Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Mother's Day Breakfast

People, more than Geography are important when one thinks of home.  I have lost multiple friends to high rents and property loss. The landscape is bare when I think about Oakland—the frequented spots are vacant—its inhabitants gone. At least these friends are not in another realm, just another zip code or county, but . . . these women are now living with their children—the two friends I am thinking about had to leave Oakland. One still works as an Oakland Unified School teacher, the other retired as an AC Transit bus driver just a year or so ago. Strange that after giving perhaps 20 years’ service to Alameda County, Oakland specifically, neither woman could find sanctuary at home. One now lives in Richmond, the other in San Francisco.  Couch surfing at 62+ years old is a sad statement on what America thinks of its elders.

It is great both women have family to take them in. What about the adults who have jobs or savings or pension, yet nowhere affordable to go? Perhaps these are the people The Auset Movement meets at the two encampments we have adopted and served hot breakfast to once a month, since December last year.

Both women were resistant to asking their children for help. I understand. What if their children said no? At the encampments, many families are rescuing their loved ones from the street. Sometimes the transition does not work and these relatives leave familial shelter for the concrete once again. This is why comprehensive support it needed for families and people affected by displacement. Living on the streets is not without its psychological perils—such as mental illness, and the resulting self-medication. The last time we served breakfast, it was Mother’s Day, the stupor was so deep, we could not sing the slumbering community awake. Unlike the previous month, we almost had too much food. We were joined by victims of the earthquake in Nepal who brought a global perspective to this situation as they walked between the tents and mattresses saying good morning, inviting those slumbering to have breakfast.

The encampment is changing. Robert told me a person who used to pass out sandwiches, is now threatening people—saying that the city of Oakland is going to forcibly remove them. Just this threat from a person, who’d gained their trust—now a bully, has run many people away. Just two months ago, Robert requested a religious service at the site; this past month he told Wanda Ravernell, he wasn’t sure it was such a good idea anymore.

In April when RJ and I went by late one afternoon to see how people were doing, and were able to get a tent for an elder (60 years old) without shelter. RJ also bought Pepsis for everyone there. The men and women were so happy to have a Pepsi Cola. We also gave them toilet tissue and drinking water. It was such a small thing, yet brought much joy.  The man who needed the tent was so excited when I told him we’d go buy one for him, when we returned he asked if we could pray. When the call went up, young black men stopped what they were doing to join the circle, hold hands and pray.

We let the elder say the prayer. It was so beautiful that night.

Recently at another encampment we visit, Ms. Darlene said it best as she reflected on Mother’s Day and what brought her to the point where she is now. She said she’d made some bad choices, but she still believes in God. She said she attends church sometimes and is the person sitting in the back you barely notice. She said God is with her and with others who have lost so much. Another woman, who has been living in her car, agreed.

When policies are enacted and ordinances passed, if there is no face attached the bill, there is no urgency to act.  Words lie tasteless, disembodied on hard surfaces where they land or float detached from corporal bodies.  A good idea is nothing unless breathed with spirit. Until the legislators get up from their desks and leave their offices and walk among the people—hold corner conversations, nothing is going to change. We the people are the government, not the elected officials who have lost touch with their constituents who are not the ones at the fundraisers or the people writing huge checks. (This is what I liked about Elihu Harris, as Mayor of Oakland, and Henry Gardner as City Manager, we saw them around town shopping in the local grocery store or even seated next to us at the theatre. It is the same with Jowel C. Laguerre, Ph.D., Chancellor of Peralta Community College District—we see him around town.)

The same modeling is present in President Obama’s policies. He visits Ghana, Tanzania, Nigeria and now Vietnam. He hosts a roundtable with Muslim leaders. He was in New Orleans for the tenth anniversary of the Great Flood last summer. He knows the weight his presence has on an issue. Also when the president shakes someone hand, or stops to take a photo or listen to his constituents in one of his many town hall sessions, this acknowledgement validates the shared humanity between him and the other person. The architecture erected between the elected official and the people disappears, Mr. Obama is “Barry”: a friend, a father, a black man.

I am looking forward to being home again, continental Africa, this time Ghana. It will be a short sojourn—but any time on the continent is good. I have heard so much about Ghana, land of Yaa Asantewaa, Dr. Nkrumah, Dr. DuBois, Garvey’s Pan African vision—A Black Star. Perhaps Ghana is the metaphor realized. Ghana, Tanzania/Zanzibar, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Nigeria . . . Congo, Zimbabwe —the free, new nations pre-embargos and reenslavement – what Kwame Ture called “Black Power.”

After I leave Ghana I will do a bit of London—visit the British Museum and see Africa’s stolen legacy housed there. I will also look for Ira Aldridge there. After seeing actor, Carl Lumbly’s stunning performance in the San Francisco Playhouse’s current run (through June 25) of Red Velvet, I have to see the statue and portrait of the black man, African American man who would defy the racial barriers in England, pre-Abolition of Slavery.

It was a blue moon, Saturday evening with Mars – the tiny red planet visible on the horizon. Full and bright, it was a fitting day to have an African Diaspora party at the Jamaican restaurant, Kingston 11 in Oakland. Lisa and I had left Almaz Yihdego’s Youth Empowerment Services (Y.E.S.) fundraiser at Omni Commons, a bit before and stopped by Kingston to meet my Ghanaian friend, Queen Kwama Thompson, jazz artist extraordinaire. She’d told me about the music at the venue (I’d tasted the great food before). As we drove along Telegraph Avenue, looking for a parking spot, the street is transformed. Besides the absence of black faces, Telegraph Avenue looks like Shoreline Drive in Alameda. The cyclists are closest to the curb, while cars park on the opposite side. There is no way a car door can hit a cyclists. These bike lanes are also painted a bright green color at intersections. Once inside the restaurant/ bar, there was plenty space on the dance floor. In fact, Lisa and I had it all to ourselves for quite a while and then about 11:30 folks started to spill into the space. Lots of free ice water kept us hydrated as the owner observed. I saw another person I know come in with a friend. Women danced freely with partners and alone—the DJ even played songs that honored black women – all women. The selection of tunes were guaranteed to keep you on the floor dancing even when your legs said sit down (smile). Too bad the floor is concrete. That was the only drawback. I kept trying to leave and then Alicia and then Kwama would say, just one more song. Before I knew it, DJ Yaddos who opened the set at 8 p.m. announced the last song and invited us back the following Saturday.

The second DJ had a following; however, I liked the first DJ’s selections better. I expected a larger variety of African music; however, he didn’t even play Fela, Oliver Mtukudzi, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, classic performers like Sam Magwana, Ladysmith Black Mambaza, Hugh Masekela, Mariam Makeba, or even local bands like Baba Ken’s Kotoja or Soji’s group, not to mentioned the really cool hip hop scene out of Paris and North Africa. There is so much to choose from.

The Araba of Osogbo is continuing his US Tour this month. He was in Oakland May 15-22, and then onto Los Angeles. From there he heads to Miami, New Orleans and then Atlanta. Visit http://wandasabir.blogspot.com/2016/05/baba-araba-ifayemi-elebuibon-araba-of.html

There is so much happening in June locally and nationally. June is the beginning of the Yoruba calendar. I am not sure if this is the reason why the International Libation for African Ancestors of the Middle Passage is this month.

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