golden lady writes!
golden lady writes!
I absolutely love interactive theatre! It challenges my creativity, forces me outside my comfort zone, and leaves me better than I was beforehand. The performance of Collaboraction’s Moonset Sunrise did just that. Yet, it was far more than I had anticipated.
This production is “an immersive experience rooted in healing, self-care, and collective growth through song, storytelling, dance, and ritual to honor the moment in between the setting full moon and the rising sun to release our past and celebrate the now.” The show took me on a cleansing and healing journey, provoking thought as it entertained me. When the presentation ended, I felt empowered with tools I did not realize had always been in my possession. I was also encouraged to take inventory of the people and things that do not deserve to occupy space in my life.
Collaboraction is a non-profit organization that presents theatrical productions focused on social change and works to engage people in empathy, thought, dialogue, and action on critical social issues. You can see the performance of Moonset Sunrise through June 18, 2022, at Beat Kitchen’s Bar Sol at Navy Pier. For more information, go to https://www.collaboraction.org.
As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, I wanted to share some of my recent experiences surrounding motherhood.
Being a mother takes so much more than I would have ever imagined. This motherhood thing is hard work! It is exhausting yet rewarding to do what is necessary to provide for our children so they can strive and enjoy good lives.
To be at our best, we must put as much time and energy into our mental and physical well-being as we dedicate to caring for our children. We cannot be any good for those who are under our care if we are not good to ourselves. That goes for anyone who has placed themselves in a position to nurture or help improve the well-being of others.
My daughter, Tiffany Renee Johnson, a.k.a Tif, and I decided to do something this year that we have never done in celebration of Motherhood. We always do something unique, but we participated in activities that focused on mental and physical health this time around.
Pre-Mother’s Day Brunch
Tif and I attended the Chrysalis Program Pre-Mother’s Day Brunch Fundraiser the last Saturday in April at the Space Share Lab in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. The event involved having a difficult conversation about healing the complicated relationship between mothers and daughters. We enjoyed great food, a powerful panel discussion, live performances, a raffle, and giveaways. Also, the DJ blessed us with music that pays tribute to mothers and womanhood.
After giving the welcome message, the event host asked for a volunteer to say a prayer. Tif answered the call, praying for a blessed event and thanking God for bringing us all together.
“You are beautiful! You are worth it! You are worthy!” the host proclaimed as she urged us to speak these words daily. It is an excellent idea to self-validate to remind yourself of these things.
When the panel moderator asked the audience to share our thoughts on improving mother-daughter relationships, I offered the following suggestions based on my personal experience: “Listen without interruption, don’t make excuses, and own your part in the situation.”
The panel of professionals had an in-depth discussion on topics that most of us rarely speak of in the Black community. They shared these words of wisdom in the process:
The event opened my eyes to different perspectives and empowered me to continue to grow.
Chrysalis offers the following programming for Black girls to heal, grow and learn together:
The purpose of Chrysalis is to interrupt the trauma by “fostering growth and transformation through encouraging self-love, integrity, and compassion to inspire success.” To learn more about the Chrysalis Program, visit https://www.chrysalisforgirls.org.
Mother’s Day and African Dance
To continue the celebration of Motherhood, Tif and I took a Mali dance class with Souleymane Solo Sana on Mother’s Day during Ayodele Drum & Dance’s African Dance Conference. The energy was non-stop, and we had a good workout. The process took a lot of work and was tiring, but the reward was worth it. I felt refreshed. Even though I was a beginner, I challenged myself to get through the difficult steps. I may not have mastered them all, but at least I tried, which is how I approach life.
Being well means feeling good overall. Physical health affects mental well-being, so we must include physical activity in our daily routine. Movement can be fun, strengthen you, help you stay mentally focused, and relieve stress, among other things.
You can learn more about Ayodele at https://www.ayodeledrumanddance.com.
Eros Bowie, AKA The Prince of Poetry
For those of us who may have self-doubt or fear on the journey through healing due to our past, I would like to leave you with these words that motivational speaker Stephanie A. Roberts recently said to me. "Be encouraged! Be inspired! Don't allow what your eyes show you to pull you into an area of defeat." Check out her book, The ABCs of Commanding Your Day.
