Tag Archives: Motif Magazine

Accountability, Artivism and Action: Where Are You On The Continuum?

23 Apr

George Floyd
Photo credit: Vanity Fair

The world was watching, and waiting, anxious, holding our collective breath, in hopes we could breathe again, if even for the one evening of Tuesday, April 20, 2021, the day the Derek Chauvin verdict came in.

Three counts of Guilty!

Relief, tears, breaths given for the ones George Floyd could no longer take–his life viciously taken by Chauvin last May. And we all watched it happen, only because brave 17 year-old, Darnella Frazier, recorded it, herself still pained that that’s all she could do. Yet, through her unwavering courage in bearing witness, the world saw what happened, and thankfully, the jury did it’s job to make Chauvin pay for his murder. Now we hold our breaths again to see what the judge’s sentencing will be.

Many have said this is not justice, it is accountability, and I agree. It’s not like this conviction means racism is ended. It doesn’t mean police brutality, use of excessive force, killings of unarmed and innocent Black people will end. It does not mean the system of policing, with its slave patrol origins, can be reformed without tearing the whole house down, and creating a new way of ensuring public safety in all of our communities.

As a white person who desperately wants a world where we all are free, I know this moment, most of all for me, doesn’t mean I can stop thinking about, or stop doing anything about ending racism in this country. And, I know it means that all of us white people have to stay doing something about it. I know I can’t just care about racism when I hear about yet another police shooting in the news, or someone I work with says something racist, even though those are times I must take action. As I always say here, I have to be thinking about, and acting every single day to break apart racism–whether it’s personal attacks, inequities in our communities in housing, schools, businesses, workplaces–or whether it’s policies and laws that uphold racism and privilege to people who look like me. I pray that we white people who were glued to our televisions on Tuesday evening, don’t go back to thinking it’s all good. It is hard for me to grasp the thought, conscious or not, of “if it doesn’t effect me, I don’t think about it, or do anything about it.” I remember the calls from Black friends and those speaking out against racism:”You must love Black children like they are your own” I remember what Darnella Frazier said when she was recording. She said when she saw George Floyd on the ground, helpless, she saw “my dad, my brothers, my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black.”

And so why can’t we all say, especially when a person is on the receiving end of racism, whether a micro-aggression, a racial profiling incident, and most of all, when under threat of physical violence, why can’t we feel, and say to ourselves, I need to protect this person, because they are part of my family? And, every day, why can’t we self-examine, and be aware, and say why should I have access to this school, and the majority of people who don’t look like me are sitting in under-resourced schools, or, why do I get to have my voice heard, my ideas and perspectives centered in decision-making in this meeting, and why does almost everyone in upper administration look like me–where is the real inclusion?

I am not working across all these areas that I noted all of the time. One person cannot do it all. But we can find an area where we can do the work. Together we can all make a difference. We are part of the continuum of fighting for everyone to be free, and we have to keep on fighting.

If part of my way of doing the work is through my writing and my poetry, I know that I am just one of a vast number of artists who throughout history have used their art, and continue to use their work to reflect what is going on in the world, and who call to us to reflect, and take action. Call it art + activism, or artivism, it is definitely something that stirs my soul, and is an avenue that keeps me passionate about being part of the change to create a racially just world.

One of many local artists who inspire me to be a part of the fight against racism is Providence poet laureate, and playwright, Christopher Johnson. Christopher is in the process of workshopping his most current multi-discipline performance piece, which answers the asked and not so obvious unasked questions about race and racism. I was honored to be able to write about the workshop performance, Invoice For Emotional Labor, for Motif RI, which you can read about here. I invite you to think about the artists–visual artists, poets, dancers, actors, storytellers, musicians, writers, and the arts organizations, who inspire you, and who spur you to take action, and keep engaging in, and supporting their work. It will keep them creating, and keep us keeping on with the fight to make things right.

It can also help us build community, and not feel alone, or stuck in the thought of “but what can I do?..I am just one person..” We are all connected, and it is that realization, and acting like we are all connected, and all family, that will keep all of us alive, and well taken care of. I know that probably sounds naive, and Pollyanna, but is there any other way to get there?

