Cappuccino Soul

Cappuccino Soul

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Check the Rhyme at the NAACP Image Awards

I’ve always wondered what the NAACP Image Award categories were, other than the film and TV honors. Often I’ve wished that the organization would give equal time to other areas such as education, literature, and social service. It turns out that they do have a category for literature; I just don’t remember this part of the ceremony. (Perhaps they don’t televise this portion of the show?)

After a quick visit to the NAACP Image Awards Web site, I found out that the competition includes 36 categories in the fields of motion picture, television, music and literature. Honor awards include the Chairman’s Award, The President’s Award, and The Image Awards Hall of Fame.

I was pleasantly surprised today when I read in the African American Literature Book Club newsletter that Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the literature category with the likes of Maya Angelou, Walter Dean Myers, and Pearl Cleage. I’m so excited about this because I have two poems in the book!

The NAACP Image Award nominees and winners will be announced at the live ceremony, March 2 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on Fox.

I hope these people and projects will win: Maya Rudolph, Lisa Jones Johnson (for her debut novel, A Dead Man Speaks), Antonio Fargas, Vanessa L. Williams, CCH Pounder, Khandi Alexander, Andre Braugher, “Black. White.” (the reality show), “2006 Black Movie Awards,” “The Backyardigans,” Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Barack Obama, Wangari Maathai, Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees, COMMON, Forest Whitaker, and Jennifer Hudson. Good luck everybody!

Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees can be purchased on

Here’s one of my poems featured in the book:

Nuyorican Dreams
by Alicia Benjamin

I stand here in New York City,
Una mujer negra with Puerto Rican Dreams.
My grandmother and grandfather are in heaven.
Her head is on his chest,
listening to his heart beat out a content
so real,
I feel it here on earth.

Although I offer them blankets, warmth, gifts, love, kisses —
They need nothing where they are now.

As I reach into my bag and pull out a quilt,
my grandmother tells me, “Honey, we got plenty.
“But thank you anyway.
She takes it and smiles.
She knows the gift is not for her,
but for me.

My grandfather just smiles his simple smile.
He laughs joyfully at my gesture.

They have it all.

I am the one who takes from them.
I weave their compassion and magic
into this chilly place —
this now world.

I search for mi abuelita y abuelito
to supply me
with my everyday gold.

The illustrious list of Check the Rhyme contributors are: Grisel Acosta, Naa Norley Adom, Lisa Ann Bailey, Crystal D. Baker, Tiffany Woods Bennett, Veronica Precious Bohanan (Moon), Sharon Bridgforth, Rachelle Arlin Credo, Teri Ellen Cross, Aya de Leon, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Betty Dobson, Patty Dukes, Cheryl Durgans, Zetta Elliot, Ph.D., Natasha Ria El-Scari, Letitia Davis Ford, Amani Francis, DuEwa M. Frazier, Hadiyah Nicole Green, Nivedita Gunturi, Shamarra Garmon, Silvia Gonzalez S., Deborah “Collage” Grison, Ellen Hagan, Bobbi Dykema Katsanis, Maria D. Laso, Tamara Madison, Keisha J. Moore, Kimberly S. Morris, Thalian Nguyen, Solimar Otero, Ph.D., Pat McLean-RaShine, Karen Gibson Roc, Alicia Benjamin-Samuels, Queen Sheba (Bethsheba A. Rem) , Mikaylah Simone, Mocha Sista (Pam Osbey), Aimee Suzara, Leah Suzensky, Stacey Tolbert, Ella Turenne, Lorene Delany-Ullman, Jamila Z. Wade, Jamie Walker, Ph.D., Donna Weaver, Niama Leslie Williams, Ph.D., Treasure Williams, Kimmika L.H. Williams-Witherspoon, Ph.D., and Debra Powell-Wright.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Where We Come From: Rosegate

Looks like there's trouble in my old neighborhood in Delaware—the community of Rosegate, located just across the street from Wilmington. I can't say that I'm surprised. The place has always been filled with some good and bad apples.

