October 13, 2015

"Between the World and Me" Live @NYPL

What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live in it? And how can we all honestly reckon this fraugh histrory and free ourselves from this burden? —Ta-Nehisi Coates

Since the early part of the summer a growing number of folks I know have been reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  I also admit having lots of conversations in my head as well as a few brief remarks with others even strangers on the subway.  

Tonight, The New York Public Library is hosting a live moderated conversation in a space and place that offers a broad view and a wide dialogue.

Questions are as important as answers.  As I read on and watch, I'll have more to say in the days ahead.   Feel free to share you insights and and comments.

September 29, 2015

BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play preview notes

How she dances
patterns like a dust-heavy bee retracing

its travels in scale before the hive.  —Gregory Pardlo, “Double Dutch

Camille A. Brown & Dancers in "Second Line" photo by Christopher Duggan
 As a little girl I would watch my mom dance to popular music in the house, I kept asking, “how do you find the beat?  Can you teach me those steps? She said, “just keep listening to the sounds until your body moves with it.” She also decided to enroll me in local Saturday morning dance classes.  As I read through The Games Black Girls Play by Dr. Kyra Gaunt I felt a cadence with my early childhood experiences in dance, music and play. She states, “Every day black girls generate and pass on a unique repertoire of chants and embodied rhythms in their play that both reflects and inspires the prince of black popular music making.”   It is the power of play at its best where relationships, connections and friendships find roots.  

Set design by Elizabeth C. Nelson; Burke Wilmer, lighting design. 
Last week, I rushed to a downtown dance studio in Chelsea where I found choreographer Camille A. Brown sitting on a studio floor with her notebook open watching and talking dancers through preparation for their upcoming world premiere performance and national tour. BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play (#BlackGirlLP) by Camille A. Brown & Dancers at The Joyce Theater, dancers also include Beatrice Capote, Timothy Edwards, Catherine Foster, Fana Fraser, Juel D. Lane, Mora-Amina Parker, Willie “Tre” Smith III and Yusha-Marie Sorzano.  There are solid musical vibes composed by electric bassist Tracy Wormworth and pianist Scott Patterson.

#BlackGirlLP is a collective, collaborative, creative force of energy in dance and music — where the games African American girls still play takes center stage in contemporary form. 

#BlackGirlLP uses the rhythmic play of African-American dance vernacular - including social dancing, double dutch, steppin’, tap, Juba, ring shout, and gesture - as the black woman’s domain to evoke childhood memories of self-discovery.”  —Camille A, Brown

As I sat there in The Joyce Theater I remembered my Saturday mornings in dance class where for the first half hour our group would sit down on the dance floor with legs folded, heads up, dressed in our required black leotards and tights with composition notebooks.  We learned to pronounce, spell and memorize the names of positions to be practiced for the day, but interpretative dance was our last session — a time of African drums and other rhythms to move through improvisational playful moves. My first dance lessons involved visual cues and listening for sound rhythms. It was my first kinesthetic learning lab experience.  It was also another kind of playtime.  

 #BlackGirlLP pulls at the power of play with dance to move us beyond and with language. There is also a reference guide in the program and online. Black Girl: Linguistic Play will also move through a national tour. I hope you are moved to see an upcoming #BlackGirlLP performance, listen to the music as well as read up for self-discovery and your enjoyment.  

August 20, 2015

A Snapshot of Freedom Summer

Because we want to live as decent human beings in America. 
                                                                                    — Fannie Lou Hamer

Freedom Summer (also known is the Mississippi Summer Project) is a remarkable moment in American History made more visible in a PBS documentary directed by Stanley Nelson.  This film sheds light on ten weeks in 1964 where a collective effort against exclusion, discrimination and segregation moved throughout Mississippi while the nation and the world watched on television.  A movement of more than 700 young people who were mostly college students from across the United States traveled for the Mississippi Summer Project to support the grassroots leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in advancing voter registration efforts, teaching in freedom schools as well as local supporting leadership in organizing the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party. There was guidance from co-founders Ella Baker, Robert Moses, Julian Bond, and other Civil Rights leaders.  The aim was to move people take possession of their own lives in communities. 

