Thursday, February 22, 2018

Fundamental Juju: Teaching American Slavery toward the Inculcation of Soul in Middle School Jazz Studies, Pt. 1

Inspired by an interview on KQED with Carl Anthony, author of The Earth, the City, and the Hidden Narrative of Race, yesterday I spoke about the origin of Wall Street with my middle school music students. They were glued to every word. In the part of the interview that I happened to hear, I was struck by Karl's discussion on the grave of 20,000 enslaved Africans found buried on Wall Street. I decided to share this information with my students and related it to the importance and value of understanding the ancestry of those whose experiences as enslaved persons are the fundamental juju of the music we are studying, so-called Jazz and by extension all Black music. We teach our students to play the notes, memorize scales for improvisation, learn the standards, play the Blues, but seldom do we access the resource of the legacies and experiences of enslaved African Ancestors, seldom do we embark on the excavation of memory, knowledge, understanding toward the cultivation of Soul: that thing that makes the music swing and Ellington already told us that It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got that SWING!

The experience I am writing about is a common occurrence in my teaching. I'll have a profound experience, then something shows up that shores up and validates the transmission I received in my teaching space. So, after yesterday's deep dive into the deep well of Soul left to us by our enslaved ancestors, this morning I opened today's issue of Inside UW and found an article about the development of a framework for teaching American slavery in middle & high school classrooms. I find this framework, Teaching Hard History: American Slavery to be a robust, much-needed resource for teachers, parents, and youth workers. It was inspired by the book, Understanding and Teaching American Slavery. Though this book is intended for advanced high school and college classrooms, it presents 10 essential key concepts that can guide the development of curriculum at all levels. These concepts became the basis for the Teaching Hard History framework.

I have clicked through the links and found a plethora of resources, complete with podcasts, teaching resources and tools, an assessment quiz, primary source texts, and a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center on "the failure of textbooks, state standards and pedagogy to adequately address the role slavery played in the development of the United States — or how its legacies still influence us today." I'm sure a critique of the book and the curriculum framework is ensuing, but so far, I am of the opinion that it's a good start toward addressing the deafening silence in school curricula on the truth of the enslavement of Africans and the Atlantic Trade's role in the development of the United States and European economies and capitalism. But at the end of the day, it's all about cultivating that Fundamental Juju! Fundamental Juju?! More on that later. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Until then, Stay Woke, y'all! Make today a life worth living.

Peace to all.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

We ain’t begun to work yet.: Ruminations on the "Every Student Succeeds Act" (ESSA)

I wrote this in 2016 shortly after the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Read please, if you will. Some things remain relevant. Different day. Same. Old. Crap. Thanks for reading. I'm out here gettin' it done. Wishing the same for you.

Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall admonished those celebrating the victory of Brown v. Board, Justice Marshall said it best with his prophetic response to the victorious glee after the unanimous Brown decision. While at a celebration party that evening, he warned, “you fools go ahead and have your fun . . . we ain’t begun to work yet.”

Simply put, steadfast dogged determination continue to be bulwarks against systems that deny every child the ESSA's promise of a well-rounded education.

Let's not be deterred by this policy, the president's pen, getting lost and caught up in the excitement of the moment.  The journey continues. As we have seen in other policy-driven reforms, behavior, ideology, supremacist ideals, privilege, entitlement, etc. undergird systemic designs which can and do impede the mobilization of equity.  Face it. Too many of our colleagues do not want to rock the boat and unless systems of accountability are implemented in sustainable ways,  and protocols are in place to evaluate these systems, nothing really changes.

So while I am encouraged by this re-working of the ESEA into the #ESSA and while I plan to do my part in my city to ensure that we get the resources promised by the #ESSA to those who need them the most, I remain with a healthy dose of skepticism that keeps me awake and honest. I'll have fun teaching and learning music with my colleagues, students, and community; keeping eyes on the prize of a vibrant, well-rounded, music-laden curriculum.

