Jay-Z’s latest is fresh, urgent and authoritative

… direct manner with African American culture, examining its … African American dignity, a resistance to deeply ingrained racism, … of the still-thriving racism that plagues our … cycle of racism to be ended through African American entrepreneurship. … RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News

Percival Everett: The great American novelist you should read now

All too often, when the words “Great American Novelist” come up, they’re used in conjunction with white guys writing about suburbia. Think John Updike in the 20th century, perhaps Jonathan Franzen in the 21st.

I have a better candidate: a writer who has been producing not just novels, but poetry and short fiction for better than 25 years. A writer who has been exploring American culture in ways that get beneath the default mode of white suburban guys like your Biblioracle.

His name is Percival Everett, a distinguished professor of English at the University of Southern California. His recently released “So Much Blue” is just the latest in a string of books that, if there were any justice in the world, would be known as classics.

Everett’s work is hard to classify, which perhaps explains why he isn’t better known. My feeling, though, is that Everett isn’t recognized as a great American novelist because he takes on the black experience in a way that owns its American-ness, a stance that is sometimes at odds with a literary establishment that positions African-American literature as something “other.” In Everett’s novels, black Americans are centered on the page, rather than pushed to the margins.

“Suder,” Everett’s first novel from 1983, exemplifies his work. Suder is Craig Suder, a professional baseball player for the Seattle Mariners experiencing a terrible slump. That premise launches the main character into a series of picaresque adventures primarily involving Suder’s interest in and pursuit of jazz music. Every page feels strange and unexpected.

“Erasure” (2001) explores the pigeonholing that black artists like Everett experience. In this satire of publishing, a critically acclaimed but limited-selling writer, Thelonius “Monk” Ellison, writes a parody of “ghetto” literature under a pseudonym. His parody is misunderstood, taken instead as genuine. It becomes Monk’s best-selling book, and very funny and strange complications ensue. The book’s subtext can be read like a manifesto for Everett’s own work: a refusal to play an expected role defined by his race, and also a deep exploration of race in America.

“I Am Not Sidney Poitier” (2009) is about an orphan named Not Sidney Poitier who happens to bear a strong resemblance to the famous actor and who is quasi-adopted by Ted Turner. Perhaps Everett’s most overtly comic novel, Not Sidney’s name provides much fodder for Laurel & Hardy-style dialogue, but the satire is sharp without descending into shoulder shrugging absurdity for the sake of absurdity. The novel is made from American stuff: wealth, celebrity — and their limits.

“So Much Blue,”was released earlier this month, and its tone is reflected by the title. Told in overlapping chronologies, it covers the life of a successful painter, Kevin Pace, reflecting on a harrowing trip to El Salvador in 1979, an electrifying affair in Paris with a young mistress when his children are young, and a domestic crisis with his teenage daughter as he hits middle age. Pace has been working on a large canvas, hidden from everyone in an outbuilding on his property. It is both inspired by and the source of trauma, but Kevin doesn’t fully understand where it comes from — or why he must hide it.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

News at noon: Investigation continues into explosion at TECO plant; battle for the black vote in St. Petersburg; passenger lifts SUV, rescues trooper; USF baseball coach leaves for South Carolina

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com:

Related News/Archive


Two investigators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration this morning were on the scene of an explosion at the Tampa Electric Company power plant in Apollo Beach that killed two people and seriously injured two others Thursday. “They’re in the preliminary stages” of an investigation that could take up to six months, said Mike D’Aquino, an OSHA spokesman based in Atlanta. “This seems like it will be a pretty complex investigation.”


Top Senate Republicans may try preserving a tax boost on high earners enacted by President Barack Obama in a bid to woo party moderates and rescue their sputtering push to repeal his health care overhaul. The break from dogma by a party that has long reviled tax boosts — and most things achieved by Obama — underscores Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s feverish effort to yank one of his and President Donald Trump’s foremost priorities from the brink of defeat.


Opioids, mostly heroin and fentanyl, killed an average of 14 people a day in Florida during the first half of 2016. At that rate, based on data released in May by the state’s medical examiners, last year’s fatal overdoses are on track to rise by a record 36 percent. It’s a cruel reversal of fortunes for Florida, which from 2010 to 2013 witnessed the steady decline of opioid deaths as the state closed “pill mills” — pain clinics that recklessly handed out drug prescriptions.


The perception that Rick Baker, St. Petersburg mayor from 2001-2010, was more attentive to heavily African-American neighborhoods is common among the city’s black voters and could be fatal to Mayor Rick Kriseman’s re-election prospects. Never in modern history has anyone been elected St. Petersburg mayor without winning overwhelming support from the city’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods.


The Manhattan Casino, a monument to the black community’s resilience in the face of decades of harsh segregation, has become the latest campaign issue pitting Mayor Rick Kriseman against former Mayor Rick Baker. The election fight this time: whether a trendy “Floribbean” fusion restaurant should occupy the iconic 92-year-old landmark at 642 22nd St. S.


A Temple Terrace man is being credited with possibly saving the life of a Florida Highway Patrol trooper after he lifted an SUV that had trapped him on Interstate 4 in Tampa on Wednesday. This occurred after an Uber driver experienced a medical emergency, prompting 26-year-old Kenny Franklin to take control of the SUV and steer it out of harm’s way.


A 6,000-square-foot home in Seffner caught fire late Thursday night after a candle was accidentally knocked over in a bedroom, causing at least four people to be displaced, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.


Welcome back to the mid-week Fourth of July holiday. This year it’s on a Tuesday, but settle in. Next up is a Wednesday and a Thursday. Independence day returns to a sweet, merciful Saturday in 2020. Want a long weekend for Independence Day before then? For those who work Monday to Friday, it’s going to require burning a coveted vacation day or two, or planning that full vacation on this most busy and expensive of summer travel weeks.


Changes are almost certainly coming to downtown Tampa’s all-but-forgotten Herman Massey Park. The question is when. City officials say they expect to upgrade the park after they know more about what’s coming to two neighboring properties and how those plans will affect the half-acre park. Officials are talking to prospective developers who would likely want a better and maybe bigger park to complement their plans.


During the boom years of the early 2000s, no Tampa Bay developer had a higher profile than Grady Pridgen. Every day, thousands of motorists on 1-275 in Pinellas County sped by his Gateway Business Centre and a billboard featuring his Crest-perfect smile next to the slogan: “Not Just Another Pretty Place.” Now 58, still smiling but with strands of silver in the perfectly-coiffed hair, he’s developing an assisted living center in Brandon. He has the townhome project, and plans for some prime acreage around Gandy Boulevard in St. Petersburg. But “yeah,” Pridgen says, “I’ve been pretty quiet.”


They are newcomers to Tampa Bay ready to make their mark. They are veterans of Tampa Bay institutions stepping into new and bigger jobs. They are embarking on major development projects that will start to be noticed soon. They are a trio of executives competing to run one of this area’s top corporations at a challenging time. They are looking for ways to resuscitate a downtown that is resisting conventional remedies. At this midyear moment, here are ten key business people to watch for the rest of 2017.


Walter Mallett thought he knew everyone in his tiny hometown in the Panhandle. But sometime while he was off fighting the war, a lovely young woman with a sweet cream complexion and an hourglass figure moved in. He spotted her one day while she was pumping gas into her car. Distracted, Walter tripped and fell. This odd beginning of what would become a 69-year marriage allowed their family members last week a few moments of comfort as they laughed and cried at the same time. Walter and Frances Mallett shared everything in life, and so it seems in death. Frances, after a short illness, died on June 15 at age 97. Five days later, Walter joined her. He was 94.


Mark Kingston, who guided USF’s baseball program back to prominence in three seasons as coach, formally accepted the same position at South Carolina on Friday.


Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of Texas A&M and Missouri formally joining the SEC, and their new league has experienced plenty of other moments that reaffirmed the decision to expand to 14 teams by plucking both schools from the Big 12. The Aggies haven’t yet won a division title, as the Tigers have (twice), but A&M has made three lasting imprints on its new home since its SEC debut against Florida in 2012.


Former Plant High star Jake Fruhmorgen is no longer with the Florida Gators. The Tampa Bay Times has confirmed a report from Scout.com late Thursday evening that Fruhmorgen has left the program. UF announced his addition as a transfer from Clemson earlier this week.

News at noon is a weekday feature from tampabay.com. Check in Monday through Friday for updates and information on the biggest stories of the day.

Too Many U.S. Babies Are Born Too Early or Too Small

Nearly 10 percent of babies born in the U.S. are born prematurely and the rates of preterm birth are going up, a new government report shows.

Also more low birth weight babies were born last year than in previous years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.

With half of all U.S. births covered by Medicaid, these rates would get even worse if Congress cuts back on the program, advocates said. Medicaid covers 75 million people, including nearly 36 million children, according to data released last week by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service.

