In Honor of Black Lives That Mattered

Dear Mama:
You gave me life
I will forever be your baby, your big boy, your little man, your young man, your son
You felt my first kick
You heard my first cry
You witnessed my first breath

 

Dear government:
You tried to teach me to fear myself
The clock started counting down on my first day
I was your public enemy #1
You declared the mistakes I made growing up a death sentence
You heard my last cry
You stole my last breath

 

As my heart beat that last time
As I exhaled my last breath and you inhaled your next
As I exhaled my…last…breath my life force was transferred to you
Use this gift wisely
Let my name be your battle cry
My Black life mattered, make my [Black] death matter too
~tamia rashima summer 2015

MHP (& me) @ BC FA14

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Where do I begin?! I guess I’ll begin by copy and pasting my Facebook post about my experience on last night. To quote myself, “People who know me know that tonight was a dream come true. I got to meet and chat with my (soror) shero Melissa Harris-Perry. Not only did I get to hear a deep lecture about Ferguson that adeptly and thoroughly connected racial inequality, residential inequality, economic inequality, pop culture, and George Romney to that terrible injustice; but I also got to ask the last question of the evening and MHP’s response was everything I could have asked for and more. I am even more inspired ‪#‎FiredUpInTheBestWayPossible‬ to do the work. ‪#‎TheStruggleContinues‬ As she signed my book we talked about our various connections ‪#‎UVa‬ ‪#‎DST‬ ‪#‎Duke‬. Thank’s KG for all you did to make tonight happen. — with Kevin Jason Gin at Boston College.”
Yeah so that happened! …when I get overwhelmed and have so much to say in my writing I revert to my most preferred method of communication: lists. ;) (KG get it together.) So here goes my highlights from last night in bullets (ummm some irony right there).

My MHP @ BC FA14 highlights:

Her lecture.
  • I’ve been to a lot of teach-ins, presentations, forums, symposia, conferences, etc. but it’s been a loooooong time since I felt like an undergrad (UVa ’00) in a lecture hall. Last night I had multiple flashbacks of days in my Government (American Politics concentration) & African American Studies lectures (including Julian Bond’s History of the Civil Rights Movement course). I’m not gonna lie, while I loved the small seminars of grad school (UVM ’06), I had a deep appreciation for that lecture hall style educational experience …which is no doubt connected to nostalgia and not my love for lecture style classes.
  • As for the lecture itself, it was #Everything. Let me know if you’d like to see my notes.
My question for her & a paraphrase of her response.
  • Q: I’m not a parent yet but I’ve been blessed to call so many other folks children my own including my now college-age niece and nephew; my friends kids, a ton of middle school through college-age kids through my work as an educator; and more recently I’ve been blessed to get to know a few of the Dream Defenders. I call them my kids too. I’m even hosting two of them this coming weekend as they visit Tufts University [from Florida] for the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference. What would you say is the most important attitude or approach we could be teaching our kids about growing up in the USA today? You’re a mom [she had her little baby girl with her] so I imagine you think about this fairly regularly yourself.
  • A: On this I will simply share the highlights cause I cannot capture the I really wanted to record her response but she was talking directly to me the entire time so I didn’t. …as KG said, “Recorded in your brain [I'll add and in my soul]. All that matters.”
    • Don’t teach the next generation what our truths are… …on that she shared an anecdote about how a young lady mentioned to her that they were in the same in that they are both biracial. MHP responded to the girl, “I don’t know about you but I’m Black. You need to go outside and be Black.” …she shared that as she later reflected on her own response she realized it came from growing up in the South at a time when you were Black or white: there was no such thing as biracial. But she realized for this generation that identifying as biracial is both real and liberating.
    • She shared that she’s down for the kids reconstructing identity and redefining the struggle so long as they know what they are reconstructing and redefining. EG teach the kids the history and teach it well. …but don’t just tell the kids, encourage them to ask questions of us and give them real answers.
    • As you can imagine I was already in and then she took it there… …many folks don’t know that MHP is also a theologian having studied theology and divinity at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. She shared that she knows that Martin Luther King Jr. met God and God showed him the mountain top. She said that she knows that because while MLK told us about the mountaintop – that it exists. that it’s real. – he did not tell us what he saw; he did not tell us what it looked like. She said like the reason babies can’t speak for their first year it’s because they would tell us way too much about what they know, but forget, on their journey to us. She said it’s not about heaven or hell: it’s just about knowing what God allows us to know before and after this time down here.
Our connections.
  • Our fathers. During her lecture she shared an anecdote that, even as a small child, her dad would sign cards, “The Struggle Continues, daddy.” You can see that she signs each book with that salutation. I did not get to share with her, but it’s very real, that one very important reason I am who I am around the work is that my father had me watching Eyes on the Prize every few months since I was in third grade. That and his and my mama’s tremendous storytelling about growing up in the South in the 40′s through 60′s.
  • UVA. She asked me where I went to school and I said UVa. She said, “My father was the first Dean of African American students at UVa.” I knew that but I’d forgotten that.
  • Duke. I worked at Duke and she received her Ph.D. from Duke. She said to me, “We kept just missing each other.”
  • DST. She’s my soror. She pledged the Pi Omicron chapter at Wake Forest. I’m not sure the year. I pledged the Kappa Rho chapter at UVa in ’99. #1KPSP99
  • #DJH. There is one last thing that I’ll need to post later for fear of blowing a surprise. I will post the update later.
 The pics.
  • Last last last I wrote this on my facebook Nay, my best friend and soror, “Nay look at how 5-0 is grillin’ me in that pic!?! …I could write a whole paper (or Astroland blog post) or create a presentation on that dynamic alone!! …ummmmmm I may just do that. MHP shared that his presence was due to death threats she receives daily. So he was there to protect her. …and her little baby girl!! She had the baby with her. …I took lil mama’s pic but I don’t post other folks children w/o their permission…”
That’s all I’ve got. Enjoy the pics. Let me know if you wish to see my notes from the lecture.
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At the Crossroads of Artistry & Activism: Dr. Harry Belafonte Visits Berklee College of Music

