Saturday, June 24, 2006

More flyers from the Nu Upper Room era...

as created by the artists, themselves, in these small handbills. No one charged a fee for performing at the Upper Room though there were times when the hat was passed for someone in need. The young people occasionally prepared food at home to sell or share during events. "Do not smoke" signs were prominent as both a warning and as a political statement of meaning -- a part of the decor in the form of huge paintings on oil cloth by the taggers among them. Those young artists made the rules and those of us who were honored enough to be allowed entrance into their world were among the most fortunate of people.

Over the years some of these kids have gone on to fame and fortune in the Hip Hop world; some dropped off into the bland world of the workplaces where their talents had to be restrained for the sake of supporting themselves and offspring in -- mundane traditional ways of a market place inhabited day-to-day by the "ordinary." Some surely found themselves caught up in the prison system -- since they would have fallen within the statistics common to young black and brown males. Others found their way into the Alice Art Center to lead and learn from others. Some have undoubtedly lost their lives through gun violence on the mean streets that eventually over-rode their attempts at creating a peaceful world of the arts. But all can look back on a time when they proudly refused to be dragged into the fogbound world of addictions to nicotine, chemicals, and opiates, and lived instead in a world where the only drugs were the arts and life among peers as creative as themselves, and they did it as agnostics with no affiliation to any religion or agreed-upon philosophy except that of human love and acceptance of one another across all known barriers of gender, race, or ethnicity.

How sad that they weren't embraced by an unsuspecting and mistrusting society which still has no idea that this Camelot flourished over several years in the City of Oakland for a period like no other before or since; except for maybe those years when Isadora Duncan, Edward McDowell, Jack London, José Limon and others of their day, reveled in literary salons a few miles away in the meeting rooms of the historic Oakland Unitarian Universalist Church on 14th and Castro streets. How can I make such sweeping claims? It's easy. On Thursday night I saw Will Power sitting in the chair across from Bill Moyers, and felt the rush of confidence in my ability to recognize genius. Wonder what would have happened if those wonder kids had been accorded the same respect and reverence? They were surely equally as important to the cultural and artistic development of the Bay Area as were those earlier bohemian trail blazers of the arts world.

Now we'll never know because black talent continues to be regarded as little more than raw material to be infused into mainstream popular culture -- and often less - except for the occasional single shining star that rises above the crowd and soars ...!

So sad!

How destructive to the lives of aspiring young black artists ... .

Photos: Click on them to open to full size.

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