Learning to Breathe: An Evening with Terry McMillan

Image courtesy of USA Today.

Too many of us are hung up on what we don’t have, can’t have, or won’t ever have. We spend too much energy being down, when we could use that same energy – if not less of it – doing, or at least trying to do, some of the things we really want to do. ~ Terry McMillan, Disappearing Acts (1989)
On April 20, 2013, my partner and I attended “Learning To Breathe: An Evening with Terry McMillan.”  The event, presented in partnership with the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, was part of the PEN/Faulkner 2012/2013 Reading Series.  Moderated by writer, professor, and PEN/Faulkner board member Lisa Page, this event offered readers the chance to exchange in conversation with one of the most creative, thought-provoking, and inspiring literary minds of time.  

“Learning To Breathe” was divided into three partsreading, interview, and Q&A.  During the reading, McMillan read a selection from her upcoming novel Who Asked You?  With an anticipated release date some time in fall 2013, the novel will be told from the perspective of 15 characters in first-person.  Who Asked You? is full of wit, realism, and social commentarytold in McMillan’s signature style.

One of the key aspects of McMillan’s work has been admitting or getting to a truth.  She has a knack for using self-realization, self-discovery, and humor to help her characters get to their truth.  The common belief is that we have to go through something or be down-and-out in order to get to our truth.  McMillan dissuaded this notion saying, “You don’t always have to be depressed to admit a truth.”  

McMillan has said, “Writing is a form of praying on paper.”  It provides us with a way to really understand who we are, what makes us tick, and what we care about.  She shared that she wants us all to be happy and “sickening in love… be assets and not liabilities… be happy about who we are…[be] forgiving…”  Her critically acclaimed and award-winning novels like Mama, Disappearing Acts, Waiting to Exhale, and A Day Late And A Dollar Short are evident of this.  In addition, McMillan’s writing has afforded her (and her readers) greater empathy, compassion, and a better understanding of people she might not have in real life.

When asked about how she develops her characters, McMillan said you not only have to listen to how people talk but you also have to get outside of yourself in order to authentically tell someone else’s story.  “You have to get lost in someone else’s skin,” she says.  “Because otherwise it’s phony.”  For every story she’s written, she knows every single detail about her characters.  Even if the details don’t make it into the book, it illustrates the point about knowing who (and what) you’re writing about.  This, I’m sure, is how and why the characters always speak to you when in the midst of writing projects (as McMillan and so many other writers have noted).

As far as her process, McMillan never writes more than one chapter a day.  A work day for her can vary from two hours to eight or more hours.  But she admits that she’s quite spent when she’s finished writing for the day.  For chapters that are emotionally taxing, she may take a break and continue writing them the next day.  McMillan emphasized that no matter what you do, you must “find your own rhythm.”

McMillan also imparted her insights on the ever-changing publishing industry and provided some advice to aspiring authors.  She said the industry is racist and sexist, to some extent.  And that it is particularly harder for new authors to get contracts, especially for African American authors.  When McMillan’s best-selling book Waiting To Exhale was released in 1992, the publishing world was turned upside down by the mere fact that so many black people were reading and buying books (in droves).  If you looked at the press, you would think a new renaissance had started (when really it was nothing new).  I was only 10 years old at the time, and like McMillan, I too was insulted because the implication was that black people did not read (let alone write) and that we didn’t buy books.  The reality is that the publishing industry had ignored some of their largest book buying demographics.  To take advantage reap the benefits of this, the industry started beefing up promotion and doling out large advances to several black writers at the time.  Many of these writers were pummeled with accolades and kudos that were well beyond anyone’s expectations.  And sadly, you don’t hear about many of them today.

Fast-forward years later to the impact of a fledgling economy, and the infiltration of Corporate America into every facet of our lives, and we understand why it’s so hard for writers to get contracts.  And if you do get a contract, forget about book tours.  The chances of your publishing company setting up book tours are slim-to-none.  McMillan said she is quite fortunate to be able to live off of the royalties from her book sales, but she acknowledges that she, too, could be standing in the welfare line at any moment.  Her advice to aspiring writers: do not get discouraged and do not quit your day job. 

