Tag Archive: louisiana


 

Here are this weekend’s screenings for the African-American Short Films program:

Macon  Station: WPGA /IND   Date: 11/19 Time: 5:00PM

Columbus, OH  Station: WWHO CW   Date: 11/20 Time: 11:00AM

Grand Rapids-Kalmzoo-B.Crk  Station: WZZM / ABC   Date: 11/20 Time: 2:30PM

Montgomery-Selma  Station: WNCF ABC   Date: 11/20 Time: 2:00PM

The Midwest and the South representing this week.  Now if you don’t mind, a little introspection…

I was talking to my old man, who called down home to some cousins in Baton Rouge about last night’s screening.  Even before I talked to him though, I took a moment to reflect on how, for quite a while now, my work, my image, my art has been able to travel places I have never been to personally.  Some places I never will go to, some places I plan to visit eventually.  As strong as my itch is to have more, it’s still something I admit I lose sight of from time to time.  Remembering where I started, and remembering that what I’ve already accomplished is amazing to many of those who love me.

So that’s my sappiness for the week. Have a great weekend!

 

Baton Rouge

 

‘African-American Short Films’ gets an early start this weekend, in the state where my roots can be traced back to.

Thursday night, the show airs on Baton Rouge’s KWBJ at 8 P.M.  I’ve passed through Baton Rouge many times of course; as I’ve stated in this space, I spent a small part of my school years and many summers growing up in Louisiana.  A lot of family there.  Nice personal milestone.

As more dates come in, I’ll keep you posted.

In my opinion, some people have been put on this Earth to drive people apart and to pull others down into their insecurities and misery.  I, on the other hand, feel that I’ve been put on this Earth to remind others of the connections between us.  Conflicts are inevitable, but ultimately, in between our disagreements, we have to co-exist peacefully.

So that first paragraph lets you know, this post is more intellectual than normal.  So fair warning to those of you who normally come to this space for silly/charming/smartass/’Bruce Wayne’; I’ve saved most of that energy for Volume II. No offense taken if you want to skip ahead to the jokes, it’s one of things I enjoy most and do best.  But this is about the foundation of my house; my ideology and philosophy, why I am and why I do what I do.

This year I celebrated my birthday in Vegas; a month later I flew home to Kansas City.  Same airline.  As fate would have it, same skycap attendant for both flights.  A brother, he recoginzed me immediately the second time (which I was kind of flattered by when you think of how many people pass through LAX daily).

Anyway, here’s the conversation:

Skycap: ‘My man! How was Vegas?’

Me: Vegas always treat me well brotha!

Skycap: ‘So what’s up, the Lakers gonna threepeat?”

Me: I hope so!

(He looks at my driver’s license.)

Skycap: Oh… Um… one second my man!

(He does the 10 foot Walk of Shame to the Feds, who runs my permanent record and finds out I’m a natural born U.S. citizen who’s never been arrested, who has voted in every presidential election since I was 18 years old, and hold down a steady 9 to 5 job.  He does a second Walk of Shame back to me with my boarding pass and a shit eating grin on his face…)

Skycap: Yeah man, you know, just doing my job!

Me: I understand, I understand.  So, you know as soon as we’re in the air, I’m jumping out of my seat and screaming ‘Allahu Akbar!’ at the top of my lungs right?

(OK, OK, I didn’t really say that last line; I’m not suicidal.  Had to throw a little sarcasm in there; I can turn it down but not off.  Back on point…)

Way back when sticking my head in a book was my outlet into a world beyond I knew, I took an early interest in American History.  It started of course with the story of my ancestors.  My roots on both sides are in the rural sections of Louisiana.  In other words, I learned as much with my eyes as I did in any book.  I recall with a chuckle my father and uncles pointing out to me the trees they picked pecans from as boys; as a kid I just smiled, but in my teenage years it occurred to me these tours always stopped before we got to ‘the Big House’.  (It didn’t take a genius to surmise that while our family name is linked to one of the biggest Creole families in the area, to this day I doubt anyone on ‘my’ side of the family has spent any time in the ‘Big House’.)

As I studied, my natural curiosity led me to wonder if there had been any similar stories in American history.  The Black Experience (in America) is unique in many ways, least of which is the physical/karmic violence that God forbid will never be repeated.  But as I looked for a common thread, I learned that, truth be told, it’s practically ‘Standard Operating Procedure’  for U.S. citizens at some point to be told “Yeah you were born here, but that ‘freedom and justice for all’ line doesn’t apply to you.’  A few examples that immediately come to mind…

We refer to Native Americans as such in part because they were living their lives here before there was an actual ‘United States of America.’  Of course, the reason there is a U.S. of A. is because the United States Army was created to fight the British. And as far as Native Americans are concerned…

During America’s immigration boon, the first generations of the Italians and the Irish immigrated to this country and had to jump through the imaginary ‘You’re not really an American’ hoops.  Africans, um, ‘immigrated’ here in mass numbers and…yep.  Leap forward a century or two and Japanese-Americans got the ‘royal treatment’ after Pearl Harbor.