I write daily poems on Facebook made up from my friends’ status updates. These poems, especially in times of chaos, horrific tragedy, and hate, help me make sense of what is happening, gives some order to my thoughts and feelings, and provides solace for my anxious, grieving heart. The poems, I always hope, in their documentation of the moment, honor all of the people who are grieving, and struggling with the same questions racing inside my brain.

This is the poem I created from my friends’ status updates on Tuesday, the day the verdict came in. Let us each day we wake up, ask ourselves who we are going to be today as we move through the world, and let us ask ourselves at the end of each day if we would want ourselves as a member of our own family? And remember each day who is a part of our family. (Hint: every one)

4/20/21

on pins and needles

it’s going to be

a long

30 minutes

it’s about to be

all the way on or

all the way off

george floyd is

21st century symbol

for 400 years of

lynchings and murders

come to a nexus

he represents

the thousands of

nameless, faceless,

unknown bodies that

lie decaying in

countless bogs, fields

and marshes

forgotten with

no headstones to

even mark

they ever existed

the verdict is in

guilty on all charges

I’m crying

the relief

god

guilty

all three charges

good!

but just a start

the people

have spoken

this is not justice

this is accountability

the whole system

is guilty

anybody else

emotionally exhausted

I wonder what the

verdict would’ve been

had the world not

been watching and

there was

no video

redesigning rooms in

a burning house

isn’t progress

I am thinking of

darnella frazier, a

17 year old girl

who had the courage

to film something that

was wrong

thank you to all

the bystanders who

bore witness to

this horrific tragedy

this didn’t happen

without you

blessed are those

who are

keepers of justice

this is justice for

my sons and yours

1 down and

countless others

to go

but his conviction is

no substitute for the

deep and deliberate

changes we need to

prevent further

police killings

and misconduct

makiyah bryant

I’m not black, but

I see the injustice

that you face daily

I’m not black, but

I will stand, kneel

& fight with you

justice would be

george floyd unharmed

please know

the difference

black men deserve

to grow old

“daddy changed

the world”

yes your dad

has definitely left a

historical mark

on this world

Thankful for Poem Contributors: Wendy, Christianne Warlick, Ronald Petty Jr., Warren Leach, Heather Parsons, Ntombi A. Peters, Jason Thompson, Kortez Artise, Sharlene Ebirim Downs, Ally Henny, Denitra Letrice, Michael Eaglin, Ulysses Prince, Angie Bannerman Ankoma, Orange Live, Innocence Project, Melissa Potter Laundry, Michael J. DiQuinzio Paintings, Patrice Jean-Philippe, Billy Porter, Johnny Washington Jr

Sources:

AMERICA RECKONS WITH RACIAL INJUSTICE
Darnella Frazier, Teen Who Filmed Floyd’s Murder, Praised For Making Verdict Possible
April l 21, 202111:15 AM ET by RACHEL TREISMANTwitter

Photo credit: Vanity Fair

Fighting Racism Got You Down? Don’t Make Those Brunch Reservations Just Yet

3 Oct

Breonna Taylor illustration by Robin Hilkey

How are you all doing? It’s been 18 weeks since the killing of George Floyd, 1 week since the indictment for the bullets that hit Breonna Taylor’s neighbor’s wall, and the non-indictment for killing Breonna Taylor, and 4 weeks since I last blogged.

Have you noticed that things have quieted down…and…they haven’t? Since I last wrote, we are not seeing as many televised Black Lives Matter marches. They are still taking place all across the country, but as usual, it seems the media stays hungry to capture the few where destruction occurs, perpetuating the narrative that protestors are violent, that Black Lives Matter, or, the Movement for Black Lives, is violent, and that white people should be very afraid. Yet, let’s take a closer look.

In August, we saw how the horrible killing of a five-year old white boy by his neighbor, a Black man, was used by white racists to try and draw some kind of correlation between a lack of outrage for this white child’s death at the hands of a Black person–which is highly rare–with the systemic violent deaths of Black people at the hands of white police officers, which happens…a lot. Somehow, these gaslighters could not believe that Black, Brown and white “liberals” were also outraged and saddened by the boy’s tragic death, and could not make the connection that justice was served in this case. A manhunt and arrest and jail without bail of the boy’s killer occurred all within 24 hours. Contrast that with the six months it took after Breonna Taylor’s killing, to get the heartbreaking, but unsurprising news from the grand jury, that there would be no indictment in her death, other than for the one officer charged with wanton endangerment for the bullets fired not at Breonna Taylor, but at her neighbor’s house.

