“No Justice, No Peace”

Martin Luther King, Jr. photographed by Marion S. Trikosko, 1964. [Public Domain]

If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace. If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace. If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it. Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but the existence of justice for all people. —Martin Luther King, Jr., Three Major Evils

November Chaos | But. I. Must.

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Hard times require poetry, so I’m throwing myself into the works of some of my favorite poets this evening. I’m laying down all the challenges of the week, the month, the year, all the disgust I feel over the Rittenhouse verdict, and all the pent up emotions over [it seems] a hundred other things.

If we are not careful, the bitter disappointments and horrors of this world can make us distant and cold, so let’s meditate on the wisdom of Maya Angelou and strive to show up in a way that will stand for eternity.

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“Continue” by Maya Angelou
(This is part of the poem written as a gift for Oprah Winfrey)

My wish for you
Is that you continue

Continue

To be who and how you are
To astonish a mean world
With your acts of kindness

Continue

To allow humor to lighten the burden
of your tender heart

Continue

In a society dark with cruelty
To let the people hear the grandeur
Of God in the peals of your laughter

Continue

To let your eloquence
Elevate the people to heights
They had only imagined

Continue

To remind the people that
Each is as good as the other
And that no one is beneath
Nor above you

Continue

To remember your own young years
And look with favor upon the lost
And the least and the lonely

Continue

To put the mantel of your protection
Around the bodies of
The young and defenseless

Continue

To take the hand of the despised
And diseased and walk proudly with them
In the high street
Some might see you and
Be encouraged to do likewise

Continue

To plant a public kiss of concern
On the cheek of the sick
And the aged and infirm
And count that as a
Natural action to be expected

Continue

To let gratitude be the pillow
Upon which you kneel to
Say your nightly prayer
And let faith be the bridge
You build to overcome evil
And welcome good

Continue

To ignore no vision
Which comes to enlarge your range
And increase your spirit

Continue

To dare to love deeply
And risk everything
For the good thing

Continue

To float
Happily in the sea of infinite substance
Which set aside riches for you
Before you had a name

Continue

And by doing so
You and your work
Will be able to continue
Eternally

I pray that you continue…

Student Post 4: Guilty, Guilty, Guilty

Dogwood in April-1

We are the earth. We are essentially the earth itself. –Joy Harjo, on poetry

Hello blows through the trees […] Pass this love on […] –Joy Harjo, from pandemic poem

Today is Earth Day and #ThursdayTreeLove! None of my students wrote about trees or the beauty of the earth and our role as its custodians, so I’m giving you a tiny bit of a dogwood I couldn’t resist when I saw its petals against the clear blue sky.

Of course, I’m giving you a little more than that. One of my students shared her response to the Derek Chauvin verdict–guilty on all counts–and I thought about how taking care of the earth includes taking care of humanity. Hatred for, cruelty toward, and even disinterest in humanity are just as destructive as litter, noise pollution, oil spills, and global warming.

Our “sparkly” Jess of Black Modern Thoughts gives us something to think about as she muses over George Floyd’s murder, the route to justice, and the verdict for the former police officer in her post, “guilty”.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Tired like Langston

“Langston,” Lynita Solomon. Used by Permission of the Artist

Yesterday, I read a Facebook post by a woman who denigrated Vice President Kamala Harris for no good reason. The woman asserted that Harris is not a role model and no one should have their daughters look up to her.

The post and responses were hateful and extremely disrespectful. I can’t figure out how people can stir up so much hatred for a person they don’t know just because they don’t agree with the person’s policies or positions on certain issues.

Beyond this illogic, some made lewd remarks and [like the original poster] claimed Harris did “anything” to reach the VP position. The whole thing was disturbing. And to make matters worse, the post was “liked” thousands of times and shared more than 17,000 times!