My mom told me about this crackdown on crime in Rosegate a couple of days ago. The police swept “The Gate,” as we call it, last week. During the crackdown, police went door-to-door looking for criminals, including drug dealers, drug users, pimps, and prostitutes. Looks like they got plenty of what they came for. Law abiding residents were happy about the sting and told reporters so. Neighbors have been up in arms about a homicide that ocurred there last summer.

Drugs have been sold around the area for as long as I can remember, and people from other areas used to always like to come and hang out in our hood for some reason-- like it was some kind of ghetto play park. Both the Philadelphia and Delaware news outlets have picked up this shameful story.

God Bless Rosegate and its colorful residents. My parents live just up the street from there now (after living in Rosegate for 25 years), to a bigger house with a lot more land. Sometimes I worry about them since they still live so close to Rosegate, but I know a higher power is protecting them.

Hey Poochie—Hold ‘em down baby! Don’t worry sister. We’re still fabulous, even though we come from the other side of town. “Cause U-N-I-T-Y is all we need, to get our R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and never G-I-V-E U-P, and keep your H-E-A-D U-P.”

And let’s also not forget that, “where we come from, sometimes, beauty floats around us like clouds …”

The Other Side of Town
Words and music by Curtis Mayfield

I’m from the other side of town, out of bounds
To anybody who don’t live around
I never learned to share or how to care
I never had no teachings about being fair
Depression is part of my mind
The sun never shines on the other side of town
The need here is always for more
There’s nothin’ good in store
On the other side of town

It’s hard to do right in this filthy night
Just plain simple comfort is completely out of sight
My little sister, she hungry for bread to eat
My brother’s hand-me-down shoes is now showin’ his feet
Ghetto blues showed on the news, all isn’t well
But what the hell do they care?
You across the track completely relaxed
You take a warnin’ pact
Don’t you never come back

I ’m from the other side of town
Out of bounds to anybody who don’t live around
I never learned to share or how to care
I never had no teachings about being fair
Depression is part of my mind
The sun never shines
On the other side of town
The need here is always for more
There’s nothin’ good in store
On the other side of town

Oh baby, it’s hard to do right, ya know
On the other side of town
This depression really got a hold of me
On the other side of town

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Vanderbilt Workers Fight for a Living Wage

Any U.S. citizen living just about anywhere in this country would find it hard to survive making $7.55 per hour as a full-time employee. Yet, this is the pay that Vanderbilt University offers its entry-level workers. To help change this, Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice and the Vanderbilt Community Alliance have planned protests in the coming weeks to call for the University to offer a living wage to all of its employees.

Continuing with the theme of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream, the Living Income for Vanderbilt Employees organization will sponsor a “Keep the Dream Burning” candlelight vigil on Friday, January 26 at 4:15 p.m. on Vanderbilt University’s Library Lawn.

Vigil leaders will discuss workers like Karen Jones, who has been a Vanderbilt employee for 10 years, and makes less than $9 per hour. “I clean up at night,” Jones told WTVF Channel 5 in Nashville last week. “I do my job and I do it well.” That's why Jones and the hundreds of other Vanderbilt employees in her situation, deserve more than that.

In March 2005, the Vanderbilt administration agreed to raise minimum pay from $6.50 an hour to $7.55 an hour, but the Vanderbilt Community Alliance says that isn’t enough. Workers would need to earn at least $10.18 per hour in order to pay for housing, childcare, food, transportation, healthcare and taxes in Nashville, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“Vanderbilt workers often toil for decades for the University, and still often make less than $10 an hour,” Megan Macaraeg, a Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice representative told Cappuccino Soul. “Frequently, entire families, mostly African American, are caught in cycles of generational poverty working for Vanderbilt … It’s only fair that Vanderbilt’s lowest paid workers be treated with dignity and respect, and make a living wage," she said.

