Cappuccino Soul

Cappuccino Soul

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Teach Us to Pray

Our Father (in Gullah)

We Fada wa dey een heaben,
leh ebrybody hona ya nyame.
We pray dat soon ya gwine
rule oba de wol.
Wasoneba ting ya wahn,
leh um be so een dis wol
same like dey een heaben.
Gii we de food wa we need
dis day yah an ebry day.
Fagib we fa we sin,
same like we da fagib dem people
wa do bad ta we.
Leh we dohn hab haad test
wen Satan try we.
Keep we fom ebil.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mirror Trick/A Slight of Hand

A Wise person told me that there was some wickedness, concealed intentions, and half truths swirling around me in early 2007. Those ill winds followed me for a time, but now the tide has shifted. I am being cleansed and the light will continue to shine for me. The darkness brought on by disturbed sirens and silence has been swept away from me. I am more knowledgable now then I've every been. (... Now I see.) Praise God. I am a Victor and God is all knowing.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ra, Maa, and Other Observations

I’ve made some observations and intriguing findings as an English as a Second Language teacher for the past few months. As some of my classes come to a close, I’ll share with you what some of my students have taught me.

One exercise that I had many of my students do was to write sentences describing things they do every day. A, a man from Tanzania, wrote:

I like to thank our God every day.

What I like about this sentence is that he says he likes to thank God and he acknowledges that God is here for us all when he says our God.

A and his wife J have an infant son who they sometimes dress in pink clothes or clothes with shades of pink in them. I would imagine that in their country, pink is not a color assigned to only girls. Also, I saw A wearing a pink wrist band the other day. He didn’t seem to think anything of it. I’ve seen some of the other boy children wearing colors like pink, lavender, and some other fashions that were perhaps meant for girls. I’m sure a lot of the clothes were given to them and they simply don’t care what color the clothes are, as long as they keep the children warm. These are little babies and toddlers. What difference does it make what colors they're wearing?

E, a student of mine from Moldolva who is studying ESL for Citizenship, created a sentence during one class that mentioned “the war between Germany and Russia.” She was referring to World War II, but she sees it through the eyes of a six-year-old girl from Moldolva. That’s how old she was when she experienced the trauma of the war. I asked her, “What do you remember?” to get her to talk more in English. She talked about the bombs, the friendly soldiers who gave them food, and hiding in a basement-like section of her house. Then her voice faltered as she talked about how German soldiers killed her father when she was six. She actually saw it happen. As she was talking I knew she was close to crying, but I encouraged her to talk anyway. I had never heard her speak so well in English. I hugged her when didn’t seem to be able to go on with the story. We all sat silently for a brief time and continued with the lesson. Isn’t it amazing how a memory that’s so old can trigger such emotion? Of course, this particular memory was probably her most vivid and traumatic.

This week I started teaching a student from the Congo — F, a soon-to-be French teacher for Charlotte's public school system.

F is also studying metaphysical science. I’ve learned some profound lessons about natural laws, auras, and some other topics like karma—-a pretty universal concept that says you get back what you give. In other words, what you put out there comes back to you—-sometimes twice as strong. F said that God will not say, “Oh, it’s OK. You didn’t know that was wrong.” You’ll get the thing back anyway.

He also talked about the concept of Ra and Maa. Evidently Ra is the male energy and Maa is the feminine energy. He said that I’m congested because I have too much Ra right now. Hmmmmmmm. I’ll have to look more into that. (Actually I’ve started doing some Maa chants. I hope it'll clear the congestion in my chest.) Let’s see what happens.

And finally, here’s a quote that was left on the board in the room where my morning class is held. It’s really quite profound.

“Our lives begin to end the day we stay silent about things that matter.”
-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Freedom to the Prisoners

Psalm 146:3-9
(New King James Version)

Do not put your trust in princes,
Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.

His spirit departs, he returns to his earth;
In that very day his plans perish.

Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea, and all that is in them;
Who keeps truth forever,
Who executes justice for the oppressed,
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners.

The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord raises those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous.

Lord watches over the strangers;
He relieves the orphans and widows;
But the way of the wicked He turns upside down.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Se7en and Other Screenplays for You

I found out that the film course that I want to take at The Light Factory starts in February. As I get psyched for the class, I'm paying more attention to films lately —how they’re edited, the dialogue, the fine or poor acting. Also, I've been reading novels that have been made into movies. Right now I’m reading Stephen King’s short story "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption." It’s amazing how much of that story is actually in the film. I think King’s work has the kind of definitive voices and rich images that potentially make for provocative and powerful films.

For you film lovers out there, here’s a Web site that includes, what must be, hundreds of screenplays — it’s called Screenplays for You. All you have to do is click on the title of the work and read. Here's a sample from one of my favorites:

Se7en (1995)
by Andrew Kevin Walker


Somerset carries his suitcase outside the train station. The
city demands attention: cars screeching, people yelling, sirens

Somerset passes a family of bewildered tourists. A WEIRD MAN has
a hand on the tourist-father's suitcase.

It has become a tugging match with the Weird Man shouting, "I'll
take you to a taxi... I'll take you." Ahead, a group is gathered
on the sidewalk near two ambulances. People clamor to get a look
at a BLOODY BODY which lies on the street.

Policeman try to hold the crowd off. Ambulance attendants
administer aid to the victim, who convulses. Somerset moves by,
ignoring it all. He motions for a cab. One pulls up from the
street's stream of vehicles.


Somerset throws his suitcase in and shuts the door behind him.

(about the crowd)
What's the big fuss?

Somerset looks out at the crowd, looks at the driver.

Why do you care?

(under his breath)
Well, excuse me all to hell.

The driver leans forward, checking it out. The circle of
spectators shifts suddenly. A man has shoved another man and
they're really going at it now. The swing at each other and tear
at each other's clothing. One man's flailing fist connects and
the other man's face is instantly bloodied. The fight grows even
more spastic. Policemen try to stop it.

Crazy f****.

The driver pulls away and the cab rages down the street.
Somerset watches the parade of neon passing on the avenue. He
slumps back in the seat and closes his eyes.

Where you headed?
(Somerset opens his eyes.)

Far away from here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Back on the Block

Another mess has occurred in my old neighborhood up in Delaware. A woman from Wilmington must have seen the article about the shooting that happened last night in Rosegate. She was searching for information on my old stomping grounds and found this blog and the stories I've written about Rosegate. She then sent me the News Journal link which tells the sad story of an 18-year-old man who shot a 34-year-old man on the first block of Thorn Court in the Rosegate community (across the street from our old house). The teenager is wanted for first-degree attempted murder, possession of a firearm during a felony and possession of a deadly weapon by a person prohibited.

The article says "he should be considered armed and dangerous." No kidding.

I'll have to keep Rosegate and its people in my prayers, including my parents who live real close to the place now.

Here are my past posts on "The Gate:"

Where We Come From: Rosegate

More Trouble in Rosegate

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

For Your Soul

As I was talking to my soul sister Cheryl today, she made me think of a question that we all should perhaps ask ourselves:

Is your focus on things that can't do anything for your soul?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Jonathan Green Find at the Thrift Store

I've been looking for some artwork for my apartment lately. I need some pieces with red in it because I've adopted the color red as my theme for the time being.

As I was shopping at the Salvation Army on Central Avenue today, I almost immediately spotted a Jonathan Green print that had a dash of my required color. The piece I found features a dark brown man standing on the beach with a fishing pole in his hand. He's also sporting a simple, yet elegant red hat. When I saw that the artist was Jonathan Green, I snatched up the painting, picked up a couple of pieces for my daughter and was out. The beauty of it was that the framed print was only $7.99--a steal!

Now I'm looking for a companion piece to hang next to it. It would be nice if I could find some more Jonathan Green art with lots of red in it. Any suggestions? I can't afford the original paintings of course (some of those cost as much as $100,000!)

Jonathan Green is an African-American artist from the Gullah Islands who has managed to capture the magic, power, and joy of that area. The Gallery Chuma (out of Charleston, S.C) says this about Green on its Web site:
Painter and Printmaker Jonathan Green was born and raised in the small Gullah community of Gardens Corner, located near the Sea Islands of South Carolina. From the moment of his birth, Jonathan Green was a special child. He was born with a caul--an inner fetal membrane covering the head at birth that some believe is a sign that the child is touched by uncommonness and magic that will bring inordinate grace to the community.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Searching for Morgan Freeman

A movie is playing tonight in Charlotte that I wish I could afford to see. It's called All ABout Us and it's part of a benefit program for the Florence Crittenton Services of Charlotte. It pays homage to one of my favorite actors, Morgan Freeman, but unless it gets a major release at a local movie theatre, I won't be able to see it. The tickets for tonight's show are $100 (general admission) or $200 for the VIP hookup.