The comments played into the hypersexualized view of Black women that was written into the narrative of American history to cover the multitude of white men’s violations against Black women’s bodies and personhood. The narrative is hurtful and just as dangerous as the one that gets Black men and women shot for just breathing.

Like the speaker in Langston Hughes’s poem, I’m so tired.

Tired
Langston Hughes

I am so tired of waiting.

Aren’t you,
for the world to become good
and beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
and cut the world in two —
and see what worms are eating
at the rind.

About the Image: The art above is the work of graphic illustrator, Lynita “Elle” Solomon. She posted the image on Instagram in honor of the day Langston Hughes was born, 119 years ago. Lynita has an amazing way of presenting her subjects “without faces,” but we know exactly who they are anyway. You can see more of her work by clicking the image above.

There Is Joy…

But
isn’t it funny?
[…]
all they are interested in is our pain,
as if the joy-parts were accidental.

I write love poems, too,
but
you only want to see my mouth torn open in protest,
as if my mouth were a wound
with pus and gangrene
for joy. –Koleka Putuma, “Black Joy,” Collective Amnesia

People misunderstand Blacks in America. When we rise up against police brutality and other racial and social injustices in this country, when we speak the truth of our pain, we are not saying our lives are utterly miserable. There is joy, and–at the risk of sounding essentialist–that is part of our beauty and strength as a people.

I’ve run across many people who are interested in our pain, as the poet Koleka Putuma notes, but few who are invested in our joy. This strips us of our humanness and reduces us to “objects.”

I assure you. There is joy.

In spite of the pain that often comes with living in this world with Black skin, in spite of the economic barriers, in spite of the educational and health disparities, in spite of systemic oppression, we are able to thrive and embrace joy. We are able to live and worship and laugh and love and support our communities. We are able to forgive, to comfort, to heal. In spite of the struggle, there is much that is joyful and beautiful in our lives.


About the image: The photo was shot at my Dad’s 80th birthday party five+ years ago. I was searching my Flickr album for a completely different photo, but there was so much joy in this photo that it oozed off the screen and into my spirit on this gloomy not-so-wordless Wednesday.

Ally.

Photo by Teemu Paananen on Unsplash

When I wrote, “Dear Friend,” a couple of months ago, I did not expect the friend to whom it was addressed to run to me, grab my hands and begin singing along with me, “We Are the World.” However, I did expect her to take a moment and at least consider my words. I did expect her to ask the God we both serve for some direction. That didn’t happen either.

In fact, she reacted very poorly: she accused me of spreading hate, of calling for rebellion [against state-sanctioned violence?], of inciting violence, and of threatening her. Then, soon after sending the message, she blocked me and removed herself from all social media.

She is not an ally.

The next morning, her daughter sent a hopeful message. She apologized for her mother’s behavior, thanked me for my candor, and asked me to pray for her mother. She wrote, in part:

This is an ongoing polarizing conversation between the two of us. I appreciate your leading with love and kindness [. . .]. I think of you and stand with you. As an educator, I will continue to fight for justice for my students.

Even though I was baffled by the mother’s response, one thing was clear–her daughter is an ally. She stands up, she stands with, and she will fight with us for what is just.

If you want to know how to be an ally and what it means to be one–beyond the hollow use of the word by far too many recently–see this post by my blogging friend, writer KE Garland:  Monday Notes: Five Examples of White Allyship.

The work of undoing racism is exhausting, but African Americans and other oppressed people of color cannot do it alone. We need allies–allies who are willing and brave enough to do the work with us.

Guest Post | “Tightrope” by Elle Arra

Photo by Elle Arra

Today’s guest post for our series on living Black in the United States was written by my friend, Elle Arra. I met Elle Arra through her poetry blog here on WordPress. She is an amazing poet and visual artist, and I was delighted to learn she lives right here in Northern Alabama. In fact, we know many of the same people! We have made plans to get together for tea when meeting and greeting are safe again.