We saw in late August in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Joseph Blake be shot in the back at close range by police officers while walking to his vehicle after trying to break up a domestic dispute. His children were sitting in the back seat of his car at the time. When protests broke out following the shooting, we saw 17 year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a strong Blue Lives Matter supporter, and militia group member, fulfill his mission to support the police as they dealt with “rioters.” We learned Kyle’s mother drove him across state lines to do just that. We saw him use his AR-15 rifle to straight up shoot and kill protesters, Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and injure a third man. We saw Kenosha police allow Rittenhouse to roam the streets that night, with his rifle, even after he held his arms up in the air after killing the two men, as if surrendering. We saw police cruisers simply pass him by. We saw Rittenhouse arrested a few days later, alive, unscathed.

Just this past Tuesday, during the first presidential debate, we heard our President refuse to denounce white supremacy. We saw him instead prop up the white supremacist group, The Proud Boys, giving them the go ahead to “stand back and stand by.” Somehow, some of us thought it was merely dinner entertainment–a humorous evening watching two childish, old men shouting over one another.

So, just checking in, since the videos and memorial tribute memes of George, Ahmaud, Rayshard, Breonna, and Elijah have waned, and the racial justice proclamations made by many corporations are no longer flooding our social media feeds. As are the number of days ago growing, where we passionately said to our friends, co-workers, family, and ourselves, we were going to do something about all of this. I wanted to ask, how are we all doing with this? Are we allowing ourselves to be lulled back into complacency–into a forgetting that this movement requires us to keep at it every day?

I am remembering the article I wrote for Motif Magazine last month, with interviewee, AJS, activist, and member of Standing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ). In a conversation we had afterward, AJS reminded me how all of us who seek to break down racism and the racist systems that uphold it, have to realize that we are part of a continuum. We have to keep doing the work. As white people, we need to support Black leaders who lead the charge in Black liberation. The work has been done before us. The work will be done after us. While we might not see the change we seek to see in our lifetimes, we must keep working, now supporting Black youth, Asian, Latino, Muslim youth, white youth, all of our young people, who are picking up this charge, so that our future generations can realize the changes we wish to bring to fruition.

And, I know we are tired of this virus, and wearing masks, and we just want to feel some semblance of normalcy as summer bid us goodbye, like breathing mask-free on the beach one more time, or dining outdoors at our favorite restaurants. We deserve some relief from having to stress over how we sent or didn’t send our kids to school, how we’ll pay our rent, how our businesses will survive, and how we will mail our ballots if they keep pulling our mailboxes out of the ground.

While I too, wish for carefree days, wish for certainty, I think of my friend, poet, actor and playwright, most recently of the upcoming, Invoice for Emotional Labor, Christopher Johnson. Christopher has posted on social media, and we have talked together about white apathy when it comes to the deaths of innocent Black people–and let’s just say for a time marker–beginning with the death of Jordan Davis in 2012. In reference to our upcoming presidential election, Christopher shared a meme that asked, will we, once Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are elected–will we just go back to our brunch?

Will we? I’m asking, will we, white people, order the status quo avocado toast with a big side serving of white complacency? Will we put on, not our clear face shields, but opaque side blinders that enable us to block out everything in our vision and memory bank that reminds us of racial violence, of racism in education, housing, generational wealth building, and criminal justice? Will we keep our masks on long after we are finally able to shed them, so that our lips stay silent?

Or will we order the Fight The Powers That Be omelette? I was taught at our family’s yearly Passover Seder, the dinner service using symbolic foods and storytelling to remember the time the Jews fled slavery in Egypt, that the foods we nourish ourselves with that night hold great meaning. I ask today, will the egg in our omelette–which in the Seder represents both the symbol of life, and, a sacrificial offering in mourning of the destruction of our temple–now beckon us to both mourn the ongoing deaths and destruction of Black lives, and the mourning of our own souls which must be torn open, filleted, with urgency, as we acknowledge and reckon with the truth of our racist, violent lives, and history, once and for all? Will we heed the call to make the sacrifices necessary to bring about equality and liberation for Black people in this country? Will we allow the egg to renew and sustain ourselves in this cycle of life as we continue this fight? Because we know none of us are free until all of us are free, right?

