She Did Not Quit…

On an unusually sunny day last autumn, I assigned a project to my second year magnet art students. *Gia, a very petite girl and particularly studious artist, was off and ahead of the pack, as was her custom.  Well into the assignment, I made my rounds, checking to see if everyone was on task and progressing. I noticed that Gia had painstakingly crafted her project wrong.  It was beautifully painted but not according to the given instructions. I stood behind her for a few minutes thinking on how, with the least amount of damage, to inform her that she was well on her way…down the wrong path. In fact, she was over halfway done.  It was beautiful, but not within the stated objective. While she labored with laser intensity, I walked up beside her and explained the project again in detail, letting her know that her design and painting were exquisite. However, she was doing the project in a manner inconsistent with the desired outcome.

There was a silence, as if even her heart had paused to comprehend what I’d just said. She looked at me then down at her paper. I felt bad that I’d not noticed this before. Perhaps she was a victim of a common classroom scenario where the ‘good student’ gets lost in the fray due the the attention being pulled by those who have to be held on task by something outside of themselves; me.  You just assume those “good students get it, know it, and go in the right direction because they are on it immediately and with confidence.

I saw a tear hit the desk in front of her, just outside of the artwork.  The net one stained the paper. I’d never seen this student cry.  In spite of her smallness and delicate nature, she always seemed so strong and directed, sure of her steps and nails tough. I let her know that the only way to get it right was to begin again.  Admittedly, that task seemed daunting to me as well but there was no other way to get it right, to get back on the right path. I then added, in an attempt to make the situation a little better, that since she worked so consistently, she could probably catch up to the other students. Still she sat there as if in a daze. I placed another sheet of mixed media paper within her reached. Not wanted to put it in her face. The blank paper appeared even more so. With that, I walked away thinking that she might go ahead in the direction she was already going and just take whatever grade that allowed. A few other students were looking on in sympathy. They were on task.  The instructions had been clear. She pushed the almost finished paper away, I noticed as I made my exodus from her valley of decision. I intentionally stayed away for a while, allowing her space to grieve and even to be angry with me if necessary.

Later in the class, I walked by and on the new paper was that meticulously laid out design, replete with bold swatches of the right colors.  The tears were still in her eyes. She was working through them and the project was unfolding even more beautifully than before. Her hesitancy had obviously been a regrouping, a reassessment of the situation. Sure, there had to be a little bit of paralyzing shock in the mixture.  She didn’t stay there long though. She knew what had to be done and didn’t wrestle for long. Any doubt she had about moving forward was put to rest by her decision to keep working through, to take the next step. Her resolve drove her beyond her disappointment and resulting pain.  She saw through the tears and locked in on the objective.   She cried, but kept going. She rested rather than quit or procrastinate or search out an excuse or play the blame game.  In that moment, she became a giant in my eyes, and shared with me a lesson in resilient fortitude that I carry in my arsenal to use as needed. In the midst of similar struggles, I see her smiling face on the victory side with that finished project hitting my desk with pride.

…setback is not failure…unless you give it the power to be…

*not her real name

The Journey Back…To A Future of My Choice

Traveling has always been one of my favorite pastimes. My preferred mode of travel is almost any in which I don’t have to be in the drivers seat.  One of my worst night mares , however is getting on the wrong road and being on it for any stretch of time. I’ve even tried to make the best of those mishaps by attempting to salvage the move and save time in some sort of shortcut. In the end I still find myself having to go back to the point where I took the wrong turn.  Even if that wrong turn was taken based on someone else lead, I was the one on the wrong path and it wouldn’t get me where I intended to go.

I’m at a point on my own journey where I am doing just that.  Revisiting a wrong turn. Time will reveal, just because you’ve always done something a particular doesn’t make it right or even productive for you.  As an artist, I am in the lab, working it out.  I completed a piece called Pilgrim’s Progress about that journey.  Where would we be had we not had our humanity hijacked? Our spirituality arrested and placed in the realm of the abject?  What would happen if we went back and took the road from which we were stolen? When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. IMG_4088

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Space Is Our Place

IMG_0547 (1)Last spring I was approached by Google Fiber to do a mural at a main attraction in my home city.  I began to mull over ideas and finally came up with a sketch featuring a woman. I was told that she was too sexy for a mixed environment.  Back to the drawing board…less sexy.  The image featured a black woman with braids dressed in a type of spacesuit  and lying on her side.  At the same time I was coming up with an image I was also considering titles in hopes of them working in tandem to manifest the best result.  Since our city has a strong space program I knew I wanted to direct my focus there sans the static image of a standing rocket, like some giant white dick to the sky. Some of the ideas included ‘Baby You’re A Star’, and ‘Fly Me To the Moon’ and “Space Is the Place,’ among others. The Google team and I were back and forth on ideas but ultimately I knew I had to be satisfied with what came through me..

One day, while sitting at my desk listening to a YouTube presentation on Afrofuturism, I heard something that snagged my attention.  The narrator had just said that Sun Ra had received his first message from outer space in a little city in Alabama. I listened to it again and again to be sure I wasn’t mistaken. Sure enough, as a music student at Alabama A&M University, Herman ‘Sonny’ Blount (bka Sun Ra), had wandered into a field on the edge of the campus.  He was captivated by a strange light from above. Moments later he was taken up into this spacecraft and instructed to leave the school to go and liberate his people through music.  It was not his destiny to becme a classroom teacher of music but a guide as the Alter-Destiny.  He left the school and the rest is history.   Sun Ra considered the father of Afrofuturism.

At that moment I knew what I would call the work of art. The team wasn’t sold on it but I knew it was supposed to be.  We compromised and called it Space Is Our Place; even more befitting. The final sketch was approved and I began the process of prepping the wall.  Since I was painting on metal, the wall had to be cleaned with a special solution  for mold removal then primed with a different primer than what is used for wood, sheetrock, or masonry. Finally I had the sketch on the wall and she was ready to go.  I was now within a few weeks of the deadline due to the musical chairs parade on the name and sketches. It seems that my pencil has a certain slant toward sexy.

Then the rains came.  It rained every day sometimes most of the day. Once I caught a break, I painted in her entire face, and rain came in that night and washed her practically away. We did a dance, the weather and I.  When I could, I painted from sun rise to work time at 7:30am.  Every so often, I worked the entirety of mostly sunny days., rising up and down on that man lift machine.  As she (Lyra, as the young lady who modeled for me called her) came alive to the stroke of my brush, her impact on the space began to manifest.  One of the first was a young lady who came out one day and exclaimed “It’s a woman” You’re painting a woman!” her enthusiasm and appreciation for being recognized was welcomed and appreciated. Often she would just come and watch me paint.  One other time among many, a gentleman from the neighborhood came out early one morning and asked if I could spare a couple of bucks. Then he froze, looked closely at the painting materializing on the wall, then over at me. “They let you put one of us on they building?! He looked back and forth between the painting and me.  Between laughs he walked away, unable to stop looking back he continued…”Man that’s alright, that’s alright.” He forgot all about the two dollars.  One of the things I like most about public art is that it is art for the people – all the people. Not just the ones who have the mindset or means to frequent museums and galleries.

A fiend told me I was pushing myself too hard to meet an impossible deadline.  My response was that the best way to assist me when I get in go mode is to step out of the way. I knew that on the day of the deadline, it would be done. On the day I was completing the piece, a gentleman came out of the establishment and said “Man, It’s so cool of you to give this homage to Sun Ra on his birthday.” I didn’t want to appear less than knowledgeable so I hummed in agreement.  As soon as he walked away I snatched out my phone and checked.  Sure enough, that day, May 22 was his birthday.  I stood there for a minute and stared at the work thinking about the entire Sun Ra connection. It hadn’t started out that way. At least for me it didn’t…

Since that time, I’ve returned and painted in a figure of a man rising up into his place…

 

Disobey

“We have a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as cooperation with good.”        +Martin L. King

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This month, in the still wet dawning of a nu year; a time when we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and successively the lives of other Black luminaries on the historical continuum, let us remember, or discover the true purpose for which they stood. The why that generated the brightness of their light.

An architect surveys a foundation on two occasions: when there is known or suspected damage and when it’s time for expansion.  As a nation, as a people, we’ve spent much time inspecting cracks for quite some time while singing We Shall Overcome. Perhaps we’d do better to embark on a strategic plan beyond rhetoric to repair the cracks in our foundation with intention as we prepare to expand on this historical timeline in a manner that will render our generations to come a greater reason to celebrate.

Can we hear all of Martin King’s words to a people formerly known as Negroes? Have we evolved to a place where we can define ourselves by ourselves and serve the world accordingly? In the throes of this political fiasco, social unrest, financial instability, and personal challenge, let us do a formal analysis of why we celebrate this man and others who have paved this path for us.

Now, as we halt under the weight of a national unrest capped by a government shutdown, we can either stand like deer in the headlights or reach down into the strength of our Divinely entrusted birthright to become the true architects we were meant to be. The master architects we were before we had our development arrested by inhuman indigence. It is of utmost importance that we hear our ancestors beyond sound bites and quotes.  I’d like to believe that we are willing to accept their words as charges, divine edicts even, and move into action. We are so much more than has been projected on us and infinitely more powerful than we’ve been conditioned to believe.

“Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”   +Martin L. King

Open Letter

Dear George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and any other found fathering figure of this America, the precedents, and succeeding generations to this present hour;

Your plan was ingenious and is still going as calculated.  You were true pioneers. By all appearances it will continue infinitely. To all of your offspring who benefit from the subsidy of the misnamed supremacy.  It is here that I inform them aptly, that there is nothing supreme about such privilege, behavior, or mode of thinking; only indigence.  This indigence encompasses many more in the realm of complicity in the deliberate subjugation of a people and their rights as human beings.  I’m not bringing to your awareness anything you didn’t already know.  Those who benefit however may not be aware of their indirect and/or passive participation in your scheme. Your pompous nature has prompted you, either in inflated confidence or sloppy slipping, to put the essence of your plan in plain view. Hubris is a muther…, but of course you’re the leading aficionados on that too.  I see it all the time, including the entertainment industry which overlaps mine. In the film Avatar, the words put in the mouth of the military colonel defined it more clearly than perhaps ever before outside of the direct political and judicial blueprint. Of course we know it’s all political. Nevertheless, allow me to refresh your memory…

“And when we destroy it, we will blast a crater in their racial memory so deep, that they won’t come within 1,000 klicks of this place ever again. And that, too, is a fact.”

I am aware that you have no qualms about my knowing this since your control goes beyond the physical. You’ve enslaved the minds and the people themselves have become the tools, your pieces on your board. Whenever you please you can wipe the board and reset the pieces… remember the Reconstruction era and the subsequent strengthening of ole Jim. We should all know by now what was being reconstructed. Your creation was moving upward faster than you anticipated, so you hit reset and tipped the game in your favor.  You introduce ethical carrots and political pacifiers and … But as always, there will be a chink in your armor, a glitch in the functionality of this masterminded self-perpetuating warfare on the human psyche…Some of us are RE+membering who we are…

In kind regard, I am

 

One of Many

Come Go With Me

 

IMG_2779We have seen what has gone before us…

Ours must be a different path with tools of our own

Mother help us…

Come go with me

I’m goin’ b’roun’

That’s back ‘round

Going back to know

What bent and walked ‘cross

My Mama’s back

Saddled my Daddy

With distorted truth

And rode him into

Future imperfections in misdirection

Got the people banking hope

On elections

Fools be fooled

Know you not

That the master’s house

Will not fall

Beneath his tools

Fooled be the fools

With that ish

Wish upon a star

Gaze into a million gleams

They aren’t too far

They looking back

To who we truly are

Light…cast no shadow

 

Come go with me

I’m going b’roun’

That’s back ‘roun’

Back before

They disconnected our dialect and

Arrested our intellect and

Warped our sound effects and

infected us with pretext

Breathe…

And slowly with me

Wish upon a star

Gaze into a million gleams

They aren’t too far

They looking back

To who we truly are

Light…cast no shadow

 

Let us go back and see

When we could see and

Speak to the rhythm

Of the inner sound

That called thunder and

Heaven washed and shook earth and

Made her come

Forthright leaning

Into our will to

Live beyond existence

For subsistence in

Insistence on

Them giving us

Something we

Already own on our own

According to the Blueprint

Hung in Divine order

In stars and constellations

Inscribed in the Elements

28 days of Cyclical travel to

Newness, no eclipsing

This Power that is

Her’s, here,  he

United in one

Love that song

Heard cross the burning sands be

Breathing int the shell

Of man that he began

After his spirit was taken and

Replaced with a ghost

Told to him holy…not so

I see, I see, I see him sitting

By yonder door waiting for somebody to let him in

Spooked me,

Cause I’m back here round midnight searching

For our soul kept ‘neath this illusion

I’m gon’ be up all night

Til I see this thing turned upright

When we can all be

Free to be us

The way we we want to be

Or not to be,

Unquestionably

 

Wish upon a star

Hope locked

Gaze into hope, a million gleams

They aren’t too far

They looking back

To who we truly are

Light…cast no shadow

Come go with me

 

The Nature of The Game

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It seems we lose the game
Before we even start to play
Who made these rules?

(From Lauren Hill’s Everything is Everything)

As a child, I loved to get my hands on playdoh. My sister and I spent what seemed like hours crafting creature from the colorful stuff. While she focused on animals and food items, I preferred people, or some likeness thereof, considering our ages. In no time  I’d have rows of humanoid creatures, standing sitting and configured in all sorts of ways.  It was totally up to me where they were placed, what I had them doing, and what their specific roles were in my game. It was my game because I made them.  From the clump of clay, I crafted each one in the image I desired.  I gave them names, classifications, and specific roles.  They were mine. As time wore on an I began to tire of the game, I took the game to another level and would have them fight and destroy each other.  Sometimes the colors mixed due to my smashing them together. Head’s would be off, an eyeball here, an arm or two over there until I was done. At which point I pressed them back into a ball of nothing and jammed the mass back into their containers. There they would remain until I felt like playing again.

Recently, I had the honor of visiting the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. I used that word honor very carefully in this case.  It was respectfully presented, beautifully laid out, provocatively inspiring and  horrific on so many levels.  The most horrific part is that it’s still in play. ALABAMA GODDAMN!  The south may be where the stain is most visible but the entire quilt is dirty as hell. In the discussions I had while there and since, the most common question was “How could people do…to other humans?” Precisely for he same reason I treated the clay as I did as a child. I owned it.  It was for my use. I made the little creatures and destroyed them at will. So, The african, The indigenous people were systematically broken, socially and in some cases genetically engineered for the exploitive purposes of those who enslaved them.  The modern African-American, negro, nigger, is an american original; created right on this continent for the purpose of perpetual servitude to those who perceive themselves to be white. When the created objects get out of line, they are pressed back into place or obliterated all together. That’s the nature of the game, one those who are conceived as black/brown were never meant to win.  When do things begin to change, really change rather than modify? When those who are conceived as black realize it’s not their game to win and they activate the part of them that could not be wiped out. It’s in there buried beneath generations of social conditioning and system rewiring.   They must override, sweep, and rewrite the programming based on the original schematic; systematically root out the virus of white indigence and reconnect to the real Divine source. The bastardized one you were hijacked with will only lead you back to the same position, generation after generation in perpetual oppression and the victim of sanctioned terrorism… to be continued.

 

 

 

 

IF YOU ARE SILENT…

…about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”   +Zora Neal Hurston

This is America and anything you say or do can and will be used against you if you’re Black, other, or standing against the systemic isms. Take a look back at any organization, party, movement, or individual that dared take a stand against the status quo and you will see the termination of determination in the name of the American way.  Just what is the American way? In consideration of the nature and method by which this country was established, the American way reads like a summer blockbuster; Espionage, massacres, war, rape, theft, bondage, and blood…so much blood. In reading from Safiya Bukhari’s viewpoint, from the working ranks of the Black Panther Party, it becomes painfully clear that if you refuse to flow with the program, or make any attempt to deprogram, you will be erased from the program, by the program. It’s programmed that way.  What do the enforcers really mean by “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..”  Perhaps they should finish by saying “Continue to yearn and breath in hopes of freedom while we capitalize on your needs and crushing desire for peace.” So to keep the peace, many keep quiet and shuffle through life in silent desperation: the walking dead.

Ava Duvernay pulled back the covers on the dastardly deeds in her Documentary 13th and the prison industrial complex. The startling revelation is that slavery did not die. It grew stronger and more shrewd and conniving.  The same mind that instituted it, evolved it, transformed it into an accepted institution thats still serves the desired end.  The art of slave making is social engineering at its best.  We are living proof that, as a whole, we are more afraid of freedom that slavery. It’s not just the prisons, it the public at large existing in a state of a perpetual hamster wheel. If we would see with the unclouded eye of true justice, we would realize that what must be done, must be done with a dire sense of urgency.

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Black Cat Blues

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My son texted me and his words were “Dad I feel my Blackness is deteriorating with every other part of me.” I haven’t replied to him yet…

Today another black cat crouched at the base of my step

Staring at me through my glass door

I went out to look for it and lost it

In the Black shadows

Beneath my Black truck

Then found it again

Staring black at me

At my Black face

Staring black at it

Crouched low by my front black tire

We stared right black at each other

My Black cat was in the house

When I initially got him

The woman at the place of rescue said

Black cats are more shy

Black cats are the last chosen

Black cats are almost invisible

Black cats have a bad reputation

Black cats get adopted much less and

Remain in cages longer and

Are abandoned more often

Black cats are misunderstood

Black cats are more often mistreated

Black cats are just…different

I began to wonder whether she was talking about

Black cats or me and my Black Kin characterized…

In this systematized penal aggregate

Dad, I feel my Blackness is deteriorating…

With every other part of me.