Nelson talks about it:

In Mississippi a historical persistent struggle for socioeconomic opportunity leads poverty and a hard life where many families and communities felt powerless. In the documentary a resident's letters describes the lethal aspect of the climate she says, “…violence hangs overhead like dead air. It hangs there, and maybe it will fall. 

Historian John Dittmer was interviewed in the documentary, in his book The Good Doctors he describes the role the Medical Committee for Human Rights with fifty-seven physicians, eighteen nurses and thirteen other health care professionals who were there on the ground with SNCC providing clinical care. The Medical Committee also saw its role as alleviating the conditions produced by the stress…." Furthermore, the Medical Committee had a critical in the investigation into the deaths of Mississippi Freedom Project volunteers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Congress of Racial Equality worker Michael Schwerner who lost their lives on June 21,1964 in Neshoba County.

You can see the PBS Freedom Summer documentary online. Here's a clip:


A final SNCC legacy is the destruction of the psychological shackles which had kept black southerners in physical and mental peonage; SNCC helped break those chains forever. It demonstrated that ordinary women and men, young and old, could perform extraordinary tasks.
                                                                                —Julian Bond, 1940-2015

I was watching Freedom Summer again last the weekend when Julian Bond passed away.  His work for civil rights and human rights is experienced throughout our nation and beyond.  Condolences during this time go to his family, friends and beloved community. 

August 11, 2015

Black Life Matters: Here is the Evidence

The heat of this summer struck me when I saw this photo in the news from the Watts Riots in Los Angeles — 50 years ago. 

At the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture an exhibit, Curators’Choice: Black Life Matters up until August 15, 2015. It holds layers on the complexity everyday black life for reflection on #BlackLivesMatter.  "The exhibition presents issues of history and culture, art and society, memory and narrative, intimacy and rejection, joy and comfort, race and justice (of life and death) that are just a relevant today as ever before."

A large exhibit banner hangs high outside at the top of the building almost as a memorial. I have moved through the exhibit space a few times. First musing Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence and other visual artists then the storytelling of Browngirl Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. There are moving images and recorded sounds in the "Evidence of Things Un*Seen" with a documentary on the Civil Rights Movment.  A global diaspora lens into black life around the world is found in the wonder of the photojournalist lens of Richard Saunders.  I am eager to see more of his work and there is so much more behold in this exhibit.

I also have an exhibit postcard on the back cover of my journal as a reminder to write and create in response to the darkness. In the spirit of Arthur Schomburg's 1925 seminal essay, I feel an urge to dig deeper to create my own retrospective of black life through reading, visual art, music, performance and other cultural experiences. Uncovering historical evidence of generational black life genius. When time permits I have pulled down archives, reviewed photographs and artwork also reading what has meaning for me. 

There are long summer nights to grab hold of films, move through music, take hold of vast amounts of online educational lectures as well as other interactive material including social media.

I understand freedom as a process where every generation has tough questions to consider for a response in better days ahead. 


July 31, 2015

Summer Muse Snippers

“It's where my imagination is fecund and I am really at my best. Nothing matters more in the world or in my body or anywhere when I'm writing. It is dangerous because I'm thinking up dangerous, difficult things, but it is also extremely safe for me to be in that place.“ —Toni Morrison

In the summer when I sit at my ephemeral desk looking out the window I can get a clear view of a magnolia tree. Some early mornings when I leave the blinds open if I’m awake I catch a glimpse of bold orange-red hues through the slits for a new start to the day with sensory cues signal wakefulness at daybreak.

Magnolia spring blooms remain throughout summer.
An early morning riser my grandmother with her Southern roots was once an avid gardener. She believed firmly in planting perennials.  Her exotic plantings were dramatic with strange-shaped leaves of unfamiliar blooms.  In the rich soil I remember playing with worms, snails, slugs and getting bee stings as there was a hive in the back yard that kept me curious. When in full bloom there is a fragrant richness in her yard that is still something to behold. When I was growing up some neighbors would ask others while others would just help themselves to snippets to plant in their yards. Snippets come from when you pinch or use a garden tool to break off a piece of a plant in the right place to regrow in a new setting.   

