Friday, February 27, 2009

Black History Month: The White House Honors Stevie Wonder

An evening of celebration with President and Mrs. Obama at the White House in honor of musician Stevie Wonder's receipt of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song takes place February 25, 2009. The concert will include performances by Wonder with a cavalcade of popular musicians, performing a selection of Wonder's hit songs.

WHAT was it I just wrote about the measure of a culture?

What You Can Do For Your Country

"Dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country." --President Barack H. Obama, February 24, 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Today's Tidbit

PRESIDENT Obama's speeches are like good jazz. No matter how familiar the riff, I always hear something new.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Today's Tidbit

THE MEASURE of a culture is determined by how well it treats its artists.

We're a gargantuan failure.

When we start lifting up our artists, we will evolve. Not a minute before.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The 81st Annual Academy Awards

(This post is stolen straight from rikyrah at JJP. She did my work for me and I thank her!)

TONIGHT is Oscar Night.

There are two Black Actresses nominated this year:

Viola Davis for Doubt


Taraji P. Henson for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


Here is a the list for All Black Nominees in the Academy’s History.

Winner Acceptance Speeches

Hattie McDaniel, Best Supporting Actress - 1939, Gone With The Wind

Sidney Poitier, Best Actor- 1963, Lilies of the Field

Cuba Gooding, Jr., Best Supporting Actor - 1996, Jerry Maguire

Denzel Washington, Best Actor - 2001, Training Day

Halle Berry, Best Actress - 2001, Monster’s Ball

Sidney Poitier Accepting an Honorary Oscar - 2001

Jamie Foxx, Best Actor - 2004, Ray

Morgan Freeman, Best Supporting Actor - 2004, Million Dollar Baby

Forest Whitaker, Best Actor -2006, Last King of Scotland

Jennifer Hudson, Best Supporting Actress- 2006, Dreamgirls

Isaac Hayes, Winning Best Original Song for Shaft -1972

Could not find videos for the Best Supporting Actor Wins of Louis Gossett, Jr - 1982, An Officer and a Gentleman and Denzel Washington - 1989, Glory or Whoopi Goldberg, Best Supporting Actress - 1990, Ghost.


This is the first time in my adult life I haven't seen a single film or performance nominated for an Academy Award.

Fighting Earthquakes

“YOU CAN no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”

The wise words of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the United States House of Representatives and the only woman in history elected to the House from Montana. She was the only member of Congress to vote against World War II.

Sunday With Minnie

I WAS seven-years-old when Minnie Riperton recorded this best-of-all-time pop vocal. No one could hear her remarkable birdsong enough.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Portland Mayor Jill Duson Met With President Barack Obama

FIRST meets first. Portland's first Black mayor (who was also this year's Electoral College President) met with the nation's first Black president. So many firsts. So much awe.

Duson, the only mayor from Maine at the White House gathering, met with Obama briefly. She said she voiced her support for his efforts to track how the money is spent.

"I am personally committed to make sure that our senators – who went out on a limb for the package – can demonstrate that it was administered properly and efficiently and created jobs in the Portland region," she said in a telephone interview after the meeting.

U.S Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins were among only three Republicans to support the measure.

Maine could receive an infusion of about $1 billion from the economic stimulus bill, which Obama signed into law Tuesday. The stimulus also includes at least $262 million for education and $133 million for transportation projects in Maine.

Portland's $96 million wish list includes $12 million to eliminate combined sewer outflows, $9.5 million for a deep-water cruise ship berth at the Ocean Gateway terminal and $23 million to expand the Portland International Jetport terminal.

Duson said she learned during the meeting that urban areas are eligible for additional stimulus funding for cities. She said officials in the region and the state will have to learn more about the new program and how to apply for the money.

"The Greater Portland region has a real role to play as partners with the state in terms of how these funds get into our state," she said.

The View From Here

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pure Soul

NO. I'm not talking about the D.C. based girl group of powerhouse voices that gave us our wedding processional song "We Must Be In Love." I'm talking about this:

Knowing all of your appreciation for great old school, wanted to send you this link. There was a PBS show in the late 60s/early 70s called "Soul" that aired on WNET New York.

Anyway, they made 40 episodes of the show over the period of 1968 to 1973, so you can just imagine the treasure trove of performances. I'd heard of it, but had never gotten to see any.

They just put 6 episdoes on line, they plan to get all 40 up at some point. The ones they have include EW&F, Ashford and SImpson, the Persuasions, Max Roach and more. If you look at the program listing for all the eps, you can see what's coming when they get the rest on line.

