Upstairs at The Ritzy

 

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I must confess that London and I got off to a very bad start. I was initially very excited to finally leave America and experience the world outside of East Oakland, CA USA. After the heinous murder of 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine, the kidnapping of another 21 month old girl, and the unrest after the travesty of justice that led to George Zimmerman being found innocent of murdering Trayvon Martin, I needed to get as far away from my ghetto as I possibly could.

I came to the United Kingdom for respite, but what I got was reality. Before I could officially set foot on foreign soil for the first time in my life this racist over zealous security agent spotted me; “Black man alert! Black man Alert” she must have thought. “You looked confused,” is what she actually told me.

“I’m searching for the exit,” I said while thinking oh shit, here we go again. My instinct was right. This chick started interrogating me like she was training to be in the CIA. She asked to see my passport, what do I do for a living, where was I coming from, and “Oh you’re going to Paris? Paris is expensive” then she looked at me with great consternation.

I didn’t say anything but eventually I asked her why this was happening. I mean I had already been questioned at the UK border and they approved me. I had the stamp on my passport to prove this but obviously my stamp wasn’t enough for her. Right after I asked her this question another agent positioned himself about 15 feet behind her. He was on the ready just in case I should get out of control. But I was cool, externally at least. She told me that she was with security and she could ask as many questions as she pleased. After a little more verbal sparring she finally let me go. As I walked to the underground I couldn’t help but to think about how ironic it was for me to be heading to the birthplace of modern racism for some kind of escape. I literally laughed out loud at the notion. The words fuck her resonated through my brain. I wasn’t going to let her take my joy away and I proved that by having an absolute blast in Brixton last night.

I went to an open mic event at a venue called Upstairs at The Ritzy. Brixton is like the hood area of London therefore I, being the lifelong ghetto dweller that I am, felt perfectly at home. The Ritzy is Brixton’s local movie theater and they reserve a room upstairs for artists to share their work. Now when I heard that there was going to be an open mic naturally I thought spoken word poetry—boy was I wrong. Everyone that got on the stage was a musician. The first five acts where all guitarist, damned good ones at that. One of them had a Bob Dylan contraption in the front of his face and played his harmonica while he strummed away on his guitar. There was a trio as well. The lead singer sang and played the guitar, there was a heavily tattooed sista with an afro singing back up, and a violinist in the group. They played a beautiful mixture of folk music and hip-hop. Needless to say I was enthralled the whole evening. I was also quite a bit puzzled. I wondered why does the open mic scene in the San Francisco Bay Area continue to be dominated by people who seem to be auditioning for a role in the movie Love Jones. I’m not saying Love Jones was a bad movie I’m only pointing to the fact that it came out over 15 years ago. Get over it people! We have way more to share.

At any rate, the open mic event in Brixton was amazing.  It was precisely what I needed after that lame ass woman tried to hold me up at the airport. I’ve come to far to let racial profiling dictate my mood. My European adventure is officially underway. Stay tuned for more stories.

CHEERS! ;-)

 

-YB

 

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The murder of 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine

 

Normally I patiently wait until I gather my feelings before I write about a particular topic but not this time. 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine was shot to death when a gunman sprayed the apartment in Oakland, CA where she was having a sleepover.  Two other children ages 4 and 7 were also wounded. As of this very moment no one is in custody for the shooting.

 

It’s so disturbing that I can scarcely find the words to express myself. I have an 8-year-old daughter but I still can’t imagine the pain that her parents are experiencing right now. I also can’t imagine the level of depravity necessary to shoot up a room full of children. Does that individual consider himself to be a gangster? Do his friends give him props when they see him? The killer came up to the front door. There is no way that he didn’t know children were in there. I really can’t comprehend why we hate one another so much.

-YB

 

Fruitvale Station and the Notion of Cultural Obligations

 

 

I believe in cultural obligations. This is something that my mother taught me at a very young age. I had to be about 8 years old when Young Guns II came out in the movie theater.  It was the sequel to the completely awesome and rendition to the story of Billy the Kidd starring Emilio Estevez and Lou Diamond Phillips. Needless to say I was pretty excited about it. Back in those days my mother would take my siblings and me to the movie theater about four times a year. So I was super stoked that we were getting a chance to go while this highly anticipated film was still showing. Even though I was in the 3rd grade there was never a time in my life when I couldn’t watch rated R movies so naturally I recommended that we all watch the gun-toting western together. My older brother had different intentions.

