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Dinner with friends at a tiny restaurant in Tribeca on my birthday in 1996. It was before peak hours, so the restaurant was nearly empty. My bestie Kenya Unique Massey gave me The Complete Collected Poems (Maya Angelou). It had been on my birthday/Christmas/Kwanzaa wish list for a while, so I was surprised (thrilled) to receive it. A few moments later Kenya gasps and goes eerily silent. Conversation at our table stops. What? “Oh my God, Maya Angelou just walked in.” The restaurant owner, during routine checks on her patrons’ dining experiences, overhears our conversation and the uncanny synchronicity (as well as the friendly frustration and disbelief at my hesitance to bother the icon while she’s enjoying her downtime), then comes over and says “Daughter come. Maya is waiting for you.” Kenya and I walk over to her table together and exchange a few humble words in hushed tones with our legend. Booked signed, “Simone Barnes, Joy! From Kenya Massey and Maya Angelou.”

Joy is a girl who hated social studies until she realized she could learn history through literature thanks to “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Joy is a girl who put her hands on her hips and smiled in delighted disbelief after mastering frying fish (after years of failing to do so) because she tried dipping it in cornmeal like they do in Stamps, Arkansas.

Laurita’s Cafe Soul has long closed, and now Maya Angelou is among the ancestors, but the food of yesteryear continues to nourish. #RIPMayaAngelou

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Crow is as Crow does.

An MTV Artist of the week,  SupaMan, is an Apsáalooke fancy dancer, drummer, singer and Crow-Hop Hip-Hop artist from Crow Nation Reservation.

Check out more on SupaMan on PolicyMic.com and MTVIggy.com.

Proof that artists build nations. [drops mic]

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Day 2: Mark Dukes

The paintings of iconographer Deacon Mark Duke of St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church live at the intersection of jazz, visual art, and spirituality.

Saint John The Divine Sound Baptist

Mark Duke’s first Icon Painting of John Coltrane.

Mark Dukes

Mark Dukes

Prints of Duke’s iconography are available for sale online in the St John Coltrane Church gallery.

Three things:

  1. Mark Dukes is an ordained deacon and the official icon painter of the St. John Coltrane Church. He read the Bible for the first time in his early 20s.
  2. Dukes other works include: “Dancing Saints Icon” in the rotunda of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, and “Ain’t Jah Momma and Saint Sambo.”
  3. A Love Supreme, a 4-part musical suite generally considered to be among jazz saxophonist John Coltrane’s greatest works, is an emotional and spiritual journey written and performed as an offering to God. The four parts to the suite are “Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” and “Psalm.”

Where to find more information on:

Mark Dukes:

John Coltrane

A documentary short on The Saint John Coltrane Church in San Francisco is available online.

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Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our minds
— Bob Marley, Redemption Song (lyrics adapted from a speech by the Honorable Marcus Garvey)

While none but ourselves can free our minds, sometimes an image or a verse helps with the calibration process.

Alek Wek Elle Magazine Cover 1997

In November 1997, Alek Wek made history as the first African model to grace the cover of ELLE Magazine.

Lupita Nyong’o’s tearful speech defining beauty at Essence’s 7th Annual Black Women in Hollywood event gave honorable mention to Alek Wek and Oprah for reshaping her self identity.

An excerpt:

‘Dear Lupita,

I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight . I was just about to buy Dencia Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.’

My heart bled a little when I read those words. I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me. I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the tv and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my nightshaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter skinned…

…and then Alek Wek came on the international scene. A celebrated model, she was dark as night. She was on all the runways and in every magazine. Everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful, and that made it a fact…

It’s easy to gloss over all the hoopla around fashion and beauty surrounding awards shows and media as superficial and materialistic.

lupita-nyongo-colors-full

But bedecked in her Nairobi blue gown, this is not a Cinderella story, this is a redemption song, a song of freedom, widening the landscape of elegance, beauty, talent, strength and class.

Lupita Nyong'o in Nairobi Blue

In Lupita Nyong’o’s own words taken from her Academy Award acceptance speech:

It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s….

When I look down at this golden statue may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from your dreams are valid.

