your pruning.
Even as he asscends to your height and
caresses your your tenderest branches that quiver
in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and
shake them in theier clinging to the earth.

- Khalil Gibran

Monday, August 11, 2008

In Memoriam: Isaac Hayes aka Black Moses

I was visiting a friend in Harlem yesterday when I learned of Isaac Hayes' death. The texts and emails came one right after the other. Like most of you, I was felt a pang in my heart. "Back to back! What does this mean?" I wondered. During this corridor last year (July and August), the community was also hit back-to-back with great losses: Sekou Sundiata, Mzee Moyo, Asa Hilliard, and Jon Lucien. This time, it was Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes, during the same weekend. Dr. Barbara Ann Teer just three weeks ago. I'm not sure what our ancestors are trying to say to us with this rapid succession of death, but clearly they seek our attention.

A few friends reached out wondering where was the "Put On BLAST!™" for Isaac. I didn't send one yesterday because by the time I got to a computer, I figured "everyone" knew. I don't think that was their point. So this morning, I searched to see what light, if any, I could contribute to this sad news. I found Black Moses' bio on his official website. Dated 2003, it's eight pages wonderful! Even though I grew up on Isaac Hayes, have his music in the album collection that I "stole" from my father, been to Memphis and learned even more about him, I see now, after having read the "complete story," that I didn't know jack! Who knew that Hayes was an African king?!? As though his legendary, ground-shattering musical innovations weren't enough to hold our attention.

Besides loving those looooooooong, moody, soulful songs that Hayes gifted us, I loved the image of Black Moses. His image, coupled with the presence of my father in real life and John Amos as James Evans on Good Times, helped shaped my subconscious childhood definition of what a strong Black man was supposed to look like; how cool he was supposed to be.

Read excerpt below or click HERE to read the full story (equals eight pages).
In the spring 2003, one year after his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and a celebrated move back home to Memphis, the public persona of Isaac Hayes is surging forward with a momentum usually associated with teen pop stars and visiting royalty. In fact, Hayes is resident royalty for more than a decade, a coroneted King of the Ada coastal district of Ghana in western Africa where he is a member of the Royal Family. Instead of a palace, he built an 8,000 square foot educational facility through his Isaac Hayes Foundation (IHF). He is most certainly the only King on earth with an Oscar, Grammy awards, #1 gold records, his voice on an animated TV series, a radio show, two restaurants, a best-selling cookbook, and top secret barbecue sauces.

In Memphis, his five-hour nightly radio shift on WRBO Soul Classics 103.5 FM is still the #1-rated show in town in its third year on the air. The city has taken to a new slogan: "Memphis: Home of the Blues, Birthplace Of Rock 'n Roll," underscored by the Smithsonian's Memphis Rock 'n Soul Museum just off Beale Street, the institution's first permanent exhibition outside Washington, DC, and New York. On May 2nd, Hayes presided over the opening day ceremonies of Soulsville, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and a $20 million redevelopment project. It is located at a legendary address, 926 East McLemore Avenue, the revitalized original site of the record company where Hayes got his start in 1962. He has also been an integral fundraiser (and consciousness raiser) on behalf of the Stax Music Academy next door, a facility where he and others will develop and teach future Memphis musicians.

Isaac Hayes was born in the rural poverty of a sharecropper's family on August 20, 1942, in Covington, Tennessee, about thirty miles south of Memphis. Orphaned in infancy, he and his sister Willette were raised up by their maternal grandparents, Willie and Rushia Addie-Mae Wade. They instilled love in Hayes for the simple pleasures of country life. "We raised our own foods," he says, "we raised most of our crops, we had cattle, we had pork. Our corn was ground at the grist mill and we had molasses at the sorghum mill. A sack of flour would last several months. My grandmother did a lot of canning, preparing food and putting it up in the winter. My grandfather would go hunting and bring in a bunch of rabbits, so we were good. When we came to the city of Memphis, we didn't have anything to compare it to."