The next time McMillan is in town, I highly advise checking her out.  You won’t regret it.  

To learn more about Terry McMillan, go to her official website: http://www.terrymcmillan.com/.

Bibliography:
Mama (1987)
Disappearing Acts (1989)
Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary American Fiction (1990)
Waiting To Exhale (1992)
How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1996)
A Day Late And A Dollar Short (2001)
The Interruption of Everything (2005)
It’s Okay If You’re Clueless: And 23 More Tips For The College Bound (2006)
Getting To Happy (2010)

Gil Scott-Heron, More than the Godfather of Hip-Hop

Image courtesy of The Second Act site.
Tell me/Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?/Who’ll pay reparations/‘Cause I don’t dig segregation/but I can’t get integration/I got to take it to the United Nations/Someone to help me away from this nation/Tell me/Who’ll pay reparations on my soul? ~ Gil Scott-Heron, “Who‘ll Pay Reparations For My Soul?,” Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (1970)
Gil Scott-Heron, famed author, poet, and musician, would’ve turned 64 on April 1, 2013.  I discovered his works when I was a teenager.  Scott-Heron opened my eyes (and ears) to new ways of combining powerful, revolutionary words with jazz, blues, and soul music.  A self-described “Blues-ologist,” Scott-Heron’s artistry carried on in the African American literary and musical traditions that preceded him.  

Image courtesy of The Guardian.

Scott-Heron’s legacy is often reduced to him being the Godfather of Hip-Hop/Rap, but there is so much more to him and his literary and musical contributions than that.  His work, ever culturally, socially, and politically conscious, served as honest, thought-provoking reflections of the times.  In one of the most astute profiles of Gil Scott-Heron,”The Devil and Gil Scott-Heron,” Mark Anthony Neal says,

For all of our memories of Scott-Heron’s political impact, his music covered a full gamut of experiences. A track like “Lady Day and Coltrane” paid tribute to Black musical traditions, while songs like “A Very Precious Time” and “Your Daddy Loves You” found Scott-Heron thinking about issues of intimacy. Well before proto-Harlem Renaissance writer Jean Toomer would be recovered by scholar and critics, Scott-Heron set Toomer’s Cane to music. Even as young activists make the connection between Black life and environmental racism, Scott-Heron offered his take on the plaintive “We Almost Lost Detroit.”  

His work represented for his/our people.  It evoked the sentiments and oft-underrepresented (or unheard) perspectives of his/our people.  And like Stevie Wonder (one of his idols), Marvin Gaye, and Donny Hathaway, Scott-Heron’s work proved that you could still reach the people the with music of substance and contemporary relevance.

So here’s to you Gil Scott-Heron! The revolution goes on! 

Discography (studio albums):
Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (1970), Pieces of a Man (1971), Free Will (1972), Winter in America (1974), The First Minute of a New Day (1975), From South Africa to South Carolina (1976), It’s Your World (1976), Bridges (1977), Secrets (1978), 1980 (1980), Real Eyes (1980), Reflections (1981), Moving Target (1982), Spirits (1994), I’m New Here (2010)

Bibliography:
The Vulture (1970), Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (1970), The Nigger Factory (1972), So Far, So Good (1990), Now and Then: The Poems of Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Holiday (2012)

Chaka Khan, A Birthday Tribute to the Queen of Funk-Soul

Image courtesy of Centric.
They tell me I’ve loved Chaka Khan since I was a baby.  Whenever her music was played, I’d apparently get excited, get up in my crib and start dancing.  Even then I was enchanted by this fiery, bold as love, soul sista.  As I got older, my love, respect, and admiration for her and her talent only grew.  She is and will always be one of my all-time favorite singers.   
Through the fire, to the limit, to the wall/For a chance to be with you/I’d gladly risk it all/Through the fire/Through whatever, come what may/For a chance at loving you/I’d take it all the way/Right down to the wire/Even through the fire ~ Chaka Khan, “Through The Fire,” I Feel For You (1984)
I’ll never forget the first time I got to see Chaka Khan live.  It was late November 2011 at The Birchmere in VA.  I was with my partner, mother, and grandmother.  And was it an experience!  While I knew Chaka would bring it like no other, I had no idea the show would impact so deeply.  Within the first few minutes, I was in tears.  Entranced.  Enraptured.  Captivated.  Spellbound.  I was emotionally and spiritually overwhelmed.  Here I was, sitting in the audience being serenaded by someone who I loved all my life.  Her soulful wail pierced my core and I was rendered helpless.  I surrendered to the Queen of Funk-Soul.