Lupita Nyong'o 2014 Oscar Win

Lupita Nyong’o accepts her Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress (for the role of Patsey in the film 12 Years a Slave). 2014, 86th annual Academy Awards

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Heavy D as Darryl on Living Single


Thanksgiving is a day for reminiscing and being thankful for bounteous harvests, for friends, for family, for blessings, for being alive. We’re even thankful for television moments that bring us together, making us laugh, celebrate, and reminisce.

Perhaps for you the holiday invokes Theo and Heathcliff Huxtable carving a turkey in faux Julia Child voice. Or possibly you imagine a quirky Cincinatti radio station bombing a shopping center parking lot with frozen turkeys. Or, maybe, for you, it’s Lucy repeatedly yanking the football away everytime Charlie Brown attempts to kick it.

For me, Thanksgiving conjures up the image of a corny, heavyset guy named Darryl offering up words of gratitude surrounded by friends at the dinner table. His words were this:

Thanksgiving. It’s a tradition to give thanks. Me, I’d like to offer thanks for giving. ‘Cause you see, giving teaches us something that receiving doesn’t. It allows us to look deep within ourselves. And so thank you…”

I, like many people, was taken by surprise at how, well, heavy the impact Heavy D’s death has been on me. Normally, at best, I feel brief moment of sympathy for a celebrity who passes, but with Heavy I feel a sense of tremendous loss.  But why? Hev wasn’t my friend, relative, or classmate. He didn’t pay my bills. The few times I met Heavy, it was in passing at music industry events. I doubt we exchanged more than two words. So why is his death so hard to take? As the Thanksgiving holiday approached, the words “thanks for giving” that Hev uttered through his character on Living Single resonated loudly in my head. As I mourn his death I asked myself:  What did Dwight Arrington Myers give us?

He gave us consistency. In his music, his tv and film roles, his interviews, his off-camera public life, and in his family life, Hev was the same person. He didn’t have entourages. He didn’t generate salacious tabloid stories. His friends and fans have written reflections via website comments, facebook status updates, articles, and Twitter tweets that time and time again that show Heavy D’s off-stage character matched his wholesome onstage one. dream hampton wrote and tweeted about how important fatherhood was to Hev. His colleagues past and present have expressed “nuttin’ but love” for him. Dwight Arrington Myers exemplified the concept of what you say or do in the dark will be revealed in the light. From his first days when he indulged a 13 year girl in his hometown with a hug and photo, to his mid days when he pulled aside a woman who quietly shrugged off being sexually harassed at party whom he told “to never let a man disrespect you,” to his last days, in a time when others tweet petty and malicious arguments, his last words were “Be inspired,” Heavy D’s life stood up to the light.

He gave us self-confidence. When I was a teen there was a saying, “I’m not conceited, I’m convinced.” Hev convinced us that is was more than okay to love yourself. He didn’t sit on the sidelines; he danced front and center. He wasn’t shy and fearful, Mr Big Stuff announced himself loudly and proudly. He didn’t hide in drab colors or improperly fitting outdated clothes. He was stylish, and often wore tailored suits in bright colors. And even after finding great fame, he let us know in his actions and in his music that we should be loved for who we are, not for what we are perceived to be. He told hardcore rappers “Don’t curse.” And they didn’t clown him for it. No one ever punked Hev. He was big, Black, urban, male, and goodhearted, and he made all of us–even the initially doubtful hip-hop community and parents,–embrace all of who he was with wide open arms.

He gave us Uptown. I’m not just talking about the record label. I’m talking about the image of what it means to be from a region past 96th Street in Manhattan. Hev epitomized what it means to be from uptown. He was about family (it’s no surprise that he worked alongside his cousins Pete Rock and Maxi Priest). He had humility. Egos are not allowed to run big uptown in the Boogie Down and Money Earning Mount Vernon. There’s an understanding—you can be a superstar in the world, but when you come home, leave Hollywood where you found it. He was about class, family values and integrity. No disrespect to Biggie, Tupac, and others, but even in death Hev didn’t give us controversy. There were no headlines of turf wars, shootings, baby mama drama, or former loves, fans, colleagues or family members spewing bitterness and hate. I mean, in his death, Hev even got Puffy, excuse me Diddy, to take a moment of silence and stop tweeting for days. Hev was about remembering where you came from. Consistent even in his death, a Beverly Hills man whose family chose to honor his life and legacy at Grace Baptist Church, in Mount Vernon, Hev was and always will be from uptown…way, way uptown, just past the last stop in the Bronx on the #2 train, in his beloved Mount Vernon, New York. Hev’s funeral showed the world what it means to be from uptown. His funeral wasn’t a show, it wasn’t flash, it was real. It was about friends, about family, and about community.

