That man with Freedom in his eye...


All I remember about the first poem I wrote was that it was in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember one fragment: that man with Freedom in his eye

I was nine years old.

Even today, I adore the human being, the organizer, the disrupter, the person of faith we call MLK.

A couple of days ago, Michael and I performed at the Army War College at the Carlisle Barracks in PA. Amidst the uniforms and the formal hierarchy of that military base, I felt myself get small. I was suddenly unsure of my truth, if compassion and peace would make sense in the space. Why observe this holiday for a peace maker in an institution created for war?

Prior to our performance a Catholic priest quoted a prayer from King's Strength to Love. As I listened, I remembered again why I love this man--humility. Even those of us on the side of Justice and Peace, fall short. We love too little. We favor our egos too much. We look for ways to avoid pain. We are humans walking an imperfect path, imperfectly.

But as we concluded the performance I let MLK speak through me I felt his authority and his HUGE VISION. It was a rush, a flood of energy and power. And the soldiers dug it!

Today, Michael and I will be performing at the George School a Quaker high school and then getting on a plane for California. There, we get to spend two days creating art for justice and peace with Francis Wong, a Chinese American composer and saxophonist.

I'm grateful to you for accompanying me on this journey. I'm touched that I get to accompany you. If you'd like to go deeper with me, if you're ready for accountability and support this year, please reply to this email I've got lots of options for you!

May we all live into the fullness of our dreams and power in 2018.

So be it!

peace and love,

P.S.--Tribe of the H..E.A.R.T. Retreat at Pendle Hill is my only in-person workshop this winter. Great for those ready to take a break from the internet!

What To Do for Racial Injustice Heart Ache?

Photo by Arvia Walker, Used by Permission

Photo by Arvia Walker, Used by Permission

“You take aspirin for a headache. What you do you take for a heartache?”*

This was a question that stopped the conversation. We are so used to making pain go away. We take pain relievers without looking for pain solvers. We are so used to it being something outside ourselves that we can buy and swallow. Instant relief.

But what about when our hearts are breaking for someone’s child who has washed up on a beach after a failed migration? What do we do when someone has been run over and killed because she stood up for justice and equality in Charlottesville? What about when we hear a four year old comforting her distraught mother as she watches her father figure bleed out on Facebook live?

What do you take for heart ache?

Many of us look for an aspirin equivalent. I, myself, have prayed: “Please, God, don’t let me feel that. I can’t take that!” We resist the ache but that does not mean it goes away. Sadly, it stays with us. When I resisted the heart ache and anger about the killing of Sandra Bland, I went numb. Not only did I not feel “bad” I did not feel ANYTHING.

Suppose that’s what this system of white supremacist capitalistic patriarchy wants. Suppose it RELIES on us not feeling anything too deeply? It want us, it’s opponents to mimic its heartless tactics and ways of being. Maybe it wants us to only feel horny, anger and fear because that can be easily manipulated.

Suppose feeling grief and sadness (not the same thing as numb or dead) allows grief and sadness to move through us and in their place comes love, peace and connection to our Trusted Source? Does that sound unlikely? Does it seem like the pain or sadness is to big for it to ever end?

Let me tell you about an experience.

A few days after the Charlottesville killing and attacking, I sat on the phone with two people I mentor. We felt angry, sad, hateful, and scared. What to do? After we held space for transformation for a few minutes, I said let’s really feel our feelings. Let’s not talk about them. Let’s be with ourselves as we feel them together. Each of us got something to draw or color with, and for ten minutes we just moved our writing implements across blank paper. The only rules: no words, no judgement, just stay with the feeling and express it through this non-verbal, non-linear, embodied action. By the time we completed and shared, we had each come back to our strong, flexible selves. I went straight from that call to a difficult situation and noticed how i felt confident and whole while dealing with the stress in the room.

In contrast the suppression, repression and rejection of these vulnerable feelings keeps us intellectualizing, attacking, critiquing, or other modes which may agitate but not move us to actions aligned with our goal/vision. We need action that aligns with the world that we are creating. You reap what you sow. If you sow hatred, you will reap hatred even if the people you are hating are really, really hateful.

Listen to your allies, your mentors, your sisters and brothers in the movement to create a new world. Are they “hard to the core”? Does their rhetoric feed you? Does it strengthen your connection to your heart?

What about you? How are you allowing feelings to flow through you? Are you resisting or cutting off your heart in favor of analysis and critique? Where will that take us? How far will we travel? What depth of transformation can we effect without being vulnerable?

Don’t take an aspirin. Don’t distract or numb. Express yourself. Let sadness, anger, fear, hate flow through you onto a page, into movement, through sounds. Do it alone or in community. Daily. Do it imperfectly. Without a lot of thinking. 5 minutes. 3 minutes. 1 minute. Whatever sounds doable. Just do it!

Peace and love,


*P.S. — Thanks to David Vita at UU Westport for asking me this question.

Art Leads.  Listening to the Jon Jangtet's "Can't Stop Cryin' for America:  Black Lives Matter!"

Almost thirty years ago I heard an administrator with Luis Valdez's Teatro Campesino say "The art leads."  How true that's been to me.  When I didn't know what happened to my mother, my play told me she'd been in jail for five years.  My mother later confirmed this.  When I needed to switch careers, my character Jemima said "Stop hiding behind that podium."  Art leads.  It circumvents the determinism and tiny self-focus of the mind, and goes straight to the wisdom of the heart.  Nothing creates community like art.  Just this morning my violinist husband said he plays chamber music to break down walls, so that he can be with other people without their walls being up.  Even religion relies on art to access divinity, God/Spirit within.  

Nonetheless, I was caught by surprise this weekend by Jon Jang's Can't Stop Cryin' for America." There I was on a stage at SF Jazz, listening to the Jon Jangtet go all in on one of his original compositions and it just hit me how much I really liked his music.  Jon had invited me to collaborate on his new piece "Can't Stop Cryin' for America; Black Lives Matter."  I was sitting on a high stool waiting for my entrance.  

I decided to let the music work on me.  

I watched as people's heads moved in time to the music.  I watched Black people look delighted and surprised as they heard the depth of Jang's Black music engagement.  Funk, Mingus, gospel, jazz and his own Chinese heritage... it's all there.

I let the music work in me.

This particular number set to my "Ferguson Diaries" made a chorus out of the phrase "Hands up. Don't shoot.  I want to live."  I felt the command and affirmation in the music.  When I jumped back in to the song, the ensemble grew louder and and the phrase shortened to "hands up."    But by then, it had become a call to action, to get involved.  Yet the richness of Jon's roux, of his rhythm section, kept it grounded in the musical experience.  It was not a rally; this was not a speech.  Jang's music was artful energy work that was infusing us with a will to "upset the set up."

I surrendered to the music, and felt some of the heaviness leave me.

Just two days earlier, the officer who had killed Philando Castille had been acquitted.  My social media feeds were burning with Black people's outrage at the decision.  One Black musician had urged his face book friends to "Burn.  It.  Down." if he was killed.  He didn't want a rally or a hashtag.  He expressed what a lot of us are feeling.  Inside our black pumps, pressed slacks, summer dressed and dyed tresses.  Rage.  And not far below that--grief.

