Stranger Things: Part Three and Counting

I dropped my partner off in Atlanta and continued on toward Huntsville, AL. I called my sister in Pennsylvania, so full of stories, our conversation covered the miles. There was still something else I needed to do. Some questions that needed answering. The Congolese kosmogram wouldn’t leave my head, nor would the memory of the voices, the church, the men in the park, or anything else I’d experienced in Savannah that weekend. In the back of my mind I recalled Jean-Michel Basquiat mentioning a book called Flash of The Spirit by Michael Farris Thompson and the kosmogram. I needed to get my hands on that book.

Arriving back in the city that night, I called several bookstores in search of the book. It appears it was out of print. How to get that book? I knew I had to get my hands on a copy of that book. Not later but now. A few miles from my house, a thought entered my head. A former professor and fellow artist, I knew might have access or know of one. He was an older gentlemen, well read and connected to ancestral knowledge. I grabbed up my phone and called him. A sleepy bass timbered voice answered. My enthusiasm made me oblivious of the time. You know it’s late right? he said.

“Yessir.” I replied. Now aware but still caught up in the throes of hope.

I apologized and went on about the book. Asking him for the specific title. There was silence for a minute. I practically held my breath.

“I’m walking over to my shelf, right now,” he said. More silence followed. I was almost afraid to speak for fear that I might knock something off of that baited moment. Finally he spoke again.

I’m pulling said book off my shelf.”

I practically exploded. “Is there any possibility that I can borrow it? My breathing stopped again. More silence. That was the longest hanging silent moment of my life, it seemed. My heart was beating a tune of angst and anticipation.

“You know it’s late, right.” he said again. I could hear a woman’s voice in the background. I recognized it as his wife. Probably wondering who was calling at that hour of the night. He answered her as I hung on.

“Yessir, I know and I sincerely apologize that I had to interrupt your evening with this but…”

“I tell you what.” he cut in . I clamped my mouth shut. “I’ll let you borrow the book if you promise to break bread with me and the misses at some point.”

“Yes, Yes, of course. Just let me know when. I’d bee honored. Just say when.”

“You know how to get to my house, don’t you.” He inquired.

“I’ll need the address again. I know the general area.” I said excited to have potentially closed the deal. He gave the the address and said.

“How far away are you?

“I’m on the parkway. I could be there in less than five minutes.”

“Come on.” he said.

“I’m on my way. Thank you so much.” I couldn’t believe what was unfolding. The one person I’d called actually had the book in his possession. I was giddy with excitement and almost overwhelmed with questions and wonder. I drove fast but careful, not wanting anything to fall between myself and what was in that book that had become the ark of the covenant of the moment. He was waiting at open door before I had even gone up the steps. His look stooped me in my tracks. I stood at the bottom of the steps like a little boy. His look held me there for a minute. Neither one of us spoke. I could feel the fatherness emanating from him.

“You know it’s late, right?”

“Yessir, it is”

“You know you must be special, for me to even answer the phone, not to mention invite you over at this hour. My wife thinks I’ve lost my mind. She knows you’re special too. He finally broke into a smile.

“Come on in.”

I took all of the steps in two leaps. We went upstairs to his library/studio and sticking out on the shelf like a leaning tooth was the book. He pulled it down and leafed slowly through it, peering over the rim of his glasses. He walked over and say down, patting the back of the chair for me to come over. I sat, eyes still on him as he looked through the book. His eyes shifted to me at the moment he placed the book in my hand. I peeled it open. It was an autographed copy, filled with notations and highlighted marks. At that moment the floodgates broke and I spilled the entire story of the Savannah sojourn. He listened quietly. When I was done, he started gingerly. “You’re a special young man, that’s why I answered the phone, invited you over, and am lending you this book. I don’t do that for everybody and my wife will tell you, I don’t lend out my books. Even she is surprised on that one.” He took a deep breath and paused. ” I grew up in Savannah.” All the time I knew him, I thought he was from New York or Jersey. He had the strongest New Yorker vibe ever. Plus he had been in the Black Power movement, the Nation of Islam and all that. my mind darted to a scene from Luke Cage when he told the older guy he was from Chicago. The older guy wasn’t buying it. He finally said, “Savannah”.

“My grandmother lived there and she would take me into the bush and she shared with me some things. There’s something special about Savannah. You connected to it. It connected to you. That’s why this is happening.” I could pick up on the esoteric undertones of his words. They were electrifying. The communion continued and we eventually found ourselves back at the front door. Just before I rounded the corner out of sight he said, standing there like a smaller version of an Egyptian god-king, bald head and all, his tone serious and somewhat somber.

“I’m not your Daddy, but I’m going to say this. Take that book and go straight home.”

He didn’t have to tell me twice. I wasn’t planning on anything else. On my way, I did wonder why and what he meant. Nevertheless, a short while later I was curled up in bed, not believing that the book that had come to mind a few hours ago was now in my hands. I began to read, eating up the words like a man starved. About an hour or so later, I put the book to my chest breathing hard. Something was described in the book, almost identical to what I had sketched out in my journal while sitting on that bench in Savannah across from the First African Baptist Church. I knew then that I had to have that sculpture piece brought to fruition. It would be even more famous than Savannah’s ‘bird girl’. The next day I did a Facebook post with the photos of the footprints on the beach and hinted toward the voices. I did share the “Them comin'” part.

