Should BAM Conference at Howard
University Be Boycotted?
Economic Penalties for Social
Activism on College Campuses
Responses by Amiri B, Jonathan, Miriam, Rodney, Chuck, Joyce
Rudy: Here’s the program for
Howard U’s BAM Conference 23 and 24 March 2006:
Howard Events: Black Art
Discussion Part I
— What Now Brown
This is a rather off the wall presentation.
it is. It is overly academic. There is no community
relevance. And if BAM was about anything it was about
community and community building. Isn't it ironic. Still I am
DaCosta-Willis' paper on
I spent a few hours with him over Jim Beam. She has done
a lot of Memphis research on him, and knows the
devastation that is at hand. But she might not be there
because of family problems. Maybe we can get her to
post the paper on ChickenBones. I think she, at
least, knows what politically is at stake in these dire
times. These literary societies, as you must know, are
becoming less and less socially and politically
Jonathan would say, there's a lack of
What do you mean by community relevance?
Rudy: As I
understand it, BAM was
about changing consciousness or to use Jonathan's
expression restructuring our brains. BAM was about
reorganizing our communities, about political power. I
do not think that is what these literary societies are
about. That was my argument with MAWA, that is, that it
had become irrelevant. It was just about organizing
conferences, irrelevant academic networking, and
yeah, rudy, i hear you, you're right about academic
conferences, i avoid them. i think amiri's description
of this one is the most apt.
Rudy: What I
find curious is the final section Memoriam. It
sounds as if they are ready to bury all of them:
Kalamu ya Salaam
Barbara Ann Teer,
Instead of bringing
them in at the end of the program, maybe they should
have allowed them to set the tone for the entire
conference. So they can transfer the weight. Then they
could do some planning outreach beyond the university, a
workshop kind of ending, which these cats could have sat
in on if they chose.
Ask some serious
questions: What Next or What Now. How can
BAM work be extended
into now-aspirations, and now-needs. Who is transforming
BAM work into the Now. (I think Kalamu is doing that.)
What role did
BAM women have on consciousness. How has that
changed or influenced today's "womanism"? That seems the
thing to do if you want to honor these cats. That's the
best approach. I assume they would appreciate that more
than patting them on the back and shaking their hands,
and grinning in their faces.
Elder congratulatory approach, which ends up being self
promotion, has to be gotten rid of. Presenting papers
for publications and padding resumes are not enough.
Rudy, you've hit the nail on the head. I understand
from a former colleague at Howard that Taylor, who
organized the conference, is a fairly new, assistant
professor at Howard, who is obviously "on the make" with
an eye toward promotion, but I have never seen a less
inspiring or engaging assembly of literati (though
Hurston's term would be more apt here) in my life. And
what a misuse of the talents of Kalamu, Baraka, Evans,
etc.—to sit them on a stage to be clapped and admired
instead of engaging them in the kinds of issues that you
mention, I suspect that some of them won't show when
they realize how "thin" the papers are.
I'll send the paper
to you when I return—lord knows when. Right now I can't
concentrate, but I'm dealing with the impact that Eth
had on a whole generation of Memphis writers through his
Free People's Poetry Workshop.
might be the best decision. Why go and leave pissed off?
I hope everything works out with your daughter and other
Rudy, I hesitate to make comments about the BAM
conference at Howard because it might be a partial
program, but I did check and this seems to be complete.
It's embarrassing, in my view, to not have a panel on
Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press. After all,
there would have been no Etheridge Knight poetry without
Randall and Broadside. I also find it embarrassing that
there are no papers on Jayne Cortez.
In assembling a conference on such a broad theme there
are naturally going to be omissions. But to omit Dudley
Randall and Broadside is intellectually indefensible.
Also, it would have been nice to see a panel (or at
least a paper) on the literary precursors of
especially Langston who helped mentor and promote many
young artists associated with BAM. For a good discussion
of BAM and Langston, see Melba Joyce Boyd's excellent
Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the
Broadside Press, in which she has a section
devoted to Langston and what she terms "the second
renaissance," i.e. BAM.
Rudy, I have definitely decided that I'm not going to
present my paper next week, because the papers are very
dull and pedantic (definitely overly academic), there
is no coherence in the program (what the heck does
Rex Nettleford—a person whom I admire very much for
his brilliance, choreography, etc.—have to do with BAM),
and I still have not received a response to my three
messages. Since I have a minute or two, I'll probably
do a critique of the program (smile). I'll send the
paper to you when I return—lord knows when. Right now I
can't concentrate, but I'm dealing with the impact that
Eth had on a whole generation of Memphis writers through
his Free People's Poetry Workshop.
