Sunday, October 14, 2018

(I must learn the name of this brilliant artist)
After more than a dozen years on the job, I finally hit the place so long dreamed of ...

My audience held a black majority made up of local people for the first time.

I knew that we were expecting a group of 30 at my two o'clock talk, and I'd questioned the wisdom of allowing such a large group to reserve seats in a little theater that only holds 50 people at-a-time, and when -- since Saturday talks are by far the most popular -- (we're currently "sold out" into late November!).  In addition, I'm in the theater on both Tuesdays and Thursdays, but Saturday continues to be the day and time most in demand.

When I asked why such a large group had been allowed to take up most of the seats when I'm perfectly willing to schedule (at a separate day and time) for such, no one seemed to have the reasons just why that was.  I quietly thought about it for all of a hurried 5 minutes, and decided that -- for today we'd simply go with it, and then tighten up the process in the future.

Imagine my surprise when shortly before walking down the back stairway to head for the theater, I happened to look through the gallery window and catch out of the corner of my eye a large gathering of African American women approaching the entrance to the Visitor Center.  I realized that this was my audience for "Of Lost Conversations," and that, since the arrangements had been made by telephone, apparently someone knew but had quietly made the exception.  And I was so grateful, for whatever reason.

Add to that the fact that these were mainly women of the Richmond community, people I'd tried to reach out to for more than a decade, but until this moment had failed to attract, at least in significant numbers.

Given that the black home front history in this city is so important, and without it there is simply no way to account for the demographics of Richmond in the years following the end of WWII.  In the year 2004 when I moved to Richmond, the African American population was at 40% with the Latino population at 20%.  Those  numbers have since reversed, largely due to an in-migration over the decade plus gentrification due to economic factors.  It's complicated.

And of course there are the little known facts that the SS Harriet Tubman, the SS Ethiopia, the SS John Hope, the SS Robert S. Abbott, the SS George Washington Carver, five historically black colleges, etc., were all built and launched in the Kaiser shipyards, and that few were aware of it until now.  That 17 victory ships had been named for noted African Americans, and that not only our children had no knowledge of that history, but those who teach them have been completely unaware, at least until this national park was created to honor it.

Without changing a word.  With no compromise because of the racial makeup of my audience, yesterday I was able to share those stories with 30 black women of the community mixed in with members of the general public!  What an honor ... .  In today's audience were the direct descendants of that generation, yet the City's memory has excluded their history from curricula taught in schools so that their children and grandchildren are bereft of the pride those stories would surely have inspired.

I could see the pride in those faces yesterday; see the lights go on behind eyes so long blinded by the lack of inclusion in the nation's narrative.  I wanted to savor it; to linger with them in that place where I'd worked so hard for so many years to achieve.

But it was not to be.

David was waiting in the parking lot to take me home in time to meet Dorian for our usual weekend Disney film on Netflix ... and this day would have made a history of its own in my personal narrative, and that should be enough,  at least for now.

Maybe it's in the Disney-fication of our democracy that the problem lies.

I need to think on that ... .

Friday, October 05, 2018

Yes, that's just who you think it is ... Gloria Steinem!

... and it's about all I can think about today, or at least would be if events of the day weren't threatening to blot out everything of importance in our country and world.

Woke to the panels on CNN and CSPAN preparing  us for the Senate vote for cloture; all in preparation for tomorrow's next steps in the process of seating Judge Brett Kavenaugh on the Supreme Court.

I'm not certain just why it was that I was still clinging to the notion that sanity would yet prevail, and that those old white men would finally see the error of their ways, and would show respect for Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford by honoring her truth.

It was not to be.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, on whose shoulders rested the fate of that decision, finally gave her 45-minute statement that said all the right words, but little of the truth they were meant to convey.  She tried hard to cover all the bases by granting Dr. Ford a nod of acceptance that "... something had surely happened to her, but that it surely wasn't Brett Kavenaugh!"

Over the next 24 hours the final vote will be taken, but I know longer hold any thoughts for the hoped for outcome that every sensible and frustrated woman in the nation is screaming for.