A few days later, the news buzzed about a hurricane brewing in the Atlantic. Eventually hurricane Matthew hit as the most powerful storm of the 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season. It struck Haiti on October 4, 2016, as a Category 4 hurricane leaving in its wake 2.8 billion in damage and 546 deaths. Matthew then approached the Georgia and South Carolina coast early in the morning of October 8th.  Rain bands evaporated over the southern half of the circulation as the storm turned northeastward just off the coast of Charleston, SC.  Even in its weakened state, Matthew still produced wind gusts as high as 96 mph on Tybee Island, GA, which had been evacuated. Matthew was the first October hurricane to make landfall north of Florida since Hurricane Hazel did it in 1954.

I heard voices out there that day on Tybee Island. Not sure how or where to make all the connections. That sketch I made in a little golden sketch journal. Next to it, I wrote these words…

“The most radical art is not protest art but works that take us to another place, envision a different way of seeing, perhaps a different way of feeling.”

– Robin D.G. Kelley

That sketch and all that surrounded it undergirded my faith to commission a sculpture piece based on it. The figure that is to be installed at a building I will own, is now completed in bronze and waiting…for the building. A building/campus that will embody the philosophy of art as an acronym for A Resurrecting Truth, a basis for a more just society, a way of life beyond mere survival. I moved with intent, trusting the process, in the power of that mysterious Savannah sojourn. I’ve been back in Savannah since then, and yes more was shared. More that I will share later in this unfolding too intertwined to make up. One thing I do know, based on all the things involved that I have shared and not yet shared. It may be present tense or future still but just the same…them comin’…

Stranger Things: Them Comin’…


As I rounded the corner of the Haitian monument in the heart of Savannah, I realized that it was a mirror image of the other side, except behind the monument. It was the identical circular cobblestone area replete with benches…and the unhoused men. There in that space, were the same men that had been on the other side with me about 30 minutes before. I paused and stared around the circle. I really hadn’t meant to walk up on them that way. Hadn’t expected them to be there. For what seemed like an entire minute, no one moved. I looked from man to man. Their eyes were locked on me. Finally, I nodded a greeting and most returned the gesture without taking their eyes from me. I exited the area, preferring to remain mysterious. As I walked the emptying downtown streets, I replayed the entire thing in my head. Why did the men leave? Because I requested it…in my head. It appeared they had shifted their space to allow me mine. I accepted that.

I turned and walked into one of the only places still open. For the next forty minutes or so, I stood in a small gallery talking to a young lady about art and inspiration. It wasn’t my intent for the encounter to turn into a coaching session. I had only inquired about a “Bird Girl” art greeting card. Finally it was well past the gallery’s closing time and I had turned to leave. “You know”, she said. “All day, I haven’t had one full conversation with anyone. And just about closing time, you walk in and all over again, I’m excited about art. I’m going back to school to finish what I started.” I paused a minute and responded, paper bag in hand. “That’s what I came in here for, and maybe next time I’ll see your work in here.” With those words and an exchange of smiles, I left feeling pretty good about the evening. The young lady had come to Savannah years ago on a scholarship and began classes at SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design). Art was her entire life dream. She had gotten distracted, discouraged, and eventually dropped out. A series of odd jobs had finally brought her to the gallery where I met her. Now she was going back to school, her dream rekindled.

The next day my partner and I were eating breakfast when a gentleman we knew from Huntsville approached us. What are the odds? He was there on some engineering official business type stuff. We talked about Savannah and his job connection. He asked where all we had been. “You haven’t been to Tybee Island?!” We had not. Our goal was to eat and hit the road right after. We both had places to be later in the day. “You’ve got to go to Tybee Island. You’re already here, It’s not that far. You won’t regret it if you do. You will if you don’t.” We looked at each other searching for reasons to or not to. This guy was on the hard sell. “We’ll see”, I said. My usual answer when I don’t want to give a definitive answer. After breakfast we both decided that we might as well go. It couldn’t take up that much time. The trip had been good and my mind was invested with good stuff to unpack later.

The drive was nice. The stuff of my dreams. The road grew really narrow at times and the marsh leading right up to it was intimidating. If a person drove right off the edge they would be stuck in the ocean. The ocean. Not a good thought for me. I looked ahead and kept driving. When we reached the Island, it was still early. It was also strangely peaceful. Like in a Stephen King movie kind of way. The area of the beach we walked was fairly empty except for our voices…and the other ones I started hearing. As we walked along, I asked her, “Do you hear that?” “Hear what?” she responded.

“The voices”, I said, a little confused.

“I don’t hear any voices. You hearing things.”

I was. Voices.

From somewhere the distance, I could hear human voices like the sound was being carried. No individual words, just calling voices of people screaming out. My logical mind kicked in and I tried to attribute it to the wind. The only comparison I have is from the classic movie The Ten Commandments, when Moses was in the dessert and all the voices of the people were calling out to him.

“You still hearin’ it.” She asked.

I’m thinking she saw the look on my face and realized I wasn’t playing as I usually do. At that moment, I locked into logic and pointed out to the ships that looked like lego blocks in the distance.

“Maybe they’re coming from out there. The wind is probably carrying the voices from the ships.” I said, wrestling to make sense of it.