As Jang's master work progressed, we went to grief.  Using "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" Jang musically called in the spiritual to express the sorrow after the massacre in the Black church in Charleston, SC.  Titling his piece "More Motherless Children,"  Jang had asked me to write a poem on the massacre.  "Sixty Minutes of Bible Study/ Six minutes of shooting/ Nine people dead" was my refrain.  Words and music invited people to imagine the scenario and feel the grief personally, and to connect the recent killings to our  history of enslavement, whippings, torture, and powerlessness.  Yet, the music also evoked our resilience and creativity.  

As I write this, I'm realizing that the Jangtet gave us a safe place to feel and a pathway to face this present moment.   From my own experience, I've learned that allowing myself to feel, without judgement, is the quickest route to strength, restored balance.  "Can' Stop Crying for America" created an energetic container for rage, grief and ultimately love.

For example, the two final pieces "Why did they have to shoot him so many times? (For Mario Woods and Jocelyn)" and "Yemaya" brought comfort and companionship from those who had passed on.  The first piece began with a cacophony of sound symbolizing the twenty bullets hitting the unarmed Mario Wood's body.  Listening and feeling the blows, I surrendered again.  

I let myself trust the music.

After the spraying of the bullets, I asked the audience four times "Why did they have to shoot him so many times?" in various tones and moods.  The response came via the music.  A beautiful gentle melody that pointed us away from the suffering to love.  I got over my fear of singing wrong, and just let myself hum along.  As a Black mother, I sang love to my child, as a mother I let my child who had died comfort me.  The music reminded me that underneath it all, our love can't be taken by a bullet and it can't be stopped by death.  As I said at the concert, it was as if the ancestors dropped this little melody into Jon to pass on to us.  

Once the music had taken us to love, how perfect then that we could call on Spirit.

We concluded with "Yemaya" a duet between the only female member of the Jangtet and me.  A call to the West African Goddess of the Seas and Oceans, my poem asked Yemaya to clear us and to take back the water and heal it.  Hitomi Obi, a slight Japanese American woman, wielded that saxophone like an ax as she cut through the debris, the pollutants, and the sick ideologies that poison us via everyday life, like the water the fish cannot see.  They say that our spiritual resources, helpers, ancestors, G/gods can't help us without a call. This final piece made that call.  Now all we have to do is listen.

Art leads.


For more on Jon Jang and the Asian American jazz movement see and

Denzel, Viola and Why We Need More Fences

I don’t know about you, but I’m emerging slowly from a week of intense family time, Kwanzaa celebration and lots of eating and drinking.

This week I’ve been late for stuff and spent one whole day just fuzzy headed!

But one thing I’m clear about is that I need Black Arts especially as we head into Trump’s “make America great again.” For me Black Arts is art that draws on our traditions and cultures with the intention of edifying our community and nourishing humankind.

This brings me to the film Fences which was directed by Denzel Washington and featured him and my fave Viola Davis. August Wilson’s most produced work, Fences was the closest he got to a Hollywood film deal. However, Wilson took a controversial stand in 1990 and publicly declared “I want a “black director” for Fences and got a lot of criticism. It’s taken twenty-five years for Denzel to deliver on August’s dream.

Fences shows us that 1950s America wasn’t so “great” for Black people. For example, its main character, Troy, never got to play in the Major Leagues because they barred Black players. By the time Jackie Robinson was invited into Major League baseball, many great athletes including Satchel Paige and the imaginary Troy had already aged beyond their prime.

However, what’s most important about Fences is that it elevates African American culture, language, and storytelling into a beautiful human experience. The characters in Fences counter degrading stereotypes that fill the cultural mainstream. Fences’ Troy is flawed, for sure, but he is also engaged in loving respectful relationships. He values family and friends rather than money, fame or consumer goods. Moreover, he tells stories that illuminate intergenerational trauma, humor, and philosophy in a Black vernacular that is rhythmic, sophisticated and accessible. I just gotta say it: August Wilson is to Black vernacular as to Shakespeare is to English.

We need this kind of art as we shift from Obama to Trump, from Michelle to Malina. We need stories that remind us of our humanity; I need stories that counter the limited stereotypes that pervade television. This is especially true as America increasingly re-segregates, and many whites have no meaningful relationships with real Black people in their everyday lives. According to Slate, 75% of white Americans have no contact with people of color.

But you don’t need me to tell you to go see Fences. Denzel and Viola have a huge marketing machine that will make sure you do that. Instead, I recommend that you support local Black Arts in your community. Get to know local Black artists and become part of their audience. Build relationships and become part of cross cultural art making. Fences deserves support, but any ticket or book you buy in support of local artists could literally make the difference between an organization surviving and dying.

If you live in the Lancaster Area, come to Black Fire: Celebrating Black Arts on Sunday Jan. 8 at 3pm-4:30pm at 24 W. Walnut St. Hosted by Theatre for Transformation and Fruition, this event is free and open to the public and will feature Lancaster Black writers, visual artists and musicians.

Theatre for Transformation will be doing lots of stuff in Los Angeles, Boston, Elizabethtown, Lancaster, and Philadelphia. Come and be part of Black Arts. Denzel, Viola you are both welcome too!

Peace and love! -Dr. Amanda Kemp

You Can’t Coerce Me into Hating

For some of us, this solstice, this Kwanzaa, this Hanukkah, this Christmas is a tangle of fear, anger, love and joy. Every time I turn on the radio, there’s another thing to worry about. My shoulders are tired and my sleep has been troubled.

Nonetheless, when I heard Sister Ruby declare “You can’t coerce me into hating you,” in a recent interview I remembered I have power. I’m not at the mercy of someone else’s actions. I can impact my internal mindset. Sister Ruby talked about growing up with Black folk religion as opposed to the formal church and how it protected her from Southern apartheid. Black folk religion kept her connected to a wellspring of love, including a love for herself. “I grew up believing that I was a first class human being and a first class person.” According to Ruby hate wasn’t even in her vocabulary in her small tight knit Black southern community. She grew up singing “I love everybody; I love everybody; I love everybody in my heart.”

Today, most of us don’t live in tight knit communities. Many of us question our value. And hate is all around us.

How do we choose to love?

We can’t do it alone. Not for long. We need each other. We need to hear each other’s stories. A mentor shared Ruby’s interview with me. I didn’t know I needed to hear her story until I listened.

Who do you need to hear?

My theatre company, Theatre for Transformation, is hosting an Art and Healing circle on Dec. 27 at 6pm (on the second day of Kwanzaa). Here, we will listen to each other, share songs, poems, prayers and healing rituals. The coming year, 2017, will challenge us. We will need to remember who we are and to stay in our hearts come what may.   Please come.

If you can’t come to Lancaster, I invite you to hear my story via the Say the Wrong Thing audiobook.

There’s something raw and close about listening to my voice and my son’s voice as we share our stories of confronting racism, and feeling love and grief.

You can listen now.

Whatever you do, put your ears where your heart is. If you want a multicultural, multiracial equitable world, then listen to the stories of artists, change makers, healers etc who are building that. We have to focus on our internal mindset so that lying news and lying presidents don’t trigger us into mirroring the system we want to overhaul. Note to DT “You don’t own me!”