But I need to tell you that I've known for several weeks that three friends I'd met while attending the Makers Conference in Hollywood last spring were flying out to attend my talk at the Visitor Center.  When I first learned of it from Amy Richards (of Soapbox Productions, NY) it sounded just too good to be true, so I held the news for a few days until it felt comfortable to share.

I finally trusted it enough to tell Tom Leatherman, our superintendent, but withheld it from the rest of staff. Then a plan formed, and it felt right.  I announced to our lead ranger, Elizabeth Tucker, that their visit on October 4th was confirmed, and that I needed our staff to work with me to make it work for us all.  We entered the three under the name, Amy Richards, in the reservations book in order to not disclose Gloria's name in print.

First, my talks have remained fresh and new for me over time by my being able to look into the faces, eyes, of an audience for whom the stories are being heard for the first time.  After so many months and years of telling those stories 3 and sometimes 5 times-a-week over a number of years, that has become the way that the excitement of sharing those long-forgotten truths without becoming numb to my own telling is maintained.  Without that aspect being honored, the work would become robotic, and I'd probably not be able to continue to do it.  There's an emotional component through which I find the energy to keep it real.  Without the authenticity the work would be impossible.

That meant that we needed to keep Gloria's visit under wraps, to not disclose her visit lest the theater become filled with docents, friends, relatives, and I'd be robbed of the "new eyes and faces" that were so vital to my work.

The secret was successfully kept, and the audience was made up of about 20 elders who arrived on a tour bus, plus others who had made their reservations with no knowledge of her anticipated presence.

After a lukewarm start -- since I'd had a sleepless night before due to a flu shot that created some discomfort -- but before the end of my talk I hit my stride when the energy kicked in and "Truth" weighed in with its usual force, and it all worked out.

Gloria, Amy, and Blaine, appeared to be moved by both the short films and my talk, and a leisurely conversation over lunch afterwards.  Amy was back on the Red Eye flying back to NY last night.  I can't imagine doing that ...  .

I will see them all again soon when, in early November, when I take off for NY events.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Another milestone past, and another item off my bucket list ... !

This has been a week like no other, starting with a flower-strewn 97th birthday that was celebrated quietly with Dorian -- watching Netflix movies and eating lavishly buttered popcorn.

Quiet was a gift onto itself, in the middle of another fraught-filled daily schedule that defies custom, practice, or even common sense!  What other woman approaching the century mark would dare to even attempt the life I'm leading?

And next week, month, year, holds promise to deliver more of the same, since "The World"  doesn't appear to be slowing down one iota, and I continue to rise up to meet it, sometimes foolishly, I suppose.

I'm enjoying the book readings/signings, and audiences seem to be as well.

Note:  "Of Lost Conversations" is the title of my talks that occur 3-5 times weekly in our theater at the Visitor Education Center at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park.  Reservations are necessary due to limited seating, and can be arranged  for by calling (510) 232-5050 x 0.  Groups over 20 can arrange for a special presentation at another day and time in addition to those listed below.  Lead Ranger, Elizabeth Tucker, schedules such events.

