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.

You Need to go to this Event on MAY18th!

Soulful III Profile

 

 

 

A Night of literary Performances

“SOULFUL III: Revolutionary Dreams” is almost here!

Be ready for six of your favorite poets and writers to light up the microphone on Malcolm X day, 2013.


That’s Saturday, May 18th at the Grand Lake Coffee House (440 Grand Ave) in Oakland, CA.

ONLY $5 at the door.

If you don’t believe the insane amount of talent we have lined up then check the lineup:

Raphael Cohen—Raphael Cohen is a writer and performer committed to utilizing the word as a vehicle for social change. In 2007, he released Scrutinizing Lines, his first full-length poetry collection. Originally from New York, Raphael has lived in Oakland since 2001. He holds a MFA in poetry from Mills College, and currently teaches writing at The Bay School of San Francisco.

Joy Elan—Joy Elan is from Oakland and Berkeley, CA. She received her undergraduate degree in African American Studies at UC Berkeley and her graduate degree in Education at Stanford University. She wrote Signs of Life: Past, Present, and Future and performs spoken word in the Bay Area. She is working on a new book, Silence Is Not Always Golden: A Poetic Revolution, which is scheduled to be released Summer 2013. She is currently working with urban youth and raising her daughter in Oakland.Joy Elan’s Websites: http://www.joyelan.webs.com and http://www.facebook.com/authorjoyelan

Kwan Booth—Kwan Booth is an award winning writer and strategist focusing on the intersection of communications, community, art and technology. He is the cofounder of Oaklandlocal.com and the Black Futurist Project, editor of “Black Futurists Speak: An Anthology of New Black Writing” and “Soul of Oakland: A People’s Guide to The Town.” He has been published in CHORUS, the literary mixtape” and “Beyond the Frontier: African American Poets for the 21st Century,” He writes at http://boothism.org/

MADlines—MADlines was born & raised in Seattle. She came up in the 206’s vibrant music and spoken word scenes. As one half of the dynamic two-lady rap duo, Canary Sing, MADlines rocked hundreds of stages and opened for the likes of Binary Star, Macklemore and Mystic. Since moving to Oakland three years ago, she’s released a solo Mixtape & attained a Master’s in Fine Arts degree from Mills College. She’s currently working on a Reggae/Hip-hop fushion E.P. called LOVE CHILD–to be released in the summer! Follow her on twitter @MAD_lines for updates! ~MADlove~

Scott Duncan- Scott Russell Duncan, frankly, is a lingerer and a lurker. He’s seen a president eat enchiladas, escaped being held hostage by nuns, fled Mills College with an MFA, and makes his lair in Oakland. Scott’s ancestors are Californio, Hispano, and Texian, so he’s half white guy and Mexican. His novel in progress is The Ramona Diary of SRD, a memoir and fictional travel diary about California.

Aries Jordan—Aries Jordan has been writing poetry since elementary school but it wasn’t until 2010 that she began to share it with the world. In 2011 she released a collection of poems entitled ” Journey to womanhood: A poetic Rite of Passage” through Black Bird Press. Her poetry has been featured in the “Pan African Journal of Poetry” 2011, “PACT Family Newsletter” 2012, and “Stand Our Ground: Poems for Trayvon Martin and Marrissa Alexander.” Her writing has also been featured in The Oakland Post.

Please support our independent artists and buy their books at SOULFUL III.

The event will be hosted by Roger Porter.

It’s definitely going to go down so get ready!

Blaxploitation 2013

I never really liked the old Dolomite movies my uncle used to watch on VHS, but I did have an affinity for The Mack starring Max Julian. Even as a young child (come to think of it I was probably way too young to be watching a movie about a gangster pimp. At any rate…) I thought Goldy, the lead character, was the coolest thing walking. The fact that it was filmed in my hometown of Oakland, CA also factored into my enchantment with the movie. My uncle dug Goldy too. He was into the loud clothes, and the flamboyant hats. He liked the classic pimp lines like; “Mutha ****** can you buy that?” and “Next time you hear grown folks talking shut the **** up hear!”

 

This was of course before Spike Lee, John Singleton, and a few others began trying to make dignified movies about black people trapped in American ghettos. So for my uncle’s generation if you wanted to see black folks on the big screen you had to see African-American culture as interpreted by a few white men. What I mean by that is that The Mack as well as almost all other Blaxploitation movies were written, directed, casted and produced by middle aged white dudes. The objective of these movies was not to show the humanity of the characters but rather it was to make the most money possible and to do it in a way that was completely nonthreatening to white America.

In today’s “post racial society” one would assume that America has moved far beyond these one-dimensional cultural snap shots. But then again if one were to do so then one would be absolutely wrong.

21st century entertainment has been sabotaged by the viral video. No matter if it’s someone rapping, mocking his girlfriend, or fighting, it’s all about how many views you generate. In fact the lure of the viral video has become so strong that even news media has gotten involved. Every year a new African-American eyewitness to a crime becomes the latest Internet celebrity. From Antoine Dodson to Sweet Brown to Charles Ramsey— all of them represent that loud, attitude having, unemployed, unlettered African-American’s that our White-American counterparts can never seem to get enough of. In essence they are the latest form of Blaxploitation.

http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/antoine-dodson-renounces-homosexuality-to-become-a-hebrew-israelite/5182bb0dfe3444064200027e

I have no idea how respectable news outlets around the country can get away with showing black people with scarves on their heads screaming and yelling in unnecessarily dramatic fashion and pass it off as an honest account of what took place. And in the case of Antoine Dodson they even conducted a secondary interview. Since when did crime become comedy? Since when did the 5 o’clock news become Showtime at the Apollo? Just like Superfly, Shaft, and Goldy the Mack, nothing should be taken too seriously when it comes out of the mouth of a black person. It’s strictly for entertainment purposes only.

-YB

HerStory

EPIC! That’s the first term that comes to mind when I think about the long journey of bringing “Herstory” to fruition. It was March 30, 2012 when I sat down to conduct my first interview with Niema Jordan in my shabby East Oakland living room. When we finished recording our conversation I thought the project, in its entirety, would be complete within two months. I was hella wrong.

So many bad things happened that my selective memory won’t even allow me to recall most of them. I do remember amicably parting ways with my original editor halfway through the project. I do remember at least two other people committing to the project only to back out once they were able to truly internalize the fact that I could not pay them. And well, everything else is a blank until I reconnected with a fellow Skyline High School graduate who possessed the skill set and the passion to bring Herstory back to life. It was February 11 when she committed to the project. Now seven weeks later it’s done.

I’m high right now. I mean I’m super elated. I’m glad that Herstory survived all of the abandonment that it was exposed to in its infantile stages. I’m glad that beauty still exists in this world and I am so grateful that I have crossed paths with three super dynamic black women that opened up to me and told me their stories. With no further ado this is Herstory:

Notes on the Gentrification of Oakland

 

It’s strange to me that it’s now considered cool to live in my hometown of Oakland, CA. When I was growing up it was just dangerous. There were very few young “hip” people who were brave enough to move into an area that was known as one of the most notorious ghettos in the state of California. Even the people who lived there didn’t want to live there. A small two-bedroom house on the Eastside of town was the last place my mother wanted to raise her three children but what else could she do? Housing discrimination was a lot more blatant in the late 1980’s. Meaning no realtor was going to show her a property in Napa or Piedmont.

So we ended up moving to a street that was relatively quiet however trouble was never far away. On every major thoroughfare around our home there was drug dealing and wanton violence. I was only allowed to ride my bike down half of our block. My sister and I often times watched TV on the floor because we heard gunshots outside and didn’t want to get hit by a stray bullet. I witnessed so many crimes against humanity just trying to get from the bus stop to my house that I’m still unable to completely process it. Somewhere along the way Oakland has both traumatized me and desensitized me but now all of a sudden it’s the place to be for young people who want to be involved in some kind of cultural adventure.

I guess my main issue with those hoards of upper-middle class bred white folks who have come to gentrify certain sections of my city is that everything I experienced in Oakland has been real—real death, real poverty, real loss—while what they want to experience seems very superficial. To live in a brand new town home that was erected in a space that used to be a housing project while telling your friends that you stay in the ghetto is tantamount to a person going on a Safari and saying that they braved the harsh jungles of Africa. I feel like some of these people are trying to capitalize off of my pain and it makes me nauseous. There is way too much dried blood on the streets of this town for people to act like it’s charming. I don’t think they’ll ever understand.

-YB

 

My Epiphany in Oakland

 

The Trayvon Martin situation resonates with so many Americans, myself included. Here is a piece I wrote a few years ago that expresses the same sentiments that Trayvon must have felt the last moments of his life.

 

 

I’m 17 years old and it’s a Saturday night.

I’m driving my mother’s 1994 blue Honda Accord with two of my friends in the back seat. We’re about to get on the freeway to check out this party when we see two of our other friends riding in the opposite direction. So we both pull over and because I haven’t seen the other two guys since they dropped out of school, we have a little reunion on the side of the street.

We laugh, clown a little and try to figure out where we want to go. Everything is all good; the weather is warm, the women are out and it’s just a care-free atmosphere. Then we all stop talking as we notice a police car pull up behind us.

“Hey is everything alright?” One of the cops asks us, not out of concern, but to put us on the defensive.

We tell him “yeah” like, of course everything is OK why wouldn’t it be?

“Whose car is this?”

“That’s my mother’s car,” I respond quick and agitated.

“Hey don’t get an attitude with me bro. I’ll have everybody here lying face down with their hands behind their backs.”

Then another squad car pulls up and as I stare at the officer who is doing all the talking and is now a few steps away from me and I experience an epiphany. It felt like that moment represented a perfect culmination of my teenage experience — it was as if my ethnic identity had now become perfectly clear.

When I was 13, I remember walking home from school one day and having a black woman around my mother’s age, with huge burning eyes, ask me if I had any rocks to sell her. By the time we were 15, everybody asked us for dope; Mexicans, White people and black folks as well. They would ask me, my cousin and our friends for drugs while we walked home from football practice with our pads on like that was our one purpose on Earth.

And when we went to the corner store on E. 15th, down the street from my cousin’s house, to get some Now & Laters or some Funions or Donald Duck orange juice, the old Korean lady would shout “Philly Blunt?” as she held two cigars up, one in each hand, behind the cash register. And we would have to tell her, just like we told all the dope fiends, “NO!”

So now there are like five cops gathered around us and I suddenly understand that I, along with my friends, are now fully-grown monsters. I mean if criminality had a color then it was the same complexion as us. If criminality had features then it would look exactly like our reflections in the mirror. If criminality had a dress code then it would wear its pants, shirt and shoes exactly like we did.

“I got a report about a fight … is there any fighting going on here?”

“Naw, no fighting.”

“Can I see your drivers license?”

I show it to him and he looks at it with a flashlight because apparently he needs to analyze every letter and every number. When he’s done, he tells us to have a good night and both of the squad cars speed off to their next confrontation.

My friends and I stay there for a few minutes and try as hard as we can to regroup. But needless to say, we find it to be impossible.

-YB

What is Real?

August 30, 2011

I’ve wasted so much time obsessed with what I can’t do that it’s hard to believe. I have been so consumed by the trap that I was raised in that I don’t even think of freedom as a viable solution. I no longer need anyone to oppress me because I destroy most of my own dreams before they are ever even conceived. The mind can be a terribly wretched thing when it works the wrong way. Can anyone ever truly be inferior to another person? Can anyone ever really be hopeless? How often is a human being ever actually trapped? Even in prison a person can still dream. A person can still read. A person can still compose timeless letters. A person can still be in love.

 

I see men on the streets of Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco talking to them selves. I saw a friend of mine at the gas station by my house a few mornings ago looking beat down by life. I said hello and he asked to pump my gas. I was utterly crestfallen but I allowed him to do so. We talked. It was awkward. Even though I’m broke I gave him money. He smiled. I drove away and I vowed to never go back to that place again. A lot of these brothers appear to be too young and too strong to be out on the streets. The problem is that each one of them believed the hype. They believed that there lives were really hopeless and that their minds really weren’t worth holding on to.

 

I have staggered before and I will stagger again. At times I feel too jaded to shine and far too content with just getting by. It’s a proven fact that life can be very cruel and malicious but what other options do we have. If we are not living then what are we doing?

 

YB