Peace and love,

-Dr. Amanda Kemp

Do You Act from your Vision of Racial Justice or from Fear?

How often do you act from fear or worry or exhaustion rather than your vision when it comes to race? For most of us, this is our default.

Please don’t judge yourself; it’s actually a biological disposition of our brains to dwell in actual or potential threat.

I’m asking the question as a way to remind us that there is another way. When we bring something to consciousness, we can choose.

Think about it. Do you want The Donald determining your actions? Do you want the latest killing to drive your choices? I don’t. I want to own the power of my vision, my soul, my inner guidance.

I recommend that you ask yourself: What do I want to create today? What is my vision for my family or my school? How can I do one thing that will move us toward that vision?

This is not to say that your vision has to be about changing big entities every day. You can choose to focus on yourself. Try this: create a vision of how you want to value or extend compassion to yourself today. Then, respond to requests, criticisms, compliments from that vision. Notice how you feel.

If you are like me, then you’ll keep forgetting your vision and need reminders. Write it down or take a picture of an image that symbolizes your vision. Post it in your car or on your phone screen.

Best of all share this vision with community. As they say, when two or more are gathered we have power. Would you like a community to share your vision?

Well, come on in! I invite you to be part of a tribe that can help you hold your intention or a vibration (as Niyonu Spann would say) for love and racial justice. I’m setting up a Facebook Group called Tribe of the H.E.A.R.T.

If you like live and in person, please join me for the Say The Wrong Workshop or an upcoming performance. Details at my website.

In the meantime, Act from your Vision.

Peace and love,

-Dr. Amanda Kemp

Top 5 Reasons to Enroll in the Say the Wrong Thing Course

A friend of mine asked me a great question three days ago.  "Amanda, I've read your book and listened to your audiobook twice. Why would I need to take your course?  What's the difference?". Before my friend asked, it never occurred to me.

Since I've created both, I know the Say the Wrong Thing course includes lots of new juicy materials and exercises that will actually help you do what I've done.  Check out the top 5 reasons you should take a class with me ESPECIALLY if you've read and appreciated my book Say the Wrong Thing:  Stories and Strategies for Racial Justice and Authentic Community.

1. The book shares my story of triumphs and failures. 

This course is focused on YOU and supports you trying out the strategies and having a community of accountability and support as you PRACTICE the strategies of the heart.

2.  The book doesn't actually guide you through how to apply the strategies.  

In contrast, the class offers STEP BY STEP DIRECTIONS and I elaborate on what each strategy means.  I imply via the quotes in the book, but in the class we go into more explicit and greater detail and each week there's home practice actions that will get you ACTIVATED.

3.  The class places you in contact with other people (white identified folks and people of color) whom you can relate to outside of class and together impact community and the country. 

4.  You will continually and intentionally expand your understanding of white privilege, white fragility, difficulties in coalition building, institutionalized white supremacy culture; and how non-profits end up replicating systems of domination they say they want to undo. 

You will get a resource list of articles, videos and books to keep expanding your learning during the class and after the class.

5.  Participants in the class get ME, coaching and mentoring  you on your particular questions and dilemmas.  

There's nothing like a real live person listening and focusing on you.

I'm really glad that so many people have bought and read or listened to my book.  If you are ready to take the next step and go beyond understanding me to understanding and stretching yourself, PLEASE JOIN ME!

Peace and Love,

-Dr. Amana

Giving Birth to Racial Justice & Authentic Community

My book has arrived! Two days ago I delivered a healthy beautiful book,Say the Wrong Thing, Stories and Strategies for Racial Justice and Authentic Community.

However, as I was describing these strategies to friends, I realized that we could use these strategies any time we are in a challenging relationship or situation. Take a look and let me know if you agree!

H Hold Space for Transformation E Express Yourself A Act with Intention R Reflect on Yourself T Trust the Process

I'm going to expand on each of these strategies over the next five weeks. If you'd like to skip ahead, check out the book!

Hold Space for Transformation Holding is a mindset and a heart space where you just accept unconditionally what is and who is with love. Suspending judgement and analysis, you can "hold" people in conflict, leaders and nations, or even yourself.  I've hear Niyonu Spann liken holding to a kind of prayer.   This active but invisible stance allows Spirit/God/Ancestors/Higher Consciousness to enter. Holding is like adding lubrication; it eases friction and resistance. And, if you are a do-er, it gives you something positive to do.

Most recently, I used this strategy in a family situation involving my children. As a protective mother, I can easily get triggered by perceived slights or threats to my children's well being. However, as many parents can attest, direct intervention between siblings or between children and their other parents/grandparents can just add more chaos. At first I worried and aired my concern with Michael, but then I literally paused and chose to pray for the highest good for all involved and thanked God for loving all of us. To my surprise, that situation has partially resolved and I'm going to keep holding space until it is complete.

I invite you to try holding space today.  Try it in a situation where you are cultivating racial justice and/or authentic community.  Let me know how it goes.

Peace and love,


P.S.  For readers of my blog, I'm offering a 30% discount on the book for the next two weeks.  Just use the code BLOG when you place your order.

Do you need to trash your mantra?

Do you have a subconscious mantra that drives you to despair or panic?  Check out how I uncovered mine and adopted a new one instead. I am onstage, performing the final words of “Say Her Name,” a poem that charts my resistance to mourning Sandra Bland. I have no one to sing me through the despair. My friend Vanessa could not come. I had not asked anyone else. In the silence that followed the poem, the spiritual “Hush” comes to me. I sing it alone while the audience holds its breath and watches my pain.  I feel alone and vulnerable.

Later, while talking with my friend Matthew, I realize the missing element is community. I had not invited the audience to sing; I had not invited the formation of community.  I had been afraid no one would join me.

Two days later, I sing “Hush” at the end of this poem again.  This time twelve women from Haverford College's Outskirts file onto stage, harmonizing behind me. A young Black woman with a smoky alto stands beside me and takes the lead. We sing together. She steadies the pace and the pitch. The women behind us blend softly and then loudly, rolling the sound out into the audience. I ask people to stand and sing. They do. Together we ask “Oh, my Lord, oh my Lord, what shall I do?” The spiritual binds us in our humility, in our responsibility to heal and transform. A silence falls after we sing it a final time-- together.

I treasure that moment.  My mind returns to it again and again.

Yet, something strange happens when the following week I stand in a circle of four women, none of whom I know well   As I start to say “my community loves and supports me,” I actually bend over, holding back the sobs.   I have to push myself to keep speaking, letting them know simultaneously my deepest longing and my deepest doubt: My community loves and supports me; I am all alone and nobody cares.

I’m having lots of feelings in this Deeper Change forum on somatic conditioning.  My circle of women who don’t “know” me, wait for me to rise, to catch my breath. Together we stand shoulder to shoulder, outstretched arm to outstretched arm, embodying my newfound mantra. We are reconditioning my body to stand with both feet planted, rooted to this mantra—my community loves and supports me.