Tuesday        October 2   "Of Lost Conversations" (2:00-3:00)
Wednesday   October 3    Radio/video interview for Manufacturing Radio NJ
Thursday      October 4    "Of Lost Conversations" (with special guests!)  (2:00-3:00)
Saturday       October 6    "Of Lost Conversation" (2:00-3:00 pm) (11:00)
Sunday         October 7     Phone interview with two middle-school girls in W. Palm Beach, Fla
Sunday         October 7     "A Community Conversation" (South Berkeley Senior Center)
Monday        October 8     Phone interview with S.F. Weekly re S.F. Litquake (11:00)
Monday        October 8      Book Signing at Book Passages in San Carlos
Tuesday        October 9     "Of Lost Conversations"  (2:00-3:00 pm)
Thursday       October 11   "Of Lost Conversations   (11:00 am-12:00 pm)
Saturday        October 13   "Of lost Conversations   (2:00-3:00 pm)
Monday         October 15    Storytelling at "Litquake", San Francisco book festival
Tuesday         October 16   "Of Lost Conversations" (11:00 am-12:00 pm) for high school class
Tuesday         October 16   "Of Lost Conversations  (2:00-3:00 pm)
Thursday        October 18   Interview re Port Chicago tragedy with journalist
Thursday        October 18   "Of Lost Conversations (11:00 am-12:00 pm)
Saturday         October 20   "Of Lost Conversations (2:00-3:00 pm)
Sunday           October 21    Fly to Irvine for book/signing reading for Orange County Librarians
Tuesday          October 23   "Of Lost Conversations"  (2:00-3:00 pm)
Wednesday     October 24    Facebook live interview with Sheryl Sandburg (all day)
Thursday        October 25    "Of Lost Conversations"  (11:00 am-12:00 pm)
Saturday         October  27   "Of Lost Conversations"  (2:00-3:00 pm)
Sunday           October 28    Into the studio to record the audio book for Hay House
Monday          October 29    Into the studio to record the audio book for Hay House
Tuesday          October 30    Fly to Southern California to tape Steve Harvey Show (all day)
Wednesday     October 31    Into the studio to complete audio book for Hay House
Thursday         November 1 "Of Lost Conversations"   (11:00 am-12:00 pm)
Thursday         November 1  Book/reading/signing, San Leandro City Hall (5:00-8:00 pm)
Saturday          November 3  "Of Lost Conversations"  (2:00-3:00 pm)
Sunday            November 4   Kensington Unitarian/Universalist Church, Berkeley (2:45-4:30 pm)
Tuesday          November 6  "Of Lost Conversations"  (11:00 am-12:00 pm)
Wednesday     November 7   AAUW Book Signing,  Pleasant Hill, CA
Thursday         November 8  "Of Lost Conversations"  (11:00-12:00)

Then I'll fly to New York and the East Coast for events associated with Glamour Magazine to be held 11th, 12th, 14th.  Will return around the 16th.  More about this as the dates approach.  Very exciting, I promise, but not to be revealed (on orders from Glamour) until the December issue hits the stands on November 6th.

As an aside, half the fun of having these incredible experiences is sharing the anticipation with those near and far.  Having to keep secrets about such things is both difficult and, at times, virtually impossible.  Spoils the adventure in some ways.  I've only been reasonably successful, but not completely.

Monday         November 19  Town & Gown Club book reading/signing , Berkeley
Saturday        November 24  "Of Lost Conversations"  (2:00-3:00)

Break for Thanksgiving

Saturday       December 8      "Of Lost Conversations"  (2:00-3:00)

Dates in December will be erratic and at this point unpredictable, what with it being the holiday season, and by then fatigue will surely have set in, and it will be time for me to "... rest ye with those merry gentlemen" or collapse totally!

In December there will be the introduction of one of my original songs by the Oakland Symphony on the 16th at the Paramount Theater in Oakland.  The National Parks Conservancy Association West Coast annual meeting in San Francisco to which I'm a participant.  The Berkeley Public Library Association is holding their Authors dinner at which I've been invited to participate in February.

I will copy this entry to the "Sign my name to freedom" pages, and will add to them as needed.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

New "old" edges to grow from ... .

It was the Democratic Convention when the indomitable Fanny Lou Hamer made her courageous attempt to seat the Mississippi Freedom Party but failed against the ruthless resistance led by Lyndon Johnson.  I'd watched on the small screen with alternating hope and horror, praying that the nation would rise up to this daring challenge, but was not surprised that we didn't.  This was at that time the ... state of the Union, unapologetically.

Skip to some time later, when then President Lyndon Johnson, after the tumultuous Summer of 1964 and the Birmingham Church Bombings, the discovery of the bodies of the brutally slain 3 civil rights workers in Mississippi by the KuKluxKlan; the fire hoses and police dogs crushing attack on the valiant marchers at the bridge in Selma, Alabama; and -- finally -- Johnson appearing before the American people and the watching World to announce the "New Order" that would usher in the long-delayed social changes that would culminate in a new era for people like me  -- the final fulfillment of America's promise.

I'll never forget how that speech ended, with the same man who had worked so hard to prevent Fanny Lou Hamer from succeeding at that convention -- and on the world stage -- ending his historic speech with, "... and we SHALL overcome!"

