Between screening Black and Cuba andworking on my new multi-platform project 9 GRAMS, I’ve spent some time this summer thinking about the Black woman’s image.Of course in one way or another I’ve been thinking about it my entire life by looking in the mirror and beholding the relentless glamour of my mother and grandmother while I was growing up. In creating films that center Black women’s perspectives and – frankly- a lifetime of struggling to valorize my own, I’ve come to realize the most empowering and aesthetically beautiful representations of Black women are the ones we create ourselves.
In memory of Korryn Gaines, who was killed today in front of her 5 year old son by Baltimore police, please take a moment and look at The Counted.Published by The Guardian, The Counted is an online database of people killed by police in the U.S. It appears Korryn Gaines will be number 631 in 2016.
The police officers involved attempted to arrest Korryn for failing to appear in court to answer nonviolent traffic charges.
Police dressed in riot gear accost peaceful protester in sundress. Baton Rouge. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Reuters.
To be candid, this past week I’ve struggled to write Field Notes. As you know, at Progressive Pupil we strive to remain optimistic. A steadfast faith in the power of collective action and community-based leadership, rooted in the successes of social movements in the past, drives our work. Hearing the news of the killing of Philando Castile in Minneapolis, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Delrawn Small in New York, as well as witnessing the grief of their children, tested that faith.
I lost my mother and grandfather (who was a surrogate father to me) a few years ago and understand the pain of losing a parent as an adult. I can only begin to imagine the despair losing a parent causes a child. Seeing Alton Sterling’s 15 year-old burst into tears, nearly collapsing from grief, while his mother expressed outrage about his father’s death overwhelmed me with sadness and frustration. At a press conference, they stood in front of a sign that read “Stop Killing Us.”
“Like Muhammad Ali puts it, we are all—black and brown and poor—victims of the same system of oppression.” – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Happy Birthday Muhammad Ali! Mainstream media continues to revere him for his extraordinary achievements as an athlete and his influential oratory style (How many of us have alleged to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”?). However, Ali is beloved to the progressive community and the African diaspora for his candid criticism of racial discrimination and poverty as well as his refusal to be inducted in the US Army during the Vietnam War due to his religious beliefs. Ali could have exercised his class privilege, entered the army and fought entertaining exhibition bouts without ever being in any physical danger. Instead, he chose to take a principled stand which in the short run cost him millions of dollars and some of his peak years as a boxing champion. In the long run, Ali’s example made him a legend.
To learn more about Muhammad Ali, see the Academy Award-winning film When we Were Kings, or read this Dave Zirin article in The Nation.
This time of year I tend to congratulate myself about what I have managed to accomplish during the summer and soothe myself with gelato about the things on my to-do list that will have to be pushed back into Fall. All of us who are doing important work – either as educators, artists, activists, students or volunteers – have more passion than money — more good ideas than time to execute them. What’s the best way to surrender to this reality dishonoring our spirit?
At the Progressive Pupil office this summer, we’ve been listening to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘It’s Gonna Be Alright” on repeat. This song, which has become the unofficial theme of #BlacklLivesMatter, is an affirmation that has long been passed down from grandmother to grandchild in African American communities. In spite of all the challenges we who believe in freedom face, and the dark truths that must be confronted in doing this work with integrity, it’s gonna be alright.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
TEACHERS: Black radical Amiri Baraka’s groundbreaking 1966 essay Cuba Libre is a must-have for your class on Cuba and African Americans/Afro-Cubans this fall! Integrate it easily into your classroom with our complete syllabus guide based on Black and Cuba!
Black and Cuba director Robin J. Hayes discusses “Socially Engaged Art as a Tool for Social Justice” at UnionDocs Socially Engaged Documentary Art Seminar Sunday June 21, 2015 10:30am 322 Union Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211. For filmmakers, artists and cultural producers, the seminar offers vital information about the theory and practice of documentary making with a purpose. Tell them Progressive Pupil sent you and get 20% off conference registration with promocode SEDA15. Learn more at http://www.uniondocs.org/socially-engaged-documentary-art/. Share with a friend who wants to make films for their communities.
Dr. Robin J. Hayes, director of the award-winning documentary Black and Cuba will be on New York City’s WBAI today Tuesday April 14 at 2pm EST to discuss the film and “Feeling a Foreigner” on the Artsy Fartsy Show. Listen live or download here.