Thursday, November 17, 2016

Maafa Continues: Poets and artists pay tribute to Katrina Survivors and raise money to help pay for survivor’s benefits

By Reginald James (with Wanda Sabir)

On September 13, 2006, poets and artists all the way from the 9th Ward in the New Orleans south to Ward Street in South Berkeley came together for Maafa 2006: Hurricane Katrina, Update and Fundraiser at La Peña Cultural Center to raise money for those displaced by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The event was coordinated by Wanda Sabir, Karla Brundage and others, who in June released the poetry collection Words Upon the Waters: A Poetic Response to Hurricane Katrina, with artists from last year's Maafa 2005: Hurricane Katrina event, (September 20.) WUTW was also being sold for a $10 tax-deductible donation to benefit Living Independence for Everyone (LIFE) Mississippi, in Biloxi.

(You can get a book and hear the poets next week, Monday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m. at Cody's Books in San Francisco, 2 Stockton Street. Visit or call (415) 773-0444.)

The event began with a short film called “Heaven Come Down,” directed by Estee Blancher, a Louisiana native. Her short, an excerpt from a feature film, was shot in the Ninth Ward just after the City of New Orleans let people back in after the hurricane.

Balafo members, Abdi Rashidi and Keenan, blessed the house with lyrical spirits. On balafons, percussion instruments hit with mallets, similar to xylophones in look, the duo performed African roots fusion songs, among them the lovely, “Kele.”

Amber McZeal joined Balafo after a brief set to share her poem, “Home of the Brave.” McZeal prefaced her performance with information about the organization, Survivors for Survivors, founded by CC Campbell-Rock, which was created to aid the approximately 2000 displaced families in the Bay Area with their immediate needs. CC told Wanda Sabir that many relocated evacuees can barely afford to house themselves, never mind eat.

“It’s being made harder as opposed to easier,” said McZeal about those who stayed. “The 5th District just overturned a decision to include utilities in FEMA benefits. Just because you didn’t wade in the waters, doesn’t mean you didn’t feel the same pressure,” McZeal added.

Comparing the subservient order imposed by the tourism industry and its historic slave roots to the “neo-illegal immigration issue,” … she sang and recited, “Nations built on free labor.”

Tennessee Reed's poem, “Black Widow Spider” from WUTW got a laugh, while Raymond Nat Turner admonished the audience not to “move timidly to the next tragedy.” Via telephone, three poets from the “New Orleans Set” were able to be with us, not only in spirit, but in words.

“Without out prayer,” pleaded ROADrunner, “we’d be nowhere.”

“I just got done waiting five hours for a building permit,” said Hollywood, “and not to mention five or six families living in a house. We need to make arrangements with each other as a people, and with Mother Earth,” said Wood.

“It’s more than a city, it’s my heart beat,” professed Peaches via teleconference. “No hurricane will take the main vein of the country.”

“The struggle is still upon us,” said Hollywood. “Keep us in your prayers.”

“They gave it a name other than dissemination,” said Taushun, daughter of poet Opal Palmer Adisa, who also shared a poem after sharing the stage with her daughter.

While Sabir was waiting for a phone call from Greg Griffith, Common Ground Health Clinic, Elouise Burrell sang Jacquelyn Hairston's wonderful arrangement of "I Don't Believe He Brought Me This Far to Leave Me." Leading the audience in call and response, it was the perfect song following the tragedy we'd witnessed on screen, over the phone and in the hall.

“After all these one, two, three, four hundred years, our backs are still bleeding,” said devorah major, former San Francisco Poet Laureate who also was in attendance. “Has the eye of the storm pass, or are we in the eye?” asked major.

Kim Shuck shared the poem “Away,” comparing the New Orleans exodus to the indigenous tragedy of the Trail of Tears.

“With words, or without, there will be songs about this,” said Shuck.

Poet Avoctja reminded the audience of the “acts of heroism” and the prevailing spirit of the people, but showed her concern about our own uncertain future.

“Will the water keep rising?” asked Avoctja. “Will I get out of this alive or will the next body floating by be mine?”