Now you may argue I’m pulling the race card left and right, but historically race is always the easiest to point out because, well, you can literally see it. There have been plenty of other ‘Scarlet Letters’ in the history of this country.  The most well known is probably Senator McCarthy and the Communist hearings of the 50s.  If we’re expanding this analogy to legal battles, lest we forget women in America didn’t always have the right to vote; that had to be won.  In present day there’s the ongoing battle by gay couples to have their unions legally recognized as marriages.  Those who dislike America or consider themselves ‘Enemies of the State’ will use any or all of these examples (and more) as to why this country is fundamentally flawed.  We shout democracy at the top of our lungs here and around the world, and at the same time will sanction, sometimes officially, that our own citizens can’t have equal rights.  Truthfully, I can’t say that argument is flat out wrong; I just choose a different perspective…

While it’s true America’s history in dealing with its own citizens is ‘checkered’, it’s also true that in nearly every circumstance some level of progress was made. (We can debate the definition of ‘progress’ another time.)  The analogy I often use, as it’s an analogy I’m familiar with, is that of a pledging process.  You walk in the first day, you’re nobody, and you’re told and made to feel like you’re nothing. During the process, you stand your ground and learn ‘the rules of the game’. Eventually the process is complete, and you come out of the other end a member.

(If you really want to extend the analogy, it would be interesting to study who becomes ‘the One whose identity completely became the new group’, ‘the One who focuses on the history and getting ‘the next guy’ through the process’, and ‘the One who became an asshole who can’t wait to take out their anger and frustrations on the next guy’.  Again, another time.)

When you define yourself as an idealist (as I do), you know going in that the change you seek in the world can’t be measured by ‘tangible’ results.  Let’s say hypothetically my goal was for a law to get passed.  A law can create an opportunity that didn’t exist before; it can force us to share a classroom or a workspace.  But it can’t change human nature or people’s opinions.  Only time and life experience can do that.  To be honest, I’m not convinced the words I write or the way I choose to carry myself will change any individual’s mind about what they believe ‘Islam’ is, and what ‘Muslims’ are.  But if I don’t even attempt to make things easier for the next generation of Muslim Americans, then I’ve guaranteed myself failure.

One of my favorite guy jokes is ‘Man Law’; the code of being a Man and the unwritten rules of what we will and won’t do.  Man Law Number One is universally recognized: ‘Protect Your House.’  Depending on the circumstance, its meaning can be physical, verbal, or in this case spiritual.  I remember clearly a time when a Muslim woman could wear hijab, and while it was certainly ‘different’, there was nothing suspicious about it.  I remember clearly the days of when people discovered a man was a Muslim, the natural curiosity of that man’s life story stopped short of anything that suggested criminal or the ‘T word’.  I don’t believe in ‘turning back time’, but I do believe we can get to a point in the future where my children can just be ‘kids’ and will reach early adulthood before having a justified paranoia that some fringe group in this country or in another country is plotting to wipe them off the face of the earth.

So this is my foundation.  Apologies if I got preachy at the end, but it’s the state of things as I see them.  There’s a line that is being repeatedly crossed now between ‘political showboating for your supporters’ and ‘you went there because you’re not expecting anyone to react.’

Volume II (probably next week) will go more into what happens when you wake up a sleeping dog.

Ramadan Mubarak to my Muslim brothers and sisters around the world.

Peace unto my non-Muslim brothers and sisters.

Thanks for reading.

One.

Limitless – II. Year One

 My affection for the colors black and gold started earlier than most people think.  My parents met at Grambling State University in the late 60s/early 70s.  As any black child would, I have vivid memories of going to a Grambling homecoming when I was 9 or 10.  There is NOTHING like seeing an HBCU marching band; I still feel like that today.  Even though I didn’t make it to my first Bayou Classic unitl my early 20s, I will always have a soft spot for HBCUs.  My father did a stint in the Army after college, which turned into a career working for a federal agency.  His older brother, my uncle, was living up North, so Kansas City was as good a spot as any to start off in.

I was born at 10:08 P.M. at Bethany Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas.  Yes I was a night baby, big surprise.  Even though KCK is my hometown, my earliest memories of growing up are actually in a few other Midwestern cities.  A big part of my father’s early career meant moving around alot.  At a certain point, me and my mother couldn’t get up and go all the time so he would just leave for months at a time.  My mother still teases me about this; she says I used to always cry when he left; as if I believed he was never coming back.  They say the person you become can be all be traced to your first 5 years; I’ve had more than one ex tell me with conviction that my own well documented aversion to commitment can be traced to the constant moving and separation I went through at this stage of my life.  Of course these girls are exes for a reason, so my counterargument is they’re all crazy (just kidding).

The first city I recall staying in was Oklahoma City.  We had a little basement apartment; my mother stayed with me during the day while I watched Sesame Street and the Electric Company.  You may question how I remember this, and the answer is easy for me: I learned how to spell Mississippi watching the Electric Company.  It’s true; there was a little skit where they turned into a musical jingle I still use today: M-I-S, S-I-S, S-I-P-P-I!  Thank God for Public Broadcasting.