Image: neonatal outcomes nurse swaddles preemie baby Image: neonatal outcomes nurse swaddles preemie baby

A neonatal outcomes nurse swaddles a preemie baby at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Chicago on March 15, 2016. M. Spencer Green / AP file

Already the United States has much worse rates of infant mortality, preterm birth and low birth weight babies than other industrialized countries. The new data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) shows no improvement.

“The increase in the preterm birth rate is an alarming indication that the health of pregnant women and babies in our country is heading in the wrong direction,” said Stacey Stewart, president of the March of Dimes, a charity focused on ending birth defects.

“Preterm birth is the number one cause of death among babies and a leading cause of lifelong disabilities,” she added.

While births overall fell across the U.S., high-risk births became more common, the NCHS found.

“The preterm birth rate rose for the second year in a row, to 9.84 percent in 2016. The low birth weight rate was also up for the second straight year to 8.16 percent,” the NCHS team wrote in their report.

Related: Medicaid Births Rose When Texas Defunded Planned Parenthood

“After falling 8 percent from 2007 to 2014, the preterm rate has increased for the second year in a row.” The U.S. define preterm births as those that happen before 37 weeks of gestation.

The report just looks at numbers and does not go into reasons for the preterm and low-weight births. But a lack of prenatal care, obesity, tobacco use and some fertility treatments can all lead to early births. Teenagers and women who have babies spaced too closely together also have higher rates of preterm birth.

The NCHS team found that women of Asian ethnic origin had the lowest rates of preterm births, at 8.6 percent, while African-American women had the highest rates, at 13.75 percent of all births.

States with the most preterm births: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. Washington, D.C., was also included.

States where 10 percent or more of women got late prenatal care or no prenatal care: Arkansas, New Mexico, and Texas. In Vermont, just 1.6 percent of women got late prenatal care or no prenatal care.

Only New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont had preterm rates below 8 percent.

Related: Too Many Babies Die on Their First Day

“It is unacceptable that black women have a preterm birth rate about 50 percent higher than the rate among white women. The chance of a baby’s survival should not depend on where a baby is born, or the income, race, and ethnicity of her mom,” said Stewart.

The March of Dimes said that the health care bill currently working its way through Congress could make matters worse.

“As the Senate considers the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), we estimate that up to 6.5 million women of childbearing age could lose health insurance. Combined with proposed rules changes, this would mean fewer pregnant women would receive prenatal care, and fewer premature babies would receive the specialized treatment they need to survive and thrive,” the organization said in a statement.

According to Save the Children, the United States has the highest rate of babies who die the day they are born in the industrialized world. It says 130 countries have lower preterm birth rates than the U.S.

Other findings from the NCHS report:

  • Births were down 1 percent from 2015. The CDC found that 3,941,109 babies were born in 2016.
  • The low birth weight rate rose for the second straight year in 2016, to 8.16 percent, from 8.07 percent in 2015. Low birth weight is defined as less than 2,500 grams, or 5 lb., 8 oz. Low weight births have increased by 2 percent since 2014.
  • Just under 7 percent of white babies weighed too little at birth, compared to 13.7 percent of African-American babies.
  • The birth rate for teenagers aged 15–19 declined 9 percent in 2016 to 20.3 births per 1,000 women.
  • The birth rate fell to 73.7 births per 1,000 women aged 20–24 and to a rate of 101.9 births for women aged 25–29. The rates also fell for women in their 30s and 40s.
  • Just 77 percent of women began prenatal care in the first trimester — when they should — and 6.2 percent did not get care until the third trimester or after they gave birth.
  • The cesarean delivery rate declined for the fourth year in a row to 31.9 percent and the low-risk cesarean delivery rate fell to 25.7 or births in 2016.

Names in the sky: who to see at the 2017 Essence Festival

Performing her biggest concert yet in her new home, New Orleans resident Solange is among the closing acts scheduled for the final night of Essence 2017, joining headliners Diana Ross, Chance the Rapper, Mary J. Blige and John Legend. Now making its 23rd entry, the festival has cemented itself as a celebratory weekend offering multiple forums for empowerment and reflection with free speeches and seminars in addition to performances by black artists inside the Superdome.

Solange’s critically acclaimed, Grammy Award-winning 2016 album A Seat at the Table is massive, her third full-length entry in a career spanning Motown-inspired dance pop and Blood Orange-produced R&B. A Seat at the Table, released on her New Orleans-based imprint Saint Records, examines blackness, prejudice and identity, burrowed deep into her unique vision of funk, soul and R&B, guided by narrator Master P. She performs at 7:30 p.m. July 2 on the main stage. Here are several other performance highlights.


Moses Sumney
7:20 p.m., Hot Right Now Superlounge
The singer-songwriter dribbled out his space-age falsetto on singles like “Lonely World” before releasing 2016’s ethereal Lamentations, floating in the space between Kanye West’s auto-tune echoes and Radiohead’s cinematic tendencies.

Ro James
8:30 p.m., Now Playing Superlounge
2016’s between-the-sheets anthem “Permission” previewed Ro James’ follow-up full-length Eldorado, a breezy debut riding on spare trap beats and washed-out keyboards.

PJ Morton
8:35 p.m., Essence Superlounge
The New Orleans songwriter — a St. Augustine High School grad who later joined arena-pop band Maroon 5 — released his 2017 album Gumbo on his own Morton Records. The album’s funk guitar slaps, classic rhythm section, upbeat keyboard licks and Morton’s versatile voice spike his Stevie Wonder-inspired, pop-inflected R&B. (Morton also joined Wonder onstage at this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, comfortably slipping into a verse on “I Wish.”)

John Legend
9:20 p.m., Mainstage
After advocating for prison sentencing reform in the Louisiana Legislature, the multiple Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter returns to New Orleans for his first performance since the 2017 NBA All-Star Game halftime show and a showstopping Jazz Fest appearance in 2015.

Diana Ross
10:40 p.m., Mainstage
The Motown legend — from Supreme to Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient — closes out the first night of Essence 2017.


The Jones Girls feat. Shirley Jones
7:50 p.m., For the Love of R&B Superlounge
Following the death of Brenda and Valorie Jones, Shirley Jones carries the torch for the ’80s R&B group, which landed hits like “Who Can I Run To” and “You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else.”

8 p.m., Now Playing Superlounge
“Good as Hell,” the irresistible 2016 anthem from singer and rapper Lizzo, glimpsed her genre-blending, body-positive and joke-filled debut EP Coconut Oil, on which she sings “I don’t need a crown to know that I’m a queen.”

Remy Ma
8:50 p.m., Essence Superlounge
Likely known for her ongoing feuds with Foxy Brown and Nicki Minaj, Bronx rapper Remy Ma has appeared on classic tracks like “Ante Up” and “Lean Back,” a collaboration with Fat Joe that spans her Terror Squad beginnings with late MC Big Pun and 2016’s Grammy Award-nominated banger “All the Way Up.”

Jhene Aiko
9:15 p.m., Now Playing Superlounge
The singer is among a new wave of contemporary R&B artists cutting through narcotic beats and hazy keyboard washes with near-whispered, meandering vocal lines delivering vulnerable, melancholic takes on emotional crises. Aiko repeats the success of unavoidable megahits like “The Worst” on her latest single “Hello Ego.”

Mary J. Blige
10:15 p.m., Mainstage
Inarguably titled the “queen of hip-hop soul” with landmark albums What’s the 411? and My Life, the distinction undermines her success beyond the genre, with a career spanning 13 studio albums and acclaimed film and TV appearances. Her latest album is 2017’s Strength of a Woman, on which she embraces a personal purging with her take on slow jams.


7:30 p.m., Mainstage
The New Orleans resident enlisted local musicians to join her live band following the release of A Seat at the Table, including Jeremy Phipps and Khris Royal appearing alongside the singer on her acclaimed Saturday Night Live performance.

Sir the Baptist
7:40 p.m., Hot Right Now Superlounge
2017’s Saint or Sinner immediately transports you to the here and now on church-like opener “Prayers on a Picket Sign”: “I hear Trump treating everyone like black folks / Welcome to the march, with police horses and gas smoke.” What follows are ecstatic hymns, gospel-sized rap and a preacher with a message of love in Sir the Baptist’s view of a damned world.

BJ the Chicago Kid
7:45 p.m., Essence Superlounge
BJ the Chicago Kid’s meditative neo-soul meets powerhouse MCs Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar and Big K.R.I.T. on BJ’s 2016 major-label debut In My Mind.

Master P feat. Mystikal, Silkk and Mia X
9:30 p.m., Mainstage
Master P presides over a No Limit Records reunion, bringing together some of the legendary label’s biggest names from its heyday.

Chance the Rapper
11:20 p.m., Mainstage
After releasing one of the greatest rap albums of the decade, 2016’s jubilant Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper secured Best Rap Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards, the first self-released, streaming-only album ever to win a Grammy.

Essence conferences

Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
10 a.m-6 p.m Friday-Sunday
Free admission

Essence hosts several celebrity guest speakers at its Path to Power conference, Essence Empowerment seminars and Beauty and Style expo. All are free with online registration. Here are a few schedule highlights.


“Strength of a Woman”: Mary J Blige, Niecy Nash and others join a discussion moderated by Tamron Hall
Empowerment Stage
4:25 p.m.-5:15 p.m.


Mayors Panel: Mitch Landrieu, Sharon Broome of Baton Rouge and Catherine E. Push of Baltimore speak
Empowerment Stage
12:05 p.m.-12:35 p.m.

Michael Eric Dyson: Keynote address
Empowerment Stage
1:40 p.m.-2 p.m.

Iyanla Vanzant: Keynote address
Empowerment Stage
4:25 p.m.-5:25 p.m.


“Songversation”: India.Arie
Empowerment Stage
11:35 p.m.-11:55 p.m.

Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Friday, June 30

6:50 p.m. Rhonda Ross
7:40 p.m. Afrika Mamas
8 p.m. Junior
8:15 p.m. India.Arie
9:20 p.m. John Legend
10:40 p.m. Diana Ross

Hot Right Now Superlounge
7:20 p.m. Moses Sumney
8:30 p.m. Gallant
9:45 p.m. Goldlink

Now Playing Superlounge
7:25 p.m. Yuna
8:30 p.m. Ro James
9:40 p.m. Heels Over Head
10:40 p.m. Afrosoul

Essence Superlounge
7:30 p.m. Emily Estefan
8:35 p.m. PJ Morton
9:45 p.m. Doug E. Fresh

For the Love of R&B Superlounge
7:30 p.m. Coline Creuzot
8:05 p.m. MC Lyte
9:10 p.m. Kelly Price

Saturday, July 1

6:50 p.m. Ari Lennox
7:30 p.m. Monica
8:20 p.m. Jazmine Sullivan
9:10 p.m. Jill Scott
10:15 p.m. Mary J. Blige
11:30 p.m. Chaka Khan

Hot Right Now Superlounge
7:30 p.m. Miche’le
8:55 p.m. Teyana Taylor

Now Playing Superlounge
8 p.m. Lizzo
9:15 p.m. Jhene Aiko

Essence Superlounge
7:40 p.m. PJ
8:50 Remy Ma

For the Love of R&B Superlounge
7:50 p.m. The Jones Girls featuring Shirley Jones
9 p.m. Lalah Hathaway

Sunday, July 2

6:50 p.m. Ithwasa Lekhansela
7:30 p.m. Solange
8:20 p.m. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
9:30 p.m. Master P featuring Mystikal, Silkk and Mia X
11:20 p.m. Chance the Rapper

Hot Right Now Superlounge
7:40 p.m. Sir the Baptist
8:35 p.m. June’s Diary
9:45 p.m. Elle Varner

Now Playing Superlounge
7:35 p.m. Mayah Dyson
8:20 p.m. Daley
9:25 p.m. Shaggy

Essence Superlounge
7:45 p.m. BJ the Chicago Kid
9 p.m. Xscape

For the Love of R&B Superlounge
7:30 p.m. Chloe X Halle
8:15 p.m. Tweet
9:40 p.m. Leela James

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Trump Is Undermining Students’ Civil Rights. Let’s Fight Back


Why you should pay attention to a recent change to ESSA regulations

June 30, 2017

With headlines from Washington dominated by health care and Trump administration controversies, an education resolution already signed by the president has not received the attention it is due. More than three months ago, President Donald Trump signed House Joint Resolution 57, gutting important accountability regulations issued by the Obama administration to protect students’ civil rights under the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the law reauthorized with the passage of ESSA, has been around since 1965. It is a civil rights law, enacted to encourage states to increase educational opportunities for students of color. The law was an important part of the federal government’s attempt to force states to abandon the “separate but equal” school systems that were banned by the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Congress recently rolled back civil rights protections under ESSA, and people need to pay more attention, writes Adam Fernandez.

When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was drafted more than 50 years ago, a majority of students in the nation’s public schools were white, and the law was set up to protect students in the minority. Today, however, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, students of color represent more than half of K-12 public school enrollment nationwide.

Implicit in the bipartisan passage of ESSA in 2015 was a compromise between the parties: Republicans would get a loosening of the rigid federal control contained in the law’s previous version, the No Child Left Behind Act, and Democrats would get a commitment to protecting the rights of children of color.

The rollback of Obama-era accountability rules betrayed that compromise and was passed along partisan lines (no Democrat in either the House or the Senate voted in favor of the resolution). Trump and the congressional Republicans chose to show again that they dogmatically prioritize states’ rights and deregulation over the rights of students of color.

The protections they revoked were an effort of the Obama administration to implement the provisions of ESSA that ensure schools, districts, and states have an incentive not only to continually improve the performance of their students as a whole, but also to require “subgroups” to continue to improve as well: Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, English-language learners, students with disabilities, and the economically disadvantaged.

When signing House Joint Resolution 57, Trump said that removing those protections would “encourage more freedom” and remove “harmful burdens on state and local taxes on school systems.” In blocking those protections, Trump attempted to give states the “freedom” to disregard the educational needs of their students of color. Instead of expanding educational opportunities, Trump and the majorities in the House and the Senate have chosen to start down the dangerous road of returning America to a system of separate and unequal schools.

“We must challenge our state leaders to ensure all children have the resources they need to receive a quality education.”

The confusion and chaos they have created on the state and local levels by passing the resolution could lead some states to believe they succeeded in removing all of the rules that protect children of color within ESSA. They did not. Despite their efforts, many civil rights protections for children in schools remain within ESSA, and elsewhere within civil rights law.

As parents, students, teachers, activists, and attorneys, we must work together to resist efforts to dismantle the public education system and to further weaken the civil rights laws intended to protect our nation’s children. We must challenge our state leaders to ensure all children have the resources they need to receive a quality education and are provided the full opportunity to succeed to their greatest potential. We must insist that local school boards work to improve poorly performing schools, especially where there are major performance gaps between schools or between student groups within the same district. We must also insist that schools have the same equal and high standards for all of their students, regardless of their race, economic status, gender, English proficiency, disability status, foster-care status, or housing situation. And if one of those groups is left behind, we must actively work to help those students succeed.

More Opinion

The future is up to us. If there is one thing we should learn from campaigns like the women’s marches across the country and the flood of telephone calls placed during the nomination process for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (who then became the first Cabinet official in history to require a tie-breaking vote from the vice president for confirmation), it is that our elected officials can and will be motivated by the passion of their constituents.

So call your members of Congress. Reach out to education leaders in your state. Tell them that educating America’s new demographic majority of children of color is more than a moral duty—it is vital to training a 21st-century workforce and ensuring the economic and social health of our nation. Let them know we will fight against any policy that will create an apartheid nation where the diverse demographic majority is segregated by both race and education. Let’s get out there and show them what kind of America we can and must be, for the future of our children and for the future of America.

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Get ready! The Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March on Washington is Aug. 19

Wanda Sabir interviews Robert King, Albert Woodfox and Malik Rahim on Wanda’s Picks radio show

Wanda Sabir: Good morning and welcome to Wanda’s Picks, a Black arts and culture program with the African Sister’s Media Network. We are joined in the studio by Robert King, Albert Woodfox and Malik Rahim. Welcome to the show.

Today we are going to be talking about the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March on Washington. We can talk about solitary confinement, political prisoners, the 13th Amendment. We can talk about what the need is for having such an event.

Robert King: You basically outlined it – this is what this Millions for Prisoners March is about. Annabelle (Parker, an intrepid advocate for U.S. prisoners who lives in The Netherlands) contacted us last year with regards to a Million for Prisoners March on behalf of political prisoners. Prior to that time, this has been our quest, to develop a format for political prisoners, those brothers and sisters who remain in prison from those yesteryears because of their affiliation with the Black Panther Party.

And this is where the 13th Amendment comes in. We want to get Congress to eliminate that clause which allows slavery. In order to do this, Albert and I have been trying to educate people along the way because we live in a world that is operated on a legal basis.

But when morality has been disregarded in favor of legality, when we deify legality and make it holy, somebody will be demoralized. And this is what has been happening over the years. Legality in America, in the courts, has been deified and made holy and we want to make the connection that it was legal to own slaves and it wasn’t until people saw it as being really morally reprehensible that there was an outcry.

Slavery as we knew it was compromised by the Emancipation Proclamation that eliminated slavery for those rebelling states, but this emancipation got erased with the 13th Amendment and that clause about slavery. This is the new Jim Crow, the new slavery.