By the way, Levi
and Deborah Frazier, terrific artists and community
workers, who organized the Blues City Cultural Center in
Memphis, in large part because of Eth's encouragement
wanted to present their production "Knight Songs," based
on Etheridge's poetry & prison experience at the
conference, but they never heard from Taylor.
Deborah wrote the
play and Levi directed and produced it all through the
South. Five or six characters all play different
aspects of E. K.'s character. I got them to do the play
at my college, and I've seen it several times. It's
powerful. Then, they organized an arts project after
Etheridge's death—taking his poetry into nightclubs,
bars & prisons—and I participated, and they put together
a brochure with photos, interviews, short articles, etc.
that they distributed.
They were good
friends of Tom Dent (though
they're much younger), and presented one of his plays in
Memphis. Levi is a helluva playwright. What they do is
to present plays on social issues (teen pregnancy, drug
dealing, unjust incarceration) to different community
groups and then engage folk in a discussion afterwards.
Levi used to work in the prison outside of Memphis. Now
they could have made that conference relevant!
Whatever we can do to bring more attention to their
work, let me know. Or tell them to contact us.
Theirs is one
approach that could have been used, Baraka has had
students he has trained and influenced, like Jonathan
Scott. That is probably true of the others in the
Barbara Ann Teer,
organizers should do some consultation, especially with
those that they are honoring at such historic
conferences, like BAM.
I made similar
criticisms about MAWA to the
board, that is, they were not doing anything beyond
spending money on annual conferences for the
presentations of papers and celebrating a selected well
known writer they brought in from out of town. People
stop showing up and money got short. Morgan professors
were riding a dead horse.
They have a
captured audience of students at Morgan and they were
not involving them. There was an unnecessary gulf in
which there were no attempts to bridge. They had no
relationship with the English departments in local high
schools. They had no relationships with local writers,
journalists, and artists. And other local colleges and
graduate schools and their students.
They did not know
how to connect the dots. Too much hierarchy, too much
entrenchment in image. The mirror cracked.
Rudy, I find you comments to be very interesting!!! How do we
know this will occur, if we have not read the papers
which are to be presented.
I do not view the BAM conference in the same light as I
view a literary society. Literary societies are born
out of specific historical circumstances, e.g.,
segregation from MLA.
Just my thoughts.
Rudy: I know
it from experience. I know it from the title of the
papers. I know it from the individuals presenting the
papers. Moreover, Miriam knows it. Baraka knows it.
Jonathan knows it.
The same people who
have organized the BAM conference are the same kind of
people who are running these literary societies. People
on the professional make.
CLA might have
had a historical necessity. That necessity no longer
exists. These literary societies, including CLA
(today), have more to do with personal, individual
necessities. You have at least three literary societies
coming out of the English department at Morgan. That has
nothing to do with historical necessity. That has to do
with personalities with narrow interests. They have
little or no connections with the community and are
involved in no community connections with writers,
students, journalists, or librarians.
That's too bad about
MAWA, but I just had a message from Herbert that
they plan to publish a special issue this fall on
Afro-Hispanic literature, but neither he nor I knew
anything about it and that's our field. Oh, well.
Rudy: Nor I,
and I suppose to be a board member of
MAWA. That's what I am speaking about:
MAWA, the producer of conferences, is separated from
its press and the journal. Both of which are controlled
by the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Burney J.
Hollis, Ph. D.
I think I am
beginning to understand why MAWA's former President
quit suddenly without explanation. She would not have
had any say as President of MAWA over the two main
MAWA, namely, the
press and the
journal. She could not tolerate such a hierarchy. In
effect, she would just be used by Dean Hollis for his
rudy and miriam, i sent the BAM conference organizers a
paper several months ago, it's on the continuum of the
first renaissance and the second (BAM), with special
emphasis on langston's role as a mid-wife between the
two. they never responded to my proposal. also,
melba boyd in detroit proposed a panel on
dudley randall and the broadside press and they
never responded to her either.
in other words,
it's more than incompetence and shameless resume
padding; it's ideological: they're re-writing history,
trying to put the elder statesmen and stateswomen in the
grave while co-opting their names and legacies. it's
disingenuous and their whole racket is very transparent,
as rudy alluded to with his comments on the "memoriam."
i like your idea, rudy, about having the elders begin
the conference. that would have been proper. imagine for
a second a black cultural arts conference in london
linton kwesi johnson,
george lamming were invited but put together at the
end of the program!
Rudy, FYI. This event took place at
Spelmen College last month:
Spelman College Hosts Conversations with
of the Historic Black Arts Movement
Atlanta, GA (February 24, 2006)
Conversations with Black Arts Movement Poets,
a two-part series underscoring the
importance of the African American cultural
renaissance known as the Black Arts
Movement, will culminate with an engaging
intergenerational dialogue between two
literary icons of the Movement,
Mari Evans and
Madhubuti along with Jessica Care Moore, poet and founder
of Atlanta-based Moore Black Press, and
Spelman College junior Brittny Ray’07 on
Friday, March 17 at 7:00 p.m. in the Cosby
Academic Center Auditorium. This event is
free and open to the public.
In addition to the evening program, the
poets will give readings and workshops at
local schools and community centers during
their two-day visit. During the March 17
conversation, Evans and Madhubuti will
reveal their perspectives and share their
insights on BAM’s legacy, as well as present
their concerns about the role of the artist
and the function of poetry in the Black
community and the larger society.
multiple dimensions of their roles as
cultural activists will be discussed,
including Evans’s work in music, theatre,
and children’s literature, and Madhubuti’s
pioneering work in independent Black
publishing. They will also talk about their
roles as elder-mentors to the emerging
generation of hip-hop artists and spoken
Through the bold and innovative voices of
Evans, Madhubuti, Sanchez and Baraka, and
BAM challenged African American literary
traditions, influenced poets and literary
movements abroad, and made significant
contributions to American literature and
Both Evans and Madhubuti, dynamic and widely
celebrated Midwest-based BAM poets, have
published prolifically, taught at major
universities, and won numerous literary
As an educator, writer, and musician,
Evans has authored numerous books
of poetry, plays, musicals, and political
essays, including “I Am a Black Woman,” “Nightstar,”
“Where Is All the Music?,” “Continuum,” and
“Clarity as Concept: A Poet’s Perspective.”
She also edited the critically acclaimed
anthology Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A
Critical Evaluation. Over the past 30 years
Evans has taught at several major colleges
and universities, including Spelman College,
the State University of New York at Albany,
Purdue University, Indiana University, and
was formerly Distinguished Writer and
Assistant Professor in the African Studies
Research Center at Cornell University.
Madhubuti, who lives in Chicago, is an award-winning poet
and educator, and founder and chairman of
the board of Third World Press since 1967.
He has been a pivotal figure in the
development of a strong black literary
tradition, emerging from the era of the
1960s and continuing to the present. He has
published more than 25 books and is a
bestselling author of poetry and nonfiction,
including “Black Men: Obsolete, Single,
Dangerous?,” and “The African American
Family in Transition,” which sold more than
a million copies.
Other selected titles
include “Claiming Earth: Race,” “Rage, Rape,
Redemption.” “GroundWork: New and Selected
Poems, 1966-1996,” “HeartLove: Wedding and
Love Poems,” and “Tough Notes: A Healing
Call for Creating Exceptional Black Men.”
Madhubuti, is currently
the Distinguished University Professor and
professor of English, founder and
director-emeritus of the Gwendolyn Brooks
Center for Black Literature and Creative
Writing, and director of the Master of Fine
Arts in Creative Writing Program at Chicago
State University. He is a recipient of the
National Endowment for the Arts, National
Endowment for the Humanities, and Illinois
Arts Council Awards.
Presented by the Spelman College English
Rudy: What a contrast! No
wonder Baraka was pissed. He knew what could be done,
even by a boogie institution like Spelman. And, damn, it
was free and open to the public, too, unlike the Howard
U. deal. Well, it just shows you that you ain't got to
be stupid because you boogie.
The Howard cat is
young; maybe he still can learn. But still somebody
ought to pull his coat tail and tell him what he put
together ain't cool.
Herbert: Rudy, in all
fairness to the person coordinating this at Howard, I
think the money from this conference is aimed at
creating an endowed chair in the name of
Rudy: Well, I do not think
this conference will do the trick. In any event, the
ends do not justify the means --
Herbert: Also Rudy, the
Spelman program was funded.
Presented by the Spelman College English Department and
the Ethel Waddell Githii Honors Program, the first
program of the series took place in October 2005 and
featured a lively discourse between two more literary
giants of the Black Arts Movement, Amiri
Baraka and Sonia Sanchez.
This program is supported by the Georgia Humanities
Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities,
and through appropriations from the Georgia General
Rudy: So you think this
Howard cat took money out of his pocket. Or that it
is being paid by conference fees. Be for real. The
Howard program is funded, at least partially by the
Humanities Council of Washington.
* * * * *
Discussion Part II:
Social Conservatism vs. Social Activism
Amiri B: On the tail or in
the feathers of the great rightist pusch, the academy
(formal and informal) has risen again to claim ART!
Rudy: Not only ART, but to
claim artists themselves, their lives, and the value of
their lives. And worst, they think up all kinds of
bullshit to justify it. The excuse and justification in
this instance, as I understand from my friend Herbert,
is to raise money (a $15 fee) for an endowed chair in
the name of
Sterling Brown. Now they gonna do a chair for
Sterling and I'm willing to bet a dollar to a dime that
they have not fully processed his papers in the archives
At least they should have announced
that the program is free to all students.
They are providing, however, an
opportunity for a few crumbs to fall from the table. A
Last Supper situation, one might say. They have given
the eight of you 2 hours (3:30 to 5:30). That's 15
minutes a piece. Well, shit, just one of you could take
up two hours. Who's gonna be satisfied with that. Y'all
gonna end up stepping on each others toes. They got all
you cats in a room to reduce y'all to a memory, a
photo-op. Maybe, it could be worse. Fight the Power!
Rudy & Herbert, I'm going to forward the Spelman
program to Taylor.
Rudy: I'm not sure there's
time to reorganize the program, if he's even willing.
But at least it will let him know people are not idiots;
that they understand what's going on. And that they are
not happy about it.
Jonathan & Rudy,
that is reprehensible, irresponsible, and completely
unprofessional. If I had time, I would organize a
boycott of the conference, but I do hope that people
will not waste their time attending. I just arrived in
Memphis and all that I have is a copy of the agenda
addressed to "All" with no response to any of my
messages, and a personal message from the adm. asst.,
who was called by my friend in foreign languages after I
expressed my dissatisfaction to him. I intend no
further communication and do not plan to show up. Maybe
I'll follow up with a letter to the dean outlining the
conference doesn't mean that much to me as organized. I
respect the eight people they invited for the
Memoriam and I'd like to shake hands with a few of
them. But I don't think this situation gives due respect
to any of them, bringing them in at the end of things,
as a final goodbye.
think these cats can be bought off with a plane ticket
and a gratuity. That is what they have reduced their
lives to. They have placed them in a very controlled
environment so that they can't influence anybody.
know those BAM
folks were troublemakers anyway. They fear they might
have some deleterious impact on Howard students. So they
gonna usher them in and usher them out. And tell them to
be off campus before the sun sets. Oh, well . . .
Miriam: Rudy, I did forward
the Spelman program with your postscript, though I
removed your name. I received the copy of your message
to Amiri and agree with you wholeheartedly. I liked the
way that Spelman involved just two artists—Mari
Haki—and thoroughly engaged them in
ways that were beneficial to all the participants.
By the way, it's
Eleanor Traylor, head of the Eng. Dept., who has
Sterling Brown fundraiser. She started about five
years ago with Toni Morrison. The conference, which was
excellent, was open to everyone for free and then she
had a banquet that people had to pay for and the funds
went to endow the chair. This year the conf. was built
around Ishmael Reed;
Jerry and Kalamu
participated, as well as Ishmael, and from what I hear
it was well done.
Rudy: I do not know that there
is malevolence here in the organizing of this
BAM conference. But there
is indeed, it seems, a blind, self-centered academic
arrogance afoot. Or, as Jonathan says elsewhere, there's
a lack of political education.
With this younger generation, the
manner in which it was organized might have been
influenced by previous academic criticisms of BAM and
its political emphasis and its community cultural
orientations. Thus the conference organizers decided to
deal with BAM as object, to be chopped up and analyzed,
and provide a prognosis, rather than being inspired by
its accomplishments, as seemingly was the case at
Obviously, this conference organizer
prefers to keep all that at arm's length. But it seems
to me that this is a new day. We need a greater
engagement with students and especially Howard students
in the nation's capital. The students and their
aspirations too are endangered. There will be less and
less money available for graduate education.
What better opportunity than this
occasion for the Howard student body to be socially
inspired by these literary greats—over a two-day period.
What better an opportunity for Howard's young professors
to sit with, exchange ideas and be inspired and work up
plans to get their students more community engaged in
community issues and projects across the country,
especially in light of the disaster in New Orleans and
the urban crises across the country, and in a time when
we have a government that wants to be on a permanent war
footing. That kind of work cannot be done in the two
What a wasted opportunity, indeed.
When we get the money and chance to do programs to bring
such talented people together (centuries of community
organizing experiences), we must seize the day. Seize
the day for the broader community and its needs and
aspirations. In some instances, we have to be
exceedingly daring in our planning strategies.
Maybe we all can learn from this
situation; other opportunities might present
themselves, at Howard and other black institutions.
Jonathan: miriam and rudy, it
seems howard is going the way of the great compromise.
BAM was the most militant
arts movement of the 20th century and it inspired
political arts movements all over the world, from south
africa to central america. this conference takes all the
politics out of BAM. it makes the compromise with
i was just invited to an
arts conference at the grad center at CUNY this
weekend. it was the same thing. nothing about the young
lords or the panthers or the black power movement,
nothing about the anti-u.s. imperialist movements that
were the foundation of the afro-latino consciousness
movement. instead people analyzed comic strips and zoot
suit styles. rather than aesthetics and politics, it was
aesthetics instead of politics.
Rudy: Because this type of conference organizing
is indeed a phenomenon is the reason I speak out here in
this instance of what Howard has pulled together.
The universities have money and
access to money and resources and thus capable of
providing opportunities for the organizing of our
communities and stimulating and heightening social
consciousness. In some sense I am connected to this type
I am a member of the Executive
The Middle Atlantic Writers Association (MAWA),
which is centered at Morgan State University. After its
last conference in 2004, there was a planning session. A
problem of finances came to light. The conferences were
not being attended. Morgan students and the local
writing community were absent and the fees for the
conference were exorbitant and increasing – over $120.
The conference was limited to the presentation of papers
and the selling of books by a local black Maryland
bookseller and the distribution of all kind of
knickknacks for the participants.
MAWA has excellent resources – the
MAWA Review and a press,
both primarily controlled by Dean of The College of
Liberal Arts, Burney J. Hollis, Ph.D. One officer also
set up a website for MAWA before she left for another
university. The journal and the press, however, have
limited distribution, existing primarily for a few
academics. The website has not been used except to
collect conference fees. Most of the officers of MAWA
itself, as I understand it, have little to do with these
resources. The primary officers, President and Vice
President, resigned suddenly after two months. The
reasons for their resignation have been hushed and so no
conference occurred in Fall 2005.
There was a meeting in the office of
the Dean after the 2004 conference. Nothing came of my
criticisms and suggestions that MAWA reorient its
activities toward the community. I expect nothing indeed
will come of my suggestions and that there will be more
of the same. In these kinds of organizations there is a
conservative hierarchy which has no interest in social
or political activity oriented toward heightening
community consciousness. The emphasis is purely
academic, publishing academic papers for a limited
audience, of peer review. In that there is safety. And
being safe and having absolute control are what such
leaders are about.
In this exploit, they make use of the
names of those who are indeed sincere and want things
worthwhile to be done within and for the community, like
stimulating local writers, artists, and journalists to
serve their communities. On its editorial board the
MAWA Review has the
Houston A. Baker,
Henry Louis Gates, E.
Arnold Rampersad, Sonia
Sarah E. Wright. Maybe these noted writers and
scholars are offering advice. I don't know. My suspicion
however is that their names are merely used to provide
image respectability to MAWA Review for the Executive
Editor and for his limited ends.
As for myself I no longer see any
advantage of my association with MAWA, its journal and
its press. It is all too superficial and pretentious.
Such work would merely take time and energy away from
ChickenBones: A Journal, which I believe has a more
vital role to play within the community. I imagine that
our work with ChickenBones is inspired by and an
extension of what Baraka,
Hoyt Fuller, and
Dudley Randall had in mind back in the 1960s and
1970s. But maybe I am just hallucinating and overly
self-absorbed, I don't know.