This is some amazing stuff that hasn't been seen in years:

Simply thrilling.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday With Blossom

BLOSSOM DEARIE was a special singer who tickled the ivory oh, so well. Her musicianship and no non-sense interpretations remind me of Shirley Horn. Dearie passed away February 7. Here's the best obituary I could find sent by a friend who knows my love of music and appreciation for this singer's singer:

Blossom Dearie, who died on February 7 aged 82, was one of the great interpreters of American song in the post-war era. She did not like to be described as a jazz singer (although she grew up in a jazz milieu), nor as a supper-club singer (although she often entertained in supper clubs); a mixture of the two, she preferred to call herself "a songwriters' singer".
Last Updated: 7:45PM GMT 09 Feb 2009

Blossom Dearie

The New Yorker critic Whitney Balliett once said that Blossom Dearie's tiny wisp of a voice "would scarcely reach the second storey of a doll's house". Indeed hers was a style which on first hearing sounded detached and impassive. After a while, however, one began to notice the deftness of her phrasing, as well as the wit and intelligence of her interpretation. She accompanied herself at the piano with the lightest of touches, rarely improvising, but employing sophisticated and immaculately voiced harmonies.

Marguerite Blossom Dearie was born on April 29 1926 at East Durham, near Albany, New York, where, it is said, the locals are noted for their clarity of diction. Surprisingly, her name, so unusual and so perfectly suited to her fragile, blowaway voice, was also completely genuine. Dearie is an old Scottish name, and her father, a barman of Scottish-Irish extraction, hit upon Blossom after seeing some peach blossom shortly after her birth. She studied classical piano as a child and became interested in jazz while playing in her high-school dance band.

Moving to New York in the late 1940s, she mixed with some of the rising jazz musicians of the day, including Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Gil Evans. She became a member of the Blue Flames, the harmony vocal group attached to Woody Herman's band, and recorded with the cult bebop vocalist King Pleasure.

In 1952 Blossom Dearie moved to Paris, where she formed her own vocal group, the Blue Stars, for which she wrote many arrangements. One of these, a version of George Shearing's Lullaby Of Birdland with a French lyric added, scored a considerable hit in France. In Paris she met and married the Belgian saxophonist and flautist Bobby Jaspar.

It was there, too, that she was heard by the American jazz impresario Norman Granz, who signed her to his Verve record label. She returned to the United States and with her six Verve albums, recorded between 1956 and 1960, the characteristic Blossom Dearie style finally emerged. Her repertoire was chosen fastidiously from the wittiest, tenderest and most sophisticated songs in the canon, with each interpretation carefully refined in advance. The songs of whose wry lyrics she was fond included Cole Porter's Always True To You In My Fashion and The Gentleman Is A Dope, by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

For some Verve recordings she was accompanied by studio orchestras, but her preference was always for small groups of the best jazz musicians available. Her 1957 album, Give Him The Ooh-La-La, with Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Jo Jones is particularly impressive, with her own piano playing by no means outclassed by the stellar performers alongside.

Established as a star of the Manhattan nightspots, Blossom Dearie turned her attention to England, spending lengthy spells in London during the "Swinging Sixties". She recorded four albums in London, appeared regularly at Ronnie Scott's club, and wrote several songs dedicated to British celebrities of the time, notably Hey, John (for John Lennon) and Sweet Georgie Fame.

Despite her little-girl voice and vaguely fey manner, Blossom Dearie possessed formidable resilience. About her working conditions, she was uncompromising. She would not tolerate noisy audiences or allow background music to be played, nor would she permit waitresses to move or anyone to smoke while she performed. Astonishingly, given the nature of nightspots, she got her way. Eventually, these stipulations were collated in a formidably detailed contract to which, if necessary, she would refer erring club-owners.

Her perfectionism was not cantankerous, however, but a reflection of the seriousness with which she approached her work.

It was with equal determination that she set up her own label, Daffodil Records, in 1974, after major record companies lost interest in her kind of music, keeping it in business for more than a quarter of a century. Anyone who attended one of her London appearances at Pizza On The Park during the 1980s or 1990s will recall her determined sales-pitch towards the end of each set. Her tactic was to establish herself in a prominent position with a pile of CDs and a cash box, and more or less dare anyone to pass by without making a purchase.

One advantage of having her own label was the independence it afforded. She could choose whatever material she fancied, and her taste was faultless. Among the writers she championed were Dave Frishberg, Sheldon Harnick and Francesca Blumenthal.

In the final years of her career she held long residences at Danny's Skylight Room in New York. Her performances grew increasing informal. She was known to pause in the middle of a piano interlude, look down at her fingers with a worried frown and mutter, "Goodness! What's that doing there? Have to put that right!" before correcting the mistake and calmly carrying on.

Ill health forced her to give up performing in 2005. Her marriage to Bobby Jaspar ended after a few years. He died in 1963 and she did not remarry. She had no children.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


89. You woulda been 89. And
you woulda seen last month what I saw.
Sitting amidst those other great Black patriots
from Tuskegee, you woulda seen the

African man, the American man,
the wise family man raise his right hand
and become your Commander-In-Chief.
Oh, I'm sure you were there--

high atop your perch on the other side,
taking in such history. Your other
son fixed your fireplace today.
Lit a raging fire in the room we made your

own. I'm playing Joshua Redman and
Shirley Horn on your stereo.
Just like Mama, your other son
thinks the bass is too loud.

