Thursday, September 29, 2005

Peter Bratt Speaks-Race and Identity Still Relevant

This article originally appeared on a previous blogsite September 13, 2005. I am reprinting it in honor of the life of Puerto Rican Independence leader, Filiberto Ojeda Rios. I’m reprinting it because it has been a difficult few weeks for many of us. My trip to DC for the International Haitian Tribunal was also emotionally draining. May those of us who are still here, continue in the struggle for what is just and true.

The other night I had a healing experience. I went to a screening of the film, “Follow Me Home.” The screening took place at The Uptown Meditation Center. The center runs a number of programs sponsored by the Peace on the Street, Inc. a not for profit organization in East Harlem, NYC. Classes offered include Astanga Yoga and Gentle Yoga as well as karate.

I personally felt it was no accident that I was there at this screening. It was no accident that the screening took part in the meditation room. It was no accident that I invited my daughter with me. Ever since that hurricane, I can’t help but think that something is coming, something that I can’t explain, but know. It was something in the faces of the people in New Orleans. Something familiar that we had seen before.

Many of us feel deeply in our hearts what Kanye West expressed. I stayed glued to my computer forcing myself to be a witness. Many of us could not believe that a nation like the United States would stand by watching people die. I don’t know why I was so shocked. I don’t know why any of us were so shocked. We live in a country that has taken many lives in this manner and worse. The people of the gulf states were the present day faces of the suffering people endured on slave ships through out the Diaspora, during Jim Crow, during Apartheid and at this moment on reservations that continue to house indigenous nations here in America.

That suffering was echoed in the cry of those babies that went hungry. It was the stillness of the feet peeking beneath a blanket someone had placed on the elders left for dead in wheelchairs. It was the sorrow of our family history past, present and future. It was the sorrow of not only New Orleans, but also the entire state of Louisiana. It was Mississippi delta blues; the part that could not be expressed in any recording any of us has ever heard. It was Alabama and the secrets she has kept. It is Red Lake and the suffering of a nation of indigenous people that the media has already swept under the carpet. America is a nation that consciously hides the condition of Black people, by holding up Oprah as the measuring stick. The story of the so-called undocumented people living in the gulf region is yet to be told. What will become of them? Will we ever know?

“Follow Me Home” is a bold examination of race and identity. The film was released in 1996. It is the creation of director and writer Peter Bratt with his brother Benjamin Bratt. The film is the journey of 4 artist representing the disenfranchised, on their way to DC from LA to paint a rainbow – a euphemism for the human race left out of the make up of the system of power in the United States. Along the way they encounter an African American woman literary holding a secret in her hands. They are forced to deal with the external oppression represented by men clad in Yankee uniforms. These men are on their way to a Civil War re-enactment. Revealed in the film is also, the internal oppression people can inflict on themselves as a result of colonization.

It was the third time in a week that, I had been in a place where an indigenous messenger came with a spiritual interpretation of the state of our world. It was clear that he was bringing us a message. Every thing that I’m recording here has been paraphrased from the notes I decided to take and my memory of the evening.

Peter Bratt talked about the indigenous communities returning to the ceremony as a way to address the needs of their people and the condition of mother earth. He began by stating that storytelling is the basis of all peoples. The director/writer considers himself a storyteller and uses film as his medium of choice. He added, had he not been a writer and filmmaker, that he would spend his time with medicine people. As a member of the board of Peace on the Streets, Inc. he believes in the mission of the organization to address the issues of violence on our streets by offering a variety programs treating the symptoms of oppression and healing the pain of wounded people. He has been going around showing the film in different community venues as a way to offer discussion and healing to communities.

One of the characters in the film is Abel, portrayed by Peter’s brother Benjamin Bratt. Abel is an angry wounded man hiding his pain in alcohol and pot. He displays the only power he owns by carrying an angry threatening demeanor, dishing out insults to strangers and loved ones alike. During the discussion Peter described those like the Abel character in our communities behaving in this manner as wounded and in need of healing. People need help he said. Organizations like Peace on the Street were important. Peter said it was important in any teaching to tell the whole story. He said that we lived in a society where often we don’t take time and often skim the surface of martial arts. He smiled as he talked about how wonderful it was to enter the community center observing the youth, taking part in a martial arts class. He noticed the children bowing to the teachers and to each other upon entering the room. He reflected on the respect and manner in which everyone connected to each other.