Here's the synopsis:

Edward Brown (played by Boris Kodjoe) and his wife want to feature Morgan Freeman in their next movie. But it seems Freeman is too busy with life and projects in his beloved Mississippi.

Christine Swanson directs this film, which also stars one of my favorite actresses, Ruby Dee (I can't find any information about her role in the film). I don't know how good this movie is, but the premise alone is enough to get me in the theatre. I'd pay to see Morgan Freeman in just about anything. Let me know if you hear anything about a major release for this one.

Hmmmmmm ... maybe I can rework this theme and turn it into a documentary.

Freeman will also star in a future production, based on the Arthur C. Clarke novel, Rendezvous with Rama. The film, directed by David Fincher, the genius behind the movie Seven, is about a team of astronauts who are sent on a mission to explore a giant interstellar spaceship hurtling toward the sun. I certainly won't miss that one.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

In the Beginning...

“Teach us to care and not to care."
T.S. Eliot

(I'm definitely on this path.)

Here's a T.S. Eliot quote that I disagree with:

“In my beginning is my end.”
T.S. Eliot

I believe:

"In the end is my beginning."
or as Pastor Keith in Tennessee told me:

Look at the end to see what the beginning really was.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

True, Honorable, and Right

As I continue to meditate on the good, clean, and true things, I'm reading Philippians 4:8 again, but I've turned to the Gullah language text from De Nyew Testament for more enlightenment.

Me Christian bredren, las ob all, A da tell ya, mus keep on da study bout jes dem thing wa good mo den all an wa people oughta gii praise fa. Study bout dem ting wa true, dem ting wa honorable, dem ting wa right een God eye, dem ting wa ain neba mek people sin, dem ting wa mek ya wahn fa lob um, an dem ting wa people know fa be good fa true. Do dem ting A done laan oona (you). Mus do wa A beena tell ya fa do an wa ya see dat A da do. An God wa da gii we peace, e gwine be dey wid oona.

Here's the King James Version:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Spike, I'm on Your A--!

OK family and friends. I know you’ve heard me go on and on about how I want to make a film, write a script, etc. (I have written some short screenplays, but quite frankly, I’ve got a long way to go.)

Well, I’ve found a fabulous resource right here in Charlotte, N.C. that will help me along with this dream. It’s called the Light Factory and dag nabbit, if they don’t offer classes in Filmmaking, Film Editing, Digital Photography, and more. I’m, oh so excited! Now all I have to do is come up with the money to take these classes. I’m sure God will provide! Praise God.

Here’s a description of the first class that I plan to take:

Making a Short Film: From Concept to Cutting Room
Course Dates: TBD
Times: 6-9 p.m.
Instructor: Nate Fitzgerald
Costs: $195/members, $250/non-members
(I’d better join so I can get that $55 off the cost of the class.)

Always thought you had a great idea for a movie? (Yeah!) This class will provide you with the basic technical concepts of movie-making using digital video cameras. We’ll touch on the basics of scriptwriting, shooting, and even editing (Alleluia!). In groups or individually, students will write their own short scripts, then plan and shoot them (alright now!).

Afterward, you will learn how to log and capture your footage into The Light Factory's Final Cut Pro editing systems. We’ll teach you how to splice, manipulate, rearrange, layer (Man, I hope this isn’t too complicated), and add sound like the pros (Oh my goodness, this is what I’ve been dreaming of). In the end, you’ll have your own cohesive short film. Class size is limited (I’d better register fast yall!).

Monday, November 12, 2007

what you say

There's what you say and then ... there's the truth--what's really happening.

I Waited and Waited

Recently I've discovered The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. I really like this text a lot. It's written in plain, common, oftentimes poetic language. The guy who translated it (from the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts) is Eugene H. Peterson, a pastor, scholar, writer, and poet.

The description on the title page says that "The Message is a contemporary rendering of the Bible from the original languages crafted to present its tone, rhythm, events, and ideas in everyday language."

Thanks Mr. Peterson. This gives me another way to seek that knowledge and wisdom that Proverbs talks about again and again.

Let's take a peek at Psalm 40:1-3 from The Message:

I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened.
He lifted me out of the ditch,
pulled me from deep mud.
He stood me up on a solid rock
to make sure I wouldn't slip.
He taught me how to sing the latest God-song,
a praise-song to our God.
More and more people are seeing this:
they enter the mystery,
abandoning themselves to God.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Somebody's Callin' My Name

Hush, hush, somebody's callin' my name
Hush, hush somebody's callin' my name
Oh My Lord, Oh My Lord, what shall I do?

Hush, whoa, hush, somebody's callin' my name
Hush, whoa, hush, somebody's callin' my name
Oh My Lord, Oh My Lord, what shall I do?

I was compelled to write those lyrics just now. The song came to me a few hours ago and after I sang it to my daughter, she asked me, "Where'd you get that song from?" I don't think I even answered her. I just kept singing the song. Of course, this is a very old African-American spiritual song, but I can't find much information about what the song means. I just know that it popped into my head and it's been there ever since.

I have been feeling like my ancestors and God have really been trying to tell me something since I went to one of my places of refuge in North Carolina this weekend. The water, trees and other greenery in the town seemed to sing and talk to me as I drove through the winding roads. My ancestors were saying, "everything is going to be alright" and "we'll take care of you." It's funny--shortly after I heard that, one of my cousins let me know that he and the rest of the family are available to help and protect me and my daughter. I smiled and told him that I knew this and that's why I chose to move to North Carolina. I know that we've got support and protection, not only from the living relatives, but from the ones who brought us here.

Somebody's callin' my name ...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

My Mother is My Life

I'm lucky enough to teach English as a Second Language to people from all parts of the world. I've met some amazing and courageous students from places like Tanzania, Eritrea, Russia, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, and other countries. Some are here as refugees searching for a haven (I know what that feels like!), and others are here simply as immigrants trying to find a better life (I'm feeling that also).

Last night I was teaching a class about the sounds of letters, how to spell words, and words that are opposites.

One student was exploring the letter M, so I asked her to come up with a word that starts with M. She chose the word mother. I asked her to create a sentence using the word mother and here's what she said:

My mother is my life.

"Beautiful!" I said, as I wrote the sentence on the board. I smiled and she smiled. We're both mothers so I know we both were thinking of our mothers and our children. I didn't want to erase her sentence off the board as we proceeded with the lesson. I did eventually erase the sentence, but it remains in my heart.

I was also teaching the class about opposite words, like absent and present, adore and despise. One pair of opposites that a few of them had a hard time grasping was often and seldom.

I asked the students to come up with sentences using both words. They could use the word often in sentences, but they had a hard time understanding the word seldom.

I came up with a sentence for them:

I seldom make time for fools.

They seemed to grasp it then.

I've got some awesome students. I'm sure they'll give me lots more material to share with you. Look for it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Message from Sister Pamela

Here's a good word for the day that my sister Pamela sent to me. It helped me release some sweet tears today and moved me immensely. I'll try to keep my eyes on the pure, virtuous, beautiful, and true things--the lovely, not the ugly.

Thanks Pam. You'll be my sister forever.

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (KJV)

Or simply put from the Message Bible:

Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. -- The Message (MSG)

Praise God.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Free like ...

As my daughter and I rolled back into the Charlotte area from Tennessee, I was playing Free, a Jill Scott song that beautifully fit my state of mind. I haven't purchased Jill's new CD, The Real Thing, yet--partly because I can't really afford it and also because I might not be ready for it. Her music always sticks in my head so long and stirs some serious emotions in me. If you've heard The Real Thing, tell me what you think of it.

Here are the lyrics to Free:

by Jill Scott

Free like a willow tree
Free like a summer's eve
Free like the waves are crashing
on a solitary beach
Free like a bumblebee
Free like the open sea
Free like the minute, second,
moment when you hold me closely
Free like a flying dove
Free like the moon above
Free like the four letters
that spell out L-O-V-E love
Free like the bluest sky
Free like the wings up high
Free like... free like
Free like the brown in my eye
Free like the tears that I cry
Free like... free like
free like the willow tree
free like the summer's eve
free like the waves are crashing
on a single solitary beach (fades out)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Prophet: Kahlil Gibran

I love what Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran says about children in his book The Prophet. I try to remember this often.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit,
not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that
is stable.