In this post, Elle Arra combines poetry, photos, and reportage to share her experience of participating in a protest over the Alabama District Attorney’s refusal to release officers’ body camera footage in the police shooting of Dana Sherrod Fletcher last November.


Suspended above the day’s mundanity and slog,
an ever-present tightrope
black bodies traverse in tandem.
It’s like navigating an ocean built
almost entirely of undertow
while maintaining stride and heft of dreams.

We are not permitted our hysteria
not without it being labeled non sequitur rage.

We walk this tightrope
lilting between full bloom
and languish,
walk with bullets in our backs,
twine around our necks,
asphalt under our skin,
knees on our windpipes,
tree branches in our hair,
blood like rubies cascading,
splayed bone like smooth porcelain,
black skin – ribbons and ribbons,
afro confetti––

Photo by Elle Arra

Sunday, August 16, 2020. I walked the four corners of US 72 and Wall Triana [in Madison County, Alabama] where giant signs were hoisted in peaceful protest of the shooting of Dana Fletcher 10 months earlier. I took photos and spoke with his wife and mother who have had to wedge their grief and mourning between breathing and fighting for justice. I cannot imagine having to take moments meant for private sorrows to fight publicly for transparency—the human and decent thing being denied them.

Photo by Elle Arra

I watched Dana’s now fatherless daughter playing in the grass while her mother, grandmother, and a sizable group gave everything they had to this effort. I took it all in–the focus on their faces, the bullhorn call and response, and the raised signs calling for justice.

Photo by Elle Arra

It was extremely hot and humid that late morning/early afternoon, but the dedicated group spent three hours occupying the four corners of the intersection adjacent to the lot where Dana was killed. People from all walks of life honked as they drove by and elevated their fists through car windows in solidarity. Several vehicles pulled up and gifted cold, refreshing, electrolyte drinks to the protestors. There was beauty in the coming together despite the bitter reasons for the gathering; there was beauty in the union of people of all colors and lifestyles for one common goal.

Photo by Elle Arra

On October 27, 2019 Dana Fletcher was fatally shot by a Madison police officer in front of his wife and daughter. Nearly a year later, there still has been no transparency in this matter. According to Alabama law, body camera footage is privileged information, so the District Attorney refuses to release the footage or the alleged 911 call that precipitated Fletcher’s death. Stills from the incident have been released, but these stills do not reveal the whole story.

You can help. Please go to change.org and sign the petition to enact the Dana Fletcher bill making bodycam footage public record.

Photo by Elle Arra

We walk that tightrope,
what a beautiful gait.

––even our dying is a glorious walk home.

To learn more about Elle Arra and her work, please follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

Photo by Elle Arra

[All images in this post captured by Elle Arra with Fujifilm X-E1 f/1.0 1/4000 50.00mm ISO200].

Guest Post | “Hear Me Roar” by Liv Grace

Today’s guest post for our series on living Black in the United States was written by up-and-coming performance phenom, Liv Grace. Liv Grace graduated from high school a couple of weeks ago, and she is already making her mark in this world. In this post, she shares a little about her music journey and her song and music video, “Hear Me Roar,” which she wrote in protest  of police brutality and racial injustice in the USA. Be sure to watch the video. 


Yoooooo! My name is Liv Grace, and amongst many other things I am a singer, songwriter, and producer. I’ve always been a lover of music and the arts. I’ve loved making music, writing, and editing films since the day I found out my Nintendo 3DS had a video camera. I started writing poetry and fictional stories around the fifth grade. I’ve been singing in choirs since I was really young. I’ve harmonized on praise teams all throughout middle and high school, and I’ve been “belting it out” in school musicals for the past five years.

What I love most about music is its ability to bring people together and make them feel something. A simple melody has the power to make us feel a plethora of emotions and a lyric can help us see the world through someone else’s eyes. I’ve always loved the feeling I get when I listen to music and I like being able to give that feeling to others.

