The reverend dr. c.t. vivian onstage at the 17th annual martin luther king, jr. commemorative birthday celebration at the charles h. wright museum of african american history in detroit, michigan. [see earlier entry for the backstory]
On this celebration of the rev. dr. martin luther king, jr.s 88th birthday, i was privileged to attend the 17th annual mlk commemorative birthday breakfast at the charles h. wright museum of african american history here in detroit. the featured speaker was the reverend dr. c.t. vivian from atlanta, a 92-year-old former assistant to dr. king who worked closely with him and was beaten and arrested many times during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. i have a personal history with rev. vivian and that was why i made the extra effort to attend this gathering. in 1989 i took a two day workshop for white social activists here in detroit that was led by rev. vivian. it was set up so the first day we went face-to-face with our own personal racism, a lot of which we had not realized was even there. as you can imagine, that was not an easy day. the second day we looked at the cultural systemic racism and how we could work to change it. i remember many things about that workshop, but for me the most significant was a question he asked us on the first day, "how many of you have black friends?" well, we were all social activists in detroit so all 25 of us had black friends and raised our hands. the next question was, "and how many of you have talked about race with your black friends?" only two hands were raised and mine was not one of them. that question changed my life. i went home that night and called one of my dear friends at the black catholic church i attended and said, "inez, we need to talk." that started my lifelong habit of talking about race and racism openly with blacks and whites alike. i wanted to tell rev. vivian how he had impacted my life. and i had an opportunity to do so when he was signing books after his speech. i have inserted the message he wrote in my book, "to one who remembers. thanks. c.t. vivian." i am the one who is eternally grateful to this courageous teacher. without him, i don't know who or where i would be today.
"we've got some difficult days ahead. but it really doesn't matter with me now because i've been to the mountaintop . . . i've looked over and i've seen the promised land. i may not get there with you. but i want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land." — the rev. dr. martin luther king, jr. from “i've been to the mountain top,” april 3, 1968
I crossed a line today. and this collage that i created tonight shows it. i call this work "racism." today i moved from compassion to passion...and the passion i felt was fury.
our local naacp branch hosted an event today to celebrate the birthday of dr. martin luther king, jr. it was the playing of a 90-minute audio tape of a speech that dr. king gave here at our local high school in 1968 just three weeks before he was assassinated. he called his speech "two americas." as you can imagine, it was addressing the america that whites know, a place where they have a chance at the american dream, good education and opportunities for employment. the other america is what blacks know, a place where these descendants of slaves do not have the same chances for prosperity, education or employment as their white brothers and sisters. the inequalities he was describing in 1968 remain today. the more i heard, the more infuriated i became. and my fury was compounded by the horrible sounds of protesters at that 1968 speech in this very gym where we were seated, yelling and screaming and calling dr. king names and continuously interrupting his speech.
so when a nice man i know came up to talk to me afterwards and in our conversation said something that to me was blatantly racist, i called him on it. i told him that was racist talk, something that seemed like it was a throwback to the 1960s. he became defensive, and that was when i lost it. i used the f word and went steaming off.
for the first time in my life i understood how it feels to be black in a racist society. i could not contain my fury and was going to let loose on anyone who crossed me. i'm not particularly proud of this, in fact i phoned the fellow afterwards to apologize, not for calling him racist, but for cursing him. the interesting thing is that this man is now planning to go to the powers-that-be in our city to question them about the situation i was calling racist. so maybe sometimes it takes losing it to have a chance at creating change.
I'm on a roll with this new project i'm calling "soundscapes." those of you who saw the photo/ink drawing collage i posted last night will know what i'm talking about. it is all about my having discovered the sound artist, andrea parkins. yesterday and today i have spent glorious hours listening to some of her pieces on soundcloud and painting with ink what i hear and feel. today the work that inspired me was called "ob-ject or ob-jest." after i have completed the ink drawing then i have the fun of finding just the right photograph from my archives to collage on top of it while playing with all of my blending/post production options.
i would have to say that for the first time since november 8, i have been totally and deeply at peace. that is the wonder of creativity. when you're in the middle of it, there is no other world. everything you need is right there within you. could it be that one way to resist an inhumane president is simply by being creative? if we can touch people's souls with beauty, won't that change them for the better? if they are changed for the better, won't that help them see through lies and deceit? and if they see through lies and deceit, won't they insist on truth and goodness?
"the last time i changed my camera was 50 years ago. all i need is a good face and the right light." jane bown.
i am certainly no jane bown but i agree with her philosophy about equipment. less is more. i took this photo of ed's and my dear friend, lucy edwards, when i visited her last week. we first met lucy in 1971 and she is now 91 years old. a strong and dignified woman who makes detroit proud.
