Based on Taja Lindley’s solo healing performance ritual that debuted at La Mama’s SQUIRTS in 2015, “This Ain’t A Eulogy” is drawing parallels between discarded materials and the violent treatment of Black people in the United States. People in the African Diaspora have a long history of repurposing, remixing, and transforming oppressive systems into valuable cultural practices. In this post-Ferguson moment, Lindley is calling on this legacy to imagine how we can recycle the energy of protest, rage, and grief into creating a world where, indeed, Black Lives Matter. “This Ain’t A Eulogy” is the origin story of The Bag Lady, and serves as a preamble to Lindley’s one woman show “The Bag Lady Manifesta” which debuted at Dixon Place on September 9th.
Below is my review of The Bag Lady Manifesta:
dream where every black person is standing by the ocean
& we say to her
what have you done with our kin you swallowed?
& she says
that was ages ago, you’ve drunk them by now
& we don’t understand
& then one woman, skin dark as all of us
walks to the water’s lip, shouts Emmett, spits
&, surely, a boy begins
crawling his way to the shore
by Danez Smith
from Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
Last week, I read this poem from Danez Smith and I was reminded of it again when watching Taja Lindley debut her The Bag Lady Manifesta on the night of September 9th at Dixon Place.
One question I left with was: what is our responsibility to remember, especially remembering a past still struggling to speak? Is remembering like being Lot’s wife who had the audacity to look back when the world was ending and in ruins? And like salt can be healing, Lindley’s Bag Lady Manifesta was a ritual performance in search of healing — healing that involved giving reverence to people, pasts and even parts of ourselves that we can so easily throw away. Because as Lindley had put up on one of the walls — “letting go is a lie,” we always carry them with us.
Remember this song from Ludacris and Mary J. Blige? “Runaway Love” came to my mind last week when the stories of the Missing DC girls started to spread throughout media. One particular story highlighted a young girl who ran away because she felt mistreated in foster family.
Much too often the mistreatment of young black girls are ignored and neglected. Black girls stories go untold. Society, including black culture does not see them as being as much in harm’s way as young black boys. But young black girls are in danger too, including suffering from the risk of sexual assault committed by grown men, boys and even authority figures, abusive and neglectful families, and also receiving higher rates of suspension, expulsion and harsher punishment from schools and police than their white counterparts. For example, this story of Ashlynn Avery, who was attacked by her suspension supervisor for falling asleep in class and then violently arrested.
One of my favorite mottos is to find the magic in the mundane because in doing so you realize how interdependent we all are to each other and to the universe. When we look at the sun and moon, we are so normalized to them that we can easily forget how we are dependent on them for our existence and how much they shape our existence. It has been our ability to use our imagination to see the world beyond the mundane and search for knowledge and meaning as well as our creation of technologies to observe the universe that has allowed us to see that. As I was reading Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Race is/as Technology, or How to Do Things to Race,“she writes that “According to Martin Heidegger in his 1955 ‘The Question Concerning Technology,’ the essence of technology is not technological. Indeed, by examining tools, we miss what is essential about technology, which is its mode of revealing or “enframing.” So how does the creation of technologies to look and observe also reveal ourselves? Who is watching who and who is creating who at the same time?
As I currently work on my fantasy novel based in Queens and inspired by the Underground Railroad (two of the characters are based on Harriet Tubman and William Still), I look forward to featuring others who are continuing to share the legacy of our ancestors and heroes who fought for freedom and for us to be here in this moment today.
One of those people is Lacresha Berry, a local Queens-based educator, singer-songwriter and playwright. Currently, she is writing a one-woman show about Harriet Tubman and t-shirt line for Air Tubman. Continue reading to find out more about her and her previous and upcoming work within the community.
“I just felt it was important to understand our histories in context to the larger global community and tell stories that haven’t been told. Instead of complaining about not being taught these things, I wanted to create a conversation that there are black Kentuckians. We exist and we helped to shape the state that it is today. We contributed to country music, blues and bluegrass.”