“I don’t think so.” she knocked over my justification. Why couldn’t she hear them? We went back and forth a few minutes, then let it go. The voices became background noise to our conversation. Seven geese announced their journey overhead. I took photos and recordings on the beach with my phone. Now I’m wondering if my phone picked up the voices. When I finish writing this, I’ll go check. Looking at the ships, the water, the shoreline, I had a jarring crash thought moment of realization. This shoreline was a place of arrival for enslaved people. Some of my ancestors could have walked this very shore, stood on this very spot, soaked this sand with theirs tears and sweat.

I’ve since learned that (according to SavannahNow, March 29, 2022) in May of 1768, at least 250 enslaved Africans brought for sale in Savannah aboard the ship Constantine took their first steps on dry land on Tybee Island at an area called Lazaretto. The healthy were processed and cleared. Those who had died while chained together below deck in the dank darkness on the month-long journey were buried in unmarked graves. This was hallowed ground. My mind knew of none of this at the time. My spirit did. I had a moment. The voices. The voices. I walked to the waters edge and cut my birthmark crown into the sand. I felt something at work here. Looking over at her, I was about to share, then never minded. I ventured slightly into the water and walked back from the shoreline leaving a trail of foot prints. I took the photo. Many thousand come. Many thousand gone, I thought. I had painted those words in a mural around 2004. As I stared into the footprints, they multiplied in my head. My eyes went back out to the ships, sitting atop the ocean’s edge. The words, ‘Them comin” came to me. “Them comin’, them comin,” just kept repeating itself in my head. Them comin’…

…To be continued…

them comin…

Stranger Things: By way of Savannah

I’ve always been magnetized by the esoteric…the reality that there is so much more to life that what we see with our everyday eyes. Those things that leave you grasping for logical explanation and sometimes gasping for air.

School had started back. The waning days of summer had put me in a state of longing. Not just a gentle sleepy nudge but a magnetic pull that squeezed itself well into my waking hours. I needed to go to Savannah. Why Savannah, I had no clue. Of course my logical side kept asking that same question. Especially since I had never even been to Savannah. On a trip to the bank to take care of some business, I engaged the teller in conversation. It led to mentioning her honeymoon for some reason, and their plan to returne for their anniversary…to Savannah. A week or so later, from under a pile on the floor of my closet I pulled out a blue sweatshirt with the word emblazoned across the front, SAVANNAH. I quieted the rational and gave ear to the supernatural. My decision was made.

It was the beginning October of that year when I drove into Savannah, GA wearing all white. Again, I just moved as I was moved. The city of Forest Gump and Roots filming welcomed us with warmth. I had stopped over in Atlanta and picked up my partner. She was there on business and my sojourn through was a convenient link for the both of us. Massive live oaks with wavy fingers dripping with Spanish moss hovered overhead. People milled about with seemingly no particular place to go. I loved the city with all my senses. We hit the ground running and took photos on the bench where Forest Gump had waxed philosophical. After a few blocks and photos in front of a Masonic building, we decided to do the trolley tour.

About halfway down the trolley car, we found seats facing the sidewalk and out of the sun. The driver began their spill on the mystique and splendor of this magnificent place. After a while I noticed people gathering to one side and taking photos. The driver’s voice didn’t coincide with the attention. I stood up and looked over. There, alongside the trolley care, rode a man on a bike. An elder man, black like me with a rich glow to his skin. He was dressed in all white, pedaling along, paying no attention to his audience. At the moment I raised my camera, he looked up. His eyes connected immediately with me for what seemed like minutes. I wasn’t sure whether I took the photo or not. He turned his attention back to the rode before him and continued his journey. My eyes followed him out of sight. That was interesting.

That evening as we were winding down, I mention that I wanted to stay in the downtown area so I could be near the First African Baptist Church. For reasons beyond which I knew at the time, I felt drawn the church. I had read about its history and the Kongolese Kosmograms impressed into the floor of the basement. How they had served as spiritual connections and practical holes for the enslaved people to breath through. Effortlessly, we found a hotel on the edge of downtown. Once we were situated in the room, I began to search the map for the location of the church in proximity. She had no desire to go out. Just as well for me, because I felt the need to go alone. She finally called downstairs for directions and they informed us that the church was just across the parking lot from us. Wow. I left and sure enough within minutes, found myself walking in front of the First African Baptist Church.

I ran my hands across the red doors framed in white. My mind wandered to its history only to be interrupted by noise from across the street. “Tourists.” I thought to myself. It seemed so irreverent for them to be making so much noise in the presence of this sacred place. To me, the space around it was hallowed ground. I felt a powerful connection in that moment. A short while later I was looking around for a space to write and sketch in my journal. The only place was the park space across the way, in front of the church. The same space inhabited by the noisy disturbers. I walked over and sat on an unoccupied bench. In the next few moments, I realized they were not tourists but a gathering of unhoused men. They cursed and hollered at each other in conversation. One man even came closer to me and relieved himself behind a bench. A passing white guy came over and took a seat. In less than a minute they’d ran him off with their last words being, “God don’t like ugly.” The moment was more intriguing than hilarious. Why hadn’t they run me off? Here I was sitting there dressed in white, scribbling in a gold colored sketch journal on a park bench. One of them asked me for the time. I reached into my pocket to pull out my phone. Another guy yelled out, “Oh we good, bro!” What? Did he thing I was going for a gun. At that moment, I thought to myself, “I need this sacred space right now. I need them to be gone, for just a while so I can focus in this space. After a few minutes, I looked up. All but one of the men, were gone. Every single visible soul had vacated the space. My request had been granted…almost. The last man sat there, staring across the area, a rotunda of cobblestones. He was mumbling something. Finally he threw a cup of ice across the ground and stood up, cursing. His eyes turned in my direction as he continued his tirade. He came toward me, still screaming. My eyes stayed on his. For some reason there was no fear or alarm triggered in me. I just held him calmly with my eyes. A yard or two away he veered around me and disappeared into the night, still ranting. I turned back to my space. the circle fanned out around me. I was alone. There was no one else I could see. To my right stood the Haitian monument. Five warriors poised atop the concrete slab in suspended animation. The space was charged. I could feel it. My skin was practically vibrating. I wrote and drew in a stream of consciousness for a while. When the energy was too high for any more marks on the paper, I stood, walked the circumference of the circle, went to the center, and drew out the Kongolese cosmogram with a small rock. When I was done I surveyed my work then walked to the other aide of the monument. I was mystified at what I saw…


