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“Who is Calling Your Name?”

Reflection and sermon by Simone Monique Barnes

celebrating the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

8am and 10:15am worship services

St James Episcopal Church, Austin TX

Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh, Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh, my Lord, Oh, my Lord, what shall I do?
what shall I do?

To you, for you, with you, through you, and in your name we pray. Amen. (Please be seated.)

Before I begin my sermon, I would like to take a moment to thank all of you who prayed with me and for me this past year and a half. My last two check ups found no evidence of breast cancer. I will continue to check in with my doctors very regularly to monitor my health in the coming months and years.

I also want to explain and give warning about a breach of etiquette on my part. I will not be shaking everyone’s hands during the peace and after service. A simple cross your heart blessing, a hug, or even a smile will more than honor the intention for connection between us. While chemo and radiation killed my cancer, it also damaged my nerves and tendons, which can make handshakes uncomfortable for me. I thank you in advance for the compassionate understanding.

I also want to remind you that this sermon is going to be an interactive experience. We will be honoring Coretta Scott King’s Freedom Concert tradition, i.e. you will be singing. And this is a congregational experience honoring one of the greatest Baptist preachers of all time. The chosen will not be frozen today. Amen? Amen.

Martin Luther King Jr Day. It’s been 33 years that we have been celebrating this national holiday here in the United States of America, first observed on January 20, 1986. A three-day weekend named in honor of a Black man, in America. We are our ancestors wildest dreams.

One January, not so many years ago, I had a white colleague casually say to me during a coffee break, “Oh isn’t it funny how we have these three day weekends and we don’t even remember what they are for?” I paused. “I hear you,” I responded. “We’ve gotten into a bad habit of celebrating the sales, and the vacations, and the barbecues that occur during three day weekends. But, I’m Black. We don’t forget Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I’m Black. Our families and our community won’t let us forget. They remind us that it’s important that we mark the day in some way. In my community we’re reminded that it is too important to forget. For us, it’s a day on, not a day off.”

It was that day that I realized how easy it can be for some people to see a world without color. To move through a world without having a 3D experience. A limited palate of tastes, and smells, and textures. I felt as if I was walking through a parallel universe.

I explained:

In some cities, there are MLK breakfasts held by colleges or organizations like the Urban League or the NAACP. In other regions there are parades, with marching bands, and elected officials. In other cities, we have a march, to commemorate the spirit of the many marches for civil rights. All year long, at every birthday party, we sing Stevie Wonder’s song “Happy Birthday [to ya],” which was penned to celebrate the King Holiday. There are fraternity and sorority and community led service projects. Churches offer special programs to remind us that ministry, music, and social justice walk hand and hand. And Black radio stations nationwide disrupt their regular programming to play recordings of his sermons and speeches all day. And in every city and town, there is a oratory competition, with the littlest members of our community, children, often dressed in their finest clothing—bow ties, sweater vests, starched dresses, bows in hair, fresh haircuts and new braids—reciting from memory, inflections and all, the words of Dr King’s speeches. We’ve been celebrating his birthday long before our country finally decided to observe it as a holiday.

Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh, Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh, my Lord, Oh, my Lord, what shall I do?
what shall I do?

Sounds like thunder. Somebody’s callin’ my name,
Oh, Sounds like thunder. Somebody’s callin’ my name,
Sounds like thunder. Somebody’s callin’ my name,
Oh, my Lord, Oh, my Lord, what shall I do?
what shall I do?

On this occasion, I call out the names of Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair, four little Black girls who died in a church basement while adjusting sashes on their dresses, reading their bibles, and changing into their church choir robes just before Sunday morning worship when the Klu Klux Klan bombed 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 15, 1963.

The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing marked a turning point in the United States during the civil rights movement. The incident helped garner support to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 less than ten months later.

The excerpt we read this morning was taken from the eulogy that Dr King gave at the girls’ funeral.

When speaking of the girls he tells us that “In a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death…They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

And so my friends, they did not die in vain.”

When children are killed, we’re really clear, or at least we should be really clear that it is not their fault, and more often than not, it is the “the system, the way of life, [and a] philosophy” which produced their deaths.

Too often we forget to extend that courtesy to teenagers. I think that’s why we often refer to the 16th Street Baptist Church victims as Four Little Black Girls, who were ages 11 to 14. It helps us to remember that were just kids.

When children die, there is sorrow, there is anger, there is a sense of injustice. When a child is killed or pushed into a situation where they feel there is no recourse, we as adults feel like we should have fixed it.

Mourning children is hard.

There have been so many names of children killed in the U.S. since that 1963 bombing.

The names in the news, coupled with the names in our neighborhood, and in our families can feel endless. We feel powerless. Do our efforts for change even make a difference?

Well, it’s like the allegory about a young girl walking along the beach with her dad. They look up and see thousands of starfish washed onto the sand. If fish stay out of the water too long, they will die. The girl frantically begins to throw starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Her father is concerned. “Honey, stop, there are too many. It won’t make a difference.” The little girl continues with her task. She pauses, looking at the starfish in her hand and says to her dad, “It’ll make a difference to this one.”

Pay attention to the stories that shake you to your core.

Who is the thunder calling out your name? It could be someone you were close to. It could be a name you heard of in the news. Whose name reminds you that there is still work to be done, work on the system, the philosophy, the way of life that produced their killers?

Make a difference to this one.

Sounds like Jesus. Somebody’s callin’ my name,
Oh, Sounds like Jesus. Somebody’s callin’ my name,
Sounds like Jesus. Somebody’s callin’ my name,
Oh, my Lord, Oh, my Lord, what shall I do?
what shall I do?

What can I do? Is God calling your name? Whose death will cause you to act to dismantle “the system, the way of life, the philosophy that produced their murderers,” so that they did not die in vain?

Gary Clark Jr has this new song that I love, with simple, powerful lyrics: “Feed the Babies, teach them how to love.”

This work isn’t easy.

We have to love our neighbors. I struggled for a long time with this whole, “Love your neighbor” thing. I remember arguing with my friends one day about a hard situation that I was in. (Sidenote: You know, when you hang out with church folks, they will call you on your stuff.) “Simone, the Bible says love your neighbor!” And I said, “I do love my neighbors. I’m a great neighbor. I’m also a linguist, a wordsmith; the Bible didn’t say anything about me loving my coworkers or my boss!” I think you can substitute whatever your circumstance is, for who is NOT your neighbor.

It’s interesting how we can pick and choose what verses to take literally and which to take symbolically when it suits us.

A verse in Luke asks us, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?”

Ugh.

We want to be like Jesus, but we feel like we fall short. We’re taught that Jesus was and is perfection. But I think we misinterpret perfection. We say to ourselves, “God is never angry.” Ha! A light skim reading of the Old Testament tells us otherwise. The wrath of God. And Jesus, there are times when He shows his attitude and frustration. “Oh ye of little faith.” Jesus is also known to check someone from time to time.

Loving your neighbor is hard. However, the Bible says we are to be slow to anger, it doesn’t say we’re not allowed to have feelings.

Loving your neighbor is not about thinking that they are right, but it is about figuring out how this situation came to be.

Loving your neighbor can be changing a law, or making sure that their basic needs are met. Or praying for them.

There’s a reason why Jesus walked amongst us. There’s a reason why Dr King and other civil rights leaders marched with the people. Empathy. There’s something magical that happens when we are shoulder to shoulder, side by side with one another.

When a child dies, it should make us want to change the things that factored into their deaths. It should make us want to make sure that access to healthcare, quality food, and wellness are without barriers. It should make us want to make sure that mental health resources are available. It should make us want to make sure than guns and bullets are never in the wrong hands. It should make us push for well rounded, truthful, compassionate, and equitable education. It should make us check our own behavior.

We are too quick to point out the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye while ignoring the giant wooden plank in our own. On social media, I watch us be devastated as we witness an indigenous elder be berated by young people who clearly were not being taught how to love. And then I watch us berate and belittle a young person who identifies as transgender, as if that child can’t feel or read or be harmed by any of those harsh criticisms. I watch our tears as we add houses of worship, and backyards, and front lawns, and coffee shops, and malls, and teacher’s lounges, and classrooms to the laundry list of places our children aren’t safe. And I watch us need a three day documentary to believe that 13, 14, and 15 year old girls, are girls and not grown women. I watch myself, noticing when I choose to speak up and when I choose to be silent. The ability to hate and the ability to love is in all of us.

So what will you do?

Like Jesus, we can be human. We can be tired. We can be hurt.

But we must do something to change the system, the way of life, and the philosophy that produced the suffering and the deaths of children.

My advice: Close your eyes for just a moment. Quiet yourself. Hush the noise. Be still. Someone is calling your name. Hush. Hush. Feel the thunder within your body, your mind. Who is calling your name? Hush. Hush.

Allow the names of those who have died to be your muse, moving you to the work:

Jesus

Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Emmett Till

Addie Mae Collins

Cynthia Wesley

Carole Robertson

Carol Denise McNair

Timothy Anderson

Trayvon Martin

Tamir Rice

Laquan Mcdonald

Blake Brockington

Ana Márquez-Greene

Devonte Hart

Draylen Mason

Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin

McKenzie Adams

Jazmine Barnes

Someone is calling your name.

Answer the call, so that they did not die in vain.

Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh, Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh, my Lord, Oh, my Lord, what shall I do?
what shall I do?

Amen.


What follows below are readings from the Sunday, January 20, 2019, 8am church service at St James Episcopal Church in Austin TX, included here for context of the sermon above.

The First Reading

Genesis 37:17b-20

Reader   A reading from the book of Genesis.

Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”ReaderThe Word of the Lord.

The Psalm

Psalm 77:11-20

 I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
   I will remember your wonders of old. 

I will meditate on all your work,
   and muse on your mighty deeds. 

Your way, O God, is holy.  What god is so great as our God? 

You are the God who works wonders; you have 

displayed your might among the peoples. 

With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

16 When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled. 

17 The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered;
   your arrows flashed on every side. 

18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
   your lightnings lit up the world;
   the earth trembled and shook. 

19 Your way was through the sea,
   your path, through the mighty waters;
   yet your footprints were unseen. 

20 You led your people like a flock
   by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

 

The Second Reading                           

An excerpt: from “Eulogy for the Martyred Children

These children—unoffending, innocent, and beautiful—were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.

And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

And so my friends, they did not die in vain. 

The Gospel

Luke 6:27-36

Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Prayers of the People

Intercessor: In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, we will  have special prayers of  the people which are included in your readings. 

Celebrant: Fulfill your dream of liberty for all people, Almighty One, as we come to you in hope, praying: Let your justice roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Intercessor: You have called your Church out of bondage into the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, O Holy One: Grant us courage to confront injustice with your disarming grace and to follow your commandment to love our enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Let your justice roll down like water,

People: and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Intercessor: We know that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere: Inspire the leaders of the world to heed the call of the suffering and to resist the oppression and exploitation of all taskmasters, O Mighty God, that we may all work together to make equality and justice a reality for all God’s children. Let your justice roll down like water,

People: and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Intercessor: Look upon your children who live with poverty, racism, violence, or abuse and comfort them with champions of mercy, O Compassionate One, that all humanity may be inspired to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let your justice roll down like water,

People: and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Intercessor Fill this community with your love, O Gracious One, that we may walk in the light of creative altruism and not in the darkness of destructive selfishness, sitting together with our neighbors at the table of brotherhood. Let your justice roll down like water,

People: and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Intercessor: We pray for all who need the comfort of your divine protection and healing presence, especially those we now name, either silently or aloud.

(Pause for people to offer prayers)

We give you thanks for the goodness and blessing of life.

We remember those who have died in the struggle for freedom, and all others whom we commend to your eternal arms.

Let your justice roll down like water,

People: and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Celebrant: We give you thanks, our God, for the witness of your servant Martin Luther King, Jr., and we commit ourselves to the continuation of the struggle to resist oppression in the name of your love, until all of your people may be free at last, living together in your promised land of freedom `and peace, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

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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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