Ever since you left us, seems like
everybody in the spotlight got
pancreatic cancer. Kinda like
when you buy a new car and suddenly

everybody seems to be driving the one you just
bought. I don't need to name names. Some of them
are already with you across the river. Your other son
gave me a Cupid card today. I had to leave

your room, run upstairs.
In a haze, I changed our bed.
Put on the wedding-white,
fit-for-a-king sheets my sister

gave us for Christmas. Suppose
that's what true marriage is:
a psychic commitment to
its utter unbreakability. Can't

hide. It's bout as bad as it's ever been. I'm
sure you'll show me what to do soon. Maybe even show
him. Till then, your sons soldier on, familiar
strangers across a room crowded with rebuke. Wish

I could hear your old wise voice anyway. African
man. American man. Family man. But I can't yet
play back a single video of you to hear it.
Happy birthday, Daddy. You woulda been 89.

Happy Valentine's Day

Friday, February 13, 2009

Black History Month: Honoring Roots

Originally published November 2006. This is an excerpt from Fumbling Toward Divinity continued from here

Armed with the ten digits that possessed the potential to bring in all sorts of light, Craig thought his heart would jump right out of its container. With the two-hour time difference between Milwaukee and California, he decided to wait a few hours before making the call.

Meantime, Mary mother of Craig came to him while he sat rocking in the chair that once belonged to his never-met grandfather, the rocking chair his Granny Alma had given them, the chair that had become his father’s favorite place to rest while awake. Mary stood in front of the television, blocking whatever insignificance flashed on the screen. She turned to her son, looked him in the eyes, cocked her head subtly to the right, but not so subtly that he didn’t notice. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

“The only thing I’m sure of is that I’m gonna call that number. There’s no turning back now, Mama. What’s the worse that could happen? That I’ll find her and she’ll slam the door shut in my face? At least I will have seen her face, Mama. If nothing else, I will have seen it. I wanna see it, Mama. I wanna look her in the eye.” He paused, found his mother’s eyes. “I’m as ready as I’m ever gonna be.”

She focused her eyes intently on his. Satisfied that what she saw there was real. “Then when are you gonna call Uncle James?”

For the next few hours, every five minutes it seemed, one of them—his mother, his father, his husband—asked if he’d called the man in California yet.

Three times he tried; three times the voicemail greeting greeted him. He left no messages.

“I will try again when we get back to the hotel.”


At 8:50 p.m., Central Standard Time, Craig phones James while Job goes to the hotel concession area to get ice. This time, a man says hello.

“Is this James White?”


“Let me jump to the point. My name is Craig Hickman, but I was born Joseph Bernard White.”

“Joseph White?”


“And could you say that middle name again?”


“Hold on one second.”

Job returns with a bucket of ice, pours himself a drink, and turns on the video camera.

“Joseph White. Madison, Wisconsin?”

Craig hears a rattling sound in the background. “Yes.”

“December nineteen sixty-nine?”

“Nineteen sixty-seven.”

There is a pause.

“Boy, have I been wanting to talk to you. Man, do I have a lot to say to you. There’s so much that I wanna tell you.”

“There’s so much I wanna know.”

“My whole life has been all about you, man. Just today, I finally finished a book and took a video I watched last week back to the video store. You know what they were called? The book was called The Bourne Identity and the movie, A Stranger Among Us.” James laughs and continues:

“You are African, Jewish, Irish, German, Cherokee, African, and Geechie. You are a direct descendant of William Penn. Now your great grandmother, Madree Penn White, was one of the founders of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a nationally known black sorority. You’ve heard of them, I’m sure. I have to find her obituary and read it to you. She was quite a woman. Somewhere in here, I have my father’s and grandfather’s, too.”

While James looks for obituaries, Craig grabs his briefcase-cum-shoulder bag and retrieves a pen and the journal where he keeps most of his research notes.

“Now your great grandfather, Madree’s husband, although they got divorced—actually, she divorced him, which hardly any women did at that time—your great grandfather was one of the first black physicians in the United States. He lived in St. Louis with Madree before their divorce when she then moved to Cleveland. He lived in Mt. Vernon, New York where he took up with a young mistress before he returned to St. Louis, which is where he died. Now Madree, which means mother in Spanish, went to Howard University in Washington, D.C. I wish I could remember where my grandparents met, but I can’t. Now my father, your grandfather, worked in his mother’s print shop in St. Louis when he was young. Now your Aunt Grace, his sister—matter of fact, I just talked to her today, she just had eye surgery—lives in Cleveland and her son James Otis Ware, who changed his name to Oloye, is like you. You would wanna meet him. I hope you get a chance to meet him. Aunt Grace is gonna die when I tell her about you. Her son Oloye is a genealogist and has done a lot of research on both sides of his family, but mainly his father’s father’s side and his mother’s mother’s side, that’s how we know Madree is descended from the William Penn who founded Pennsylvania. He lives in Cleveland, too. He traced his father’s side of the family all the way back some thirteen hundred years to Nigeria and the Yoruba people.