In a recent NPR interview Toni Morrison talked about losing her lush jade bush that she’d grown from a snippet when a fire destroyed her family home.  She relishes her life as a snipper. Her storytelling in the interview moved my unplanned reading of her newest novel God Help the Child, which imaginatively opens a lucid conversation about race as determined skin color and culture. In this story unhealed racial childhood wounds infect the life of Bride. Morrison still writes to teach, her point:  "Distinguishing color — light, black, in between — as the marker for race is really an error:  It's socially constructed, it's culturally enforced and it has some advantages for certain people." 

I’m reading from e-books on the 3M Cloud, the Kindle app, but still find great pleasure in the feel of turning pages especially in my favorite chair, outdoors or on the beach.  How many books do you read over three months?  I also like listening to writers on writing.  Morrison continues to use her stories for broader, meaningful conversations.   

As we move through summer here’s my list of titles on my bookshelf in no order, but there are few themes. 

1.   Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series by Leah Dickerman and Elsa Smithgall moved to read by the MoMA One Way exhibit and experience. 

2.   God Help The Child by Toni Morrison whose work I have been reading since The Bluest Eye.

Poetry and stories for such a time this:

3.   Native Guard by Natasha Tretheway

4.   Rise by Sarah Elizabeth Lewis

5.   The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

6.   Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

7.   Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

8.  Aimless Love by Billy Collins

New writers and writing from my summer scene including the #blklitchat group:

9.  Dear Continuum: Letters to a Poet Crafting Liberation by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

10.  Everything to Teach Nothing to Learn by Marc Polite

11.  BALM: A Novel by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

12.  The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

There are titles from the #Charleston Syllabus and because freedom is a process: 

13.  Staging Migrations Toward an American West: From Ida B. Wells to Rhodessa Jones by Marta Effinger-Crichlow and I also just read The Light of the Truth by Ida B. Wells. 

14. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

15.  Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates 

16.  Gateway to Freedom by Eric Foner

Selection inspired by family and friends reading:

 17.   Where the Wild Grapes Grow by Dorothy West her short stories are among my   favorites so I will be reading a new short story and enjoying poems by her cousin Helene Johnson another Harlem Renaissance writer.

From the world of science, medicine and health care:

18.  History of the Present Illness by Louise Aronson

19. The Patient Will See You Now by Eric Topol

20.  Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

For many years July has been the month where I am intentional about reading and writing on my own and in good company.  In Literary Reading, Cognition and Emotion: An Exploration of the Oceanic Mind, a literarly scholar and professor of rhetoric, Dr. Michael Burke notes: 

      "When readers sit down in a comfortable location of their own choosing to read a book, they experience subconscious echoes of where they came from and what made them. These are implicit, somatic, affective memory prompts."  

Like many I also find a time just before going to sleep a good time to grab a book.  As for writing, hypnagogia the experience of the transitional state from wakefulness moves my creative expression.  Early morning writing works for me especially in the summer.

Black Lives Matter:  The loss of lives among our families, friends and communities has morphed into collective grief and many are suffering.  Anger, rage and outrage must find new ground. Our stories can help shed light on pain and suffering as we search for relief to work for better days ahead. While I read and write in this climate, I also walk and travel to reflect and work more effectively each day.  

Please share titles from your bookshelf and reading experiences.  Feel free to leave comments.

July 13, 2015

Aging is Our Future: The White House Conference on Aging

The White House Conference on Aging will begin on Monday, July 13, 2015 at 10:00 am EDT.  You can watch live by clicking on the arrow in the picture.  The social media conversation hashtag is #WHCOA.