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unedited.There was no shortage of great moments on last Thursday evening March 6, 2014. On that night Berklee College of Music honored Harry Belafonte – activist, humanitarian, actor, singer, truth teller – with an honorary doctorate and I was lucky to be in the number that evening to witness awe inspiring moment after moment after moment.

Each and every performance was perfect (no hyperbole). The show was visually stunning with many performing in bright colored Ankara and other ethnic flavored apparel. And that group of performers so accurately reflected the diversity of the Berklee community and the world.

It’s impossible to say what exactly was my top favorite moment. For one thing Belafonte’s speech included so many nuggets of wisdom and inspiration. He talked about his work down in Florida with The Dream Defenders which was especially meaningful to me having just this year worked to bring Ciara Taylor, the Political Director of the The Dream Defenders, to Berklee for our MLK Celebration Brunch. In Belafonte’s speech he passed down a message shared with him by actor and activist Paul Robeson calling “artists the guardians of truth.” The connection to Ciara’s message back in January that “artists are guardians of our future” was not lost on me. At the MLK brunch Ciara shared that ”As artists, as guardians of our culture, your most important attribute to this world is your responsibility to not only guide the future of this nation, but countries across the globe through music.”

Thank you Universe for confirmation that I’m on the right path.

I was shocked to learn of Dr. Belafonte’s connection to the 1984 film Beat StreetDespite owning Beat Street and having watched it more than any human should watch any one film, I had no idea his connection to it until last Thursday. Turns out Belafonte co produced the film as well as volumes 1 & 2 of the original motion picture soundtrack. He even wrote some of the soundtrack’s songs. I’ve since found this video of Dr. Belafonte, Kool Herc (the originator of hip hop), Melle Mel, and others discussing the film at New York City’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture back in August 2013.

I know my favorite moment included when, from my 3rd row center vantage point, I looked up and saw Dr. Belafonte singing “We Shall Overcome” and I was overcome: I began to ugly cry like a two year old. Sigh. You know in this space of reflection and appreciation I can still feel what I felt last Thursday. We all know there is something incredibly special – kinetic, electric, dynamic, palpable, visceral – when music and activism intersect. I left the Berklee Performance Center on Thursday feeling a sensation that I haven’t been able to shake since. …and I hope I never do.

Perhaps you’ll know that feeling too after viewing this video of an unreal rendition of “We are the World” performed at the event by Berklee students faculty and staff. Towards the middle of the performance Dr. Belafonte stood to join the Berklee performers. Despite pushing away the microphone away from his mouth, Belafonte’s mere presence in the choir brought immense joy to the crowd. There’s no doubt that collectively we realized we were witnessing something of the charts special.

Sigh. On Thursday evening we learned from Berklee President Roger Brown that a literal translation of Belafonte is “beautiful fountain.” Really! And that’s Harry Belafonte’s “Christian name” as they say in some parts. And no name could be more fitting or prophetic to the life he’d lead because a “beautiful fountain” is exactly what he is. He is a fountain that has poured love, and kindness, and generosity, and beauty, and compassion, and all good things to this world and its inhabitants. I am a proud of beneficiary of his legacy.

As I wrote in response to my friend, colleague, and brother in the truth movement Matt Jenson’s blog post Put Under A Spell with Harry Belafonte“if he can do all he did?!?! …we have no excuses. We each can use our lives to unselfishly do a fraction of what all he did to put this planet on the right path.”

Thanks. Yes.

 

2/17/14: My Return to Astroland!

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It’s been entirely too long and so much has happened since I last posted on January 9, 2014. Where do I even begin?! Because so much has happened and I want to write about as much of it as possible, I’m writing this post digest style beginning with today and working my way backwards. Please read them all or pick and choose or skip around. Enjoy!

Monday, February 17 * My father’s 75th birthday!
First and foremost super happy birthday to my father who is 75 years young today. I’ve known him all my life ;) and for almost 36 years (minus a few I cannot remember) witnessed his journey. Of course there have been downs. There have even been way downs. However there have been way more ups and the person he is today is one I proud to call my father. I am incredibly happy and grateful the Universe saw fit that our worlds would intersect here on earth.

Sunday, February 16 * Jordan Davis’ birthday.
Another baby gone but not forgotten. Happy birthday kid. SMH. What more can I say?

Thursday, February 13 * My nephew’s 18th birthday.
My nephew is an incredibly kewel kid. He’s a basketball phenom, an honor’s student, and most importantly is a wonderful little (he’s taller than me) dude with a huge heart. For him grateful I am.

Monday, February 10 * the Bill Pierce Quartet @ the Arsenal Center for the Arts
While I know his work this was my first time seeing Berklee professor Bill Pierce, Chair of the Woodwind Department, perform live. As a person who studied jazz I can attest that Professor Pierce is legendary in that world and it was an honor to see him. He is most well known for his time playing with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. At the 2/10/14 Arsenal Center show Professor Pierce shared that that night was his first time being a frontman in a long time.

Really?! I witnessed no cobwebs at all. To say he killed it is an understatement. At one point I even turned to my friend who also plays saxophone and said, “you know you can’t play like that right?!” (Why am I so mean?). Let’s be clear Professor Pierce is galaxies above the rest.

Thursday, February 6 * The Center for Church and Prison’s Strategic Public Forum on Parole, Probation, and Mandatory Minimums: The need for sentencing reforms in America
This was my first event as an Executive Board member of CCP. Great turn out. Great resources. Great panel. I met so many wonderful people who are foot soldiers in local and national critical prison work. Next CCP event that I encourage local folks to attend is the Soulful Serenade: An Evening of Music featuring the Songs of Nina Simone on Saturday, March 15. Soulful Serenade is a fundraiser where proceeds will support both CCP and our the third annual conference in August 2014.

Saturday, February 8 * Berklee’s 48th Annual High School Jazz Festival
This is one of my most favorite Berklee events to work each year. I was a Room Captain which meant that I announced bands, worked with band leaders to complete paperwork, ensured the adjudication team had all they needed, and timed the bands’ performances (they have 18 mins max or they are disqualified). This year I had a room of small jazz combos. As with every year, some bands were ok and others were filled with ridiculous talent. This was my first year that I had a band go over time. It was so sad because the disqualified band was phenomenal. I mean they were so good I am going to one of their shows at their high school since they are local.

Each year I leave with a list of songs I need to find. This year topping the list was Victor Wooten’s arrangement of Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father.” Check it out. It’s dope.

Thursday, February 6 * The Clark Sisters at the Berklee Performance Center
I do not have adequate words to convey how powerful this show was. The Clark Sisters, a legendary gospel powerhouse group, did their thing. You know there is talent… – I am surrounded by incredible talent. – …but then there is something else altogether on a whole ‘nother level. I once heard someone describe Whitney, Mariah, and Celine as having “freak of nature” voices. Yup, it’s real and The Clark Sisters are on that level. Anyway for Christmas I gave my mother and sister tix to this show so they were here with me through the weekend.

Wednesday, February 5 * Trayvon Martin’s birthday.

Trayvon

Sunday, February 2 * My father’s Baptism and the Super Bowl
Here’s my Facebook post about the Baptism: I made this quick trip to NJ for a few reasons: the most important one is to see my father, The Mr. Henry Jordan, get Baptized this morning at Community Baptist Church in Englewood, NJ. On February 17, 2014 he’ll be 75 years young. #NothingIsImpossible #EverythingIsAMiracle #ThanksYes #TakeMeToTheWater — at Community Baptist Church.

I sent an email of my Super Bowl highlights to my friends. Here’s an excerpt: My favorite video is THIS ONE of the Apache and Blackhawk flyover. Some of you know that, despite me being anti-war, I very much love military airplanes (contradiction I know). Suffice it to say I’ve read a lot about the flyover preparations and was more excited to see this than the game. I’ve seen lots of jets and bombers in flyovers and air shows, and even a few helicopters, but never these helicopters. …well except for the few days Blackhawks flew over Boston last year. :( …I’ve been to a lot of events, mostly concerts, but other especially cool things like this too. I have to say this crowd was the friendliest I’ve ever encountered – especially in NJ. ;) People were just so happy to be there.

Saturday, February 1 * Black Girl Nerds’ book club twitter chat re: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
I love the BGN group and I especially love the Blerd Book Club. I could only attend part of the Twitter chat because I had to pick my niece up from work. The last question I answered prior to leaving the chat was Q5: What does the pond represent in The Ocean at the End of the Lane? To that I answered “A5: its not god but it represents the synergy of all things – sort of like the Tree of Souls in Avatar.” My favorite answer to that question came from Music Loving Chick who answered, “I think the pond represents the secrets of how the world works that most of us are better off not knowing.” Right on.

Thursday, January 30 * The Funky AB’s Stevie Wonder tribute show @ the Beehive
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Me with my favorite AB: THE Amy Bowles Bellamy. Girlfriend is wicked on the keys!

Monday, January 20 to Saturday, February 1 * Berklee MLK Celebration
For the first time in the history of Berklee we produced a week’s worth of events and activities celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I can’t say what my favorite event was; and I fear highlighting just one or two without noting them all leaves the impression that I had favorites. That’s certainly not the case. They were each incredibly special. But I wish to share some specifics so I’ll share three moving experiences I had.

The first was hearing Renese King and the Berklee students who sang background vocals perform the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” It was a most moving rendition beginning with Renese telling the story surrounding James Weldon Johnson’s writing of that song. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has been my most favorite song or as long as I can remember. I’ve seen it performed many times and I have countless recordings of it. I have to say Renese and company’s rendition was among the most powerful I’ve ever experienced so much so that I cried.

A second incredibly moving experience was the service project I chaperoned at the Long Island Shelter. We had just over fifty students participate in 5 projects on our MLK Celebration Day of Service. I accompanied 8 students and one other colleague to the Long Island Shelter where we shared songs, poems, lyrics and stories with the men in their transition program. There were about twenty-five men in the program all of whom are all 18+ years old, homeless, and recovering addicts.

While the words that we Berklee folks shared were certainly special, it was what happened after we shared that moved me most. One of our students closed out our presentation and then asked the residents if they had anything to share back with us. The began going in order down the row and the first few men passed. After about the fourth pass, one resident of the transition program volunteered to share back. He shared bits of his story and expressed deep gratitude and appreciation for all we just presented. From there the flood gates opened and many of the residents followed suit.

While we were encouraged to take pictures, none of us did because we were so present and in the moment. Imagine 8 college students who did not once pull out their phones or divert their attention away from what we were there to do. I can barely write about it without getting emotional. It was beyond compare incredibly moving.

Last but not least my #3 was having my father who is THE reason I care so much about Dr. King, come to town to attend the MLK Celebration Keynote Brunch featuring Ciara Taylor, Political Director of the Dream Defenders.

Friday, January 26 * Berklee BoCo Bash
Berklee opened our first new construction in the history of the institution. Previously all buildings were existing structures that Berklee acquired and renovated. This new space is primarily a res hall with a brand new amazing cafeteria and performance space. There are also practice rooms and the basement features state of the art ensemble spaces and recording studios.

Our new cafeteria is also used by Boston Conservatory (BoCo) students whose campus is just a stones toss from Berklee. It was my department’s job to present an opening event in the caf (cafeteria) so we threw the Berklee BoCo Bash (alliteration is half the battle in student affairs). The party was decades themed primarily focused on the 80′s, 90′s, and aughts. Amongst other things that meant specific types of snacks (bubble tape, lemon heads, combos, and much more) and our Boy Band Ensemble was the featured act of the evening performing songs from those decades.

For my part I busted out as much of my 90′s gear as I could acquire: a flannel shirt, Gap overalls with a baby doll tee, name earrings, and Chuck’s. Except that I didn’t have a name necklace or Doc Martin’s, I managed to pull together what could be considered my uniform from 1993 – 1998.

Sunday, January 12 * Bring on Oscar season!!
Moments before the 2014 Golden Globes I posted the following on my Facebook:
1) Dallas Buyer’s Club (flawless)
2) Short Term 12
3) Fruitvale Station
4) Gravity
5) A Place Beyond the Pines
6) 12 Years a Slave
7) Thor: The Dark World
8) Lee Daniels: The Butler
9) The Kings of Summer 10) Pacific RimHonorable Mention:The Best Man Holiday, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Way Way Back, Gangster Squad, Fast & Furious 62013 films I have not seen that I plan to see that might impact this list: Her, 42, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Much Ado About Nothing (I’m embarrassed that I’ve not seen this. You may revoke my Joss Whedon card now.), Philomena (the hype is getting to me), Parkland (this was in and out of the theater so quickly which is likely a sign but the trailer got me). Finally, sadly, and surprisingly, Star Trek: Into Darkness did not make this list at all.

I’m still committed to this list although I plan to see Nebraska and 20 Feet from Stardom pre Oscars.

Wednesday, January 15 * New Jack Swing party at Bella Luna
I had no business going to this event. I am too old to be going out in the middle of the week! Nevertheless I could not miss the opportunity to dance to “Dial My Heart” and “Here Comes the Hotstepper” and “Don’t Take it Personal” at a party (that is not one that I am having by myself in my living room. ;).

Tuesday, December 31 * Soulive at the Paradise
I’ve seen this band many times and they always deliver. They played their entire second set with The London Souls. Together they played an epic rendition of “Lucille” that I must hear again.

Perhaps most noteworthy that night was my experience in the ladies room consoling and providing advice to a very drunk woman whose boyfriend did not introduce her to his friends amongst other disrespectful things he did that evening.

My Facebook post that evening was as follows: Got stuck in the bathroom helping a woman I do not know with her boyfriend problems.
#WhyDoesThisAlwaysHappenToMe #DidIMissMyCalling #RageContinues — at Paradise Rock Club.

It was a great night with great music and great friends!

That-is-it! I could go on but you get the drift. The last few weeks have been off the chain! …somewhere in there I also had SP14 Orientation, our first Caf Show in the new cafeteria, I celebrated 6 years at my job and even more amazingness still.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: my life is extremely varied and diverse but incredibly incredibly blessed. These last 6 weeks are but another example of that.

For all that has been – Thanks.
For all that will be – Yes.
~Dag Hammarskjöld

Written while listening to my music from Parenthood Spotify playlist.