“Now the Geechie in you, that comes from my grandfather’s side of the family. He was from Edenton, North Carolina, near an island off the coast where the Geechie still live and speak their own language. Gullah, I think it’s called. They are direct descendants of African tribes from Sierra Leone. Now they were brought over to work the rice plantations along the coast of the Carolinas down through to northern Georgia. Now one of your great great, or is it great great great, I’m not sure—actually, it’s not great at all, but maybe your third or fourth or fifth—but you have a cousin named George Henry White who was a North Carolina US Congressman during Recon-struction, the first black in the House of Representatives in the nation. Supposedly we still have a relative in that area, just outside of Edenton. Her name is Mignon Jenkins. Mignon Jenkins, I’m pretty sure that’s it. Yes. Mignon Jenkins. My travels haven’t taken me there yet, but I hope to visit her someday to see where we all came from.

“Now the Cherokee—I consider the Cherokee Nation the Jews of the Indians—the Cherokee also comes from my father’s side. Your great grandfather’s mother was half Cherokee from Tennessee.

“Now the Jewish comes from my mother’s side of the family. Now my mother, your grandmother, was from the other side of the tracks and, in fact, my father’s parents thought he married beneath him. Her people are from Mississippi. Her grandmother Mary was married to a man of African descent, however, she was pregnant before she got married by a Jewish man who was passing through. His name was Howard Rosenberg. My mother doesn’t know for sure, but she thinks he was from Russia. The Irish and German also come from her side. Her mother Rosie, who was the daughter of Mary and Howard, was married to Herman Turner and his mother was part German, part Irish.”

Craig struggles to keep the phone between his shoulder and ear while writing as quickly as he can.

James speaks fast and doesn’t seem ready to stop anytime soon. His words are silken threads spun into a beautiful web. Craig is all caught up. “Every major event in my life it seems had something to do with you. By the time I get off this phone, I hope to show you how. We were both rejected from the family. But it was harder for me because I was rejected from the family but still in the family, whereas you were rejected from the family out-side of the family. I don’t know if it was harder for me, but it was different, and the same. You understand what I’m trying to say?”

“I think so.”

“Now I’m ill. I’m on disability. I’m ill now. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in nineteen eighty-two and had to sell my practice and go on disability. I have nothing but time on my hands now and so I’m on a quest for God and the truth. I do a lot of reading and I love religion. I’m on the quest for God and the truth. My religion is family. I study all religions in the quest for truth. I’m a Jew. I’m more Jewish than a real Jew”—he laughed—“I’m James Eathel White, so my initials actually spell Jew. How many Jewish people you know can say that? That’s how I sign my name. J. E. W. My Jewishness defines me more than anything else. I’m a Jew.

“I’m here to try and make unity out of diversity. My religion is family. Now, religion is supposed to teach love, its ultimate theme and purpose, but this mission has been subjugated by institutional madness and dogma. Family is about love. Religion is about love, or it’s supposed to be about love. If a religion isn’t about love, it’s not about anything. That’s why I had to get out of the Adventist church. Nothing but a bunch of hypocrites who believe everything Ellen G. White wrote and prophesied, and she was known to suffer from temporal lobe epileptic delusions based on a head trauma she endured as a little girl in Maine. I was in Maine once.

“Nobody in my family understands me. Nobody wants to understand me. Now my mother, your grandmother, probably understands me the most, but she likes to act like she doesn’t. I’m into numbers, the meaning and significance of numbers. I have a whole theory about life that can be distilled right down to numbers. My mother is into numbers, too, but she tries not to let anybody but me know because Adventists don’t really believe in numbers. And that’s crazy because the Bible is full of numerology.

“Did you know? Craig. Craig, right? Now did you know that you were supposed to contact me first? You were supposed to contact me first. You were supposed to find me first. You know that, don’t you? You were supposed to find me before you found anyone else.”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The View From Here

Click to enlarge

President Barack Obama Celebrates President Abraham Lincoln

BY NOW, virtually everyone knows that Abraham Lincoln is President Obama's favorite president. He might even believe he's channeling the man. Not for nothing is he the first president to be sworn in with his hand on the Bible Lincoln used at his swearing in. According to a local news broadcast I watched last night, Fred Kaplan, the author of Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, said that the one time he saw the then President-elect Obama, he was carrying his book around.

Today, President Obama takes a break from negotiations on the hill to observe Lincoln's 200th birthday.

While President Obama's focus will still be on the economy today, he will take time to mark the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, beginning this morning when he delivers remarks at the Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration in the Capitol Rotunda.