Chaka took us on a musical journey, singing a wondrous selection of her greatest hits and covers of tunes by some of her favorite artists.  The concert was as eclectic and vast as her rich catalog.  She sounded and looked better than ever.  It was quite clear to me that Chaka could put many of her peers (past, present, and future) to shame after this concert.  I didn’t want it end (and neither did anyone else).  It was musical bliss.  We could’ve easily spent the rest of the night calling Chaka and her band back for more encores.  But that’s what dreams are made of, right? 

Make my journey, make it short in space/Let me lose this hardness that I got now, Lord/Water, wash away all traces of hate/I will do what you say/If you just show me how, river/…Roll me through the rushes like Moses/Roll me through the rushes/Just like Moses on the Nile ~ Chaka Khan, “Roll Me Through The Rushes,” Chaka (1978)

2013 marks two major milestones for Chaka Khan:  her 60th birthday (March 23, 2013) and 40 years in the entertainment industry.  Chaka will be unveiling a series of projects to commemorate these milestones.  Following the release of the March 16th “Stars Tribute” issue of Billboard Magazine, Chaka launched the 100 Days of Chaka campaign.  Introduced via an Augmented Reality app, the 100 Day of Chaka campaign “marks the 100 days from her birthday (March 23) to the anniversary of the release of her first recorded album with Rufus, Rufus (July 1, 1973) 40 years ago. This timeline will highlight daily, a series of historic moments in Chaka’s career, mixed with celebratory current events.  The 100 Days of Chaka culminates with the release of The iKhan Project: Alive! The Commemorative Edition, in stores July 2″ (Soul Talkin’ With Chaka).  

Later this year, Chaka will release The iKhan Project: Jazz, an album produced by renowned musician and composer Robert Glasper.  Fans can also look out for the I’m Every Woman Tour; television specials; an updated version of Through The Fire, Chaka’s memoir; the relaunch of www.chakakhan.com; the relaunch of Chakalates, her signature gourmet chocolates; the launch of her Khana Sutra candles, and much, much more.  I must say, 2013 is gearing up to be a celebration fit for a legend!  Chaka deserves every moment of it (and then some).

A mama’s cryin’/’Cause another young man has gone and died/He’s not some statistic/He’s another awesome destiny denied/So I’ve got to stand tall/I’m gonna live a super life/For the rest of my life/I’m gonna live a super life/Super life, super life, yeah ~ Chaka Khan, “Super Life,” Funk This (2007)

Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary, Chaka Khan!  Thank you for sharing your spirit and your boundless gifts with us.  We will forever be moved.  Here’s to a fabulous 2013 and beyond! 

 
Related Post:
Day 47: Black Music Month – Chaka Khan

A Tribute to Our Beloved Writers

 
Performance artist, poet, playwright, and novelist Ntozake Shange. Image courtesy of Tumblr.
Your words have moved us
Warmed us in ways only the gods could.
Yours were the voices of nations
     speaking for others who had been silenced,
     or for those who hadn’t quite found their voice yet.
Your stories evoked emotions
     some we never imagined anyone could tap so literally within us.
But you’re the catalysts,
     the messengers,
     transparent vehicles for lessons of a higher kind.
And we—the recipients of your gifts
     continue to stand in awe, honor, and praise,
     for the art of your words dutifully expresses our humanity.
© 2012 BuddahDesmond 

Five Inspirational Jams that Lift Me Up

Music has always been a constant in my life.  During the ups and downs (and all that lies between), music has served as an extension of my moods and emotions.  Speaking to me in ways almost like nothing else, the sweet sound of music has inspired megiving the push I needed to go on.  Here’s a list of five inspirational jams that never cease to keep me lifted.