“We should watch Mo Better Blues,” he told my mother.

“What! That stupid jazz movie? Don’t nobody want to see that crap. It looks hecka boring,” I protested from the back seat.

“It’s a Spike Lee joint,” he said with passive authority.

“So what it’s gone be boring,” I continued on.

My mother probably weighed the options for about a quarter of a second.

“We’re going to see Mo Better Blues,” she said in her ‘and that’s that voice.’

I was pissed and the most I could do about it was suck my teeth. I suffered through what seemed like five hours of music with no words and multiple hardcore sex scenes. Well the sex scenes weren’t bad but I would have much rather seen Billy the Kid and The Regulators kill all those backstabbing hypocrites that were trying to run them out-of-town. I didn’t understand it at the time but my mother was teaching me a very valuable lesson. Black people are obligated to support other black people even when it hurts. And while I was sitting in that theater watching Wesley Snipes, Spike Lee, and Denzel Washington get into debates about issues that I couldn’t care less about, it REALLY HURT. After the movie was over she spoke to me about our responsibility as black folk. She told me that if we don’t look out for one another then no one else will and I got it. Very reluctantly, I got it.

 

Now several years later I sit here in front of my house composing this entry a day before the release of Fruitvale Station a story about the life and tragic death of Oscar Grant. To be straight up about it, I really don’t want to watch it. And that’s not because I don’t think it will be a good film because I think it’s going to be great. As a matter of fact last Saturday I actually met a brotha that plays a role in the movie. No it’s not that, the thing is the incidents that are chronicled in the movie are still extremely painful for me.

 

I was one of the thousands of people who marched through the streets of Oakland demanding justice for Mr. Grant after he was shot in the back by transit cops as he lay down in handcuffs on New Years Eve of 2009. I AM OSCAR GRANT was the slogan and when I said it I meant it. Because I have been to the Fruitvale BART Station several times, because he had a daughter the exact same age as mine, because I went through a phase in which I had no idea where my life was going, and because we were both young black men growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area I empathized with him completely.  I wrote about it extensively. I became enraged about it and ultimately depressed when Johannes Mehserle was sentenced to only two years for Oscar Grant’s murder. This isn’t like a movie on Fred Hampton or Ghandi—No, this is something that I actually lived through. It’s not even old enough to be historical.

 

But alas Fruitvale Station is a black movie. It was produced by Forrest Whitaker and directed by another young black man named Ryan Coogler. It also stars Octavia Spencer and was of course filmed in my hometown of Oakland, CA. But I still do not want to watch the movie. It bothers me that the Black American experience is so saturated with pain that even our leisure activities induce a certain amount of trauma. Why is awareness always a tragedy in the mind of the young black man? The story of Oscar Grant like the story of Trayvon Martin reminds me that my life is completely dispensable and I’m torn because part of me does not want to revisit that moment but another part of me knows that I can never actually leave that reality.

 

Whether I want to acknowledge it or not does not make racism less prevalent. Even when I’m eating my ice cream at the creamery, viewing art at the museum, or smelling lavender roses at the rose garden, racism is always lurking. I realize that I try to run from my issues as often as possible. I don’t want to confront the pain of my subconscious mind just like I don’t want to deal with my emotions. I feel like the film Fruitvale Station is guaranteed to make me confront both and even worse it will make me confront both of these untapped entities in a very public setting.

 

Tomorrow is the local release date of the film. I won’t see it tomorrow but I will see it before it leaves the theater. And it won’t be because I heard good things about it or because I feel like I need to learn more about the life of Oscar Grant but it will only be because I feel like it is my duty as an African-American to support the film. I will support the film because that’s the way I was raised.

-YB

Soulful IV-Deeply Rooted/ July 6th 2013/The Beast Crawl Oakland

*Note-Hey people I’m hosting this event and I would love to see my friends from the blogosphere there.1008384_529224677113757_1678015846_o

We’re going to end Beast Crawl 2013 (http://beastcrawl.weebly.com/) with a bang!