-- Kahlil Gibran

He also says:

You shall be free indeed
when your days are not
without a care nor your nights
without a want and a grief,
but rather when these things
girdle your life and
yet you rise above them
naked and unbound.

-- Kahlil Gibran

In the Secret of his Tabernacle

Psalm 27:1-6 King James Version

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.

Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.

One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.

For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.

And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Looking Back at the Water Babies

Although Miles Davis recorded Water Babies in the late sixties, the work continues to evoke the perfect blend of joy and sadness in me that no other piece of music has been able to match.

At the top right corner of this blog is the album cover art from Water Babies. (Isn't it gorgeous? Aren't those babies precious?) I have loved this picture since I discovered it many years ago. It reminds me of me and my childhood friends in our Delaware neighborhood playing in the summertime, sweating, and trying to find that blast of water to cool us down. I've seen these scenes also in Baltimore, D.C., Jersey City, NYC, and other places. I'm sure you've seen it too.

The first thing my homegirl Poochie mentioned when she saw the front page of this blog was the Water Babies artwork. I'm sure she was struck with a sense of nostalgia when she saw those children having a ball in the street. (Didn't we have fun back then Poo? Now we can make sure that our daughters get a fresh stream of cool relief, not only when it's hot outside, but for all the seasons, throughout their lives. We'll see to that.)

Read a review of Water Babies at The Music Box.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What I'm Not Going to Do

It's not even the new year, but I've already decided what I'm NOT going to do. I'm not going to put up with intimidating, harrassing comments from people with hollow souls--people whose hearts are dingy and grey.

God be with me.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Poem: A Little Bird Told Me

Me Ha Dicho Un Pajarito
(A Little Bird Told Me)

by Alicia Benjamin

What a cruel thing
that left your fingertips
and pushed back my breath.

Que triste pájaro.

What happened to you hermano?
Tiene ojos sangre
Your wings are crumbling and dry.

What happened to your wings pajarito?
Where is your song?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lao-Tzu Says

Follow diligently the Way in your own heart, but make no display of it to the world. Keep behind, and you shall be put in front; keep out, and you shall be kept in. Goodness strives not, and therefore it is not rebuked. He that humbles himself shall be preserved entire. He that bends shall be made straight. He that is empty shall be filled. He that is worn out shall be renewed.

-- Lao-Tzu

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Humming a Yiddish Tune

The song "Nature Boy," made popular in 1948 by Nat King Cole, is one of those songs that has been bouncing around in my head recently. I just started humming it out of the blue. It's a really difficult song to sing, but I was able to hum all of the notes in the song, without remembering most of the words. These are the words that I remembered: "Nature boy," "enchanted boy," who learned that the greatest thing "was to love and be loved in return."

The song writer's story is quite intriguing. A beatnik poet who was born in Brooklyn, eden ahbez, convinced Nat King Cole's manager to bring his tune "Nature Boy" to Cole's attention. (ahbez chose to spell his name with lowercase letters because only God’s name is worthy of capitalization, he said.)

Cole immediately took to the tune and included it in his repertoire. He wanted to record the well-received song but had trouble finding its writer to get the publishing rights. Nat and his manager finally found ahbez—-he was camped out beneath the famous “Hollywood” sign in California. Cole’s version of "Nature Boy" made it to #1 on the Billboard charts in 1948 for eight weeks straight.

Yiddish composer Herman Yablakoff--who claimed that the melody from one of his songs, "Sveig Mein Hartz" (Be Still My Heart), was also the melody for "Nature Boy"--sued Ahbez. The song does, indeed, have that klezmer feel to it. The case was eventually settled out of court.

According to a Web site called Song Facts, Ahbez wanted to correct the tag line of the song. He decided that "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is to love and be loved in return," was not really what he wanted to say at all, since "to be loved in return" has nothing to do with love, he said. He wanted the last line to be, "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is to love, just to love, and be loved."

Nature Boy
Words and Music by eden ahbez

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me
"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return"

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Healing Prayers from Africa

Thank you Marilyn for suggesting that I purchase and read the book, Prayers for Healing: 365 Blessings, Poems, & Meditations from Around the World early in my time of distress. There are some gems in there that I'm still discovering.

As Dr. Larry Dossey said in the foreward to Prayers for Healing, "Prayer helps us contact sources of inspiration and wisdom that transcend the rational, analytical side of the mind. Prayer provides a sense of hope and meaning--the certainty that we are part of a pattern that is purposeful and intelligent. Without this awareness, life is not just unsatisfying, in can be unendurable." (Prayer is supernatural).

Here are two of my favorites from the book:

Dinka Prayer

Now that the sun has set,
I sit and rest, and think of you.
Give my weary body peace.
Let my legs and arms stop aching.
Let my nose stop [bleeding],
Let my head stop thinking.
Let me sleep in your arms.

African Prayer

I have no other helper than you, no other father, I pray to you.
Only you can help me. My present misery is too great.

Despair grips me, and I am at my wit's end.
O Lord, Creator, Ruler of the World, Father.
I thank you that you have brought me through.

How strong the pain was--but you were stronger.
How deep the fall was--but you were even deeper.
How dark the night was--but you were the noonday sun in it.
You are our father, our mother, our brother, and our friend.

Amen. And Amen.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Harvest for the World

I’ve been impressed with many of the people in Charlotte since I moved here over a month ago. When people in Charlotte ask me how I like the city, I tell them about the friendliness that I’ve encountered, from people in churches, to folks at the Department of Social Services, and even perfect strangers. I’m especially pleased with interactions I’ve had with some of the “sisters.” It’s good to be able to meet women on the street, smile, and hold friendly conversations. That didn’t happen that much in Nashville -- not for me anyway. The publicity about Nashville seems to be somewhat misleading. I think outsiders see Nashville as a friendly southern city where everybody speaks to each other. Not so. Although I did meet some phenomenal people in Nashville, I found a great deal of rudeness and detachment from people in “The Music City.”

I had a pleasant experience in the WalMart on Eastway yesterday. I had to quickly go in and buy a booster seat for my daughter (someone stole ours from the car!) While I was in the store, one of the employees started singing over the intercom. She seemed to spontaneously break out with some of the lyrics to “Harvest for the World” by the Isley Brothers. She sang the song like it was something she had to do. Her rendition was very passionate and full of emotion. I giggled a little because it was quite strange, I initially thought. But as I looked around, I noticed how other customers seemed to take it as a natural, everyday thing. Maybe that’s something this woman does regularly. That’s a good thought. I hope she does. It definitely made my day. This was also a coincidence. I had thought the day before that I would post the lyrics to “Harvest for the World” on this blog. I’m not sure why this song came to my mind a few days ago, but it is a gorgeous and appropriate song for today’s world.

Go here (Sample 1) to listen to the luscious prelude to “Harvest for the World.” It’s almost like a prayer—at least it makes me want to pray.

Here are the brothers singing “Harvest for the World.”

Harvest For The World Lyrics
by the Isley Brothers

All babies together, everyone a seed
Half of us are satisfied, half of us in need
Love's bountiful in us, tarnished by our greed
Oh when will there be a harvest for the world?

A nation planted so concerned with gain
As the seasons come and go greater grows the pain
Far too many feeling the strain
Oh when will there be a harvest for the world?
Gather every man
Gather every woman
Celebrate your lives
Give thanks for your children
Gather everyone
Gather all together
Overlooking none
Hoping life gets better for the world
When will there be a harvest for the world?

Dress me up for battle when all I want is peace
Those of us who pay the price come home with the least
Nation after nation turning into beasts
Oh when will there be a harvest for the world?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wisdom Cries Aloud in the Street

Wisdom cries aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the markets;

She cries at the head of the noisy intersections [in the chief gathering places]; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? And the scoffers delight in scoffing and [self-confident] fools hate knowledge?

If you will turn and give heed to my reproof, behold, I [Wisdom] will pour out my spirit upon you, I will make my words known to you.

Because I have called and you have refused [to answer], have stretched out my hand and no man has heeded it,

And you treated as nothing all my counsel and would accept none of my reproof,

I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when the thing comes that shall cause you terror and panic--

When your panic comes as a storm and desolation and your calamity comes on as a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.

Then will they call upon me [Wisdom] but I will not answer; they will seek me early and diligently but they will not find me.

Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord,

Would accept none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof,

Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way and be satiated with their own devices.

For the backsliding of the simple shall slay them, and the careless ease of [self-confident] fools shall destroy them.

But whoso hearkens to me [Wisdom] shall dwell securely and in confident trust and shall be quiet, without fear or dread of evil.

Amplified Bible, Proverbs 1:20-33

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Infant Eyes/You Are So Beautiful to Me

You Are So Beautiful to Me
by Billy Preston/B. Fisher

You are so beautiful to me
You are so beautiful to me
Can't you see
You're everything I hoped for
You're everything I need
You are so beautiful to me

Such joy and happiness you bring
Such joy and happiness you bring
Like a dream
A guiding light that shines in the night
Heavens gift to me
You are so beautiful to me

I like to sing to my daughter now and then, especially at night sometimes when it’s difficult for her to go to sleep. Sometimes she’ll request certain songs and sometimes I’ll just sing one of my regulars for her like "Summertime," "God Bless the Child," "Santa Lucia," or "Infant Eyes."

I tried "You Are So Beautiful to Me" on her some time ago and I could tell she was really touched by it. I’m planning to sing it to her more often.

Here’s Patti LaBelle and Joe Cocker singing You Are So Beautiful in 1985.

When I heard the song, "Infant Eyes" as a child, I thought it was the most beautiful song that I had ever heard. My child wasn’t to come until many years later, but I felt some semblance of a mother’s love for her child when I heard it. "Infant Eyes" is a Wayne Shorter composition, but the Jean Carne version is the only one I’ve ever heard. I can’t imagine anyone singing it better than she did. It’s a masterpiece.

Infant Eyes
by Wayne Shorter

There’s no plan
Beneath the sky
The voice could never arise
That could sing of my love
Oh my, dear Infant Eyes

Infant Eyes
You are mine
Without your smile
The stars would fall
The moon would lose its glow
And the rivers would cease to flow
You know
I wish you could realize
This love I have inside
A love that never dies
Oh my, dear Infant Eyes

Monday, September 10, 2007

Things I Do Well

I want to thank my good friend Marilyn in Nashville for encouraging me to come up with this list months ago. It's encouraging and it also makes me laugh.

This is a pat on the back to myself because I really need it. Here are some of the things that I do well:

- Love and take care of my daughter
- Sing and read to my daughter
- Take out the trash
- Select really cool earrings
- Twist and lock my hair
- Write
- Hug
- Smile
- Laugh
- Make other people laugh
- Encourage others
- Doodle
- Direct
- Make chess pies

Thanks Marilyn! I'm going to come back to this list the next time I need a lift.

I'd like to encourage all of you readers to make a list of some of the things that you do well. I want to hear all about it!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Like Vultures

Recently I overheard a converstion between a man and a woman about the woman’s former high school teacher. The man told her that somebody had seen the teacher somewhere. She said, “Really? I told ---- to let me know when he gets a divorce.” The man and woman both laughed. Obviously, the woman is or was interested in dating the man. But she has a live-in boyfriend and a little baby at home.

Is this what it’s come to? Are people waiting around like vultures, hoping and wishing that married people will get divorced so they can have a go? Lord have mercy on all of us, if this is the case.

Let us pray:

Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

-- Psalm 1: 1-6 (New International Version)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Coffee, Tea, and Helping Humanity

I gave up coffee back in May, but occasionally I make a visit to a coffee house to buy some type of tea drink. Lately, I've gone for the iced chai tea and Julia's Coffee on N. Wendover Road in Charlotte has one of the best chai drinks I’ve ever had. (I've never been to India, but I almost felt like I was there for a second after tasting the iced chai tea at Julia's.)

Julia's is just a couple of miles from where I live, so this could actually be dangerous for my coffee-free lifestyle. The place has provocative artwork on display throughout the shop, used books for sale, comfortable seating where you can sit, drink, read, and/or talk. Also, from what I understand, musicians perform in the place every now and then.

Another intriguing aspect to this coffee house is its connection to Habitat for Humanity. Julia's Coffee is physically attached to a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. All proceeds from Julia's Coffee go toward helping Habitat for Humanity families build their homes. The shop is named after Julia Maulden, the first volunteer executive director for Habitat for Humanity.

One of Julia's well-known comments shows how committed she was to her spiritual beliefs. She said, "You can't just sit around loving your neighbor abstractly; you have to get out and do something for him."

As a member of the Charlotte Mecklenburg school board from 1966-74, Julia was a pioneer in the efforts to desegregate the school system here. When she retired from the school board at the age of 60, she spent the next eighteen months teaching children in Zaire as a Peace Corps worker. She brought some of those students to the U.S. and paid their way through such schools as Columbia University and Davidson College.

In 1991 Julia told The Charlotte Observer that to ask yourself, "Am I better off? is the wrong question. Are we better off? is the question."

Click here to read about the farm in El Salvador where the coffee beans used in Julia's Coffee are grown.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Celebrating Our Loved Ones

If you're planning to be in Washington, D.C. in early October, don't miss the 3rd annual Capital BookFest, an event that celebrates the literary arts while promoting literacy in the D.C. metropolitan area. The event is produced by poet, playwright, and television producer, Kwame Alexander, and features award-winning writers and emerging talent.

Capital BookFest will also feature the unveiling of Family Pictures: Poems and Photographs Celebrating Our Loved Ones, which features poetry from such greats as E. Ethelbert Miller, Lucille Clifton, and Tony Medina. The book also includes poems by writers all over the world, including 11-year-old Washington, D.C. student Kyndall Brown, and me. Several of the poets featured in Family Pictures will read at the event.

I have to thank poet/performer Thandiwe Shiphrah for my poem, "Lost in America," which appears in the book. Thandiwe inspired me to write the piece at one of her motivating Women's Gatherings in Nashville. (God bless you Thandiwe!)

Lost in America
by Alicia Benjamin

I am the Geechee Girl. Lost in the English of America. Mangoes are what I like. Orange, green, and fleshy.

I prefer the heat, but when it's cold my grandfather talks to me from the walls of my house.

He says, "One day oona gwine see me agin. On dat day, we gwine rejoice fa true." Then I'm warm again.

My grandfather also tells me that I am the droplets of the Orishas, spilled into the womb of his wife. I carry the strength of my mamas, who were warriors, from Sierra Leone, Senegal and Angola.

Gather me mother and father. Gather me and give me the power to make my child the warrior she needs to be.

The Capital BookFest will be held on October 6, the Blvd. at the Capital Centre, 931A Capital Centre Blvd., Largo, Maryland from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sunny Side Up

I’ve decided to take a walk on the sunny side of the street today.
Here are some people that I’m thankful for:

• My daughter, who is healthy (thank God!), beautiful, gifted, and very wise for her age.
• My mom and dad, who are there for me through all kinds of weather.
• My soul sister, Cheryl the Pearl, who has been through all the highways, hills, valleys, and detours with me.
• My aunties and uncles who’ve held me on their knees, dressed me, changed me, laughed with me, and comforted me with their smiles and hugs when things have gone wrong.
• My homegirls from Rosegate who I carry with me in my heart, no matter where I am. I can still see us playing football, dancing, and singing in the streets. (We are family …)
• Madear in Nashville who has supported me through the really tough times this year. (I know you’ll always be there!)
• My family in Nashville and Atlanta just for being there and loving me through it all.
• Pastors Keith and Contessa McNeal, who saved me months, maybe even years of uncertainty with my first meeting with them and the powerful lessons they taught at the True Worship Restoration Center in Madison, Tenn. (I’m still searching Charlotte for something that comes close to that kind of spirituality. I hope I find it soon!)
• My friends in Nashville who listened while I cried and sobbed my way back to sanity.
• My friend O., who reminded me how beautiful and special I am. I truly had forgotten. Thanks man.
• My dear friend Annette, who called just at the right time to reconnect our friendship and feed me with her strong sense of the Word and God.
• My ancestors and friends who have passed away but have taught me things from the other side.
• And God, for keeping me healthy, loving me, and giving me the strength, wisdom, and understanding to make the tough decisions, and to do the hard things. Praise God.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lifting Me Up

I'm praying that the defilement, humiliation, anger brought on by insensitive comments made by people who don't seem to know better, anxiety brought on by abandonment, betrayal and neglect; low self-esteem, loss of family, and callousness, will all continue to be washed away. God, I know you didn't bring me this far to leave me. I can feel you lifting me up out of the fire when I ask you to. Thank you.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Seeing Red: Rebirth and Dirt in North Carolina

I've been living in Charlotte, North Carolina for almost two weeks now and something about the place that fascinates me and brings back memories is the red dirt that's all around here. During my childhood visits to Norwood, a small town about 50 minutes from Charlotte, I remember seeing the red dirt and noticed how it seemed to cling to people's shoes and clothes more stubbornly than the brown dirt found in other places.