Peter was on a reservation in South Dakota when the events in the Gulf region took place. He said that the problem in our society was that we see people as less valuable. He said race was a spirit and it often brings up a lot of pain. That each of us in the room were not alone, and that our ancestors were with us. The concept of ancestral communion was an integral part of the film.

He continued to say that indigenous people were concerned about what is going on in the world and that lots of ceremonies are taking place to off set what is about to take place. He said that native communities were returning to the ceremony as a way to address the needs of their people and the condition of mother earth. He said many of his people come to the medicine man as a last resort. Usually when they are threatened with death. This is the point where we are in relationship to mother earth. He explained that in traditional ceremonies a woman brings water into the room because water represents life. Women bring life. The problem in the world is that the female has been left out. The spirit of the female (which represents balance) has been removed from the alters of many societies. He pointed out that many cultures believe we are all made up of woman spirit as well as man spirit. He said our bodies are just our earth suits. In our earth suit we have been disconnected from the mother, our earth.

He went on to say that there is no native word for nature because we are nature. We have to take care of nature. Everything that exists has the right to be, from the trees to the tiny bacteria.

He ended the evening with a story about a lesson he learned about himself. He had been critical of his spouse’s way of following the spiritual teachings. In being critical of her, he realized that he himself was not measuring up. He remembered to be the change you wish to create. I’m thankful for the film. I’m thankful for the wonderful work Peter Bratt is doing to make us reflect on how we can use the gifts we’ve already been given. By the way, that is also in the film. You have to see it to know what I’m talking about.

The Meditation Center will show the film to people who wish to see it as long as there is an audience of 10 to 15 persons. Contact them at 212- 426-4666.

For more info about the film and Peter Bratt go to

Friday, September 23, 2005

Great Trepidation

I’m always nervous before going on trips by myself. I'm pretty much ready to go. My bag was packed since yesterday. My camera, digital tape recorders, batteries, trail mix, water, crackers, 2 sets of clothes, events lists etc. I’m making salmon cakes to eat with some spinach and before boarding the bus. I'll need to stop and get some headphones because mine are shot.

So what's got me on edge? I think I'm feeling nervous because I will be away from what is familiar. I'll be separated from family. It's only a couple of days but I feel trepidation. Perhaps it is the coming of the storm. I worry about all the families who have already been displaced. They are on my mind. Especially the black people. The coming storm will bring up the trauma that we've just experienced as a group. I don't know anyone not moved by those images on television of people stranded on highways, with their children and elders. For anyone who looked at those pictures and scenes and insisted that racism isn't an issue, all I can say is you live in another world. For me it was painful, frightening and very much the experience of the middle passage I studied under Dr. Marimba Ani at Hunter College. She sat at the feet of Dr. John Henrick Clark. He was the reason she came to Hunter. I know what I know because of her. She was the guest of Gary Bird on WLIB last night. He is a very popular radio host in New York City. She coined the phrase "Ma'afa." She studied many African languages searching for the right word to describe the middle passage experienced by Africans captured into slavery and spread throughout the world. Ma'afa means catastrophe in Swahili. I think the other translation by the Dagara people of Mali is the following: "Ma" means human being and "afa" means to kill. Last night Dr. Marimba said the "Ma'afa” is being played out right before our eyes.

When I saw those people in their own feces, sick, and dying with their children and elders I saw what our ancestors saw. I felt it. The chaos ensuing as they were being locked in the superdomes, we black people felt it as a group. Others were held back from crossing a bridge into neighboring counties to seek shelter. They were held back by a line of policeman from that county. Present day Ma'afa. Children separated from parents because there was no more room on a helicopter or on a bus (when they did finally arrive). We have been scattered again. Sent to Arkansas, Houston, and as far away as Utah. Scattered into shelters in towns and cities where the poor now have to compete with the poor.