Today i learned that andrea parkins, composer, sound/installation artist and improvising electroacoustic performer, will be one of the 8 multidisciplinary artists with whom i will be sharing the rauschenberg residency from march 6-april 14.
artistic collaboration was a passion of bob rauschenberg's. it was his hope that the 5-6 week rauschenberg residency sessions on the grounds of his beloved 20 acres of studios and dwellings on captiva island in sw florida would inspire participating visual, movement, sound, performance and spoken/written word artists to come together and create new forms of art, just as he did himself with john cage and merce cunningham.
this afternoon i discovered that you don't even have to be in the same place physically - or even have ever met - members of your rauschenberg residency community to be inspired by them! all it took was for me to listen to two of andrea parkins' pieces on soundcloud - "variation to the almost infinite" and "two rooms from the memory palace" - with paper, brushes and ink in front of me to find myself going off in new directions. i have andrea parkins to thank for inspiring the photo/ink collage pictured here.
I was privileged this afternoon to spend time with the remarkable detroit artist & muralist, @sydneygjames. i have been encouraging her to apply for the 2017 kresge artist fellowship because i have a strong feeling that sydney and her work are ready to be recognized in this life-changing way. after having read her artist statement today and having seen the photos of her murals, paintings & drawings that she is considering for submission, i feel even more confident that this is sydney's time to shine. i strongly encourage you to look at her ig account, but even more importantly, check out her website at www.sydneygjames.com to see how this talented artist has become an important voice for black women. we need sydney and her art more now than ever before!
Even though she has been in and out of the hospital for months, now uses oxygen to breathe and will likely be receiving hospice care in the near future, nancy was still proudly wearing her "nasty woman forever" t-shirt when first nations elder mona stonefish came from windsor, ontario to nancy's house in metro detroit this morning to share her gifts as a respected indigenous healer. both of these women have experienced life challenges that would have broken the spirits of many of us: nancy grew up poor (in $$ not love) in a coal miner's family in the mountains of tennessee, was widowed at 29 and raised her 6 children as a single mother while managing to get a masters in social work at the university of michigan; and mona survived physical, mental and s****l abuse from the age of 7 to 13 in one of canada's indian residential schools, and when she fought back at age 13, was placed in solitary confinement in an indian reform school until she was 21.
so how did these two women manage to retain their strength, humor and general feistiness? because they dared to follow their own paths and fight for their rights as women no matter what the patriarchal systems said they should be thinking, saying and doing. they are models of what the woman-who-should-have-been-president hillary clinton meant when she claimed trump's criticism of her as a "nasty woman" was something to be proud of. well, we should all be proud of nancy wolford and mona stonefish - nasty women forever!
Since nancy couldn't come outside and i couldn't go inside, i took this iphone picture of her through the door with mona stonefish after their healing session this morning. as you can see, these two remarkable women made a deep connection. as for me, i cannot think of anything that made me happier than helping to facilitate this moment. because nancy's house has steps that my mobility scooter cannot manage, i stayed in my wheelchair accessible minivan and sent healing meditative energy to them while they met. i felt your healing energy swirling around them as well and am so grateful for your love and support. we were all healed... by the way, nancy's t-shirt says "nasty woman forever"!!!
Sometimes it is an advantage to have an early appointment, and this morning was one of those times. this is the view i had as i drove to the end of our street on my way downtown to meet mona stonefish. i had asked mona to share her healing powers with my dear friend nancy who is close to making her transition into the next world, and i am so grateful that mona said yes. so mona and i met in a parking lot downtown where she could park her car, and i drove her out to my friend's house. i am now waiting in the driveway of nancy's house, knowing that inside there is something wonderful going on. my mobility scooter cannot manage the stairs in nancy's house, but my wheelchair accessible minivan is very comfortable. i brought a book to read if i feel like it, but first i'd like to spend some time in meditation. when you read this, please send good healing energy our way. thank you.
President barack obama. three words i want to keep saying over and over and over again. words full of hope, gratitude and goodness. my president. our president. one of the finest presidents in our nation's history. a president who genuinely cares about us all, whatever our ethnicity, race, religion, class, abilities, age, health challenges, s****l orientation, economic status, educational background, gender, politics and citizenship or lack thereof. a president who knows and believes in the american constitution and does his very best to uphold the oath he made to protect and abide by it when he took office in 2009 and 2013. a man who serves as a model of how to love, be selfless, thoughtful, responsible, trustworthy, dignified and respectful of others. the man who introduced us to michelle obama, one of the greatest women on the planet. oh my god, how this man and his family will be missed!