I say this to the young Amanda that believes the opposite; who chants the old mantra “I’m all alone and nobody cares.” I say it to the lonely foster child who doesn’t know why her mother left. I say it to the teen who’s been rejected by two prospective adoptive families. I say it to the Black girl whose community has repeatedly told her she’s too dark, too “African” to be beautiful.

Today I share it with you. I declare it again. And again.   I belong to community; that community loves me; that community supports me.

What is your truth? Can you identify a simple phrase or sentence that strengthens and connects you?  Maybe it's the opposite of that corrosive mantra that's accompanied you much of your life.

If you are like me, then you will need to share that mantra in community for it to become real, truth in the moment.  The more your community knows, the more it can remind you of this truth when you get into what my Michael calls a "blame and complain" mindset.

I can't wait to start my racial justice and oneness mastermind group so that we have a place to affirm our conscious mantras with each other.  If you enjoy my blog, please pre-order my ebook "Saying the Wrong Thing: Stories and Strategies for Racial Justice."

Peace and love,


Watching Kay, Watching Amanda

Last night I went to a performance by Kay Barrett, a transgendered self-described "brown, round boi."  A poet-performer, Kay powerfully spoke from his experience as queer, poor, and disabled.  He shared a "found poem," a collection of things people say repeatedly that disrespect and "other" him.  It was funny and painful.

As I watched Kay, I watched myself.  I noticed my discomfort with not knowing what he was talking about sometimes.  I noticed myself feeling guilty because I am so able-bodied and conditioned to be judgmental of those who are not.  I noticed I felt afraid of saying the wrong thing and revealing how unfamiliar all the terms that he used were to me.  I noticed that I referred to him as a she in a follow up conversation.

Kay taught me what I do not know and how I'm conditioned to not know UNLESS I take a conscious step to cross into his world and his subject position.  A performance, a book, an interview, a download is a way to cross over to someone else without asking them to do extra work for me.

I also learned that when doing this kind of work, (art that activates, reveals and makes those complicit in your oppression aware), we need to take care of ourselves.  Kay shared that he uses a spiritual practice of seeing himself and others figured in the poems in light prior to performing. Otherwise, the stories would re-traumatize.  Kay also gave trigger alerts before poems that involved domestic abuse, trans violence and other situations that could spark deep hurts within the audience.

Watching Kay, watching me gave me a chance to practice being aware without judgement.  I got a hint of what white-identified people might experience when they come to my performances.  This reminded me of the silences after a show or the feeling of heaviness in a space when people recognize how painful racism is.  So what to do with what I noticed?  Love it.  And keep learning.  Kay is a part of me and I am a part of him.  I'm committed to loving all of us.

Tonight We Cross an Ocean Four Centuries Long

Do you remember the demonstrations at malls, court houses and hospitals where people staged die-ins? I remember dropping to the ground when the signal came. I remember the slow passage of time as the Park City Mall grew quiet and all I heard was my heart. When I arose, I looked up to see my son and his best friend. I had not known if there would be arrests or conflicts with counter-protestors so I had not told him about it.

My mistake.

I wanted to protect him. I told myself I couldn't guarantee his safety. There had been threats from people who hated Black Lives Matter movements. We didn't know for sure how the police would deal with us. Would they let us disperse? Better not to bring my son or any of my children, I told myself.

But what was I teaching my son? You are a target. Keep your head down. Let mommy take the chances. Don't you stand up.

My mistake.

Months later when people traveled to Baltimore to hold the City accountable for killing Freddie Gray. My son called me.

"Take me to Baltimore."

"Why Baltimore? What do you want to do there?"

"People are protesting. It's happening there, Mommy!"

This time I did not say no, but I did not say yes.

"Wait," I said. "Let me call around."

I consulted my friend who had supported organizers and movements in Ferguson. Safety was my first concern. Tell me that it's too unpredictable to go I begged without saying it out loud. My friend gave me no such advice. Instead he was very practical about how to be in an unpredictable situation confronting public officials, including the police.

I waited a few days to call my son back. By then other high school matters were on his mind. Soon after the prosecutor announced her plan to indict the officers.

I felt relieved. I had kept him safe. Yet, a small part of me felt we had missed an opportunity.

Recently, my son sent me a short narrative that exposed his anguish, rage and sense of impotence at interpersonal racism and the fact that Black Lives Don't Matter much too often. I wept as I read his outpouring.

"At least once a month I see a video of a Black man beaten and or killed by police... I have to make sure I’m not a threat because if I make someone scared or uncomfortable they can shoot me. They can shoot my ass and get away with it. I’ve been internalizing these messages for the last four years, and it’s changing my body. It’s changing my brain and my emotions. It’s making me go into survival mode, where I, a human being, become an animal because that’s what I’m constantly told I am..."

So, what are we to tell our beautiful Black and Brown boys?

As a mother, my instincts scream "Keep the child safe!" But if he does not participate in demonstrations, group actions and even risk arrest how will he know that he is powerful, not just an extension of what the dominant society says?

Tonight I'm going to screen the first play that I've written where my son said: "It made me feel like I had to go out and freaking do something!"

The play, "To Cross an Ocean Four Centuries Long" features an enslaved woman, Hannah, who lost her son. I was entrusted with her story after wrestling with the autobiography of Quaker abolitionist John Woolman. She came to me while I slept. I resisted because there were no documents to back up her story. But finally, I got up around 4am and wrote her story. Her grief, her adaptation to that loss wrenched my heart. She could not keep her boy safe.

Tonight we will screen the filmed version of the play. I will once again cry with Hannah. I will think about the mothers of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Mike Brown.

I will think about my son.

However, this time I will think about how I will support him at his school. This time I will urge him to resist, to organize, and to act on behalf of his people, all people.

Join me.

Feb. 10 @The Ware Center 8pm Come watch my film "To Cross an Ocean Four Centuries Long: Slavery and the Nature of Hope"


Purchase the film.

COME OUT AND BE INSPIRED! Feb. 21 @Hanover Presbyterian Church Wilmington DE @4pm: Gospel Vespers Feb. 24 @Lancaster Theological Seminary @4pm: a performance lecture Feb. 28 @Lancaster Blues and Roots Festival @noon: INSPIRA Feb. 29-March 2@ Hamilton College, Clinton NY March 25 @Chester Senior Center @6pm: INSPIRA March 26@ Haverford College @7pm: INSPIRA March 31, Swarthmore College @4:30pm: To Cross an Ocean Four Centuries Long

Peace and love! Amanda

P.S.--I have room for one more screening of my film "To Cross an Ocean Four Centuries Long" in February. Watch the trailer. Please let me know if you'd like to host a viewing. AK

Fighting Racism at Sixteen: Rage and Despair

How do you fight racism or other isms without allowing the fight to define you?  What do you do when the terms of the debate and the criminal justice system put you on the defensive?  Below is a guest post by a sixteen year old African American. Please make comments on Facebook and share.--Amanda Kemp

People ask me why I fight against problems that aren’t going to be solved anytime soon. Specifically, they’re referring to the fight against racism and racial bias. Often, I tell them that if I don’t fight, who will, and who else is going to give a damn about by son’s future if I don’t? People don’t understand that I really don’t have a choice but to fight. For some reason people react to my fighting as cool and admirable, as thought I have a choice about whether to not to fight. What people don’t realize is the impact fighting can have on a human being. Fighting even when you’re not conscious you’re fighting. It changes you.