He gave us roots. Hev may have been dipped and dyed in the New York and Hollywood scenes, but let’s be clear, Hev was inherently American and unapologetically Jamaican. Roots. Those of us with island blood in our veins saw evidence of his culture in more than just his musical tributes to the land where he was born. We saw a man who loved himself some cooked food, was sure not to embarrass the family name, minded him muddah and faddah, had the walk of a lion, and never forgot the yard from where he came. Re-spect. Inside every diddly, diddly, dee, there was a tribute to the language and rhythm of his people. As a man who self-proclaimed “relentless optimism,” Hev personified what it means to be irie.

He gave Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials a concept of legacy. While others chant “Lifes a b*tch and then you die, that’s why we get high,” Hev wanted us to find love, our own thing, and peace. His death has given many of us pushing (or pulling) forty-four a sharp reality check, like a brisk dunk in a cold plunge pool. Maybe it’s because he was 44 and just seemed to up and die, proving that tomorrow really isn’t promised to any of us. As we look back on Hev’s career, which paved the way for many artists and the industry and culture that hip-hop has grown to be, we find ourselves soul searching and asking ourselves what mark have we made with our lives? Many of the mourners who attended his public wake were tweens and teens whose parents are not dramatically different in age than Hev was. His music is the soundtrack of their childhoods. As they hear and see their current idols recognizing the impact Heavy D had on their lives and their industry, there is a seed planted nurturing their own legacies to be.

He gave us joy. I think what hurts us so much is how many good memories of Hev we have. We remember dancing to his music with our friends at a club or in the backyard or in a basement party. We remember the number of husky neighborhood boys who would overtly announce themselves as “The Overweight Lover in the House” instead of allowing themselves to be labeled as fat, ugly or obese. We remember the peals of laughter during repeated tries (and failures) to simultaneously hold and jump over our feet as we saw Heavy D and the Boyz do so effortlessly in videos. And we smile thinking of how a simple corny deliveryman named Darryl humbled the superficial and materialistic Regine on our favored sitcom Living Single.

Hev floated into most of our lives dancing on feet as light as feather, and he floated out of our lives gracefully on a Peaceful Journey, the final song that played as his coffin exited the church towards its final resting place. In his eulogy tribute to Heavy D, Rev Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson emphasized the importance of separating who Hev is from what he is. His body is no more; it’s what used to be. But who Hev was will never change. He will always be.

On thanksgiving, as we reminisce over the people, places and things that we are thankful for, I wanted to take a moment to be thankful for the things that I have to give. Thoughts, memories, and words are mine to share.

And so I thank you Lord, for giving us Heavy D.

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Excerpts from the New York Times article on , “His Next Stop: Driving Out Apartheid’s Ghost,” by Celia Duggard

The Fugard [new theater named in honor of the esteemed, white, South African playwright, Athol Fugard] is among many privately organized efforts — in culture, education and social services — that aim to help South Africa overcome the damage wrought by its colonial and apartheid-era past. The theater’s creators hope the transfiguring power of art will help change this breathtakingly beautiful, but still highly segregated, city by the sea.

“I assure you that every audience in this house will be sitting in the lap of a ghost,” Mr. Fugard, his eyes brimming with tears, told the audience, referring to the 60,000 residents of District Six who were driven from their homes during the apartheid years.

Mr. Fugard said in an interview that the new democratic South Africa — struggling with poverty and corruption, among other challenges — needs the arts of stagecraft “as urgently as the old South Africa needed those first few daring, sometimes suicidal acts of defiance in the theater.”

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I’m SOoooooOOoo glad Avatar did NOT win best picture at this year’s Oscar’s.

