Dance Theater of Harlem

Dance_Theatre_of_Harlem_2015-16_tour

Dancers from the Dance Theater of Harlem’s 2015-2016 Season

Today Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook co-founded the Dance Theater of Harlem in 1969 to bring ballet and its allied arts to Mitchell’s beloved community.  The Dance Theater of Harlem continues to educate young people and diversify the art form of dance.

First National M4BL Convention a Beacon of Hope

The Movement for Black Lives poster hung on upper level balcony of the Student Center

The Movement for Black Lives banner hung on upper level balcony of the Student Center.

I attended the first national Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) Convening in Cleveland, Ohio and return to say that the movement is alive and strong. This past weekend’s events called into memory our Black elders and youth, our LGB, Queer, and Trans brothers and sisters, and all others whose lives were taken along the way as we struggle for the right to Black humanity. The movement breathes because we breathe, and we work, and we sacrifice.

IMG_0302

Attendees celebrate after taking time to heal together on the Student Center Atrium. Healer [center right] cleanses the space with burning sage [out of frame] as she dances.

That said, revolutionary work is being done because M4BL was a huge success. Nearly one thousand beautiful Black faces showed up in downtown Cleveland for the weekend of July 24th to find community and collectively re-imagine the future of Black society. Culture, organizing, healing, and imagining were some of the focal points of the broad range of activities available for attendees. I had the pleasure of participating in dialogues on Black workers, self-determination through food justice and agriculture, anti-Blackness, and a panel discussion with four ex-Panthers.

What was profound for me at this Convening was the power that emanated from the space, brought on by the union of passionate Black individuals across generations. I felt this energy from my very first session, “#BlackWorkersMatter: The State of Black Worker Organizing in the U.S.”  The fact of our very presence, a collective of black people organizing together when our communities are so often divided, was a sentiment that I heard many in the room echo. Panelist Kimberly Freeman Brown took a moment to publicly acknowledge the intergenerational space, a rarity in her work as a labor organizer, and let the feeling simmer for a while before beginning. One woman exclaimed in a small group discussion that she was experiencing culture shock, seeing so many young people in a space organized around the labor movement.

IMG_0088

Packed classroom full of intergenerational organizers at the Black Workers Matter dialogue.

What made this workshop so powerful, and this held true for the Conference as a whole, was the collective memory generated by the display of ages in the room. We had elders who were more closely touched by the labors of the 20th century civil rights movement, retired union workers, veteran leaders, students, educators, young community leadership, and laborers themselves. Each of us brought our own segment of the Black existential condition from which we came. The result was a lively and impassioned discussion about the kind of labor movement we need to enable economic justice and ensure the health of Black communities. Our conversations were cut short in the interest of time, but we had built up so much momentum that most stuck around to build connections with other community organizers and share experiences. What happened in the #BlackWorkersMatter session was not a rarity. Each of my four sessions, as well as those I observed in passing was pulsing with that same creative, productive energy that will be essential in our next strides towards liberation.

Attendees work together to install activist textile art between organizer sessions.

Attendees work together to install activist textile art between organizer sessions.

A moment ago I mentioned that the Convening was a place where “collective memory” arose. Collective memory refers to a people’s understanding of the world and themselves throughout time as formed by the group’s constituents. The refusal of Black collective memory by White supremacist colonial power has been laden in the fabric of global societies since the origins of the African Diaspora. Our people have been systematically enslaved, colonized, sterilized, incarcerated, mis-educated, and murdered. Our children are born targets for law enforcement and government agencies like Foster Care. Black society is entangled in a world of social deaths that prevent our masses from attaining the cohesion and stability necessary to reconstruct that collective memory which has been withheld from us. With a revived collective memory, we may learn to know and love ourselves as ourselves and not through the lens of Whiteness.

Ex-Panthers [left to right ]Ashanti Alston, Pam Hannah, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, and Hank Jones reflect on Black liberation's past and present movements.

Ex-Panthers [left to right ]Ashanti Alston, Pam Hannah, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, and Hank Jones reflect on Black liberation’s past and present movements.

So, when I say that was an essence of collective memory at M4BL, I foresaw a future of opportunity for our communities to grow and heal as we work across generations in solidarity. When I attended the panel led by former Black Panthers Ashanti Alston, Pam Hannah, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, and Hank Jones (San Francisco 8), they expressed to us that they were not certain they would live to see “the movement” live like this again. This nod from our elders in the struggle is a sign that we have “connected the dots” throughout our history and are on the path to building something great.

M4BL was as educational as it was inspiring, and it reminded me of the need for Black Studies programming in communities. What better way to build collective memory than to educate the masses about Black history, culture, and ideology? When the Black Panther Party was still active, one could not be granted general membership until they had completed a political education class. In their Ten-Point Program, a declaration of ideals, the Panthers wrote, “We believe in an educational system that will give our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.” The Panthers were active in one of the nation’s peak moments of Black resistance, and they knew that education would be vital the integrity of their struggle. The M4BL Convening was a step towards this reality, as organizers shared their understanding of the Black condition. Black Studies programming with be another step towards the reification of our humanity.

On the closing of the second day of M4BL, after hearing words from the families of our recently slain, trans activist Miss Major, and other community organizers, we entered into a chant. Together we repeated, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” We shouted this aloud a few times and on our last round, Kendrick Lamar’s Alright began to play on the auditorium speakers. The crowd burst into celebration. While there is much work to do, I left Cleveland excited for what is to come. I am hopeful and optimistic, because in time, I know “We gon’ be alright.”

A child runs through a large circle of attendees performing a ritual of healing and solidarity.

A child runs through a large circle of attendees performing a ritual of healing and solidarity.

by Rhyston Mays
rhyston.m@progressivepupil.org

American Race Crisis: The Crisis Continues

1660835_10201892048246543_877496441_n

Throughout February, a monumental lecture series was revived at The New School. The University celebrated the 50th anniversary of the American Race Crisis lecture series, a turn of event in 1964 when civil rights activists were invited to the campus to share progressive ideas for civil rights movement. The Voices of Crisis series included several lectures and forums, as well as an exhibition with archival documentation of the original lectures. Archives included original transcripts, audio clips, photographs, and programs with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ossie Davis and John Killens to name a few of the original attendees.

(more…)

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave in an exciting and compelling text, which provides a unique glimpse into the lives of U.S. slaves during the 1800s. The book’s author and protagonist, Solomon Northup, was born a free man and lived with his wife and three children in Saratoga Springs, NY. In 1841, he was kidnapped and taken to Washington D.C., where he was then sold to a plantation owner in Louisiana. Northup’s account of the following twelve years is eloquent, raw and, at times, extremely hard to read. His vivid descriptions of the horrors of slavery are juxtaposed with his optimism and unwavering will to live and return to his family. Finally, with the help of friends and allies, Northup was able to return to New York as a free man. He spent the rest of his life dedicated to the abolition movement and assisting with the Underground Railroad.

(more…)

We of the Saya

AfroBolivians

Sisa Bueno began work on her documentary of the AfroBolivian community while serving as a volunteer in Bolivia. We of the Saya (Nosotros los de la Saya) attempts to expose the systemic vulnerability of a group that, historically, has not even been recognized as an existing people by the Bolivian government. It is a state of affairs that resonates strongly with many AfroLatin@ groups throughout the Americas.

Bueno’s film follows the struggles of an AfroBolivian farmer who aspires to help her marginalized community by entering politics. The documentary provides a rare glimpse into history unfolding. In a recent article, Ms. Bueno notes the important questions surrounding identity in the Americas:  “[H]ere in the U.S., we really confine ourselves to these kinds of labels that were not created by us, but for us… ‘black’ and ‘African-American’ are the same. At least in my view, that’s not the same thing. ‘Blackness’ … is a global existence.”