The 13th Amendment allows slavery in the sense that it legalizes slavery fully. It could have left the Emancipation Proclamation intact and we would not be in this shape. There wouldn’t be any basis for legal slavery, but now there is because we live in a system of legality.

We’ve got to point out that just because something is legal, if it is morally corrupt, we can challenge it. It may be legal and the system may deify it, but we don’t have to accept that immorality. Because of a clause in the 13th Amendment, a person could be given a life sentence and could remain in prison and be exploited for the remainder of his or her life underneath a system of slavery.

This is where the 13th Amendment comes in. We want to get Congress to eliminate that clause which allows slavery.

We have to let people know that there is a connection between prison slavery and chattel slavery way back then. And the fact is that we have a platform now, the platform that is being given to us in D.C. on Aug. 19, and we want to use this platform.

Albert and I have been doing this since he’s been out, and our platform is just broadening. We are outlining this perpetual form of slavery, police brutality in whichever form, but the most important thing, and really our main goal, is to focus on those political prisoners, those brothers and sisters who have been incarcerated for years and years based on this system of illegality that has been deified and made holy.

Robert King walks out of Angola Feb. 8, 2001, free after 31 years in prison, 29 of them in solitary, punishment for the Angola Three’s “Black Pantherism,” in the words of longtime former warden Burl Cain. The Louisiana State Prison in Angola is an 18,000-acre former plantation, still worked by enslaved Africans.

We want to challenge this immorality. Political prisoners don’t have a legal right to go back in court because of laws that restrict them and restrain them, that have put blocks on them. The only way we can get back into court with their cases is from a moral standpoint.

We want to rouse folks and let people know that this is a moral issue, just like during slavery. So basically, this is what we are doing in D.C. This is our program; this is our platform.

Wanda Sabir: I also want to let you know that Sister Laila Halima Aziz from I Am We Ubuntu (principle organizers of the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March on Washington) has joined us as well. We’re talking about the 13th Amendment initially as well as some of the other issues around the Millions for Prisoners March.

Albert Woodfox: King has done a wonderful job of giving historical context to the 13th Amendment, which was a result of the Southern traders being defeated in the Civil War. I would like to add that the 13th Amendment was a good piece of legislation but then, to appease the Southern politicians who had been defeated in the Civil War, the clause saying no one should be held in slavery or solitude unless it’s due to conviction for a felony.

Well, what that really did mean is that you went from individual ownership of slaves to the state owning slaves. And first of all, what is a slave? A slave is an individual who, by virtue of his captivity, whatever means are used, by virtue of being held as a slave, has lost all human rights and all legal rights. So a slave, whether enslaved by an individual or the state, is at the mercy of those individuals.

So this march is an attempt by comrades around the world to raise the level of consciousness. As King said, there is a lot of stuff going on in this country in the name of the people, and the people have no idea what it is or why it even exists. So we are trying to raise the level of consciousness, trying to put some things on the minds of the people of America and around the world about what constitutes prisoners.

What bothers me is that the Prison Industrial Complex has found a way to exploit the legal slave status of prisoners in America by signing these lucrative contracts. So now you have a direct attack on the working class men and women in this country and around the world, because you have industries using slave labor to produce their products.

For every legal slave of the state who is producing a product for an industry, there is a working class man or woman who can’t get a job. So under our president and our system, working class people are being pitted against each other – pitted against legal slaves of the states across America.

This 13th Amendment, as King said, is raised to the status of God, and we’re here to say that just as people saw the moral reprehensions of chattel slavery, we have to raise a moral issue of what is going on in America and around the world now with modern day prison slavery. The state is guaranteed to exploit their labor.

The average prisoner is a slave of the state and makes anywhere from less than 2 cents an hour to maybe 10-15 cents an hour to produce products that these corporations are making billions and trillions of dollars off of. So this march is to raise the level of awareness, the level of consciousness of the American people and people around the world to the danger and immorality of this clause in the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Malik Rahim welcomes Albert Woodfox to his 69th birthday party on Feb. 19, 2016. Malik and other close friends and supporters of Albert held a party on his birthday, the same day they hoped he’d be released. Though they had to start without him, the joy was incalculable when he arrived. From left are Malik Rahim, Albert’s brother, Michael Mable, Albert Woodfox, and his childhood friend, Parnell Herbert, aka Panther Herb, the playwright who wrote “Angola 3, the Play” that was instrumental in freeing Albert. – Photo: Max Becherer, AP

Wanda Sabir: Thank you, Albert. Malik, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and tell us about the 13th Amendment. What you have in common is that you are all from New Orleans and you’re all members of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Albert and King, you all were founders of one of the only chapters if not the only official chapter – San Quentin had one too if I’m not mistaken – of the Black Panther Party behind bars.

Albert Woodfox: Yeah, Herman as well. Our fallen comrade, Herman Wallace, he was also instrumental in founding the prison chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Wanda Sabir: Certainly. I was thinking about Herman, definitely want to pour Ashay for him verbally, now that he’s an ancestor. The three of you, Herman Wallace, Robert King and yourself, Albert Woodfox, were known as the Angola Three. The Angola Three is more than just three people, but you all were the symbols – as King liked to say, the poster children for solitary confinement and its inhumanity toward people.

So Malik, you are known for a lot of things, like being of the first responders with Common Ground Relief during Hurricane Katrina, when the levees were breached. And you’ve been doing a lot of work around environmental justice and you seem to always have your finger on the pulse.

By Sept. 3, 2005, when still no help had come to the poor of New Orleans after Katrina hit on Aug. 29, Malik Rahim had leapt into action, recruiting volunteers – he eventually brought 25,000 to help with the emergency and later with recovery – and gathering and distributing tons of donations through his organization, Common Ground Relief, which received no government or corporate funds.

So talk to us about the Millions for Prisoners March, because – as a member of the Black Panther Party, wow – there have been books written about what happened to you with that incident at Desire [housing project], when your headquarters was shot out by the New Orleans Police Department. So anyway, go ahead.

Malik Rahim: Well, as you said, all three of us is from New Orleans. Where we live has the dubious distinction of being the number one state in the world for incarceration. No one incarcerates more people than America. No state in America incarcerates more people than Louisiana. And no city in Louisiana incarcerates more people than the city of New Orleans.

So we are directly impacted by the criminal justice system – a system that has shown that for almost 300 years that we have been in Louisiana, and by that I mean African people, that justice just don’t get fulfilled for us. Right now, we have about half the prison population incarcerated for over 20 years. And we still have the highest murder rate of any city in America.

So it shows that just locking people up isn’t making no difference. I equate this to what we are doing because I truly believe that outside of war, the most violent environment facing man is incarceration. And we cannot continue to take dogs and put them in an environment that only transforms them into wolves.

And then we put them back out on the street without no rehabilitation and expect them not to be violent. I’m hoping that’d be one of the main things addressed on August the 19th: One, that we can come together. We can come together not just as a people, but as incarcerated people. Not just as African people, but as incarcerated people. That we can understand the plight that we are all facing – and the power that we hold.

Outside of war, the most violent environment facing man is incarceration.

In the early 1970s, I was blessed to be part of a prison movement in California called Prisoners Union. Prisoners Union became the Prisoners Rights Union, a crystallization for women prisoners with children in California that later became Critical Resistance. So I’ve seen the transformation. I’ve seen how prisoners’ rights have gone up and down. And I know now it’s time for us to come together, to put our petty differences aside and start working for the abolition of incarceration as we know it today.

Wanda Sabir: Sister Laila, you are joining us to talk about the organization that is coordinating and sponsoring the March, I Am We Prison Advocacy Network. And I was wondering if you can talk about who is the team and that you can visit iamweubuntu.com on the website, and you can read about the 13th Amendment, you can read about the March, which again is Saturday, Aug. 19. From 11:30 a.m. to noon is the march, and then from noon to 5 p.m., there’s a rally at the White House, in the capital of this country, Lafayette Park, Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest and 16th Street.

Laila Halima Aziz: Thank you so much, Sister. I Am We was actually created and given birth through our comrades who are currently incarcerated in the depths of slavery. First I want to thank the elder who spoke before me; I was really moved. And all the other elders.

These are the Angola Three: Herman Wallace, Robert King and Albert Woodfox.

We can no longer stand by and say what we would have done if we were slaves in the 1800s or the 1700s, because slavery, specifically for the Afrikan community, is just as prevalent – actually, there are more slaves now than during the chattel slavery. Socialized slavery, legalized by the 13th Amendment, has affected millions upon millions.

It has wreaked poverty in our communities, and the direct correlation of poverty is violence. And that’s what we’re seeing. And that’s why when the elder was speaking of Louisiana being more violent than ever, even though it has the highest incarceration rate, it makes sense.

