I’m sure it related to them wanting to feel human. Or perhaps be recognized for breath. That stuff that holds shoulders high and chins parallel to horizons. Yearning for something opposite of sleeping with one eye open. The word next to God was “freedom”. If we re-member correctly, it still should be.
On the heels of so many other campaigns such as Little Rock’s desegregation of schools. After the world saw the body of Emmett Till. After the Montgomery bus boycott. After the sit-in’s in Greensboro and Nashville. After the Birmingham bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church and the infamous March on Washington. Stood Mississippi… gotdamn. The campaign known as Freedom Summer began the planning phases in February of 1964. It continued the original demonstration designed by the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee that organized a mock “Freedom Vote” to illustrate the will of Black Mississippians to vote who had a 5% voting rate for African Americans over the age of 18. (The lowest in the country.) Freedom Summer campaigned an attempt to register as many African-American voters as possible in Mississippi and also organize Freedom Houses, Freedom Schools, and resource centers in small towns throughout Mississippi to aid the local black population.
the idea the African saw through the cracked wood of
the Henrietta Marie
the seed of new woman
the ecstasy in the fire
the gospel after poetry venues
praised on sidewalks and parking lots
you are now a prophet amongst preachers
burdened with the beauty of the entire rose
pick the thorns or keep them
just stay in tact / you came prickly and prissy
with a rampant river under your feet
your commitment will be constantly tested
through people using revolution to work out personal problems
they’ll say you don’t fit the role / don’t look natural / ain’t ready to fight
you’re not committed to the destruction of the system
and they’re right
because you are a Creator / never forget that
You are a Creator
and you destroy the idea of death in order to live.
from the book, “Pocket Honey, Wind and Hips” – nikki skies
some days I feel like elaine brown. I feel like I have the courage to love what feels right. I feel like I can stand in front of whomever/whatever and move past the criticism of my past with a smile. like elaine brown, some days I feel like I can change the world and by doing that sometimes you have to start over.
elaine brown is particularly known for her involvement in the black panther party in Oakland, Ca. while many haven’t had interest enough to read what her contributions and positions were in the party, they seem satisfied with knowing and saying, “she’s an ex-panther.” I had the privilege of meeting her twice and opening for her during a lecture in los angeles a few years ago. she was very emphatic with her intent to tell her side of the story. to make sure we left her with more to say.
she wanted us to know she believed in the black panther party with her entire being. she helped the panthers set up its first Free Breakfast for Children program in Los Angeles in addition to the panthers Free Busing to Prisons Program and the Free Legal Aid Program. she had a progressive intent for her people and herself as a woman/spiritual being. in her book, A Taste of Power, she made mention that she eventually left the panther party because she could no longer tolerate the patriarchy and sexism.
and I remember her speaking of love. I remember her sharing personal photos of her and Huey P. Newton and talking about how much she was in love with him. as I was holding one of the photos, she pointed to him and said, “he was fine wasn’t he?” her entire face smiled.
some days I feel like elaine brown in wanting to be whole. wanting to be accepted as an intelligent and critical thinker as well as a lover. and for all of who I am to be safe enough to share as part of the human experience.
Somebody had to do it. And somebody had to re-member. I was there. And it’s not that I want to be given some glory or plaque. I just want artists to know that it wasn’t 1961 when the Los Angeles poetry scene displayed this disproportionately approach to female poets. And now it is so natural for females to get features and travel but not too long ago we were blatantly denied this. And Jaha, Bridget, Rachel and I really changed the perception of when female poets should be allowed to eat.
Did we pave the way? Call it whatever feels good to you. But I know I was there when humiliation and doubt was given to us from our male peers. I was there when the men performers would get paid a different amount than us at the very same show. I was there when our male peers thought the best position for any of us would be next to them in a relationship and when he was denied he campaigned a “she’s gay” rally to save his reputation.
I saw Roni take poetry to the Hollywood comedy clubs.
I saw Sandra, Alice the Poet and MstMuze operate the longest running all female poetry venue in Los Angeles to date.
I saw Deana produce/host sold out poetry shows inside restaurants on Sunset Blvd.
And all I’m saying is, this happened after she/we shared stories and almost cried because we thought we were alone in feeling so indigent for expression. Some days I feel like a skyscraper in the Los Angeles poetry scene. Standing bold, cold and razor sharp with the moods of mother nature, not being erased from the series anytime soon. My love for Jaha, Rachel and Bridget is beyond an ordinary means of measurement. We were there, when it felt like 1961.
