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!