I’ve always been composing harmonies. I remember watching a video of young Ariana Grande when I was in middle school singing into a microphone connected to a guitar looping pedal, layering harmonies and singing over it. I was mesmerized, and immediately I knew I had to try it. Unfortunately, my middle school allowance was not large enough to purchase a professional guitar looper and trying to convince my parents to purchase a $100 guitar looper for me—a twelve-year-old with no guitar—was surprisingly difficult. I decided to do the next best thing and downloaded a free beatbox looping app on my phone. I picked a random song from my iTunes playlists, listened to it on repeat and recreated the instrumental with only my voice on loop. My obsession with arranging and recreating harmonies ran wild from there. I found myself recreating Broadway cast albums and singing all of the parts. I’d post small clips of me harmonizing with myself and singing covers on Instagram.

In my junior year of high school, I decided it was time to start creating my own music. This was daunting, yet exciting. Ironically, around that same time my dad, brother, and I stumbled across a space connected to the Hirshhorn Museum called ARTLAB+. That space literally changed my life. In fact, the only reason I actually completed my very first song was because I needed it to apply and audition for one of their arts programs. I was accepted, but didn’t go in with high hopes. I showed up, I sang it, and they loved it! It was at that moment that I realized this thing I’d been doing as a therapeutic hobby was something I was actually good at! I’ve been writing melodies, producing instrumentals, and composing harmonies ever since.

Liv Grace. Photo provided by the artist.

At the beginning of the shelter-in-place [to flatten the curve of COVID-19], there was a moment when nobody in the US knew what was going on or how to deal with it. My school extended our spring break while administrators and teachers worked on an action plan, so there was this huge chunk of time in which I was able to focus on things that made me happy. I’d started a music account on Instagram earlier in the year, but rarely posted on it due to lack of time. Now, I had what felt like all the time in the world!

Like many others, I began to use this surplus of time to focus on things that I genuinely enjoy and to learn new things. I finally had enough time to pour into one of my passions—music. I started actively posting on Instagram and from this the opportunity arose through ARTLAB+ to share my creative process as a teen artist in collaboration with the Nicholson Project, an artist residency program.

Liv Grace. Photo provided by the artist.

A couple days into the process [and after I’d written a song on mental health for the project], the video of George Floyd’s murder took over all forms of media. It wasn’t the first time I’d watched my people carelessly shoved to the ground by law enforcement. Every time a video comes across my feed, my heart aches, but watching George groan in pain as he yelled for his mother was the last straw. I knew I needed to use my gift to speak out. I decided my mental health song could wait and began writing “Hear Me Roar.”

When it comes to creating, I overthink everything. I spend hours writing and rewriting, trying to find the right drum pad or the perfect harmonies to accent, but with “Hear Me Roar” everything just flowed so organically. The song just came to me. The chorus popped into my head as I was soaking in a bubble bath. The next day I sat and wrote two verses, a pre-chorus, a chorus, and arranged backing vocals in one sitting.  The next day I produced the instrumental and just continued tweaking throughout the week until the song was finished. I let it breathe for a little bit, listened to it about a week later and called it a wrap.

The song was done, and I loved it.

A little after the song was finalized, I decided I wanted it to be released with a music video, so I grabbed my video camera and my dad’s mini projector and pushed my bed to the other side of my room. Over a couple days I filmed, directed, and produced the video.

“Hear Me Roar” is the song I needed to hear as we mourned the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all the other Black people who lost their lives to police brutality. I needed a song that would remind me no matter how hard anybody tries, they cannot silence my voice.

We often see the tragedies and the news and feel hopeless, like our voices don’t matter. But they do! Not only do they matter, our voices have the power to move mountains and make change in the world. My hope is that “Hear Me Roar” can remind people how powerful their roars are and that they should use them to speak out on issues that matter to them. Right now, we are in great need of change and if we use our individual and collective voices, we can make that happen!