…of My Ancestors

In my senior year of undergraduate studies at Alabama A & M University, a professor shared words that have had a rippling effect on my existence. She said in a smooth deep voice, “Son, hold your head up. Your success is inevitable. This Alabama red clay is rich with the blood of your ancestors.” I am certain she had no idea of the range of impact those words would have on multiple levels. Neither did I. This makes me take more consideration regarding any words that I share with those within the sphere of my influence.

For a period of time, during my undergrad years, I did not want to be from Alabama. I din’t want to be associated with Alabama, it’s history, or in my mind, it’s lack of culture and positive reputation. I wanted to be from anyplace else. It wasn’t until years later, when I would relocate to Chester, PA, just southwest of Philadelphia that I began to feel the place of my birth stir in my chest. After living there a while, I was finally ok to say I was from Alabama. Distance and perspective had stoked my appreciation. I moved back to Alabama when my children were still babies. I preferred to raise them in the south. Specifically on this hallowed ground, “rich with the blood of my ancestors.”

A few years ago, I walked with a foreman on a space that would become a major business destination. As we entered a covered area in this large warehouse, I felt the soft ground give beneath my feet. I look down to see the red earth that had not seen rain for the better part of a century. It was like walking on a bed of red talcum powder. I asked the foreman if I could take some. He produce a container and told me to take all I could. I did, along with some rusted machine parts. The two were inextricably related.

I had a long history with the red clay. It was my footprint, the pathway of my childhood. I hd experimented with dying fabrics with it, tinted wood, made clay pots, temporary sculptures, gourmet mud pies, eaten it, used it as a mud mask, let is squish up between my toes on a creek bank, had mud fights, and constructed homemade bricks.  This red clay that caked on our shoes, stained our clothes, and the bottoms of our feet took on a powerful significance relating to my story and ancestral unfolding.  

As a painter, the next question arose. Can I paint with this? Through a series of experiments and trials, I found that I could sculpt the unforgiving substance with water and brushes to build space on a flat surface. The clay responds very different from paints.  The permanence is supreme. The paper is dyed by the iron oxides present. The nature of red clay gives me a strange feeling that I’m painting with a living substance. Painting with red clay become less of me and more of us.

“We are linked by blood, and blood is memory without language.” Joyce Carol Oates 

Those words I accept as the foundational principle of truth that drives my work. It’s alive.  Iron oxide gives the clay its haunting red coloring. Iron is the essential element for blood production. Blood is the sacred force in man and beast – the ultimate sacrificial substance, representing life itself. Blood is a charged element that symbolically marks my work. Iron is present in blood and as oxides in the clay. Iron, also present in much of my work was used in building material, weapons, tools… and shackles. Iron serves as a viable conductor.

My ancestors spilled their lifeblood from the womb of my mothers to the altars of this southern space. All those years ago, that professor shared much more than inspirational words. She prophesied over me that day. My present creative exploration manifested organically. It honors the life/clay/blood connection to sacrificial power. Sacrifices activate the divine. The divine is the source of re-memberance, resurrection, redemption, and restoration. My art operates as a sacrament on those pillars,  an invocation to reconnect to the sanctity of life. I’m completing the circle on this miracle territory. This is blood work. 

Collateral Beauty

Death is a subject that most would like to avoid discussing. Myself included. However, after attending four funerals in three weeks, I’m feeling the need to ventilate. Yes, I’ve heard the statements, ” Death is a part of life,” and “We all have to leave this place some time, or “She/he is in a better place now.” In truth, these sayings don’t bring much comfort when you’re in the shadow of the death. This is not meant to be some philosophical exegesis on the idea of death and dealing. The fact is that death is hard and mysterious, no matter how much religion, knowledge, or preparation you think you have.

One of the funerals I attended this month was by far one of the saddest. I found myself standing there in a begging mode of prayer for the family members of the deceased. Each one of their cries reached all the way down into my soul and sent my mind in a lurch to make things right. The crushing realization that I couldn’t set me in a slow motion orbit where my imagination, in defect mode, defied the gravitational pull of the emotional pain. I saw the family. Each one of them, still in the land of the living. Dreams and hopes, though presently obscured, still resided within them. All around that hole in the ground was life. That life and the realization of its frailty was now illuminated with heightened intensity. The Book had been closed on the loved one in the box. For the living, it was a part of another chapter.