Last night eddie and i had dinner at the thai bistro with three of our favorite people: my goddess daughter, emily kolon; our dear friend her mother, pat kolon; and emily's wonderful boyfriend, kris chambers. they surprised us with a card and presents for our 50th wedding anniversary that we had celebrated on october 8th ❤
Yesterday i bought this beautiful hand-woven bag from mona stonefish [see earlier posts] whom i met at our gaia women of the great lakes basin monthly gathering in windsor, ontario. every bit of work on it is done by her, and mona sells them to raise funds for the sioux-led protest against the dakota access pipeline at standing rock, north dakota. if you are interested in buying one, please direct message me.
by the way, in my ignorance i have been pointing the finger of blame at canada for its part in oppressing and abusing first nations children and teens in their indigenous residential schools. i have daniella zalcman, the photojournalist/author of "signs of your identity," the award-winning book published in 2016 about the survivors of indigenous residential schools, to thank for setting me straight. she just posted a comment on my most recent ig post that said, "there are 59 indian boarding schools still operating in the us." talk about an invisible issue! what about the children currently in such boarding schools? why have we heard nothing about them? and what about all the adults who spent their childhoods in such places that used oppressive and often brutal means to destroy their identity as american indians? have they managed to heal from the attempts to assimilate them into the euro-american ways of thinking and acting? what about the teachers, administrators and religious authorities who insisted that these children and teens abandon their families, their names, their heritage, language and culture? what do we ever hear of or from these children-turned-adults, many of whom turned to alcohol, drugs, violence and even suicide in their attempts to deal with their past hurts and abuses?
we need to hear their stories, and because of daniella zalcman @dzalcman, that is now possible. if you go to her instagram account @signsofyouridentity you will find photos with captions, and you will also find a link to www.signsofyouridentity.com where you can learn more about the project and how to order the book. i ordered it earlier today and am eagerly awaiting learning the truth about this unseen, unheard chapter of indigenous life in the us and canada.
When i find myself wanting to hide in a closet and do nothing after you-know-who takes up residence in the white house on january 20, i hope i remember this woman and this moment yesterday when i saw her raise her fist in a salute of power. if ever there were someone who would have been tempted to hide in a closet and do nothing, it is mona stonefish. after all, her childhood and teen years were spent in one of the most atrocious places in north america: an indigenous residential school co-sponsored by the canadian government and the catholic church. at the age of 7, mona was taken by the government from her home on the st. regis mohawk reservation and placed with other children in what was called an indian residential school where they were not allowed to identify as indian, speak their native language or follow their cultural traditions. they couldn't dress in their native clothing or even keep their braids. the goal was "assimilation." mona's siblings were in the school with her but they were not allowed to speak to one another. even more outrageous, her parents were not told where she and her brothers and sisters had been taken, and when or if they would ever return home. as a result, mona had no contact with her parents until she was finally released from government custody 14 years later! during those years she courageously fought off s****l abuse, and as punishment, at age 13 mona was sent to a reform school where she was kept until she was 21.
and yet, even with this horrible childhood that would have broken the spirit of almost anyone, mona stonefish emerged from the cocoon of abuse and oppression to fly free as the woman we see today, the first nations elder who is highly respected as teacher, healer and water warrior.
so during these next four years, may those of us here in the united states and around the world remember the example of this woman who never gave in and never gave up. let us join her and raise our fists as we do our part to demand power to the people!
Let me introduce mona stonefish, a first nations elder and respected water activist in ontario, where she lives, and in parts of canada and the us where drinking water has already been or is in danger of being poisoned by industrial waste, fracking, oil spills and all kinds of pollution caused by humans. not surprisingly, mona stonefish has spent time in flint, michigan and at standing rock, north dakota. mona was born on the mohawk reservation that straddles the border between canada and new york state. she follows the anishinaabe traditions and is fluent in the anishinaabemowin language.
i feel so fortunate to have met mona stonefish today at the monthly gathering of my women's singing community, the gaia women of the great lakes basin. we alternate countries every month and today we met in windsor, ontario. michelle, one of our canadian sisters, had spontaneously invited mona to join our circle today and, lucky for us, she accepted. as you can imagine, all i had to do was look across the circle at this woman who was obviously filled with power, dignity and spiritual strength, to be enthralled and want to get to know her better. mona kindly let me take a few iphone portraits during our lunch break, and then i was fortunate to be seated beside her and another canadian activist, my dear friend pat noonan, when we gaia women went to el mayor restaurant for dinner. that was when i learned more about mona's remarkable - and chilling - life story. but let me wait to share that with you at another time.