You can support the efforts to garner more attention for the film by following We of the Saya on Twitter and Facebook and by visiting the film’s official website.

by Ian Morlan

 

The First Cuban Revolution

Fidel Castro outlines his “26th of July Movement” before the Rotary Club of Havana.

Fidel Castro outlines his July 26th Movement before the Rotary Club of Havana. Photo courtesy of The Rotarian, 1959.

Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me.”-Fidel Castro, from his four-hour trial defense speech following capture at the start of the Cuban Revolution.

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, and it is an apt time to reflect on this pivotal moment in history. Fidel Castro, a young lawyer, was appalled by the misery of the Cuban people under the rule of U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro petitioned the Cuban courts to oust Batista, accusing him of corruption and tyranny. When legal means proved unsuccessful, Castro decided to take up arms and overthrow the government. Fidel and Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara led the July 26th Movement as a vanguard organization intent on toppling the Batista regime. The Movement’s name originated from a failed attack on an army facility, named the Moncada Barracks, in the city of Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953. Many of the revolutionaries were captured or killed in the battle. Shortly after the July 26th siege, Fidel Castro and his brother Raul were seized by Batista’s forces and put on a highly politicized trial. The men were convicted and sentenced to fifteen and thirteen years in prison, respectively. In 1955, growing political pressure forced the Batista government to free all political prisoners in Cuba. The Castro brothers joined other exiles in Mexico, regrouping and receiving training from Alberto Bayo, a leader of Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. In that same year, Fidel met Guevara, who agreed to join the July 26th Movement as one of its leaders.

(more…)

Dream for the Congo

Patrice Lumumba, photo courtesy of The Guardian

Patrice Lumumba, photo courtesy of The Guardian

July 2nd marks the 88th birthday of revolutionary hero Patrice Lumumba. Hailing from what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his name may be foreign to younger generations of U.S. change-makers. However, his passion for justice and call to action in 1960 rang throughout the Congo and resonated with Black communities worldwide. After a series of nationalist rebellions which led to Congo’s independence from Belgium in 1960, Lumumba became the county’s first democratically elected leader and took up the task of organizing the country’s first government. An ardent supporter of Pan-Africanism, which called for solidarity among African-descendant people, Lumumba fought tirelessly to unite the Congolese people. Lumumba envisioned an independent and thriving Congo nation. Yet, he was feared and resented by Western governments for his Leftist views and his insistence that African people could flourish without foreign intervention. Labeled a Communist threat by the U.S. and its European allies, Lumumba was tortured and assassinated in 1961.

Despite his short time in office , Patrice Lumumba left an indelible mark on his country, his continent and social movements throughout the African diaspora. Lumumba’s commitment to unity amongst marginalized groups greatly influenced Black revolutionaries like Malcolm X. His legacy is memorialized in Lumumba, a French biopic released in 2000.

Today, organizations like Friends of the Congo and the Patrice Lumumba Coalition keep these hopes alive, working to educate and unite Africans and members of the diaspora. Friends of the Congo advocates for an end to predatory practices in resource extraction which have fueled violent conflict in the Great Lakes region, sharing Lumumba’s dream of a peaceful Democratic Republic of the Congo.

by Courtney Cook is an M.S. Candidate in Nonprofit Management at The New School of Public Engagement

Basquiat Faces the Games

Olympic Rings, 1985

A collaborative painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol features Warhol’s highly stylized take on the Olympic symbol of the five rings against their traditional white background. Superimposed, just off center, is a strong image of a Black face done in Basquiat’s freehand, graffiti-like style.

These two socially minded Pop icons incorporated imagery and text from contemporary culture into their personal expressions. During the summer of 1984, the Olympic Games were in Los Angeles, the first time they were hosted in the United States in half a century. Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan was running for reelection and his policies continued to marginalize African American and poor communities.

(more…)