Memphis was supposed to represent new opportunity, and it did for awhile, as the 7-year old saw his first supermarket and enjoyed his first Popsicle, and grandfather found work at a tomato factory. But soon his health failed, he became disabled, and when Hayes was 11, his grandfather died. "That's when we really fell on hard times," Hayes remembers, "when I started doing the agricultural work like picking cotton." Ironically, his stately home today in East Memphis looks out on those same fields where cotton grew for nearly two centuries. As a youngster he ran errands, cut lawns, delivered groceries and wood to homes for fuel, cleaned bricks for two cents apiece, and shined shoes on Beale Street.

Later on, working as a bus boy and dishwasher at a restaurant, "one day it was kinda slow and I told the cook, 'I been watching you, lemme do a hotdog.' And he said, 'ok, come on do it,' so I prepared an artful hot dog, stuck it up in the window, tapped the bell and stepped back, watched the waitress deliver it, the guy ate it, and it was cool. I started doing some catfish, some hamburger steak, and the guy loved it. I eventually began doing a little short order cook stuff."

To an adolescent, the poverty was stifling; combined with the self-consciousness brought on by puberty, believing he wasn't dressed sharp enough to attract the girls, Hayes secretly dropped out of Manassas High School. After six weeks, a delegation of teachers arrived at the house and told his grandmother the news. "God, I felt like I had gone through the floor, but they said, 'This young man has too much to offer, we cannot afford to lose him.'" The teachers gathered their hand-me-down clothes for Hayes, who resolved to stick it out and get his diploma. The experience left an indelible mark on him for life, and Hayes' dedication to literacy, education and teaching initiatives is an outgrowth of what those teachers did for him. Years later, when the State Of Tennessee honored him with a marker, Hayes chose to place it at Manassas High.

Hayes sang in church since age five, but stopped when his voice cracked in adolescence. Years later, "when I started back singing, my voice was in the basement." He was persuaded by his high school guidance counselor to enter a talent show, singing "Looking Back," Nat King Cole's 1958 hit. "When I finished, the house was on its feet, man, and I was a hit." Overnight the girls, even those a couple of grades ahead, were sending lunch invitations. "Career change! So I started pursuing music big time."

He joined the school band and learned to play saxophone from Lucian Coleman (brother of hard-bopper George Coleman). Hayes sang gospel with a group called the Morning Stars, doo-wop with Sir Isaac & the Doo-Dads, the Teen Tones, and the Ambassadors, even some jazz with the Ben Branch house band at Curry's Club Tropicana out in north Memphis. He started playing sax and singing blues with Calvin Valentine and The Swing Cats, and doing prom dates with The Missiles. He took a crash course learning piano by literally faking it for the first time on a New Year's Eve R&B job at the Southern Club with Jeb Stuart, "because I needed the money."

Hayes was finally graduated at age 21 from Manassas, Class of 1962. It was the year after the first releases began to trickle out of a new label called Stax Records, part of the Satellite Records company and Satellite Record Store that started back in '58, housed in the old Capitol Theatre on the corner of College & McLemore. Hayes had won seven college scholarships for vocal music that he chose not to pursue. Instead, he became adept enough at the piano to land a job with baritone saxophonist bandleader Floyd Newman at the Plantation Inn across the river in West Arkansas. Newman was also the staff baritone musician on Stax recording sessions and was up for a date himself with his own working group in late 1963: "Frog Stomp," the only solo single ever cut by Newman, was co-written by and features Hayes (on piano), the first major notch in his discography at Stax Records.

"During the time that I was there," Hayes recalls of the session, " Jim Stewart, the proprietor of Stax looked at me and said, 'Look, Booker T is off in Indiana U., from Booker T & the MG's, and I need a keyboard player so you want the job?' 'Yeaaa!' I jumped at it." His first paid sessions were with Otis Redding in early 1964, and Hayes was soon a ubiquitous presence at Stax. Not long after, co-writer and producer David Porter suggested to Hayes that they collaborate as songwriters. After a few modest starts for Porter ("Can't See You When I Want To"), Carla Thomas "How Do You Quit [Someone You Love]"), and Sam & Dave ("I Take What I Want"), "everything just blew up big time," Hayes says.

