Cappuccino Soul

Cappuccino Soul

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Education: Active Shooter Situation

It's getting to the point where we'll have to teach a course on "What to do in an Active Shooter Situation" to elementary, middle, high school and college students" so they'll be prepared for whatever comes their way.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Erykah Badu: Missed Opportunity

In Erykah Badu’s provocative music video for her song “Window Seat,” Badu gets raw for her fans -- literally.

In the video, Badu drives a car along the same route as President John F. Kennedy, just before he was assassinated 47 years ago in Dallas. She then walks down the route that Kennedy’s car travelled, along Dealey Plaza, while shedding her clothes. When she arrives at the spot where Kennedy was shot on the grassy knoll, she’s totally naked. We hear a shot and Badu falls to the ground.

OK, this is all very shocking and has caught the attention of the media, fans, and onlookers, but what’s the singer's point?

Badu told the Dallas Morning News this week that the video is a “protest” and about freeing yourself.  The song Window Seat “is about liberating yourself from layers and layers of skin or demons that are a hindrance to your growth or freedom, or evolution,” she told the paper. “I wanted to do something that said just that, so I started to think about shedding, nudity, taking things off in a very artful way,” she said.

But the lyrics to the song don’t seem to support her claim. Here’s a sample:

don't want nobody next to me
I just want a ticket outta town
a look around
and a safe touch down
can I get a window seat

Am I missing something?

I noticed that “Erykah Badu” is listed as one of the “Hot Topics” on the Web site for The Dallas Morning News. Could this have been the point of her stunt?

My guess is -- yes. Didn’t she want to call attention to her new album, to sell more records, to get more people talking about her, to exhibit her body?

This statement below by London’s xiamoogle, which appeared in the comment section of The Guardian’s blog post today about Badu’s performance art, comments on the video briskly:

How is it that female musicians have to be controver-shawl to gain fans/respect/fame? And why must they have to get naked in order to be controversial? Maybe she'll get a billion views too and be projected into the mainstream? … I expected better from Badu.

So did I.

Although I’m not a big Badu fan (she seems to whine a bit when she sings and she’s often off key), I’ve always respected that her attention seemed not to be on overt sexuality. She seemed to have something more substantial to say. I don’t remember her wearing extremely revealing clothes or gyrating her hips, like so many modern performers do to sell their wares.

But with this video strip act, Badu busts the typical move. She shows her body to get attention -- to sell something.

It’s a shame and too bad that she couldn’t have focused all this attention on a cause that was really worthwhile – like, for instance, the documentary about the mass rape of women and children in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

The World's Most Dangerous Place for Women, a film narrated by Thandie Newton, follows a London woman who grew up in that city, but was born thousands of miles away in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Judtih Wanga was sent away by her parents to live in Britain when she was three, she returns to Congo to meet them for the first time.

When Wanga arrives in her homeland, she comes face to face with the brutality of this country.

Every day, at least one woman is assaulted in Congo –- not only her character, but her body. This is the perfect kind of injustice to highlight with performance art. Take a wrong and reveal its cruelty and absurdity with metaphor — poetry — action.

Badu missed a prime opportunity to really say something about so many issues -- physically and mentally abused women, poverty, lack of healthcare for the poor, war, the people of Haiti -- the list is endless. Instead, we’re all left looking at her.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Kick It to 'Em Bernie: Bernie Sanders on Charlie Rose

"You've got a criminal justice system that makes sure a Black guy driving a car and forgot to make a left turn may get a prison record, but the people who destroyed the economy, don't end up in jail.... the bankers aren't just too big to fail, the bankers are too big to jail." -- Bernie Sanders

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Unless You Care

"Unless you care a lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not." ~ Dr. Seuss

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis: Praying with the Homeless in D.C.

Pope Francis was invted to have lunch with Congress during his trip to Washington, D.C. yesterday, but he said, "No, I have a previous engagement to have lunch with the homeless."

I've got nothing but love for Pope Francis.

Monday, August 03, 2015

PBS: Cease Violence in Wilmington, Del.

This WHYY (PBS) program highlights the efforts of the Cease Violence initiative in Wilmington, Delaware. Cease Violence works to prevent violence, promote peace, canvas high crime areas, mediate conflicts, and provide survivor support in the city.