Sounds of Blackness – “I’m Going All the Way” from Africa to America; The Journey of the Drum (1994)

Now I know better/It’s time to move on/My determination/Is what keeps me strong/Oh I believe in myself/Like never before/Faith is the key/To unlock the door/Whatever it takes to make it/I’m going all the way/I may be down sometimes/But I won’t be down always…”

Africa to America; The Journey of the Drum by Sounds of Blackness, is a moving album with inspiring songs of history, faith, love, and soul. With Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis at the helm, they created inspirational/gospel music without boundaries.  Songs like the pulsing, rhythmic single “I’m Going All The Way” proved that inspirational/gospel could be relevant and contemporary without forsaking its message.  Fueled by Ann Nesby’s rousing lead vocal, the song channels the reality that life may not always go the way we want it to.  But no matter what comes our way, we must go forward.  We cannot give up or give on…”We must hold on to [our goals].” We must go all the way.

Mary Mary – “Go Get It” from Go Get It (2012)

You were made to live a good life and that’s what I believe/So hit the floor say a prayer start working you got to do something/It’s alright to crawl before you walk it’s alright to walk before you run/But if you wanna get what you never got gotta do something that you never done/Go get it, Go Get it, Go get it, Go get it, Go get it/
Go get yo blessing…”


As soon as I heard “Go Get It” on Mary Mary’s We reality series, I was immediately moved by the urgency of its music, vocals, and message.  Without a doubt, it’s one of Mary Mary’s best songs.  Produced by longtime producer Warryn Campbell, the song tells us that we can’t achieve anything if we do not go after it.  We can’t sit around and wait for our lives to change.  If we want something we have to make it happen.  Count it on faith, if you play your part—the blessings will follow.  Whether you’re a Christian believer or not, the message is undeniable.

Whitney Houston – “Step By Step” from The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
“And this old road is rough and ruined/So many dangers along the way/So many burdens might fall upon me/So many troubles that I have to face/Oh, but I won’t let my spirit fail me/Oh, I won’t let my spirit go/Until I get to my destination/I’m gonna take it slowly cuz I’m making it mine/Step By Step (you know I’m taking it), bit by bit (bit by bit, come move),
stone by stone (yeah), brick by brick (brick by brick by brick by brick mmm…).”


“Step By Step” was the second single released from The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack.  The album found Houston returning back to her roots.  Primarily a Gospel album, The Preacher’s Wife also contained R&B/Soul and Pop tunes of love and inspiration.  “Step By Step” is a funky, uptempo tune written by the iconic Annie Lennox.  Musically and vocally stellar, the song encourages us to remain faithful, steadfast, and committed while on our journey.  We can’t let anything detract or or get to us.  We’ve got to keep moving.

Janet Jackson – “Strong Enough” from The Velvet Rope (1997)
“I know that it’s not been easy/Trying to make it in this crazy world/People ’round you try to stop you/Stomp you saying that you don’t belong/…You must remember that/You were born with blood of kings and queens/And can’t be stopped/Stay stronger my brother you can’t be stopped/No, you can’t be stopped/Don’t ever let nobody tell you you ain’t strong enough/Strong enough, don’t let nobody tell you you ain’t/Strong enough, don’t let nobody tell you…”

“Can’t Be Stopped” is the hidden bonus track on Janet Jackson’s critically-acclaimed, artistic triumph, The Velvet Rope.  The song is a lush, uplifting jam featuring Ms. Jackson’s assured, layered vocals, socially conscious lyrics, and a soulful sound reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.”  In this life, we may come up against forces designed to try to keep us complacent, down, and out.  If we give in, the negative forces will win.  But if we proceed and persist, we will be successful. We will be victorious.  We will be unstoppable.