So as Rita comes, I prepare for whatever is to come next.

What Next?

I've just taken a look at Cnn. Anyone wondering if all those drivers stuck on the highway will cross over to the south bound side? I would. What about those people waiting in line at the airport? Let's hope for the best. Let's hope Rita will pass over without the destruction caused by Katrina. Let's also hope folks will help each other should the need arise.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Harlem Goes to Washington

Tomorrow I will be going to Washington. It will be my third time going to Washington to a demonstration. My last visit was the Presidential Inauguration 2005. It was frightening. Large crowds of those for Bush and those against were on intersections (together!) for hours waiting to go through security. I didn't know what to be more frightened about. There were people around me in an array of cowboy hats and boots, society ladies in their furs, demonstrators with banners, and national guards men standing above the crowd on cement blocks holding guns. Once on Pennsylvania Ave, we were greeted by police in riot gear and guns on roof tops, and a line of police four deep. I no longer wanted to turn my back on Bush. I wanted to go home. I wanted to be in the safety of my tiny apartment in Manhattan with my loved ones.

My first Washington demonstration was the March For Women's Lives March 2005. I bought four tickets on the internet from the Fung Wah bus company here in NYC for my girl friend, my daughter, my cousin (who is the same age as my daughter) and myself. We were all excited. It was going to be my first demonstration in which family and friends came. It was a historic event which my daughter and her cousin would always remember. We got to the location in Chinatown where the Fung Wah bus was supposed to board. We found a dark silent street. As we rode around the area in search of the bus, (China Town in NYC isn't that big) we found nothing. There was one other person looking bewildered as she also searched for the bus. My husband felt sorry for us. We went home, regrouped, napped and my wonderful husband drove us to Washington the morning. It turned out great. I had lots of stories that women willing shared about the event.

I'm going by myself so I've prepared well. I bought my bus ticket and have it in my wallet. This time I bought my ticket from an organization sponsoring bus rides and not a random bus company going to DC. I'll be going with a group leaving from Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. The bus is leaving tomorrow. The ticket price was the best price being offered. Ten bucks roundtrip! I'm actually getting a two for one deal. I'll be attending the International Tribunal on Haiti at George Washington University, Elliott School of International Affairs. The opening session is Friday evening, September 23, 2005. Groups going for this event will be offered shelter in local churches for the night. Food is also being provided, but I'm bringing my own just in case. For more information you can go to: or

You can also call the newspaper Haiti Progres at 718-434-8100. They are also selling bus tickets.

I'll be attending the rally on Saturday and the Operation Ceasefire Concert that evening. I'll be staying in a hotel that night.
I'll be heading back to New York Sunday afternoon.

So for those of you who can't go, I'll be blogging about the events and the people who participate.

You can check here for updates on the happenings, make suggestions, add comments or ask questions.

While writing this President Bush has just held a press conference. He made a statement about the demonstrators arriving in DC for tomorrows rally. Simply put he said, "Your position Is Wrong." What else is new?

Well with that said, I continue to prepare for my trip. I want to be in DC as a witness and to tell the stories that you won't see on Broadcast or even some progressive news.

Here's to all you demonstrators: Don't be afraid to raise your voice.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

St. Nicks Pub

Nick’s Pub is in Harlem on 149th and St. Nicolas Ave. I’ve passed this place on the way to and from the subway for the 7 years I’ve lived uptown. On any night a few locals are seated at the bar listening to blues and jazz, while they throw back a few. I’m not much of a drinker. I grew up in a household free of alcohol. When my dad wanted a drink, he went to a bar. My mom was raised a Baptist and pretty much that whole ideology of abstaining alcohol, fornication, and bad language ruled. Really. Not that a curse word wouldn’t slip out every now and then. As teenagers we fornicated much later than most teens. I’m just getting to the drinking part.

On Saturday night a drink was called for. We had been listening to a friend’s frustration and anger over the break up of her marriage. After two hours we all needed to go do something. Now usually on a Saturday night we’d go downtown. Perhaps see some folk or rock bands on Ludlow street, watch groups of young white kids walk a drunken-shuffle, or go dancing in clubs so small, we’d search for a space to dance and find ourselves pushed right out the door. Literally.