A new diversity is growing in America, our aging population will scale in the next generation. 
If this conversation is not about you it will be in the future.  It is about your family and community those around us who are aging and living longer.  A groundswell of elders across our nation means a time when wise, experiential knowledge can be shared especially in this global age of technology and innovation. Furthermore, advances in science shaping medicine and health care create new possibilities to grow, thrive and live well as we age, but we must set our efforts to make this a reality for more people. 

We need the wisdom of our elders to empower our nation for a better world. 

The fear of getting older including loneliness, frailty, loss of independence can be gripping; paired with fears of illness or navigating a chronic health conditions leaves too many in an overwhelming common place of despair.  A reality of financial instability, food and housing insecurity and mobility often moves seniors to places of unrealized potential as well as vulnerability. Yet, empowering social connection with family and community, living out purpose and dreams in your latter years can make all the difference. We are going to have use creative, novel approaches. 

Aging is our future means we should recognize people are living longer. 

The State of Aging and Health in America 2013 report indicates the growth in the number and proportion of older adults is unprecedented in the history of the United States. Two factors—longer life spans and aging baby boomers—will combine to double the population of Americans aged 65 years or older during the next 25 years to about 72 million. By 2030, older adults will account for roughly 20% of the U.S. population.

Health and well-being across lifespan are important for a robust economy and nation. 

Watch and share:

Here are some questions to consider as you connect and listen:
  • In your experience, what are the most empowering parts of aging?  
  • What should we be thinking about now to prepare our families, communities and country for the next decade to support older Americans and their families?
  • How can the government work with the private sector to expand opportunities for older Americans and their families?
  • What are the best ways for multiple generations to stay connected?
  • What are your strategies for taking part in healthy activities?
  • What are ways you would like to get more involved in your community?
  • If retired, have you enjoyed new opportunities for volunteerism, business ventures or public service?
  • What advice would you give to someone trying to plan for a secure retirement?
  • How has new technology changed your aging experience?
Let's connect challenges to opportunities to realize a healthier nation for the days ahead. It's about growing older together in strength and health. Please share and leave your comments.

June 26, 2015

With Our Hearts

Mother Emanuel AME Church
Charleston, South Carolina 
We speak their names:

     Rev. Clementa Pinckney
     Cynthia Hurd
     Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
     Tywanza Sanders
     Ethel Lance
     Susie Jackson
     DePayne Middleton Doctor
     Rev. Daniel Simmons
     Myra Thompson

Our hearts remain with their loved ones, Mother Emanuel AME Church, the Charleston community and our nation.   

Love that bears all things finds strength in unity, hope, faith and community.

"Our beating heart.  The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate...there’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel -- a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founder sought to end slavery, only to rise up again, a Phoenix from these ashes."  
                                                                                   —President Barack Obama
Watch and listen: 


Take time in silence, reflect and then connect with others.  In the days ahead create a commitment for progress in love not hate.  We can do more to realize a society where all are safe from harm.

update:  June 30, 2015

June 10, 2015

What Works

What is community development?  Community Development is a process designed to create conditions of economic and social progress for the whole community with its active participation and fullest possible reliance upon the community's initiative. In a mix of persistent challenges with affordable housing, income stability, educational opportunity as well as health there has been an undeniable fight to improve conditions. This is a great for refllection on #What Works.  

Watch live streaming video from frbsf at livestream.com

Investing in What Works for America's Communities is a collection of essays on people, place and purspose by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Franciso and the Low Income Investement Fund to share experiences from the field and leadership in the landscape of community development.   Read more here

January 22, 2015

Yes You Can

There is still time. A new year awaits your plans.  Do you have your vision board? Have you set pen and paper to ideas or goals you want to move forward. Did you take time for reflective practice to consider your dreams? Did you weigh-in with trusted collaborators about your vision? Are you moving ahead with a coach, mentor or expertise to get going? 

It is work worth doing.

A life free of burdens or challenges may be enviable, but those who overcome make progress worthwhile. Do you want change?  What will you do to meet your next challenge?
Have you started? Well, don't wait. Pray on it. Move on it. Let's go on forward!

Yes you can can!  
Best wishes,

Kat Ellington
World House Med