Everytime An Innocent Black Life Gets Taken

Everytime a innocent black life is taken by the system and displayed publically and makes the center of our attention and there is no response to say otherwise a black child is taught that black life doesnt matter and that black lives are inferior.

There is no amount of black is beautiful no amount of photography with black images or no amount of knowledge of history that can dissuade the bottom line that your very existence is on a lower echelon of value than white people. I dont care how many memes you make or tweets you tweet.

The conditioning by default is that if my black self is unprotected if i were something anything other than black i could have a chance in life. This thought process is called self-negation. So what you see b is the assasination of every black icon of greatness that black men are taught to aspire to be like and then even the regular people are killed with impunity.

In this context non of us should be suprised to see a black person say they dont wanna be called black or african american. Everything that is associated with that appellation in popular culture and statistically is sub par. Highest wealth and health disparity, highest mortality rates, highest rates of incarceration. Add to that our education system does not teach us why these patterns exist. We are left to infer that there must be something wrong with us a black people you kno of course because America is the greatest country in the world!

But see when you see black people waking up though and you start being part of the solution and you acknowledge that it aint always been like this. That you standing on the shoulders of greatness that faced way worse than what you facing then you realize yes we are ancient. You see the cause for celebration because if you here working after all the system then threw at us and you still pushing still upsurping that nefarious negativity in the form of white supremacy in its most covert of covertness, you realize we already won the war all you gotta do is stay on purpose.

Do something. Every something. Thats the reason you were birthed with thay melanin to set the world back correct on its axis.

Everything you seeing thats wrong need fixing. Your talent and skill is your tool and this house need rehabilitation. When you own the land and the home you recognize you can rebuilt the walls and roof when you have a strong foundation. The cornerstones of this fortress of african redemption got names inscribed on em. Fannie Lou Hamer. Marcus Garvey. Noble Drew Ali. Three little girls. Medgar Evers. Kwame Ture. Henry Highland Garnett. David Walker. Maggie Walker. Gabriel. Nat Turner. Toussaint. Carlos Cooks. Akhenaton. Buddha. Vishnu. Seminoles. Abu Bakr. Hannibal Tarikh. Sekou Toure. Cheik Anta Diop. Harriet Tubman. To many bricks on this foundation to name em all.

You gotta stand up to read the names though. Cant be shucking and jiving, on ya knees begging for white jesus to come to the rescue nah. Cant be afraid to speak truth to power. Cant be chasing pussy, twerking ya life away, smoking drinking as your only inspiration in life and expect to be able to read these hieroglyphics. Nope. It wont work. You gone stay off course floating in the ocean of life. Food for sharks

What is Happily Natural Day

‎”Natural hair has its place in the discussion of identity for people of African descent. As does love for ones inherent African features such as skin tone, body type and bone structure. But these ideals are only details in a much bigger picture that in panoramic view is more inclusive of living an authentic and sustainable lifestyle. During Happily Natural Day, one is immersed in the myriad of ways that people of African and indigenous descent experience authentic and sustainable lifestyles in a modern contemporary context. Through Happily Natural Day one becomes more aware of lifestyles that compliment a disengagement from the plastic inorganic life continuum that is forced upon us as people of color living in societies that circumscribed our cultures as savage and uncivilized. Through Happily Natural Day and events like it we seek reclamation of our sacred whether it be through food, adornment, commerce, education or performance art.”

Duron Chavis – Founder of Happily Natural Day Feb 29th, 2012

Happily Natural is a grassroots festival dedicated to holistic health and social change. The purpose of Happily Natural is to educate and inspire. By using music, lectures and workshops as tools for learning and upliftment, the festival reaches a wide audience because of it’s socially conscious approach. The festival brings together artists, musicians, vendors, activists and scholars whose focus is on social change and holistic health & wellness from all across the country.

Social Movement versus Trend Follow

Founded at the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia in Richmond Virginia in 2003, the festival has grown from a one day festival founded in Richmond Virginia to a three day celebration held in Richmond Virginia and Atlanta Georgia. Through community partnerships and the support of socially responsible individuals and organizations, Happily Natural has become one of the most anticipated annual grassroot events in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

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In 2008 Happily Natural Day partnered with FTP Movement to annual celebrate Black August; a tradition established during the 1970’s in the California prison system by men and women of the Black/New Afrikan Liberation Movement as a means of acknowledging and studying the legacy of Afrikan resistance in the Americas and honoring fallen freedom fighters like George and Jonathan Jackson, Khatari Gaulden, James McClain, Williams Christmas and Fred Hampton.

17440215Happily Natural focuses on social change and holistic health & wellness. Since inception it has placed a specific focus on natural haircare, cultural heritage, and naturopathic medicine. Workshops are held annually on modalities for holistic healing, natural haircare & naturopathic medicine. Lectures on history, culture and heritage as it relates to Africans in America & throughout the Diapora are presented by scholars of wide & diverse backgrounds and specialties.

Its Bigger Than Your Afro

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Happily Natural initially focused on natural hair, which resulted in being called a natural hair “show”. However; it has a deeper significance and does not simply show patrons the latest in natural hair styles. Happily Natural tackles the tough discussion of “nappy” hair in the African community. Issues of self-esteem, identity, inferiority complexes, health and socio-psychological wellness are dealt with through informative sessions and presentations throughout the program.

How much does the ideal of white supremacy affect us today? How does the acceptance of European standards of beauty as universal reverberate through the African Diaspora? In South Africa, there are large numbers of our black brothers & sisters who are so discomforted by their dark skin that they go to extremes to bleach their skins causing illness in the quest to get light, “fair” skin. In adherence to the social mores, status quo, and in conformity to an ideal of beauty characterized by European culture & Western society, African’s in America and throughout the world attempt to lighten their skin tone, straighten their hair texture, and through plastic surgery, thin both nose & lips at serious risk to physical health, not to mention the psychological ramifications of not being able to accept the inherent beauty of one’s ethnicity.

IMG_0925Happily Natural also places a high emphasis on social change. Hosted annually through the collective efforts of a wide array of institutions, businesses and dedicated individuals; Happily Natural is a vehicle through which grassroots organizations, cultural activists and community advocates can network and interact in a festive atmosphere while promoting upliftment of the African community. During the festival, patrons are given the opportunity to talk with scholars, vendors & musicians who promote social change and holistic health & wellness. Community oriented poets, visual artists, and socially responsible business owners work together to make to inspire, illustrate and network to create cooperative socio-economic realities throughout the Diaspora. In the community Happily Natural Day stays active throughout the year with events and initatives addressing issues of culture, health and wellness and social change throughout the Richmond Region.

 

The Historical Imperative

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During the Black Arts Movement Elombe Brath and Kwame Brathwaite and the African Jazz Art Society & Studio cultivated the slogan “Black is Beautiful” via their “Naturally” shows in the early 60′s up through the late 70′s. Inspired by the “Miss Natural Standard of Beauty” contests hosted by pan-african Carlos Cooks on Garvey Day in Harlem; the Naturally shows incorporated musicans such as Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln into their productions and launched the “Grandassa Models” promoting the natural beauty of women of African descent throughout the Northeast. AJASS is considered to have pioneered the “natural look” and considerable credit is due to them for it is on the shoulders of such giants that Happily Natural Day stands proudly.

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50 years ago, psychologist Kenneth Clark’s work with black children became pertinent evidence in the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education. The now infamous doll test found that black children were identifying with white dolls more so than black dolls showing that segregation of public schools were detrimental to black children. The black children identifying with white dolls was attributed to an inferiority complex that was reasoned to be a by-product of segregation. The findings of that study helped to desegregate the schools, an event we are celebrate throughout the United States. In the 1980’s the same test was done with the same results, showing that the inferiority complex of black children runs deeper than school segregation. The test has been repeated in many different places since repeatedly yielding the same results showing that the inferiority complex of black children runs deeper than school. It stands to reason that it was not the segregation of the schools that caused the inferiority complex; it was ideals of white supremacy & the disparity between whites & blacks throughout society caused by white supremacy that bred this syndrome of self-discontent.

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The black community has dealt with the myth of good hair vs. bad hair since slavery. Though the hair texture of people of African descent is prone to be curly, the majority of black women often seek a remedy for their “bad hair”. The “good hair” by definition is straight, long and flowing and easy to get a comb through. “Bad hair” as defined by popular culture is just the opposite, unmanageable, extremely curly, and “nappy”. By definition the hair that our Creator blessed us with at birth should be appreciated and looked upon as beautiful, however in the black community for a large majority of women & men, unlike other ethnic groups that take pride in their natural hair, many in the black community look at their natural, “nappy hair” as a burden of disgrace and socially unacceptable.

Why the Natural Hair Focus?

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As natural hair styles are resurgent in popularity it is important that we dig beneath the surface, and tap into the minds of the masses and wake up the collective mental potential of our African brethren & sisters, for this purpose a significant portion of Happily Natural Day is dedicated to presentations by renowned scholars in the fields of black consciousness, health, & spirit. Also, spoken word poets, musicians, and visual artists from all over the globe are provided a forum to present socially conscious presentations for our patrons to vibe to, be inspired by and meditate on.

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Happily Natural Day as a vehicle was created to uplift the cultural and ethnic pride of Africans worldwide and do away with the idea that the natural characteristics of African culture and ethnicity are socially unacceptable. There is a legacy that the black community confronts daily due to its unique history in America, the fact that for decades anything having to do with black people was considered the object of ridicule and looked upon in disdain by mainstream European culture. This phenomenon gave birth to an intense inferiority complex in the Black community and can be identified around the world as a characteristic response to white supremacy, a response in which many begin to negate themselves in an attempt to assimilate into European culture. Though it would be an over generalization to say that all black women straighten their hair to look like white women; many do so because they simply are not knowledgeable of the easy, cost effective ways in which to take care of their natural hair, it must be noted that for the majority of print & cinematic media especially lifestyle magazines, network television, and the fashion industry the model for beauty is consistently a white woman. These areas of media are referenced everyday by the general public for what is considered socially acceptable in terms of beauty.

The Bigger Picture

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How much do the ideals of white supremacy affect us today? How does the acceptance of European standards of beauty as universal reverberate through the African Diaspora? In South Africa, there are large numbers of our black brothers & sisters who are so discomforted by their dark skin that they go to extremes to bleach their skins causing illness in the quest to get light, “fair” skin. In adherence to the social mores, status quo, and in conformity to an ideal of beauty characterized by European culture & Western society, African’s in America and throughout the world attempt to lighten their skin tone, straighten their hair texture, and through plastic surgery, thin both nose & lips at serious risk to physical health, not to mention the psychological ramifications of not being able to accept the inherent beauty of one’s ethnicity.

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Natural hair has its place in the discussion of identity for people of African descent. As does love for ones inherent African features such as skin tone, body type and bone structure. But these ideals are only details in a much bigger picture that in a panoramic view is more inclusive of living an authentic and sustainable lifestyle. During Happily Natural Day, one is immersed in the myriad of ways that people of African and indigenous descent experience authentic and sustainable lifestyles in a modern contemporary context. Through Happily Natural Day one becomes more aware of lifestyles that complement a disengagement from the plastic inorganic life continuum that is forced upon us as people of color living in societies that circumscribed our cultures as savage and uncivilized. Through Happily Natural Day and events like it we seek reclamation of our sacred whether it be through food, adornment, commerce, education or performance art.

The Social Change Imperative

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The evolution of Happily Natural from its inception to now; reflects the growth and maturity of an holistic understanding of freedom and liberation. Holistic wellness, cultural identity and self-esteem are the core from which radiate essentially what it means for all humans to experience freedom. Its only natural. Recognizing the interconnectedness of humanity; Happily Natural places a heavy imperative on social change – it is not sufficient for individuals to content themselves in their own wellness and liberation solely as individuals. As a result the festival has engaged in numerous campaigns and initiatives designed to build community from Richmond Noir Market; our work in raising awareness of political prisoners via Black August, to our current push for urban agriculture in low income communities; our efforts regarding social change are of paramount importance and what sets Happily Natural Day apart from its peers. The work we do is more than about how to style hair – our effort is to restyle how we live our lives for the betterment of humanity.

AJASS and The Grandassa Models – Origins of the Black is Beautiful Movement

AJASS and The Grandassa Models – Origins of the Black is Beautiful Movement

 GRANDASSA MODELS

In 1956 a group of young artists and jazz lovers, formed The Jazz-Art Society (soon to be renamed The African Jazz-Art Society & Studios – AJASS) and began producing jazz concerts featuring some of the greats of jazz including Lou Donaldson, Jackie McLean, Gigi Gryce, Johnny Griffin, Cannonball Adderley, Hank Mobley, Junior Cook, Art Taylor, Philly Joe Jones, Betty Carter, Leon Thomas, Wilbur Ware and many, many others. coupled with art exhibitions and African cultural presentations. Influenced by Carlos A. Cooks and the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement (ANPM), an off-shoot of Garvey’s UNIA, AJASS began incorporating African Nationalist themes into their productions. After witnessing the 1961 “Miss Natural Standard of Beauty Contest” hosted each Garvey Day, August 17, in which girls competed without straightening their hair, AJASS organizers Elombe Brath, Kwame Brathwaite, Robert Gumbs, Frank Adu, Chris Asmandeces Hall, David K. Ward, Leroy “Satch” Giles, Jimmy Abu Williams, Ernest Baxter and Gus Williams launched the Grandassa Models and the theme “Black Is Beautiful.”

The Original models were: Clara Lewis, Black Rose, Nomsa Brath, Priscilla Bardonille, Mari Toussaint, Esther Davenport, Wanda Sims and Beatrice Cramston.

AJASS, with the aid of Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach, began producing a series of “Naturally” shows, beginning with “Naturally ’62″ that projected racial pride, African culture, poetry and art. The show, subtitled “the original African coiffure and fashion extravaganza designed to restore or racial pride and standards” traveled to colleges and universities in the US and self-produced many shows in Black communities for more than thirty years. The AJASS productions, starting in Harlem, was the beginning of what is known as “The Black Arts Movement” that later saw Leroi Jones, Larry Neal, Ed Bullins and others create some powerful theatre in Harlem. They found a Black arts movement in Harlem that had started nine years before they arrived.

AJASS used many forms of art imagery, including cartoon caricatures. They were exponents of African nationalism, and as such, had differences with the way the “civil rites” movement as they called it, handled the quest for equal rights and full freedom. Disturbed by the use of women and children facing the racism mobs in the south as opposed to the MEN doing the confrontations, they advocated not integration but self determination, self reliance, self protection by whatever means necessary and the Garvey philosophy of Back to Africa.

AJASS founded the Black Standard Publishing Company in 1963 that published two small booklets (now collector’s items), the “Naturally ’63 Portfolio” and in late 1963, “Color Us Cullud: The Official American Negro Leadership Coloring Book”, and program books for some of their theatrical presentations. It was critical of most of the Civil Rights leaders and analyzed the suspension of Malcolm X from the Nation of Islam, which prompted Brother Malcolm to tell me, “tell your brother that he is a genius”, speaking of the author, caricaturist Elombe Brath who created the book.

The “Naturally” shows continued on a regular basis thru 1980 and then commemorative events on ten year anniversaries thru 2002

Thoughts on Black Youth Pathology

People ask why black kids keep killing black kids in black communities. I think a huge part of it is because black kids in black communities are not cultivated in anything close to a true knowledge and immersion in a positive and affirming ethnic cultural identity.

The folks who get funding to do work in low-income communities are either white or are of the caste of black people who have been validated by the white establishment. I am fully convinced that this is one of the many reasons why radical left organizations are underfunded despite the amazing work they do on shoestring budgets. I know many far too many for which this is the case for it to be ineptitude and lack of conviction.

That validation by systems of white domination for many means a distancing of themselves from culturally responsive teaching. An unspoken requirement by systems of European domination is that you dont talk about that black stuff. It makes those who value systems of white domination uncomfortable. This discomfort if followed all the way through requires a confrontation of systems of inequity, historical oppression and the evolution of white supremacy across generations. As result of this inconvenience,  the system doesn’t immerse black children in an understanding of their culture.

In absence of an affirming ethnic cultural identity – what is in its place? Mask Off by Future…

#percocet #molly #percocet

Thinking today about how important how in sustainable horticulture and agriculture we talk about “right plant, right place”. The idea is that if you plant a plant and it isn’t in the right place it will have a higher proclivity to disease not develop at its highest genetic capacity.

I am reminded of when I worked for the Indoor Farm we tried to grow red lettuce and the red in the red lettuce wasn’t coming in. We had to change the type of light. All light isn’t created equal. When we changed to the right type of light – the red in the red lettuce came it. The full genetic potential of the red lettuce wasn’t unleashed until it got under the right type of light.

So think about black children who haven’t gotten the right type of light (information) their full potential isn’t being activated. They are planted in a slum filled with limited opportunity and lack of access to resources (poor soil). This is the science project of the projects. Put all the poor people in one area and see what happens when you put crack in there, guns in there and lock the fathers up.

You getting exactly what you knew you would get.If the kids are looked at like plants – we got them in poor soil. We aren’t giving them the right type of light for their genetic identity. Then as it relates to food minerals and nutrients, they aren’t being fed physically as they should because the neighborhood the housing projects are built in don’t have healthy food within a mile or more. Documented that nutrient deficiency causes all types of behavior and emotional issues.

I mean what is supposed to come out of that situation?

Thoughts on Cultural Genocide

I remember vividly; as if it had happened yesterday – the first time I had the pleasure of traveling to London. For those who are unaware of the reality of the UK; particularly London or Paris – there are a great many people of African ancestry there – a by-product of Great Britain’s colonization of the continent of Africa.

On this occasion; I was blessed to be there in light of our Happily Natural Day work at a festival dedicated to similar themes called Adornment. Well; as I exhibited there very proud I might add of my posters of Marcus Garvey; my table with a red black and green flag and my books for sale of African consciousness and the like, I was approached and joined in conversation by a patron who as the conversation would have it was from Madagascar. Another patron joining in the conversation was from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and another from the Ivory Coast. Well; when the question was asked of my where I was from I proudly proclaimed I was from the United States and that I was born in Virginia. Well one of the patrons asked me again – more inquisitive than disrespectful almost as if I did not understand the question…

No where are you from?

I fumbled in response- immediately embarrassed and feeling a sudden anxiety explained that because of slavery my ancestral homeland was unknown to me. That the records of such had been destroyed lost or not felt any of the littlest bit if import over the generations that my bloodline had sojourned in these shores. In that moment I felt a feeling wash over me that I hadn’t felt before. That though I prided myself in who I am and who I knew myself to be – a piece was missing a piece that I could not know intimately. I feel as though this must be understood when we as people of African ancestry explain what has happened as a result of slavery particularly in the North American version of white imperialism – we have had to construct an entirely new identity born out of a devastating cultural violence – a cultural genocide that no one could imagine or empathize with – not even our family across the ocean.

The patron would go on and ask if I had gotten a genetic ancestry test couldn’t that tell me where I was from. Somehow; even though I would get one years later – knowing by way of such methods does not connect one with the same glue that connects you if you know by way of your mother’s mothers mothers grandmother….

Reflections upon the transition of MarShawn McCarrell

Reflections upon the transition of MarShawn McCarrell

It is very hard to be a leader. Especially a leader in the black community on a grassroots level. Speaking from a first person perspective; there are many nights that the work wears on you. You have to remember – this is not a job that you typically get paid for.

Being a grassroots activist OFF the Internet requires you to be willing to stick your hands in the sewage of human depravity; in an attempt to pull up the treasures of human virtue.

It is often a very LONELY road. Despite whatever notoriety one may think being in the paper, on tv, on the radio may give someone who is active – the truth is often those who give from a pure place – have very small circles unto which to call forth to recharge their batteries. Sometimes you don’t want to talk about the movement. You want to talk about nothing. You just want to be quiet with loved one. Someone who cares for you not for anything but for who you are. We have to be there for each other in that space.

I pray we all learn to be compassionate unto those who give of themselves so intimately. Who put their very essence of life on the line for you and yours without you knowing. It is beyond Facebook posts and likes. It is about calling. Visiting. Not taking those who do this work for granted.

For new activists; my prayer is that you commit to self care as much as you do community work. This work is a marathon not a sprint. Seek counsel with elders, find refuge with peers and most of all cherish and hold love and trust tight as if your life depends on it because it does.

MarShawn McCarrel was a prominent Black Lives Activist who committed suicide in front of Ohio’s Statehouse on February 8, 2016. Hours before he committed suicide, MarShawn posted on , “My demons won today. I’m sorry.” MarShawn was 23 years old. MarShawn originally hails from Hilltop, one of Columbus’ most dangerous neighborhoods.

 

DECONSTRUCTING LINCOLN – A BLACK SILENT FILM (MADE IN RVA)

VTSP-ADV-4696_20121023_Lincoln Identity_TAThe shooting of the Lincoln movie was huge for the city of Richmond. It continues to generate tourism dollars for the city and is attracting more movies to be shot here. Being that I worked downtown (off Broad Street) every day, I saw the set design at the state capital, the horse buggies, the actors, the production trailers, it was a monstrosity of an affair.  Richmond loved it. Here was a chance to celebrate the historical aspects of the city under the guise of the Great Emancipator. However, if you watch the Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln,” you would think that black people were sitting waywardly, passively twiddling their thumbs, waiting for white folks to pass the 13th amendment for freedom.  As it was a biopic and not a documentary, we can only be but so disgruntled at Spielberg’s interpretation of history. Unfortunately, the oversight of active black participation in their own liberation, in a movie about slavery that takes place in Richmond, VA proves a truly sad discourse. It perpetuates the idea of the white man’s burden; or that it is the responsibility of Europeans to “give” freedom to someone as if the synergy of our collaborative action catalyzed by the unrelenting desire for liberation by the black people was not the spark that ignited the flame.

The initial scene of the movie features two Union soldiers talking to Lincoln, one arguing for equitable pay and promotions and reciting part of the emancipation proclamation. Later in the film you meet Elizabeth Keckley and later William Slade, two African Americans who were close to the Lincoln family. Their speaking parts are extremely limited and it wasn’t as if Lincoln was an action film deprived of dialogue. So essentially, you have a talking film that is 3 hours long about black people where black people don’t get a chance to talk. The way in which Spielberg incorporated black people – as in not at all – in the movie Lincoln says volumes. The fact that there were so few critiques from people who watched it in Richmond saying much of anything about the lack of black activity in the film says so much more. It was as if the ongoing cognitive dissonance that resonates in Richmond when talking about the Civil War; you know the conversation that starts with it being more about state rights than the states right to enslave Africans, finally took hold of everyone in Richmond’s mind and caught their tongue. Or maybe we were too focused on a film about a fictional character named Django to care about the depiction of real life events in the movie Lincoln.

20130217_POSTRACIAL-slide-PNG7-sfSpanAnyway….I can let my last black history month post on the Cheats Movement blog for 2013 serve as a cinematic review.  Also for the sake of brevity, I am not going to argue the reasons behind Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, nor why he pushes for the passage of the 13th Amendment. I can say that I agree with most scholars who concur that his main objective was the salvation of the Union – not to free enslaved Africans; and from his own pen quote a letter he wrote from August of 1862:

“If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it,”

We know that the war couldn’t have been won without African’s fighting for their freedom against the confederacy in it. After Africans had fought so bravely for their freedom there were limited ways to re-enslave us except through Black Codes (cough cough Prison Industrial Complex) whereas you could still have slaves if it were punishment for a crime. Yet that is another longer discussion. In fact, the only reason I am talking about the movie is because Richmond was the capital of the confederacy and this is essentially where the Civil War ended.

There is no talk in Lincoln of the African American XXV Corp of the Union Army, which on April 3rd, 1865 was the first command to enter Richmond signaling the end of the Civil War, though. There are no references to Frederick Douglas’s ongoing dialogue with Lincoln regarding the abolition of slavery. There is no reference to the highest commissioned black officer in the Civil War in the form of Martin Delany and his proposal for black resettlement in Liberia. There is no reference to the invitation of black militant abolitionist Henry Highland Garnett to speak to the Congress, making him the first African-American to do so and that it was under invitation by Lincoln to commemorate the signing of the 13th amendment. No mention of the major uprising of Africans such as Gabriel Prosser, Nat Turner, or John Brown – that would inspire abolitionist to fight for the end of slavery. No Garnett, no Douglas, no Delany – no prominent African American abolitionists of that time who were known to historically have talked to Lincoln were featured or referenced to at all. The movie did what a lot of movies (and people) do when they talk about racial justice – it focused on President Lincoln and others helping black folks; instead of actually mentioning the active conversations of Africans working together so we can all be free from the bondage of oppression – both oppressor and the oppressed.

The lack of black voices in Lincoln speaks to an ongoing reality for people of African descent who live in poverty in the city of Richmond. We are stripped of our voice. The city of Richmond Virginia is 54% black and has a poverty rate of 25%. Just like in the film, there are conversations being had about us, decisions being made for us, on issues that affect us directly – however those who are in power rarely hear from us, nor take the time to invite us to the table to discuss what it is we want for ourselves. It was a strange example of art imitating life. I mean I honestly never saw Jamal, from Creighton Court, in Leadership Metro Richmond or Tanesha, from Ruffin Road, at any of the Capital Region Collaborative meetings. Yet their perspective is valid and needed if we are to make decisions for all of Richmond.

Paternalism is behavior by one group that seeks to keep another group’s autonomy limited for reasons the offending group considers the latter group’s best interest. Essentially the offending group attempts to constrain the latter group’s ability to act in their own best interest by making decisions for them, instead of allowing for self-determination. How paternalistic are we when we operate in an exclusionary, non-inclusive, manner when we are in rooms discussing the future of the city of Richmond and we can count on one hand how many people of African descent are there – and very few in that number live in poverty? In what ways are we re-affirming the silence of marginalized voices when we don’t invite stakeholders to the table when we start talks of demolishing housing projects? How effective can our efforts to alleviate poverty be, when we are not welcoming the poor to participate in the planning of the plan?

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Richmond is now full swing in celebration of the sesquicentennial. Where are we as a city 150 years later? With 25% poverty, 54% blackness, and the major movie production, made in Richmond, basically put the black folks in it on mute – perhaps still in bondage – by the same ideologies that create such inequality and sparked the Civil War in the first place.

Duron Chavis: Urban Renewer Exclusive Interview

Duron Chavis started his career in community advocacy as first a volunteer then an employee of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of VA. He worked as a museum coordinator developing programs and conducting guided tours for groups of all ages and backgrounds. In 2003 he founded the highly acclaimed Happily Natural Day festival as a grassroots effort to supplement the summer jazz concert that was held annually at the institution.

Happily Natural DayThe festival is a weekend long experience held annually in both Richmond VA and Atlanta GA that focuses on cultural awareness, health, wellness and social change. Chavis has worked with Dr. Llaila Afrika, Dr. Phil Valentine, Hakim Bey, Dr. Neely Fuller, Queen Afua, Runoko Rashidi, Ashra Kwesi, Ashanti Alston, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, Dead Prez, Popmaster Fabel and many more community activists, scholars and organizations from all over the country.

Presently Chavis is engaged in coordinating innovative and dynamic initiatives around the topics of urban agriculture and food security in a culturally relevant way. In 2009 Chavis launched the Richmond Noir Market, a Saturday farmer’s market targeting low income communities located in what the USDA has designated as food deserts in Richmond Virginia. 2012 marked the development of the McDonough Community Garden, an urban agriculture project that promotes sustainable food growing, horticultural therapy and environmental stewardship.

Chavis has received numerable accolades for his work. He served in 2011 as a Clean Air Ambassador on behalf of Earthjustice and the Hip Hop Caucus. He is an alumni of Leadership Metro Richmond’s class of 2011, received Style Weekly’s Top 40 under 40 award in 2010, was featured as Richmond Free Press’s Personality of the Week and most recently was nominated for the 2012 Golden Trowel Award by Tricycle Gardens for his work around urban agriculture and food access.

Who is Duron Chavis?
I am the son of a Alvin Tyler and Pamela Chavis. I was born in the Southside of Richmond Virginia. I am the father of Asaun, Zion and Kinyasa Chavis. I am an artist and an activist. I am the founder of Happily Natural Day. I start and manage urban gardens. I am a part of the movement to raise the social consciousness of African people globally.

What is your greatest passion?
My greatest passion is learning and then taking what I learned and doing something with it. So I guess being creative would fit in as greatest because it is the thread that runs through all the different things I do and have done. For the past 12 years I have coordinated a grassroots festival called Happily Natural Day and it really has been in this crucible of organizing that I have learned so much while having to apply. From visual design, marketing, web development, to social entrepreneurship, workshop facilitation, event planning and management, sponsorship acquisition to now urban agriculture, I never stop learning always trying to be more efficient as a worker for the people.
Duron-Chavis
When did you realize your passion?
I’ve always been a reader. I think I fell in love with organizing specifically around these topics of natural living when I was in college. I was that guy. The guy with the argument about why we want to be Greek and not Kemetic who hosted the debate the day after you saw him do a poem on the racism in academia at the open mic.

I got tired of talking about consciousness though and felt it was important to create spaces that we can come together. After I got back from college I worked for the Black History Museum and did a lot of educating as a tour coordinator. From that space we did the first Happily Natural Day and it has been an evolution ever since.

How did the concept of Happily Natural Day come about?
Happily Natural Day was birthed during the 50 year anniversary of Brown vs. The Board of Ed. The Kenneth Clark Doll Study was a very important piece of evidence used to desegregate public schools. In the test the researchers found that black children had a higher affinity toward white dolls than black dolls and the implied conclusion was that due to segregated schools children of African ancestry were affected negatively in terms of self identity and self acceptance.

Black children reported black dolls as bad, ugly, mean etc. The same study had been done numerous times since Brown vs. Board only to find the same results applicable 50 years hence. Happily Natural Day was created to instill pride in people of African descent using hair as a reference point; pulling on the then burgeoning natural hair resurgence in the black community. Using hair as a catalyst for a much deeper conversation about health holistically as in mind body and spirit; Happily Natural Day as a concept has promoted loving yourself as a person of African descent not only outwardly in an aesthetic sense but fully in terms of community, economics, and identity period.

What top 3 elements, do you feel made HND 2014 a success?
The 3 elements that made HND 2014 a success were teamwork, partnerships and shared vision. In the planning of the festival this year we reached out to folks who shared common missions and made deliberate agreements to work together to bring the festival to fruition by working together. As a result of that, several partnerships were formed one with Black Girls Run for the 5k and another with the VABF (Virginia Association for Biological Farming) for the urban farm school.

The vision of both those organizations to ensure healthier communities through their respective work allowed Happily Natural Day to be a point of access upon which to pivot in creation of new satellite programming for the festival that allowed us to go deeper and wider with our promotion of health and wellness in the community.

What are some of the major challenges you have had in bringing Happily Natural Day to the public?
The major challenges have been finances. The festival was created specifically for the community. it wasn’t created with the vision of getting rich off of it. So as a result in the beginning it was being done all for the love. This was a good thing but along the way it created challenges; not insurmountable challenges, but challenges that forced me to understand the concept of sustainable social change.
happy-natural-day-run2
The festival had to pay for itself. So that unique balance of growth and equilibrium had to be cultivated and sustained. With every year the festival grew in attendance and as a result that meant venues had to change which mean more expenses. This reality lead to a swift crash course in sponsorship development in order to offset the costs. Fortunately we have been able to develop meaningful and productive relationships with our partners allowing us to grow seamlessly into new venues to meet the expectations of our supporters, while not having to dilute the mission statement and meaning of the festival either.

Where do you see your efforts in 5 years? Goals?
Five years from now I see myself operating a successful urban farm enterprise while coordinating Happily Natural Day in several states. I see my oldest sons in high school. I look forward to employing people in the work that I do and they having the capacity to live comfortable in positions where they are helping the people while doing what they love. I got this thing for Tiny Houses so I really want to get into that and start building them on urban farms. I look forward to a happy marriage and staying true to this path and evolving with it as I have been.

I currently am developing a 1 acre farm in Richmond VA. I also have an indoor farm under development with Virgina State University. So out of those two projects I look forward to taking the models and honing them to the point of success. I am excited about the capacity of urban farming to solve the problem of food insecurity and poverty simultaneously. As we continue down this path I see so many opportunities in developing urban land for local food production and Happily Natural Day will serve as a marketing arm for those efforts where ever we find ourselves doing it.

I love to travel and want to be able to have places where people can stay so the tiny home concept makes me tingle when I think we can set up a small farm in an urban area that can accommodate someone living there for a couple days while working on the farm or coordinating the festival. That seems like a tangible dream to me. Profitable urban farms around the country with festivals that celebrate living naturally? Who wouldn’t want that?

What was the spark that lit your flame and passion for urban gardening?
hnd farm schoolThe conversation about urban gardening was part of the evolution of Happily Natural Day. Over the years our relationships with various aspects of the community have grown and one of those relationships has been with black farmers. Having black farmers at the festival as workshop facilitators and speakers opened us up for very candid conversations about nutrition and food security.

One year a farmer by the name of Azibo Turner of Vanguard Ranch remarked that it was amazing that we were doing so much to promote health and wellness in the black community; but posed the question of how could we talk about wellness but not talk about where food comes from. From there we held some panel discussions on that at the festival and from those conversations concluded that we needed to do pop up farmers markets in food deserts. The farmer we worked with during those pop up markets would talk with me about gardening and farming every Saturday from 1 to 6 for about two years and as soon as we had land available we started to garden and now we farm.

What do you see has been the most difficult part of getting people involved in urban gardening?
The most difficult part of getting folks involved in urban gardening has been getting people inspired to make a commitment to the project beyond just stopping by once of twice or coming to a workshop at the garden. The thing about urban gardening and urban farming is that it is a lifestyle change.

It requires a level of time investment that many people are not ready to make. This is why it is important to have urban gardens and farms that are close to where people live so that they can remove the excuse of it being too far away or off the beaten path. That for me was one of the things that made it accessible – having the garden a couple blocks from my house made it so whenever I came home I had to pass the garden. Community gardening helped to infuse bonds within the neighborhood that didn’t exist before and that helped keep people engaged. Developing relationships with your neighbors through gardening helped renew the sense of home for me.

Seeing the garden become a sacred space for people kept and keeps me engaged. Now that we deal with farming the incentive of being able to feed communities keeps me excited in addition to the capacity to generate wealth through food production. Not that we are looking to get rich while farming, but the fact that the farm provides a foundation for a sustainable system of programming all year round with a myriad of lessons for community engagement and increasing healthy food access gets me up in the morning excited. I think people being able to realize that they are a part of a movement that has tangible results attached to it is a great incentive to get people involved. Those who are serious about changing the community will see the impact in just one growing season.

How can we (the internet world) assist you on your mission(s)?
Find an organization and join it. Start a garden and grow food. Reach out and find a way to collaborate with those who share the same mission and goals as you. Find your thing and do it to the maximum. Do your work for the love of lifting up the people where ever you may find yourself. That helps me by raising the vibration in our community to where social change is the primary thing we are talking about. Be good to yourself but most importantly be good to others.

Love & Light.

L. NuNuu Sekou
Instagram/Twitter/Google+: @LNuNuu

This interview originally appeared: http://htfdconnect.com/duron-chavis-urban-renewer-exclusive-interview/2/

JOHN MITCHELL JR. – FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM BY WRITING FOR JUSTICE

African history is so awe inspiring to me. Being an African born in Richmond , Virginia makes me particularly interested in the story of people of African descent from right here in my hometown. Interestingly enough, the city of Richmond is pretty well renown for some amazing personalities, many of whom few of us have ever heard anything about.

The time period immediately following the civil war, which W.E.B. Dubois called, “the Black Reconstruction,” was an era of black history that I was particularly drawn to. Spanning from 1865 to 1891, historians ascertain that over 2000 African Americans held political offices in the South. One such man by the name of John Mitchell Jr. was from Jackson Ward.

Mitchell was born a slave in Richmond, VA, on July 11, 1863, two years before the end of the Civil War. What you find in Mitchell that is so astounding is that he melded his life around service to uplift the black community. His approach was multidisciplinary and evolved over time. He started out as journalist speaking out against lynching. His journalistic activism kept the conversation in the public eye via the Richmond Planet, a black weekly paper to which he would later be appointed editor. He promoted the works of activists throughout the U.S. such as Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Dubois, and Booker T. Washington, in addition to local leaders and the business community.

Mitchell used his pen and political influence as a weapon. His work to highlight the injustice of lynching was one thing, but Mitchell stepped out to combat injustice on even a broader scale. For example, the case of Simon Walker – a 15-year black boy accused of raping a 12-year-old white girl was brought to trial and the young man was found guilty and to be executed. Mitchell was able to keep the story alive in his paper and through advocacy on the boy’s behalf to the Governor at the time, Fitzhugh Lee (nephew of General Robert E. Lee), was able to eventually get the sentence commuted to 20 years in prison versus him being hanged. This was an amazing feat considering the ever-present threat that whites would simply snatch the boy up and lynch him anyway. Mitchell was able to corral the support of state officials to ensure Walker was delivered to prison unharmed.

What’s even more impressive is that Mitchell wasn’t afraid to represent and stand up as a man in defense of his community. When threatened with hanging himself after reporting on a lynching of an African American in Smithfield, VA, Mitchell loaded two pistols, boarded a train to Smithfield, arrived, and then walked from the station to the site of the hanging. In this day and time, where we have so many internet revolutionaries and rappers talking about gangsta this and gangsta that, with fabricated stories of killing their own – I have to say, John Mitchell Jr. was really really gangsta, in a positive way.

The beautiful thing about Mitchell’s act of resistance is that it paints an accurate picture of African Americans as courageous and self-determining, standing in self-defense of their families and community – not cowering in corners fearful of mob violence that was on the rise post-Reconstruction as whites attempted to reestablish white supremacy and Jim Crow throughout the south. We were not passive at all. We owned businesses, newspapers, participated in local and state government and stood together as a community against injustice.

Mitchell held down a spot on the city council for Jackson Ward, organized a successful black boycott of the segregated electric trolley streetcars, founded the Mechanics Savings Bank in Richmond, and eventually ran for Governor of the state of Virginia in 1921 even though he didn’t win.

Mitchell died in December of 1929 in his office at the Richmond Planet. From a journalist to activist, to a banker and politician he truly dedicated his life for the betterment of African people. Our leaders of today and aspiring leaders of tomorrow can learn a lot from his courage and tenacity.

John Mitchell Jr. 1863 – 1929. Born in Richmond, VA.