We decided to check out St. Nick’s Pub. There was a trio up on the stage composed of a stand up bassist, an electric keyboard player and a drummer. A seasoned vocalist was at the mike. A few old timers were at a table right in front of the stage. Some European tourist arrived just after we took our seats at the bar. A mature black couple sat at a table, the man massaging her back. Other musicians sat stage left. I was betting some jam session was probably the regular Saturday action. The bartender wore a black knitted head wrap, smoky eye-make up and a tiny stud in her nose. She wore a black t-shirt with the face of a little black kid with short locks. The caption underneath read, “Black Rasta Baby.”

After getting our drinks my husband made a toast. We worked on those while the drummer began to do some Ray Charles. By the end of the first drink I was feeling pretty buzzed and then the drummer led the group in “What I’d Say.” I loved being a Raelet. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t love the Raelet part. You know the “Huuuuh” call and response between Ray and his back up singers.

My husband makes a toast and we three click our glasses. He begins a conversation, truth or dare style about the number of sex partners we’ve all had. We each start recalling them from the first date to the last partner including spouses. As we’re reviewing the best and worst of them, I spot an acquaintance that I haven’t spoken to in a year. She has seen me first because she’s looking at me like she wanted to be sure it was I before she spoke. I turn to my husband and point her out.

She comes over. We hug and kiss and introduce the people we’re with to each other. She asks me what I’m up to. I tell her I’ve left my job to write. She gets this look on her face like she’s got a secret she can’t wait to tell. My friend tells me if I want to freelance then I need to talk to her friend. “She’s the real deal.” The real deal happens to be Susan Crain Bakos. Susan tells us she quit her job, left her husband started freelancing as a writer 30 years ago and has never looked back. I ask what she writes about. She says I’ve probably seen her stuff in women’s magazines. She tosses a title at me, “Make Over Your Sex Life Tonight.” It is not familiar. I jot this down in a notebook I keep handy for interesting tidbits to look up later.

We all get a table together. The old timers in the front have left. The first band ends their set and a new group assembles. We order a new round of drinks. Some other European tourists sit at the table with us. They share some canned peanuts they have bought in with them. I start wishing for thing to munch on.

At the table Susan tells us more about the stuff she writes. It’s all sex. The acquaintance friend tells me Susan has a new book coming out soon. I don’t know what a writer who focuses on sex looks like or if they have a particular look. I wouldn’t have guessed what Susan wrote about. She wore a button down white blouse, the collar open wide. Her hair was coiffed in one of those feathered spike/curl looks. This lady appeared no different from the literacy teachers I worked with on reading strategies conferences. She reminds me of the society types you see on Fifth Avenue going out to lunch. Although, the white blouse she wore, was open down to the top of her black bra. She could have been someone who just wanted to look sexy.

She tells me about a columnist she knew. The magazine had created this persona of this columnists who was giving advice about sex. She was this mysterious 120-pound woman living on some island and was never available for public appearances. Susan tells us in actuality this woman was a 300 something pound lesbian. “We must have lunch sometime. I could give you lots of advice.”

The new group on stage introduces themselves. Composed of an electric pianist, a bass guitarist, electric guitar player, a drummer seated at a set and a drummer playing a Djembe drum. They are The West African Men featuring, Koumba Sibibe. Koumba tells the audience, “ Every Saturday night is Africa Night, and tonight we are all African’s. Some of the group’s members hail from Senegal, Guinea, Mali and Niger. Everyone at the table agrees. My friend jokes, “Africa by way of Hungary.” I’m glad not to be with people who continue to dispute Africa as the birthplace of the world and all peoples.

Koumba is on the electric piano. He ask for a moment of silence in honor of the hurricane Katrina victims and the death a relative. The bar has filled up with other musicians, Saturday regulars, young whites and African women in bolas or sarongs in peach, green and head wraps. The musicians warmed up with a infusion of jazz, funk, west African guitar and the electric pianist adding European classical. The drummer on the djembe pumping his palms in clusters of four-time with a resounding “bah” at the end of each. Susan remarks, ”Don’t you just want to lick his arms!”