Oh, and while we're at it, we need to be working to ensure that dance teachers in California get the single-subject credential mandated instead of the only option being what presently exists, a crendential in Physical Education.  What kind of nonsense is that?

We've got so much work to do. Let's get it done.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Something Beautiful: An Open Letter to Elena Seranno and Greg Morizumi, Founders of the East Side Arts Alliance

A few days ago I sent an email to two people whose work I greatly admire. I have decided to publish it as a public acknowledgement of my appreciation for them. This morning I am remembering opening the Jazz Stage at yesterday's 16th Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival. My music school, the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music (OPC), was honored with the invitation to open the festivities with our youth ensembles.

This auspicious occasion meant so much for my students, their families, teachers and the community. This morning I am brimming with gratitude and appreciation. The OPC and East Side Arts Alliance are building a new youth development project focused on the nurturing of future culture-bearers through music and technology. We are united and will be holding space for the youth to rise, and this is a beautiful thing. . . . and now, the letter. . .

May 16, 2016

Dear Greg and Elena,

I write to express my absolute appreciation and gratitude for what you have created with ESAA! I've longed for a co-collaborators with like minds and intentions to develop OPC for years. To date I still have not met them, but watching you build ESAA through the years has kept me going on my path of building the Public Conservatory Movement. Honestly.

My focus is in creating a training ground for radical, musically, politically, well-versed, technically proficient Black and Brown youth artists who can carry the torch as we rise, creating a self-sustaining, self-determining home sphere. This term, "home sphere" was coined by Earl Lewis. It basically is concerned with the connection between the household and the community in the fight for racial equality and uplift. I have always embraced my work from this perspective of the home sphere and also found it challenging to do so here in Oakland. With this invigorated collaboration between OPC and ESAA, and other community institutions with whom OPC is forging collaborations, e.g., East Oakland Youth Development Center and the West Oakland Youth Center, I feel a much-welcomed return to my Kansas City radical arts activism roots in/with community.

The alignment is happening and connections are surfacing. Last night I continued my conversation with Jon Jang about leading the Frederick Douglass Youth Ensemble. In our email conversation he recalled the following when I told him that the ensemble would be based at East Side and collaborating with their Beats and Flows program:

"Eastside Arts Alliance! Greg Morozumi and I go way back. ON my recording Two Flowers on a Stem, I dedicated my composition Eleanor Bumpurs that featured David Murray on tenor saxophone to Greg and Modibo who were hardcore activists in the Justice for Eleanor Bumpurs, a 66 year black grandmother who was legally lynched by the Bronx Police for not paying her rent on time.  I know Elena and Suzanne and performed with Amiri Baraka at the First Malcolm X Jazz Festival and performed at the tribute to Amiri after he transitioned to ancestry in January 2014."

And so it goes. And still we rise.

I am looking forward to the journey.

Arise and Shine, beautiful people! Our time has come!

In Peace and Wellness!


(and remember to listen to today's musical motivation.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

. . .and about that Cat, Yusuf. . .

raining like crazy today. winds up to 70, 100 mph in places.
i am listening to the wind
a song comes to mind. i search it out on youtube.
i listen
i am deeply moved by it and
the realization that this music
is a rock in the foundation of my own musical development
and now decades later
i listen
slower tempos - each interval, syllable
wrapped in acceptance of truth
the graceful presence of
the wisdom of age
and i am moved to tears
by the journey of this musician's search for truth
in his songs for a future time
the time of now. . . he sings . . .
i listen

i swam upon the devils lake, 
but never never never never
i'll never make the same mistake
no never never never

i know this truth
"i'll never make the same mistake. . ."
and am grateful to be living in this time of sages
such as yusuf islam
formerly known as
cat stevens
a provocative comparison
from cat to yusuf
Yusuf Islam

until next time, i am wishing you peace, serenity, grace.

Musically yours,

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Can we make this Real?

Can we make this REAL?  
Poems that kill
Can we make this Real?
(Poems that Kill)
Real for Trayvon and the rest.
(Poems that shoot guns)
Make it Real,
(Poems that wrestle cops into alleys)
Make it run ahead of the kill
(and take their weapons)
Can we make this REAL?
Real Poems that really kill.
(leaving them dead with tongues pulled out and sent to . . .)
Can we make this REAL?
Poems that KILL fear for REAL!
Poems that HEAL.
Can we PLEASE make this real?

 © Angela M. Wellman - March 31, 2012 

 entry INSPIRED in part by

We want "poems that kill."
Assassin poems, Poems that shoot
guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys
and take their weapons leaving them dead
Amiri Baraka (excerpt from "Black Art" 1969)

Sounds of Blackness Trayvon Martin Official Tribute Song

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Homage to Whitney and the Rest: Remembering . . . Period!

Abbey Lincoln

When I'm called home
I will bring a book
That tells of strange and funny turns
And of the heart it took
To keep on living in a world
That never was my own
A world of haunted memories
Of other worlds unknown.
I'll tell them of the trouble here
When they call me home.
When I'm called home
I will sing a song
And tell them of a beggar's life
Where everything goes wrong
Where everybody's hopes and dreams
Are shattered by the wind.
I'll tell them of a ghostly world
Of us and they and him.
I'll tell them how the shadows fall
When they call me home.
When I'm called home
I will tell the stars
Of the battles that were lost
In a world of wars.
I will tell the rivers
Of the children lost at sea
Of how a soul is bartered
And what it costs a spirit free.
Hallelujah tell a story, oh,
When they call me home.

In "When I'm Called Home," Abbey Lincoln, aka Aminata Moseka, reminds us of life Down Here Below and suggests that all goes on record.  She tells the story of enslavement, ancestral memory,  
naming and re-naming, perseverance, being a stranger in a strange land, invisibility, hopelessness, being the Other living under the shadow of that ghastly DuBoisian veil, Middle Passage homicides by Mothers throwing babies overboard, setting them free, committing them into the everlasting loving limbs and comfort of the Original Mother, Yemaya Olokun, or like Morrison's Sethe, who murdered her Beloved baby. “I took and put my babies where they’d be safe.”  Sing with me now.

Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me
and before I'd be a slave I'll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.
Before I let you be a slave,
 I'll bury you in your grave. I brought you into this world and I will take you out.

Ancestral memory, linguistic connection: 
Most Black folk know well these words "I brought you in and I'll take you out." Yes, these ancestral memories remain in bodies. Postmodern philosopher, Judith Butler, suggests that discourses live in bodies. I can't help but think, then, of discourse as memory. The memory of African women throwing their babies from slave ships into the oceans. Those discourses flow through our veins. Memories live in the songs and even the reprimands of elders training and protecting the babies from ever present terrorism of white supremacist actions.

And now we mourn the flight home of A Bird Alone, another one of our Zawadi, Whitney Houston. Kwesi McDavid-Arno offered a powerful commentary on how he basically wrote her off "when she didn’t fulfill our selfish desires." He recounted his response to a sista while in an omelet line at work. “I know you Black women are loyal but y’all need to cut Whitney loose.” Needless to say, she was upset by his comment and I am a bit peeved by another of his comments. He blamed Black women for letting her "fade into oblivion." He blamed us for not taking better care of Whitney, reifying that woman are the caretakers and men have no responsibility in the care of the community.  Then he spoke in the proverbial "We" voice, as if speaking as a Black woman.

"We have this “pride and hide” culture of not really dealing with emotional tragedy. Black women prefer to walk things off - life is tough, slaves had it rough, so suck it up and deal – “get over it” is the official mantra. We didn’t look at Whitney’s life to see who she was, what she was, where she came from, what she was really dealing with. We just reveled in her beauty and eventually sucked her dry. Love is also forceful, and our love for Whitney should have forced us to examine her pain, but our collective selfishness for something special forced us to ignore her – we ignored Whitney the person. Like a bird in a cage Whitney was trapped in our minds as our eternal songstress. And when she didn’t fulfill our selfish desires, we scorned and rejected her as another fallen addict. Instead of shunning her drug abuse, we should have been caringly probing, thoughtfully neutering, trying to understand her pain as a strong family would."

Kwesi failed to mention men's responsibility for Whitney. But I am not writing to discuss this shortcoming, this hole in his commentary, because for the most part I agree with him. I just would have appreciated a more feminist perspective or should I say, less patriarchal, male supremacist perspective.

The greater challenge is to see Whitney's life as one lived in a world that never was her own and how she kept on living anyway. And she did indeed, according to her best friend Robyn Crawford, make her own choices. But that 's not why I sit before this computer today to write.  No.

I think of Whitney, Michael, Tupac, Biggie, Don Cornelius, Marvin Gaye, Bird, Trane and the list goes on. These people were our Zawadi-our Gifts.  Quincy Jones said of Whitney on CBS This Morning the day after her death, "God left his hand on her shoulder a little longer than everybody else."  Whitney was touched, as were the others and it's hard to protect gifts in and from a system that made them.  Once they became who they were, who the system shaped them to be, it's as if they were no longer ours.  Whitney's mom said, perhaps knowing what could/would happen to her child,  "You know, you can always sing for free. You can always sing in church. You don't have to choose the professional life."
But Whitney knew she was a Chosen one and I'm willing to bet her mother knew, too. And maybe she would have done what Toni's Sethe did had it been a different time, kept her daughter's past at bay, her future from happening. A mother knows/feels and loves so deeply.

But again, I didn't come to this today to write and conjecture and quote others.  I want to focus on the impact of her death. I want to focus on what I am gleaning from the loss of one of the greatest women of all time. The impact of her death is different than Michael's.

Like Kwesi McDavid Arno wrote: 
"We weren’t honest about Whitney. We told the truth about Michael. It was an easy story - an abusive father, tormented child star. We poked and prodded through Michael’s life. But we didn’t touch Whitney. We just didn’t want to tell the truth about Whitney Houston’s life. We just wanted her to be what we wanted. We didn’t care about the truth; we didn’t care about her life."

And all I can think of is how some bodies matter and others don't. Drawing from Judith Butler, we can consider Kwesi's illumination of how Whitney's body did not matter in the same way that Michael's did. Hers was the abject body made real by Kwesi's, and others, interrogations of Whitney's life after her death. In some eerie way, the unthinkablility, unlivability, unintelligibility, of her life existed "within discourse as the radically uninterrogated and as the shadowy contentless figure for something that [was] not yet made real."1 Kwesi fesses up to that. "But we didn't touch Whitney. We just didn't tell the truth. We didn't care about the truth; we didn't care about her life."  See Whitney now; made real.

1 Costera Meijer, I., Prins, B. (1998) How bodies come to matter: an interview with Judith Butler, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 23(2):275-286.

Abbey Lincoln

Saturday, February 25, 2012

An open letter to my Dear Mother Bettie Jean Baker-Wellman /aka - Jyene Baker/on her Birthday February 25th.

Dear Mama,

You raised 6 children, Oscar Lee, Darryl Russell, Edward Byron, Paul Michael, Angela Monique, Lori Annette. When I think about the things you accomplished, all I want to do is make sure I honor you by making the best of my life.
Paul, Eddie, Lori, Lee, Angie, Darryl

I remember the story you told me about how you were invited to audition for the Ed Sullivan Show and when you went, they turned you away. They said that they did not know you were "colored." I know had you had that opportunity, I would not even be writing this because you would have taken a much different path and I would not have been born to you.

You held down a 40-hr a week job and gigged 6 nights a week at the Top of the Hilton Inn in Kansas City. Some of my fondest memories are of me helping you get dressed for those gigs. I was your chamber maid, fetched your sherry that you said helped your voice, helped you get into your girdles and stuff the bra with pads (five kids did a number on your body) put on the eyelashes, thread the needles when you had to fix an attachment, sew on a button, repair a piece of jewelry, whatever. Then your pianist would pick you up and I would do my homework, watch tv and fall asleep in your bed with a piece of your clothing situated in such a way that I could take in a deep breath and smell you. When I arrived at your house after you died, the first thing I did was run to your closet to smell you. You were gone and you took your fragrance with you. I don't blame you Mama. The world took so much from you: racism, sexism robbed you of your dreams. You put up with a lot of shit from people. I watched you handle it all with grace and dignity. Sometimes you would get so angry with the world, but you kept on reaching for your dreams.

You were a true Renaissance Woman. You were the first to introduce our people in KC to the health benefits of aloe vera, herbs, and purifying our water. You transformed our dining room into your office and inventory warehouse, removed the china from the cabinet, and replaced it with your Nature's Sunshine inventory. You sold Amway, Sara Coventry Jewelry, Avon, Shaklee Products, Mary Kaye Cosmetics, Nature's Sunshine, and I don't know what else. One thing I know: between you and your brother, Edward Byron Baker, Sr., I learned how to fend for myself and nurture that pioneering spirit I inherited from you.

I was your first-born daughter and you could not believe it. You had come to believe that you were a male maker and when the doctor's told you that you had a 6-lb 7-ounce baby girl, you looked at 'em and said, "You know anymore good jokes?" and when they brought me in you waited until they left and removed my diaper for confirmation and when it was time for me to return to the nursery, you wouldn't let them take me.  You named me Angel Monique and called me Nikki. Daddy added the "a" at the end of Angel, but you always called me your angel. :-))

We had our challenges because I was truly YOUR daughter, determined to be me, which was very different from your plans for me. You used to dress me up in Cinderella-brand dresses, white lace socks and patent leather shoes. I hated those dresses and petticoats. I know you were disappointed because I did not wear the make-up or bring home the tall, dark handsome son-in-law.  You had a rough time with who I chose to love, but we got through it and you told my brothers who were having a hard time with my choice to love women, that they were missing out on a beautiful person and to get over it. "Your sister's a beautiful woman," you told them.  When you told me that, I was so relieved and happy. You had finally accepted me. And when I finally brought home a Black woman, you said, "Well, I still don't understand this women loving women thing, but I'm so glad to see you bring home a Black one." I still chuckle about that.

I remember long, late night conversations talking about any and everything. You taught me songs, told me about your latest herbal remedies, introduced me to Andrew Weil, Naturopathic medicine, and kept me informed about family matters. We talked about your plans to travel and planned visits with me.  Your last visit was hard. You were really sick and in lots of pain, but we took walks in my little Berkeley neighborhood and really did stop and smell some roses in one of the yards. Even though you were in lots of pain, you managed to get yourself to the North Berkeley Senior Center where you met an 80-something year old woman who was teaching yoga. You marveled at her story of being bed-ridden with arthritis and how yoga got her back on her feet. You were ready to try that. But you didn't make it. You went back home to KC and I went on the road. I was going to come and care for you when I finished the tour, but you left before I could get there.  That was the hardest thing in life I ever had to accept and learn to live with, but you had to go and I was relieved for you because I know you were in a lot of pain.

In July it will be 18 years since you moved on. A friend, Melanie DeMore, said to me, "Ang, it doesn't get easier. It just gets less hard." She was right. Sometimes it seems as though you died yesterday. I miss you so much and most of the time it is not as hard as it was.  But to not be able to hear your voice, talk to you, smell you is still hard.

Thank you, Mama, for everything you gave me. But most of all:

Thank you for loving me and teaching me how to love others.
I know you are somewhere resting in deep peace.
Lord knows you deserve it!

I will love you for all eternity. See you along the way, I hope.

aka Nikki

Lori and I, your TWO ANGELS, really miss you.