Vesta Williams – “Better Days” from Seven (2013)

“Today it didn’t rain/The sun came out again/The cloudy days seem to be over/It’s like I found a four-leaf clover/And changed misfortunes of mine/Troubles on my heart/Things falling apart/The fight in me was slowly dying/But never did I give up trying/To find my moment to shine/Better days are coming my way/Heaven smiles and I’m still okay/Better times will be yours and mine/And I think it’s going to be just fine…”

“Better Days” is Vesta’s most recent single from her final studio album Seven.  The smoothed out groove of the music (straddling the line between R&B/Soul and Contemporary Jazz) and Vesta’s emotive, yet somewhat restrained vocal performance makes this a welcomed addition to any fan’s music collection.  Released in the fall of 2012, I was drawn to its message of perseverance and faith through it all.  No matter how dark or how long the days get, we must trust and believe that better days are not too far behind.  But we must it through the bad days before we can enjoy the fruits of better days.

 

Happy Birthday Teena Marie

 Image courtesy of the That Grape Juice site.

Music is meant to inspire/To elevate you and to take you higher/Like the prophets spoke words to my soul/Letters of love like silver and gold/…Sign myself to you forever. ~ Teena Marie, “Luv Letter,” Beautiful (2013) 

I spent countless days spinning Teena Marie LPs as a child.  Funny how not much has changed even as an adult.  Her performances on songs like “Cassanova Brown,” “Shadow Boxing,” “Portuguese Love,” “Deja Vu (I’ve Been Here Before)” and “If I Were A Bell” held me captive.  Her sophisticated funk on “Square Biz,” “Lovergirl,” “Playboy,” “Midnight Magnet,” “It Must Be Magic,” and “Behind The Groove” rocked me deeply.  There was something about her that was so special and unique, that it emanated from every note she wrote, played, and sang.  You could feel her soul in each musical thread from 1979’s “Wild and Peaceful” to 2013’s “Beautiful” (her final studio album).  These threads wove a beautiful tapestry that will live on beyond her years.

Her artistry is/was amazing.  Known as the “Ivory Queen Of Soul,” her music, with its poetic lyricism, encompassed so many genres—R&B/Soul, Funk, Hip-Hop, Latin, Jazz.  It transcended categorization and race.  If her mission was to bring people together with her gifts, she accomplished it quite well.

Inspired by Smokey Robinson, Al Green, Aretha Franklin,  “Sarah Vaughan, Johann Sebastian Bach, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni just to name a few,” Lady Tee’s music was as diverse as her inspirations.  If you listen to her catalog, you’ll hear that she placed no limits on herself or her music.  She went where the spirit moved her.  In a career that spanned over 30 years, the progression was astounding.

While Motown was not initially on board with giving Teena Marie complete creative control, they changed their tune after two successful albums produced by Rick James, Wild and Peaceful (1979), and Richard Rudolph, Lady T (1980).  Marie wrote, produced, and arranged her third and fourth studio albums, Irons In The Fire (1980) and It Must Be Magic (1981).  These albums are regarded as some of her best work, and featured the hit singles “I Need Your Lovin'” (her first top 40 hit), “Young Love,” “Square Biz” (one of the first songs to bring hip-hop to the forefront by melding it with contemporary R&B/Soul music), “It Must Be Magic,” and “Portuguese Love.”  Legal disputes with Motown would later hinder Marie from releasing music.  A lawsuit ensued, resulting in the creation of “The Brockert Initiative,” which made it illegal for record labels to withhold releasing music from their artists while still under contract.

Marie would later leave Motown for Epic Records, where she would go on to release five studio albums—Robbery (1983), Starchild (1984), Emerald City (1986), Naked to the World (1988), and Ivory (1990).  It was with Epic that Marie would achieve her greatest commercial and crossover success, with her platinum-selling Starchild album and its lead single “Lovergirl” (#9 R&B/#4 Pop/#6 Dance).  Naked to the World featured her biggest R&B single “Ooh La La La” (#1), a song that would later be sampled on The Fugees’ 1996 hit single “Fu-Gee-La” (from The Score).  Her final Epic release Ivory, featured the R&B hits “If I Were A Bell” (#8) and “Here’s Looking At You” (#11).  

 Image courtesy of Last.fm

In 1994, Marie independently released the fan-favorite Passion Play on her Sarai Records label.  Though she continued to perform, she devoted most of her time to raising her daughter Alia Rose, a singer and songwriter in her own right known as Rose La Beau (featured on Marie’s Sapphire, Congo Square, and Beautiful albums).  It would be 10 years before releasing her next studio album.

Marie later signed with the Cash Money Classics label, and released two stellar albums, 2004’s La Dona and 2006’s Sapphire.  The gold-selling La Dona was her highest charting album on the Billboard 200 (#6), and featured the Grammy-nominated single “Still In Love” (#23 R&B/#70 Pop) and the sultry, Quiet Storm jam “A Rose By Any Other Name,” featuring the late great Gerald Levert (#53 R&B).  Sapphire featured “You Blow Me Away,” a tribute to Rick James, two duets with Smokey Robinson “God Has Created” and “Cruise Control,” a tribute to Hurricane Katrina victims “Resilient (Sapphire),” and the funky, mellow-smooth lead single, “Ooh Wee” (#32 R&B).

Image courtesy of the Soulbounce site.

Marie’s final studio albums 2009’s Congo Square and 2013’s Beautiful (released posthumously) are arguably two of the finest and most accomplished efforts of her career.  Congo Square featured collaborations with George Duke, Howard Hewett, Shirley Murdock, MC Lyte, Faith Evans, and Rose La Beau (to name a few).  When discussing Congo Square in an interview with Blues & Soul magazine, Marie said,

I wanted to do songs that reflected the things that I loved when I was growing up. Every single song on the record is dedicated to someone, or some musical giant that I loved. ‘The Pressure’ is dedicated to Rick James; ‘Can’t Last a Day’ is dedicated to the Gamble & Huff sound – the Philly International sound. Then ‘Baby I Love You’ and ‘Ear Candy’ are dedicated to Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield – with memories of riding down Crenshaw in LA in jeeps and bumping to music on the 808. While ‘Miss Coretta’ is, of course, dedicated to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Martin Luther King. ‘Solder’ is for the soldiers. ‘Congo Square’ is for Congo Square – it’s for the slaves and the great musical geniuses and giants that have come out of new Orleans, and the great Jazz era. And Louis Armstrong…

Beautiful, the album Marie was working on prior to her passing, is everything the its title implies.  It’s practically a perfect artistic depiction of who she was—an amazing woman and mother, and a versatile, passionate, soulful, ever-changing, multi-talented singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and producer.  She was a musical genius.

Though she didn’t always get the kudos she deserved from the mainstream, Lady Tee will always be regarded by fans, musicians, and contemporary R&B/soul critics alike as one of the best to ever do it.  Here’s to you Teena Marie! The Tee lives on!

   

Related Post:
“Beautiful,” Teena Marie’s Final Album To Be Released 1/15/2013

Happy Women’s History Month

Author and Spiritualist lecturer, Harriet E. Wilson was the first African American to publish a novel in North America. Her autobiographical novel, Our Nig: Sketches From The Life Of A Free Black, was published in 1859.

Happy Women’s History Month!  During the month of March, we honor all women who’ve made (or are making) significant contributions not only to the fabric of our society but also to the world.  

The origins of Women’s History Month date back to the very first celebration of International Women’s History Day (which is March 8th) in 1911.  In 1981, Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28, which officially recognized the second week of March as Women’s History Week.  Congress, after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, passed Pub. L. 100-9, which officially recognized March as Women’s History Month.  According to the Women’s History Month site, “Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month” between 1988 and 1994.  March has been observed annually as “Women’s History Month” in numerous proclamations by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama since 1995.

During Women’s History Month, we reflect on the extraordinary accomplishments of women and honor their role in shaping the course of our Nation’s history.  Today, women have reached heights their mothers and grandmothers might only have imagined.  Women now comprise nearly half of our workforce and the majority of students in our colleges and universities.  They scale the skies as astronauts, expand our economy as entrepreneurs and business leaders, and serve our country at the highest levels of government and our Armed Forces.  In honor of the pioneering women who came before us, and in recognition of those who will come after us, this month, we recommit to erasing the remaining inequities facing women in our day. ~ President Barack Obama, Presidential Proclamation – Women’s History Month, 2011

 So let’s take a moment to honor the women past and present who have made tremendous strides for all of us, not just during the month of March, but every day.

Influences: Sonia Sanchez – Catch The Fire

Image courtesy of the Black Bird Press News & Review blog.

Where is your fire?  I say where is your fire?
Can’t you smell it coming out of our past?
The fire of living. . . . . . Not dying
The fire of loving. . . . . Not killing
The fire of Blackness. . . Not gangster shadows.
~ Sonia Sanchez, “Catch The Fire” (1997)

Sonia Sanchez is a phenomenal writer, poet, playwright, storyteller, educator and activist. Sanchez, one of the most influential poets of the Black Arts Movement, has written nearly 20 books of poetry and prose. Her poetry is rich with imagery, history, culture and emotion.  Her words have the ability to incite the mind, warm your heart and touch your soul. And she makes it look so easy.

Sanchez doesn’t take the past struggles or the current plight of our people lightly. In her poem “Catch The Fire” (written for Bill Cosby), she honors our ancestors and encourages our youth to find themselves, love themselves, go after their dreams and live up to the promise and passion of their “fire.”

Sonia Sanchez originally published “Catch The Fire” in Wounded in the House of a Friend (1997).  “Catch The Fire” was also featured in (and inspired the title of) Derrick I. M. Gilbert’s Catch The Fire: A Cross-Generational Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry (1998).

For more information about Sonia Sanchez, please go to: www.soniasanchez.net.

Black Bloggers Connect: BHM Entry | Kevin Powell – How To Make History (Event Review)

Image courtesy of Vibe Magazine.

Last week, my partner and I had the chance to attend AT&T’s 28 Days Speaker Series here in DC at the Lincoln Theatre.  Hosted by the ever funny comedian Rickey Smiley, the event featured renowned political activist, public speaker, writer, poet, and entrepreneur Kevin Powell.  AT&T’s 28 Days serves as a celebration of Black History Month and a community service initiative.  The program encourages us to recognize our history, find ourselves, and discover ways in which we can make history.

In Kevin Powell’s inspiring and motivational speech, he talked about the importance of knowing our history.  He said “not knowing your history is like a tree without roots.”  Our history helps us gain a better understanding of who we are and where we’re going.  Powell noted three imperatives to history:  faith (having a belief in something greater than yourself), vision (realizing anything is possible and that you can’t make history without a plan), and love (history must be rooted in love; you hate yourself when you don’t know who you are and when you don’t know your history).

Knowing our history is one of the building blocks to both personal and collective success.  Powell said, “Individual success means nothing if the community isn’t doing well.”  With a failing educational system, inherent generations of poverty, dire levels of incarceration and unemployment, there’s still much that we need to do to move our community forward.  Like Powell, I agree that we need to have spaces to engage in dialogue so that we can address the issues in our community and work to resolve them.  Programs like AT&T 28 Days are just one of the ways to fulfill this mission.

Powell closed out his speech by providing a list of six elements that are essential to making history.  These elements are as follows:

  1. A Spiritual Foundation
  2. Political Awareness
  3. Fiscal (or Financial) Responsibility
  4. Manifesting Our Cultural Swag
  5. (Optimal) Physical Health
  6. Mental Wellness 

I firmly believe that our community will be better when we all work to better ourselves both individually and collectively.  We must be selfless.  We must remember our ancestors and our families, for we’re standing on their shoulders.  If it weren’t for their sacrifices and achievements, we wouldn’t be where we are today.  For the the sake of those coming after us, we must pay it forward.  We have to give our people hope.  And as Powell said,”[We can] give hope to people by example.”  So let’s be the example!

For more information about the AT&T 28 Days Speaker Series, go to the AT&T 28 Days site. 

Black Bloggers Connect 2nd Annual Black History Month Blogging Contesthttp://www.blackbloggersconnect.com/articles/173/2-100