I felt deeply offended.  Unforgiving.  Not willing to accept this travesty, this expropriation of the anthem that held such meaning for so many over that tortuous and horrific decade.

It was shortly thereafter that I was asked to sing at a Unitarian Universalist Church service, and was still stinging from that dreadful usurpation by now repentant Lyndon Johnson.

I needed a hand holding song, but "We shall overcome" had been forever tainted for me.

I wrote and sang this on that Sunday (after asking those gathered to join hands):

We gather here,  I feel you near, on this beautiful day
your hand in mine, this simple sign of love 
we span the miles -- we wear the smiles born of sharing this day
your hand in mine, this simple sign of love 
Your fears, like mine... can be left behind ... close the spaces between 
let our love flow free ... in this moment be ...  as one ... 
                     though our prophets say ... each a different way ... of this truth they'd agree 
your hand in mine is a valid sign of love.   
We've traveled far, from beyond a star -- along paths of our lives 
still we found our way to this lovely day ... now here 
In our hearts we know peace on earth can grow from these fingers, love warmed 
your hand in mine, this simple sign of love 
your hand in mine, this holy sign of love.

The song was never published, nor did I ever sing it again after that first time.  However, it was burned into my brain, and can be called up as if it was written yesterday.  The issues continue to be unresolved with voter suppression still with us, and 'We shall Overcome' now rarely heard but still meaningful in many parts of the country.

I learned last night that this song may be introduced on December 16th at the annual concert of the Oakland Symphony under the direction of conductor Michael Morgan.  It may involve the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, under the direction of a long time friend, Terence Kelly.  At the moment I'm being urged to join the choir in the singing of it, but that's still something I'm feeling resistant to, but being tempted at least.  My voice is no longer the instrument it once was, and the only thing I have going for me is the fact that it would be one more item from my fast-dwindling bucket list, and the fact that I probably would have the most forgiving audience on the planet!

I cannot imagine a more glorious way to end this fabulous and magical year, can you?

Monday, August 20, 2018

Confessions of an unrepentant rebel ... .

Those last two posts are wildly speculative -- rash, maybe even unreasonable, but it was only after sleeping on the idea for several nights, I decided to just go for it,

When these ideas first occurred to me, it was at a time when I was living among classical academics as a faculty wife at the University of California, Berkeley.  Our home was an informal gathering place for many of the "great minds" at a time following the Sixties conscious-raising period; after the assassinations of Dr. King, the Kennedys, Malcolm X, the resistance to the de-segregation of the public schools, and the birth of the Human Potential Movement with Werner Earhardt and EST, Fritz Perls and Charlotte Selvers at Esalan -- the new "Valhalla."  We were a part of all of it.

It was in that setting that I was introduced to Tarthang Tulku, Rinpoche, and Tibetan Buddhism.  To long mind-altering weekends in retreats at Padma Ling or Odiyon, the beautiful Monastery high above the Russian River in Sonoma County.  To the cutting edge of the explorations of the physicists who were exploring the interface between eastern religious thought and the western sciences.  And, no, I didn't practice Buddhism, though Bill was a serious student of both, and of Tibetan Buddhism, specifically.

It was in those years that my life had been impacted by -- not only the Civil Rights Revolution and rising black nationalism -- but by the likes of the irreverent and colorful author, Ken Kesey, and UU ministers, Aron Gilmartin, Paul Sawyer, and Starr King School for the Ministry president, Bob Kimball.

It was into that melange of exciting change that I was dropped unceremoniously through my somewhat hasty and impulsive marriage to Dr. William Soskin.

It was a heady time of redefinition.  We were all so open to change, and so vulnerable to possible mis-steps.  Fortunately, the experience was mostly at a time of exciting positive growth.

After 35 years of marriage and motherhood in an entirely different social environment, here I was in a world with as much to learn as to teach -- and in a social setting conducive to both.  I was re-building a life after a painful divorce, but on the cusp of rejuvenation for the second half.