And it’s strategic. And no one who’s making these policies, who’s building these prisons, none of them are without knowledge of how it’s going to have a domino effect on our communities. You have young boys raising themselves, with no men around, because of slavery.

So for Aug. 19, this call was created by the prisoners. We will be in Washington, D.C., and we will be demanding that the loophole is closed and that slavery, for once and for all, is eliminated and abolished from the United States of America.

We will be in Washington, D.C., and we will be demanding that the loophole is closed and that slavery, for once and for all, is eliminated and abolished from the United States of America.

We’re looking at the language from the United Nations human rights articles on what the abolishment of slavery will look like. And then there’s going to be a big push after that. That’s the beginning, that’s the call. But we’re all going to have to work very hard within our states and on a national level to make sure that these policy writers, these legislators, are working on the behalf of our communities. And we’re going to have to be ready to oust them.

Wanda Sabir: Could you talk a little bit about how people are organizing throughout the country for this Millions for Prisoners March, Sister Laila? And how people can help mobilize in their areas to be able to get buses, try to link up to organizations that are supporting the march so that everyone who wants to be there physically can be there?

Laila Aziz: Yes, ma’am. There are local organizing committees in numerous states, from Louisiana to Florida, Texas, New York, D.C., California, all over the United States. And you can join one of those local organizing committees. I would start at either iamweubuntu.com or on Facebook, the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March.

There are also numerous organizations that have stepped up and are part of what’s going on. The newest one is the National Lawyers Guild, and there’s Jailhouse Lawyers, George Jackson University, the US Human Rights Network, Amend the 13th, Jericho Amnesty Project, Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), the San Francisco Bay View National Black newspaper, the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika, the Human Rights Coalition Fed-Up, Black Lives Matter, Free Tone The Movement, Amwalk Quaker Meeting, the Green Party – there’s actually a Green Party gentleman running for Congress who’s an abolitionist. There’s about 70 to 80 organizations who’ve come in solidarity with this movement.

Herman Wallace did not die in prison, as his captors tried to ensure, but he died only days after his court-ordered release on Oct. 1, 2013. The judge had threatened to go get Herman himself if prison officials continued to stall. –– Photo: Democracy Now

I know for a fact, and my twins are 8 years old, that our children will not live in a country where slavery is legalized when they grow up. And that’s the call we’re making. And so if you want to be a part of it, please sign up. Go to iamweubuntu.com. We would love to have you.

We already have the buses. In two areas, Texas and California, we’re working strategically to see how we’re going to do our rally buses, because we’re so far from D.C. But all of the other areas already have their rally buses and they’re ready to go. All you need to do is jump on one.

Wanda Sabir: That’s excellent. With regard to solitary confinement, Albert, you served 43 years in solitary confinement and King served 29 years; that’s not including the other years that you weren’t in solitary confinement but were confined. And Malik, you’re also a political prisoner, a prisoner of war.

So, Albert, can you talk about solitary confinement and the need for its elimination because it violates human rights. I’m sure you are all aware of the Folsom prisoners’ hunger strike presently, because of the horrible conditions that they are subjected to, despite the laws that were passed after the series of three hunger strikes organized by prisoners in longterm solitary confinement at Pelican Bay that peaked at 30,000 prisoners around the state starving themselves in solidarity.

The CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) is still not extending the Pelican Bay settlement, won in the Security Housing Unit, or SHU, to other categories of solitary confinement. So it’s back again because those particular victories have been limited, that quickly; it hasn’t been two years since that happened.

Albert Woodfox: Well, one thing that the listening audience has to be aware of is, prison administration and security forces are some of the most arrogant and sometimes sadistic people alive. They have unchecked power. There is no oversight by any government organization that I’m aware of. There is no oversight by any community organization that I’m aware of, of the prison systems, both the state and the federal systems.

Solitary confinement has evolved from what was once a form of punishment to now it is a form of imprisonment. Now you have people, they go to prison, they don’t have to do anything to go into solitary confinement, they don’t have to break any rules, they don’t have to be violent because solitary confinement is fast becoming a means of imprisonment, not a punishment, not a period of adjustment for someone who may break prison rules or regulations.

I can’t tell you how many men, when I was in Angola prison, that I’ve seen the infamous warden Burl Cain place directly in solitary confinement. Because in Louisiana, and in other states in America, solitary confinement is no longer a means of punishment; it is a means of imprisonment.

Angry that Herman was allowed only a few days of freedom before the prison system’s murder by medical neglect took effect, Robert King and Malik Rahim organized a big funeral for Herman at the Treme Center in New Orleans on Oct. 12, 2013. – Photo: Ann Harkness

I hear people say, what’s so bad about solitary confinement? Solitary confinement is the most brutal non-physical form of torture that ever existed. It takes an extraordinary amount of courage and determination and strength not to broken by solitary confinement, not to be driven insane and in some cases driven to suicide.

So, solitary confinement is not this innocent form of imprisonment that the prison industrial complex through their various lobbyists and bald politicians are putting out there. Solitary confinement is brutal. The fact that King and myself and Herman Wallace – Herman spent 41 years and he refused to be broken. He gave his life for what we are talking about now, and I’m so heartbroken that he will not be there on the 19th of August to see the fruits of the sacrifice that we’ve all made. And with King and I, he will be there.

You hear people are put inside solitary confinement because they’re violent or because they’re defiant; well, that’s no longer the case. The American prison system is becoming a solitary form of imprisonment. You don’t have to break any rules. All you have to do is become a legal slave of the state by being convicted of a felony.

Most of these prisons they are building now are built for the solitary confinement housing. Housing in dormitories is becoming antiquated.

And let’s be clear on one thing: The men and women, and children in some cases, who are being held in solitary, these are not aliens; they don’t come from another planet. These are your family, your aunts, your uncles, your grandparents, your sons, your daughters.

You should be concerned about what is being done. The prison administration and security forces and DAs and judges and attorney generals are always famous for saying, “in the name of the people,” “we represent the people.”

Well no, they don’t represent the people and what they are doing is not in the name of the people. I can’t imagine any mother wanting her son to be held in solitary confinement for decades. I can’t imagine any father wanting his son to be beaten to a bloody pulp because he would not allow his manhood to be compromised by being treated like a slave. I just don’t believe it.

So they are not speaking for the people; they do not represent the people. They represent themselves. They have accumulated a power base, a system where their power is unchecked. There is no oversight. So they do what the hell they want.

And we are here and on the 19th of August, our voices will say it loud and clear: This comes to an end, no more.

Wanda Sabir: Wow, excellent. Yeah, I was wondering, also speaking about solitary confinement, if you could also talk about the prisoners of war, because there are so many people who have been behind bars for 20, 30 or 40 years for their political beliefs, and this country talks about First Amendment rights, freedom of speech, but that’s not the case for a lot of people that others have forgotten about.

Robert King: Yes, I can speak to prisoners of war. But what I want to do is also elaborate and make a connection between common prison labor and being held in solitary confinement. Both are like a form of slavery, especially with today’s assessment of solitary confinement and its impacts.

At the 2017 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, when it announced its opposition to solitary confinement due to the brain damage it causes, Robert King of the Angola Three held forth on a panel that also featured Jules Lobel, Huda Akil, Craig Haney and Peter Scharff Smith. The meeting was held Feb. 16-20, 2017, in Boston. – Photo: Janel Kiley

Both Albert and I have appeared on panels where the American Association for the Advancement of Science came out against solitary confinement and against incarceration. They’ve shown that being held in solitary confinement causes brain damage.

During the ‘70s, under Ronald Reagan, they closed all the mental institutions down, and many of those people who came out of mental institutions ended up in prison. So, what you see today is, as Albert has pointed out, with regards to solitary confinement and the 13th Amendment, solitary confinement seems to have taken the place of mental institutions.

Psychologists had to know that if you were placed in solitary confinement for a period of time, you’d become a psychiatric ward. They dope you up with pills – they try to give everyone pills – that’s the way they try to keep you broken if you allow yourself to get broken.

The point is that yes, those brothers and sisters who are being held in solitary confinement are very much a part of this entire scheme of things along with the prisoners of war, the POW, the former members of the Black Panther Party, immigrants and so forth.

We want to talk about how it impacts everybody, but we also want to point specifically, we want to call out names, we want to call Rap Brown’s name – we can call him Imam Jamil if we want to – we want to call Russell Maroon Shoats, we want to call the names of Mumia Abu Jamal, Leonard Peltier, we want to call the names of these people – and we want to show that they are being held under slavery because they dared to struggle.

If you want to assert your God-given right to fight by any means necessary when you are downtrodden and oppressed for years and years and years, and when you decide to take it upon yourself to act out against this in some form or fashion, and whether you were the originator, the perpetrator or a part of it to some degree, you are held responsible for the remainder of your life. These are connections that we need to make in regards to POWs and political prisoners and we have to also raise the bar for everyone.