The inaugural American Writers Festival happened this past weekend at the American Writers Museum and Chicago Cultural Center. Coinciding with American Writers Museum’s fifth anniversary, the event featured over 75 contemporary authors, artists, and playwrights and addressed immigration, book censorship, racism, and equality.
Attendees enjoyed a full day of literary excellence as we shared the room with and learned from trailblazers in the world of literature who have written so many great works and paved the way for generations of writers. I am grateful to have written about several of these talented individuals. I met some great authors and added books to my library, including Ashley C. Ford’s Somebody’s Daughter, Jabari Asim’s Yonder, and Chicago Literary Hall of Fame’s Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry.
Leonard Moore, author of Teaching Black History to White People, spoke on his book, which includes tools for actionable steps that white people can take to move beyond performative justice and toward racial reparations. “White liberals think they know what’s best for Black people, and they want to speak for Black people,” he said. Moore believes that his purpose at predominantly white schools is to look out for Black students and give them an advantage. His experiences have shown him that the humanity in students transcends race.
Michael Warr, editor of the compilation Of Poetry & Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin, joined several other poets on stage to read their works. Among them was multidisciplinary artist Avery R. Young, who performed a powerful, heart-wrenching musical piece surrounding the murder of Emmett Till. Warr read the poems “Hallucinating at the Velvet Lounge” and “Duke Checks Out Ella As She Scats Like That,” influenced by Quincy Jones, from his book The Armageddon of Funk.
The Slippery Slope of Censorship: What Can You Do to Preserve Your Community’s Freedom to Read panel discussed ways to protect the freedom to read without restrictions. Also addressed were the harms of censorship. The main targets of censorship are books that focus mainly on marginalized individuals and controversial issues and those of Black authors. Pro-censorship groups have attempted to take over elected offices to push their selfish agendas. However, we must demand the freedom to speak, publish, and read. “Book banning is a dehumanization act,” said children’s author Jarrett Dapier. “It’s attacking the rights of children to read and be.”
Participants in America’s National Student Poets panel are part of a program that “believes in the power of youth voices to create and sustain meaningful change, and supports them in being heard.” We must hear young people’s voices in the literary world. One of the panelists stated, “When people try to keep out writers of color, LGBTQ+ writers, and others, then they are pretending like the work that happens doesn’t exist.”
David W. Blight discussed his book, Frederick Douglass: Library of America. He said that Douglass felt it was necessary to make it known that he was not just an orator but also a writer who worked out what he had to say on paper first. In one of his speeches, Douglass stated, “Our democracy is in deep peril and cannot last.” Blight made a statement during his discussion, with which I agree. “You can read any Frederick Douglass speech and find yourself thinking about right now.” One example is that Douglass advocated for voting rights and limiting government power. The issues have never gone away. Douglass endured denial, humiliation, and defeat during his lifetime, yet he continued to fight. He spoke out through his writing, including the 1859 book, The Ballot or the Bullet, which speaks to the need for immediate abolition.
The Crossing Boundaries panel discussion, presented by StoryStudio Chicago, addressed the struggle of crossing borders in writing and giving yourself permission to do so. “Saying ‘yes’ to yourself means saying ‘no’ to things that impede your time,” said Dionna Griffin-Irons. She added that we must “turn inward to see ourselves before expecting others to see us.”
Todd Brewster discussed the book Seen and Unseen: Technology, Social Media, and the Fight for Racial Justice, written by him and Marc Lamont Hill. Brewster said, “A White officer’s knee on a Black man’s neck is a symbolic representation” of an image that does not change. When asked about the effect of social media on current events, he replied, “We now can see things that we couldn’t see before. How do we know they’re true?” A significant issue is the rehashing of videos to make those who commit racial violence look like heroes. Speaking of the ancestors of those born into society, Brewster stated, “This is the history of our experience. We need to come to terms with it. We need to confront what we’ve done.” In response to the question of how we stray from social media to find legitimate points of view, he said, “It is important to understand the concept of freedom of speech. When speech is free, it leads to better outcomes.”
The American Writers Museum held a live taping of “Dead Writer Drama.” Soyica Diggs Colbert discussed her book, Radical Vision: A Biography of Lorraine Hansberry, a narration of “a life at the intersection of art and politics.” She argues that Hansberry used the theater as a space for her political and intellectual work. Colbert mentioned that reading Hansberry’s book, A Raisin in the Sun, was required during her time in high school, not just for Black students but all students. She has described Hansberry as a “movement baby.” A Raisin in the Sun reflects her education in civil rights and self-defense as a child. “I wanted the world to know that she was an intellectual, a radical, and a brilliant thinker,” said Colbert. “She proved that no matter what scares you or causes self-doubt, you can still be fierce as a writer.”
In the book South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, Imani Perry explores the undeniable influence of the South in shaping America. The story is an “essential, surprising journey through the history, rituals, and landscapes of the American South.” Perry reveals things that she says represent an invitation to reconsider what we think we know, yet she doesn’t expect readers to agree with her.
Four of the 150 contributors to the anthology, Wherever I’m At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry, discussed and shared their poems. “Chicago’s history vibrates through these pages. Chicago’s culture. Chicago’s beauty and its scars. Chicago’s landmarks and joints. Chicago in all its glory, Chicago in all its sadness. In a word: life. Chicago life.” The panel included Illinois' current Poet Laureate Angela Jackson, Johanny Vázquez Paz, Faisal Mohyuddin, and Carlos Cumpián. Inspired by Lorraine Hansberry, Jackson stated, “Her devotion to the act of writing fascinated me.” Mohyuddin said of his childhood experience, “Not being told things made me more hungry to know things.”
The American Writers Festival was educational, thought-provoking, inspirational, and entertaining. I am grateful for the journey that brought me here.
The Chicago Park District held a party with a purpose during Earth Day to commemorate Mayor Harold Washington’s 100th birthday. The event occurred at Harold Washington Park, one of over 600 parks in Chicago and aptly named for our first Black mayor. It was a special occasion to acknowledge all he had accomplished for the city.
The audience enjoyed unseasonably warm weather for April in Chicago and great music by Jazz Links Ensemble as we waited for the festivities to begin. Also performing were the Wolfpack Cheerleaders.
Alderman Leslie Hairston, who serves the ward where Harold Washington Park is located, credited Mayor Washington with inspiring her as a college student to become a political organizer during his first run for the mayoral office. She introduced Rosa Escareño, acting Park District superintendent, who acknowledged Friends of the Parks for their cleaning efforts. Escareño also recognized the Harold Washington Legacy Committee, which started planning for the occasion 13 years ago. “We are the stewards of green and work very closely with the mayor and her team to expand the green footprint of our city,” she said. She reminded us how Washington’s concern for the environment prompted an increase in parks under his leadership. She also stressed the need to teach the youth the importance of maintaining the parks.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot stated, “Harold left us a blueprint. It’s very important that we continue to uplift his legacy and carry the baton forward.” She announced a planned $188 million investment in equity-focused climate and environmental programs that will allow for the planting of 75,000 trees over the next five years. “We want to make sure that neighborhoods all over our city are lush and green,” she added.
Andrea Smith of the Harold Washington Legacy Committee proclaimed, “Not only are we honoring his legacy, but we are planting seeds of renewable, recyclable green hope for a sustainable, equitable future.”
Darva Watkins of the Harold Washington Foundation recalled her days as a campaign volunteer for the former mayor. “He believed in responsibility and integrity. We must take his legacy to another level by working with our youth and all races of people.”
The ceremony ended with a young Black girl giving a speech on Harold Washington’s history from his birth. She finished with this: “I believe Washington left a legacy by paving the way for people of color in Chicago to have a seat at the table in our city government. This mattered in the 1980s and is still true in 2022.”
Afterwards, mayor Lightfoot and others dug dirt in preparation for planting a horse chestnut tree in Washington’s honor that will sit near a park rededication plaque. According to Mayor Lightfoot, the tree serves as a “symbolic replacement and living monument for Mayor Washington and a small token of appreciation for all his incredible work to make the city more equitable, inclusive, and welcoming.”
This culminating event was an excellent way to remember Harold’s life and honor his legacy!