“Black and Cuba” Now Streaming on Vimeo on Demand

The Harlem Chorus, narrators of Black and Cuba, following the Black studies tradition

                            The Harlem Chorus, narrators of Black and Cuba

The award-winning documentary Black and Cuba is now available for streaming.  The film follows street smart students who are outcast at their elite university, band together and adventure to Cuba, whose population is 60% Black.  Black and Cuba’s release comes on the heels of President Obama’s announcement that the US will thaw relations with Cuba and ease travel restrictions to the island.  See the film and see Cuba for yourself.  This weekend only, the filmmakers are offering a limited number of 10% discounts to subscribers in order to express their gratitude for your support.  Go to Vimeo on Demand and use the promo code SHAKUR15. 

For Patsey and Her Descendants

(L.) Patsey from 12 Years a Slave Francois Duhamel/Fox Searchlight (R.) Lupita Nyong’o Kevin Winter/Getty Images

(L.) Patsey from 12 Years a Slave Francois Duhamel/Fox Searchlight
(R.) Lupita Nyong’o Kevin Winter/Getty Images


Happy Women’s Empowerment Month!
In Lupita Nyong’o’s inspiring speech accepting the 2013 Best Supporting Actress “Oscar” for her impressive performance in 12 Years a Slave, she acknowledged the presence of the true life Patsey (whom she portrayed in the film) and asserted powerfully “no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”  Her Academy Award show statements culminated an overwhelmingly successful international run on red carpets and award show stages in which she wowed the world with her graceful beauty, impeccable style and stunning intelligence.  Joyful, cosmopolitan, and Ivy League educated, Ms. Nyong’o fulfills a durable wish we have as the descendants of Patsey and the vicious dehumanization by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade that her character embodies.

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The Joys of Being an Everyday Artist

Independent Rock Band, The Skins. Image courtesy of theskinsband.com

Independent Rock Band, The Skins. Image courtesy of theskinsband.com

A few times each school year a student with creative leanings comes into my office hours and bemoans the fact that their parents are completely unsupportive of their unprofitable artistic aspirations. “It’s like doctor, lawyer or accountant are the only jobs they’ve ever heard of!” they state while rolling their eyes and throwing their heads back in exasperation.

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Free ‘Em All

Image Courtesy of PrisonPhotography.Org

Image Courtesy of PrisonPhotography.Org

In February 2013, director Stephen Vittoria premiered his film Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal in New York City. The documentary is the latest in a series of films about famed activist, scholar and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Unlike other films about Abu-Jamal, like 1998’s Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt and 2008’s In Prison My Whole Life, which spend ample time recounting the facts of his controversial murder case, Vittoria’s film centers around Abu-Jamal’s life in prison and the community organizations working to secure his release. Vittoria’s is unabashedly a film by an activist for activists. As he boastfully declared at the premier, he didn’t make the film to win friends. Instead, the documentary aims to contribute to a grassroots movement for change.

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San Quentin, May You Rot in Hell

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Johnny Cash gives the finger while performing a concert at San Quentin State Prison. Photo by Jim Marshall.

In February 1969, prisoners in San Quentin State Prison cheered while treated to a live concert by the man in black. Johnny Cash, with his characteristic bravado, brazenly declared, “San Quentin, may you rot in Hell.” One of the prisoners recalled of the performance: “He had the right attitude. He chewed gum, looked arrogant and flipped the bird to the guards—he did everything the prisoners wanted to do. He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us. When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan.” The performance was memorialized by a U.K. film crew and became a feature-length documentary. Cash was not new to concerts behind bars; he had been playing in prisons for years, most famously at Folsom Prison. However, this time, Cash performed songs specifically written for prisoners, including the title track “San Quentin” and “Wanted Man,” co-written by Bob Dylan. When Cash took the stage, his audience consisted of men designated as dangerous criminals. Most were poor and White, with many serving life sentences or awaiting execution. San Quentin has not surrendered its infamous reputation, and it remains the “most populous antechamber in the U.S.”

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Glossary: The Prison Industrial Complex

Image courtesy of stopthepic.wordpress.com

Image courtesy of stopthepic.wordpress.com

The Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is a term used to describe various components driving mass incarceration in the United States. It is the preoccupation with punishment rather than prevention and rehabilitation. The development and infrastructure of prisons have become a privatized industry run for the purpose of turning a profit. Under the promise of lowering crimes and protecting the public, state and federal governments issue contracts to private companies, like Corrections Conglomerates of America (CCA) and GEO Group, to manage and staff prisons. These private companies are paid a fixed amount to house prisoners. Their profits are accrued from spending the minimum amount on each prisoner and pocketing the remaining funds. Hence, the objective is to house the maximum numbers of inmates for extended periods of time as inexpensively as possible.

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Unity Among Legends

Yuri & Angela

Mountains that Take Wing is an intimate portrait of two revolutionary lives. The documentary follows activists Angela Davis and Yuri Kochiyama in a series of dialogues which trace their lifelong struggles against racism, oppression and violence. Topics range from the legacies of Japanese internment and Jim Crow segregation to their contemporary efforts to end prisons, poverty and imperialism.

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Liberation Chic

Angela Davis at a political rally in Raleigh, North Carolina on July 4, 1974. Photo courtesy of Bettmann/CORBIS.

To an earlier generation, Angela Davis, born today in 1944, is largely remembered as the woman at the center of one of the mid-20th century’s most notorious court cases, an experience which led the President at the time Richard Nixon to refer to her as a “dangerous terrorist.”  She was also a lightening-rod for controversy during her days as a professor in California and even ran for president (twice) on the Communist Party ticket.

However, she describes her interaction with members of a later generation in a different way:

…it is both humiliating and humbling to discover that a single generation after the events that constructed me as a public personality, I am remembered as a hairdo.

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The Manning Marable Memorial Conference

The Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University (IRAAS) and the Ford Foundation Presents “A New Vision of Black Freedom: the Manning Marable Memorial Conference,” an academic and community-focused event scheduled for April 26-29, 2012 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Columbia University and Riverside Church in New York City.

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The Black Power Mixtape

Black is beautiful, but black isn’t power. Knowledge is power.

-Lewis H. Michaux

As a young girl who grew up in the Bronx and attended public school, my US history courses touched on the subject of the Civil Rights Movement in the most basic ways: Martin Luther King, Jr. was good, Malcolm X was bad. As a pillar of our community, I aspired to be like Martin Luther King, changing the world through nonviolent action and community development. Of course, as a black Latina, I was also aware of the Young Lords Party, a Puerto Rican nationalist group with chapters in many US cities – most notably in New York and Chicago. Unfortunately, I didn’t know much about the Black Panther Party because they weren’t brought up in school or in my family.

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