According to the White House press office, the President will then travel to Peoria, Illinois, where he will visit the Caterpillar Plant with Sen. Dick Durbin and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Then it's on to Springfield, where President Obama will give a speech at the 102nd Abraham Lincoln Association Annual Banquet, before returning to Washington later tonight.

MSNBC reported that the President will be spending the weekend in Chicago (he's got to be jonesing for his favorite Italian restaurant, no?) not returning to Washington.

Yesterday, the AFP reported that he paid tribute to Lincoln by making a pilgrimage to the site of his assassination.

President Barack Obama made a poignant pilgrimage to "hallowed" Ford's Theatre where his political hero, president Abraham Lincoln was cut down by an assassin's bullet.

Obama's historical status as America's first black president is forming a circle-closing undertone to 200th birth anniversary celebrations of Lincoln, the president instrumental in abolishing slavery.

He took a three-minute motorcade from the White House to officiate at the ceremonial reopening of the theatre, after its 18-month, 25 million dollar renovation, a day before Civil War president Lincoln's bicentennial.

"Despite all that divided us, north and south, black and white, (Lincoln) had an unyielding belief that we were, at heart, one nation, and one people," said Obama, who repeatedly invoked the memory of Lincoln in his 2008 campaign.

"And because of Abraham Lincoln, and all who've carried on his work in the generations since, that is what we remain today," said Obama in remarks released by the White House.

View slideshow in full screen mode and click on view info in the upper right to see photo descriptions.

For the record, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is celebrating its 100th birthday today.

Black History Month: Honoring Essex Hemphill

ESSEX was one of my literary mentors. I received the honor of my life when I was invited to read with him at the Walt Whitman Cultural Center in Camden, New Jersey, a year before he fell. Ceremonies, his first collection of prose and poetry, inspired the self-publication of my own Rituals: Poetry and Prose. Ever since receiving a signed copy of his collection, I decided to sign copies of all of my work with his same imperative:

Take care of your blessings. Fiercely.

The following from is the best biography I could find.

Despite a relatively short literary career, Essex Hemphill became arguably the most critically acclaimed and best known openly gay contemporary African-American poet. Through his writing and editing, he helped break the silence surrounding Black gay experiences and enabled other Black gay men to find their voices.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, on April 16, 1957, he was raised in Southeast Washington, D. C., where he began to write poetry at the age of fourteen. "I started writing about and addressing my homosexuality because it wasn't there in the black text," he remembered. "And I needed something to be there to validate that my experience was real for me."

Hemphill studied English at the University of Maryland, but decided to complete his degree at the University of the District of Columbia. With another student from the University of Maryland, he founded the Nethula Journal of Contemporary Literature in 1978, and ran the magazine for several years before leaving to devote more time to writing and presenting his work.

Hemphill believed that poetry should be heard; and he regularly performed his work, often in collaboration with other Washington, D. C. Black lesbian and gay artists. In 1983, he teamed up with Wayson Jones and Larry Duckette to create Cinque, a performance poetry group that combined cutting-edge political verse, vivid imagery about Black gay life, and tightly woven harmonies.

Cinque first performed at the Enik Alley Coffeehouse in Northeast Washington, and quickly developed a loyal local following. Its poetic style gained national attention after the group's work was featured in Marlon Riggs's widely acclaimed films Tongues Untied (1991) and Black Is . . . Black Ain't (1994). Hemphill's poetry was also included in Isaac Julien's award-winning film Looking for Langston (1989).

With few publishers at the time interested in the work of openly gay Black writers, Hemphill self-published his first two poetry collections: Earth Life (1985) and Conditions (1986). He became more widely known when he contributed to Joseph Beam's groundbreaking In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology (1986). Inclusion in anthologies, such as Tongues Untied (1987), Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time (1988), The Road Before Us (1991), and Hometowns (1991), increased his renown. Hemphill's work also appeared in Obsidian, Black Scholar, Callaloo, Painted Bride Quarterly, Gay Community News, The James White Review, Essence, and many other publications.

As Hemphill writes in "When My Brother Fell," after his close friend Beam died from AIDS in 1988, Hemphill "picked up his weapons." At the time of his death, Beam had been working on a follow-up collection to In the Life entitled Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men. Hemphill moved to Philadelphia, where he lived with the Beam family, to complete the anthology. Published in 1991, Brother to Brother won a Lambda Literary Award and garnered widespread critical acclaim.

The following year, Hemphill's Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry was published by a major press and won the American Library Association's Gay and Lesbian Book Award in Literature. The poems and essays in Ceremonies provide powerful insights into the constructions of race, gender, and sexuality in the United States. Among the topics addressed are the sexual objectification of Black men in white gay culture, relationships among Black gay men and with non-gay Black men, HIV/AIDS in the Black community, and meanings of family.

In addition to the honors bestowed on his books, Hemphill received four grants from the D. C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry in 1988, a Pew Charitable Trust Fellowship in the Arts in 1993, and the Emery S. Hetrick Award for community-based activism from the Hetrick-Martin Institute that same year. He was also a visiting scholar at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in Santa Monica, California, in 1993.

After fighting against AIDS for several years, Hemphill died from AIDS-related complications on November 4, 1995 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was thirty-eight.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Black History Month: Honoring Joe Sims

MY MOTHER called me yesterday. One of her bad news calls. You know the kind. "Did I tell you that Mrs. Drews passed? Yeah. She had something wrong with her lung. And you don't remember Mrs. Marcus from over at St. Phillips, do you? You was probably too young, but she passed too. Oh, and remember your cousin was in that accident and almost paralyzed. Oh, I almost forgot, Mrs. Payne called to tell me Joe Sims died. He died last week, but his memorial service was yesterday."

That last one caught me.

Joe Sims was my summer track coach from the time I was 9-years-old through most of high school. A great man who did great things for a generation of great kids.

A quiet hero.

Amy Silvers penned a wonderful tribute.

Anyone who knew Joe Sims thought it was only fitting that the Milwaukee Striders track club was renamed in his honor.

Last year, it became the Joe Sims Milwaukee Striders, named for the founder and head coach who helped young athletes run their best on the track and in life.

"He didn't want to do it - he was pretty humble," said the club's board chairman, Bob Harris, speaking of the name change. "But we told him it was necessary for the Striders to continue to exist . . . and for the kids, you should do this."

And so Sims agreed.

Joseph Sims died Tuesday in Waukegan, Ill., where he last lived in a rehabilitation center following health problems and a stroke. He was 59.

In 1975, Sims founded the club with Robert O. Kern, another North Division coach. The purpose was to keep school athletes and other neighborhood youths busy during the summer.

The club was first called NKL, short for North-King-Lincoln, the schools most of the athletes attended. It was renamed the Milwaukee Striders about 1977.

By the early 1980s, the club emerged as a national force - and an unexpected one.

"It's the funniest thing we always hear," Sims said in 2005. " 'Are you sure you're from Wisconsin?' I just crack up every time."

Robert Hackett and Renee Jones were in the Striders' first wave of success at the National Junior Olympics.

Some Striders alumni became national and world-class athletes, notably Esther Jones, later an Olympic relay gold-medal winner. Others included Floyd Heard, David Brown, Kevin Bledsoe, Dana Collins, Norman McGee, Demi Omole and Michael Bennett.

"Joe Sims is a treasure for Milwaukee - wow!" community activist Reuben Harpole said. "He did it so poor kids would have a chance to go to college - and they did."

Sims' sister, Sandra Hobbs, said: "People are calling from all over. It's a lot of love, it's nothing other than that."

Sims considered the athletes to be his kids, just part of one big extended family.

Cheryl Torrence-Adams knew that first-hand. She was running on her own when Sims noticed her at a meet.

"He had one of the kids come to me and talk to me and get me to join the club," she said. "I ran with the Striders from 11 to 19."

Torrence-Adams later returned to the club to help with fund-raising, knowing that Sims often put his own money in to help his athletes.

"He did what he did because he didn't want to leave anybody out," she said. "He was like a father figure for many who didn't have fathers."

Sims grew up in Milwaukee, graduating from North Division where Harris was his football coach. He also did track, specializing as a shot-putter.

"And at 17, he took the city weight-lifting championship," Harris said.

He went to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh for a year before deciding that college was not for him.

Sims ended up working as North Division's track coach and assisted with the football team. He also supervised the school's weight room. He later was assistant track coach at Boys Tech.

His one real struggle was with his own weight. Sims put on hundreds of extra pounds, but was losing weight at the rehab center.

Although Sims cut an unlikely figure for a track coach, his athletes didn't seem to care. He did his coaching from a seat on the sidelines or from his car on their longer runs.

For Sims, athletics was a way to help young people rise above the problems of poverty.

"You can't do drugs and run track," Sims would say. "That's a fact!"

His athletes kept coming back, bringing what they learned from college programs, said co-founder Kern.

"And everything kept getting better," Kern said. "The kids in the club were Joe's life. Once you were in the club, you became part of Joe's life."

"A coach don't know what he's talking about if he says he knows it all," Sims said in 1991. "When my kids come back, I listen to them.

"I say, 'Learn me something!' I'm learning to be better for my kids."

Sunday, February 08, 2009


TIME heals all wounds. Love helps.

What's Going On With The Treasury Secretary?

BECAUSE of my rising anger at our crumbling economy and those who were asleep at the wheel and allowed so much of it to crumble, I've been paying close attention to Tim Geithner, our new treasury secretary. He recently announced that new guidelines for bailing out financial institutions won't require them to free up credit and lend the money to businesses and the ordinary Americans who need the loans.

How can this be?