OMG

I couldn’t stand Avatar. In the words of Men on Film: “Hated it.” I was (and still am) mad that we splurged to see it at a high-end lux level cinema, paying $50 for the privilege (not to take away from the comfy chairs, 21 and over policy, and direct-to-your-chair waitstaff service that I adored). I’m mad that my ticket counted towards its revenue, making it the top grossing film of ALL TIME. Because:

  1. It lacked a creative plot line. There are SO MANY artists in the world who would love to have money to produce their artistic visions. This film felt like a regurgitation of every Dances with Wolves- Pocahontas plot line methodology. The only plot twist was that the natives won in the end. Whoo hoo. But you know this is just a set up for the inevitable Avatar 2. With the amount of resources and talent James Cameron has access to he could show some creativity instead of being formulaic. 3D glasses do not an art film make.
  2. It panders to, but doesn’t address, white guilt. We get it. The rainforests are being torn down, animals are recklessly killed, brown and black people are often oppressed by the majority, and people prefer materialism over spirituality. Problem is, this film uplifts rather than flips stereotypes. It’s promoting sympathy and pity when it could have promoted empathy. Now everyone’s going to run out and pretend to have a Burning Man moment in their backyard and think they’ve changed the world and themselves.
  3. Indigenous people don’t read, they understand everything by nature-based osmosis? Guess those Cherokee, Maya, and Egyptian written languages were flukes…
  4. It portrays all Marines as insensitive lunkheads. Really? Just a few moments spent doing character development research they may have actually found that all military men are not greedy, uncaring, and stupid. [sidenote: this is one of the reasons why I heart Harvey from Celebrity Fit Club]
  5. It exotifies brown and black people. All of Na’vi have blue-black skin, are tall, muscular, beautiful and don African or Native American inspired hairstyles and outfits (okay loin clothes). Ya gotta love that the Sigourney Weaver’s character, Dr Grace Augustine, chose not to dress her avatar in traditional Na’vi clothes, but instead wore more covering American style gear which reads VERY old world missionary.
  6. It steals from every indigenous culture the writers/director ever came in contact with. I spent the whole film having flashbacks to tons of PBS, BBC and National Geographic documentaries I’ve seen over the years featuring the “cultures” of the world. It’s like James Cameron walked into a supermarket o’culture and said, “I’ll take one of these, and one of these, and one of these.” [side note: This is why I refuse to bungee jump. I saw a BBC special about a tribe’s rites of passage for their young men. A few years later, a commercialized version of their ritual appeared as bungee jumping at Six Flags.]
  7. Neytiri “rides b*tch” behind her man. Neytiri is a warrior. She trained HIM in their warrior ways. Yet, what happens at the end the film? She climbs behind Sully on the back of his dragon-like Toruk. Thankfully, she eventually does manage to find her inner warrior and mounts her own toruk. (Does that make her a ride or die chick?) If she weren’t barefoot in the film, I’m guessing she would have tripped in the forest while running in heels. [I hate the term riding bitch, but it seems only fitting to pair one stereotype with another.]
  8. The two lead male warriors in the film, die. The chief, Eytucan, and the heir to the throne, Tsu’tey, are killed in battle, leaving the women folk to carry on the Omaticaya civilization. (Didn’t see that one coming [wink]). If it were a horror movie, they’d have been dead in the first ten minutes, but, since it wasn’t, the martyr savage plot is applicable.
  9. BIG sigh: the John Smith-Pocahantas stereotype lives, again. Corporal Jake Sully falls in love with Neytiri and mates with her, even though she was happily betrothed to Tsu’tey. But it had to happen, right? I mean Harry Met Sally scientifically proved that men and women can’t be friends. And, besides, who can resist a hot animalistic Ebony chick?
  10. It implies that wheelchair bound people lead unfulfilled lives. Many people view the fictionalized Pandora as the ideal world. Everyone on Pandora is perfect. Yep, that’s the world I want to live in. A world where we are all alike.

I’m not alone in my sentiments. A friend sent me this Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, “The Messiah Complex,” that criticizes Avatar. Thank Eywa. There is someone else out there who didn’t believe the hype.

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