Yes, let us take part in that kind of brunch. One that nourishes and keeps us on the path of the continued fight against racism in all it’s insidious forms and systems. I have faith in you. In us. I know that even though I haven’t been hearing all of us talking or posting as much about George Floyd, about Breonna Taylor, or about systemic racism, I know we want to keep fighting, right? Every day, right? At our places of work, at our schools, anywhere we encounter a Karen or Ken, and even, and especially when, we think nothing “wrong” is going on. Because it is. It is the systems that we think we can’t “see,” but I’m hoping that everyone who says their eyes are now open, cannot unsee. I’m hoping we will work on breaking those down most of all.

We can do the work right where we are. In our communities. We can learn how to advocate for and support Black people by reaching out, whether to an individual or to a Black led community organization, and ask how you can be an advocate and support–without causing emotional labor, without being a savior, and without trying to take that white person lead of “Here take this, I know what’s best for you.”

If you work in a school, or are a parent of a school child, you can advocate for and support Black and Brown leaders calling for equal resources, for curriculums and teaching and learning that honors all children, and for changes in the unjust, ineffectual, penalizing, school disciplinary systems. If you work in real estate, you can be the eyes and ears of unjust practices in those dealings. If you work in a non-profit organization serving BIPOC communities, and the leadership and board of that organization is majority white, and does not live in the neighborhood being served, be a part of breaking that down. If you care about the environment, you can get involved in environmental justice work. Ditto for all of our majority white spaces we find ourselves in, where Western, white cultural norms are seen as superior. You can question why there are not more Black people where you work, or where you order your outdoor latte, and ask why microaggressions that happen to your Black co-workers go unchecked. We can all learn that diversity doesn’t mean we get a few more token students of color in our schools, or co-workers in our office, and think everything is honky dory. We can learn it is about changing the culture, alongside our peers, not over them, so that everyone is equal, and white supremacist culture no longer reigns. This is a time of reckoning. The time is now. Order the omelette.

from the heart

it’s a start, a work of art

to revolutionize make a change

nothing’s strange

people, people we are the same

no we’re not the same

cause we don’t know the game

what we need is awareness, we can’t

get careless

you say what is this?

my beloved let’s get down to business

mental self defensive fitness

(yo) bum rush the show

you gotta go for what you know

to make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be

lemme hear you say

Fight the power lyrics @universal Music publishing group, by public enemy, 1989, songwriters: Carlton Ridenhour, Eric Sadler, Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee

SOURCES: Breonna Taylor illustration by Robin Hilkey

Youth-Led Protest, Avoiding Falling Into The (Donut) Hole of Trying To Enlighten Those Inflicted With Blindness To Their Racism, And A Big Thank You To The Artists Who Do The Spiritual Lifting

9 Jun

Artist, Nafis White, in front of her mural piece on performance of care and need of sustained action @nafis_white. Breonna Taylor mural by Kendel Joseph @lucidtraveler_art

On Friday, June 5th, Providence, Rhode Island Black youth and youth of color, organized and led a Black Lives Matter protest. 10,000 people of all races, ethnicities, and ages came out to support. As I marched along downtown streets leading to the State House with my eighteen year-old daughter, I looked around, and said to myself, finally, we all showed up–meaning, finally, us white people have showed up. I had been disappointed at past rallies–for example, memorials honoring Mike Brown, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, where I would look around and see that the crowd was much more sparse than the much larger numbers of white people who attended the Women’s march or Anti-Gun Violence march.

But all of us together on Friday was a beautiful sight. Despite the heavy police and military presence, our young people inspired. Young Black women were the leaders, the glue that held the community event together. When a good number of people carried on the march that night throughout the city despite the imposed 9:00 p.m. curfew, young Black women were the ones to deescalate the crowd when police created moments of tension. Let us praise, elevate and continue to support our Black youth and youth of color, and not forget them, or let the glow from this day, and the purpose of this day, fade from our memory, or our duty to take action to continue to support the movement for Black Lives until all of us are free.

Youth led Black Lives Matter protest, Providence, RI, June 5, 2020
BLM youth led protest, RI State House
BLM march continues, James Street, Providence, RI

While I continue to stumble along the way in how to best support and use my voice to call out blatant racism, and to deconstruct racist systems that exist in every sphere of our lives, over this past weekend, I let myself stumble into a hole, a big ole’ donut hole. An owner of Allie’s Donuts, a Rhode Island institution for over fifty years, posted on social media that in support of breaking down systemic racism in policing, and to support Black Lives, they would no longer be honoring their 10% discount for the police or military.