I feel part of the smaller story. I feel part of the larger story. Skyscrapers are like small cities with thousands of people that live and work there. Their foundations and superstructures provide different appearances. These tall buildings are seen as symbols of power and greatness. They are improved in live time to stand the test of weather and the moods of mother nature. Yes, some days I feel like a skyscraper… especially when I began spoken word in Los Angeles.
It was clearly the congregated movement of griots and sages before us that declared the time again. Only the shadowless and their corners really thought “they started something new” or “took it to the next level”. Only time would be able to determine those thoughts just as the medu netter has spoken for centuries in the pyramids. Only time, still will reveal that.
One would have thought the time was 1961 and women were still only allowed to be house attendants. When in fact it was 2001. Writing and performing poetry was not new to me. I was shocked that it was being critiqued and shared in seemingly ‘non art environments’. Coffee shops, lobbies of recreational centers, after hours at businesses and theatres in need of publicity. The art form was taking on a new timeframe and would need new walls to hold it’s voice.
In an already big city. A city with the most highly structured designed skyscrapers, one would think she could just pick up where June Jordan left off. Just take the notebook from Gwendolyn Brooks and turn the page. But it wasn’t like that for Jaha Zainabu, Bridget Gray and Rachel Kann, my “come up” crew. None of us were novices to the arts. Together we were decades of stories, poems, lectures, theatre and visual art. Together we split the city and nestled our art amongst those who neighbored our homes. We supported our venues week after week and then by bequest, politics were engaged in our arts but this time the agenda was to undermine. From history our community arts had a focus of meeting weekly to “build and feed each other”. These new politics were of division because all of us would not be able to eat. In fact, it happened so fast we weren’t even able to decide on our seasonings! And many owned microwaves and had never lit a stove or practiced patience with a crock pot. But she/we stood there.
One would have thought it was 1961 they way we were over looked to perform feature poetry shows. One of us was even told, “women can’t hold the audience attention to do a feature segment”. And week after week, we went and supported the self served. And we began to see the bending of the art. This was called open mic, to disavow the necessity for us to hold one another accountable. We were allowed to do and say anything and not read or study and some times not even demanded to practice. Our art scene became like loose, dangled dred locs from an unhealthy scalp. Her voice strewn like sidewalk abandoned Christmas trees. With the desperate opportunity for manhood to be demonstrated, she/we were overlooked. It was not 1961.
Now about this, She was given the mic and then cut short by loud music playing in the background to a host dancing behind her begging for a laugh and a few smiles. She wasn’t given the same time limit, as he. And She, was given time on the stage to express her newest and most intimate poetry piece. She was accepted by the audience with warm applause and finger snaps. Capsized with emotion, she stepped away to gather herself only to have the host scold the audience clapping for her by saying, “We don’t do that here”. And then She, was too serious and her voice was too loud. “You should write some love poems”, he declared to her after she received thunderous applause when all night he received scattered rain drops. And then She, was a performer amidst reading writers. And while both are styles of interpretation, it distinguished her natural flame to a fire and cast her away feeling lost and unheard.
And she/we were paid less. And she/we were heard less. And then one night we all talked. And we almost cried. And we all had the same story and we all reaffirmed it wasn’t 1961. And Rachel decided we should do our own. And we did. And we sold out a night club on Hollywood Blvd with an all female poetry feature show. The first of it’s kind during this wave of poetry in Los Angeles. And we ate. And then our four corners of the city saw what we were made of. That temblor thwarting technology that doesn’t fall during earthquakes. That strong wavering skyscraper that houses thousands of people working and living with stories to tell.
(part II tomorrow)
some days I feel like, bell hooks. I feel radical enough to express my mental health even when it exposes my family. It is done with respect and an ambition to grow. I can’t remember the first book I read by bell hooks but I remember feeling like I was having an incredibly intimate and engaging conversation. like the writing legacy I want to leave behind, bell hooks has mastered her craft. she stands alone with the interconnectivity she entails with gender, race and capitalism. she is pro a progressive and critically thinking culture. she is pro living life in a just and freedom filled way.
some days I feel like, bell hooks.
left her husband because of his fears
no going for cigarettes or bread story
she simply said,
You keep the banjo and the bed, I’m out!” -for Harriette Tubman by Nikki Skies