Today, Frank Rich in yet another provocative NY Times column opines:

[T]he political problems caused by Geithner’s tax infraction are secondary to the larger questions raised by his past interaction with the corporations now under his purview. To his credit, Geithner, like Obama, has devoted his career to public service, not buckraking. But he still has not satisfactorily explained why, as president of the New York Fed, he failed in his oversight of the teetering Wall Street institutions. Nor has he told us why, in his first major move in his new job, he secured a waiver from Obama to hire a Goldman Sachs lobbyist as his chief of staff. Nor, in his confirmation hearings, did he prove any more credible than the Bush Treasury secretary, the Goldman Sachs alumnus Hank Paulson, in explaining why Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail while A.I.G. and Citigroup were spared.

What's going on here?

Sunday With The World - Stand By Me

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Black History Month: Honoring Alvin Ailey

THE FIRST and only time I saw the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater was in Boston about 10 years ago. One of the veteran members did a solo to "A Song For You" and I couldn't stop weeping. Just this weekend, the President and First Lady kept up their date night tradition and took in a performance of the troupe at the Kennedy Center. The following biographical information is from Wiki:

Ailey was born to his 17-year-old mother, Lula Cooper, in Rogers, Texas. His father abandoned the family when Alvin was only a few months old. Like many African-Americans living in Texas during the Great Depression Ailey's mother strug­gled to find work and moved often because of it. Ailey grew up during a time of racial segregation in Texas. Rumors of lynchings against African-Americans and the rape of his mother by white men when he was five made him fearful of whites. Constant postiive influences came from black social institutions such as the Southern Baptist church and juke joints instilled in him a fierce black pride. These early experiences would go on to figure prominently in Ailey's signature works.[1][2]

In 1943, Ailey's mother secured work in an aircraft factory in Los Angeles, California. Upon arrival in California Ailey's first Junior High School was located in a primarily white school district. As one of the only black students, Ailey felt out of place and so the Aileys moved to a different predominantly black district. He matriculated into George Washington Carver Junior High School and later, the Thomas Jefferson High School. School was a sanctuary for Ailey. Despite having an athletic build, he spent long hours in the library reading and writing poetry. He was able to avoid both contact sports and being viewed as effeminate by taking up gymnastics. Ailey first encountered concert dance in movies. He was attracted to the glamor of stars such as Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. He sang spirituals in the glee club, wrote poetry, and proved to have an affinity for foreign languages. It was during this period that he discovered his ho­mosexuality, further alienating him from his peers. He briefly studied tap dancing and tried the “primitive dance” taught by Dunham dancer Thelma Robinson in a seedy downtown night club. Ailey found the experience unpleasant and turned to modern dance when a friend introduced him to the Hollywood dance theater of Lester Horton in 1949. Horton would prove to be Ailey's major influence, giving him both a technique and foundation with with to grow artistically. His all black school as well as the entertainment districts on Central Avenue and in Downtown Los Angeles provided Ailey with more positive examples of African-American performance. He regularly attended shows at Lincoln Theater and the Orpheum Theater where he saw jazz greats Count Basie, Pearl Bailey, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and Pigmeat Markham. It was during this time that he was introduced to dance by performances of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.


Ailey formed his own group, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, in 1957 which presented its inaugural concert on March 30, 1958. Works of note presented at this time include Blues Suite, a work deriving from blues songs. Ailey's choreography was a dynamic and vibrant mix of his previous training in ballet, modern dance, jazz, and African dance techniques. Ailey also insisted upon a complete theatricality including costumes, lighting and make-up. A work of intense emotional appeal expressing the pain and anger of African Americans,Blues Suite was an instant success and defined Ailey's style.

For his signature work, Revelations, Ailey drew upon his "blood memories" of Texas, the blues, spirituals, and gospel as inspiration, which resulted in the creation of his most popular and critically acclaimed work. Ailey originally intended for the dance to be the second part of a larger, evening-length survey of African-American music which he began with Blues Suite.

Through Ailey created 79 works for his company, Ailey maintained that his company was not repository for his own work. Today, the company continues Mr. Ailey's vision by performing important works from the past and commissioning new ones to add to the repertoire. In all, More than 200 works by over 70 choreographers have been performed by the Company.

Ailey took pride in the fact that his company was multi-racial. While, he wanted to give black dancers, who were frequently discriminated against by the racist attitudes of his contemporaries, an opportunity to dance; at the same time, he also wanted to rise above issues of [[negritude]. His company always employed artists based solely on artistic talent and integrity regardless of their race

Ailey continued to create work for his own company, he also choreographed for other companies.

In 1962 the U.S. State Department sponsored The Alvin Ailey Dance Company's first overseas tour. Ailey was suspicious of his company's benefactors motives. He questioned whether their motives were propagandistic, seeking to display a distorted attitude of tolerance by showcasing a modern Negro dance group.

In 1970, Ailey was honored by being commissioned to create The River for American Ballet Theatre. The River used the music of Duke Ellington. Ailey viewed this as a chance to work with some of the best ballet dancers in the world, particularly with the great dramatic ballerina Sallie Wilson. ABT, however, insisted that the leading male role be danced by the only black man, despite Ailey and other contemporaries misgivings about said dancer's talent.