I used to love to fight when I was young. It was fun and it was a way where I could get the attention and respect I craved. As I grew older that slowed down for me. My pops explained that I was getting too old to fight, and that if I kept it up I’d find myself in trouble with the police one way or another. He said I was big enough now that I could do serious damage to someone without wanting to, and someone could do serious damage to me. As I found myself more as person and had less of a craving for attention and validation from the people around me, my fighting ceased.

Well, I thought it ceased until recently. I’m still a fighter. I definitely fight more now than I did before. It’s not that I like to fight; it’s more so that I have to fight. There is a piece of me that doesn’t allow certain things to slide. That piece is embedded in my soul and I can’t figure out how to control it.

The fight has shifted to being internal. I usually don’t fight people. I fight their ideas and or their opinions. Lately, just pounding ideas has become harder and harder. I find myself getting upset and wanting to dismantle the ideas but also dismantle things. I want to hit things and break them. I want see people hurt because they don’t give a fuck what’s going on around them. They don’t give a fuck that I am in pain every single day because my humanity isn’t valued. I want them to feel a fraction of the pain I feel daily. I want them to look in my eyes and see the hurt. I want them to know that in this society my body and my mind is lesser than theirs, and because of that I’m disposable. I’m just another Nigga that can be shot and killed without any consequences.

At least once a month I see a video of a Black man beaten and or killed by police. My parents and loved ones tell me to be careful. They tell me to do things I shouldn’t have to do, but if I want to survive I have to listen. I have to make sure I’m not a threat because if I make someone scared or uncomfortable they can shoot me. They can shoot my ass and get away with it. I’ve been internalizing these messages for the last four years, and it’s changing my body. It’s changing my brain and my emotions. It’s making me go into survival mode, where me, a human being becomes an animal because that’s what I’m constantly told I am and what I see people like me being treated It is beginning to be too much to cope with at times. People say things, or I watch a video of a handcuffed man’s head being kicked like a football by a white dude with a badge. These things flip a switch. My body feels like it’s going to detonate when it’s reminded that where I live I’m not safe. I don’t have the same human experience as white people. I have to be on the lookout constantly, like prey in the wild. When I’m triggered I don’t have control of my body. When an animal is running from prey it’s not thinking about anything else except survival. I am sixteen years old and I’m a human being, and I know that feeling. I know what it feels like to only care about surivival.

I had the feeling a couple weeks ago. Someone said something about another black person being taken to a secret police interrogation site and tortured to death in Chicago. I had a mug in my hand and my hand starting shaking so badly that I dropped the mug. My heart began to beat furiously and my face got tight. I ground my teeth and couldn’t be still. I went into a mode where I felt like an animal that had had enough and was going to try and destroy my predator. In this situation it felt like my predators were white students at this school saying racism is not a thing anymore. I can’t just go and hurt little innocent white children that don’t know that they just hurt my feelings. I ran and starting punching and kicking things. I hurt myself. I punched until I couldn’t feel my right hand and my arm was covered in blood. It was raining and I was muddy and bloody. I sat down in the mud, and just cried. I didn’t cry because of any physical pain to anything like that, I cried because I knew what was happening. I cried because I knew it was just going to get worse. I don’t know how much longer my human body and brain can take feeling like an animal.

I am being reconfigured as a human being. Humans adapt to survive. I feel like I’m adapting to become an animal, an animal in constant danger. I don’t know what to do about it.

If You're Black, Jump Back?

If you're white, you're all right.If you're brown, hang around.If you're black, jump back.--children's rhymeIf you are unprepared to encounter interpretations that you might find objectionable, please do not proceed further. --Harvard University Implicit Bias Test Introduction

I was a tornado of a little girl.  I had lots of energy and imagination.  I made up songs and dramas and acted them out --by myself if no one was around or wanted to play with me.I loved the social life of elementary school and the intellectual challenge.  I can't remember not knowing how to read. I loved nap time in kindergarden.  I loved cookies for jobs completed in first grade.  I loved my second grade teacher's turban and long arm of bracelets.  She was light brown and bought me a notebook.I did not like being Black.  I did not like my dark brown skin color.  I did not like the jokes, the criticisms, and the presumption that I was not pretty because I was "dark-skinned.""Don't turn off the lights; we'll never find Amanda!" would always get a laugh.I wasn't good at put-downs so I would smile and pretend I did not care.  I felt guilty as charged.  I was Black.  I didn't know of any insults for being brown, tan, yellow, coffee colored, etc.  I grew up in the 1970s in a predominantly Black neighborhood with a sizable Puerto Rican and Latino population.  It was still an insult to call someone "black."  I remember someone saying: "I'm not Black; I'm brown."Yes, this was the time of James Brown's "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," but it was also the time of only lighter-skinned women being featured as Jet Magazine's Beauty of the Week.  

All of the new Black television shows and movies of the 1970s featured women who were lighter skinned --unless they were playing asexual, mammy characters.  Think  "Julia" or even "Raisin in the Sun."  To comfort me, my foster mother would say "Don't you worry, baby; you're getting lighter every day."  I was the only dark brown girl in the family.  I hoped she was right because the only other dark brown person in the house was my foster brother, a teen who was always in trouble.Eventually, I started fighting back.  In junior high, a group of boys would pick a girl they thought was ugly and scream at her in the hallway while we changed classes.  I'd watched them do it to several girls--all dark brown.  I was in the smart class.  I had glasses.  I had crooked teeth.  And, most importantly I was Black.

When they screamed at me, I just kept walking as if I didn't see them.  I don't know if my friends were with me, but I felt alone.One of the boys stepped in front of me and said something, and I opened my mouth:"You're no dreamboat yourself" came out.I kept walking.All of his friends laughed.  They were shocked an "ugly girl" had hit back.  They were shocked at my word choice.  I know because they said so.Later, when I was in my final year of junior high, a boy shouted as I passed by "you look like an African queen."Now in my neighborhood, even if we had mostly gotten to the point of not denying we were black, we were emphatically NOT African.  Notwithstanding the Black nationalists, the Nation of Islam, and other folks countering the narrative of Africa as a dark continent, most people in my world did not respect, value or claim any connection to Africa.Therefore when he put 'African" in front of queen; I heard it as mockery.  My response:  "That's the best kind."I tell you these stories because I've battled to see my skin color as sensual, rich, and one of my best features.  I have fought despair and loneliness when I was passed over because I was too dark.  When I read about dark brown women characters choosing navy and brown clothes so as not to draw attention to our skin, and I went out and bought yellows, reds, pinks, and white.  After I graduated from college, I was approached by my friend Luis, a light-skinned Mexican American.  I tried to explain my hesitance to date him.  I liked him.  A lot.   He was really cute and artistic.  But, I said, very gently "I'm really Black."  I'll never forget his reaction.  He literally fell down on the hiking trail in laughter.  I tried again:   I am not a "by the way" Black person.  (I love this story and promise to write another post about what happened after that.)I am now almost fifty.  Studies show that colorism and white supremacy persist, but I resist.  I have degrees and certifications in African & Afro-American Studies and African Studies.  I've taught Africana Studies, classes on whiteness, and  post-colonialism.  I've lived on the Continent, organized Black students, represented Black community interests, and organized in support of African liberation movements.  I've built an identity around actively fighting for Black Art, Black complexity, Black traditions, Black intellectual history.

Therefore, I approached Harvard's implicit bias test with high awareness of color preference in our society.  I chose the Skin-Tone Implicit Bias Test without a lot of forethought.  Ten minutes later I got my results.  I had a moderate "preference for light-skin relative to dark-skin."  Despair.I had battled and lost.  My unconscious, the realm out of my control, had learned "If you black, jump back."I did not like my results.  Yes, I had grown up in a white supremacist society.  Yes, I'd gotten messages my entire life, all around me every day that light is better than dark; white is better than black; etc.  It's understandable, but still, I do not like my results.Immediately questions rise:My children: one brown, one tan.  Do I prefer the tan child?My stepchildren: two blondes, one brunette.  Do I prefer the blondes?My husband: blue green eyes, grey-white hair, white skin.  Do I prefer white men?I do not like these questions. If you're white, you're all right.If you're brown, hang around.If you're black, jump back.But I sit with them.I commit again to find and declare the Good, Beautiful, Powerful, Smart, and Lovely in Blackness, in dark-brown people.  I challenge you.  I invite you.  Take at least one action every day for a week to counter the implicit bias to favor light-skinned or degrade dark-skinned people.  At the end of the week, join me for a conference call to share what you experienced.  If you can't make the call, write something somewhere.  Here's a study with some suggested actions. Email me for the conference call details.Peace and love,Amanda

I'm Giving on Tuesday: Theatre for Transformation

Anger and Despair.

Police killings, terrorists attacks, and the sheer disregard for the sanctity of life have me ping ponging between these two feelings. 

Most art does not address the profound injustice and racism that permeate our society and even our movements to make things better.  

But art has the power to make the invisible visible.  

After taking some time off, I've returned as the lead artist and Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Theatre for Transformation.

Please join me in making 

a tax deductible donation

 to TFT.  We are launching a campaign to raise 

$15,000 by midnight on Dec. 1, Giving Tuesday.  

Honoring and drawing upon the wisdom and sacred energy of African American culture, Theatre for Transformation creates performances for all people.

Read what educators have said about Theatre for Transformation!


TFT was born while I was on spiritual retreat at Pendle Hill in 2008. 

We incorporated in 2010 and were awarded our tax exempt status by the IRS in 2011.  Like many small organizations we grew quickly and then floundered when we tried to mimic larger arts organizations. 

Five years and several grants later, we are clear that we exist to produce meaningful art that compensates artists well with the minimum amount of organizational structure required to manage our treasure and relationships.

We are raising $15,000 to:

  • Pay artist commissions
  • Pay for travel, accommodation and meals of artists during rehearsals
  • Pay for administrative, bookkeeping, and other operations costs
  • Pay for insurances, tax filings, and legal expenses

Honoraria from presenters pay artists but do not include enough to pay for the development and administrative costs that allow us to get creative work on stage.

If you like what we do in schools, faith communities, colleges and community settings, please show us some love.  

Give now.

Peace and love!


Vice Chair of the Board and Founder

P.S.  --

A registered non-profit 501c3 corporation, donations to TFT are tax deductible to the extent of the law.

P.P.S.--If you'd rather send a check, please make it payable to Theatre for Transformation and mail to 342 N. Queen St. Lancaster, PA 17601.

Walking While Black

This morning after my usual high protein breakfast of black beans, salmon, salad and a bite of eggs, I set out on my 15 minute brisk walk.  (I started this routine after hearing Tim Ferris author of The 4 Hour Body.)

I don't like to be cold--except when I'm heat flashing-so I added a mid-thigh black suede coat to my ensemble.

I start walking.  I see a white family of three or four kids and two adults playing while waiting for the school bus.

Immediately, I feel weird.  I feel like a threat. I am Black, dark brown complected.  I have dread locks.   I am wearing a black coat that could conceal something bad.

This is not my neighborhood, not my state and not my home.  I am an outsider.  I am in a middle class neighborhood in Hamden, Ct.

No one in the family speaks and I keep my eyes forward so as not to offend or be offended.  I feel fear.

It is 8:25am.  I worry that someone will call the police about a suspicious Black woman walking.

As I walk, I wish I had chosen my lime green sweater.  It's cute and it seems to increase my innocence.

Black is dangerous.  It hides things.  I'm dangerous.  I could be hiding something.

These are the automatic thoughts that I notice myself thinking only after I pass another collection of white adults and children waiting for the school bus.  As I pass this group, a woman smiles and says "Good morning."  I respond "Good morning" and smile back.  A little.  I keep walking.

Going down a steep hill,  I realize I've internalized all of these messages about Black people, about myself as a threat.  I pick up speed.  There's nothing wrong with me, I insist, still worried about my black mid-thigh suede coat that a white friend had given to me.  You're going to be okay, I tell myself.  I search for a hair band to tie up my dreads.  No luck.

As I turn around to ascend the hill, I open the coat.  There, nobody will think I'm hiding a weapon.  I'm wearing a pink fitted sweater and olive cardigan underneath my jacket.  I am innocently female. (I know, #SayHerName, but I'm just doing what I can.)

As I huff and puff my way to the top of the hill, I feel a little relieved that all the families are gone. I don't feel like a threat.

I practice what I will say to the police:  I'm visiting my friend ________and her address is... I'm proud that I remember her address.  

I worry about my son, about black boys and men who walk outside their neighborhoods.   Threatening.  Suspicious.  (Trayvon Martin sits in the back of my consciousness.)  I worry that they don't have female innocence to draw on.  A cute lime green sweater or a fitted pink top to cue the outside world that they are not a threat.  (Of course that did not save Sandra Bland.)

I am facing traffic.  Cars come at me.  There's no sidewalk here.  People who walk are unexpected. Will the dark coat could hide me from a careless, momentarily distracted driver?

I arrive home.

I go to the guest bedroom.

I meditate.

I write.

This is what it's like to "Walk while Black."

Peace and love,

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Heaven or Hell?

I haven’t believed in a location called hell since I encountered my first atheist at age fourteen.  She was an effervescent French girl who wore loads of make up and used Evian to cool herself down when she got too excited.  I grew to love, Elsa, but was anxious for her soul when she announced there was no God.  That she did not get struck down immediately shocked me almost as much as her pronouncement.
Since then, I’ve lived with Hell as a state of Separation.

Better said:  Hell is other people. 
Hell is:
People who cut you off in traffic.
Police you can’t trust.
Your children.
People who don’t hold the door for you.
Your boss.
Your direct report.
Your kid’s teacher
The person in front of you at the check-out
etc. etc
"Other people" are everywhere. 
I love this quote because it points to the inevitable suffering when we see ourselves as separate from "other people."
At any given moment we can choose hell, separating ourselves from “others” who harm us or those we love.  We can make “other people” the problem, the threat, the only thing separating us from contentment. 
It makes sense.  People do crappy things to each other.  Systems encourage individuals to separate and harm each other.  It makes sense to fight back.  