In 2001, Harvard University found itself in a similar battle. The Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies recommended that the University raise the pay of the school’s lowest paid workers. The next year, Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers raised the pay for low wage earners to $10.81.

Keith Caldwell, Nashville Peace and Justice Center Coordinator, told Channel 5 that at their current salaries, Vanderbilt full-time workers have to depend on poverty programs and government subsidies to support themselves. “Vanderbilt has a $3.2 billion endowment and it can afford to do this,” Caldwell said. Indeed, it can.

Call Megan Macaraeg with Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice at 615-977-7118 for more information about the candlelight vigil.

· Vanderbilt Tuition and fees – $42,000 per year
· Vanderbilt University Chancellor Gorden Gee’s salary – $1.3 million per year (one of the highest paid chancellors in the country.)

Monday, January 22, 2007

No Black Male Show and Carl Hancock Rux

Occasionally I hear about upcoming performances in other parts of the country that I would love to attend, if only I had the money to travel like that. Carl Hancock Rux’s No Black Male Show is one such piece. I first saw Rux’s Chapter & Verse at the Nuyorican Poets Café in the early 90s. It was a dramatic production that featured poetry, music, and the enigmatic Rux. All of the actors were great, but Rux was a definite stand out. I don’t remember many particulars about the play, but I do remember Rux standing on a box, twirling like a dancer and delivering his lines with grace and raw emotion. He’s got this deep, rich voice that compels you to listen to every word he’s saying.

I had the privilege of attending a cast party for Rux’s Chapter & Verse (my friend Carolyn was serving as the stage manager). I remember Rux as a very down-to-earth brother who talked to me about artistic pursuits. I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation, but I felt like he really cared and wanted to share some well thought-out advice. I also got to witness an intimate performance that night by the great, Tony award winning actress, Trezana Beverly , who was one of the original cast members of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls … on Broadway. (I believe Ms. Beverly directed the Nuyorican Poets Café production of Chapter & Verse). I couldn’t believe that I was just inches away from such a tremendous talent.

Born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx, Rux was a product of the foster care system in New York and began drawing and telling himself stories when he was four years old. “There was so much I didn't know about my family, and, when you start off with all these mysteries, all these unanswered questions in your life, you need a narrative,” he told Baltimore City Paper’s John Lewis in 2001. “I was inventing a narrative for myself that was sort of like urban Fantasia,” he said. “It had its own kind of fantastical urbanity, but it was also kind of mystical.”

This poet saw his existence as more magical than the hackneyed images that were shoved down his throat in the media. No Black Male Show is not only about the overuse of black male stereotypes, it’s also about how black men view themselves, outside the box that others put them in. Rux was inspired to write a poem that led to the No Black Male Show after attending the exhibition Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art at New York's Whitney Museum in 1994.

Rux, a natural performance poet, is also a Renaissance man. He has published novels, written songs, plays and poetry. He’s an electrifying performer, which is why I’d love to see him perform No Black Male Show in Seattle, February 9-10.

Check out my review of Rux’s CD, Apothecary Rx.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hatefulness for the Homeless in New York City

I haven’t lived in New York for quite some time, so I’m not in touch with how some of the city’s residents feel about the homeless population there. But as I read a Gawker post today, I must say that I’m awfully glad that I no longer live “up in the Bronx,” because if this is how the elite feel about homeless people in uptown Manhattan, certainly nobody gives a damn about the homeless folks in the boogie down.

The Gawker blog's post today titled, “Today in Suing the Homeless,” contains an odd response to antique dealer Karl Kemp’s lawsuit against four homeless people. Kemp filed the suit this week against “Doe,” “Bob Doe,” “John Smith” and “Jane Doe.” Evidently, Kemp doesn’t even know the names of these people who he claims have alienated customers and blocked window displays at his fine establishment on Madison Avenue.

This is what the Gawker has to say about the "Does" and the homeless in New York:

We have to admit, we've often found ourselves guilty of harboring less than charitable feelings towards the group of bums who loiter drunkenly on the corner of our block all day and night, occasionally interrupting their nonstop revelry to have teary fights, vom[it], and whip out their mottled, chicken sausage-ish wieners and pee. But it's never crossed our mind to litigate.

At least an AP reporter had the decency to call a homeless advocate to get her opinion of the lawsuit. Shelly Nortz, a deputy executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, called the suit mean-spirited. "The complaint that they somehow occasionally occupy a space that is also home to Gucci and Chanel doesn't mean that they're breaking any law," she told AP.

Some of the comments to the Gawker post are even more disheartening. Click here to read this straight dose of heartlessness.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Golden Globe Thoughts on Forest Whitaker, America Ferrera, and Shonda Rhimes

I watched the whole Golden Globe Awards show last night and I was happy about a lot of what took place. Here, I’ll discuss three wins that were inspiring.

If you’ve been following this blog, then you know that I’m very glad that one of my favorite actors, Forest Whitaker, won the award for best actor in a drama for The Last King of Scotland. I’m jealous about the ending line of his acceptance speech though. It’s one that I would give if I were ever to win an award. He said, “I want to thank God and the ancestors that let me stand on their shoulders every day and guide me, whispering in my ear. Thank you.” No, Forest. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to your craft. Keep on doin’ it brother!

America Ferrera won for her performance in the television series Ugly Betty on ABC. I’ve never seen the show, but after hearing Ferrera’s acceptance speech, I think I’ll check it out this week. “Thank you for recognizing a character who is truly bringing a new face to television,” Ferrera said at the podium. She also said the show is bringing a message to young girls that they are “worthy and lovable.” Lord knows millions of girls with that nonwhite, slightly round, eccentric look, need this type of image to identify with. Ferrera also gave a brave performance in the Independent film Real Women Have Curves in 2002.

Another pleasing moment happened at the award show when Grey’s Anatomy’s creator and executive producer, Shonda Rhimes, accepted the award for that show’s team.

Grey's Anatomy won the award for Best Television Series (Drama). Rhimes, who also wrote HBO’s Introducing Dororthy Dandridge, is a much-needed executive in Hollywood. I hope more African-Americans will take her lead and write, direct, and produce more television shows and films. This is the only way to change a long history of incorrect and shoddy representation of African-Americans on screen.

The Academy Award nominations are to be announced on Jan. 23, with the awards given on Feb. 25. Forest Whitaker should definitely be one of the nominees in the Best Actor in a Leading Role category.

Check out this cool article about
Rhimes and Grey’s Anatomy.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mexico's Forgotten African Roots

The African ancestry of many of what we know as Latinos is fairly well known. Slaves were taken from different parts of Africa and brought to the “New World,” which could mean they were taken to anywhere from Massachusetts to the Caribbean or South America. But what about Mexico? As cultural anthropologist Dr. Bobby Vaughn said, “If you are like most people, you probably have never heard of Afro-Mexicans and are completely unaware that they exist.”

Just who are the Afro-Mexicans? They are the descendents of African slaves who were brought to Mexico as early as the start of the 16th century. Some of these Africans were also slaves who had escaped from bondage in North America. Like their African-American counterparts, many of today's Afro-Mexicans also have European and indigenous people who populate their family trees.

Vaughn, who is passionate about these forgotten roots, wrote his Ph.D. dissertation, Race and Ethnicity: A Study of Blackness in Mexico, on the subject. While Vaughn was an undergraduate student at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, he spent his junior year studying Spanish in Mexico City. Vaughn’s Mexican immersion started his curiosity about the history and culture of Mexico and its people. He’s been traveling to the country and taking down notes ever since.

On his site, AfroMexico,Vaughn covers the African presence in Mexico extensively. He especially explores the presence of African descendants in Vera Cruz and the Costa Chica region. According to Mexican anthropologist Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran, the black population in colonial Mexico was 20,569 in 1570 and 15,980 in 1742.

According to Vaughn:
The black population in the early colony was by far larger than that of the Spanish. In 1570 we see that the black population is about 3 times that of the Spanish. In 1646, it is about 2.5 times as large, and in 1742, blacks still outnumber the Spanish. It is not until 1810 that Spaniards are more numerous.

But this legacy is not talked about much—not even among historians and anthropologists. “To this day the deep cultural and economic impact that Africans had in Mexico is neither accepted nor acknowledged in the official history of Mexico,” said filmaker Rafael Rebollar Corona who directed the film The Forgotten Root. With his film, Corona meticulously documents this hidden history about Mexico.

Esther Iverem, creator and editor of, says this about the virtual silence among historians regarding the Africans in Mexico:
Like in much of Latin America, a caste system based on race and color was instituted in Mexico. Those who were whiter and more visibly European received more privileges and social mobility, while darker or more visibly African peoples were typecast as servants or menial laborers. Historians have furthered this bias by emphasizing the European aspects of the culture, or by defining the country’s mestizo heritage as a mixture only of White Spaniards and native peoples.

With The Forgotten Root, Corona reminds us of the African roots in music such as son jarocho and other musical forms like marimba and Cuban son. He pays tribute to a culture that is not talked about much but is obvious from the look of those Mexicans (and their children) who have some of that African blood flowing through them.

Read more about this fascinating history here.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Negro Spirituals and Zora Neale Hurston

Presently I’m reading a Zora Neale Hurston biography called Wrapped in Rainbows by Valerie Boyd. It’s an amazing retelling of Hurston’s life, starting with her birth in Alabama and her colorful and dramatic life with her family in Eatonville, Florida.

Boyd depicts Zora, born January 7, 1891, as a spunky, inquisitive, imaginative and playful character. Her life was beset with great tragedy when she reached adolescence—her mother died and her dad remarried in a hurry. She was virtually kicked out of the family house and had to fend for herself shortly after that.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’ve read enough to know that Hurston was a great lover of African-American history and culture. She reveled in the folktales, magical practices, and dialect of black southern life. Her love for her people led her to study anthropology at Columbia University’s Barnard College while she continued to study literature at the same school.

Hurston wrote several short stories and essays for magazines such as the NAACP’s Crisis magazine, the Urban League’s Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, and a few literary journals. In a 1925 essay in The Messenger, Hurston criticized some Howard University students who had protested singing Negro Spirituals for the school’s white president. This was evidently a ritual that was performed each year. In Wrapped in Rainbows, Boyd wrote that the students “denounced the down home spirituals for their poor grammar, and they pointed out that spirituals were not sung in white universities.” But Zora defended the practice and remembered her participation in the singing events with pride. She defended the songs as “authentic and valuable expressions of black folk culture,” Boyd wrote.

Decades after Zora published her defensive essay on the practice of singing Negro Spirituals at Howard University, students at Howard High School in Chattanooga were gleefully keeping the tradition alive. They began singing the songs when they gathered at the home of Howard’s music teacher, Edmonia Johnson Simmons. By 1974 the singing group had formed a group now known as the Chattanooga Choral Society for the Preservation of African American Song.

Two of my favorite famous Negro Spirituals are “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

Check out a detailed chronology of events in Zora Neale Hurston’s life at ChickenBones: A Journal. This remarkable literary figure and lover of African-American culture died on January 28, 1960.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Editor's Note: Obama is not Osama

I KNEW something like this would happen. I'm just surprised that more jokes and perverse statements haven't been made sooner.

Imagine this. Both CNN and Yahoo News have mistakenly(?) mislabeled Barack Obama’s photograph with Osama bin Laden’s name. The Yahoo News photo page caption of Obama actually reads, “Osama bin Ladin and al-Qaida.” Now, forgive me for being suspicious, but I find it hard to believe that this is actually an unintentional goof up. I believe that somebody at CNN or Yahoo News wanted this to happen. The CNN error occurred on January 1 and the Yahoo News blunder happened on January 3—what a way to start the New Year, huh?

Seems I’m not the only one who thinks this whole mess is intentional. Some TPM Café readers have voiced their own suspicions about the mix up:

Jay Ackroyd:
It's more reasonable to suppose that there are interns or other low level employees who either find this funny, or who are actually venal--pulling dirty tricks on behalf of either Republicans who fear Obama they way they feared Dean, or a Democrat presidential candidate, for the same reason.
I'd assume that everything passes by three sets of eyes, the writer, a copy editor and an editor before it goes live. This would take a prankster intervening after the editor signs off.

Funny how no one ever confuses the good senator's name with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Also a source of comedy for those who would like to smear Obama’s reputation is his middle name—Hussein.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Homeless Man Speaks Via Toronto Blog

A Harvard MBA graduate, Philip Stern, a technology consultant in Toronto, made friends with a homeless man named Tony in the downtown section of that city about five years ago. After not seeing Tony for several days (Tony had served a few days in jail), Philip proposed that the two start a blog together called "Homeless Man Speaks." Philip posts Tony's statements (verbatim), which are often answers to Philip's, sometimes, provocative questions.

Just after Christmas, Philip posed this question to his friend:
“Tony, why don’t you look for a job? ... I even bet quite a few people who are sympathetic to the homeless issue have problems with the job thing.”

“OK, well, first of all, you don’t get paid for looking for a job because you’re not at your panhandling station. So how am I supposed to get food when I’m looking for a job?”

Tony also said that he needs a phone to get a job and most people wouldn’t give him money if they found out that he had a cell phone. I think he should go ahead and ask someone to donate a phone to him. It could only enhance his life. What if he had a medical emergency and needed help? It would also be easier for homeless advocates and social service agencies to reach him when they wanted to offer him assistance.

Read the entire post about Tony’s joblessness here.

Here’s another of Tony’s comments from December:
“There’s this guy who comes by at night sometimes. Sometimes he hands me a pack of smokes--they’re Matinees. Turns out he isn’t allowed to smoke at home, so the woman who lives upstairs goes and follows him whenever he gets caught. Then the guy pretends he's just bringing me a pack, so there won’t be any trouble.”

This is a profound site that offers an intimate look at one homeless man's life. How odd that this Harvard businessman would be so attracted to this down-on-his-luck gentleman. I wonder if I have the nerve to do the same in Nashville. It's something to think about.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Speaking Spanish at the Airport

My daughter and I we were delayed for about an hour at the Philadelphia International Airport on our way back to Nashville. While we were waiting, we met a very friendly woman from Honduras named Sonia who was leaving her sister in Pennsylvania to visit her two daughters in Nashville. Because she didn't speak much English, Sonia picked me to talk to and relied on my rusty Spanish translations of updates about our departing flight. I was surprised at how much I was able to understand and speak, but I know necessito practicar mucho mas! Talking in another language can be very tiring, for me anyway, because the words aren't always that easily accessible. I've got to search my brain for a lot of the words and phrases and I get very anxious about not being able to communicate properly.

Sonia brought up an interesting point during our conversation. She talked about the lack of bilingual agents at the airport. She said nobody could understand her Spanish questions and she didn't understand a lot of what the agents said. Que triste. (How sad.) Shouldn't airports, especially a place like the Philadelphia INTERNACIONAL Airport, which serves people coming into the U.S. from many different countries, have bilingual translators readily available?

I was relieved when Sonia took a great interest in my daughter and decided to try to teach her some Spanish. That meant I could relax my mind and blank out for a bit. Needless to say, my little lady ate up the attention. At one point Sonia even put my daughter in her lap and started singing to her in Spanish--mi hija was en el cielo.

Muchas gracias Sonia. Mucho gusto.