"The main thing we're trying to do in the city of Wilmington is interrupt violence and change the culture." -- Ronald Brown, mediator

Friday, July 31, 2015

Jill Scott: I Am Your Shelter

"I am your shelter
You're safe from harm
Tornado, Lightning, Hurricane,
Can't get by me, come under my glow
Feel the energy, let go
Lay your burdens down"

-- from Lighthouse, Jill Scott

Monday, July 27, 2015

Uncle Will's Life Celebration (Norwood, N.C.)

Uncle Will's Life Celebration last weekend was inspiring and moving. It was a fitting and deserving dedication for such a loving, humble, compassionate, and giving FAMILY MAN! God bless Uncle Will!

Uncle Noonie singing at Uncle Will's 
Life Celebration. Sing it Uncle!

Aunt Jocelyn singing at Uncle Will's
celebration. Sing it Auntie!

Uncle Will humbly speaks at his
Life Celebration

Will and cousin Marisa, his granddaughter

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"I Was Almost Another Dead Black Man"

This StoryCorps animated film tells the story of Alex Landau, an African American man, raised by white parents in Denver, Colorado. He was pulled over and severly beaten by police in 2009. Thank God he lives to tell the story.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

NYC: Cappuccino and Stomp

Love that New York City Graffiti!

Nothing like Cappuccino at a NYC diner

These performers broght the house down with lots of rhythm
and stomping all over the theater.
It's all about the Benjamins, baby.

Riverfront Park Festival in Wilmington, Del.

Fun at the Riverfront Festival, July 4, Wilmington, Delaware

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Deborah Bond: Blind Paradise

I love this! "A struggle just to get down..." "Do you suggest I should sell myself out that way?"

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Nina Simone Doc: What Happened, Miss Simone?

"How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?" -- Nina Simone

Watch "What Happened, Miss Simone?" on Netflix, beginning Friday, June 26.

Picked Some Strawberries

There's nothing like fresh strawberries.
Makes your mouth water.
Gigi picked these.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

GOP on Charleston: "Accident and Indiscriminate"

Sometimes it's just as plain as the nose on your face:

"It was reported that an anonymous bomb threat made to Morris Brown African Methodist Episcopal Church, where black and white congregants sang "We Shall Overcome," was made from a telephone in the Charleston County Jail." (where Charleston shooter Dylann Roof and Michael Slager,  the former police officer accused of killing Walter Scott are held).

"Former Texas governor Rick Perry called the massacre an "accident," then later said he meant "incident"; former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum said Roof chose his victims "indiscriminately"; former Florida governor Jeb Bush said he didn't know whether Roof was motivated by racism; and Roof, who wore the flags of Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa on his coat and had a Confederate-flag license plate on his car, told investigators he wanted to start a race war."   -- Harper's Weekly

Friday, June 19, 2015

Native Rapper: Warpath

There's nothing about this Drezus song and video that I do not like.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Celebrating Maya in Charlotte

The Maya Angelou Stamp Dedication ceremony went superbly well and it was a joy and honor to witness and participate in the event. Dr. Esper Hayes, who organized the event along with Beatrice Cox, is doing great work as the founder and CEO of the Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections (ESPER). Her organization, which was organized in 1988, is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the collecting of stamps and philatelic material depicting people and events related to the African Diaspora.

It was a treat to pay tribute to Maya on the same roster as Dr. Hayes; Cox, Director of the North Carolina chapter of ESPER; City of Charlotte Mayor, Daniel Clodfelter; the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church Praise Dancers; Postmaster of Charlotte, Le Gretta Roass-Rawlins; Dr. Paxton Hughes; and emcee for the event, WBTV News Anchor, Brigida Mack (who gave me one of the most fun and energetic introductions I think I've ever had).

As everyone spoke and performed, I was reminded of the sheer genius, gifts, and reach of Maya's thoughts and work. After all, she was a writer, dancer, singer, poet, actress, director, civil rights activist, professor, and mother. The work she accomplished in her lifetime is breathtaking and magnificently inspiring. Most people don't realize that she directed the moving film, Down in the Delta,, starring Alfre Woodard and Wesley Snipes.

Maya's legacy will influence generations and generations to come. She is the ancestor that she talks about in her work who speak to us, teach us, and direct us to higher ground.

Thank you Dr. Maya Angelou for your words, your work, and your love.