I thought about the resolve and strength of the family members. The challenges overcome and views toward the future. I was inspired by what was still here, still possible. By looking deeply into the situation, I saw beyond it. Just like a cool drink is all the better on a sweltering summer day. There’s nothing like death, the threat ot it, or the thought of it to heighten the appreciation for life. That has been one of my methods to see behind that dark cloud. The knowing that there is something that will come to aid us not necessarily a result of the tragedy but in our adjustment to it. Although, in the smothering moments, we may not be able to see it. If we breath and look into a dark situation long enough, our faith will grasp onto the knowing that the sun will shine again. And it will, if we allow ourselves to see it. In our reeling world, we are in need of more of us who have an eye for the collateral beauty.

collateral beauty is defined as the beauty that lies within. It is the hidden beauty around anything dark that is happening as it cannot be seen directly. Not everyone believes in or accepts the concept.

Photos by Imani Moore

The bEARTHday Gift

It was the summer of 2018. I was in Chicago and had set my intention on meeting world reknown artist, Kerry James Marshall. I had no idea how this was to come about but that was my goal. I had no plan. I began by sharing my quest with a few friends. A day or so later, one of them called and informed me that Marshall was a doing an artist talk on June 21st in honor of the Charles White Retrospective exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. Since this was the esteemed Kerry James Marshall, you had to have a ticket in order to attend. I was in for sure. This was going to be way easier than I could have imagined. As soon as I could, I went online to get my ticket. Right there on the screen in a boldfaced black rectangle were the words SOLD OUT!

Aw hell naw! There was no way I was going to get this close and miss that boat. It had to happen.I had to be in there. I called the museum and was informed that there was an expansive waiting list already. I hung the phone up, head heavy with thought. How was I to bring this to pass? I was supposed to meet Kerry James Marshall. The idea had come. The intent had been set. The possibility has been glimpsed. Now I was here, in this liminal space of not knowing what to do to make it happen. I went to a well connected professor at the School of the Art Institute. Surely he could find a way. “Kerry James Marshall is rockstar status. There won’t be any comp tickets.” He told me. “I’m getting in that auditorium”, I told him. “Even if I’m the guy setting up his chair or adjusting the microphone.” Before long all of my cohorts were aware of my intent, even down to sweeping the floor in the auditorium. I talked that up like nobody’s business without a clue of a how. I just knew the what, when, and where.

The days were passing and the date was drawing near. It appeared I was no closer to my goal than before. In my chest though, there was this knawing knowing that would not go away. Each Wednesday, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago would host Artist Talks at the MacLean Center Auditorium. on Michigan Avenue. It was June 20th, my bEARTHday and still no leads. The day was filled with well wishers and bEARTHday meals with friends. That evening, I walked in the auditorium and headed to my customary center, second row from the front, seat. Greg Bordowitz, the Low Res MFA program director walked down the center aisle and greeted me as he usually would. Then he said, “I heard you wanted to see Kerry James Marshall.” I confirmed, eyebrows raised. “I got you on the VIP list.” he continued. ” Just go right in on tomorrow and tell them who you are and they’ll get you seated.” Although I knew in my chest, there would be a way, it was still hard to believe. I would be in that auditorium the next day! “Happy birthday.” He said with a smile and walked away. My gratitude was a groundswell that surfaced in a flood of thank yous.

I shared the news with my cohorts who couldn’t believe the news. On more than a few times that night they reiterated the fact that I had this uncanny ability to make things happen. It certainly appeared that way. Nevertheless, I was not about to question anything between that moment and 6pm June 21st. I was busy trying to wrap my mind around it all.

The next afternoon, I decided to take a nap. I rarely take naps. I wanted to be fully rested and fully awake for the presentation. I had just drifted off or maybe I was just deep in thought, when my phone rang. It was Bethelhem, a friend and fellow artist. “Jahni, I knew you wanted a ticket to see Kerry James Marshall. Lucas can’t go and wants you to have his ticket.” In my brain something hit like those things at the fair when you hit the hammer on the base to make the bell ring. I thanked her profusely. The resulting adrenaline had driven every ounce of sleep back to my infancy. I called home and shared the news. Again I heard how things I truly wanted seemed to appear.

Before 5:30 I was walking over to the Auditorium. I had called another friend and promised her the additional ticket. When I arrived, there was a line down the sidewalk, rockstar style. I walked up and got in line. Then I remember that he had told me to go right in. There was a strange mixture of guilt and pride as I passed all the people in line. A well-dressed lady inside, looked up my name, took me to a side door of the auditorium, and pointed down front. “You can choose any of those seats.” She said. “Any one of them? I repeated. “Yes, any one of them.” She repeated, smiling. I walked my happy butt down there and sat smack dab on the front row.

That night after the event, I walked out the building in conversation with Alabama native, world reknown artist, Kerry James Marshall, his wife, playwright, director, actress, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, along with John White (son of artist, Charles White) and some friends. It had come to pass.

Please allow that be a testament to the power of purpose and intent. I didn’t know the how in the beginning. I just knew the what and kept my focus there. In a series of unfolding events, trusting the process, it came to be. And that professor who said there would be no comp tickets was there too, sitting toward the back in the regular seats. A lot of us saw the power of intent at work that night. In truth my bEARTHday gift was the realization of that gift. Investing the time with Kerry James Marshall was a byproduct of it.

Space Is Our Place

I grew up in the beating heart of the gallant south. In fact, for years, a tagline on the local license plates read,”Heart of Dixie.” Navigating this plane in a black body has been more than interesting. Along the way, I’ve encountered what most meet on any lengthy travel; traffic jams, roadblocks, dead ends, spans of open roads and the ever challenging notion of space between myself and other travelers.