It makes sense to accept the Us vs. Them equation especially when the other side clearly sees me as a “them” to exterminate. 
And, yet I’ve got this thread, an unbreakable thin line connected to my heart that says: We can’t win this game. 

If the solution is only more separation, then we keep losing.
Brother Martin famously said “an eye for an eye leaves us all blind.”  

Albert Einstein warned "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our minds..."

My sponsor used to say "Do you want to be right or happy?"  
Whenever you get pulled in to condemning others, into hell, start to look towards another consciousness.  Here are some possibilities:

If you're ready for a little taste of heaven, practice one of these methods or your own first and then take action. 

Let Oneness ground your actions. Let me know how it goes!

Peace and Love!

#SayHerName, Inspira and Art as Ceremony

I'm writing just after spending a week as Friend-in-Residence at Haverford College.  It was a huge week of meeting professors, speaking with students at Quaker House, leading workshops, sharing meals and teaching classes.  You might expect this as a Friend-in-Residence.  What was unexpected was the end of the week performance-ceremony.  #SayHerName

Michael and I performing Assata Shakur's poem "Affirmation" to Bach's Chaconne and Lift Every Voice and Sing

Quaker Affairs asked me to share so that folks might get a taste of me as a performer.  As I was preparing, I realized I really wanted to experiment with ceremony.  Could we effectively use ritual and performance to make ourselves and the community more whole?  

YES!  Together we created  #SayHerName, part-performance, part-ritual to make visible the killing of Black women by police and while in police custody.
We began by acknowledging that which we hold divine and our ancestors.  People shared names of about a dozen ancestors, and we could have gone on, but I drew it to a close so that we could continue.  
I used elements from Ricardo Levins Morales, and we acknowledged the oppressive power relationships and ideologies in the room.  "Patriarchy we recognize you and we do NOT submit to you.  White supremacy we recognize you and we do NOT submit to you."  
We also called in what we wanted to assist us in the space.  "Courage we honor you and we welcome you.  Hope, we honor you and we welcome you." It was such a relief to know that crappy ideologies are present but we can choose not to submit to them.  Similarly, it felt good to call in the values that strengthen us.
I then shared film clips of monologues written about real women who had endured slavery.  This was from To Cross an Ocean Four Centuries Long. We listened to their stories.
Things got really tense when we watched a slide show of women recently killed by the police or while in custody. Michael Jamanis and Francis Wong from the  INSPIRA:  THE POWER OF THE SPIRITUAL ensemble improvised beautiful music that morphed into a fiery jazz explosion when Matthew Armstead sang "No justice, no peace." and Gerri McCritty brought in the dun-dun drums.

Afterward people stayed to share their heart, their commitment to take action and their appreciation.  A prospective freshman, a young Black woman, stayed a long time to tell me that she'd never experienced anything like that and was inspired to follow her calling.  
I share this because this is why I continue working as an artist.  I am being used to reach people and get to the heart of the matter.

Some of us do policy research and advocacy.  Some of us organize marches and die-in's other direct action.  Some of us pray and meditate and send energy to all of the folks on the frontlines.  This is all important and good.
My work is to feed people's spirits and remind them that we are all One even when systemic oppression separates and dehumanizes us.  

I invite you to co-create art as ceremony, art as social change.  We will perform INSPIRA: THE POWER OF THE SPIRITUAL at Lancaster Catholic High School on Jan. 18, 2016.  Please come and/or contribute to support the artists.  The show is FREE!

Leaning in

What do you do when somebody says something classic like:  “This country is so focused on racism that we’re forgetting about everybody else”?
As a diversity and justice consultant, I encounter some version of this all the time.  Sometimes it will pop up in a one on one conversation in my personal life.  I’m going to address it in this blog because I want to highlight a strategy that artist Ricardo Levins Morales suggested in the Deeper Change Forum a few weeks ago.  Ricardo urged us to seek the common ground of values even when we disagree with each others’ narratives.
Recently, I heard a European American who felt worn out by the constant scramble to earn a living get impatient with charges of racism.  It’s almost like he/she said “Hey, my life is sucking right now too, but I don’t get to point at the easy bogeyman racism.  I just have to keep working harder, and nobody cares.”
Typically, I walk away from someone who takes that position because I feel disregarded, dismissed and just plain “dissed.”  Even now I notice that my belly feels tight and my breathing got shallow just writing and imagining scenarios where this has played out.  Walking away is a legit option, especially when you are on Facebook.
When I feel vulnerable or angry, I’m not in the head space to look for the shared values.  So, I typically remove myself.  However, when this happened recently,  I leaned in, breathed a little deeper and asked questions.  Here is the flavor of the questions that I posed.  I did not do this perfectly so I comment on each question as to its effectiveness.
Can both be true?  Can there be racism and your life be really frustrating because you’re on a grind where things just aren’t getting better?
This is a great question if the person isn’t in too much pain.  I asked it out of my frustration.  May or may not be a great first question.
What’s frustrating you about your job?
This is a great question because it’s better to get right to the cause of the person’s pain.  The real issue is not whether or not African Americans have it better than European Americans.  The person’s real issue is: I’m scared, frustrated, and tired, and I feel alone in carrying all this.  Somebody please care about me.  This is where I can find the shared value:  You and I are both a child of God and worthy of a great life, as are our children.  I’m on your side too.  We’re on the same side.
Can I share what it’s like for me?
This is the part I downplayed a bit too much.  However, it’s progress for me that I risked to share any of what I was feeling and noticing.  Sometimes I go into social worker mode and make it all about you to avoid being vulnerable.  In this case I validated that racism hurts and isolates.
What’s your heart saying right now?  What’s my heart saying right now?
Let’s take care of each others’ hearts.  The quickest way to shift the mind (which is built for separation and defense) is to go straight to the heart.  Asking what the heart is saying rather than how do you feel could help to navigate around the ego.
Our conversation could have easily ended with a stalemate and separation.  Instead we traveled toward each other because the questions were not aiming to disprove the person’s narrative about racism.  Rather, I went to fundamental shared experience of frustration and inadequacy.  The conversation went the way of shared values:  I care about you and want to know what’s hard for you right now.  Your feelings are important to me.  I share my feelings with you.

Finally, as I said before, when we engage is a choice. If you’re heart needs comfort, then you may not have the space to meet someone where they are.  Don’t sacrifice yourself.  Instead nurture yourself.  Meditate.  Take a bath.  Get a hug from a trusted someone—like your dog.  You will get another chance to engage someone who makes that kind of comment—sooner or later.

When You Lose your Power

Take Your Medicine!

Have you ever been somewhere and just had to write down what someone said so that you could look at it again later?

Last week I kept writing as I listened to self-described "political artist" and long-time organizer Ricardo Levins Morales speak at the Deeper Change Forum in New Haven, CT.  Ricardo spoke about trauma, the power of stories to divide, and applying the wisdom of farming and nature as applied to social movements.

In a series of blogs, I'm going to share what I heard and the truth that it points toward in my life.

Trauma & Self-Medication
Ricardo spoke of trauma, at its essence, as a loss of power; someone or something taking away your ability to protect or act.   Having experienced this loss, we instinctively self-medicate.  We do something to remove ourselves from the shame, pain, etc.  The medicine may strengthen or poison us.

Almost simultaneously I thought of the group and individual levels in which this plays out.
For African Americans, the trauma of slavery, jim crow, segregation, and second class citizenship is enforced by state violence, lynch mobs, and individuals such as George Zimmerman.  The threat is always there.  As a group we tend to experience police killing of black men and women, boys and girls as a stripping of our power.  We experience today's Confederate flag as a reminder of our severe loss of power as humans under slavery.  We are frequently re-traumatized on social media.  Not surprisingly, we collectively and individually create medicine/poison to numb the pain and/or to restore our power.

I see the Black Lives Matter movement as an example of medicine.  Instead of internalizing the shame, people left their individual homes and took to communal spaces such as the streets, court houses, hospitals, schools, shopping malls, etc. to say no more shame on us, it's shame on you.  Moreover, we exercised power as a group to demand the Attorney General, the President, the Prosecutors, the mayors, etc. take action to protect and nurture Black life.  These demonstrations of power were often angry and fierce and led by younger generations.

I also see art created by groups such as Tribe One and my own Inspira: The Power of the Spiritual as medicine.   I went to a Tribe One concert last November soon after the failure to indict the officers who killed Eric Garner.

Tribe sang songs of hope and grief and then created a song with the audience about what they were feeling and knowing.  Using phrases like "No justice, no peace," "I can't breathe" and "truth and reconciliation."

Similarly, as part of Inspira, Matthew Armstead and I shared journal entries written during the Ferguson uprising and used chants from protests to build a soundscape along with our musical improvisation.

These performances provided space for us to feel our anger, grief, despair, and remember our power to do good.  They resonated with audiences deeply because people already know they can affect reality but, as Ricardo says, "we've been brutalized into forgetting."

Ricardo's words also made me think of my individual trauma: childhood neglect and sexual abuse.  As a child I coped with the loss of power by escaping into novels.  I read anything we had in the house for hour.  I also developed a highly self-critical voice as I strove to be "good."  Feeling unsafe, I couldn't sleep at night. I denied sadness and anger and put on a "happy face."   These strategies were somewhat helpful AND detrimental, my poison and my medicine.  Today, when the trauma gets triggered I automatically go back to these standbys.

Thankfully, I've also developed some new ways to remember my power to protect and befriend myself.  For example, I drink a lot of hot water.  In fact, I take a hot bath.  I write out my feelings.  I share with a trusted friend.  And, thanks to the 30 Day Meditation Challenge, I now meditate as a way to reboot.  However, I'm not to proud to say that I take myself to a professional and cry it all out when the Big Feelings get triggered and I feel destabilized.  Like the artist and the change maker, a counselor can render the invisible visible and accompany you back to your core.

Here's a challenge this week:  Notice when you feel as if your power has been stripped away from you.  What triggered you?  What do you do to protect and strengthen yourself?  Any poisons?

Please let me know via email, below or on Facebook.

Thank you for reading On a Mission to Heal the Planet.  Our mission is to nurture and expand the Tribe of the Heart, individuals who stand for Oneness and Take Action to heal the world, their families, and themselves.   Stay in touch! Peace and Love, Amanda

When the Women Drum: Sister Gerri

When I first met Gerri, she told me "I'm a tribal drummer."  I didn't know what that meant to this Liberian born woman until she went on to explain that when she plays all her ancestors play.  She comes from a line of drummers, and though she was pushed toward the shekere, a feminine instrument, the little girl Gerri determined to play the dun dun, a bass drum.  Now a woman, Gerri McCritty is fulfilling her dream to not only drum but to create art.  Below find a taste of our conversation and Gerri's newest venture!  Peace and Love! Amanda

Bringing Tribal Art to Lancaster:

Gerri McCritty Founds PAVAA Gallery

You may have heard of MOMA and the Whitney, but watch out New York, we've got the Performing and Visual Arts in Action (PAVAA) Gallery!

The brainchild of Liberian artist Gerri McCritty and jazz vocalist CoCo, PAVAA is dedicated to the promotion of African and African American art and music.

Just open this month, PAVAA exhibits highlights from Gerri's work at Millersville University where she graduated with a degree in art last spring at the age of fifty-eight.

  (That's right!  Can you say live my dream?) 

Gerri calls herself a “tribal artist” and sees herself as connecting people to “tribal culture.”For her, tribal refers to the wisdom, customs, and art of indigenous people.Although she grew up privileged in her native Liberia, she spent weekends and school breaks on family farms in rural areas, watching and learning from people with strong tribal traditions.She says she always been attracted to tribal culture. “I would sneak out at night to hang out with the villagers.”It was there that she learned to carve and to play the dun-dun drum, which is traditionally reserved for men.Although partially educated in England and the U.S., and a frequent visitor to Germany, where her Liberian mother lived for forty years, Gerri has long cherished “tribal” ways of seeing the world and that comes across in her art.

Tribal Art Influences

As in Liberia where “We use everything,” Gerri's work includes abstract wood-work, hand made drums, including one with a album cover for its head, and other pieces made from found objects and trash.

The drums have a special place in her life because she fought to drum at a very early age and had to prove herself again and again.

The exhibit also includes several works that feature the head.

“We start with the head because we come out head-first.

I’m very much into heads…I visualize it

[the head] everywhere.

I see it in trees… I see it in the sky…”

One of her most striking works “By Any Means Necessary” investigates human resilience.

This installation represents how people can go from having a lot to having nothing.

“A lot of people are here now.

It represents my mother because she had to live like that during the war.

This is what inspired me.

She was a woman of great dignity and during the war” she had to survive on very little.

Like Mother like Daughter…

Geri herself was studying in the U.S. when the Liberian Civil War broke out.

She found herself unable to return home.

However, she couldn’t continue her undergraduate studies in the sciences without financial support from her family which was devastated by the War.

Like her mother, she learned to make do on very little.

Without documents, she found worked various jobs in human services and managed to support herself and eventually her son.

By necessity, Gerris kept the arts in the margins of her life and developed other skills, but at the ripe age of

fifty-four she matriculated at Millersville University where she decided to major in Studio Art.

PAVAA Gallery

Now only four months after her graduation, Gerri has teamed up with Marion CoCo Coleman to launch a gallery that shares her love of African art, music and culture.

“This opening is the beginning.

This gallery is the birth.

I’m inviting the Lancaster community to journey with me.

I can learn from them, and they can learn from me.”

True to its tribal roots, PAVAA emphasizes audience interaction.

McCritty envisions musicians, art lovers, and people from all backgrounds participating in drumming and dance and screenings.

“Whatever we do, we’re heavy into audience participation and interaction… Every time you come here we’re going to be doing something…”

If you go…



@632 N. Christian St. Lancaster, PA 17602

Open Saturdays 11am-3pm;

For more info see: on Facebook

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On a Mission to Heal the Planet.

  Our mission is to nurture and expand the Tribe of the Heart, individuals who stand for Oneness and Take Action to heal the world, their families, and themselves.   

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 Peace and Love, Amanda