Leni Riefenstahl's amazing photo book had arrived as a Christmas gift that year at a time when I was still in the throes of personal redefinition.  I was redefining myself as a black person in an almost totally white world; no small task.  Re-definining myself out of Suburbia, the Black community, and into University life.  Testing my ability to move out of my racial identity and into my "universal" self.

The Village of Kau was instrumental in achieving that transformation.  However, these images deepened my racial identity, markedly, and helped me to develop a greater understanding of where the human differences lie, and a better sense of when I was operating from "inside the circle" and when I was not.  And the awakening of an ability to demand acceptance not despite those differences, but because of them.  

Left Brain/Right Brain theories were commonplace as a subject of conversation in my new world where boundaries were being crushed against the walls of the New Age.  I was a witness to psychedelic experimentation and the fast-approaching Information Age would be upon us soon. Those big brains who were peopling my world at that time were busily creating the "New Age."

Those last two posts have been lying dormant in my brain for decades.  It was raised during that time of redefinition -- when I was having to 'splain and justify my existence in this new world of the Academy when there were no academic underpinnings to support me there.  I'd never attended college, though surely was an avid reader over a lifetime.  I'd arrived at the halfway point of my life with curiosity ablaze!

It was this Right Brain orientation that explained (to me, at least) the vast differences between Eastern and Western development.  The Lamas, refugees from the Chinese takeover of Tibet were moving in and out of our lives on a regular basis, and contact between our home and Katmandu was a common occurrence.  To those Lamas, mental telepathy was an ordinary usable tool.  To the western scientists the practice was still a mere unprovable but tantalizing theory.

Those fascinating brain theories explained some major differences in the social development of African Americans who had been forced to live under slavery for nearly 300 years while completely out of context of what would be "natural."  Maybe it would take another 300 years to regain the threads upon which black life was based.

I was relatively silent in the eighties at a time when I was surrounded by those big brains, and too unsure to express such revolutionary thoughts aloud (except to Bill, who humored me).

Then I watched Panther and the work of Ryan Coogler, and it all came rushing back.

Found myself dreaming of what might have been ... of all of the potential greatness snuffed out by poverty and injustice; by need and brutality, by deprivation and denial; by expropriation and exploitation ... .

Went to my living room book shelves a few days ago, to dig out the Riefenstahl book, and in thumbing through those extraordinary photos, began to cry!  All of it came rushing back, Bill, those brunches in our Berkeley home at the top of Grizzly Peak Boulevard where the original thinkers who were pushing us into a future rife with opiates and imagination (and, no, I never succumbed to drug use or Tibetan Buddhism) -- and the excitement of those times descended with a dizzying force.

Spent most of the day on Sunday re-living those fantasies, and reveling in the headiness of it -- headiness that I'd not allowed myself in those years; the headiness of daring to speculate and let the intellectuals prove me wrong.

I'll just put it out there.

... out there for others to argue against or build upon.

Prove me wrong, if you can, but know that as I approach my 97th birthday, I intend to only speak (and write) in declarative sentences!  Go on, give it your best shot ...

Maybe this is one way in which new pathways into inquiry are discovered.

There was this crazy man who insisted that the earth was not flat ... remember?

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Wondering if I've taken on more than I can extricate myself from ... ?

Yet, it's too late to back out now.  The Grim Reaper could appear almost at any moment, and I might have failed to make my case:

(it may be helpful to read the last post, below, before reading this one.)

So I'll continue:

These masks have always fascinated me, ever since I ran across Riefenstahl's remarkably exciting coffee table book back in a time before the millennium.  I was fascinated when reading the description of her  visits to the Village of Kau every two years for many years, and that she'd studied the villagers at a time long before their rain forest settlement had been invaded by European forces (scientists, archeologists, anthropologists), and long before the influences brought with them began to drastically erode the culture.

I remember tears of sadness when reading that within about 3 years after this book was published, she'd returned to Kau to find those lovely black bodies clothed in Levis, and most of the brilliant cultural effects muted by western "civilizational" overrides.

I was married to Bill Soskin at that time, my brilliant psychologist husband, when I first met the people of Kau through this amazing book, and doing so strongly influenced the way I began to view black culture.  I remember -- while analyzing some data gathered by Bill's research project with which I worked at the University -- that maybe we were a Right-Brained people being test-assessed by a Left-Brained system.  Could it be that the instruments that might measure what Black people were good at had simply never been created?  That we were being mistakenly measured by tests that would never provide any real information about who and what we were, and what gifts we brought with us into the world?  And that we would always have our intelligence and talents under-estimated by those left-brained analytical social scientists whose work would continue to over-estimate their gifts and talents simply by default?

Have you ever had the chance to watch little black girls jumping rope; Double Dutch?  The physical/mental skills needed by that childhood game  would challenge any lesser human beings who tried to blend the complex elements required for success.  Elements of rhythms, songs, intricate footwork, agility, the coordination needed is so daunting that one stands in awe.  What is demanded by this simple children's game puts shame to anyone whose psyche didn't include the "jazz" element, the gift born to most ordinary black children, and genetically passed along through the generations.

We see those same gifts illustrated on the basketball courts of the NBA, in Track and Field activities, on the stage in chorus lines, all serving as raw materials to the (European) coaches, choreographers, artists and athletes, who expropriate what they can use and toss the rest and black folks with them!

The analytical Left-Brainers break apart the elements, analyze, re-assemble the steps (strokes, notes, etc.) into an often reasonable facsimile of the original, and "own it."  And as often as not, set up the inevitable competition to establish dominance.  They re-define the "it," and critique it into something that those who created it have seldom reduced to mere words, but who can look into the eyes of another "sistah" or "brotha" with an instantaneous mumble of understanding and connection.  They may give it substance by assigning the over-used word, "Soul," or "Amen!" and are content to let it go at that.

I've always cringed at the sight and sound of superb black "back-up" singers and dancers fronted by less than spectacular "Stars" who gloried in the stolen spotlight.  A well known folk singer "fronting" that magnificent South African choir, Ladysmith Mambazo, comes to mind.

And what does all this have to do with me?


When I think back to the mystery of my late-blooming attention-getting fame in these final years, and wonder just why it happened, I've come to many explanations over time.  Could be because my life as recorded in these pages provide for the searching aging Boomer generation a reasonable alternative to the adulation of youth culture so common in this country.  Could be.  Could also be that the candor with which I deal with all that is a novelty.  Could be.

Lately a new rationale has risen to the surface, one that feels more likely;

The magic may be that -- for reasons unknown -- I've remained contemporary for my entire life.  Always a creature of the hour, living in the "Now!" This has been my true state of being since childhood. That's still where I'm positioned on the Spectrum of Life, and that may be best reflected in my work.

Instead of nostalgically looking back at the world of 1942-1945 -- the period celebrated by the Rosie the Riveter National Park site -- I'm interpreting that period against the canvas of "Now!", relating it to the environmental changes occurring in these critical years; seeing them in the context of generational challenges that share at least one thing -- the urgency that will wait for no one.

How my generation met the challenge of those hazardous years is a dramatic and gut-wrenching dilemma that today's youth are again being forced to confront.  It's another "Do or Die" era, and there are models for facing what lies ahead as the Earth continues into climactic change.  The threat is equal to and may surpass the terrifying times my generation has already lived through.  We have a duty to provide those models for the survival of the species, and I'm still around to participate in doing just that along with those of my time who are still alive.

Having lived into the future that I, along with millions of others, helped to create 50 years ago, I'm doing it in truth, and with the support and blessings of a federal agency.  I'm able to do it because of the "Jazz" element that may be our people's gifts to the world. Because we're willing and able to drop the guise of feigned innocence ("I've never owned any slaves; get over it!").  To challenge the concept of White Supremacy and the insatiable hunger to maintain Empire over the entire known world; as humanity assumes the responsibility of entering into this period of the Grand Improvisation that will be essential if we're to survive into the unknown future.

It does no good to look to the past for answers, at least not until we've heeded and absorbed the warnings from the scientific community.  Those answers lie in questions still to be developed by as yet unknowing professionals of all of the disciplines; they, who must rise to the crucial, troubling, and urgent needs now forecast by the futurists of the scientific world.

The entire world may now be entering the world of


because the worlds of the fundamentalist past have profoundly and utterly failed us.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

There is the germ of an answer to one of life's important questions just forming ...

and I'm not sure that it's ready to be expressed, but maybe ...  (but then there's that running-out-of-time thing to consider now.)

It seems to me that it's an important insight -- one of those things that occurs as original thought -- one of those things that seems so obvious that surely some wiser person has already thought of it, right?  And one day I'll read it in a book written by some genius and "aha!" will rise to the sound of trumpets, but I'll never own it, just accept it as confirmation of some universal something that I've known all along down deep, but that others have as well, and that I should have realized ... .

It's this:

It's that Jazz is a black genetic attribute.  It is born with blackness and colors everything we do, think, act upon, how we interpret life as we live it as a people.  It's something that can be learned, copied, and  expropriated, but that cannot be fully understood by others as a basic element in everything we (black folks)  think, touch, feel, or express.

It begins with a fundamental difference between white and black cultures.  I seem to have always known that white culture rewards all that has gone before and sets its standards by what are assumed to be expressions of past perfection.  Therefore great musicians (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, et al)  provide the standards by which all of today's classical artists are measured by and against -- to assess their level of "greatness".

It is so with the genius balletmasters, the musicians, choreographers,  visual artists -- all measured by what has gone before.

With black culture it's just the opposite.  In our world greatness is measured by novelty, newness, originality, innovation, spontaneity, improvisation, so we're always leading in the creation of language, dance, music, the arts in all its forms, and they're (whites) always following.  We've always been out there at the edge of change.  As soon as others catch up, we've moved on and are busily creating the next art forms!

We have little to value in our past -- a past that includes slavery, Reconstruction, rejection on a world scale, scarcity and poverty, Jim Crow, struggles against social injustices, environmental degradation of our communities, the deconstruction of families, etc., so we have little to be nostalgic about, and little to look forward to, except for hope.

Has it occurred to anyone that there is very little in world history for non-Europeans to want to recall?  That history in any of its forms bears unbelievable pain and shame for millions, and so much to regret over which we were powerless for generations?  That the struggle has still not been won?

White culture is constantly busy researching, studying the past, writing the new rule books (there are always rule books), and codifying and adapting what others have created.  While black culture is trying painfully to avoid anything connected to a heart-wrenching past.  We're in a constant process of dropping the old and "doin' it!"; creating the new.

When the nation's public schools still had music departments with student bands and orchestras and instruments to lend, our legendary Jazz players were finding their way into the theaters, clubs and cafe's, "Houses of ill repute," and creating Jazz; "America's greatest art form", that bled out across our borders and out into the world.  Their art was being expropriated by white sidemen, singers, rock&roll artists, who covered our songs and arrangements for huge profits while young black musicians went begging and with scant recognition.  Their creations ever used as "raw material" with which to create the nation's "newest and greatest art form."

As public education began to suffer crippling budget cuts, our young were left with nothing more than their mouths and bodies with which to produce their sounds and beats.  And despite all, with few instruments at hand, they made their music with their body parts, and later with scratching on turntables!  Those young created the irrepressible rap and formed the Hip Hop world, which has become a universal culture  that now dominates the arts in all its forms, and where it only recently emerged fully mature to re-energize the Broadway stage with "Hamilton", and to redefine greatness!

One cannot look at these historic photographs of the painted masks of "primitive" African warriors and not see in them the inspiration provided to 20th Century visual artists, Pablo Picasso and/or Modigliani, and a myriad of other European modernists who plundered black culture without credit, and for great profit.  The African influences in European modern art are inescapable.

For me, it's all Jazz!

(How am I expressing it in my life and late-blooming career?  More tomorrow.)

Note on photos:  These are taken from a book published in 1976 of the works of the famous and infamous photographer/filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003) of Berlin.  These are the People of Kau from the book of the same name.
In the 21st Century, in an era of body piercings and tattoos of every description, would one consider these "primitives" behind or a full century ahead in the development of the arts?  The fact that their remote African village was in the middle of a rain forest would surely make their use of mud as a decorative profoundly important, environmentally practical, and purely and sacredly natural.