Of course, we do not have such noted
figures advising us on our work. Nor do we have the
money and means, like Howard University to provide for
the eight noted writers and artists who will be
appearing at Howard U. for a two-hour stint—15 minutes a
piece. Nevertheless, we do what we can do as honestly,
as openly, as sincerely, as we can. I will leave it to
others to judge
Chuck Siler: Hang in Rudy and
understand that though we aren't always in agreement, we
are - at the least – willing to discuss and find a
common ground for benefiting our community. I am from a
nationalist school but have outgrown a lot of that and
understand the need to have a broader understanding of
humanity and its history.
You have the right/write to your opinion and anyone who
hates you for expressing them is expressing something
personal that you have nothing to do with aside from
stimulating thought. You, for example are religious and
god fearing. So is my mother. I am not. My mother and
I still love each other because she understands that I
have a set of values that stem from her teaching and
that I am not an evil person. She's watched me grow
over six decades into an adult that she is proud of,
though we still don't agree and have interesting
conversations about that.
I think ChickenBones is important and have been
spreading the word because you and folk like Gwen Clark
at Afrikanalouisiana.com are doing something positive
for the community over and above just entertainment.
I'll always be looking over your shoulder and watching
Rudy: yes, I think that's the way. We don't
always have to agree on every point. But there's a
necessity and need to know that there is much that we
can cooperate and collaborate on, that can be beneficial
to the community. The point about family is well taken.
I have five siblings and except for one, the kind of
discussions I carry on with you and others would be an
impossibility, and at best of little interest. Those
other four care very little about what I am trying to
do. They probably think I am wasting time and energy.
But I suppose they love me and care what happens to me.
It is the same with my mother and my
grandmother. So as long as we have a respect for the
integrity and dignity of others I think we are indeed on
"common ground." From there, there is much that can
be accomplished that would be worthwhile for all.
Miriam: Rudy & Jonathan, the
Afro-Latino Arts conference are all examples of the
pedantry and elitism that plague the new breed of
"scholars" in our universities. A part of the problem
is that that kind of "scholarship" is rewarded in
academia, while service (i.e., activism and community
engagement) are discouraged. Rodney is also correct in
pointing out that "student economics" (student loan
debts in the thousands of dollars) forces many young
scholars to make such compromises.
Rudy: I do not envy this
younger generation of students. A graduate school
education will become a more difficult path to follow,
especially those students coming from nonprofessional
families. Rodney has good cause to worry. He, however,
is exceedingly talented and personable I am not worried
that he will not succeed wherever he places his focus.
Too often, because of economic
pressures on small and black colleges, administrators
fold under the regimes of whoever is in political power.
Like many of us they lack vision and they lack the
smarts to work up longtime strategies that will benefit
their students and the larger communities. But as Floyd
has reminded us, courage is required and ingenuity too.
Scholarly competency and social
activism have been characterized as in opposition and
that some professors have been charged in supplanting
one for the other. The most noted case as you can recall
is that of Cornell West
and Harvard's former head administrator. He got carried
away with his conservative condescension and began an
attack on women in general. But this attitude has been
in place for sometime, since the African American
departments came into prominence. That was the charge
Molefi Kete Asante and some of us, including
Joyce Joyce, made the competency argument against
Manning Marable has charged in a
recent article that David Horowitz has made such an
attack on him. Read his
"The Most Dangerous Black Professor in America".
I am sure that my own cyber-activism
will affect in a negative manner in how some schools and
colleges will consider my application for employment. As
Herbert has clearly pointed out to me, the social
consciousness among black librarians is at a very low
state. They imagine themselves as mere technicians or
technocrats. They do not see themselves in the tradition
of Marcus Bruce Christian,
or Arthur Schomburg.
But let it come as it may. I ain't adverse to whatever
work is necessary, be it sweeping floors or washing
pots. So they can't stop my ball from rolling.
tough times and adversity do not ultimately decide the
quality of one's life or the value of one's life. Such
adversity, as you have pointed out, can lead to
wonderful outcomes. One must not cower in the face of
such conservative opposition. One must do what one must
do when one has principles and a love for one's people.
Of course, I live a rather simple
life, and thus my options are more open. I have neither
wife nor children. Though I am forced to be a wage
slave, I have chosen not to be a slave to debt – of an
expensive house, car, jewelry, a luxurious life style.
Rudy, I appreciate your words of encouragement.
Such encouragement is sometimes needed to keep the
engine running. As they say, you have to sleep in the
bed that you make, and I'm anxious to sleep in the bed
that I am making. I knew what I got myself into when I
gave up my scholarship down at W&L, and I'm more
comfortable in my skin and truer to self than I
otherwise would have been.
I was headed towards the commercial
track, perhaps a career in finance along with many of my
remaining peers there. And perhaps I would have been
looking forward to a $65,000 salary upon graduation
without college debt. But that ain't me. I guess I was
insulated from the desire for material goods because of
the way I was raised.
On one of the ABC news programs last night, a French
professor assisting with the student protests was quoted
as saying that the French youth could be characterized
as the "sacrifice generation." The very same can be said
over in the States. They say that 25 percent of French
youth are unemployed, and the number is increasing.
30 percent of Americans aged 19-29
are without health insurance. The 18-24 year old segment
suffers from a 30 percent poverty rate. Given that black
unemployment and poverty numbers far exceed that of the
general population, we can assume that things are
significantly worse for black
youth. But perhaps that is a premature assumption,
though I doubt it. Rudy, do you recall how Baltimore has
had an excess of youth in the thousands looking for
summer employment that past few summers?
We tell the kids to stay out of the
streets and do right, and when they attempt to work, we
have nothing to offer them. Given that such a relatively
small percentage of us youth, both black and otherwise,
even have the "luxury" of suffering from student
economics, much of my concern, when I'm able to free
myself from bouts of egotism, is directed towards those
even worse off, those not in college or who have dropped
out of high school, those who make up a disproportionate
percentage of young workers that comprise 44 percent of
the labor in the most menial industries that provide no
health care, pay minimum wage, and offer no career
In an economy driven by knowledge and
expertise, the porous public school systems have all but
closed the doors completely on those youth from places
like Baltimore and Detroit.
These are serious matters that deserve, as Rudy and
Floyd say, courage and ingenuity. I joked with my
girlfriend the other day that I would like to see one of
the UNICEF-type commercial campaigns for urban youth,
spotlighting the struggles of Chris and Rahim and
LaKeisha and Antoinette, and what we can do to help
them. Sadly, matters are so bad that this isn't a
ludicrous idea. It is truly remarkable that the
youth—and I speak as if I am so far removed from
them—are able to persevere through these trying times.
West and Mosley both pushed the need to engage the youth
in their most recent publications, and I hope we can
begin to do that necessary work. This is why programs
like Baltimore Algebra Project are necessary. Kids are
engaged through spoken word performance and grassroots
hip hop, which allow them to express their frustrations
with an indifferent adult culture.
The next step is to politically
educate them, get them to understand that socialism is
not evil and capitalism not God's gift to the poor and
working, as they are being taught in school. Engage them
with the contemporary and historical and prominent
literature that expanded our still expanding minds.
Perhaps with them scholarly competence and social
activism can cohabit. –
Joyce: Thanks, Rudy and
Miriam, these issues are very real. Professors are often
challenged to "redirect" their research and writing if
they expect to get tenure, get funded, etc. It's called
"hegemony." Thanks for giving a shout out to Marcus
See the chapter on "Harriet Jacobs's
Children in the Academy" in our book, Black
Education, for a reader's theatre script that adds more "flavor" to
these issues. We performed the data presented in that
chapter as a "Minstrel Show" when the American
Educational Research Association met in New Orleans.
Miriam: As usual, Joyce &
Rudy, you are both on target—one from inside the mental
institution (as my husband used to call academia) and
the other from outside the walls.
* * *
One of the things that was a mechanism and a device
used to cruelly punish artists who would speak out was
to cut them off from their livelihood. They did it to
Paul Robeson. They wouldn't give him a passport.
Carnegie Hall wouldn't hire him or give – or rent him
the hall. Many of the places that he had sung, where
people loved him, were closed to him for a long period
of time. But when that case was fought and won in the
courts, he was nourished again, because everybody in the
world was waiting for him.