Since I've been here, I've wondered what makes the dirt red, but can’t seem to find a really good, thorough explanation. I've asked relatives who grew up in North Carolina why the dirt here is so vibrant and lifelike, but they don’t seem to know. From the bit of research that I've done, I've found that North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and a few other places in the United States, including parts of Texas, have red dirt.

A 1986 article in the The Piedmont Naturalist talks a bit about red dirt or clay and farming practices, but it still doesn't really explain why the dirt is red.

Also, a documentary about African-American farmers and land loss called Homecoming: Sometimes I am Haunted by Red Dirt and Clay, pays homage to the vibrant red earth.

The film's creator, Charlene Gilbert, paints a poignant picture of how the red dirt affected her:

When I was five my family left the South. My mother went home to Montezuma to say goodbye. I don't remember anyone telling me we were going or how long we would be, but I do remember playing in the dirt out by the barn. I remember making mud pies with the red dirt and begging my grandmother for a fresh egg, a key ingredient to any good mud pie. When they called me to leave I scooped up all the dirt I could pack and took it with me to the car. I don't think my mother found the dirt until long after we had left. I'm sure she threw it out and never thought twice about it. I, on the other hand, think about that red dirt every time I look down at my feet. –- Charlene Gilbert

I’ve also heard and read about the pottery and face paintings that Native Americans created with red clay. And there are the stories of women who ate (some who still eat) red dirt or clay. Evidently, some mothers have passed down the practice to their daughters. My daughter has come home several days now with the red dirt on her legs, face, and clothes. The remnants of it can be found on her washcloths and in her bathwater.

When I saw the red dirt again after moving to Charlotte and traveling from our apartment to my parents' small rural hometown about 50 minutes away, I've fantasized about why the dirt is red. Could it be the blood of the overworked and abused African-Americans, or the slaughtered Native Americans, whose bodies are buried in the dirt? Could the red dirt be God’s way of telling us that this part of the country is fertile for new growth and magical happenings? Yeah, I think this is so.

If you have any information about why red dirt is so prevalent in the Carolinas, please post a message here and let me know. I would really appreciate the information.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Listening to Proverbs

Here is God speaking to me today, and you'd better believe that I'm attentively listening.

Proverbs 2:1-15

My child, if you accept my words
and treasure up my commandments within you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
if you indeed cry out for insight,
and raise your voice for understanding;
if you seek it like silver,
and search for it as for hidden treasures—
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly,
guarding the paths of justice
and preserving the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
prudence will watch over you;
and understanding will guard you.
It will save you from the way of evil,
from those who speak perversely,
who forsake the paths of uprightness
to walk in the ways of darkness,
who rejoice in doing evil
and delight in the perverseness of evil;
those whose paths are crooked,
and who are devious in their ways.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Nessun Dorma and M'appari--Beautiful Music

I'm working as a freelancer right now and luckily I'm able to listen to CDs while I do my work. Isn't that marvelous? Anyway, the CD I'm listening to currently is "Nessun Dorma: 20 Great Tenor Arias" featuring works by such greats as Puccini, Bizet, Verdi, and Flotow.

Every now and then when I'm listening to classical music and opera pieces, I come across works that I used to play in my orchestra in school. I played the flute from 4th grade until I graduated from high school. It was a long haul and along the way I came across some numbers that are still in my head. One such number is one that I've been listening to today by Friedrich von Flotow called "M'appari" from the opera Martha. It's a touching song even without the lyrics. I immediately was drawn back to middle school, blowing into my flute, trying to find the right feel and vibrato for the song. Today is the first day I've seen the lyrics and they are indeed touching. Click here to read the words to this gorgeous song. Also, go here to listen to Pavarotti sing a sample of "M'appari."

Also on the CD is one of the most often-used classical songs in films -- "Nessun Dorma" by Puccini. Go to this YouTube clip to hear Pavarotti sing this masterpiece. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cherokee Teachings from the Wisdom Fire

About ten years ago I found a book called Voices of Our Ancestors: Cherokee Teachings from the Wisdom Fire by Dhyani Ywahoo that I haven't been able to fully comprehend. Perhaps the more I read Ywahoo's book, the more I'll eventually understand it. But there are tidbits in the book that immediately hit home for me.

Ywahoo, a member of the traditional Etowah Band of the Eastern Tsalagi (Cherokee) Nation, said she was "charged with the duty to rekindle the fire of clear mind and right relationship in these changing times" and that's why she wrote the book. She is a guide to all who walk "the Beauty Road."

The back jacket of the Voices of Our Ancestors says that it "teaches practical ways of transforming obstacles to happiness and good relationships, fulfilling one's life purpose, manifesting peace and abundance ... It includes teachings on how to practice generosity and harmony.

Here are some of the jewels I've discovered in the book:

Our elders taught that forgiveness was a great balm--the most great medicine that brings freedom from hurt.


Everyone has some idea of what another's vice or fault is and what ought to be corrected. The real issue is to clarify one's own consciousness, be one with the stream of clear mind in oneself, that one may act in the present rather than react to issues of the past.


Affirmation is a skillful means for transforming energy, and it begins with the deletion of negative statements about self and others. A negative statement freezes one in time and space without room for harmonization.

And here's a message that made my mind and body sing:

Each of us has a song in our heart. Through thought, through action, each one is creating vibration in the atmosphere. When we think about the dancing atoms that build and sustain the forms of life, we can see ourselves forever in the dance. Everything is vibration. Our action rings out in many dimensions, and in that way our thoughts and actions return to us. We call it karma or destiny.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dancing the Blues Away

Last night my 5-year-old daughter had the blues, so I encouraged her to talk about her feelings and cry. She's remakably able to articulate exactly how she feels and why she feels that way. She asks questions and genuinely listens to the answers. I hope I'm setting the stage for her to be able to talk to me about anything, and to freely express her anger, frustration, saddness, etc. I'm sure it sounds a little strange to hear that a toddler has the blues and is able to work through the saddness, but she seems to have an old soul and advanced wisdom for her age.

Watching my daughter cry and talk about her feelings reminded me of my saddness when I was her age. Unfortunately, I wasn't given a stage to talk about what was happening to me, or cry and get through the confusion. Perhaps this is my chance to help the inner child in me as I help my daughter get through her blue periods.

Shortly after her episode, I asked her if she wanted to dance. This is something we do now and then just because we both love music and really like to dance. She insisted that I dance for her first and then she danced for me. I adore the way she's able to keep some of her trademark moves but still dance with abandon. She throws her whole body into it and seems to work through whatever emotional state has inhabited her at the time. I'm able to do that sometimes too. But from her, I'm learning to do it more often. She jumps up and down, swings her head around, and sometimes even contorts her face into several different expressions during the dance. In other words, she really gets into it.

I hope she retains that ability to let it all go when she dances. It's a great way to dance the blues away. She already has a ready made answer to the ups, downs, dissappointments, betrayals, triumphs, and roller coaster ride of live.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mystery, Miracles, and Magic

Last week was a tough one, but with God pushing me along and giving me strength, I made it through. My parents also came to town so that fed my spirit immensely, and a special celebration with my daughter and other relatives was enough to carry me through for a while.

My Auntie Claire in D.C. sent me a card with a simple message that just broke me down. The outside says, "I Believe In You." In the inside she wrote, "Hope to see you soon," and she wrote "2007" on it four times. This really hit me because I've been writing "2007" on all the cards that I've received this year so that I can remember the givers' messages to me during the most difficult and challenging time of my life, thus far. But it was the simple printed message in Auntie Claire's card that really moved me to tears:

I believe in mystery
and miracles
and the magic of a new day ...

Man! Did I need to hear that, and how grateful I am that she's sending those magical powers my way.

Thank you Auntie Claire! May God bless you forever.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ask and it Shall be Given to You

I'm asking a lot from God right now so I am meditating on these words from the Bible:

Luke 11:9-10
"So I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks finds; and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."

And here are the words in that beautiful Gullah language that I love to read, hear, and dream about:

"A da tell oona say, aks God and e gwine gii ya wa ya aks fa. Look ta God, an ya gwine find wasoneba ya da look fa. Knock ta God door, an e gwine open um ta ya. Cause de poson wa aks, God gwine gim wa e aks fa. De poson wa look ta God, e gwine find wasoneba ya da look fa. An de poson wa knock ta God door, God Gwine open de door ta um."

