Tag Archives: Emeli Sandé

Black History Month 2016: Nina Simone

21 Feb

nina-simone2Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to one of my personal heroes, Nina Simone. Simone would have been 83 years old today.  I remember crying my eyes out on April 21, 2003 when I heard that Nina Simone died. I fell in love with her smoky jazz voice so many years ago.  Emeli Sandé credits Simone as one of her major influences

Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born in Tryon, NC, and aspired to be a classical pianist. Despite her prodigious talent, she was denied scholarships and admissions and pursued a career in clubs instead. Eventually signed to Colpix, she was boxed into a pop-jazz mode for a few years. She took the standards she was given and began subverting them with her unique style — she was described as being a piano player, singer, and performer, “separately and simultaneously.” Over the years her stage set became famous for her powerful interpretations and righteous original songs.

Simone’s response to the assassination of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the church in Birmingham that killed four children, was Mississippi GoddamIn Mississippi Goddam, we see Simone taking her place in the civil rights movement. Unlike Dr. King, Simone advocated violence if necessary in order to establish a separate state for African-Americans – who could blame her. You can only feel beaten down so much without building up a great amount of rage. I have such a great admiration for Dr. King for sublimating his rage into non-violent means. The song Backlash Blues was written by her friend Langston Hughes. Simone was also friends with Lorraine Hansberry and turned one of her plays, To Be Young, Gifted and Black into a civil rights song.  In 1972, Aretha Franklin did a cover of that song. The song Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood was written specifically for Simone. Her version works simultaneously as a love song and a protest song, showing her emotional depth and complexity.

Sadly, it is painfully clear how much we still need Nina Simone’s voice and activism. I suspect she still inspires many of us. Happy Birthday to the national treasure that is Nina Simone.

Inviting Joy…

21 Dec

JoyI have been working on this particular post for the past few months. 2015 has not been an easy year for me.  Since August 4th, I have lost four very dear friends. Our dear friend Jim passed away on August 4th from liver cancer, leaving a hole in our hearts. A week after Jim passed away my friend Ross, whom I was friends with for 20 years, died of pancreatic cancer. Naomi passed away yesterday and I will miss her terribly. Another significant loss was on December 3 when Beth died of liver cancer. Beth and I had been friends for over 30 years. She was my college girl friend. She would have been 52 yesterday. At times, it is all I can do just to get up in the morning. Throughout the day, it feels as though I have been punched in the stomach. Sadly, it also puts me back in touch with the loss of Bonnie, who was like my twin sister. This much loss is so unsettling that I am working exceedingly hard at staving off depression.

I have been watching and observing friends of mine and my husband and am in awe of their resiliency. These observations have led me to question how do I — how do we all —  invite and make space for joy. For me, this is a task that at times escapes me and seems to grow increasingly difficult.

Being aware of the embarrassing pustule on humanity known as the current Republican party (GOP) only adds to my sense of loss — the loss of common decency in our discourse.  It is exceedingly easy for me to give way to a misanthropic abyss when I think about how the discourse from EVERY Republican presidential candidate participates in and perpetuates racism, homophobia, misogyny, classism, and all of the intersections therein. Let us not forget, this is not just the nefarious Donald Trump, since every candidate believes as Trump does. They may not be quite as vociferous, but they share the same racist, homophobic and misogynistic beliefs. Sadly, even those Republicans who condemn the horrific rhetoric by these presidential hopefuls, still maintain that they will still support the Republican nominee. Yes, even while Paul Ryan slams Trump for  his racist, even Nazi like approach to this race, Ryan will still vote for him. This is more than just a little nonplussing.

So how do you, how do I invite hope, not just hope but how do I invite joy? Here I will share things that actually do bring me joy and I invite all of you readers, how do you invite joy? I want to learn from all of you!

Being in my classrooms teaching MSW students brings me great joy, such joy that I don’t have language to fully articulate how giddy I feel when I watch these students and how they reflect and leverage their privilege for equity. I am in awe of these people and they bring me joy and give me hope.

Spending time with my friends’ children next door brings me joy. Hank (who is only six years old) who grabs onto me and most insistently tells me stories brings me joy. Spending time with my amazing colleagues and friends as we are vulnerable with each other and support one another brings me great joy. Spending time with my husband as we talk, listen, drink wine, and support one another, and watch RuPaul’s Drag Race brings me joy!

My failing seems to be how do I hold on to all of this? How can I keep in contact with all of this joy and sustain my gratitude?

How do all of you do it?

Black History Month 2013: Bonnie Sanders

19 Feb

Michael & Bonnie June 2008This particular tribute is especially difficult for me to write and I only hope I can do Bonnie justice.  Bonnie and I were friends for nearly a quarter of a century.  She would have been 61 years old today, but sadly we lost her all too soon.  Bonnie was born and raised in Akron, Ohio.  She lived the last part of her life in Atlanta, Georgia. Just by the way Bonnie lived her life, she was an exemplar of social justice.

Although she could present a gruff exterior — and we all know she did not suffer fools lightly — she had a heart that embraced all marginalized voices. From the nine turtles she saved and adopted, the many dogs and cats she rescued, to standing in solidarity with the LGBT community and with the aging community, her dedication to civil rights and women’s rights was unparalleled.  Bonnie walked in every AIDS Walk Atlanta since the very beginning. Bonnie’s voice will be sorely missed.

Bonnie was the boss of all of us and inspired everyone to be their best person, although I have to admit she did have a devilish way of making me act out.  Although she was chronologically older than I, she referred to me as her Granny.  Probably because I would just hold her hand, fix meals for her, and fuss at her if she did not go in for her mammogram.  To be honest, she also called me Granny because I can’t stay up past 9:00.

Our traditional New Year’s Eve extravaganza would usually start at 4 and Bonnie, Joanie,  and I would be asleep by 8:00.  Our friends who knew us well knew you had to leave by 8:00 because we would be asleep.  I did wake up at midnight and would wake up Bonnie and Joanie for a quick toast to the New Year and then back to sleep.

I was in my early 20s when I met Bonnie and was immediately in love with her — with her contagious laugh, her irreverent sense of humor.  Over the years we built a life together and have a shared history.  Bonnie knew I was gay before I did, as she was wont to remind me of often.  Bonnie is one of the reasons why I married my wonderful husband, for Robert had to get her approval.

The pain of losing someone so close is at times unbearable; there are times throughout the day that I feel as if I’m choking, or I break into tears.  Other times something funny will happen and my immediate reaction is to want to call Bonnie.  Right now it feels as though a huge part of myself has been ripped out and I cannot retrieve it.  I desperately try to just be grateful Bonnie was a part of my life for so long.  I know she lives forever in our collective laughter and acting out.

A heart is not judged by how much it loves, but by how much it is loved by others; it is obvious how Bonnie’s heart embraced the world and I am all the better for just having been connected to her.  Her light and wonder were contagious and should be shared!

For those that knew Bonnie, please, I invite you to share a funny story that shines as an example of how witty and irreverent she was.

I love you, Bonnie.

Love,

Granny

Happy Anniversary

2 Jul

My husband and I had our first date on July 2.  We are both activists and we met volunteering at what used to be the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Center.  He was the librarian there and I was running support groups. Activism has been a huge part of both of our lives, and as we are getting older, I seem to get even more militant around what I call any type of “othering.”

There are times when I really do feel bad for my husband.  I think I have a tendency of zapping any pleasure from watching television, or movies, or social media.  My vigilance around issues of feminism, homophobia, racism, and the intersections of oppression can, at times, make people want to slap me bald.  I would like to say that being in social work school has made me this way, but let’s face it, for those that know me, I have been this way for the past 25 years.

The above cartoon, sent to me by my friend Katherine, a strong feminist and LGBT ally, and my husband interrupting my tirade while watching Chopped made me reflect on my militancy.  It is very hard not to notice the misogyny on Chopped–I’m just saying.  Of course, while on one of my many tirades, my husband looked at me and said: “Can we please just enjoy the show, please? Can you not be a social worker all the time?”

Of course, I’m grateful that we are both passionate about social justice and that my life partner (since we are not legally allowed to get married yet) just “gets me,” as I understand him.  It is magical and wonderful to have been with someone so long that there is a history created, a type of palimpsest–I know he will always be next to me:

Never in my life have I met someone like him
I’m blown away by his love for me
If you ever wonder where it is you’ll find him
You will find him, you will find him next to me

Our move out west has been fraught  with a great many frustrations and now with no money and no employment we both are trying to re-invent ourselves.  I suspect what prevents each of us from having a total meltdown is that we at least have each other during this journey which is both bizarre and rewarding.  Sometimes we just get lucky and we know it is The Right Thing to Do.

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