“Hear Me Roar” is available to stream on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Tidal, Amazon Music, Google Play Music, Youtube Music, Deezer, and Napster! It is also available to purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play Store. You can find links to all of these stores here:

A percentage of the proceeds from “Hear Me Roar” will be donated to the ARTLAB+ program.  Individuals involved in the program devote their lives to uplifting and amplifying the voices of young artists of color and provide us with equipment, professional guidance, and a loving environment to express ourselves in our own creative and unique ways. I want to help the program give the opportunities they’ve given to me to other young Black artists.

You can find me and more of what I’m up to here:

We need your voice to create change, so keep roaring!

Liv Grace. Photo provided by the artist.

Guest Post | “‘Naming’ Our Grief” by Chanté Enu

It is not unusual for artists to use their work as a platform against social injustice, so it is not surprising that we have seen a resurgence of social justice art since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many artists have used Instagram to share their messages. 

My former student, Chanté Enu [formerly known as Chanté Marie]–singer, songwriter, and artist–contributes to the dialogue. Her social justice artwork, which she has begun to post on Instagram, reminds us to “say the names” of those who have succumbed to police violence.

For today’s post on living Black in the United States, she shares a piece from her series, Voices Mourning in Protest and a little about the motivation behind its creation. 


This piece is a tribute to the many Black individuals whose lives were taken by the police. I added names to the canvas in hopes that while viewing this composition people will say their names and remember:

George Floyd. Jamar Clark. Timothy Thomas. Danroy Henry Jr. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Artago Damon Howard. Jeremy Lett. Lavall Hall. Thomas Allen. Charly Leundeu Keunang. Naeschylus Vinzant. Tony Robinson. Anthony Hill. Bobby Gross. Brandon Jones. Eric Harris. Walter Scott. Frank Shephard. William Chapman. David Felix. Brendon Glenn. Kris Jackson. Spencer McCain. Victor Emmanuel Larosa. Salvado Ellswood. Darrius Stewart . Albert Joseph Davis. Samuel DuBose. Christian Taylor. Asshams Pharoah Manley. India Kager. Keith Harrison McLeod. Junior Prosper. Anthony Ashford. Bennie Lee Tignor. Jamar Clark. Nathaniel Harris Pickett.

The list goes on.

The focal point of this piece is a black woman in mourning. She represents the heaviness of the grief and loss many of us feel.

My prayer is that we expel the monsters of apathy and disconnect that plague our nation and invoke genuine feelings of connectedness through our collective grief over the loss of these lives.

Through this piece, I hope people understand that it is our responsibility to speak up, to advocate, to say their names, to protest injustice, to deeply care about the injustices against Black lives.

Summoned Mother | Tameka Cage Conley

All mothers were summoned, when George Floyd called out for his mother. —Rachel Costa

Every mother heard him. We heard George Floyd. We hear him. —Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo who was murdered by New York City police officers in 1999.

For today’s post on living Black in the United States, I invite you to view a three-part series presented by the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art. The project features Dr. Tameka Cage Conley, an artist I initially met many years ago when she was a student–an English major, of course. 😉 I am so very proud of her and her work.

The museum describes the “Summoned Mother” series as:

a memoir of a particular American motherhood: Black and uniquely precarious. This three-volume video series features Dr. Tameka Cage Conley, a literary artist and mother to a six-year-old Black boy, as she responds to George Floyd’s breathless call on motherhood. Conley juxtaposes the works of Elizabeth Catlett with those of contemporary Black poets, bridging the visual and literary arts in a meditation of Black artistry’s longstanding eye on injustice.

Dr. Tameka’s masterful weave of poetry, art, story, and song achingly reaches that primordial place in all mothers that compels us to protect, to rescue, to do something.

The project was spearheaded by Kwadwo Nnuro; the entire series is approximately 42 minutes in length.


About the image: The image that leads today’s post features a favorite photo of my son and me–modified for the post.

Other posts in the “Black Lives Matter” Monday series: