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Thursday, December 21, 2006

It Takes A Village

We grew up surrounded by mothers… a village of them. Most of the time you had to run and get daddy, but mother was constant. Most of them worked outside of the home, but there was always one around when least expected… an all too watchful eye… a dispenser of discipline. Aunt Christine was one of those mothers.

Robert, Pauline and Christine grew up in Mount Vernon, Georgia with my grandmother and great aunts. Their mother, Susie, was one of several women who dated my widowed great-grandfather. Mother Sue was most loved and respected because she was concerned with the children. At Easter when Pauline and Chris got new things, she made sure his girls had new too. She would go as far as to corner him where ever he was, regardless of who he was with to get what was needed so that the children didn’t go without.

When Georgia emptied out into Long Branch everyone pretty much landed within shouting distance of each other. Sometimes, back doors faced each other. The community was tight. Children were interchangeable. We could go into just about any house and be fed. We might catch a beat down if caught acting up outside the wrong door. Surely there would be one waiting at home. Long before Verizon, the mothers had a network. For most of my childhood I believed Chris and Pauline were my aunts because that is how they behaved. I felt the same love and familial concern in their homes that I felt in those of my aunts. They looked out for me like one of their own. They looked out for all of us.

When Cousin Lisa called to tell me Aunt Christine had passed, I rationalized and spoke logically about death being a part of life and something that we must accept. No one is meant to live forever, regardless of how much we think folks should always be with us. I spoke logically then, but now the loss is concrete and I realize that yet another great aunt has gone. There is another void that will never be filled. The best we can do is to cover it with memories and remember the lessons.

With each loss we are cast further apart. Along with our matriarchs, traditions pass. Sunday dinners go uncooked and holidays lack luster. The mothers are the glue that held us together. They soothed our hurts and mediated our arguments. Sometimes they disagreed as do sisters and friends, but always held fast to each other. We must follow their example and hold to each other. We must continue old traditions and create new ones so that those coming after us can have the bond that they shared… that we share. We must tell our mothers’ stories… of working in fields and migrating from Georgia… of cleaning another woman’s home to provide for us… of loving us even when they couldn’t stand us. We must tell how they aged with grace and dignity, grateful that all was as well as it could be. Then we must take up their cross and carry on. We must honor them by becoming the village it took to bring us this far.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Posted by Rodney :: 12:14 PM :: 3 Comments:

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A History Lesson

Yeah, I'm still here. I know I said I was done unpacking baggage and I am. I just need to sit my ass down and finish the template for the new blog (it's a mess!).

Once again, something has come up that I absolutely must comment on and since I am very careful about getting into discussions with people about their opinions, I thought why not post an entry based on fact (not gossip), while providing yet another opinion (there are so many).

There has been much hoopla surrounding the upcoming release of the film, Dreamgirls. Rather than join a debate about the merits of something I have yet to see, I figured I will say something about what I have seen. A fellow blogger writes that "when Dreamgirls hit Broadway it was a watershed moment in African-American history and Broadway history." I was compelled to ask myself in what way? I am old enough to have seen the Broadway production with it's original cast in 1982 and it was definitely a spectacle, but I believe the only reason the show was not forgotten is because drag queens refused to let that damn song rest!

Jennifer Holliday was clearly the runaway star of the musical. Her musical numbers were showstoppers that never failed to bring the audience to it's feet, but she looks a fool expressing anger and bitterness over not being part of the film, which is not true at all. Her vocals were used as a teaser during early production. A smart, resourceful girl would have quietly worked out a deal for monetary compensation (if she has a right to any) and showed up looking fabulous on the red carpet. Oh I forgot... she says she wasn't invited to the premiere. Again, a smart resourceful girl would have worked that out. Instead, she looks like a bitter, has-been complaining on tabloid T.V. about how she's been snubbed. I have no sympathy.

I am also old enough to have seen the original Broadway production of The Wiz in 1977 (Perhaps a greater moment in African American and Broadway history. It won seven Tonys compared to Dreamgirl's six), starring a 16 year-old, Stephanie Mills (don't worry about how old I am... lol). One might argue that The Wiz was based on an all-white musical (The Wizard of Oz), but Dreamgirls is loosely based on one of the uglier moments in African American history. Anywho... when the 1978 film version was being cast, Mills was passed over for the role of Dorothy, for which she also won rave reviews and a Tony, because she lacked name recognition. Rumors circulated that the actual reason was because she was unattractive. The role went to Diana Ross, who was clearly not suited for the role. She was too damn old! So much so that the story had to be rewritten. I have to ask which is the greater snub? Ever the smart, resourceful girl, Mills worked out a contract with Motown (the film's producer) for a record deal and used it as a springboard for a successful recording career.

I absolutely understand Holiday's bitterness. The industry was terribly unkind to her. A role that she originated is being played by someone who's performance may very well win an Oscar, but that's showbiz baby. Suck it up! And that's all I have to say about Dreamgirls until I see the film. Still, I remain disturbed with the Broadway production being looked at as the great turning point.

I elected to take music and theater appreciation as part of my undergraduate studies (no theater queen references, please) and believe that the "watershed moment in African-American history and Broadway history" occurred in 1940 when Cabin in the Sky, the very first all-black musical, opened. Since it was based on Faust, one might argue that the greater "watershed moment" was in 1970 when Ossie Davis' book, Purlie Victorious, appeared as the Broadway musical, Purlie. But since that very large cast had two supporting characters that were white, perhaps the greatest "watershed moment" has to be the 1973 opening of the musical adaption of Lorraine Hansberry's, Raisin in the Sun. I actually believe that Color Purple defines that moment simply for being produced by an African American (All hail the goddess!). Then again, that moment may still be in the future, but that's just my opinion.

Posted by Rodney :: 3:26 AM :: 7 Comments:

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Black Church Dictionary

I know... I know... I'm supposed to be out of here, but this made my day. Hope everyone is still stuffed with bird!

Oooh... that didn't come out right. [And I already realize I'm probably going to hell... I don't need none of y'all to co-sign...lol]

1. Anointing: Used to describe any non-regular emotion (crying in the middle of a song when you forget the words, telling the church off (particularly when its over tithes and offering), doing the Olympic shout around the church (first one that hits the wall gets a white hanky tied around their neck!)

2. Trick of the Enemy: Used to describe anything that happens because you didn't do what you were supposed to, like your car getting repossessed cause you didn't pay the note, lights getting shut off cause you quit work to go on tour with the pastors choir, or your child repeating the first grade cause he missed the whole second semester to go on a 90 day/90 night fast and consecration.

3. Rhema Word: Any message from an out-of-town pastor or evangelist.

4. Prophetic Word: Same message from that out-of-town pastor, delivered 5 decibels louder, while the congregation is standing. Quiet organ music optional, but works better with silence.

5. Carnal: Used to describe a saint who goes to the movies. This term doesn't apply if you rent the same movie from Blockbuster.

6. Didn't God Move?: What saints say after a long service where the pastor doesn't preach and they just shout the whole service.

7. Unlock Your Blessing: What preachers say after they've finished preaching, and they say you must give $50 to "unlock your blessing." For a more dramatic effect, this offering can be started at $1,000 and worked down to $25.

8. He'll Do It If You Let Him (followed by inaudible tongues): Round one of shouting; will begin in 5 minutes. Organist get ready.

9. We Got To Move On: What the preacher says when he wants shout time to start up again. Organist, turn up the volume on the Leslie.

10. We Have Time for One More Testimony: Not really, we're just waiting on the pastor to come into service. If you're called on during this one, when you hear clapping, just stop talking, cause the pastor has walked in and people are no longer interested in what God did for you.

11. We Can Never Pay for the Word: Get your checkbook out, the auction will begin momentarily! This phrase always comes before the offering is taken for the guest speaker.

12. God Has Been Dealing with Me on Some Issues: I'm still doing what I was doing before I got saved, only now I just put in an extra $5 in my offering when I do it.

13. Is He Worthy?: Of course He is; why ask a question like that.

14. Let Us Go To God in Our Own Way: This is what you say when they ask you to pray in church and you don't know what to say.