See, if you are not a political prisoner in America, you are a political victim. And so when we raise the bar for everyone, we say that the way America’s prisons are run today, we’re all a victim. Anyone who goes to prison becomes a victim.

There are political prisoners who went to prison because they were targeted by the system. The system has laws that allow them to enslave you perpetually.

Yes, there are prisoners of war. We don’t want to say that everyone is a “political prisoner,” but we will say that we are all political victims of a system that is unjust. Being a political victim is almost like being a slave in the system because you are a victim of a system that demoralizes.

Ruchell Magee lies gravely injured on a stretcher in the Marin Courthouse parking lot after the rebellion led by Jonathan Jackson, 17, who had hoped to free his big brother, George, who was not in the courtroom that day, Aug. 7, 1970.

Ruchell Magee has been in his prison cell for 52 years. He was unfortunate enough to be in the Marin County Courthouse at the time Jonathan (Jackson) went in to make his statement and sentiments known, and Ruchell Magee happened to be in court. He did not pull the trigger, he did not do anything and the man has been held in some of the worst prisons in California for over 50 years.

I hear from him periodically; he shouldn’t have to beg for help. We should embrace him and say, “Look, he’s coming home.” And whatever they say about Imam Jamil, or Rap Brown, we can bet that the lies that they told in order to perpetrate his incarceration could have been exposed if he’d had the resources of the FBI.

We can defend people like Imam Jamil and Ruchell Magee. We can raise the issue and keep it to a moral level. We can show the 13th Amendment was a moral document and that it should be rewritten; it should be declawed.

Albert Woodfox: First of all, these comrades, they need good attorneys. Because when you go into a system of institutionalized racism, when you walk into a courtroom, the color of your skin or your ethnicity, the texture of your hair, your physical features – these are really why you are there. That’s something seriously wrong; there’s something morally reprehensible about that.

It’s institutional racism. And that’s what Aug. 19 is about, raising our voices against that. Saying enough is enough. We are not slaves, and we will no longer sit silent and allow you to continue to devalue us as human beings.

And to all the mothers and fathers and grandparents and uncles and aunts and sisters and brothers and children who have the misfortunate to have someone in prison, it is time for you to stand up. It is time for you to show that this is my family. Though they may have made a mistake, they are still human beings, they are still entitled to be treated as human, they are still entitled to dignity and self-respect.

So Aug. 19 is a date where incarcerated men and women who were lucky enough to win their freedom, their families and people who empathize with human dignity, human treatment, can raise their voices and put their bodies behind what they say out of their mouths. I have a famous saying that I always tell people: “The mouth can say anything, but the ass is the proof.”

True to his word, Albert Woodfox campaigns to free other prisoners, here a famously innocent man on California’s death row, Kevin Cooper. Albert wore the shirt at a reception in his honor at ANSWER on Sept. 7, 2016. – Photo: Carole Seligman

So now if you’re saying that you’re against what is going on in the judicial system in this country, whether it’s institutional racism, brutality, mass incarceration, I expect to see you in Washington, D.C., on August the 19th.

Wanda Sabir: There was a big, big meeting in Oakland on the – was it the 40th or 50th anniversary of the Attica uprising? – of the formerly incarcerated and convicted people and families movement. I was wondering if you could tie in any of those platforms to the Millions for Prisoners March on Washington. And I have another one. Since you all are right now in New Orleans, I’m thinking about the Underground Railroad, I’m thinking about safe houses, and I’m also thinking about a translation of that in 2017 language.

Albert Woodfox: For me it was an honor to be there. It was an honor to be acknowledged for withstanding the horror and the brutality of solitary confinement. And for maintaining, first of all, my sanity, my dignity, pride, self-respect, my integrity. And at the same time to never give up, to get up and continue to fight and not be broken. I always say, if I stand for nothing else, I hope it would be the strength and determination of the human spirit.

And Robert and Herman – Herman made the ultimate sacrifice. At some point in time some of this will come out, but it is my personal opinion that the state of Louisiana murdered Herman. They knew he had cancer, and they failed to give him the proper treatment.

And it was only after our lawyers intervened and were bringing in a doctor that they rushed him to a facility and diagnosed him with liver cancer. And prior to that, they were telling him that he was allergic to some damn mice or something. I’m sorry, I get angry just thinking about it.

A wonderful man like Herman who in stature was as great as Mr. Mandela, and we allowed the state of Louisiana to kill him. And that’s going on all across this country. When we fail to get engaged, whether we’re members of the community or whether we’re family members, this is the end result.

At the Black Panther Party 50th Anniversary Gala on Oct. 22, 2016, former Panthers Robert King, Eddie Conway, Albert Woodfox, Gail Shaw and Billie X Jennings take a bow. The first three are former political prisoners. – Photo: Billy X Jennings

Wanda Sabir: King, Malik, comments about the idea of the Underground Railroad today and safe houses today, in light of the attack on Black people, Black bodies, specifically by the civilian army or police force? And I know, Laila, you have direct experience with that, with regards to losing a loved one to police violence.

If we’re talking about imprisonment as being the new form of slavery, that really never ended, people just didn’t know that the 13th Amendment did not completely eliminate slavery, but people don’t necessarily know the language. So if we’re looking at that as an analogy, then what about the Underground Railroad. You escaped, Albert, for a little bit.

Albert Woodfox: Yeah.

Wanda Sabir: Yeah. And so, do we break people out? I’m just wondering how do we get our people out of here, out of the prison system. How do we break them out, how do we make it so that people are not captured? Because they’ve got slave catchers, capturers, as well, just sitting in wait at the public schools to catch our young people. And then they lock them up and throw away the key and we don’t ever get them back anymore.

Laila Aziz: First and foremost, the elders who are on this telephone who have given their lives to us so that we can breathe, all they need to do right now is what they’re doing. We ask of nothing else from them. They’ve given it all.

And as for us who are down on this pavement trying to live their legacy and stand up to what these elders on the phone stood up to, by any means necessary, now we are trying to work on policies and legislative things that are going to stop a lot of this stuff, but we already understand what we’re up against.

America is not going to release its love for slavery easily. We’re seeing a lot of the undocumented families have to go underground, because they have ICE and these other slave catchers out here, pulling them out of their families. I live in San Diego, California, right on the border. So I don’t just see the police in my neighborhood, I see the immigration, I see border patrols; all of these people are coming into our homes, banging on our doors and snatching mothers out, leaving children there while they take them to immigration centers and deport them.

So we need to do whatever we need to do to keep our people safe. We do want people to get involved, though. Get involved and understand these laws and what’s going on with these laws and how they’re there.

America is not going to release its love for slavery easily.

Right now we can’t even get bail reform in California. It makes no sense why there’s bail. But it shows you, this is all about money and the powers that be. They don’t care about us.

Albert Woodfox: You know, there are many ways of struggle. I wish we could have employed “by any means necessary” 40 years ago. We didn’t do it. Yet we didn’t draw other means or alternative means. I almost gave my life up many times for the revolution.

I have written my folks out here and said, “I’m giving myself to the struggle.” But you know what I did? I made attempts to do so, by any means necessary. Which didn’t happen. And as a result, I don’t regret that, because I could have done it that way and could have still been talking – probably would have died in prison.

So I had to employ different means for different people. My point is this: Some people at certain points in their life, they throw pebbles in the pond, some throw rocks in the pond, some throw mountains. Struggle by any means necessary is good, but some people can’t – so in the meantime what do we do.

We’ve got people in prison now, been in prison 40 years, and “by any means necessary” hasn’t been employed. And they ain’t got much more time for “by any means necessary.” What do we do? We have to be rational, we have to understand where we are and how we have to do this. And no, we don’t deny anyone the right to struggle in whichever way they want to.

I wish we could collectively struggle by any means necessary. We’ve been trying to do it for years and years. But because we haven’t been able to do it by any means necessary, not collectively, we can dismantle the legal system; we can try to dismantle it while we wait.

We can struggle on many different levels. Let’s struggle on all levels. But don’t forsake one in lieu of the other. If you can’t do it by any means necessary, don’t allow yourself to be derailed from other means. That’s the point that I wanted to make.

I think about what I could have done. I thought about George (Jackson) in ‘71. Had I been in the streets, I’d have flowers growing over my grave right now. And that was my inclination at that time. I would have been willing to go with him. But I didn’t.

Wanda Sabir: I certainly want to thank all of you for joining us this morning to talk about the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March on Saturday, Aug. 19. From 11:30 to 12 is going to be the march, and from 12 to 5 p.m., there’s a rally at the White House, in Lafayette Park, Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest to 16th Street Northwest, Washington, D.C. You can visit http://iamweubuntu.com. And there’s also a Facebook site; Sister Laila, what’s the Facebook?