Here's the poem that I performed at the event. Maya wrote it for and read it at the Million Man March on October 16, 1995.

Million Man March Poem

The night has been long,
The wound has been deep,
The pit has been dark,
And the walls have been steep.

Under a dead blue sky on a distant beach,
I was dragged by my braids just beyond your reach.
Your hands were tied, your mouth was bound,
You couldn't even call out my name.
You were helpless and so was I,
But unfortunately throughout history
You've worn a badge of shame.

I say, the night has been long,
The wound has been deep,
The pit has been dark
And the walls have been steep.

But today, voices of old spirit sound
Speak to us in words profound,
Across the years, across the centuries,
Across the oceans, and across the seas.
They say, draw near to one another,
Save your race.
You have been paid for in a distant place,
The old ones remind us that slavery's chains
Have paid for our freedom again and again.

The night has been long,
The pit has been deep,
The night has been dark,
And the walls have been steep.

The hells we have lived through and live through still,
Have sharpened our senses and toughened our will.
The night has been long.
This morning I look through your anguish
Right down to your soul.
I know that with each other we can make ourselves whole.
I look through the posture and past your disguise,
And see your love for family in your big brown eyes.

I say, clap hands and let's come together in this meeting ground,
I say, clap hands and let's deal with each other with love,
I say, clap hands and let us get from the low road of indifference,
Clap hands, let us come together and reveal our hearts,
Let us come together and revise our spirits,
Let us come together and cleanse our souls,
Clap hands, call the spirits back from the ledge,
Clap hands, let us invite joy into our conversation,
Courtesy into our bedrooms,
Gentleness into our kitchen,
Care into our nursery.

The ancestors remind us, despite the history of pain
We are a going-on people who will rise again.

And still we rise.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Maya Angelou Stamp Dedication in Charlotte

To celebrate the unveiling of the Forever Maya Angelou stamp, three organizations, including the Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections (ESPER), will host a ceremony on Saturday, June 6 at 1 p.m., Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3301 Beatties Ford Road in Charlotte, N.C.

Several speakers and performers will be featured, including Charlotte Mayor, Daniel Clodfelter; Charlotte Postmaster, Le Gretta Ross-Rawlins; Dr. Esper Hayes; WBTV News Reporter, Brigida Mack. I'm happy and honored to report that I will perform a Maya Angelou piece during the event, which is free and open to the public.

Did you know that in 1997, Maya Angelou and 11 other Black authors were honored on stamps in Uganda and Ghana? The stamps, created to promote world literacy, were designed by Seattle artist Gary Aagaard.

Ghanaian Great Writers stamps (1997)
Earlier this year, on March 4, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a Forever Stamp honoring Maya Angelou, the world renowned writer, professor, singer, director, and activist, who died last May. The First-Day-of-Issue stamp dedication ceremony was held on April 7 at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C., with First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey as special guests.

For more information about the Maya Angelou stamp dedication ceremony in Charlotte, contact Beatrice A. Cox at, or 704-574-1064.

U.S. Forever Maya Angelou Stamp (2015)

Ugandan Great Writers stamps

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Can I Have a Dollar?

(True story)

Last evening someone was pounding on my door like it was an emergency. I opened the blinds but didn't see anyone -- then I looked down. It was a little girl who must have been about 6 years old. When I opened the door she said with urgency, "Can I have a dollar?"

"Where's your momma?" I said.

"She's at work."

"Who's at home with you?"

"My sisters......can I have a dollar? I don't have any money and the ice cream truck is here."

"Oh.....OK... Will a dollar do it?"


"OK. Let me go get it."

I went to my purse, pulled out the dollar and handed it to her.

"What's your name?" I asked.


"Nice to meet you Z----. My name is Ms. Alicia."

She waved and ran off to get her ice cream.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Earthy Anne: Rock Chariot, I Told You to Rock

I'd rather listen to this than anything playing on the radio today. It's got more heart, rhythm, and just all around soul. Here's "Rock Chariot, I Told You to Rock," by Earthy Anne. You can't find music like this today. It's priceless and it's a part of our rich and cherished history. ""Wouldn't trade my shoes for your shoes.....wouldn't give you my wings for your wings.....wouldn't swop my grace for your grace....wouldn't give you my wings for your wings..... wouldn't trade my soul for your soul......"

Listen to the song here: Rock Chariot, I Told You to Rock

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Vera Hall: Black Woman

I just discovered Vera Hall y'all. I'm speechless and yes I WILL be ordering some of her music. Her voice is simply spellbinding. From what I remember, I believe my maternal grandmother's singing voice was similar to this. "Don't your kitchen feel lonesome, when your biscuit roller gone?" That's poetry right there.

Now you have to listen to a this man sing "Black Woman."

Tuesday, May 05, 2015


Not everyone is going to love you. Most people don't even love themselves. -- anonymous

Friday, May 01, 2015

Marilyn Mosby: Our Time is Now

This is one of the most important spoken word pieces I've heard or seen. This is history right here and Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby brought it home to us today! Thank you Ms. Mosby. At least we know somebody is on the case, seeking justice for Freddie Gray and his family. (Big sigh of relief.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Remember the Million Man March Pledge

Come on y'all -- remember? I pledge, from this day forward.......

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Actress Amandla Stenberg on the Appropriation of Black Culture

This little sister asks the provocative question: "What would America be like if we loved Black people as much as we love Black culture?"


Thursday, April 09, 2015

Ronald McNair: Eyes on the Stars

This StoryCorps animation is not only fascinating because it shows the tenacity of a young Ronald McNair, who became the second African American to enter space, but also because he's from the home of my paternal grandfather, the very small Lake City, South Carolina.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Gimme All Your Love: Alabama Shakes

Brittany from Alabama Shakes is turning out to be one of my favorite modern day singers. Here's "Gimme All Your Love" by the group. Listen to the pause and change in rhythm at 2:25. It doesn't get any better than that!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Bobby Womack: He Made Us Feel It

1944 - 2014
How I missed Bobby Womack's passing last year, I have no idea. When you think of Soul singers, Womack has to be toward the very top of the list. I found "The Best of Bobby Womack: The Soul Years" at the library recently and have been playing his CD in my car. Like Al Green, Barry White, and Isaac Hayes, Bobby Womack's voice just oozed sensuality and soul.

He would often talk in the beginning of a song to set the stage. Examples of this happen on two of my favorite Womack songs: Woman's Gotta Have It and "You're Welcome, Stop on By." With "Woman's Gotta Have It," he gives good advice on how to keep a woman happy in a relationship, and in "You're Welcome, Stop On By" he shows off his storytelling talents by revealing his pain about a woman who put him second on her list of lovers. He lets her know that she's "welcome to stop on by, but there's somebody somewhere, that may truly need me." This song made such an impression on Chaka Khan that she covered it with the group Rufus the same year Womack's version came out in 1974.

 Across 110th Street is a colorful, gritty yet smooth song about surviving life in the streets. Quentin Tarantino's film Jackie Brown wouldn't have been the same without Womack's song, since it opens and closes the film, supporting Pam Grier's no nonsense, smart, and beautiful characterization of Jackie Brown.

Thank you Mr. Womack for reminding the world of "what a woman needs," for elevating the film Jackie Brown to a place that feels like home, and for letting us "stop on by." Rest in Peace.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The People's Revolution in Wilmington, Delaware

“This revolution goes on and on!”
— Public Enemy, Say it Like it Really Is

by Alicia Benjamin

Imani Henry of Wilmington, Del. won the Peace First Prize last year when she was 13, for organizing 100 Men Reading, a group of professional businessmen who mentor children through reading. Imani, who had trouble reading because of a birth defect, was matched with male tutors who helped her with reading when she was 9. She soon developed a great passion for books and wanted other young people with literacy problems to get the help they needed, so she started 100 Men Reading.

Imani Henry
Her accolades are well deserved and shine a positive light on her hometown, which has been overshadowed by appalling news such as the “Murder Town USA” label Newsweek magazine gave the city in a December article.

Yes, Wilmington has captured the attention of both Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal over the past few months — not for uplifting stories like Imani’s, but for the high crime rate and devastating effects poverty, apathy, and poor quality education have had on the low-income residents of Wilmington.

The FBI reported that Wilmington, with a population of just 71,000, had a violent-crime rate of 1,625 per 100,000 people in 2013, which includes murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The national average was 368 per 100,000 people. That makes the city the third most violent among those of comparable size.

Is Wilmington really so bad? Consider this:

• In Newsweek’s article “Murder Town USA,” the publication reported that poor black families are disproportionately affected by crime and violence in Wilmington, which has a 58 percent African American population.

• The police department is 70 percent white and 21 percent black

• The People’s Report, a participatory action research (PAR) project completed in 2013, found high levels of violence, unemployment, poor schooling opportunities, and dropout rates, among the 520 young black men and women Wilmington residents they interviewed.

• At the urging of U.S. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, the Department of Justice has selected Wilmington, along with Oakland, Calif., Camden, N.J., Chicago, Detroit, and Richmond, Calif., to participate in their Violence Reduction Network. The program consists of federal law enforcement officials coming to the selected cities to study the problems, offering advice and training.

In “Delaware’s Biggest City Struggles with High Murder Rate,” a February Wall Street Journal article, the writer seems to spend a lot of time examining how the violence in Wilmington “has unnerved some in the corporate community.” In the piece, reporter Scott Calvert points out that about 17,000 banking employees work in downtown Wilmington, and oh my goodness, Vice President Joe Biden’s family owns a house five miles from downtown.

Why should we care about that?

Delaware Attorney General, Matthew Denn, told Calvert that the city’s image may sway existing companies to leave Wilmington and prevent recruiting efforts to attract other companies to move there.

What does this say?

“Their concern with violence is about how it affects them, for the most part,” Dr. Yasser Payne, Associate Professor of Black American Studies at the University of Delaware, told Cappuccino Soul.

“They’re bottom-line driven about profit and economic outcomes. The banking industry is more concerned about stopping violence to sustain their profit margins.”

If they’re smart, they’ll pay close attention to the findings of The People’s Report researchers. Payne, who led the PAR project, trained and led 15 Wilmington residents (21 to 48 years old) from the Southbridge and the East Side communities, to interview 500 respondents who are also from those neighborhoods. The People’s Report shows a link between structural violence and crime in Wilmington.

In his 2014 Ted Talk presentation, “Walk With Me,” Payne said the best way for leaders to help make it better for black and brown people in Wilmington who are being traumatized by violence is by “literally and figuratively, walking with those persons that may be street identified to more deeply understand their lived experiences.”

Payne went on to say, “We must begin to develop interventions with them — not in spite of them. We must begin to find safe ways to stop the vicious structural conditions that work to shape and create a street identity. And then we must be brave enough to allow those observations to inform our notions of help.” The PAR team members, who come from and sympathize with the communities they studied, are expected to come up with ways to help make their communities better.

Professor Yasser Payne and Darryl Chambers, PAR member and doctoral student in the
Criminology Program at the Univ. of Delaware
The findings of the report are disturbing. A majority of those surveyed reported losing at least one family member and at least one friend to gun violence. The researchers discovered that economic well-being and lack of quality schools is predictive of physical violence.

“The study found that nearly 70 percent of men in these neighborhoods between 18-35 were unemployed and nearly 62 percent of the women,” Payne said during his Ted Talk. “We also found at the time of the study that 100 percent of all black boys in the Southbridge neighborhood were dropping out of high school. One hundred percent!”

Payne says structural inequality is inescapable for some people in a capitalist system. “We live in a capitalist society that requires bad schools and unemployment for many in the black and brown community,” he said. “Martin Luther King didn’t die because he was trying to improve race relations, he was assassinated because he was fighting against capitalism,” Payne asserted.

Opening the eyes of the black and brown people of Wilmington about why there aren’t enough jobs for everyone, why the dropout rate in Wilmington is so high, and how they are structurally situated to live in poverty, is one of the outcomes Payne would like to see come from The People’s Report.

Although the media and government officials have been devising plans to curb violence in Wilmington, that’s not the sole issue, Payne said.

“The bigger issue is not violence; it’s the exposure to violence,” he said. “People in these communities are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which is affecting the psyche of individuals and the community as a whole. Most people in low income neighborhoods aren’t violent. Help is needed to protect residents from the violence.”

That’s why some of the comments included in the Newsweek article smack of callousness and disdain.

For example, when Newsweek reporter Abigail Jones asks Corporal Cannon of the Wilmington Police force “what it takes for a child in the worst parts of Wilmington to make it out,” Cannon replies — “Parents who actually give a shit.

This implies that if only parents in Wilmington’s poor communities would just “give a shit,” their children wouldn’t be subject to the ills of the poverty they live in and everything would be alright.

Could it be that parents who can find living wage jobs to support their families; parents who can locate quality and effective schools for their children; and parents who have access to affordable and safe housing might also be able to raise happy, healthy, safe, well-educated, and well-adjusted children?

As Jones and Corporal Cannon and another Wilmington policeman travel around Wilmington streets, Cannon tells the reporter, “It’s not the older ones we’re worried about,” referring to boys they see walking in the streets. “It’s the young 14-, 15-year-olds. They all have guns.”

Do they really all have guns? Is he saying here that all of the young teenage boys in Wilmington have guns and exist only to commit crimes? Sounds like it.

It’s time to approach the epidemic of violence and apathy in Wilmington with ideas like the HOPE Commission started by Charles Madden, and the Cease Violence program, launched by Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams. Madden’s organization mentors former criminal offers and helps them to become productive members of the community. Cease Violence dispatches trained teams to mediate potential disputes that might occur at crime scenes, hospitals, and other locations.

But, as Payne said, it’s not just about violence. He recounted a visit to a family’s home in the Riverside projects. “There was extreme poverty in this apartment,” he said. “We saw 15 children living in the home. These are third world living conditions — literally! And nobody cares about it. ‘Nobody’ meaning the powers that be.”

It’s time to feed the families and children in Wilmington’s low-income neighborhoods, not just nutritious food, but quality education, protection from violence, living-wage jobs, hope for the future, and a brighter day.

A luta continua.

100 Men Reading mentor reads to students in Wilmington, Del.
“Walk With Me”: Professor Yasser Payne’s Tedx presentation (2014)

The People’s Report: Wilmington, Delaware (Cappuccino Soul, May 2013)

Friday, February 06, 2015

The Get Down: Hip Hop, Punk, and Disco Drama

I'm looking forward to this upcoming Netflix series, created by Baz Luhrmann and Shawn Ryan, which incorporates the birth of hip hop, punk, and disco in 1970s New York City.

Monday, February 02, 2015

D'Angelo and The Vanguard: Performance Art on Saturday Night Live

I have to admit, I didn't really hear this song until D'Angelo and The Vanguard played it on Saturday Night Live over the weekend. I've enjoyed it many times, as I've listened to it in my car. But on Saturday night, D'Angelo and his group really brought it home for me. It's hard to make out what he's saying on a lot of the songs on Black Messiah, his latest CD, unless you listen as you read along to the lyrics.

I've always been more into the music than the words of a song -- I just love great musicianship and really get into what the different instruments are doing, and the harmonies. But with "The Charade," I did myself a disservice by not really paying attention to what D'Angelo was getting across. Well, he and his group did that astoundingly well on Saturday Night Live as many of them wore T-Shirts that read, "I Can't Breathe" and "Black Lives Matter." For those who don't know (and I don't know who that could be), these phrases are reminders of the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, both shot and killed by police officers. The musicians also raised their fists in the Black Power salute, periodically and in unison. To give the image more force, D'Angelo stood in front of a chalk outline drawn on the floor. The song starts off with subtle guitar licks, but the TV images were stark. They had me at "I Can't Breathe."

On this number and many of the tunes on Black Messiah, D'Angelo invokes Prince and Marvin Gaye. He's got Prince's Minneapolis flavor with guitar player, Jesse Johnson (from The Time), he's got a falsetto similar to Prince's, and he's got the Artist's drummer, John Blackwell. He does voice layering like Marvin Gaye, seemlessly harmonizing with himself, like Gaye did on so many songs. But he's got his own passion, intentions, and talent that make Black Messiah a masterpiece. It certainly rises above anything I've heard in years, from anybody.

What D'Angelo and The Vanguard did on Saturday Night Live with "The Charade" was pure performance art. They took us somewhere, made us feel, and inspired us to do something -- at least I hope so.

Check out the performance here:

And here are the lyrics:

The Charade (lyrics by Kendra Foster and Michael Eugene Archer)

Crawling through a systematic maze
And it pains to demise
Pain in our eyes
Strain of drownin', wading into your lies
Degradation so loud that you can't hear the sound of our cries (doo, doo)
All the dreamers have gone to the side of the road which we will lay on
Inundated by media, virtual mind f----s in streams

All we wanted was a chance to talk
'Stead we only got outlined in chalk
Feet have bled a million miles we've walked
Revealing at the end of the day, the charade

Perpetrators beware say a prayer if you dare for the believers
With a faith at the size of a seed enough to be redeemed (doo doo)
Relegated to savages bound by the way of the deceivers
So anchors be sure that you're sure we ain't no amateurs

All we wanted was a chance to talk
'Stead we only got outlined in chalk
Feet have bled a million miles we've walked
Revealing at the end of the day, the charade

With the veil off our eyes we'll truly see
And we'll march on
And it really won't take too long
And it really won't take us very long

Friday, January 30, 2015

Timbuktu: Oscar Nominated Foreign Language Film

I must see this film. The images, music, and people are beautiful. I really want to know who these people are.

"These images of "Timbuktu" quietly, passionately argue for the richness of life against the intolerance of those who would suffocate it."
-- The Associated Press

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Speak Up: A Voice for the Homeless

I just found out about this amazing magazine in Charlotte, written and sold by homeless people. It's called "Speak Up." Check it out. More to come.

From the Speak Up website:

Speak Up Zine, is published monthly and is written by people living on the streets or who have experienced homelessness. The magazine contains essays, memoirs, poetry, photography and interviews.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Power to Endure

"All of my work is meant to say, 'You may encounter many defeats but you must not be defeated.' In fact, the encountering may be the very experience which creates the vitality and the power to endure."                                                                           
                                                                         -- Maya Angelou

Friday, January 23, 2015

Here's Medusa

Here's a mother-daughter project that we'd like to share with you. We call it "Medusa" (not the Greek version, but our Medusa), and we made it together.

"Medusa" by Alicia and Gigi

Friday, January 09, 2015

Zambe Malamo (God is Great)

Here is my Cameroonian brother, Jean Kue, praising the Lord, along with some Congolese sisters and brothers in Ottawa, Ontario.

The song is in Lingala and it's called "Zambe Malamo" (God is great.) I hope it warms your heart and makes you rejoice like I did.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Tale of a Debased African Queen

In the name of the mother, the daughter, and the feminine spirits, I’d like to tell you the story of Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman—also known as Hottentot Venus. I discovered her story several years ago, but the tale still shakes me.

Saartjie, whose life has inspired both a play and a novel, came from the Khoikhoi people—the indigenous group that once populated what is now the Eastern Cape in South Africa. When her people were attacked, had their land seized and were enslaved by the Dutch in the late 18th century, Sarah moved to Cape Town to escape capture.

When she was 16, Alexander William Dunlop, a doctor, convinced her to go back to Britain with him where he said she could make money by showing her body to the public. You see, the Khoikhoi women were famous for their protruding buttocks and enlarged external genitalia. Her inner labia, like the other women, had been stretched to allegedly make sex a better experience for the males.

The Khoikhoi were called “Hottentots” because the Dutch thought their language—which includes distinctive clicking sounds—sounded like stuttering, so they called the people “stutterers” or “Hottentots” in their language. Of course, to the indigenous South Africans, the Hottentot reference is considered offensive. The Europeans called Sarah “Venus” because of her unusual genitalia.

Sarah, working as a servant for Dunlop in England, was put on display as part of a freak show, alongside people with circus-like attractions. Sarah’s demise continued in Paris where she worked for circus manager Sieur Reaux, a down-on-his-luck French nobleman.

She was poked, proded and insulted by onlookers. Imagine the comments:

“Look at her. Look at that black wench!”

“She sure is an African! Big lips, big nose, big bottom! Have you ever seen such a thing?” Words like these must have been spoken.

Washington Post writer Lynne Duke describes the shameful scene: “She endured ogling, lascivious audiences who poked at her, hissed at her, grabbed at her rear end, even tried to probe her private parts.” (Duke, 2003)

Sarah Baartman was exhibited as a freak throughout Europe because of her unusual physical features.
Sarah had been duped. She was lured to Britain with promises of wealth and fame, but instead was treated like a circus animal with no more dignity than a caged monkey or ape. For it is the ape that many European “natural” scientists said black people were linked to. Sarah’s physical attributes became proof for these scientific racists that black people were subhuman.

Suffering humiliation and mistreatment, Sarah tumbled into alcoholism and drug abuse. No wonder. The French scientist Baron Georges Cuvier, a famous naturalist of the time, examined Sarah for three days at a special meeting for scientists at the Museum of Natural History. He used her body to try to prove that blacks were on the low end of the human development chain.

At some point Sarah became a prostitute and died from tuberculosis or syphilis— the records aren’t clear—at the age of 26. Sarah was defiled even in death as Cuvier cast her lifeless body in plaster and dissected her—preserving her brain and genitals by pickling them in jars. Sarah’s body parts were displayed at the Musée de l’Homme (The Museum of Mankind) until 1985 when they were put into storage.

With the ending of apartheid, South Africa fought France for the return of Sarah’s remains to her homeland. It wasn’t until 2002, when Senator Nicolas About of France wrote a bill that called for the lost African’s return, that her body was sent to Cape Town where her fellow South Africans celebrated her homecoming with fanfare. At her burial celebration, the Khoisan herb “boegoe” was burned to purify Sarah’s spirit and a women’s choir sang, “You are returning to your fatherland under African skies.” Thabo Mbeki, South African President at the time, declared Sarah’s grave a national monument. (BBC, 2002)

Sarah’s story made me evaluate the ways black women’s bodies have been exploited and disrespected since Europeans pillaged Africa during the slave trade. The raping of Venus was like the raping of Africa. Bodies were taken from Africa, bought, raped and enslaved. Sarah was taken from Africa, defiled and enslaved in cages for people to gawk at like slaves who were poked and prodded on auction blocks.

What made Cuvier, the scientist, feel privileged to do such a thing? Did he think he owned Sarah’s body? Did he think that she existed merely to entertain the whites? I believe it was Sarah’s African heritage and femaleness that allowed Dunlop, Reaux and Cuvier to assume she was their property. “Anyway,” they must have thought, “she is not fully human—she is an African and a freak at that. Why treat her with any semblance of dignity?

When Sarah’s unfortunate journey to England began in 1810, slavery was alive and flourishing in the Americas. African women brought to the Americas were treated with equal cruelty. They were separated from their husbands and children, some died or were killed along the way on the ships. Many (if not most) were raped, had babies cut from their wombs and worked as slaves for no compensation. Like Sarah, these African women were seen as ugly, subhuman animals by the European slave traders and masters that brought them to the New World.

Slave women were also expected to readily give their breasts to their master’s children. They were forced to breastfeed the tots on demand. In the article,“More Slavery at the South: By a Negro Nurse,” (The Independent, 1912) a former slave discusses her experience as a wet nurse.

“I myself have served as “wet nurse” to more than a dozen white children. On the one hand, we are assailed by white men, and, on the other hand, we are assailed by black men, who should be our natural protectors; and, whether in the kitchen, at the washtub, over the sewing machine, behind the baby carriage, or at the ironing board, we are but little more than pack horses, beasts of burden, slaves!”

Did slave masters think they owned the milk that flowed from the breasts of these African women? This must be so. How else did they rationalize such a heinous practice? How has this historical practice of white males lustfully using the bodies of black women affected how people all over the world view African women?

To read more about Saartjie Baartman read a fictionalized account of her life, Hottentot Venus by Barbara Chase-Riboud, the play Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks, and a new book to be released in January 2007 by Rachel Holmes called African Queen: The Life of the Hottentot Venus.

Works Cited:

1. Duke, Lynne. “Listening to the Lady in the Glass Case.” Washington Post. Nov. 16, 2003. Page D01.

2. “Hottentot Venus Laid to Rest.” BBC News World Edition. BBC. London, UK. Aug. 9, 2002.

3. Rosenberg, Andrea (transcriber). “More Slavery at the South: by a Negro Nurse.” The Independent. Jan. 25, 1912. Pages 196-200.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Robert and Mary

I just faxed my high school diploma somewhere and I noticed that they have my parents listed as "Robert and Mary Benjamin."  Why do people always translate my dad's name to Robert? It's just plain old "Bobby." That's what his mama named him.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Bringin' it in Right: New Year's Meal

These black eyed peas are the best I've ever made (if I do say so myself). I'm having seconds now! Yes, that's right -- there's no meat here baby.

On the menu:

Mustard Greens
Sweet potato salad
Broccoli and Cheese Quiche
Deviled eggs
Corn on the Cob
Black Eyed Peas

Yum! Wishing you and yours a Happy New Year!