“Soulful IV: Deeply Rooted” is a cultural explosion just waiting to happen. The line up includes a group of consistently published, standing ovation getting, conscious minded, game spitting, self-loving artists who know how to move the crowd and know just exactly where they come from. So if you’re not there on July 6th then tsk, tsk. Don’t say I didn’t tell you. Check out the stellar line up:

AUDACIOUS IAM is not only a national performance spoken word artist but she is a host, educator, empowerment speaker, social service worker, and youth advocate. She received her MFA from Mills College in the spring of 2013.

BRANDON HUGHES is a writer from Oakland, CA. He’s been featured on CBS 5, was an invited guest speaker at Yahoo, and the Oakland Tribune wrote a full article on him, calling him ”a promising writer.” His novel, The Man Behind The Curtain, is set in Oakland, and is being taught in middle schools and high schools. BRANDON WILL HAVE COPIES OF HIS BOOK TO SELL AT SOULFUL!!!!!

CANDICE ANTIQUE WICKS Antique is an independent singer/songwriter and co-founder of Antique Music, a multifaceted project that uses music and theatre as a tool for education, healing and activism. She is also the lead singer for the band Antique Naked Soul, an a cappella band featuring renown beat boxer Tommy Shepherd, that uses loopers and beat boxing to create live beats on stage. Antique Naked Soul has opened for Les Nubiens, Mos Def, Talib Kwali and many more. CANDICE WILL BE SELLING MUSIC AT THE SHOW!!!!!!!!

DONTE CLARK (artistically known as DonBlak) is a 23yr old Richmond Native. He is a poet, activist, playwright, actor, and musically inclined people’s champion who embodies the struggle of the people and uses his words to heal the wretched of the earth and unshackle the minds of the masses.

JAMES CAGNEY Oakland native James Cagney is a Cave Canem and VONA Fellow. He was a featured artist in Midnight In Mumbai, Miko Kuro’s Midnight Tea, Celebration of the Word and San Francisco Public Library. His poems appeared in Ambush Review, Oaklandlocal.com and Sparring with the Beatnik Ghosts. JAMES WILL HAVE COPIES OF HIS DEBUT POETRY COLLECTION “DIRTY THUNDERSTORM” FOR SELL AT SOULFUL!!!!!!!

MUTHONI KIARIE is a Kenyan writer, living in Oakland, California. Her work has been published in Narrative Magazine, Generations Literature Magazine, 580 Split and The Weeklings. She is an MFA graduate of Mills College.

Hosted by Roger Porter

Trust me when I tell you “Deeply Rooted” is going to be THIS soulful (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IexQYkNO2Ec).

So plan on being in attendance and trust me you will be grateful that you came. And if you need more incentive check out how beautiful these Deeply Rooted writers are: http://beastcrawl.weebly.com/soulful.html
See ya on July 6th.

What if Tupac was a father?

“June one-six seven-one, the day/ mama pushed me out her womb and told me ‘nigga get paid.’”

Sometimes I wonder what kind of father would Tupac be if he were alive today. If he were still on this Earth then Father’s Day 2013 would have marked his 42nd birthday. It’s difficult to conceive because he was so youthful when he passed away. He was rambunctious, vilified, and enlightened but seemingly lost. He often times performed shirtless and indulged heavily in drug use. Yet he is also America’s last ghetto hero.

No black man since Tupac Shakur has been completely comfortable both in the hood and on Hollywood movie sets. No artist since Pac has made outrageous behavior seem so relatable. Everyone has an opinion about Tupac because everyone feels like they knew him.  One either worshipped his words or was repulsed by them—with Pac there really was no in between. However the fact that we often times fail to internalize is that when Tupac was assassinated that night in Las Vegas he was only 25 years old, rich, ridiculously famous, and without any children.

In Essence he only had to look out for himself. Imagine though, if he would have had a son. Would he be all right with teaching his growing boy how to live a thug lifestyle? Would he have smoked so much? Would he have been as abrasive? Imagine if Tupac would have had a daughter. Would he have ever made another record like “All about you?”  Would he refuse to ever say the word bitch on a track like Jay-Z did once Blue Ivy was born? How would having a child impact his black male psychosis and the many references to suicide that he made on his albums?

“I smoke a blunt to take the pain out and if I wasn’t high I’d probably try to blow my brains out.”