In 2017, I came to know of Sun Ra. I’d heard of him before and knew of him only as an eccentric musician. Not much beyond that. It was in Chicago, where I came to know him. One of my professors was a collaborator in a book about him. She set me on the road to the Alabama native via Chicago. Sun Ra signaled to me in various forms. It was in innerspace, a few years later, where I met him.

In 2018, I was commissioned by Google to do a mural in Huntsville. The final destination for the piece was a large metal wall facing the Butler green at Campus 805, a local brewery and entertainment venue. I submitted a number of concept sketches, wanting to expound on the “Rocket City” theme without focusing on overdone rockets. Each one came back with notes from too racy to too sexy. Finally we landed on an idea that would fly. Now I was wrestling with the wording that I wanted to add to the piece. While sitting at my desk at the school where I was teaching at the time I pulled up a documentary on Afrofuturism as part of my continued research. It started out with the words…

“The term Afrofuturism first appeared in an essay titled, Black To The Future, by Mark Dery, in 1994 – but its roots go back to a fateful night in the late 1930’s in Huntsville, Alabama. On that peculiar evening a beam of light shot down from the sky, and lifted Herman “Sonny “Blount into an alien spacecraft. On a voyage to Jupiter [actually it was Saturn], his captors prompted him with a mission: To transport Black people away from the racism and violence of planet Earth. “Sonny” became Sun Ra…”

I turned to look at the video and replayed it to be sure I heard what I thought I’d heard. Sure enough, it went on about Sun Ra, who has been billed the father of Afrofuturism, and how he had received his vision and charge lifted from the edge of a corn field on the outskirts of the campus of Alabama A&M University. Yes, Alabama A & M University, my alma mater. I knew in that moment, the name and wording of the mural. I was also reminded that I was born in this space capital, at this time, in this body, and set on a cosmic quest.

Once I began play on the mural, the rains decided to come and work with me. I took every dry moment I could, to paint. I slung paint in the mornings before school, after school, and on weekends. With the rain, I had less that two weeks to fully complete the piece. Nature definitely put me to the challenge. One morning I came back after an evening of painting into the night to find that a misty rain had melted the face of the main image. I kept going. We don’t stop. One day a man from the neighborhood walked up an asked if I was really putting “one of us on a wall. Bruh, that’s alright.” He said, and walked away in pride. A blonde woman from inside the venue would come out daily to watch me paint on her break. “Thanks for doing this.” She said one day. ” I was so glad when I saw you were painting a woman there.” Another day, an Asian woman walked by, stood gazing at the piece for awhile, got my attention, and simply said, Thank you so much.” I knew the nature of her gratitude. Even before completion, the art was doing its work.

Finally I completed the piece and stood back to look at what we’d done. An employee came out of the building and exclaimed, “Dude, it’s so cool that you’re honoring Sun Ra, and on his birthday.” “Uh, yeah for sure.” I replied, totally physically unaware that is was Sun Ra’s bEARTHday. When the gentleman walked away, I snatched out my phone and checked the facts. Sure enough, It was May 22, Sun Ra’s bEARTH date. There it was, that connection beyond connections.

Summer of 2019, I invested an insane number of hours pouring over mountains of Sun Ra archives in the University of Chicago Library. On my return to Huntsville, I went back and added to the mural, the image of a man levitating to the heavens, honoring Sun Ra’s space baptism. Sun Ra’s revelation led him on the quest for liberation by way of music, claiming space as our place, pulling heavily from ancient Egyptian culture. I honor that celestial philosophy and take artistic license to add that the space between us is also vast and in need of exploration. There are worlds of possibilities that vibrate in that space, if we could just see past the limiting notion that it only separates us, and realize that it also connects us. In all of its forms, space is our place.

Liberty With A Twist…

Last week, I shared the story of how we acquired my daughter’s Jeep. Fast forward to about a year later. My sister reached out to me about finding a car for my niece, who was in town attending Alabama A&M University. It appears they thought I was pretty good at finding deals. My niece came over and we discussed cars. A few weeks went by and nothing was gelling. Finally I asked her what did she actually want. She didn’t have a clue. Therein lay the part of the problem. She, and subsequently, we had not set our divine GPS. I asked her to decide on exactly what she wanted, down to the color. She finally said, “I like Imani’s car. Something like that would be good, except I want mine to be white.” Cool. Before the evening was over we had scoured the internet looking at white Jeep Liberties.

I found one she liked in Montevallo, AL. It fit the profile and the price range. The next day, my niece and partner met at the bank to get the financing together. I planned to drive down to Montevallo and proceed with the purchase of the car. For some reason, they took forever and a day to get the bank stuff in order. I was hours later leaving than planned. Now it was going to be thigh thick with Birmingham rush hour traffic. I was not a happy camper. I called my daughter on the way down (She had transferred to University of Alabama in Birmingham). I figured since she had a jeep she could be instrumental in the details. I scooped her up from UAB campus and continued my journey.

