Nurturing the third eye

This past weekend, “Rachel” opened at Portland Stage. Set in the 1920s, the play explores racism, colorism, and the effects of the two on the black psyche. I am blessed to be a part of the production. Rachel has an all-Black, intergenerational cast with several kids aged about 6-10. We call them thelittles,” and they just about burst my heart. A few of them are adoptees, and being one myself, I confess they have a special place in my heart. Working with them is a reminder that children are incredible teachers.

The littles came to rehearsal this week with stories about Martin Luther King Jr. and how he cured racism, having just learned about him in school. This week, of course. The littles want to tell me about his dream, saying “It’s a good thing that we don’t live when this play was set, because then we would have people who hate us and want to hurt us because of how we look.

I take a pause, and then a breath, before telling them gently but firmly that things arent much different today. I watch light fade slowly in their eyes as pieces from family, friends, and bits of news clicks together. Air slips from their previously proud chests. I can see in their eyes that my words have just taken some of their hope.

I want to tell them that yes, MLK was a great man, but he wasn’t the end-all. Crave to explain to them that whiteness propped him up after they murdered him and his dream. That yes, he had a dream, but the nation wasn’t ready, that Martin wasn’t the only one who dreamed of freedom. Wasn’t the only one with fire burning in his chest and wind filling his lungs. I want to tell them about Assata and Stokely and Malcom and Angela.

I want to tell them that we need to devour our history before it is taken from our hands and our mouths; peeled from our lips, as it was done before. As people will try to do again. I want to tell the littles that they can add their names to the history books which we will write and rewrite to include us. Include our truth. Undiluted. Free of whitewashing and white history. I want to tell them it is OK to be mad. To be sad. To be filled with confusion and rage.

I hand one of the littles a comic book I found in a booth at AfroPunk. The story is about a kid who discovers she has psychic and empathetic powers, with an abilities related to chakras and auras. The kid has an older brother who skeptically follows her through the journey. The little wants to know if the brother gets powers too, and I wonder if he is thinking about his younger sister and himself. Wonder if he sees his sister as a superhero. I wonder if he sees himself.

He asks me if I think the third eye is real. I tell him, “Yes, I am trying to activate it.” He nods, then tells me about his friend that he watches Naruto (a Japanese manga series about a young ninja on the quest for belonging). He tells me his friend liked to bring a demon into their third eye then activate it, like on the TV show. Then he told me his friend later realized how foolish that was. They said it didn’t feel good bringing in the demons energy. I said “That’s good. We don’t want to welcome in that negative energy, do we?” He shook his head emphatically “Oh, no!”

Conversations like these show me kids have the basic tools for understanding this world we live in. They don’t need to be spoon-fed stories about Martin and his shiny dream. Kids can be told about the world they live in, in terms they can understand. Living in silos of whiteness, it is easy for us to forget that we are not alone in our blackness. Whiteness creates walls to keep us away from each other and afraid. Whiteness rewrites our history and serves it back to us once per annum, requesting us to be grateful, while shouting “reverse racism” and “Why is there no white history month?!” Kids need to be armed and ready for the world of whiteness that awaits them, gearing up to break them down. Today’s children are going to save the world. In order to do that, they need to be prepared, with spirits intact, and curious. Kids need to believe they are magic and to learn their history. In doing so, they will have acquired the tools to call on their ancestors and love themselves now, so as life rolls on they’ve nowhere to go but up and out, and soar beyond the stars.


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Of a crumbling house and bended knees

We can all agree that this country is not perfect. Some parts work very well. Other parts are very broken. Naturally, because we want a more perfect union, we want to fix what is broken. Because there are so many of us, it is difficult for all of us to see all of the problems. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing it. Awareness. But because there are so many of us, sometimes it takes a lot of us to solve a problem. We need to spread awareness. One of the many ways we do that is through protest.

“Why are all those people in the street?”

“What does that picket sign say?

“Why is that man kneeling?”

Why is that man kneeling? I’m glad you asked. So many people don’t.

In broad terms, the kneeling man is a citizen who sees a problem with the country that, unfortunately, a lot of other citizens don’t yet see.

“What is the problem he sees?”

He sees that a system, while lauded for its equality, actually serves and protects some while brutalizing and victimizing others.

He’s drawing attention to an emergency.

He wants the country to be better.

He strives for a more perfect union.

You’re an American. You want that.

“Is it the right time?”

There’s an emergency affecting Americans. It needs to be fixed as quickly as possible. Now is always the time to help a fellow American. It is always the time to make this a better country. Plus, that’s the thing about emergencies: they’re…inconvenient.

“Oh, but it’s not so much the ‘when’ as it is the ‘where’.”

Ah, well, again, that’s the thing about emergencies.

“Well, it’s more the ‘how.’ It’s the method of communication.”

OK. Listen, if you get a text that someone’s breaking into your car, and you decide not to do anything because that’s not the kind of thing you like to get texts about…Honestly, you’re starting to sound like you’re not very patriotic.

I mean, you’re being told there’s a crack in the foundation of your house. And I’d hate to think you’re saying that, not only do you not want to fix the crack or even address the crack, you don’t want anyone to even tell you about the crack.

I’d hate to think that you would rather live in a house on the verge of collapse than even hear someone talk about fixing it.

I’d hate to think you had such a self-destructive mind set. That would mean you didn’t care about this country at all. That much would be obvious, but that wouldn’t even be the problem. I mean, if you had that self-destructive mind-set, it would also be obvious that you didn’t care about your fellow Americans. But that also wouldn’t be the problem.

I’d hate to think you had that self-destructive mindset because it would mean that you didn’t even care about yourself.

For the rest of us it won’t matter much. We’ll fix the foundation. It’ll take longer without you, but one way or the other it’ll get fixed.

But for you, you’d be lost. Your fellow citizens would have a difficult time seeing your value. You’d be abandoned and alienated. Your self-destructive behavior would invalidate even your opinions.

I’d hate to think that could happen.

What’s that? It sounded like you said that you believe in his right to protest, but you disagree with the message. It sounded like you said that he can tell everyone about it as much as he wants, but Black people should continue to die in the street– Did I say “Black”? I don’t mean to make this political. Some people don’t like to discuss politics or have their views known. Some people wear their politics on their skin, a skin that loudly shouts their views, even while they sleep.

I’m sure you didn’t mean it like that.

“It’s not about me. This is offensive to the veterans.”

Honestly, if you’re going to bring up the veterans as though you are defending them, I can only hope that you are actually defending them as well. I can only hope that you’re donating your time and money to veterans’ issues. I can only hope that you’re donating your time and money to fight homelessness. I can only hope you’re donating your time and money to suicide prevention. Because if you’re not actually defending the veterans, but instead only invoking the idea of veterans so you can garner pity for yourself…well, that would mean you value being pitied above being an American. That would mean that using nothing but your own putrid bigotry, you’d reduced yourself to just a vulgar thing…

I’m sure you didn’t mean it like that.

You know, my father’s favorite athletes, like a lot of men of his generation, were Jackie Robinson and Tommie Smith and John Carlos and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammed Ali…

My father was a veteran.

While serving in Viet Nam, he was wounded physically, mentally and emotionally. Those wounds never healed. They bled the rest of his 71 years. Those wounds bled so people could enjoy the full benefits of this country– Pardon me, his wounds bled so some people could enjoy the full benefits of this country.

But he was not one of those people.

My father was Black.

I hope you’re not saying that his wounds bled so you could point to them as evidence that he was undeserving of the same rights you possess. I hope you’re not saying that the blood from his wounds only serves as a currency for your convenience, but does not even signify his own humanity. I hope you’re not saying that the only use for nigger blood is to ensure and sustain white leisure…because I’ve heard that before.

We’ve all heard that before.

But that’s probably not what you’re saying and if it is, I’m sure you didn’t mean it like that.


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Changing Maine and the necessity of PoC spaces

To be a person of color in Maine is to eat sleep and breathe Whiteness. Despite the melanin of our skin, we still live, move, and operate within a reality which centers Whiteness above all things.

Because PoC Mainers operate within the long-endured rule of Whiteness, we have little to no opportunities to gather together outside of Whiteness, to address things which are also very much part of our reality. Issues which are so complex, deep, and intergenerational, while simultaneously heartbreakingly basic. Love of ourselves, for example. Love of our people. A deep understanding of our history and our worth. Learning to dream, to achieve, to accomplish in a space which does not reflect nor value us.

Unresolved we push these issues to the core of our being, allowing them to fester and run, infecting, sickening and killing us.

The good news is, self-love is on the rise. PoC in Portland and around the state are coming together to create and demand spaces which can be claimed for our own. We are beginning to foster an environment where spaces for us are not only expected, but encouraged.

Portland’s Q/PoC creatives and organizers are carving out spaces and events dedicated to, made for and in support of PoC.  Theater Ensemble of Color, which uses performance, art, community inclusion and social activism to explore and celebrate diversity; Kesho Wazo, a youth-led organization dedicated to impacting youth and expanding their minds; Black Artists Forum, which has recently found new life and is committed to sustaining the growth of Black creatives in Portland; and my baby, Bloodletting, a recurring poetry night committed to lifting up and empowering the voices of queer and femme PoC, to name a few.

When PoC come together, healing happens. This is a truth which for me can be traced most palpably to “A Distant Holla,” a month-long celebration which was held in May at the Abyssinian Meeting House (the third oldest African American meeting house in the country) and helmed by Daniel Minter, a celebrated local artist.

Only one word can describe what happened at the Abyssinian: Magic. The Meeting House swelled happily with Black and brown people from Portland and Southern Maine. There was art, music, food, wine, and people. Youth, elders, and everyone in between came together to be in community with one another. “A Distant Holla” was a necessary reminder of our power and our ability.

For too long, PoC in Maine have been pressed into misshapen versions of ourselves, attempting to contort our bodies and spirits into a version which is easily digestible to white people. Afraid to take up space, believing the lie that we are not owed any. More and more we are refusing to be reduced to stereotypes, reactions and tragedies.

To sustain our efforts, we must heal. We must have space free from the harm that Whiteness brings. I believe this is what led Samaa Abdurraqib, co-founder of For Us By Us (FUBU), to reach out to Resources for Organizing Social Change, and organize this year’s Changing Maine.

On Saturday Sept. 9,Changing Maine for Racial Justice: Centering Anti-Racism in our Movements” was held at the Lewiston YWCA. The all-day conference came just as advertised. With two blocks of workshops, each featuring a session for Black/PoC, Native American/indigenous, and white attendees (with the exception of the afternoon session, where Native/indigenous attendees merged with the Black/PoC group, due to lack of a facilitator).

Changing Maine this year embraced the power that PoC spaces hold, and in doing so, created an experience which left many people changed. Changing Maine moved me. I felt nourished, fulfilled, and achy with new thought patterns and possibilities for healing. How did such a powerful experience find its way to white-occupied, previously white-organized, Changing Maine?  I reached out to Samaa Abdurraqib to ask:

LD: I understand that you attended Changing Maine in 2016; what was it about that experience which led you and For Us By Us to partner with CM this year?

SA: It actually wasn’t the previous experience I had at CM that led me to partner with ROSC. I’d heard that ROSC wanted to focus this year’s summit on racial justice, and I was concerned that ROSC–a white-led, white-staffed organization with limited resources–wouldn’t be able to create an event that felt like it was addressing racial justice in a way that would help White organizers and organizations make the shifts necessary to introduce more racial equity into their work. I was also concerned that the summit wouldn’t address the needs of Black, brown, and indigenous people in Maine.