Amen and alleluia! Praise God.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Poem: A Flutter

A Flutter (Praise Dance)
by Alicia Benjamin

First, a flutter.
Then I felt her shake and roll.

She shimmied--
vibrated her house,
my womb,
better than Billie Holiday’s vibrato.

She quivered and wiggled like she was at her first
camp meeting--
like she already knew how to praise and shout
with her Indian red,
flickering body.

GiGi was a dancer in my dreams
before she was born.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tennessean to Cover More Diversity and Social Justice Issues

I saw this classified ad on a journalism Web site today. I sent it to my friends who work in the social justice community in Nashville so that they can see what The Tennessean is planning in terms of its coverage of social issues. This might be a chance for more of you activists and organizers to tell your stories. Things might be looking up in Nashville.

Job Description:
The Tennessean and are seeking an aggressive reporter to cover diversity and social issues. Nashville is a boomtown in growing Middle Tennessee, with great stories to be told about the people who are drawn here and how they are affecting longtimers. We are seeking a reporter who can tell these stories, on the streets and as a watchdog. Five years of solid beat coverage at a daily newspaper are a must. Multimedia, database skills and Spanish fluency will be a big plus. Please send a cover letter, resume, clips and some story ideas to Ricky Young, city editor, The Tennessean, 1100 Broadway, Nashville, TN, 37203. You can also e-mail, with diversity in the subject line.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I Already Know the Answer

Last night I learned some powerful lessons from the pastor of the True Worship Restoration Center in Madison, Tenn.

Pastor Keith McNeal, an awesome man of God, taught me that I am God's friend and when I go to God in prayer I should go as a friend of God. Also, when I go to God, I already know the answer to what I'm seeking. God then gives the answer to the answer.

Other things I learned:

-- The more God you have, the more power you have.

-- To be successful you have to become God's friend.

(And this is one that really hit home for me):

-- God separates people from you if they are not chosen to do what you are chosen to do.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Black August: Soledad Brother Film to be Released

“This is a revolution and we are the vanguard.” – from Black August, the film

A provocative film called Black August about the life of the legendary Soledad Brother, George Jackson, is set to come out some time this year. If the film, starring Gary Dourdan, is as exciting as The YouTube clip from the film then I will definitely pay my money to see it.

One of the books in our house that most intrigued me as a child was Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. This book, along with James Baldwin’s, If Beale Street Could Talk, brought to my attention, early on, the very delicate nature of our existence as African-Americans in this country. These books describe quite brutally how easily we can be snatched away from our everyday lives and thrown away in prisons all over the country. Although Jackson’s book, a series of letters that he wrote from prison from 1964 to 1970, and Baldwin’s book (published in 1974) were penned decades ago, their message still rings true -— a black person is at the mercy of the legal system in this country and this is a dangerous situation to be in. For even those of us who are innocent of criminal activity (like Fonny, Baldwin’s character in Beale Street), are treated with little dignity and most often come out of the prison system more broken than we went in.

In Jackson’s case, what prison authorities didn’t count on was Jackson’s unusual growth in prison. His charisma and leadership qualities made him one of the most famous leaders of prisoners in history. After being put in Soledad Prison when he was 19 for robbing a gas station for 71 dollars, Jackson studied leftest political philosophies while in solitary confinement for two years, then started prison study groups and organized a prison branch of the Black Panther Party. By the time he published Soledad Brother, Jackson had become a nationally recognized figure and leader among inmates.

In 1970, Jackson, along with two others, was charged with the murder of a white guard. The three became known as the Soledad Brothers. On August 21, 1971 prison guards killed Jackson while he was, allegedly, attempting to escape jail. The uncertainty surrounding Jackson's killing helped set off the uprising at Attica state prison in New York three weeks later.

Excerpt from Soledad Brother:
This camp brings out the very best in brothers or destroys them entirely. But none are unaffected. None who leave here are normal. If I leave here alive, I'll leave nothing behind. They'll never count me among the broken men, but I can't say that I am normal either. I've been hungry too long. I've gotten angry too often. I've been lied to and insulted too many times. They've pushed me over the line from which there can be no retreat. I know that they will not be satisfied until they've pushed me out of this existence altogether.

Here’s the Black August YouTube clip.
Check out this 1971 George Jackson interview.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Falling Out of Grace

Here’s one of those events that I really do wish I could attend.

A Community Forum and Healing Session
(Libations, African Dancing, Drumming, and Poetry)
with Sobonfu Somé
(Healer, Teacher, Speaker and Author)
Thursday, May 17th, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ
5301 North Capitol Street, N.E., Washington, D.C.

A love offering is expected and appreciated.

Here’s a very wise passage from Some’s book: Falling Out of Grace: Meditations on Loss, Healing, and Wisdom

One day my life began to fall apart. Almost before I was aware that anything had happened, I was faced with cold reactions from those around me. For some I was a nuisance. For others, I was nothing at all. Some people found ways to blame me for destroying their dream world and resented me for not being perfect. Others would quickly turn their face to avoid eye contact. In those days I felt so small and pitiful that I thought even death would reject me. I stood like a candle at the mercy of the wind of other people’s hurt feelings. Well. There was some truth to my feelings of failure. I had failed my community and I knew it. I had to really dig deep within myself to find a reason to live. With the love, support, and comfort of others, I survived. Many people in my situation do not survive. They die of abandonment or a broken heart, even as they continue to live. As brought back to grace by what I learned was my true community, I found strength in the people who remained by me, and in those who joined them at such a chaotic time. I redefined my community, or perhaps I should say my community redefined itself for me. That, I suppose, was a lesson … another was of grace, the way it comes not only to those who deserve it, but also to those who need it.” -- Sobonfu E. Somé

Auntie Carolyn, Auntie Norma, and Monica — I wish you could go and take notes for me! Love, Lisa.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Charlotte Works to Build More Interracial Trust

It’s not often that a whole city decides to take a good look at itself. But that's just what civic leaders in Charlotte, N.C. decided to do after a Harvard study ranked that city next to last in interracial trust. The group created a project called Crossroads Charlotte to discuss how organizations in the city could begin to help Charlotte's citizens trust one another more.

In late April, organizations in Charlotte unveiled programs that will work to make the city a better place for all of its residents, according to The Charlotte Observer. More than 35 groups are working on Crossroads projects that will be announced in three waves.

Here are some of the innovative Crossroads programs that have started or will start soon (Reported by The Charlotte Observer):

Arts & Science Council
Will work to increase access to cultural programs by investing in racially and ethnically diverse communities and groups such as Latino arts organizations along the Central Avenue/Albemarle Road corridor.

Central Piedmont Community College and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg public library
Teaming to offer literacy and English as a Second Language classes at library branches.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee
Producing a play about race relations.

Crisis Assistance Ministry
Focusing on increasing the community's awareness of people in poverty.

Johnson C. Smith University
Expanding its Saturday Academy, a program for academically struggling students.

Mecklenburg Ministries
Continuing its Friday Friends program, which asks people of different races to have lunch together regularly.

University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Launching a Crossroads-centered curriculum as part of its general education program for all students. As part of the multiple-course program, students will work on community projects that help foster interracial trust.

Producing a series of documentaries about the history and life of local ethnic communities, and airing the final report of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg African American Agenda, a group trying to find solutions for problems facing the black community.

Charlotte’s estimated population is approximately 610,900, and Nashville’s is 607,400. Wouldn’t it be nice if Nashville could follow Charlotte’s lead and develop a Crossroads Nashville? Who can we call to get such an effort started?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Don’t Let the Rain Fall Down

Whenever I’m blue (like now) or sometimes even when I’m feeling silly, I sing “Oh No, Don’t Let the Rain Fall Down,” out loud or just in my head. For some reason it makes me feel better. Maybe it’s because I learned the song as a child in music class, along with “Santa Lucia” and Erie Canal (Low Bridge, Everybody Down).

I wish I could find a recorded version of this song and the others. But if you see me and you want to know how these songs sound, especially “Don’t Let the Rain Fall Down,” I’d be happy to sing a little for you.

Don’t Let the Rain Fall Down
By The Serendipity Singers

Oh, no, don't let the rain come down
Oh, no, don't let the rain come down
Oh, no, don't let the rain come down
My roof's got a hole in it and I might drown
Oh, yes, my roof's got a hole in it and I might drown


Oh, no, don't let the rain come down
Oh, no, don't let the rain come down
Oh, no, don't let the rain come down
My roof's got a hole in it and I might drown
Oh, yes, my roof's got a hole in it and I might drown

(click here for the all of the lyrics to the song)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Billie Holiday’s Love Songs, Volume 2

It's funny how Billie Holiday impersonators are often very amusing. The imitators try to capture the Lady’s unique intonations and vocal agility, but often seem to tighten their throats too much and sing with an excess of vibrato. Holiday’s voice had a natural tremble that was harsh and smooth at the same time. She was able to both soothe and jar listeners.

Holiday's Love Songs 2 will satisfy listeners who crave Lady Day's authentic intensity that no other singer has ever been able to duplicate. With this album, Holiday takes listeners on a passionate journey into love’s joy and tragedy.

Billie’s desire and obsession for the men in her life come through on every note. It’s a little unnerving when she sings, “I'm like an oven that's crying for heat/ He treats me awful each time that we meet/ it’s just unlawful how that boy can cheat/ But I must have that man.” You wonder how such a strong, gifted woman could serve as a doormat for any man. Holiday, who conveyed true emotion and heartache with her voice, was obviously speaking from experience. She was sexy and tragic--a feat that's hard for today's young female singers to pull off. They either sound too raunchy, too rough or like little girls pretending to be experienced women.

Pianist Teddy Wilson, trumpeter Buck Clayton and Holiday's musical brother, Lester Young, will please listeners the way few of today's musicians do. These men were master craftsmen who knew how to follow and support lead singers. When Holiday intentionally falls behind the beat, they're right there with her. The band members often set the tone for the songs with long introductions that setup Billie’s grand opening.

Holiday, who deftly walked the line between sensuality and despair, has influenced many contemporary singers. But not many can match Lady Day’s straight and sincere dose of love, lust and tragic romance.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Poet Martin Espada: Representing East New York

On the last day of National Poetry month, I thought I’d feature a bit of poetry by Martín Espada, a famous writer that I don’t know much about but plan to investigate further. This Brooklyn-born poet is the winner of an American Book Award and teaches creative writing and Latino Poetry at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Espada grew up in a public housing development in East New York, Brooklyn. In an April 4 interview with poet E. Ethelbert Miller, Espada said that his days in the East New York projects significantly shaped his imagination.

He recalled what his childhood friend, Mari McQueen, now a Consumer Reports editor, once said: “Everyone who comes out of this place has a hard edge… We learned early in life that disrespect has serious consequences, up to and including death.”

Click here to read Espada’s provocative poem, “Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits.”

I really love this short yet potent poem by Espada:

Advice to Young Poets

Never pretend
to be a unicorn
by sticking a plunger on your head

— from The Republic of Poetry, October 2006, W.W. Norton & Company

Friday, April 27, 2007

Anti-Violence Activist to Speak at Two Nashville Schools

A Detroit mother, Clementine Barfield, started the Save Our Sons and Daughters (SOSAD) program after two of her sons were shot in 1986. Sadly, Derek, the 16-year-old, did not survive the incident—both of Barfield’s sons were caught in a crossfire. SOSAD’s mission is to help victims of crime and prevent other young people from engaging in violent lifestyles. The organization operates a 24-hour hotline for the families of victims that need advice and support.

SOSAD also operates a youth leadership training program, which brings together young people and volunteer police officers, and conducts rallies to encourage youth to avoid trouble. The group actively lobbies local and national public officials to focus attention on crime and its innocent victims.

"When we talked to elementary schoolchildren, we found that 80 to 85 percent of them personally know someone who has been killed,” Barfield told Ebony magazine in 1999. “The majority, believe it or not, have had a grandparent killed,” she said. “If your reality is that you could die any day, then why is killing someone so farfetched?"

Barfield, who has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, 20/20, the Justice Files, and other television programs will give a message titled, “How to Keep Your Child Safe from Drugs and Gangs" at W. A. Bass Middle School, 5200 Delaware Ave., in Nashville on Thursday, May 3, 5:30–8 p.m. She’ll speak about “Creating a Culture of Peace” on Thursday, May 10, 5:30–8 p.m. at Park Avenue Elementary School, 3703 Park Ave., in Nashville.

"We need to teach children peace," Barfield told the Harvard Public Health Review last month. Children have all kinds of words to describe violence, she said, "but when we ask them to describe peace, they have only a few words to describe that."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

I Am That I AM: A Healing Affirmation

Someone told me or perhaps I've read somewhere that, many times, if you turn to a page in the Bible, the message will apply directly to your current life situation. I have experienced this not only with the Bible, but other spiritual books and other pieces of literature.

Most recently, I've experienced this phenomena as I turned to a page in a book called Alchemy of the Heart: How to Give and Receive More Love by Elizabeth Clare Prophet and Patricia R. Spadaro. I don't know much about these authors but the book jacket says that Prophet "has pioneered techniques in practical spirituality, including the creative power of sound for personal growth and world transformation." The information about Spadaro says that she has a "special interest in practical spirituality, gnosticism, and the mystical paths of the world's religions."

The section I turned to is called "Heart Perspectives" and talks about clearing the heart with prayers, affirmations, and visualization."

The authors write that you can use the affirmations that they suggest to "invoke the alchemy of violet flame to clear the painful memories of past experiences."

They can also help clear the subconscious, which accepts the [negative judgements of others]... The violet flame can resolve these patterns of consciousness and free us to be more of our real self.

Many affirmations use the name of God "I AM" to access spiritual power. "I AM" is short for "I AM THAT I AM," the name of God revealed to Moses when he saw the burning bush. "I AM THAT I AM" means simply but profoundly As above, so below. As God is in heaven, so God is on earth within me. Right where I stand, the power of God is. Thus, every time you say, "I AM ..." you are really affirming "God in me is ..."

Visualize violet-colored flames within your heart softening and then melting away any hardness of heart-transforming anger into compassion, bitterness into sweetness, anxiety into peace. You can recite any affirmation once, three times or as many times as you want ..."

I've already added this one to my list of affirmations, meditations, and prayers.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cheryl and Pamela: Props in My Distress

One of my favorite novels is So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba, a Senegalese writer who died in 1981. I read the book, which was originally written in French, while taking an African Literature class at Hunter College in the early 90s. The book has continued to feed and uplift me since I was introduced to it.

The main character, Ramatoulaye, finds strength and independence after her husband dies. In the aftermath, she communicates her anger at both her husband and the customs that allow polygamy in her long letter to her lifelong friend Aissatou.

In times of stress and turmoil in my life, I have consistently been able to turn to my good friend Cheryl in Los Angeles. She is always there with a kind ear, loving heart, and good advice. I hope I’ve been able to support her as much as she’s uplifted me. Recently, my sister-in-law Pamela has also become a wonderful sounding board. She’s been supportive and wise. Pamela and Cheryl have been two of my most steady “props in my distress.” I don’t know what I would do without them during this awful season in my life.

Here’s an excerpt from So Long a Letter. If you’re a female friend or relative of mine, look forward to receiving a copy of this book from me some time in the future.

Dear Aissatou,

I have received your letter. By way of reply, I am beginning this diary, my prop in my distress. Our long association has taught me that confiding in others allays pain.

Your presence in my life is by no means fortuitous. Our grandmothers in their compounds were separated by a fence and would exchange messages daily. Our mothers used to argue over who would look after our uncles and aunts. As for us, we wore out wrappers and sandals on the same stony road to the koranic school; we buried our milk teeth in the same holes and begged our fairy godmothers to restore them to us, more splendid than before.

If over the years, and passing through the realities of life, dreams die, I still keep intact my memories, the salt of remembrance.

I conjure you up. The past is reborn, along with its procession of emotions. I close my eyes. Ebb and tide of feeling: heat and dazzlement, the wood fires, the sharp green mango, bitten into in turns, a delicacy in our greedy mouths. I close my eyes. Ebb and tide of images: drops of sweat beading your mother’s ochre-coloured face as she emerges from the kitchen; the procession of young wet girls chattering on their way back from the springs.

We walked the same paths from adolescence to maturity, where the past begets the present.

My friend, my friend, my friend. I call on you three times.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dear God, Help Me to Hear

Dear God,

I've spent a lot of time trying to understand him (even now), but I don't think he spent much time trying to understand me (and probably never will).

I've heard this all before, coming from my own mouth. Please help me to really hear it this time.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Learning from the Tibetans

Since I heard about the horrific plight of the mild and peaceful people of Tibet many years ago, I have felt great compassion and kinship with the tragic circumstances that these human beings have had to endure.

In the wake of the invasion of Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual and temporal leader, and around 80,000 Tibetans fled into exile in India. In the years after, Tibet's remarkable culture, and its inhabitants, have been systematically persecuted. The flow of Tibetans fleeing Chinese oppression continues to this day, principally through Nepal into India.

Human rights conditions in Tibet remain dismal. Under the Chinese occupation, the Tibetan people are denied most rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including the rights to self-determination, freedom of speech, assembly, movement, expression and travel.

China's consistent use of excessive military force to stifle dissent has resulted in widespread human rights abuses including multiple cases of arbitrary arrests, political imprisonment, torture and execution.

(Source: International Campaign for Tibet)

Of course I don’t know what it feels like to be a refugee, but I do know what it feels like to want to seek exile. I have lived in several cities in my lifetime and not always because that’s what I really wanted to do. So like the Tibetans, I have been nomadic. At times, I have felt almost forced to be a nomad, even when I didn’t want to be. Perhaps this is my kinship with the people of Tibet. Also, the Buddhist philosophy, which deeply values the cultivation of compassion for self and others, has deeply affected me. It’s a journey that I’ve found, lost, and picked back up along the way.

Last night I met an actual Tibetan exile. He is the husband of a newfound friend and a brilliant, warm, and wise person. This Tibetan refugee escaped that country when he was 12 and lived in India and Israel before coming to the United States. How lucky my daughter and I are to have met this friend and her husband. I can’t imagine the trauma that such a life brings. As I go through my own personal trauma presently, I’m in awe and inspired by such a strong and beautiful spirit who has been able to brave such a long and painful disconnect from his family and homeland. (I can closely relate to the disconnection from family and loved ones.)

Back in the late 90s, I used to have two bright red and yellow stickers on the back of my 1981 yellow Volvo that said “Free Tibet.” Amnesty International sent the stickers to me after I had become of member of that organization. I have since sold that car and last night was presented with a “Free Tibet” sticker again from the hands of a Tibetan. I hope this is a sign that more peace and compassion is on its way back into my life—-I so need more of those things in my life right now. Please let this be a sign. From my mouth to God’s ears.

"Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are." --His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama

Friday, April 13, 2007

No Sign of You

by Alicia Benjamin-Samuels

For a year and a half — virtually.
No sign of your mind or your soul
in our midst.
Neglected by you.
We are.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Way of a Lover

by Alicia Benjamin

Listen and the ancestors will tell you what you need to know.

“To love, beloved, is like walking in a rainstorm. You may want to run, but you will still get wet, mwana. Be resolved to feel, from the beginning. A great soaking can be satisfying.

It will not help to think about capturing your love in a round about way—attack with immediacy. Once you have spotted the one you desire, swoop down on him like a hawk—grasping its most precious prey. Swiftly seize your love with glorious passion and delicious intent.

One thing should not become two, binti. Faithfulness is the way of a true lover. Yes, death will shake and traumatize your heart—But even as a soul unfolds and breathes the last bits of this hidden place, love will not perish. Eternally, love will embrace.”

This poem was inspired by my ancestors, Jim Jarmusch’s film, “Ghost Dog” and the book, Hagakure, a compilation of Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s philosophies.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Ungenocide (Like Jesus)

Ungenocide (Like Jesus)
by Alicia Benjamin

Let’s dream
About a man
In Northern Uganda,
Or somewhere in Iraq, who might
Stretch out his body and
Take the shots to
The heart.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Bennie Benjamin was a Man!

Here is my grandfather’s biography, written by his son (my dad), Bobby Benjamin.

My name is Bennie Benjamin. I cannot remember a time when I did not want to be a man. If you want to compare me with anybody in this world, compare me with John Henry, the “Steel Driving Man.”

I was born in Sardis, South Carolina. My father, Peter and my mother, Isabella owned a big house that set on several acres of land. Some said the property looked like a plantation. My parents taught me and my brother and sisters to work hard “having something” like them.

The third grade was as far as I got in school. It was through the help of my dear mother that I learned to read, write, and “figure.” I owe it to my dear mother (God bless her soul), that no one could ever cheat me. Mr. Carriway, the man I was sharecropping with tried to do just that. I worked hard, year after year, and was further and further in debt with Mr. Carriway. One year I had to tell my wife Lizzie that we had cleared just $300. That is the reason I left South Carolina and moved north. I was not worried about making it because God had blessed me with a strong, powerful body like John Henry. First, I went to Quantico, Virginia then Washington, D.C., got work in both places and was soon laid off. I decided to write my wife’s brother, Fulton McElveen, who lived in Norwood, North Carolina. I asked Mac to look out for me a place to move my family. Mac answered right away and said Andy Horne was willing to sell me five acres of land with a house on it for $500. Mac loaned me $50 for a down payment.

Believing as I always did in “having something,” I applied for a job right away. I was hired in the “Pot Room,” at an Aluminum Plant in Badin, North Carolina. I also did a little farming on the side. I added a room to my house and bought a nice 1939 green Pontiac. I think people in the community was a little jealous of me because someone was overheard to say, “How can Bennie get so much and have a house full of children?” They did not know the power of hard work!

When I die, let my epitaph read these simple words:

BB Benjamin was a MAN!
May he rest in peace.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Soldier Leaves Journal for Son Before Dying

First Sargeant Charles Monroe King was killed in Baghdad in October, just one month before he was supposed to rejoin his fiancé and infant son. But in anticipation of his death, he started keeping a journal that he wanted to leave as a legacy to his son.

Dana Canedy, the woman who was looking forward to spending her life with the 48-year-old King and their son, wrote a touching New York Times essay about King’s journal and his wishes. King had left for the Middle East before his son was born, and saw him once on leave last August.

In her essay, Canedy, also a Times editor, wrote, “For months before my fiancé, First Sgt. Charles Monroe King, kissed my swollen stomach and said goodbye, he had been preparing for the beginning of the life we had created and for the end of his own.”

The 200-page journal contains touching advice from father to son that could apply to many little boys who will, no doubt, need advice from fathers who won’t be there for many reasons, including being killed while serving duty in Iraq.

King writes these words to his son:

Never be ashamed to cry …

Remember who taught you to speak, to walk and to be a gentleman. These [women] are your first teachers, my little prince. Protect them, embrace them and always treat them like a queen.

Things may not always be easy or pleasant for you, that’s life, but always pay your respects for the way people lived and what they stood for. It’s the honorable thing to do.

Canedy’s essay originally appeared on January 1 this year. She is now writing a book for Crown Publishing Group. Denzel Washington will produce and possibly star in a film "Journal for Jordan," based on the journal. Escape Artists at Columbia Pictures acquired the film rights.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

In Search of Oprah’s House

I’ve heard rumors (from my friend Annette in Franklin, Tenn.) that Oprah Winfrey is building a house in Brentwood, Tenn., just outside Nashville. This would make sense since Oprah’s father, Vernon Winfrey, lives in Nashville. Maybe she wants to have a place to reside while she’s visiting her dad who owns and operates a barbershop called Winfrey’s Barbershop. Mr. Winfrey has also been featured in "Cuttin' Up," Craig Marberry's book about barbershops as community gathering places for black men. Mr. Winfrey is also a character in the play, “Cuttin’ Up,” by Charles Randolph-Wright, which is based on the book. The play has been produced all over the country and is currently running at the Pasadena Playhouse in California through April 15.

Annette and I are trying to figure out how we can get copies of our resumes, writing samples, and evidence of our other talents to the great Oprah. If we only had her address, we could send our resumes to her Tennessee address. Anybody have that information?

I’m regretting not going to auditions for Oprah’s upcoming Reality show called "The Big Give." The Nashville auditions were held about a month ago and I was too overwhelmed at the time with other things to make it. My friend Cheryl in Los Angeles was encouraging me to go, but I just didn’t have the energy. I was hoping that she would go to the L.A. auditions and get in. That way I could have served as her assistant or something. Oh well. In case you don’t know about the show, "The Big Give" will give participants a chance to come up with innovative ways to help other people all across the country.

Oh well. If the show is a success, maybe they’ll bring it back next year. And if they have those Nashville auditions, I promise I’ll go compete Cheryl if you go to the Los Angeles auditions.

Here are some projects I'd create if I had the money that Oprah will hopefull give the contestants on "The Big Give" show:
A free academic summer program for children from 4 to 18 years old.

A free Spanish language program for children and their parents.

A Rites of Passage program for young girls and boys.

A non-profit theater and film organization that would train young people and adults interested in play and film production.

500 Housing Units for the Homeless in Nashville.