As writers (under the name 'Soul Children'), arrangers and producers, the Hayes-Porter duo became Stax's hottest commodity starting in 1966-67. Sam & Dave's "You Don't Know Like I Know," "Hold On! I'm Comin'," "Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody," "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," "I Thank You," "Wrap It Up," and the R&B Grammy award-winning "Soul Man" were among some 200 Hayes-Porter compositions that became standards. For Carla Thomas there was "Let Me Be Good To You," "B-A-B-Y" and "Something Good (Is Going To Happen To You)." Johnnie Taylor scored with "I Had a Dream" and "I Got To Love Somebody's Baby." Mable John's one and only hit was Hayes-Porter's "Your Good Thing (Is About To End)." Presenting Isaac Hayes, his debut solo LP was recorded as a trio (with MG's bassist Duck Dunn and drummer Al Jackson) in the wee hours after an all-night Stax party. The intimate, sensual jazz-flavored jam session approach (including three 9-minute versions of standards) did not reach the charts, but served as a blueprint for future LPs.

Hayes' work with Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Booker T & the MG's, the Mar-Keys, the Bar-Kays, Rufus & Carla Thomas, and virtually the entire Stax roster created what was known as the Memphis Sound. It transformed popular music, was absorbed by everyone from Elvis Presley and Ray Charles to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. History notes that, with the exception of Booker T & the MG's, Isaac Hayes worked on more Stax sessions and tracks than any other musician.

On April 4, 1968, as Stax Records was finalizing its sale to Gulf & Western Corporation, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel in downtown Memphis. Hayes, who had marched for Civil Rights with King, was scheduled to meet with him that very day. "It affected me for a whole year," Hayes told Rob Bowman in Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story Of Stax Records. "I could not create properly. I was so bitter and so angry. I thought, What can I do? Well, I can't do a thing about it so let me become successful and powerful enough where I can have a voice to make a difference. So I went back to work and started writing again."
Read the full bio at

Rest in Peace, Black Moses and may God keep his family, friends, colleagues during this difficult time.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

In Memoriam: Bernie Mac

Around 8:30am, I got the sad news from Dean Meminger of NY1 News. Bernie Mac had died earlier this morning. I didn't believe it and at the risk of insulting Dean's journalistic integrity, I asked him "Are you sure?" Taken in with nothing but pure childlike denial, I kept saying to myself that that couldn't possibly be true. That news was hard to take. Dead at 50...of pneumonia. Damn! I thought about his wife, the children, and his world of comedians. I sighed a heavy prayer and prepared to send out a Put On BLAST! once I was able to provide a link to the story.

The news didn't really sink in until I turned to the television news a few hours later. The pictures did me in.

I was a huge fan of the Bernie Mac Show. Bought the season DVD's and the whole nine. Often times when stand-up comics as raw a Bernie Mac get prime-time sitcoms, the comics morph into watered down versions of their naturally funny selves. Except Bernie. For American "mainstream" television, his show was digestibly raw. The writing was crisp, the momentum was solid, the family was distinctive enough to keep your attention (and they all looked good), and the lessons were packaged right. In mass media, we don't have enough examples of strong, stable Black men in a father role, telling it like it T-I is. All of that wrapped up in 'funny' made for one of the best comedies on television.

And Bernie's funny was old-school manly, sophisticated, but lurking at the same time. He pulled funny from dark corners and crevices because he said things that you just weren't supposed to say out loud. That's why we loved him. That's why this passing felt unfair. That's why we're gonna miss him something awful.

Rest In Peace Bernie Mac...but keep the party going up there. Comedy just won't be the same without you.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Poetry: "I Love You, Nado"

I Love You, Nado
(inspired by Nina Simone's "I Loves You, Porgy")

Monday he came back for me,
Like he had before.
Deep inside I knew I had to go.
With his hard hands he handled me,
He handled me so…

When he took me Monday
I had your favorite dress on.
It was like dying slowly.

Tears stayed hidden, longing for our sacred union

Where your maleness was my blessing,
And my presence was your soul's desire.
We were brilliant and unscathed.

You hushed my quivering fears.
In our first awakening, you found my softness
And nightly kisses swallowed each breast.