LD: Maine is a predominately white state, and by extension, most of its organizers are white as well. You were the driving force in bringing PoC/Native-only spaces to the conference. How did you approach bringing those spaces to CM?

SA: Well…I just asked. I stressed the importance of having a separate space because of a couple of different reasons. 1) The work Black/brown/indigenous people need to do when it comes to racial justice is different from the work that white people need to do. 2) When Black and brown people are in majority white spaces talking about racial justice, they’re inevitably looked to (by white people) to help lead them through their own processes of navigating and negotiating white privilege and white supremacy. Sometimes that means that Black/brown/indigenous folks are asked to speak for “their people.” Sometimes that means that PoCs/indigenous people are asked to manage white people’s emotions as they process the guilt, anger, fear of recognizing how they might be implicated in furthering white supremacy.

LD: This year, Changing Maine had two workshop sessions. The morning session (for PoC) was Love and Dismantling Internalized Oppression, facilitated by Durryle Brooks, and the afternoon session (for PoC/Native) was Oppression & Privilege in Multi-Racial Movements, facilitated by Yamila Hussein. 

Explain briefly why these two workshops are important to the overarching theme of centering anti-racism in our movements.

SA: Durryle’s session on love was HUGELY important to the anti-racist work Black and brown people need. Being immersed in the Whiteness of Maine can make self-love difficult. Being immersed in Whiteness also makes it difficult for us to articulate our love for each other. Durryle’s session was important grounding work. We told stories to each other about how we define love and where those definitions come from (family, society, culture). We talked about what love for ourselves (as Black/brown people) and each other (as Black/brown people) actually looks like. We talked about how we can put love into action in our social justice work. Durryle gave us much needed space to talk and dream about what we needed for ourselves and each other. It was beautiful.

Yamila talked with us about how PoC work with each other when white people are not in the room. She began with the premise that, even when white people aren’t in the room, Whiteness remains in the room. She’s totally right. This session was important because it gave us an opportunity to speak frankly about how Whiteness and proximity to Whiteness continues to divide us when we try to work together across ethnic and racial differences. Her session also allowed us to speak frankly with each other about the divides that occur that aren’t connected to Whiteness (ageism, for example).

LD: With these themes in mind, how do you feel [attendees] benefitted from experiencing PoC/Native only spaces?

SA: I think attendees felt heard, held, and supported in these spaces. I purposefully asked the facilitators to keep their agendas loose; I wanted us to have space and time to be together without spending all of the time thinking about the to-do list that we might generate. One of the attendees  (a HIGHLY experienced organizer who’s lived in Maine ALL of her life) said that she’d never been in a PoC-only space before. She said that she felt nourished and supported. Hearing her say this helped me feel like I met one of my goals.

LD: After attending CM last year, and again this year, how did your experiences differ?

SA: Well…this year felt good. It felt nourishing. It felt enabling and empowering. Last year felt perfunctory. Last year, I attended CM because I thought I might learn something that would enhance my work as an organizer. This year, I was given tools to help me internally. I was given tools to help me make stronger connections with other Black and brown people. A little over a year ago, I’d made the decision that I was going to (as best I could) shift my priorities so that I gave more of my energy to supporting, loving, and prioritizing Black and brown people in Maine. This year’s CM is a step in that process.

LD: Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

SA: I am filled with gratitude for all of the Black and brown people who showed up, despite the fact that CM (and events like CM) traditionally feel marginalizing and othering. I am grateful that Black, brown, and indigenous people trusted what I and the other organizers envisioned, took a chance, and showed up. I was moved by what happened in that PoC/indigenous space, and I’m excited to see Black and brown people continue to grow, building on all of the work, knowledge, and love that has come before us and laid foundations for us to be beautiful and dope.

Bottom line: When PoC come together, healing happens. When we stretch that power into white spaces? Well, to quote Tracy Chapman, we’re “talkin’ ‘bout a revolution.”


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.