Cue many white people losing their minds over this. Insulted white people took to social media to repeat the very words they said when Colin Kaepernik first took a knee. “How could they disrespect the police and the military like this?” “A few bad apples don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl…” Well, they didn’t say that one exactly, that being a line from a 1970’s Osmond brothers song, but the bad apples reference showed up a lot in said posts on Facebook and Instagram.

I found myself getting so mad, and unable to resist the voice in my head saying “Don’t engage, Wendy.” “You know they won’t hear you.” But, alas, the voice that said, “Don’t stand for this racist foolishness. Call them out,” won out. I responded to a few posts, and comments on posts, made by co-workers. As expected, their focus remained on the disrespect they perceived was being placed on the police and military, and their blinders did not allow their hearts, even when pressed, to acknowledge, to have empathy, or to even utter any word about the racial violence perpetuated upon Black people.

Today I decided, despite my continued pandemic comfort eating of way too much sugar and fat, including the intermittent donut, that I will pull myself out of the donut hole, and take better care of myself. I will continue to call out racist bs when I hear it, but I will place most of my energy in supporting Black people in my community through word and deed.

As hard as it can be to lift ourselves up through trying times, I am forever inspired and grateful to all the artists in our communities, in our world. I will have to do a whole separate post soon about the artist project, Gratitudes, that master printmaker, Jacques Bidon, and artist, Nafis White, both affiliated with the local non-profit art organization, AS220, carried out, but wanted to mention it to illustrate a point. Briefly, Nafis and Jacques, in response to COVID-19, conceived of and created print care packages consisting of thank you cards and fine art prints with inspirational quotes which they gifted to staff at Rhode Island and Miriam hospitals, and for the psychiatric hospital I work for, Butler Hospital. The prints are being distributed to our frontline essential workers–housekeepers, nurses, doctors, mental health workers, etc.–and they have been much appreciated by our staff.

One of the prints included in the print package, is a photograph of a flowering tree with this Toni Morrison quote: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self pity, no need for silence, and no room for fear. We do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Yesterday, I got so see Toni Morrison’s words put into action. After work at the hospital, Jacques, let me know that there were a number of artists downtown creating murals on the boards that had gone up to cover small businesses’ windows–some that had been vandalized earlier in the week by youth not affiliated with protestors protesting for the purpose of racial justice–and others to prevent damage feared that might occur during Friday’s protest. However, there was no more damage done that night.

When I arrived, it was heart-opening to see so many artists working on creating beautiful images, and words–art created which reflected the beauty of Blackness, art that supported and called for the safety of, the equality of, and the justice for Black and Brown, Indigenous and Queer people, and art which called for us white people to recognize the call to do the work for the long haul for freedom to come to fruition for real.

The work, I’m told was de-installed today, but will be displayed at 1 Eddy Street, along with a gathering Tuesday, June 9th, at 6 pm, at this location, by the Breonna Taylor memorial mural. The gathering, as shared by Nafis White, will be “to celebrate Breonna’s life, to dance, lay flowers, and honor her and all the other women and men who have perished at the hands of the police.”

Defund The Police, Support Funds For The Community chalk art
Black Lives Matter mural in progress
Breonna Taylor mural by Kendel Joseph, @LucidTraveler_Art
More Mural art on Westminster Street, Providence, RI, by @Lunabadoula, @lizzysour, ysnel.com
Mural in progress by @naturalsnatural
Breonna Taylor mural, on corner of Washington and Eddy Street, where celebration of Breonn’as life will be held, Tuesday, June 9, at 6:00 p.m.

While I feel this post is a bit scattered, much like my mind these days in trying to ground and center myself so I can be an effective anti-racist, I’m going to close by sharing an article I wrote for local, Motif magazine: Be A Support: Five Do’s and Don’ts for White People Taking Anti-Racist Action. I thank, friend and poet, Christopher Johnson, for so generously encouraging me to write and send something to Motif, and thank, Motif editor, Emily Olsen, for her help in editing the piece, and for publishing it.

Have a beautiful day. And, fellow white people, please take anti-racist action today, and every day.

Thank you.