After that we spent time in the city my sister was born in, Springfield, Missouri.  I attended preschool there while my father took classes at Southwest Missouri State.  Still never been to the campus, but I remember the parking permit sticker in the first car I remember my family owning, an Oldsmoblie Eighty-Eight.  Eighty percent of the pictures of myself I hope never see the light of the day came from this period of my life.  Cordoroy pants, jellies, cowboy hats…yeah.  But there was ‘Pooh’.  My first ‘security blanket’ if you will was a Winnie the Pooh plush toy that I evidently took with me nearly everywhere.  I must have been over that thing by the time we made our next move, to Salina, Kansas.

Salina was similar to Springfield in that, as far as I could tell, we were the only black family in town.  Actually let me correct that: at that stage of the game, I had no concept of race.  My family looked one way, everyone else looked different.  It never came up back then, ever.  Me and my neighborhood buddies all went to the same school, we rode bikes together, we played in Little League together, we went to each other’s birthday and skating parties.  When the earliest elements of my sexuality surfaced, I played house with the cutest girl from my Little League team without a second thought.  If Michael Jackson could take Brooke Shields to the Grammys, why couldn’t I do what I was doing?  I was a ‘special kind of guy’ too.

Ironically, the first time I became aware of any kind of difference was spending time with my extended family in Louisiana.  They used to laugh at the way I talked (and in fairness, I probably did sound like an 8 year old version of Tiger Woods in those days).  But hell, THEY sounded just as ridiculous to me: ‘y’all’, and ‘mein’ and those crazy Southern accents.  But I loved them to death and vice versa.  Myself, my younger sister, and four of my younger cousins were all born six years apart.  We bonded pretty quickly and always hung out together when the opportunity came.  My first forays into artistry were the product of cutting ‘albums’ singing with my cousins on our old school boom boxes. 

What I remember next, I remember not as any single moment, but as flashes: My parents arguing.  The cops coming to the house.  One day I was at my father’s house in Kansas; the next I was living in a trailer out in the country in Louisiana with my mother and sister.   You don’t understand what exactly is going on, but you understand enough.  The carefree, outgoing kid who accepted whatever he was told is replaced by someone who, for better and worse, questions EVERYTHING and EVERYONE.   Paradise lost.

 

 

Oh there been times that I thought, I couldn’t last for long

But now I think I’m able to carry on

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gonna come

Sam Cooke, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’

I’ve expressed a slight dread to those close to me that I’ll wake up one day to children who have no appreciation of the lives of their grandparents.  As expressed in The Godfather and other films, is the price of mainstream ambition the loss of your cultural roots?  The dark side of the American dream if you will.  Some of my earliest memories are of making the drive down 71 South, through towns where Confederate flags filled the streets, to get to the hometowns of each of my parents.

My father came from a small town in Northern Louisiana.  And I mean small; I’m still not sure if the town has its own high school.  My father is the middle child of three brothers; as best as I can tell, he was the ‘quiet one.’  Spending time in my father’s hometown, I would hear the stories of how he and my uncles would pick pecans at the Big House up the road from where they grew up.  (Lord knows what else hung from those trees over the years).  I can go there now and still see every star in the sky at night.  In Kansas this is what would be considered a ‘farming’ community: a lot of pickup trucks, all used for practical purposes.  In movie terms, I’m reminded of the setting of ‘Hud’ in more ways than one.  I have vague memories of my paternal grandparents; what sticks out in my mind was seeing ‘Big Mama’, my great-grandmother.  She lived in a three bedroom space with the sister of my grandmother for many years.  Even in her most advanced state, she always recognized my father (and myself as a boy).  I’ve never asked him about it directly, but I definitely sense she played a major role in my father’s life growing up.  Absent or present, my father is definitely the man who has the most influence on my life.  He’s taught me a lot over the years, but as I think of these earliest memories, I recognize how some of the most important things he passed on to me, in particular my compassion, were instilled in me at that early stage of life before you recognize you’re being ‘taught’ anything.

My mother came from a more traditional small town, even further south than my father.  In this day and age you rarely hear of families this big, but my mother was one of ten children.  My memories of my family on the maternal side are much more vivid; I can recall specific moments with both of my grandparents on that side.  With a such a large number of children and grandchildren, their home became the ‘ground zero’ for every pleasant and unpleasant reunion growing up.  We’d have these huge crawfish boils growing up; crawfish, half potatoes, corn on the cob thrown in a huge pot and seasoned, heated over a giant flame.  Our uncles would be drinking tall cans of Coors, our aunts would be in the kitchen talking and making pecan candy for dessert; as kids we’d be sucking on sugar cane stalks and racing snails in the carport.  In the evening if we were still hungry, my cousins and I would walk to the Canal Street Market and buy pork cracklins.  I’d come back to the North with ridiculous mosquito bites, but other than that, it was a great period for me.

Of course, none of us make it through life without ever going through something.   My time was coming.