Tupac definitely would have had one more fear of death in addition to being reincarnated and that would be the thought of missing his children grow up. One can assume that this responsibility would have caused such a compassionate young man like him to slow his life down considerably. Perhaps his fatherhood would have ultimately caused him to return to the activist roots instilled in him by his mother Afeni Shakur. Maybe he would have begun to transition his burgeoning thug nation into a political party designed to destroy the depressing inner-city circumstances that he bemoaned in his music. He may have even started to slowly abandon the ghetto mentality that he so often celebrated. Can you imagine how impactful it would have been to see Tupac posing for pictures on the cover of magazines with his beautiful black family as opposed to merely showing off his tattoos and jewelry?

The tragedy is that we will never have an answer to any of these questions because he was taken away from us so soon. We never got a chance to see him settle into himself. We never got to see him mature and we never got to see him as a loving father. We can, however, safely say that if he put as much energy into fatherhood as he did into his music then being a good daddy would have been the most powerful trend of all the trends that Tupac started. As is, all we can do is mourn the man whose music continues to influence the world on a daily basis 17 years after his unfortunate demise.

RIP Tupac Shakur

1971-1996

-YB

Notes on Mortality

I read an article from the New York Times today about the ill health of the most beloved figure in the history of South Africa, Mr. Nelson Mandela. According to the article he is very near death. A reality that has caused mixed reviews in the nation that he once ruled. While most people are praying for his health to improve at least one woman has accepted the mortality of the former leader; “It is not easy, but we must think of his pain. He has given us so much. He deserves to rest.” When I came across this statements that was made by a 30-year-old South African woman it startled me a little. Her thoughts are so contrarian only because they are so real. When we agree to resuscitate those who no longer have the desire to live and when we refuse to pull the plug, are we really doing it for them or are we being selfish?

 

If we really believe in heaven after earth then why are we so reluctant to let our loved ones go to paradise? My grandmother suffers. She’s alive and she remembers us and we can still kiss her once smooth but now prickly brown cheeks. We literally keep her alive. We make sure the medical staff at the convalescent home where she lives knows that we’re there and those of us who practice medicine make sure that she is getting optimal care. It makes us feel good when we put them in check. After we make sure they change her catheter and increase her dosage we feel like we’ve done the right thing. The only issue is she no longer wants to live. She’s expressed this to us in very plain terms. She wants it all to be over. We disregard what she says. We disregard the words of the wisest woman we have ever known— our mother, our grandmother, our great-grandmother—because we feel like she no longer knows what’s right. This only causes her to slip further and further into depression.

 

As a society we have been taught that to save the life of an individual is an outstanding deed, however, often times we fail to realize that some people don’t want to be saved. Don’t they have that right? It is a sin for a person to take his or her own life but the bible does not frown upon those that merely allow death to happen. In the case of my grandmother— who used to care for me everyday before I started school. Who taught me the most basic lesson of being a black man in America; “When someone hits you then you hit them back?” Who drug me along with her throughout the entire county of San Francisco on Muni, BART, and on foot—I think our main impetus for not letting her pass on is we don’t want to feel sad. We don’t want to plan a funeral. We don’t want to lose the center of our family. But what about her? Does her opinion of her own life even count anymore? Isn’t it wrong of us to disregard the suffering of another human being so that we sleep better at night?

My grandmother has lived nearly 90 years. She’s perfectly content with the impact that she’s had on this world but we can’t let her go. Even though she is mortal we seem to want her to live forever.

Is it ever ok to just let a person die?

-YB

This is Distortion

 

I thought about someone else the whole time I was with her. It doesn’t make any sense. The young lady who stole my attention isn’t more beautiful, or more dedicated, or more sophisticated. She is only more appealing because she is someone else. My mind runs faster when my body is still. Contentment can be so elusive. Happiness can appear to be so frightening when you’ve made peace with your own misery. When loneliness becomes your most inseparable friend often times you find yourself fighting on his behalf. Trauma from bad relationships can lead to emotional suicide and emotional suicide will always result in self-sabotage.

 

In a strange rearrangement of expectations the perfect lady can become a complete nightmare. Then one seeks to make her imperfect by all means. It is only then that a man can truly love her. Only when the subject of his passion is placed solidly underneath his foot. Only when she becomes weak enough for his love to become visible. He can still make out her image in the ripples of the tide. Her face is less clear but her heart is more tangible than it has ever been.

 

This is distortion.

 

-YB