15. Get Ready, Get Ready, Get Ready!!!: Don't really know what this one means, but if you're not careful, a shout could break out when you say it. It must be said three times to have real impact.

16. I Can't Get No Help: Preachers say this when no one says amen in the spot they thought would get a lot of amens.

17. I'm Blessed and Highly Favored: Said when a fellow saint asks "how are you?" Memo to saints: you CAN be saved and answer "fine" when someone asks how are you.

18. Where The Spirit of The Lord is, There is liberty: Whenever you want to disrupt service and holler out when it's quiet, use this statement to justify your behavior.

19. Get Ready To Go To The Next Level: This means the church will be hosting another revival in a few months.

20. Stand To Your Feet : This gives the illusion that the preacher is finished, but be prepared to stand up for at least 1/2 hour. May be cut to 15 minutes if the organist starts playing softly.

21. Give God a Shabach: Scream to the top of your lungs. Some church members may blow whistles and wave flags as well.

22. Every Head Bowed, Every Eye Closed: Quick! Everyone look around to see who's getting saved again this week.

23. Secular: Any person, place, object or event that's not in the church.

24. The "Yes Lord" Song: Signals the official end to shout time. Anyone still shouting when this song is over is considered to be "in self".

25. In Self: Used to describe someone who acts alone in church. For example, someone who is shouting alone. Add two more people to this display and its called...

26. In The Spirit: When three people are doing the same thing in a church service at the same time.

27. Prayer Partner: Phone buddy. 5 minutes of prayer, 1 hour of church gossiping.

Posted by Rodney :: 8:02 AM :: 9 Comments:

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

More Last Words

I know I'm supposed to be done unpacking, but my new spot isn't up yet and I had just had to get this out before I let the feeling pass unacknowledged.

The music industry has suffered a deep loss in the past week of which it will not soon recover and though he was a giant, I'm not referring to Gerald Levert.

I first became of Ruth Brown when I was about 12 or 13 years old. It was quite by accident. I was thumbing through the dusty bins of our neighborhood record store and ran across a double album from Mercury Records that showcased it's hottest artists of the fifties and sixties. It was a jazz and blues compilation that, little did I know, would shape my taste in music. I actually bought it because my great aunt Sarah loved Dinah Washington and I thought she would enjoy the recording of Salty Papa Blues. I'd never heard it before, but got it anyway just to please my auntie.

Ruth Brown's rendition of Shake A Hand began one of the sides and it quickly became one of my favorite songs. I actually did my own rendition in my very first cabaret performance. Ruth delivered that song like a directive. She told of the importance of greeting and touching your fellow man and how much better you would feel for doing it. For years it was the only thing I knew that she did. Around that same time I became engrossed in Sarah Vaughan and she became my obsession, but I never forgot about Miss. Brown.

When I became aware of Ruth Brown again it was for her performance in the John Water's film, Hairspray. She played the role of Motor Mouth Maybelle, a Baltimore disc jockey who hosted a dance show for black kids who couldn't appear on the Corny Collins Show because of the segregation of that era. In a display of civil rights activism, Brown's character, along with her fans desegregated the Collins show, making it possible for black and white youth to dance together in Baltimore.

In real life Brown fought an equally important battle for the rights of recording artists. While making a living cleaning houses, she embarked on a mission to reclaim unpaid royalties from Atlantic Records, often called "The House Ruth Built," because of the string of Billboard top-ten hits she recorded for the label in the fifties. Her fight not only recouped losses for herself, but those of other artists who had been swindled. Her effort led to the formation of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit dedicated to providing financial and medical assistance, as well as historical and cultural preservation of the musical genre.

Along the way Brown emerged from an impoverished existence to receive Tony and Grammy Awards, but more importantly she lived to see how her contributions impacted the music industry and helped shape the careers of countless artists. Miss. Brown symbolizes so much for me, but I believe the most important thing is the humanity of artists. I used to believe that all artists were rewarded for their talent and never struggled, but then I grew up and realized that they too are subjected to life.

Her earthly presence will be missed, but if I ever get my hands on a turntable, I will be spinning Shake A Hand until my neighbors scream at me to stop.

Posted by Rodney :: 8:09 AM :: 3 Comments:

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sayin' Sumthin'

It took Bloopty to get me to say something. I will not have her disappointed at work on a Friday afternoon, after a two-hour, wine-drenched lunch because she has nothing to read. It is my duty to keep her amused, even though I know I'm no where near as amusing as she.

Life in Chocolate City remains interesting and, despite gentrification, I still get daily reminders that this town is very much negro. Today's reminder came, as they often do, during my Metro commute to work. At one of the 'hood stops, a family of four boarded. It was great to see the young mom and dad taking their two daughters to school. The girls, approximately 4 and 7 were neatly cornrowed, acceptably talkative and very well behaved. The parents were actually engaging them in conversation. At last, hope for the black family.

They sat on the row behind me, each parent taking an aisle seat, allowing the girls to have window seats. As I eavesdropped, the conversation shifted and the father started discussing the fact that he needed shoes to match his new brown suit. Perhaps he spied my chocolate brown Kenneth Cole boots that I bought on sale at Marshall Fields before they became Macy's. The boots are hot! Wifey told him he should get a nice brown wingtip. Then he said something that forced me to look up and make sure I was on DC's Green Line headed toward Columbia Heights and not Chicago's Red Line lumbering alongside the Dan Ryan (South Side!).

"I wish I had some yellow gators."

I almost gagged, but I held it together.

"For an interview?" Wifey asked. I could hear in her voice that she wanted to laugh, but she loves that man. She patiently let him explain that they would gain the attention of the interviewer. I couldn't see, but I felt her nodding her head in agreement. She, like I, probably knew that they might gain him attention, but not a job. As they exited the train at the U Street/Cardozo stop, I prayed that she would talk him into the brown wing tip.

The voters have also selected a new [black] mayor. Like the current, mayor, he's light and bright, but thankfully he doesn't look like an undertaker in a bow tie. He does wear a trademark fedora. I suppose it's charming, but he looks like a kid who raided dad's closet.

I am glad to report that Unpacking Baggage has reached its natural conclusion. I believe I have emptied the bags and have a handle on what I need for this trip. Sometime soon I will post the link to my next progression on this journey. The title, New Growth, is inspired by all the ladies in my life. While it's kind of redundant, those two words make a sister spring into action to get rid of that kink or gray at the root.

I'm springing into action too.

Posted by Rodney :: 9:03 PM :: 3 Comments:

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Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Waste of Good Hair

On any given Sunday during my youth, my grandmother and great aunts might be heard giving commentary about a little girl or grown assed woman whose hair wasn't quite right. Don't get me wrong. The ladies in my family aren't all blessed with the finest grades of hair. They're of varying lengths, ranging in grade from straight to nappy and texture from silky to coarse. The oldest was reputed to have hair so thick and coarse "if you tried to run your fingers through it, you'd pull back bloody nubs." My grandmother actually has both. She attributes the coarse grade in the top of her head to her mother and the soft, silky grade in back to her father. His mama was indian, so I'm told.

See... Black girls didn't just start using that "half indian" lie. And I'm not calling my grandmama and 'nem liars, but the closest some of these "half indian" sisters have come to a Native American is a casino in Connecticut, but I digress.

Since moving to the DC metropolitan area, I haven't failed to see hair lying on the ground. At first I was disturbed because my family's disposal of locks caught in the comb was a dark, mysterious thing fueled by superstition. It was believed that if someone "got a hold to" some of your hair they could "mess with you." I've since discovered, through visual inspection, that the hair I've been stumbling upon carries no human DNA, but probably came packaged in a cellophane wrapper. I have reached this conclusion because I've seen it hanging in the dollar store, which could account for why someone would be apt to leave it lying in the street. It's like a sister grew tired of her weave over the course of the day or realized how fake it looked and just snatched it out, leaving it where it fell.

I'm certainly not saying that every woman [and a few men] in the area swears by synthetic supplements. I certainly haven't reached that conclusion through observation. It's not like my trip to New Orleans years ago, when I noticed that a lot of the women I encountered bore the scar of a knife wound somewhere on her face, especially the pretty ones. It was like the ugly heifers decided that they would level the playing field. However, I have seen enough heads, sporting braids that cover the full spectrum of color to know that these girls buy as much hair as they grow. The amounts that I stumble upon DAILY also let me know that they change it as frequently as their underwear... maybe more so.

Even with the full knowledge that the hair I happen upon is most likely fake, I'm still disturbed. I have to wonder how this "hair" has come to find it's way to the ground and none of the scenarios are as simple as a sister just got tired of wearing something on which someone may have once placed a wager. My mind immediately screams CATFIGHT in a neighborhood where most problems are solved by bitchslap. I used to give women more credit for being... well... ladies. I grew up in an era with women who had respect for the human head. The hair was always a last resort and you had better finish the fight. I have an aunt who would pull off her wig before laying a bitch low. That kind of restraint, respect and good sense has gone the way of bamboo earrings... Oh wait! They're back. Okay it's gone the way of first-time grandmothers over 50.

Today's girls immediately go for the hair because they know a sister just spent 12 hours sitting on the floor between Shalala's legs, while she smoked a blunt and worked out those purple microbraids. I wax nostaglic on Friday nights when the house was just a confusion of smells. Every eye on the stove was working. Fish fried on one. Grits boiled on another. The hot comb heated on yet another and the marcel rods smoked on another as the heat burned off the excess Ultra Sheen or DAX pomade. Your auntie sat in a straight-backed chair by the stove, holding her ear saying, "Bitch, if you burn me I'm gon' whip your ass!"

I actually have a tear in my eye.

Posted by Rodney :: 4:08 AM :: 6 Comments:

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Autumn Begins

Wow. I can't believe it's been this long since my last entry. Well... my self-imposed silence is over. Was I missed? Perhaps not, but I missed blogging and my fellow bloggers. Special shout to ShawnQT, a walking dream in a fitted, for checking in on me and sending text messages, which never fail to uplift and fortify me.

I'm nearing the end of a traditionally stressful period for me. For the second time in over ten years, I didn't have to plan or participate in a Fall Orientation (the first was 2001, the Chicago year). I definitely miss it… the new faces… the promise of fresh hope for the future. It's invigorating. Since I'm no longer working in higher education I have to find a new way to get rejuvenated.

Over the past five years I've had the stressors of September 11 and Katrina added to this period. This year I attended no observances nor celebrated any anniversaries and tried to avoid any news coverage, opting to read about them in the newspaper on the following day. The most disturbing stuff I read was about George Bush's address to the nation on September 11, in which he (once again) used those terrorist attacks to justify his war, which still confuses me. What is the real reason he decided to invade Iraq? Is it really an oil thing? If so, his presidential library should be built on one of the new islands that have been found in the Artic as glaciers recede due to global warming or Hell if what the gentleman from Venezuela said is true.

That's my sly way of telling you to get out and vote in your mid term elections. I don't care who you vote for (actually I do), but make sure it's someone who has your ear and cares about your issues.

I ride the metrorail home from work and what I witnessed today was nothing short of amazing. A group of pre-teens boarded at my stop and stood in the door to hold the train for a friend who was coming. A man in the car told them to move from the entrance so that the doors could close. Rather than move peacefully, one of the girls said, "The doors ain't closing," and shot the man a nasty look. He told her not to look at him in that way.

She marched past him and told her not to be looking at her.

He got up, walking behind her, telling her that he had children older and younger than she and he would not put up with her blatant disrespect. When they reached the other end of the train, he physically put her off just in time for the doors to close. Her friends that remained on the train were dumbfounded, as were most of the other passengers. I smiled, opened my paper and thought how wonderful it is that adults will still hold children accountable, even if they're not their own. What's really ironic is that before the train arrived, those same kids were running up and down the platform. If one of them had gotten hurt, all the blame would have fallen on Metro. The words of the man on the train keep echoing through my head.

"It starts at home."

Posted by Rodney :: 5:16 PM :: 5 Comments:

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