The last time your gentle hands
Caressed my little fingers
I breathed softly into your mouth
And I gave my burdens rest.

But by October, Fear ascended to betray.
Quietly creeping, preparing you for war,
Falsely accusing our love too pure.

Now I exhale tears with every borrowed breath.
They fall everywhere now.
They wander within the rustling leaves
When trees take their gentle beatings.
And when chill is birthed
They salute icicles with awe-full knowing.


He’s calling for me, Nado.
I don’t want to settle for his company.
Come back, please save me.

Don't leave me where
He can handle me…
Where he can handle me with his hard hands.

© 1997, 2005 April R. Silver

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Quote of the Week: New Ideas

I learned this quote from performance poet, playwright, and educator MO BEASLEY (a dear friend, client, and fellow Howardite). Mo was conducting his popular "N-Word" workshop for high school students in Mt. Vernon last spring when he explained the importance of seeking out the deep origins of the word nigga, a word that many young people find harmless. He challenged them to expand their minds and offered this gem:

"Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions."
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

By the end of the full day workshop, the N-Word wasn't all that hot anymore.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Login Be Damned!

About 4 years ago I took my first luxury vacation. I treated myself to a trip to Puerto Rico for a few days, stayed at a luxury resort, bought anything I saw that I wanted without worrying about cost (I just needed to try that once in my lifetime), and toured most of the island. It was a wonderful experience!

Prior to leaving, I was chatting with Sanchez and told her of the gift I was giving myself. She was immediately happy for me. She mentioned that one of the mistakes that her fellow activists made in their younger years was the over-emphasis on work and their lack of appreciation for the value of retreating. In the 60’s, to not work tirelessly was to betray the revolution, to sell out the community, they thought. Sanchez warned me of the dangers of such attitudes. What is the point of getting older if you’re older and run down? Our chat reminded me of a quote from an aged Sammy Davis, Jr. (and I’m paraphrasing): If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself when I was younger.

Though I am a recovering workaholic who relapses into all-nighters from time to time, I still believe that we benefit if we disconnect from our demanding schedules to retreat, rest, and replenish. Intellectually, it’s a logical thing to do, but our guilt and/or competitiveness gets in the way. Work and being busy, for most of us, is a badge of honor. Our self-esteem is wrapped up in how hard we work, how many hours of sleep we didn’t get, and the fact that we’re on email at 4:00am. My generation - and the one after us - seem hell bent on always being “on.” More than one person reading this, sleeps with her or his BlackBerry, laptop, or books by their side. More than one person reading this has felt this peculiar sense of “disconnect” when, let’s say, we’re away from the computer, left the PDA at home, or the system is down. What do we matter when not logged on?

We have a greater capacity to bypass the username/password routine than we give ourselves credit for. And I say concepts of vacations and retirement are overstated. Better to re-create life-long schedules that mirror the natural order of work and retreat, production and rest.

Monday, August 4, 2008

5 Tips for Business Email

Like many of you, I live on email and conduct the bulk of my business correspondence via email. And like many of you, I'm sure, I feel oddly disconnected if I'm away from desktop or BlackBerry for extended periods of time. It becomes this big "thing" in my head if I'm going to be offline. I feel like I'm losing a race, missing out...guilty even. God help me.

But with so many people depending heavily on email to make the world a better place, then how come folks are still doing it so inefficiently? It boggles my mind. It's 2008 and there's still a need for email etiquette tips. Who knew? Well, here's a brief re-cap:

5 Things You Should Know By Now When Emailing for Business
1. ALL CAPS = NOT COOL! "Caps" is a formatting technique used for emphasis, not for communicating in regular tone. When you email someone in ALL CAPS it is tantamount to yelling. PLEASE STOP YELLING AT US!

2. If you're hip enough to know what "EOM" means then you gotta be smart enough to avoid looooong subject headings that require us to open the email anyway, right? One would think? If I have to open your EOM-labled email because your subject heading is long, then what's the point, knucklehead?

3. Refresh your subject headings as often as you can. If - during the course of those lengthy email conversations with colleagues that include a reply from everybody - we have to sort through a hundred messages that all have the same subject heading (i.e., "About Tomorrow's Meeting"), then you're making our brains work harder. Flip it up a little, change the subject heading, but keep it logical. It will help your reader track the email thread better. Maybe your heading can address a new point in the conversation, as in "I Agree: Let's Change to 6pm."

4. Subject headings are best if short. And if you're in the email marketing business and your subject headings are longer than 40 characters or so, then you're losing your audience. No need to say everything in the heading. Instead, create a heading that compels the reader to take action or be excited about what you have to tell them. I've learned this the hard way and some of my clients still don't abide by this "best practice." But where you can, keep it short. Long headings come off as amateurish.

5. Sorry, some may disagree, but if you are conducting business - even over email - then include a contact number as a back up. Business is business and if I need to connect with you about something that I don't want transmitted over the Internet, then make it easy for me to reach you. A telephone number says that you are prepared for possibilities...even the unthinkable: that email may not be the appropriate means of of communication for every single exchange (human interaction is still an option, you know). And let's keep it real, maybe I don't want to talk to you either, but in case I have to...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Forty Backwards

I originally published the essay below (via Put On BLAST!) two summers ago (July 2006). Here's the replay, with a few extra gems. The response was tremendous then. Thought you might enjoy it now.

Forty Backwards

Last month I turned 38. With 40 fast approaching, I’ve been more reflective than usual. I’ve begun to observe life from over my shoulder, glancing back at how things used to be. I’m ever cognizant of how me and my momma’s 40 is going to be so very different. When Jenny B. was my age, she had a 16-year-old daughter, a 15-year-old son, and had been married for 18 years. She came from the “stand by your man” era, when “shacking up” was not nearly as common as it is today.

Dr. King was assassinated the year I was born. Jenny B. wasn’t at a college campus protesting, or in the streets. She was a “country” newcomer living in a big city with a baby. Plus, she had a husband, a house, and a job to manage. Her journey was a proud domestic one, but her little girl would chart a different course.

Unlike my mother, I went to college right after high school. She and daddy insisted. And unlike many of her Baby Booming peers, I have never been married and don’t have any illusions about that institution. Children would be a welcome blessing, but I have chosen not to have any right now because the conditions just ain’t right. I do own my own company, however. I work with artists. That’s about as much nipple-grabbing as I can stand. I’m a far reach from my elder’s crown, but I’ve found a few gems to set. Wrote some notes about 'em. Would you like to hear 'em? Here they go:

From Jenny B.
  • Always give God the glory in all that you do.
  • In whatever you do, you’re either going to spend time or money. Make your best choices knowing that you have to give up one of them.
  • You cannot control people’s actions. You can only control your response to those actions.
  • There are certain people you have to treat with a long-ladled spoon so they don’t bite your finger.
  • You have to train people how to deal with you. Always be loving and sweet as you let people know that you are not the one to f**k with.
  • You cannot depend on me and f**k with me at the same time.
  • The best way to get a man is to chase him until he catches you.
My Father
  • Whenever I lost hope or missed my mark, Eddie Silver, an eternal optimist, would say, “You’re closer today, than you were yesterday, baby.”
  • My father’s simplest observations often reveal how discerning he is. I learned from him first, for example, that when dictating a telephone number, “‘O’ is a letter and ‘0’ is a number…as in, “our telephone number is (212) 555-62 "zero" 1, not 62 "oh" 1.
  • “Smooth talking men will gladly give nice women like you $20 today because he knows that he’ll get $100 from you tomorrow.” Those were my father’s sober words of wisdom after a nasty breakup from my first BIG relationship. At the time, I didn’t know that the man I was dating was a con artist. Well…I saw him conning other people, but I never thought that he’d con me. How silly. That warning from my father helped me to armor up a bit. Since then, I’ve been suspicious of, not mesmerized by smooth talkers.
  • “If a man greets you on the street and says ‘hi,’ sometimes all he really means is ‘hi.’ He’s not always trying to pick you up. It’s okay to smile back.
  • Daddy was the music man of the family. Romping through his record crates ignited my passion for music. My tastes would mirror his…from Nina to Stevie to Hugh to Prince.
My Brother Omar
  • There is a quiet innocence and deep-rooted gentleness even in the coarsest of exteriors.
  • Sometimes, people don’t want you to give them advice, even if that’s what you do in life. Sometimes they just want you to listen.
  • You don’t get what you deserve in life, you get what you ask for.
  • “I don’t work for my boss, I work for my money.”
  • “Of course, a woman can get her man to do just about anything, but she can’t make him mean it.”
From My Ex-Boyfriends and Other Adventurous Episodes
  • Men and women are not equal, but we are equivalent. We have different (not inadequate) ways of communicating what we need and want.
  • The truth is always used to sell the lie.
  • Con artists tend to talk a lot. Overly chatty people are either lying to you or themselves.
  • Never date a man that won’t show you his ID or driver’s license.
  • Even romantic relationships are about power. They move forward best when both people are on equal footing.
  • We are all dating the same man! Despite how loving and different they appear during courtship, there remains one indisputable fact: most (not all) men will eventually reveal themselves to be powerfully self-centered and/or emotionally under-developed. I have found that women who seek romantic love relationships with men - be the women Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Yoruba, Atheist, bohemian, corporate, Black, Latina, Asian, White, under and over 30, big-boned, slim, sweet or tart - have this same problem with men. It’s best to resolve that the depth of a man’s ego is unfathomable. We should stop trying to figure them out because it is never going to make sense how deftly he disregards your once cherished feelings. And if you think your man is different, please go gather more gems for your crown.
So cheers to the next forty years! And here’s one parting gem that is sure to bring you a sigh of relief:
Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering. - - Don Miguel Ruiz (author of “The Four Agreements”)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Arts & Activism 101

It was in 2005 that I had one of my "A-Ha!" moments. I was directed to connect with an organization in the south that "spoke my language," an organization that I should know: Alternate ROOTS. It was exciting to discover them. I felt like I should know them already, given my background. But I had been so busy with the work of growing my company (AKILA WORKSONGS, Inc.) that I rarely found time to pause and process the context of my work. Sure, I could explain it. In fact, I'm sure I could over-explain it. Therein lied the problem: I could not succiently articulate the essence of my work. Then I landed on the Alternate ROOTS website and there it was, "arts and activism." I have been wearing out the phrase ever since. It says just enough, and in some ways too little. Perfect!

I'm noticing that folks are adorning their work with the phrase more and more. For example, after talking with a peer recently about my work, my approach, my marketing techniques, and what I call this body of work (arts and activism), I discovered that that work (what I shared with this gentleman earlier) actually re-presented as this gentleman's own lecture...under the heading that he just learned from me.

Well, I think it's a good thing when good things expand. I think it's also important to tell the truth about what we know. In my speeches and in casual settings, I often link this catchy phrase back to the folks I heard it from first just a few years ago. I have stamped my work accordingly for the past three years. And with media, public relations, and marketing being a huge part of the work I do professionally, that makes for a pretty big stamp.

So, let me archive it here now, in writing, the origin of this "new" catch-phrase: as far as I know, the poetic and intelligent folks at Alternate ROOTS birthed the phrase "arts and activism" and AKILA WORKSONGS popularized it...the description, not the concept, of course.

Friday, August 1, 2008

In Memoriam: Remembering Mzee Moyo

First published via "Put On BLAST!"
August 18, 2007

Dear Friends and Family,

I'm a little numb after having received the news of Mzee Moyo's passing. This is sad news to have to share today.

It has been suggested to me, on more than one occasion, that maybe I should leave my sentiments out of the notices that I send about people's deaths. Today, I don't know if that's a piece of advice I can adhere to. It just wouldn't seem right to not share with people how instrumental Mzee (pronounced "m-zay") was in helping to sustain and promote African-ness here in Brooklyn and beyond. And perhaps this is selfish, but I want people to know how instrumental he was in helping me develop my own cultural arts foundation. There are countless numbers of people who he has mentored and supported and I'm just one example. Even still, I think it's important to our collective well-being that we share personal stories of people who represent light and progress in the world. Mzee taught me a lot about life, and especially about the arts and activist communities here in New York. Though I was born in NYC, I spent my teenage and young adult years in LA and WDC. When I returned home in the early 90's, it was Mzee who gave me my first job after I left the public school system - determined to be some kind of entrepreneur. It was mostly through him that I was given the opportunity to practically blend my love of the arts and my burning desire to embrace people of African ancestry. When he hired me as Office Assistant at the International African Arts Festival (IAAF) - the organization he co-founded over three decades ago - I was able to do my life's work and pay bills. Though challenging, the ability to work for and service my community grounded me ways I probably still don't fully know. Beyond employment, Mzee provided a critical platform for me and helped me to broaden my understanding of the world. The fatherly, loving encouragement and guidance that he gave me, coupled with his insights and pearls of wisdom, plus his confidence in my ability grow within the organization and to contribute to our collective struggle, proved to be tremendously empowering and humbling at the same time.

I am not 100% clear on what's the best or right way to properly announce someone's death or to express one's sorrow...especially via email. Please know that my most sincere intent is to add some light onto Mzee's name and legacy and to pronounce my love for him, his incredible hard work, and his dedication to Black people. It's hard to be quiet when considering the scope of his work and its positive influence on so many people's lives.

I'd like to join with Basir Mchawi, via his official statement below, and invite you to attend Mzee's homegoing service. Basir is the current head of the IAAF and is also a producer and on-air host of WBAI's Education at the Crossroads radio program. Please read his message from earlier today.

It is with profound sorrow that we officially announce that Brother Mzee Moyo has joined the ancestors. Arrangements have been finalized. The viewing and service will take place at:
House of the Lord Church
415 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, New York

Thursday, August 23, 2007.
The viewing will begin at 4:00 pm.
The service will follow at 6:00 pm.

The family is currently working out the details of where cards and donations can be sent. That information will follow.

Spread the word far and wide so that we can celebrate Mzee's life and give him a proper send off. Light peace and progress to the spirit of Mzee Moyo (Gerald Smith)

Basir Mchawi

In Memoriam: Dr. Barbara Ann Teer: Blowing Our Minds with Blackness!

A Personal Journey with Dr. Barbara Ann Teer

"We are here on this earth to learn how to be great ancestors!" I heard that quote from a Yoruba priest a few years ago. Leave it to the Africans to drop such pearls of wisdom with which we should adorn ourselves. The spirit world is now joined by Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, a larger-than-life proud Black woman who passed on July 21, 2008. It was an unexpected and hard-to-process passing. The news was heavy for so many of us in the "arts and activism" world.

A few days after her passing, I was invited to give personal remembrances, along with the another larger-than -life figure, Mr. Amiri Baraka. Mr. Baraka and I spoke of the relevance of the National Black Theater (NBT) and Barbara Ann Teer: he from the perspective of her peer, her collaborator; I spoke, humbly, of the guidance she gave me as a young event producer in 1997.

It was at the National Black Theater where I presented and produced my first "show." It was called "State of the Art: Expressions of a People" (Jauary 24, 1997). It featured asha bandele, Ras Baraka, Kwikstep and Rocafella, The Last Poets, Tracey Lee, Kenny Mahud, Jessica Care Moore, Tracie Morris, James Mtume, One Step Beyond, Aarian Pope, and Mista Raja. It was hosted by Rahzel, The Godfather of Noyze. Word got out the this event was the place to be. KRS-One even called me and asked if he could perform (no lie). And he did. Supernatural was there too and they rocked it! Savion Glover, Jared Crawford, and Raymond King (from Bring in Da Noise/Bring in Da Funk were scheduled to perform but they stood us up). I got BMI to co-sponsor, along with the International African Arts Festival. The Festival, however, was more than a sponsor. They helped me, an ambitious bright-eyed producer, stay grounded, for I had no idea how to produce such a show. That was evident in the fact that it was five hours long! People complained (a little) but something compelled them to stay the whole night, regardless. The house was packed and we all sweated it out there at NBT. We were not merely experiencing a "show," but a ritual, as Dr. Teer would say. We were lounging in our own beauty, affirming how wonderful it is to be in love with yourself, your family, your talent, your own greatness.

Nabii Faison was my hands-on guide on behalf of Dr. Teer for much of this producer's journey. All his technical direction was interwoven with cultural education. Every time I visited the theater or spoke with Nabii during any one of our pre-production meetings, he spoke lovingly of Dr. Teer, her relevance, and why this work I was doing was needed as a continuation of work done before me. It was an awesome baptism, of sorts. My mind could not fully grasp the stories represented in all the theater pictures and production posters and event handouts that I was being introduced to. At the time, I didn't fully understand the significance of the African wood statues and other art that filled the space. Little did I know what I career path I was taking as a then twenty-eight year old. I bet Dr. Teer knew...even from a distance.

I don't think I had much interaction with Dr. Teer until the night of the program. But she was guiding in spirit. She was a larger-than-life figure that oversaw EVERYTHING. She was goddess-like and here I was, this little untested "unknown" trying to produce all up in her space. Outside of being vouched for by Mzee Moyo and K. Mensah Wali of Festival, I had very little to show for myself. But people saw me working hard and my persistence must have softened them. Good people stepped up to help the program along. Word got out, and I as mentioned, KRS-One called to say that he'd heard about the event and wanted to perform (that connect came from Pee Wee Dance, a new friend). I thought the whole thing was a practical joke and started to hang up on the fool who was wasting my time. But KRS-One's voice is rather distinctive, you know? After about two minutes, I was convinced that I was talking to the Blast Master himself. Then I morphed into a five-year old!

"Really?!? This is really KRS-One?!?" My sweating him was shameless for a few minutes while I gathered my composure. I knew I made it "big" if KRS-One was asking for permission to perform at my show. Day-um!

As important, Dr. Teer was uplifting the event from afar, too. I learned that she was checking to see if some of her friends would attend. Dr. Leonard Jefferies came and so did actor Glynn Thurman. "What in the world have I embarked on here?," I wondered. I had grand visions for the program, but that was me aiming high. I didn't really know this thing could be pulled off. I didn't really know whose house I was in. That evening was a practical blessing and one of great symbolism. Dr. Teer built the state-of-the-art institution where "State of the Art," the production could live. The National Black Theater was a safe haven for kindred souls like ours. Clean, spirit-filled, and self-reflecting. When you walked into NBT you felt "at home." It's an empowering thing to be under the guidance of a goddess-like Black woman who is proud of her ancestry.

I had come to do several more programs at NBT. None again like "State of the Art," but important programs, nonetheless. I founded Co-Motion a few years later. It was a artist/activist organization that emerged in response to the killing of Amadou Diallo. James Mtume was an original member. When we had our first community townhall meeting at NBT. Dr. Teer was there...teaching and supporting. HipHop Speaks! was also birthed at the National Black Theater. It was a series of quarterly grassroots forums and performances on the state of hip hop. Kevin Powell conceived of the series in 2000 and I co-organized and co-promoted the series with him from conception to completion for year one. We started at The Theater with about 300 people. By the fall of that year, we tripled the turnout. Dr. Teer was at HipHop Speaks! too...coaching and guiding us on, either in person or on one of our insightful conference calls. She remained larger-than-life in all my work with her through the years. Her wisdom seemed unattainable.

I did grasp something, however. Something quite Teerian. I didn't know it then, but I'm clear-headed now: I was following in her footsteps not because this kind of work was something worthy to do. I was (and still am) doing this cultural work because it must be done! The ascension of Black people depends on Black people... so what are we waiting for?!?! That was the drive of Dr. Teer. We are entitled to the power and brilliance of our own's an absolute! Dr. Teer's tone was imperative...always. She was not a whiner, but was bold and unconventional about her love of Black people. I have rarely met women more boldly committed to "blowing our minds with Blackness." I'm honored to have been personally touched by her example.

In heaven now, as it was on earth, her spirit teaches us to be more in love with ourselves. Thank you, Dr. Teer. Thank you NBT family.