Laila Aziz: It’s the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March.

Wanda Sabir: There are rally buses being organized all across the country. And so if there’s not one happening in your area, you can be the one to organize. And folks respond really quickly when you email them on the website, http://iamweubuntu.com. I’m witness to that.

Hopefully we’ll have another conversation closer to the actual march, but in the meantime, thank you all so much for joining us. Thank you for this important event and for your important work, all of you.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wanda@wandaspicks.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Fela! Revisited: Breaking it down

[Theater: Fela!]

Who is Obalogun? 

Who are the monsters who kill with their terrible cries? What happens when the Cat wakes up?

I thought that I had entered a dream during my first viewing of Fela! at the Eugene O’Neill Theater early in December 2009. 
I was so immersed in a collision of colors and the orchestrated pandemonium that I could barely breathe.

Early in Act I, I had to pull away from the cosmic energies so furiously spinning to ask, “What mind could harmonize such breathtaking wonder?” 

To my far right, in a box seat sat Director and Choreographer, Bill T. Jones. He was the visible presence of years of incredibly hard work, research, collaboration, patience, experience and sheer talent.

At my most recent viewing, Saturday 22 May 2010, ticket holders  started fancy stepping in the lobby and we kept shaking until we reached our seats, enjoying the live music which precedes the opening of each show: the Afrobeat created by musician and activist, the internationally celebrated, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, title role played by Sahr Nguajah and  Kevin

How to describe  Fela!? Fela! is timeless, almost uncanny and timless as we see the horrific results of oil gushing in the Gulf of Mexico, destroying livelihoods and lives. Fela! is life-affirming educational entertainment. It has everything that most popular literature lacks; it gives us an indispensable teaching tool.

It is true recreation (re-creation): an experience which connects us to self-knowledge, an experience which continuously makes us new.

It is art born of a magnificent imagination which comprehends science and art. Compassion flows in every song, in every dance. It is art which allows the audience to dream. It is art layered with beauty and terror. It is light in its complete spectrum.  It speaks truth effectively, in a word or in dance. It speaks truth with courage regarding religion, enslavement and economic exploitation. It connects us to history and African culture, especially the Yoruba culture of Nigeria.

It is the coming together of Africans born on the continent and Africans born in America.

In Act I of two acts, Fela! tells many stories  within the main story of the protagonist’s struggles to live in a corrupt Nigeria following independence from the British. While Fela’s mother, Funmilayo, has already been murdered by the state  as the musical opens, she comes to life through dream, and through memory. A cat, ornately sculptured, is placed near her portrait. 
There could be trouble when the Cat wakes up. Act I begins as the narratives of all world heroes begin, with a departure. Fela will leave Nigeria and begin a physical journey to London, New York, California, Berlin, Madrid and other international localities. 
But the greater dangers occur in Act II as Fela struggles to make the ascent, to reach the higher realm of the ancestors so that he can communicate with his mother. Here he risks mind and body in order to save himself and community. The story will come full circle when Fela returns home.

The circle is one of several powerful symbols which transports the audience. It’s the movement of the clock.  It’s in the nine wives who encircle Fela.

Nine lights spiral on the floor all going counter clockwise, following the movement of planets and Sun in our own solar system–when viewed above the Sun. In another scene, there are fifteen circles to set another less pleasant mood.

You can expect the circles to reverse direction and to increase the speed of rotation as things take a turn for the worse. And they do. All circles completely disappear from the stage when Fela is tortured.  There is a grate of square lights on the floor of the darkened stage.

The general public, aspiring writers and other artists will benefit greatly from a closer look at symbols and techniques at work in this musical. The general public needs to protect itself from literature which deforms; our young can be transformed by literature which heals.

How does Fela! generate such life supporting energies? Consider the basics: use of light and color, water and fire, iron, the cat and the rat, the ladder, and  the vehicles which facilitate the opening movement of both acts. In addition to symbols, there is  knowledge of physics expressed in the choreography and in the narrative of Obalogun, the great warrior. Dialogue between Fela and the audience and other devices create an underlying serenity which permeates the musical.

The whole band unobtrusively rolling across the stage accompanies Funmilayo’s movement during a dream. A lyrical gliding of the ladder accompanies Sandra Isadore ,played by Saycon Sengbloh, as she descends, singing a love song to Fela. These and other moments deepen introspection and balance high pitched emotion. The communication is brought full circle.  It’s no wonder that the air literally crackles with electricity as people emerge from the theater.        

One could simply follow the light and color and experience  pure exhilaration.  

In Fela! light is really brought to light. In contrast with the many scenes bathed in a lavish flow of colors, and pounding rhythmic  music,  there are scenes in  black and gray, all color drained from the stage during times of distress. Together with the absence of color there is silence. At one point there are 18 long seconds of pure black. That’s taking a chance.  And it works. (It’s allowing the battery to fully discharge so that it can fully recharge. )In contrast, when Funmilayo, played by Lillias White, hits those bone chilling  notes in her song of courage, she breaks the white full spectrum light into is component colors. And as her voice rises, the color gradually returns to the stage. In each act, the colors which Fela wears carry particular  importance: blue in Act I, pink and white in Act II..  There was no way that he could make an ascent to a higher realm without being dressed in white.

The song which Funmilayo sings is of Yemaya, mother of the Gods who saw her son, Obalogun, the great warrior, fighting the demons who kill with their cries. The warrior stuffed his ears with dirt when threatened by the monsters, lured them into his arms  then burst into flames, killing the demons and cleansing the earth.   But Yemaya  saw her son on fire and wept  tears which changed to torrential rains and put out the flames which could have destroyed  her son.

Ogun, whose colors are green and black, is the Orisha of iron, hunting and war. In the cosmos, iron behaves in ways identical to the behavior of this Orisha; hours after a star forms  iron, it will collapse and supernova.  In its exploding death the star will give birth to all the other elements in the periodic table in rapid succession. The ingredients needed for life on Earth come through the death of the star. Of course, there must be the cooling off, there must be  water in order for life to exist we know it. Ogun is associated creation and formation, as blacksmith, and associated with communal support as hunter, providing nutrition.

Through iron, we have our connections to Obalogun; the core of our Earth is made of iron. Iron enables our red blood cells to carry oxygen, without which we would have no life.

Science works closely with this art. The fantastic dance reflects a working knowledge of physics.  One must understand the laws of gravity before tossing  dancers horizontally, and elevating dancers overhead. Knowledge of culture is also indispensable in the creation of fine literature.  Fela, whose name means “he who shines with greatness” is from Abeokuta, a village known for its great warriors.  Anikulapo, he reminds us, means “I carry death in my pouch. No mortal can kill me.”

We’ll all be singing, “Water no get enemy” for quite some time.  We are told that even if water kills your child, you will still have to use it. There is rich philosophical content in this work. Water is the sacred vehicle that will carry us to a higher realm in Act II..  In Act I the opening vehicle  was the bus which carried the embattled Fela people to jail. In the serenity of the water dance, which is a balance to the frenetic dance of the Orishas to follow, the dancers move as though peacefully rowing boats.  Sometimes the bodies of the dancers become the water itself. As the musical opens, we see large drops of water cross the portrait of Funmilayo which turns and comes to life each time Fela speaks of leaving Nigeria. The water is both tears and rain. As already cited, it is water which will save the warrior’s life.

In this musical, there are no curtains.  And yet, during one of the most harrowing scenes in Act II there are two “curtains” of the thinnest fabric which allow us to see Fela as he journeys and prepares to enter his mother’s realm. It’s no easy trip. Here, the drum, the impulse of life, and the Egungun of the spirit world, entrap Fela,  each approaching from opposite ends of the passage, the drums rapidly beating and the spirit as rapidly dancing with the struggling Fela running from one to the other, trying to break free. The humor of the intent and heavily focused drummer increases the intensity of the ordeal.

It is with some measure of relief that we watch the thin curtains rise, allowing Fela to enter a larger space which is not free from great perils.

So much drama unfolds in Part I, that the audience, already fulfilled,  would be hard pressed to believe that Part II could offer more.  It does. After intermission, Fela’s direct address to the audience,”So you decided to come back?” makes us laugh.  And then we enjoy new discoveries.  We see the maternal energies continued in the African American lover, Sandra, whom we first saw wearing red and black (colors of Eshu, guardian of the crossroads), then later in Act II,  wearing blue, colors of Yemaya, associated with Fela’s mother.

Humor, sign of higher intelligence, provides the underlying energy for 80% of the musical even in some of the most somber moments. Before his torture (and the audience is visibly distressed), Fela comes out wearing the coat and cap of a military officer, and for the moment, the incongruity makes the audience laugh. But not for long. This does not  detract from the brutal beatings which hospitalized Fela for 17 days.  Everyone needs to hear the lament pouring from the body of the tortured Fela (played by another actor, Ismael Kouyate). The theater falls quiet under the weight of this terrible beauty.  The same voice that earlier sang James Brown’s “I got the feeling” with an irrepressible energy, and  left the audience in rollicking laughter, now chants in long melodious anguish through unbearable pain.   This is one of many highly imagined  moments where truth is not compromised by humor, this humor which is the twin to truth. This is a critical teaching moment demonstrating how to effectively dramatize  violence without abusing both narrator and audience.

The author trusted us to recognize the intersection of beauty and terror in this moment and in many others throughout Fela!.
As for numbers? When Fela first enters the stage he is escorted by four dancers. The African American lover, Sandra Isadore, descends the ladder accompanied by four attendants. When Fela is to climb the ladder,  this physical effort is accompanied by four members of the ensemble pointing up. We find a similar attention to the number four, representing totality, the cardinal points and representing the superlative in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The nine wives of Fela on stage represent well the twenty-seven (two plus seven equals nine) wives that he married in real life.  Numbers are used in a most ominous way especially the day Funmilayo died.  The time was given in silence, with only a single chime sounding; 5:45 she was dragged up the stairs.  5:47 she was thrown from the window. Earlier, in Act I, the “clock game” generated life.  Cultural understanding of numbers provides useful insights in literary interpretation.

This musical celebrating the life of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, delivers a vision which connects history and the contemporary moment. The more I see this fine work of art, the more I uncover layers of brilliance. 

Summer 2009, in Nigeria, I overheard a customs agent ask a young Russian, “Why have you come to Nigeria?”
The young man’s firm answer,”Off shore-drilling,” burned in my ears. It sounded like, “To violate your mother.” At the time I did not know that only a few months, the violation of off-shore drilling would reach American soil.

Lines from Fela!:
“Like rat we steal
Make a hole     
Oil flow”

“Ax Falls on British Petroleum,”an old Nigerian headline almost feels uncanny  as the past looks into the present day.

In this Broadway production, the audience is physically surrounded by history. Every wall of the theater is filled with sculptures, portraits, and cinematic images of actual newspaper headlines: Majority Live in Poverty; Soldiers Advised to Exercise Restraint with Public, Stern Warnings to Students; Army Retakes University, 35 Students Dead. There are images of Angela Davis, Malcolm and Martin shelf, including The Dead Lecturer by Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka). The new Black Studies programs of the 1960’s and The Black Arts Movement are brought to life in this inspiring narrative.

Even without a story, Fela! would be worth its weight in gold. 

The innovative, fast shaking dance, the cosmic colors, and the songs all speak a universal language. The musicians alone would make the production more than phenomenal.  But the education delivered with the entertainment makes this production, Fela! priceless. 

“Speaking Truth To Empower.”

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Where to watch 4th of July fireworks

Watching fireworks remains the favorite way of celebrating America’s independence. Some of the biggest star-spangled bashes in the state take place in Minneapolis, including Red, White and Boom. Taking place near the Stone Arch Bridge, this Park Board-hosted display is jam-packed with more colorful explosions per minute than just about any in Minnesota, attracting more than 75,000 to the shores of the Mississippi River. The full day of festivities also includes a half-marathon, relay and 5K, live music and family activities.

When: 6:30 a.m. races, 6 p.m.–10 p.m. live music and family activities, 10 p.m. fireworks

Where: 100 6th Ave. SE

Cost: Free

Info: minneapolisparks.org

  • Stone Arch and Central Avenue bridges: There’s no better place to watch fireworks than right over the river. Bring a lawn chair and arrive early — the bridges fill up quickly.
  • Gold Medal Park: One of the most underrated spots in downtown Minneapolis, Gold Medal Park at 11th & 2nd offers a more traditional viewing experience. Throw a blanket on the grass, toss a ball around and gaze up at the fireworks while you lie down and relax.
  • Boom Island: Slightly upriver from where the fireworks are set off, Boom Island Park (724 Sibley St. NE) offers ample space to set up a blanket and picnic and is less likely to be crowded than other areas while still offering a great view of the fireworks.
  • St. Anthony Main: Several spots along St. Anthony Main (Main St. SE, located northeast of downtown on the east side of the Mississippi River) make for prime viewing locations, including the area’s many restaurant patios.

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Submitted image

“The Shop”

The barbershop has long been a cultural touchstone for African-American communities, acting not simply as a place to get a haircut but as a meeting space to discuss ideas and the news of the day and a respite from the outside world. Public Functionary, a boundary-pushing contemporary art gallery in the Northeast arts district, is celebrating the iconography and culture that grew out of the black barbershop with “The Shop,” an exhibition in collaboration with Minneapolis artist Crice Khalil. Khalil’s work takes inspiration from the worlds of hip-hop and graffiti to document the issues and motifs of the pan-African and African-American experience, using them as a lens in which to view race, class and the “American dream.” For “The Shop,” he’s curated works from a broad, multi-generational array of African-American artists from varying artistic disciplines, including paintings, photography, screen prints, drawings and digital art that relate to the barbershop’s importance to the black community.

When: July 1–15; opening reception Saturday, July 1 at 7 p.m.; artist conversation Thursday, July 13 at 7 p.m.

Where: Public Functionary, 1400 12th Ave. NE

Cost: Free

Info: publicfunctionary.org

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Submitted image

Artcrank: 10th Anniversary

For the past decade, Artcrank has transformed bike poster art into an art form all its own, expanding from its original Minneapolis show to pop up in eight more cities across the U.S., plus London and Paris. Attended by art lovers, poster collectors, hardcore cyclists and craft beer drinkers alike, the Minneapolis version of the popular poster art show features prints by 50 local artists in limited-edition runs of 30 at $40 a pop. In honor of its 10th anniversary, this year’s event will showcase the greatest hits from previous shows from artists including Adam Turman, Jennifer Davis and Amy Jo, plus food trucks and free valet bike parking.

When: Saturday, July 8 from 4 p.m.–10 p.m.

Where: Fulton Production Brewery, 2540 2nd St. NE

Cost: Free

Info: artcrank.com

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Submitted image

“Motown the Musical”

Following a national tour that landed in Minneapolis a year after its Broadway debut in 2013, “Motown the Musical” is making a triumphant return to the Twin Cities. Based on the autobiography of Motown record label founder Berry Gordy, the musical follows the personal and professional highs and lows of the hit-maker and his label, and his relationships with Motown artists Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and a Jacksons 5-era Michael Jackson. Bursting with 55 classics from the Motown catalog with a book composed by Gordy himself, the crowd-pleasing, high-gloss production transcends the “jukebox musical” genre thanks to director Charles Randolph-Wright’s excellent production, Patricia Wilcox’s energetic choreography and a powerhouse cast, whose live vocals are said to rival that of the hits’ original singers.

When: July 11–16

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave.

Cost: $39–$134

Info: 800-982-2787 or hennepintheatretrust.org

Lamar Collins. Submitted image
Lamar Collins. Submitted image

The New Griots Festival

To get at the heart of the New Griots Festival, one needs simply to look up the definition of the word “griots”: a class of traveling poets, musicians and storytellers who maintain a tradition of oral history in parts of West Africa. Founded in 2015 by Josh Wilder and Jamil Jude, two Twin Cities transplants who felt isolated as young black theater artists in a predominantly white theater community, the New Griots Festival is dedicated to celebrating, advocating and advancing the careers of emerging black performing artists in the Twin Cities. Building off the success of the 2015 festival, the festival has been invited into the Guthrie Theater’s 9th Floor Initiative, a program that transforms its entire ninth floor into a community hub offering affordably priced productions and impactful, relevant new works. This year’s New Griots Festival expands from three to ten days, doubling the number of performances and community classes and adding a live in-studio component as well as networking events and panel discussions about the importance of the work of black artists.

When: July 6–17

Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St.

Cost: $9

Info: guthrietheater.org

X Games Minneapolis

With the upcoming 2018 Super Bowl and the 2019 NCAA Final Four for men’s basketball, the U.S. Bank Stadium is quickly becoming being one of the hottest sports venues in the country. This month, the excitement continues when it hosts the 2017 Summer X Games, which features some of the best skateboarders, BMX bikers and motocross racers in the world. (It’s also slated to host the 2018 edition.) Annually, the games draw more than 100,000 fans and around 250 athletes over the course of the four-day event. Each night is capped off with a concert, which are included with the admission passes for the games. Performers include A Day to Remember (Friday), Flume (Saturday) and Atmosphere (Sunday), plus an off-site concert at the music venue First Avenue on Thursday featuring rappers Prof, Aesop Rock and deM atlaS.

When: July 13–16

Where: US Bank Stadium, 401 Chicago Ave.

Cost: $40–$60 daily; packages range from $100–$750

Info: xgames.com/tickets

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment