ICYMI: Baltimore Orioles Vice President Takes Important Stance on Twitter

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Orioles Executive Vice President John Angelos had a lot to say about the Baltimore uprising. On Saturday, he tweeted his thoughts in response to tweets regarding the uprisings and concern over property damage.

Read a transcript of his tweets below:

“Brett, speaking only for myself, I agree with your point that the principle of peaceful, non-violent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLK, Gandhi, Mandela, and all great opposition leaders throughout history have always preached this precept. Further, it is critical that in any democracy investigation must be completed and due process must be honored before any government or police members are judged responsible.

That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, an ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importance of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ball game irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.”

 

Photo Credit: Dominique Hazzard

The Right to Be Angry: An Interview with the Founders of Black Poets Speak Out

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By Mwende Katwiwa

“I am a Black poet who will not stay silent while this nation murders Black people. I have a right to be angry”

Poet and political activist Amiri Baraka once said, “the Black artist’s role is to aid in the destruction of America as he knows it”. In a recent piece penned for The Nation “No Place for Self Pity, No Room for Fear”, legendary Black author Toni Morrison opened up about a phone conversation she had with a friend in 2004 following the re-election of President Bush. In this intimate call, she confessed to finding herself depressed and unable to write because of the results of the election. Her friend, a fellow artist, quickly interrupted her with a firm reminder that, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”.

Historically, this relationship between art, society, and speaking out in times of dread is undeniably one that has been particular (but not exclusive) to the Black community in the United States. Poet Sonia Sanchez is often quoted as describing the Black artist as ‘dangerous’ and indeed historically, Black artists have threatened the status quo by provided counternarratives to mainstream depictions of Blackness and have used the platforms their art has allowed them to access to raise up the voices of their communities. Over the years, the relationship between Black art(ists) and social justice has exposed itself to be less a fleeting fling, and more of a marriage between the personal and the political.

Before my mother took me to a spoken word performance by the youth art and social justice collective Project 2050 in middle school, poetry had only been introduced to me in school as the writings of dead white men, depressed white women. Through spoken word, I realized there was a whole other world of art that centered around issues of importance to myself and my community and that poetry could be more than beautiful descriptions of horses in the woods on snowy evenings. I eventually joined Project 2050 which taught me the histories of different forms of Black art and their relationship to resistance and society. This experience solidified for me the notion that art could, and should be used as a tool for transformative personal and social change.

In these current times of dread, it should not be surprising that Black artists across the country have been working hard at their jobs. Campaigns such as Poets for Ferguson (a national poetry based fundraiser to raise funds to cover the legal fees of protestors in Ferguson spearheaded by the dynamic Black womyn poet Sasha Banks) have popped up, though until recently with an initiative known as #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, there wasn’t a call to action for Black poets to unite under an ongoing initiative to support the movement. #BlackPoetsSpeakOut (BPSO) is an art and civic action based initiative aimed at giving voice to and combating the ongoing state violence that plagues Black communities across the United States. Spearheaded by poets and Cave Canem alums Mahogany L. Browne, Amanda Johnston and Jonterri Gadson, the idea for BPSO originally formed in a Cave Canem discussion group on Facebook after Darren Wilson failed to be indicted for the murder of Michael Brown. After Johnston called on members of the group to respond to and organize around Wilson’s non-indictment and the continued injustice the Black community regularly faces in relationship to the state, Johnston, Browne, and Gadson, as well as Sherina Rodrigues and Jericho Brown, came up with the foundations of what would become the BPSO campaign. As a result of these initial conversations, hundreds of poets across the country have joined the call the three step call to action that BPSO has laid out.

I contacted the founders of BPSO for a special National Poetry Month Interview where we talked through the intersection of art and activism in the Black Community and the role they see BPSO playing in this current movement moment:

 

Interviewer (Mwende Katwiwa): Tell us a bit more about the origins of BPSO, how did it grow teeth after that initial Facebook discussion?

Amanda Johnston:  [Myself], Mahogany Browne, Jonterri Gadson, Jericho Brown, and Sherina Rodriguez came up with the strategy to post videos of ourselves reading poems (our own and those of other black poets) along with the opening statement “I am a black poet. I will not remain silent while this nation murders black people. I have a right to be angry.” From that simple, but powerful act, poets and allies began posting their own videos with the hashtag #BlackPoetsSpeakOut. From there, Mahogany, Jonterri, and I continued organizing as it grew with the addition of scheduled community readings [and dialogues] and the letter writing campaign [to local and federal public officials with the goal of] to connecting the power of poetry directly to civic engagement to demand elected officials create real change and protect the people from police violence.

Katwiwa: What is the relationship between arts and activism in the Black community? What history are yall building on with the BPSO campaign?

 Johnston: We, poets and artists, have a long history of social justice activism. Look at the Black Arts Movement and the Harlem Renaissance. We’ve always used art as a way to communicate, uplift, and call others to action. There is a language through art that touches one’s humanity. That voice and spirit is undeniable so it’s no surprise that we see it working again in this moment. If the winners are said to be the writers of history, the poets are the writers of truth.

Gadson: There’s a long history of black people in America using mastery of art to assert our humanity, but that’s just one way activism and art have connected in various Black communities. For some of us (like me), art makes activism accessible and possible. On the flipside, activism can make art accessible and possible. I’ve always used poetry to express myself, usually about very personal things or things my mind becomes obsessed with. So when I find injustice troubling and I can’t wrap my mind around how injustices can continually occur, I can turn to a poem where someone has been able to grasp some aspect of these experiences and I can feel less alone in my emotional state or even in my inability to understand. Art lets us do and/or feel. When our power is called to question, art activates us.

Browne: [It’s important to remember that outside of art] there has always been activism in the Black community. There has always been the woman keeping children for those mother’s working double shifts for little pay. There has always been the Uncle making sure someone had a job when they returned from war, or jail. There was the preacher and the school teacher. These roles of activism still exists. Though the community’s have been fractured by gentrification and economic depression.

Katwiwa: Do you consider yourselves activists? How do you think activism is typically defined?

Browne: I’m a poet. I’m a mother. I’m a mentor and educator. I curate poetry. I have put my name and efforts behind art…both my own and others. I have used my art to speak about police brutality, the prison industrial complex, women empowerment, youth leadership and self love. So yes. Activism has always been a part of my world. But it took a discussion with my daughter recently for me to see my role. She asked me if she could go to a rally which took place at the same time I was conducting a town meeting in Brooklyn. I was worried for her to be without me. And she said very honestly “Mom, you are an activist. I thought you would understand why I need to go.” Typically [when I think of activism]. I think a lot of speeches. I think a lot of protests. I think boycott. I think black bodies and white fear. I think MLK & Malcolm X. I think Angela Davis & Sista Soldja. I think Chuck D & Fannie Lou Hamer. Today, I would define activism in a variety of roles. There isn’t just one lane. There isn’t just one way. But there are folks jumping in front of the camera for fame when folks is dying.  I think celebrity-ism is a drug and folks are on Instagram for fun. While there are others who know they would not be able to sleep if they weren’t in the same trenches. So I am aware of the distinction. However, I know we need the masses present. We need the media aware. We need policies changed. We need black people to not be feared or be in fear for their lives every single day. So an activist looks like both Beyonce & Kevin Powell. Activism looks like the sisters that founded #BlackLivesMatter & the NY #MillionsMarch. Activism can exist on a vast scale and a very regionally scale. Both effective. Both necessary. That is why #BlackPoetsSpeakOut is alive. It is rooted in a language that we been speaking. It is a truth that we been spreading. With the help of the internet — the message can be viral, the information gained, and the legacy shared in attempt to restore our humanity.

Gadson: I’m not comfortable saying I’m an activist. But I am comfortable saying that I am an advocate for my son’s spirit. I’m an advocate for increasing the value he places on his own life. I’m an advocate for the destruction of any force that says his life is worth less, that shows him he’s worth less, that tries to convince him he’s worth less when I’m working so hard to prove otherwise to him. I’ve always been driven to crush anything that threatens him physically or emotionally and now I’ve woken up to the fact that there are not only people, but entire systems in place that threaten him. Since there’s no way of knowing who will be the next unarmed person of color shot and killed without his/her murderer being brought to justice, my body believes he could be next. This type of injustice registers inside of me like there’s a threat to my son’s life specifically. I’m a mother who’s been ignited.

I consider myself to be someone who is learning to be an activist while participating in activist movements. I’m getting out of my unhealthy relationship with silence.

Katwiwa: What does success for the BPSO campaign look like?

Browne: It looks like children knowing poems by our elders. It looks like a poem by Amiri Baraka being recited at a youth town hall discussion on police violence. It looks like a poem by Audre Lorde being recited during a young women’s empowerment conference. It looks like poetry and music has always been the voice box for social justice movement.

Johnston: The community response to BPSO has been a huge success. Hundreds of people across the country and internationally have submitted videos and come together for community readings and discussion. I expect the momentum to continue as people join us in the letter writing campaign. As different communities contributing to the movement (such as Black Lives Matter and Millennial Activists United) call for action, congress will be pressured to address the issue. We’ve seen that with the introduction of new bills such as the Grand Jury Reform Act and the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.

Katwiwa: How does someone get involved with BPSO?

Johnston: Phase I – Submit a video. Phase II – Host or attend a community reading. Phase III – send a letter to your elected officials with a video poem attached. Every bit helps. Do not remain silent while this nation murders black people. Speak out at www.blackpoetsspeakout.tumblr.com

Check out the BPSO video archive here and click the links above for more information on how to take part in each Phase of BPSO in your area.

BPSO Founder Bios:

Jonterri Gadson is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing/English at Bloomfield College in New Jersey. Her poetry collection, Blues Triumphant, is forthcoming from YesYes Books in 2016. Her poetry has been published in the chapbooks, Interruptions (MIEL, 2014) and Pepper Girl (YesYes Books, 2012) as well as in a number of literary journals. She’s received scholarships and fellowships from Cave Canem, Callaloo, Bread Loaf, University of Dayton and University of Virginia’s Creative Writing MFA program. She can be found online atwww.twitter.com/jaytothetee.

Mahogany Browne:

The Cave Canem and Poets House alumane an author of several books & has released five LPs including the live album Sheroshima. Mahogany bridges the gap between lyrical poets and literary emcee touring Germany, Amsterdam, England, Canada and recently Australia. Her work has been published in magazines Uptown, KING, XXL, The Source, Canada’s The Word and UK’s MOBO; as well as journals Pluck, Manhattanville Review, Muzzle, Union Station Mag, Literary Bohemian & Apogee. She is an Urban Word NYC mentor, as seen on HBO’s Brave New Voices and facilitates performance poetry and writing workshops throughout the country. She is the publisher of Penmanship Books, the Nuyorican Poets Café Poetry Program Director and curator of their famous Friday Night Slam. She is currently an MFA Candidate for Writing & Activism at Pratt Institute.

Amanda Johnston:

Amanda Johnston earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. Her poetry and interviews have appeared in numerous online and print publications, among them, The Drunken BoatSmall BatchNew LiteratiPluckand the anthologies, di-ver-city and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South. The recipient of multiple Artist Enrichment grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Christina Sergeyevna Award from the Austin International Poetry Festival, she is a member of the Affrilachian Poets and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. She has served on the board of directors for the National Women’s Alliance, the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, and is the founder and executive director of Torch Literary Arts. Currently, she serves as the retreat coordinator for Cave Canem Foundation and is a Badgerdog teaching artist.

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut: In light of the continuous murders of black people across the nation, Black poets across the country are sharing video responses in solidarity with those who refuse to accept these atrocities as a normal condition of black life. We are using the force of our art to transform policy. We can no longer settle for incremental adjustments. We are calling for an absolute transformation. We will not be done until we see justice for the murder of black people. For more interview requests, poetic submissions and collaboration inquiries please email: blackpoetsspeakout@gmail.com

Photo: Mwende Katwiwa

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Mwende Katwiwa is a poet based in New Orleans.

What I Witnessed in Baltimore

By Dominique Hazzard

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This is me trying to process, trying to share what I witnessed yesterday in Baltimore, trying to amplify voices. Mostly what I saw were young black people overflowing with pain, exasperated at their core, keenly aware of the structural violence they have been subjected to for their entire lives, and willing to do whatever they need to do to end it because everything else they have tried has failed. One young man said he is willing to die for liberation.

I met a young man who in one breath grieved ‪#‎FreddieGray‬, said Freddie used to buy his son candy, and in the next breath lambasted tax policies that subsidize second home ownership for the rich “Who owns these houses? People who don’t live here, and buy them for cheap to get a tax break, then let them sit here boarded up.” He talked about the problem of so many Baltimore police officers commuting into his neighborhood from the far suburbs. He stayed out at Monday night’s uprisings as long as he could, until he had to go pick up his son. He said he’s marched and that didn’t work, he’s boycotted and that didn’t work, he’s voted and that didn’t work, and asked “So just what the hell am I supposed to do? But the police tryna tell us we can’t have human emotion.”

Another talked about looting, about its roots in economic despair. “I saw my people out here gettin’ toilet paper. Toilet paper. Because they need toilet paper to wipe their ass, to wipe their kid’s ass. You gon’ send em to jail over toilet paper? I want a job. People want to take care of their families.”

I saw a small business owner and her daughter, Asian Americans, sitting in the busted doorstep of their store. They said everything had been taken. It was sad. Even sadder, to me, and I promise you this is not hyperbole, is that the state of that store looked indistinguishable from some of the homes that the students we were delivering lunches too LIVE IN. I could not tell the difference between blocks that had been hit by riots, and blocks that had not; that is the level of economic violence people are living under. I am now even more flabbergasted by the questions of “Why are people destroying their own community?” Folks straight up told me “We don’t own anything here,” and it was crystal clear to me that communities had already been destroyed by poverty, by exploitation, by structural racism long before any riots connected to the murder of Freddie Gray. As Jamilah Lemieux said in Ebony yesterday, “Baltimore Been Burning.

There are war tanks roaming the streets in groups in the middle of the day, passing kids playing tag like it’s normal, like any of this makes sense. There are SWAT teams taking over random residential streets just because they can, and elderly women with grocery carts stressing out trying to figure out how to get around them to get home. There are police harassing clean up crews of volunteers and city citizens; police would allow them onto the street and then 5 minutes later start advancing upon them, asking them “Why are you on my street?!”, forcing them to move. There are helicopters flying over neighborhoods constantly, and the woman I spent the day with told me that it isn’t because of the uprising, it’s like that every day, every regular ass day there are helicopters hovering over these citizens, surveilling them.

And in response: there are Baltimore heroes. There were churches opening their doors, and teachers knocking on their students doors to see if they had lunch.

There was Baltimore determination. I met a young woman who was shot by rubber police bullets on Monday night while standing in the crowd. She caught one in the back and one in the foot, and lost feeling in her toe. Still, she returned.

There was Baltimore bravado, self-affirmation. I heard a young man proclaiming loudly “They think we aint human cause I sell drugs? They think we aint human because we don’t speak the King’s English? We rejected that shit! And we are smart, smarter than ever. I know I’m smart.” He pointed to the broken-windowed apartments across the street. “I grew up in those apartments. My momma was a crackhead. I been out here since I was 11 years old. Surviving.” Another young man said, “Black brothers and sisters… we together out here against these police. I’m a liberator, I’m a revolutionary… I know my worth, I know my books because I study… What Malcolm X said?”

There was Baltimore resilience (resilience being, the things we do to bring ourselves joy during trauma) — two blocks down from one of the tank barricades someone had brought out a boom box. “They Don’t Really Care About Us” was blasting, a neighborhood man known as “Michael Jackson” was performing, and at least 40 people had gathered and were dancing with him.

I really encourage folks to get as much of your news about Baltimore as you can from social media. Try to read updates from organizers on the ground, listen to the stories of those most affected. Because the whole frame of so much of the Baltimore coverage is just trash.

Photo Credit: Dominique Hazzard

For Those Who Would Rather Mourn Property Damage Over People Lost by Police Brutality

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By Victoria Massie

How could you forget? Has it been that long? I, too, was once a convenience you purchased at the corner. Was I not on your grocery list yesterday? “Slave F 26” written right below the milk and corn? The auction block still rests next to the market downtown. Was I not the gift you bought there for your cousin that one time? I think it was for his 18th birthday. How many times did you lease me out for Christmas? Each year, you promised, a new overseer. Never once was it me.

What about the times you still thought I misplaced myself? Remember those? How you lit the match? When I, too, was reduced to ash over the cackle of burnt wood and fried flesh?

Was I not once yours? Am I not still? Am I not property, just with a different price tag? Rent paid with a few bullets, severed necks and lasts breaths, instead of a few bucks, for my body?

 

Photo: Charlene Carruthers

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Victoria Massie is a PhD Candidate at UC Berkeley currently doing fieldwork in Cameroon.

Jessie Williams Is the Real MVP

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We’ve known for awhile that actor Jessie Williams is perfect. His recent Twitter essay just confirmed it. The actor and activist dropped knowledge on the history of rioting on Twitter Monday night. Read below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Science Fiction of Freddie Gray

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By Dominique Hazzard

Imagine, for a second, that Maryland governor Larry Hogan called for a state of emergency  when Freddie Gray’s spine was broken and his voice box was smashed he arrested for no reason.

Imagine that such violence toward a black life was so out of the ordinary, so horrifying, so damning, such a sign that swift and meaningful change was necessary, that it was enough to make an elected leader say, “This has crossed the line. The police state is out of control. We need to suspend our normal  operations and get some help from the National Guard. We need some outside resources to help quell these people, these actors of the state who are disturbing the peace.” Imagine that, in the absence of years of racial oppression, Baltimore ever knew peace in the first place.

Imagine that Freddie Gray was never arrested at all, that he wasn’t criminalized for looking at an officer the wrong way, for running from an institution that inflicts violence on black people every day.

Imagine that Freddie Gray never had to live in a city that is struggling to breathe under layers and layers of structural violence.

Imagine with me.

 

Photo: 4everginuwine

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Dominique Hazzard laughs in the face of the white heteropatriarchy while skipping merrily through the District, creating interfaith tools to address poverty, and eating bacon. Follow her on Twitter.

 

This Zine Wants You To Know That Black Women Matter

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Black Women Matter, a zine created by Austin, Texas based artists, was created to make sure that no one forgets the black women killed by police.

Published four months ago, the zine highlights the black women and girls that have been the victims of police brutality. The zine is increasingly relevant at a time in which black female victims of police brutality do not receive the same national recognition as male victims. Read the zine here.

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Photo: Black Women Matter