Cry (1971), was one of Ailey's greatest successes. He dedicated to his mother and black women everywhere. It became a signature piece for Judith Jamison.

Ailey was known be generous, magnanimous and loving and was adored by a multitude of devoted friends. He also served as a father figure to his dancers. His personal and professional lives however, were frequently dogged with problems. His romantic life was rocky and often abusive and later life he often employ male sex-workers. He also made poor personal choices in who to entrust with management and money matters. Towards the end of his life, Ailey was increasingly crippled by arthritis, and dependent on lithium as a mood regulator.

Alvin Ailey died of AIDS in 1989 at the age of 58.[5] To spare his mother the social stigma of his death of AIDS, Ailey asked his doctor to announce that he had died of terminal blood Dyscrasia.[6]

Obama Appoints Openly Gay Advisor For Faith-Based Initiatives

FRED DAVIE, the openly gay president of Public/Private Ventures, has been named to serve on President Barack Obama’s Policy Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Davie will work to provide objective, nonpartisan advice to the president on a variety of public policy matters, including strategies to increase the effectiveness of social services delivered by community and faith-based organizations.

Public/Private Ventures is an organization that creates and strengthens programs to improve the lives of residents in low-income communities. P/PV is composed of research, policy and program development experts who specialize in education, employment, prisoner reentry, juvenile justice, public health, youth development and more.

Friday, February 06, 2009

President Obama Takes First Air Force One Flight

President Obama on way to Marine One. He greets his Marine guard to the young man's stunned amazement.

Boarding Air Force One for the first time.

Doing something Bush did only once in eight years -- walking into the press cabin and taking questions.

(Photos and captions found here)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Black History Month: Honoring Marlon Riggs

HE WAS a huge mentor. Even if he didn't know it because I never said more than hello to him at the end of a symposium he led. But his voice was clear and loud and bold and I had never experienced such an honest account of a Black gay man in a white gay world as the one he told in Tongues Untied.

Before his death in 1994, African-American filmmaker, educator and poet Marlon Riggs forged a position as one of the more controversial figures in the recent history of public television. He won a number of awards for his creative efforts as a writer and video producer. His theoretical-critical writings appeared in numerous scholarly and literary journals and professional and artistic periodicals. His video productions, which explored various aspects of African-American life and culture, earned him considerable recognition, including Emmy and Peabody awards. Riggs will nonetheless, be remembered mostly for the debate and contention that surrounded the airing of his highly charged video productions on public television stations during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Just as art-photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's provocative homoerotic photographs of male nudes caused scrutiny of government agencies and their funding of art, Marlon Riggs' video productions similarly plunged public television into an acrimonious debate, not only about funding, but censorship as well.

Riggs' early works received little negative press. His production, Ethnic Notions aired on public television stations throughout the United States. This program sought to explore the various shades of mythology surrounding the ethnic stereotyping of African Americans in various forms of popular culture. The program was well-received and revolutionary in its fresh assessment of such phenomenon as the mythology of the Old South and its corresponding caricatures of Black life and culture.

The video Color Adjustment, which aired on public television stations in the early 1990s, was an interpretive look at the images of African-Americans in fifty years of American television history. Using footage from shows like Amos 'n' Andy, Julia, and Good Times, Riggs compared the grossly stereotyped caricatures of Blacks contained in early television programming to those of recent, and presumably more enlightened, decades.

By far the most polemical of Riggs' work was his production, Tongues Untied. This fifty-five minute video, which "became the center of a controversy over censorship" as reported The Independent in 1991, was aired as part of a series entitled, P.O.V. (Point of View), which aired on public television stations and featured independently produced film and video documentaries on various subjects ranging from personal reflections on the Nazi holocaust to urban street life in contemporary America.

Tongues Untied, is noteworthy on at least three accounts. First, Riggs chose as his subject urban, African-American gay men. Moving beyond the stereotypes of drag queens and comic-tragic stock caricatures, Riggs offered to mainstream America an insightful and provocative portrait of a distinct gay sub-culture--complete with sometimes explicit language and evocative imagery. Along with private donations, Riggs' had financed the production with a $5,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a federal agency supporting visual, literary and performing artists. News of the video's airing touched off a tumult of debate about the government funding of artistic creations that to some were considered obscene. While artists argued the basic right of free speech, U.S. government policy makers, especially those of conservative bent, engaged in hotly contentious debate regarding the use of taxpayer money for the funding of such endeavors.

Read the rest...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Black History Month: Honoring Eric Holder

JUST TODAY, Eric Holder was confirmed by a Senate vote of 75-21 and has become the first Black Attorney General in the history of the United States. In many ways, his confirmation could be even more impactful than the election of President Obama. A Department of Justice that actually prosecutes civil rights violations against people of color?

Now that's change we can believe in.

What an appropriate beginning to Black History Month.