And what has permitted me to sustain my own life in the
midst of so much cruelty and degradation – I’ve lost a
lot from those who control culture, those who will not
let my song be in the environment of their sponsorship –
just my remarks on President Bush, that he’s a
terrorist, I lost a lot of work, even in universities,
not even singing, just fraternities and students that
have invited me to come to speak. Many of those doors in
those universities were closed to me, because those who
sit on the board and the board of trustees said we are
displeased with what he said. He’ll have no place in
this institution. And if he does, you’ll no longer have
our support. So the president and the dean becomes
frightened and becomes concerned. And it’s easier to let
go than it is to stand against the oppressor.
DemocracyNow.Org, "After Criticizing Bush, Harry
Belafonte is Disinvited from the University of Virginia,
EyeCare, and Speaking at the Coretta Scott King Funeral"
(Monday, March 20th, 2006)
* * * *
Coda: There's Nothing to Fear but Fear
Itself, & the Gas Man
Better to engage than allow free movement by the
are speaking under the pot, in the darkness of their
private haunts, like slaves afraid of their shadows or
fearing that the word is going to be taken up to the BIG
HOUSE. Those even who are safe and secure, way up North,
are only willing to speak openly in the dark corners of
expensive restaurants, and then only after several
glasses of white wine. What is worst, in the name of
cordiality, people don't so much fear the BIG BOSS, as
they fear the so many straw bosses who might have some
marginal impact on their privileges.
curiosity. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, what we had were
persons in their 20s, 30s, and 40s speaking out
militantly to power and the abuses of government power.
In this millennium, what we have are a few persons in
their 50s, 60s, and 70s. What comes to mind is Somebody
Blew Up America, Marvin X's
London , and now Harry Belafonte's
defense of Venezuela's socialist revolution and
his calling Bush a "terrorist."
Everyone today has
been passing around the interview by Amy Goodman of
Harry Belafonte. That probably has little to do with his
support of a socialist government and his suggestion
that there is something seriously wrong with how
capitalism is playing out in America. The emphasis I
suspect is his delayed attack on the conservatism of the
King children and how they radically contrast to Martin
and Coretta. This kind of emphasis on the personal has
gone awry. What is not as easy is more pertinent
Union members not
only fear to criticize the plant owners but also fear
their union bosses. Though willing to make attacks on Bushites
those at the university are not so willing to criticize
their own administrators, black or white. And black
voters are not so willing to criticize the Democratic
Party for fear of falling into the abyss. So, yes,
engagement is needed. But there is definitely a lack of
courage and a fear of ghosts. Cowardice and fear of the
supernatural are not easily shored up.
Backed in a corner
everything comes up for grabs. Here in Baltimore we are
looking at a 73% increase in utilities, beginning in
July 2006. People ain't gonna be as cool as they were
last summer and they ain't gonna be as warm as they were
last winter. So we gonna have a lot of frayed tempers.
That's gonna be sooner, than later. And blaming
Republicans and Bush is not gonna cool you in the sun
nor warm you in ice. Engaging power will not be merely a
choice, it will become a necessity, especially for the
weak and the poor. But even the middle classes might be
looking at $900 a month utilities bills. Snuggle up
folks, snuggle up. We all gonna have to move to the
Chuck: There should be a
cartoon with this but it's late and I just got in off
the road. another haiku.
but wages remain
posted 20 March 2006
* * *
* * * * *
Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.—
* * * *
Ghosts in Our Blood
With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean
By Jan R.
activist, scholar, and journalist, met Malcolm X
during his last trip abroad only a few weeks before
he was killed in 1965. It made such an impression on
Carew that he felt compelled to search out Malcolm's
family and friends in order to flesh out the family
history. He interviewed Wilfred (Malcolm's older
brother) and a Grenadian friend of Malcolm's mother
named Tanta Bess. Comparing his family's experiences
with that of Malcolm X, he gives the most complete
picture yet of Malcolm's mother. Carew also offers a
tantalizing glimpse of Malcolm X's transforming
himself into El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, a man less
blinded by his own racial prejudices yet as
committed to the betterment of his race as ever.
Just before his death, Malcolm X became convinced
that a U.S. agency was involved with those trying to
kill him, and Carew here reveals the evidence
Malcolm X gave him to support these beliefs. The
mystery of Malcolm's death remains unresolved, and
we are once again filled with regret that he was cut
down before he could fulfill the promise of his
later days. While this book will not replace The
Autobiography of Malcolm X (LJ 1/1/66), it is an
important supplement. All libraries that own the
autobiography should also purchase this one.—Library
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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update 24 May 2012