Black Superheroes + Black Leadership + The Responsibility of Building Societies in World-Changing Times
Last week I had the privilege to see three films — of course, Black Panther, Canadian filmmaker Sharon Lewis’ Brown Girl Begins inspired by Nalo Hopkinson’s book, Brown Girl in the Ring, and Martinique-based filmmaker Khris Burton’s S0.CI3.TY.
Who we think we are is a fluid concept. We might have a stable image of ourselves but in reality we are constantly in flux as we come into contact and collide with others. And it’s not just other bodies but other possibilities of your self that disrupts who you are at this moment. The realization that we can be something else we don’t recognize or can’t control can be transcendent and can be frightening.
Kiini Ibura Salaam explores those ideas in her latest speculative short story collection, When the World Wounds, where the outside forces of the world can break open spaces that lead to the displacement and reconstructing of the body, of the self, of identity and place. Salaam’s main grounding tool in that exploration is that of the concept of desire. Through her sensual and erotic descriptive language, as a reader you are opened up as much as the characters in her stories to the point of an ecstatic experience.
“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!
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Experiment: Write a letter to your future self or past self. Try to meditate and astral project yourself into the body of one of those selves before or while you are writing to do so. Can you remember past and future memories?
(Not from the book but in the style of it)
If you study metaphysics and archetypal psychology, you might have heard the term synchronicity. Popularized by Carl Jung, synchronicity is defined as “the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events…that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality” or as he describes it, “synchronicity is the coming together of inner and outer events in a way that cannot be explained by cause and effect and that is meaningful to the observer. I’ll be honest I do believe in synchronicity because I have had numerous strange coincidences maybe because I was intuitively looking for something and happen to come across it, or I set things into motion by looking for something in one place and stumble across something relevant in another. For example, I applied for a poetry fellowship and I was compelled to go through the list of the previous fellows; one of them was Reginald Dwayne Betts. I read some of his poems and happened to like them. About a week or two later, I went to the library and randomly decided to look through the poetry section and found a collection of Robert Hayden poems. I remembered enjoying his poetry as well, so I flipped to the forward and started reading; the writers description sounded familiar and I didn’t realize why until I looked at the cover again and realized that it was written by Betts. How did I stumble across a collection introduced by Betts soon after I just found out about him? Hmmm? Does it mean something? I don’t know, but it was spooky.
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What is your hustle?
Colored Girls Hustle featuring founder Taja Lindley and Jessica Valoris released their first official mixtape, Colored Girls Hustle Hard, a 19-track compilation reimagining the conventional ideas of what it means to hustle and giving positive encouragement and education in their lyrics with fun, danceable tracks for and about black women, black girls and other women of color. For Colored Girls Hustle, hustling is not about getting money and material items at the expense of others, but about forging communities and movements, seeking justice, creating safe spaces for black women and girls to be who they are and love who they are completely in mind, body and spirit, and world-building and creating futures. In their description of the mixtape, they reinforce these ideas that are clear in their music, “using powerful beats and powerful words to catalyze audacious self-expression and authentic living. We speak from our lived experiences as Black women to affirm, honor and celebrate how our communities hustle hard for justice, creativity, and wellness….This is the groundwork for our vision of hustle: doing passion-filled and purpose–driven work.”
Many go to church on Sundays for inspirational music and message, but last Sunday I was at the Moondance event at MOMA’s PS1 in Queens for them. Organized by DJ King Britt, the event, which took place in tent dome, featured several DJs, several musical performances, poetry and a discussion on Afrofuturism. The afrofuturistic event was filled with the interplay between fragments of past and future — D. Sabela Grimes dance performance consisting of an alien-like yet ghostly kind of ritual masquerade, soul and electronic music (“my soul system”), and cultural black performance and language with futuristic wording; DJs Hank Shocklee (of Public Enemy), HPrizm, Ras G, King Britt and Fhoston Paradigm pulling from a vast array of musical sounds to quilt together new works and Shabazz Palaces‘ combination of electronic and acoustic drum sounds; Ursula Rucker‘s Black Arts Movement-inspired word mysticism brought together social issues like the death of Trayvon Martin, honoring Amiri Baraka, and connecting spiritual hymns and sexuality.
This was all reinforced in the panel discussion moderated by Afrofuturism author Ytasha Womack, and included Britt, Rucker, Shocklee and Alondra Nelson. Womack described Afrofuturism as where the future meets the past; it facilitates that healing where we feel may have been a break between the two in modern culture. She continued by asking about the notion of race as technology and how afrofuturism is a tool to deconstruct race, how afrofuturism cultivates imagination to transcend circumstance especially in marginalized communities where imagination is under attack and how music is a gateway to understanding afrofuturism.
This is for all the Diesel Funk fans out there and for Women’s History Month!
What legacy are we leaving for others when we dare to dream our special dreams, despite all the limitations that face us or all the naysayers? That is what Madeline McCray aims to answer in her one-woman performance, A Dream to Fly, at the Schomburg Center last Friday, taking on the voice of the first Black women licensed aviatrix, Bessie Coleman.
Beginning with a radio announcement reporting the death of Coleman at the age of 34 from a tragic airplane accident and a eulogy from Ida B. Wells, Coleman is in a limbo state shocked by the untimeliness of her death and wanting to tell her story before she goes. The radio turns into a kind of God-head allowing her to tell it but reminding her that it is time for her to go. McCray inhabits and brings to life Coleman, showing all the facets of her — her strong, independent will and bold personality and the doubtful, lonely side of her that fears she is making a mistake going after this dream so outside of her reality, a daughter of a sharecropper in Texas.
But even with that McCray still gives Coleman in the writing and performance a magnetic charm and hope that you know Coleman will overcome because her spirit searches for something more, to grasp that bright shining star as she says. No person could hold her back search for her dream, not her drunken veteran brother who laughed at the possibility of her being a pilot as she worked as a manicurist in a barbershop, not the lover of her life, Freddie, who wanted to marry her but only if she gave up her dream of flying, not the homesickness she felt as she went to France to become a licensed pilot, and not society who told her to conform to conventions and that her goals did not fit the stereotypes of what a black women should be, that she needed a man, was a man or was an uppity negro because of them. Coleman even declined to filmmakers trying to put her in a box by wanting to make a film, Shadow and Sunshine, which would degrade black people more, and took the backlash when she did. She stood up to all the people who looked at her funny at airplane shows. Coleman always chose the sky, that is where her passion and power lay.