It wasn’t long before one of the women got up to accompany the drummer. Anyone who knows something about African dance and drumming, one is not done without the other. I loved it when this one dancer matched each beat of the drum with her hips and arms. She never broke a sweat. Another woman soon joined her. They soon simulated each other’s moments, holding the wrapped skirts wider to allow their legs to open and close to the rhythm of the drummer. The djembe drummer picked the drum waving the base of it in praise of the dancers. A member of the audience joined them. One of the African women encourages her already knowing body to try other steps. A third woman came in and began placing pans of long aluminum pans on the table. My prayers were answered as an announcement came between songs, that food would be served.

The band had another hot round of a song called “Soweto, Soweto.” By now some horn players had arrived, sax and trumpets and another guitar player. Koumba called the third woman, who had bought in the food to the stage. “You cooked the food and now you must sing.” He said. Her voice was strong and deep. The singer commanded the musicians, when to take solos. Each time she gave the invitation they responded with flair and passion. By the end of the song the singer was waving her hand over the crowd. I felt like I’d been to an old time tent revival.

If you are tired of the same old Saturday night come up to St. Nick’s Pub. Don’t wait until your marriage is on the rocks. Get a babysitter and get spiritually lifted. A head wrap and matching lappa isn’t necessary, (although essential to sisters keeping that Scared Woman beauty alive). Do bring your dancing feet and stomach. Because every Saturday is Africa Night!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

No Lipstick, No Bra and the Wrong Underwear

Today was not the typical day. I was headed for the shower when I noticed my daughter’s first assignment for a new teacher was left on her desk. I looked out the window to see her headed up the block headed towards the M4 bus. I put on a pair of jeans in a hurry, and a t-shirt that I had on yesterday. The t-shirt reads, “ Read, Learn, Join, Holler, Act.” It was a slogan that I put on my shirt to do passive aggressive demonstrating during the Republican Convention in NYC last year. I took it from a website that was advertising the Help America Vote Act.

Any way, I rush down 4 flights of steps and to the corner to be stopped by the “don’t walk” sign. I race across the street when I get the okay, and realize I am wearing the wrong shoes. I can’t run in these flip-flop style sandals with the fancy jeweled and thin straps. These were not meant for chasing down your teenager to assist in creating and maintaining good relations with the new teacher.

I reach the corner and can see the M4 bus headed to the bus stop. I can’t yell because she is still too far away and like clock work, the 7:25am M4 is on time! I race across the street anyway. As I get to the stop the damn bus pulls away!

While standing at the stop I notice a young girl fixing her lipstick and reach in my bag for mine. I don’t have anything in my bag except an ipod, my wallet and house keys. I rub my fingers over my lips trying to soften them a bit. I remember I also didn’t brush my teeth. It’s very humid this morning. I start wiping down the sides of my nose and forehead with the back of my hand trying to tone down the shine I feel growing on my face. I start having second thoughts and think this isn’t worth it. My kid can get an “F”. Would serve her right. Make her more responsible. I should go home. It’s starting to drizzle a bit. I have no umbrella.

Other people arrive at the bus stop. People are dressed for work and school. I become self- conscious of my appearance. I reach for the ipod and want to distract myself with some Celia Cruz. It is dead. Crap! I forgot to charge it last night.

The bus arrives and I smooth out the t-shirt trying to look like I meant to look this way. I realize this t-shirt doesn’t quite cover the top of my jeans and feel too much material at the top of the jeans in the back. Wrong underwear. I put on a pair of those granny wears instead of a bikini pair. I swipe my metrocard card and quickly take a seat. I push down the underwear rising over the top of my jeans in back. Thank god there is room in these jeans. These aren’t those low-rise jeans. No muffin action here. These are at waist. Room to hide the granny panties.

A woman gets on a few stops later. She looks elegant with her Nubian locks braided up at the back in French braids and ending in the top wrapped around each other. A few strands dangle on either side of her eyebrows. The only thing going for me this morning is my locks. They have a nice textured look, achieved by braiding the hair while it is wet. It hangs on either side of my face.

I finally arrive at the school and stand up adjusting my t-shirt. The man in back of me gives me a look like he is surprised. He has this salivating look on his face. I feel ridiculous. He gives me the up and down with his eyes. With my daughter’s project in hand I try to portray “ I’m a mother doing my duty of rushing a project to school.” I try and look righteous. I realize I have on no bra. I get off the bus.

In front of the school is Brother Larry greeting all of the students and parents at the front door. I say hello quickly, smile and inquire about the whereabouts of the students. They are in class already. I walk up the 5 flights of steps. I walk faster up one flight when I spot last year’s teacher entering the third floor. I don’t feel like explaining why I am not allowing my daughter to attend the DC conference on leadership. She can’t even remember her homework.

I arrive in front of my daughter’s classroom just in time to see her looking in her book bag. She sees me and comes to the door.

“What are you doing here mommy?” She asks, and then answers her own question as I hand her the project.

“Oh thank you, I remembered I had forgot it as soon as I got on the bus.”

Her teacher comes up as we are talking and I’m trying to remember his name. He says good morning.
I remember his first initial, which is what everyone calls him anyway. I wish her a good day to quickly get away from the teacher, who is reading my t-shirt. I forget to get a dollar from her to get a cup of coffee and a bagel from the coffee truck.

I walk down the hall and end up seeing the teacher my daughter had in third grade. She tells me I look great. “What are you doing, every year you look younger?”

“It must be that Dorian Gray Picture I have in my attic.” I laugh. I hurry away.

I’m ready to get my hippie-freak-dollarless-self back to my apartment. Geez, I hope I didn’t leave the shower running!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Welcome To My New World

I have finally arrived at a blog site in which I don't end up cursing my computer skills!
My first blog has 23 posts, but as of today I'm am leaving them for good. I can't take the format which doesn't allow you to post without your final entry looking like crap. So thank you for the start It was good while it lasted. I've got a new lover.

For the curious my previous post can be seen at

Life has been so bleak lately, have a laugh. It will do you good. I highly recommend:

Hope you Tracey Chapman fans in DC took advantage of that exclusive invite by calling in sick.
She performed today at XM's Washington DC broadcast studio. If I didn't have significant others depending on me for greeting them at the end of a long day, I would have been on the Fung Wah bus to DC this morning. Hear a clip of her new single released yesterday. Go to: http://

And for you New Yorkers disqusted by yet another "lesser of two evils" (well maybe not evil, but definately nothing to shout about) elections on Tuesday in the race for Mayor see: Jane Lecroy and Tom Abbs- TRANSMITTING. Their next gig in NYC Monday 9/19. 9 pm @169 Bar, 169 East Broadway. Visit their new site:

That should hold ya for now.
No Last Words
Francis Newton 1965-2005

Mammy, mistress, millionaire, martyr
What is the death of one more black daughter

Mammy, mistress, millionaire, martyr
What of the hope of one more black daughter

No Appeal, No Stay
No last words for Francis
No time to have her say,
Francis last moments on a gurney
Was there even enough time to pray?

Standing, was her sister in tears
Her hands shielding her worst fears
And over there, the woman who bore her
One more stoic black mama
Witnessing lynching drama

(whispered) We’ve seen this before
Black bodies being relieved!
(whispered) It is nothing new
Of the power they conceive!

No appeal for the poor,
No appeal for the black,
No appeal for the under classes,
Living under governments that have their foot
On the peoples backs

Mammy, mistress, millionaire, martyr
What is the death of one more black daughter

Mammy, mistress, millionaire, martyr
What of the hope of one more black daughter

Outside the blood chambers
The mourners of little choice
Steady now, lift your voices
Form a libation circle, and begin to testify
Prayer band circle style
Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Geechie-Angola child
Join in the ring shout
No more denial
No more denial

Blood on your hands
Blood on your face
Disgrace to the human race

You can’t erase a nation
You can’t erase a nation

Anna Limontas-Salisbury
September 15, 2005