Highway 280 was horrendous. I was stopping every five feet, it seemed.. We would never make it there before dark like that. My anxiety was spilling out in the car. “This is utterly ridiculous!”, I stated at the beginning of my rant, from the snail paced traffic, to them taking so long at the bank, to the world state of affairs. My daughter was quiet. I could feel her looking at me from the passenger seat. “Being upset won’t get us there any sooner. There’s nothing we can do about the traffic.” Yep. she did it again. Found that button that had been stuck in the on position and adjusted it accordingly. I took a deep breath and exhaled. With that breath went the anxiety. I had breathed in the realization that I wasn’t going to affect any of this with my attitude. Just be in the moment. Sometime our children have an awesome way of giving us back to ourselves.

My daughter was here with me and we would be in the car for a while so that time was of value. We ended up having great conversations about school, life, and just stuff. She had pulled some good laughs out of me by the time we pulled up to the white Jeep in the parking lot of Montevallo University. The owner drove up as we we walking around the car. The internet photos looked so much better. The paint was really scratched up. The tires were all odd and worn. The beck spare was a different size. The interior had seen better days. When I started it up, the sound was less than satisfying. There was something that wasn’t quite right. My mood was dropping right along with the prospect of this being the car. I asked my daughter how it sounded to her since she drove a Jeep. She said it sounded different. We took it for a drive to a local mechanic shop. After a few minutes, I had a subtle sneaky suspicion the shop owner and the car owner knew each other. The mechanic on duty was about to tell us something. The shop owner stopped him and turned full tilt into a car salesman. The jig was up. My spidey senses were tingling all over the place. My daughter looked at me and asked, “Do you get that same good feeling in your stomach as when you bought my car?” “No, not at all.” I replied. The car owner wouldn’t budge on his asking price. We took the car back to its resting place and left.

As we drove back toward Birmingham, I keep saying to myself. “I don’t understand. This was it. This was the trip for the Jeep. I really though that was the car. Everything was in place. It was supposed to happen. Was my method faulty, my faith finicky?” It just didn’t make sense. I decided to take my daughter’s earlier wisdom and enjoy the journey and time we had. We stopped at the Purple Peanut in Birmingham and had scrumptious veggie burgers. I asked here not to tell anyone about not getting the Jeep, especially my niece. She would be devastated since she was expecting me to return with the car. I took my daughter back to campus, checked the fluids in her Jeep and headed back home to Huntsville.

Still befuddle, I kept replaying everything in my head. All the signs had been in place. Where had I gone wrong? I made a few calls on the way home, using the time to catch on on some chatting. As I talked to my partner, I shared the events of the evening, from my disappointments to the wonderful time I shared with Imani. Then I missed my exit. “I’ll get the next one.” I said, a bit frustrated as it had started to drizzle rain. I hate driving in the rain. “Don’t tell herabout the Jeep.”, I said, feeling defeated.

“Why not, she’s going to find out anyway.” she responded.

“Just, please don’t tell her.”

I missed the next exit too. What the heck was going on? I’d taken this route more times than I can remember and never missed an exit or turn. By then I had called my mother and shared the events of the evening. “Well, everything happens for a reason.” She gave her usual reply. It wasn’t helping, but I took it. I finally got off at the Athens exit and headed back to huntsville. “I’m all the way in Athens, Mom. This is crazy.” “Well at least you made it back most of the way safe.” She said. This woman was not going to let me grovel and groan in peace. As I headed back to Huntsville from the opposite direction, I caught a glimpse of a white Jeep to my right. I was just about dark so I wasn’t totally clear. I said, “Mom, I think I just saw a Jeep like the one we were looking for.” “Be careful, she exclaimed. It’s dark outside.” Mom, I’m grown.” I said only to myself and excitedly whipped my car around, went back and pulled up next to it. “It looks good.” I said. “Let me call you back.” I got out of the car and inspected the white Jeep Liberty I had been led to. The mileage was much lower than the others we had seen. The paint look nearly new, as did the tires. The interior was all intact and without visible wear. Although the price was beyond what we wanted to pay, I knew this was her car. I called the number on the window. The gentleman on the other end said it had been his niece’s car. He’d only had to replace the tires and windshield wipers. he was self employed so he could meet me the next morning to check it out.

As I sat in the bank office with my niece next to me and the car parked outside, I turned to her and said. “I guess I should let you know that the Jeep outside is snot the one I drove down to get.” “What do you mean?” she asked. “It’s right there.” “That’s not the same one though.” I responded and went on to relay the story to her right there in the office. She sat there in awe through the last part of the story. The Loan officer, smiling behind his computer, chimed in, “Now that’s God in action .”

Trust the process, even when you don’t understand the manner of unfolding. Everything on that journey was serving as an informant to usher me to a new level of understanding and trust. Sometimes you’ll be taken out of your way to get to the way. Once you set you intent and begin the process, trust it. I no longer limit my faculties to the realm of belief. It’s a type of knowing now. I always go a little further, get clear, make up my mind, and walk in that space that I like to call miracle territory. That’s real liberty.

Trusting The Process

Those were words I consistently shared with my students, children, or anyone else who fell under the sound of my voice in conversation. Trusting the process is an easy concept but a challenging charge. I’ll share one of a multitude of examples where I’ve had no other choice…really.

