Yesterday I got a chance to sit down with the CEO of Oakland’s Own and talk business, black ownership, and Oakland music. Check it out and let me know what you think.
“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
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?
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!
Nothing says nostalgia like taking a day off from work and sleeping in. Adult life is all about catching up and today I find myself catching up on all the hours of sleep that I have missed stressing out over issues that I have very little control over. It’s not a Saturday morning and Garfield and Friends as well as The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show have stopped airing a long time ago but I still feel at peace. Never mind the fact that I have pick up my daughter in a few hours and the rest of my week will be crazy hectic because none of those things matter at present. I’m lying under the covers in my underwear with the blinds to my windows closed so that rays of light must fight to enter my space. I have shelter from the unusual California cold and I am writing. I said I am writing, I am doing that thing that I fell in love with decades ago. On the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. I am expressing myself in a way that would have gotten my enslaved ancestors killed. As I put these letters to this page I realize that in terms of the very foundation of this country I am committing a subversive act. I live to rebel. There is no other feeling like the rush of blood that I get from fighting back. I have always been hypnotized by the notion of going into a forbidden place and letting everyone in there know that I have arrived. To write lines from within this skin is the equivalent of being a vanguard soldier and I will be on the battlefield until I die.
I’m tired of being a ventriloquist dummy in the movies. We do have our own voices you know? We do have beating hearts and amorphous souls. We exist in every dimension. We exist at great distances and we exist in focus. We do not want to rape your virtuous young maidens (Birth of a Nation, 1915). We are not your ride or die servants (Gone With the Wind, 1939). We are not your wise yet shockingly docile sidekicks (Casablanca, 1942). We are not here to prostitute the innocence of your daughters (The Mack, 1973) and kill your hardworking, blue-collar, tough, rugged, but loveable fathers (Colors, 1988). Nor do we want you to make us feel good (Monster’s Ball, 2002).
We are not circus lions who only roar when cracked by the lash but are otherwise harmless creatures (Ali, 2001) and our stories don’t necessarily end happily when we finally achieve your capitalistic wet dreams (Ray, 2004 The Pursuit of Happyness, 2006).
Our stories are told in beauty shops, on front porches, and in barbershops. They’re told at bus stops, in county lines, and in the county jail. They’re told in study groups, at Baptist churches, and in hot kitchens. And our stories are told the best when you aren’t there; therefore, you really don’t know us. What you do know is essentially nothing more than a shadow. Yes this shadow is dark like us but it is not nearly as soulful. It is not nearly as dynamic. It is not complicated nor is it multifaceted. It’s not multidimensional or unique. It isn’t bodaciously shy or passionately indifferent. See the thing is that when you tell our stories you are guessing and we know that. We also know that when you tell our stories you’re telling them to an audience of your own peers and that we really don’t matter. We know what’s real.
We can tell the difference between your voice and Big Mama’s. We know that our stories come from Arkansas and Tennessee. The Delta here and The Delta back there. Our stories were carried up the river by Pharaohs before they were carried down the river by slaves. Our stories are told with fingers in faces, knuckles slapping against hands, shoulders rolling, and tongues clicking. Our griots spit game to judges and parole officers and for the most part they never make it to Hollywood because they’ve been trapped in the hood.
Granted, sometimes when you tell our stories you get it right but you are still guessing (I suppose that some ventriloquist are better than others). And let me just say that when you do your film on Nina Simone The High Priestess of Soul, I hope that you get it right for your sake. For the time is rapidly approaching when we will be speaking for ourselves and we will leave you to your own guessing games. Yeah, imagine that? Close your eyes and try to guess how our voices sound when you are not around. Imagine a day when we control our own bodies, our own minds, our own shadows, and our own reflection, and all you can do is sit in the back of the room and listen to us speak. I can only smile at the thought of such a revolutionary exchange.
What does it mean to be a misogynist? Is it possible for me to love my dick and love women at the same time or are those two things mutually exclusive? I get involved in a lot of fascinating discussions with radical women. In more than one of these discussions it was brought to my attention that when a man is concerned about how many other men his girlfriend has been with then that makes him some sort of misogynist. I don’t get it.
I try not to disagree at the very moment that I am told this because I don’t want to be labeled a misogynist, but when the conversation ends it rages on in my head. I’ve also been told that when a man makes a reference to his penis as an instrument of power then that makes him a misogynist too. I still don’t get it. I mean shouldn’t everyone love every part of their body? Shouldn’t everyone want to feel powerful? Shouldn’t everyone be concerned about the sexual history of his or her partner? Or if not concerned then at least slightly curious?
Sometimes radicalism really confuses me; which is problematic because I’m sure most people would consider my political views to be radical. I believe that black people in America and most other parts of the world are systematically oppressed. I am a black man and I believe that there is a very real conspiracy to keep me powerless in my native land. I have been the victim of racism countless times and I have dedicated my life to doing my part in ridding the world of injustice, but I am a man and I am proud to be a man, which means that I am more that likely a misogynist—I guess.
After all I do listen to gangster rap and at one point in my life Soul on Ice by Etheridge Cleaver was my favorite book. I watch football and go to the boxing gym as well so does that automatically mean that I hate women?
It’s hard for me to accept my role as the oppressor and the oppressed. I understand that to many black women I represent “The Man.” It’s very sad but it’s true. There are so many black women that have experienced trauma at the hands of black men that they develop a hatred toward us that rivals the misogyny that they have absorbed over the years. I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to be the sexist dude that says; “I can’t be a misogynist because some of my best friends are women. As a matter of fact I just slept with a woman last night?” I want to be aware and in order to be aware I need to ask questions. So what does it truly mean to be a misogynist?
Is there anyone out there that has an answer?
Note: Here is a piece that I recently wrote for a local online publication.
The Youth Uprising Social Enterprises complex at 8711 MacArthur Boulevard in East Oakland serves as an oasis of positivity in an otherwise destitute and severely underserved community.
On the ground leading up to the front door of the 25,000 square foot facility are the words “KNOWLEDGE OF” in multicolored letters, which intersect with the word “Self,” spelled out in solid black print.
On any given day there is a multitude of youth from the ages of 13-24 who are strongly encouraged to be themselves in the facility. Youth Uprising is home to a recording studio, dance studio, computer lab, skate park, basketball court, restaurant, media center and is still growing. The atmosphere at YU is the furthest thing from stressful for the young people who attend and it is even further from the sometimes-hopeless attitude that seems to permeate the air right outside its doors.
This is why since October of last year, Youth Uprising has been successfully running an Evening Reporting Center for juvenile offenders. The Evening Reporting Center, as Youth Uprising President and CEO Olis Simmons explains, is based on a national model, but it is the first of its kind in Alameda County.
“It’s based on the notion that juveniles who are low to medium risk are better served in the community than they are [in jail],” Simmons says. “The chance of changing their trajectory in life is increased when we provide a community base, a hub and a builder of positive social capitol for them.”
The center also can be seen as a mandatory after-school program for youngsters who have been found in violation of the law. In order for them to maintain their freedom they must report straight to Youth Uprising after school where they must stay until 8 p.m.
This relatively new installment of YU has four major components that have contributed to its success in keeping black and brown kids out of juvenile hall:
- Culturally relevant meaningful activities such as art, sports, music, etc.
- The consistent presence of caring adults so they know that some people will always be there for them.
- They all have dinner together.
- And all the youth who are part of the center get a ride home.
This formula has already changed the lives of several kids in the program. At least one who started out going to the court mandated Evening Reporting Center, finished out his term, found out that YU Lead (a youth leadership program also at Youth Uprising) was looking for young people to serve on their youth advisory board, interviewed and landed a spot on the team. He is now “like a rock star in YU lead. [He] speaks up and takes initiative and is like exactly what we would want from our children,” Simmons says beaming with pride.
The Evening Reporting Center, specifically, and Youth Uprising, in general, serve to fulfill the void that was left by the crack epidemic, the AIDS epidemic and the mass departure of blue collar jobs from Oakland. Although these issues may take several generations to fix when you walk into Youth Uprising you get a sense that the young people of today are definitely headed in the right direction.