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Lacresha Berry and I’m an artist—educator, artivist, singer-songwriter, playwright, actress, and sometimes lyricist. I was raised in the great state of Kentucky. I came to NYC—actually this month, in 2003. So, I guess you can say I’m a New Yorker now. Well, at least I live the life of one. I graduated from the University of Kentucky with a BA in theatre. I came to NYC for grad school at NYU. At the time, I was really into costume design and got accepted at Tisch for Costume Design for Stage and Film. I ended going for about a year and began full time teaching in 2005 after stints of being a sub and after-school teacher.
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds…” – Marcus Garvey/Bob Marley
Everyone wants to be free, but most people don’t know how to be free. Either we are physically enslaved and imprisoned, or we are mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and financially in bondage. The latter are mostly invisible chains; it is harder to be conscious of their existence and how to escape them. It is hard to be conscious of the ways in which we who have been oppressed internalize and repeat the oppression that has been placed upon us.
Inspired by the women she met in her life, like her late mother and other women leaders she met in the AKA, African-American MBA Association and business school, Nichol Bradford set out to write a mission-driven story that explores those very ideas. Through the genre of political action thriller, Bradford sets a world where black women are the main leaders and heroes, and are taking back their freedom. After a decade of writing and then publishing the book, The Sisterhood has inspired many women with the tools they need to go after their true purpose in life.
Instead of creating simply a self-help or motivational book, Bradford instead wrote a riveting novel of what can be called “applied fiction.” Because sometimes the best way to teach is through a story and Bradford shows it!
In the second half of the interview, Nichol tells us more about her career and her vision for implementing aspects of video gaming into her work at the Willow Group, where she is developing her ideas of “transformative technology.” If you have not read Amiri Baraka’s “Technology and Ethos,” you should because I believe it gives a great context into understanding Nichol’s mission for the Willow Group and The Sisterhood.
5) You wrote that you are “fascinated by human potential,” and have “always been interested in how technology can help individuals expand beyond their perceived limits to develop and transform themselves to the highest level.” What is your specific definition of technology and in what ways can humans create innovations in technology and create a culture of technology that benefits and strengthens society more than harm it?
For me, technology is defined as any time human beings create processes or devices to do things. The baseline spirit remains the same whether it’s an arrow tip chipped from stone, or meditation, or a mainframe, or your iPhone. The key to understand is that “technology” is not going away, because the curiosity and experimentation of humanity is not going away. So fast forward to today, and the tech we have now, and it means get used to it, AND develop ways to live with it and specifically design technology to support our softer side – our psychology, our emotions, and our storytelling that reminds us what matters most.
” I’m a bit of a Trekkie, so of course I love the Holodeck. But if you dig beneath that concept, it becomes about using technology to explore our inner landscapes.”
This brings us to transformative technology, which at its core says harness that design for our internal betterment and not just our productivity. So this can be anything from a meditation app to bio-feedback to more intensive interventions like direct stimulation. The purpose of these specific examples addresses the essential part of our question, which is how do we create a technology culture that benefits society, and the answer is that we focus our extraordinary human creativity and curiosity on designing interventions that teach pause, reduce fear and thus fear based attacks, and allow us to become more aware so that we can choose our response rather than be dragged along by our fight/flight responses to life.
6) How did working in the gaming industry influence your writing, human psychology and social interaction? How does technology, psychology, gaming, storytelling and mythmaking, and social culture intersect and influence one another?
The thing that drew me to gaming was the intersection between technology and storytelling, and the idea that we could use this platform to understand and enhance ourselves. I’m a bit of a Trekkie, so of course I love the Holodeck. But if you dig beneath that concept, it becomes about using technology to explore our inner landscapes. The thread that runs from games to my novel to my adventures in meditation has been exploration for the purpose of freedom. True mental freedom – attaining this, enabling this, scaling this combines technology, psychology, gaming, storytelling, mythmaking, and social culture.
7) What inspired you to start The Willow Group and can you explain your idea of “transformative technology?”
The last decade found me exploring the idea of transformative technology in the video game industry, where I served as a senior executive with responsibility for strategy, operations, and marketing for games internationally for major brands that include: Activision/Blizzard, Disney, and Vivendi. Most recently I managed the operations of Blizzard properties, including World of Warcraft, in China. During this time, I also began to meditate and saw interesting parallels between it and gaming. Both enable delight, flow, and access to dynamic states of consciousness. Meditation, though, goes even further and can profoundly and positively impact well-being. It seemed logical to me that technologies that directly impact human experience could do so as well, but no one seemed to be seriously working on it. So, I left Blizzard to pioneer Transformative Technology.
For the last year I have applied my strategy and execution skills to creating and enabling these types of profound impacts via technology. I started by partnering with one of the largest academic research projects in the space and helping them take an experiment online. This provided critical data at a scale that didn’t yet exist regarding what was possible.
Next, I began to seek out and work with others who understood the potential. Together we started to form a nascent industry and its needed infrastructure. This has grown to the point that the first Transformative Technology Conference happened in Palo Alto this Fall.
My contribution to this burgeoning industry includes co-founding a transformative technology company, and a university research lab to create and produce hardware and software that will revolutionize how traditional approaches like meditation are updated and made more reliable and effective. Meditation has been proven to have a powerful impact on well-being, focus, and emotional regulation, especially during stress. The presence found in meditation is similar to the heightened flow states achieved in games or sports, except that it brings the sensation of flow more deeply into daily life. These products will bring the infrastructure of experiences like gaming to the adventure of personal transformation, and deliver it on a global scale.
“…During this time, I also began to meditate and saw interesting parallels between it and gaming. Both enable delight, flow, and access to dynamic states of consciousness…”
8) What future plans do you have for yourself, your writing career and The Sisterhood? Do you plan to have a sequel?
The Sisterhood is a part of a trilogy, all of which are outlined. I’m focused on getting part one out to as many women as possible and then will hide myself away somewhere and write the sequel.
Syncing up with my work as the literary director of the Queens Book Festival, my first official return post is my long overdue interview with Nichol Bradford, author of the novel, The Sisterhood!
Nichol Bradford has had an accomplished career, first as an executive in the gaming industry, and now as founder and CEO of the company, the Willow Group, developing what she calls “transformative technology.” While, yes, we humans have been innovative when it comes to technology, I can’t say that we have been as innovative psychologically, socially and spiritually. I see Nichol’s work as part of the legacy of Amiri Baraka’s questioning of modern technology in “Technology and Ethos.” The Willow Group’s mission is to use “effective technologies for creating permanent positive shifts in peace of mind, mental balance, life satisfaction and happiness. From ancient practices to cutting-edge science, our programs help you assemble a personalized program to reach your goals.”
As an explorer of human potential, and how technology can bring about transformation in our everyday lives, helping us to expand beyond our perceived limits, Nichol has combined her knowledge from business, gaming industry and her work with The Willow Group to write her first book, The Sisterhood! The Sisterhood follows the story of an organization of the same name led by nine black women. The book opens up with the death of its visionary leader, Vivian Delacroix, and how the remaining leaders cope with not only her tragedy but also moving on with the organizations mission to develop sciences and technologies to empower communities, of especially women, all over the world, confronting Cocanol drug cartels, corrupt governments, secret societies and a media circus surrounding Vivian’s assassination, and dealing with their own personal lives.
We see what these women are willing to sacrifice to create break the mental chains of society and create a better, more whole future for others. At a deeper level, The Sisterhood is a blueprint for how to make changes in one’s life, how we can use the principals of visionary planning, financial literacy, science, technology, martial arts, leadership, spirituality, community service and responsibility to change our world.