Some years back, my daughter drove a little black Jeep Liberty. That Jeep came from a process of trusting and, I must add, setting intent. Before that she drove the cutest darling red Volkswagen Beetle. When I bought it for her, the Christmas of her senior year in high school, she just sat in it on that usually warm winter day and cried tears of joy. That joy multiplied in me many times over, just seeing and remembering. That little Beetle was a dream come true…all the way up until it wasn’t. It transformed into a time and money chomping little beast. It ate up most of her earnings from her job at the movie theatre, and a good share of mine. The electrical system went haywire. The moonroof decided to get stuck open right before a torrential downpour. One day I came home and she had the dash and door guts spread out on the ground in front of the garage. I looked at her in passing, saw the determination in her face, took a deep breath, and picked up my steps to the door of the house. Hours later she had mitigated the problem. I then realized that this little fella was helping me parent. It was actually teaching her lessons about patience, perseverance, hard work, hard times, and all that good stuff. Plus, I had a requirement that to have a car, you had to make enough money to pay your own monthly insurance premium. My daughter never missed a payment, even with all the beetle juice draining.

It was a Thanksgiving holiday when she came home for the break from Jacksonville University. She had gone away to college at sixteen so I was a little more than protective. That little beetle sputtered into the yard and she hopped out, glad to be home. I knew then, it was over. I sent her back to school after Christmas in my truck. This came in handy because we had a snowstorm that winter and the truck was right on time for her. Not for me though. I needed my ole trusty truck back.

When she came home for spring break, we had already decided that we were going to get her another car. The beetle was resting in the driveway, waiting to see what the end would be. I had informed her that my truck would not be going back to the university. We decided on the type of car she wanted, all the way down to the color. Then she added, “And I want a sunroof.” She had grown fond of the little hole in the top of the beetle. I understand though. I’m a sunroof man too. My response to her was, “I don’t think they come with a sunroof, doll.” “Ok”, she said without any argument.

Nights after work, I’d been pouring through online ads looking for a black Jeep Liberty. One particular night, still sitting in my tiny office, just as I was about to sign off, I saw it. At a local dealership right in town. A basic black Jeep, no sunroof, no leather seats, no 4×4. Just a basic basic. But it was a black Jeep Liberty and in my price range. I called and it was available. I knew I wouldn’t make it there before the dealership closed so we planned to go the next morning and claim our Jeep. The timing was perfection without practice. I’d found the jeep and she was home for spring break. She would drive that jeep back to school. And I would have my good ole truck back.

The next morning I called to let the dealership know I was on the way. They couldn’t find the Jeep. They eventually told us it had sold the night before so late that the salesperson neglected to put it in the system. I didn’t understand. That was our jeep. I was inclined to take my frustration out on the person on the other end of the phone but decided otherwise and let them go, unscathed. But my feelings were thoroughly scathed. It was right in my price range too. It seemed perfect. She was home from school to get her Jeep. The one she described, sort of.

In my shadow of defeat, I went to my laptop, halfheartedly opened it, and began to surf. After a few minutes, I found one in Ardmore, AL about 30 miles away. It was more Jeep than I had planned for and the price was above my range. “Can we at least go look at it?” she asked. The hopeful look on her face and the memory of the time, care, and dollars she’d poured into the beastle pulled a reluctant, “Alright then.” out of me. This trip would have a dual purpose. It would keep me from having to break it to her that we couldn’t afford that car and it would give her something to set her sights on. We headed to Ardmore.

When we arrived, the Jeep was right up front. You know how the small dealerships park the best looking vehicles up front toward the street. My heart skipped again. It was extra clean. It was black with heated leather seats, low miles, alloy wheels, great tires, 4-wheel drive…and a sunroof. My eyebrows went up. Right along with the price tag. As we talked to the salesman, I was trying to give my daughter the eye to not appear so excited. Then something kicked in. I call it the faith factor. My daughter’s name actually means ‘faith’.

“Are you financing with us? Do you have a trade in?” the salesman asked. “I have my own financing and yes, I have a trade in.”, I responded. My daughter’s head whipped around to me. The surprise in her eyes was undisguised. I gave her the side eye and she played it cool. She’s good at reading me. I described the beetle to the guy and he really seemed interested. “Ok, we’ll be back in about and hour or so if we decide we want the Jeep.” I said nonchalantly. ” We can do you right with that beetle.” he tagged on. I waved and we kept walking toward my truck, never looking back.

“He really wants that beetle.” I finally told her when we were pulling off the lot. “I think it may work.” “But that Jeep is way over the price you said…” she started. I cut her off, “It is right now, but I have a plan. And I believe that’s your Jeep.” We got home and I told her to get the keys to the Beetle. I could see the questions in her eyes. The Beetle actually ran fairly well. Plus the shiny red paint made it look way better than it actually was. She retuned with the keys. We hopped in and headed back. It was a long shot but one I was going to take. “He’s a car man. He’ll decide what he’s going to do. I’ll be straight with him about it, and we’ll see what happens.” The beetle had other plans. About a mile or two from the house one of the foglight just popped right out. We both heard it hit the concrete. I pulled over on a side street and rigged it back in. “This thing is fighting not to go. We just need it to get us to that lot.”

We pulled up a little over a half hour later and in less than forty five minutes, we pulled off that car lot and headed back to Huntsville in a shiny black Jeep Liberty with new tires, heated leather seats, 4-wheel drive…and yes, a sun roof. At a point, I had conceded and began to trust the process. I knew something was unfolding for us. I accepted that this was what she wanted, not just what we would settle for. Let that sink in for a minute. And with the beetle trade-in, it came within my chosen price range. There’s power in that that thing-the faith factor (that could have just as easily been the title of this post). I’ve experienced it more times that I can count on all my digits. At those times when doubt creeps in and settles down beside me, I remind myself to trust the process. Do remember though, that process is an action word.