Howard Wiley and Geechie Taylor performed an excerpt from: The Angola Project, based on the music of the infamous state penitentiary nicknamed "The Farm," because it was a former plantation...still is. They followed Abby Bogomolny who shared her narrative about taking her college class to New Orleans in the spring to volunteer with Common Ground Relief, a collective which was the first and only consistent and reliable responder for days, weeks, months, now a year after the flooding in places like the Lower Ninth Ward.

Wiley and Taylor performed an original arrangement of "Amazing Grace" from the perspective of the captured Africans.

“Southern swamps bare a strange fruit,” said Charles Blackwell, comparing the government’s response to Katrina to a modern day lynching. “Power, greed and evil have no boundaries.”

Lee Williams shared how his family grew up dealing with the floods in Texas and the how the Army Corp of Engineers had requested funds to prepare the levees, but funds went to fund the military-industrial complex.

“Do you see the rain? Do you feel the rain?” asked Williams as the crowd shouted, “Rain!”

Rafael Jesùs González shared the poem, "Full Moon After the Hurricane," in Spanish and in English. The poem was deep, so deep, my mind was so occupied I had to read the poem later. González said the name Katrina in Latin lore is symbolic of death.

“New Orleans is the soul of the United States,” said Gonzalez. “It is the voice of the Africans who have come to America.”

“The city that dreamt itself living,

big & easy,

on Burgundy

between piety & desire,

lies under a watery shroud,

its most grievous sins

exposed to the world….”

The show was closed out by surprise guest, Reggie “General” James, with the Hurricane Hip-hop memorial, “Waiting in the Water.” He performed this as footage of Waveland, Mississippi rolled behind him courtesy of LIFE Mississippi, the Biloxi site – the backdrop torrential waters washing away buildings and anything else in its path strangely stark, void of African Diaspora faces, homes, presence…I wondered where this Mississippi was.

“Remember ‘Strange Fruit’ by Billie Holiday,” rapped James. “They’ve got some strange fruit floating in N-O-L-A.”

To the inevitable “big quake” coming to the Bay, James warned, “Learn C-P-R, First A-I-D, create and evacuation plan for your community. This government won’t save you, don’t be deceived, put your faith in God, on the last day’s eve.”

The event was emceed by Wanda Sabir and Karla Brundage, both contributors to WUTW. The evening, which was well-attended, raised $321 for Common Ground Health Clinic in New Orleans and about $300 for LIFE of Mississippi, Biloxi site. Since last year, Bay Area Writers connected to “Maafa Hurricane Katrina” events have raised about $5000.00 which in September 2005, went to Center for Independent Living in Houston.

For more information on how you can help survivors here, contact Amber or call (800) 318-5988. To understand the concept, Maafa, visit To stay abreast of what’s going on visit or

Reginald James is a student, poet, and journalist currently at Laney College in Oakland. Visit or

Wanda Sabir, New Orleans native, is faculty member at the College of Alameda and Arts Editor at the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper.a

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Maafa 2009: Hurricane Katrina

This month, Sunday, August 30, 2009, 5-9 PM we will have our annual report back and fundraiser at Shashamane Restaurant in Oakland. Stay tuned for the details.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Theatre Party for Trouble the HR 4048 event today

We are looking to have a theatre party this weekend, perhaps a Sunday matinee in Berkeley of "Trouble the Waters," a new film which looks at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. (I originally thought about a Saturday matinee, but 9/6, is the East Bay AIDS Walk in the morning, so I will be joining the team raising money for the Uganda orphans.

The co-directors of "Trouble the Waters," are in town this weekend and will be at select screenings. I'll have the co-directors and producers on my radio show Friday, Sept. 5, 8-9:30 AM. To see a trailer visit

Visit: to hear the show. Leave a comment if you are interested in attending the screening with us. Today at San Jose State there is a teach-in on HR 4048 this afternoon on the Gulf Recovery Bill. Visit for Anne Makovec's coverage of the topic 8/30-31. The teach-in begins at 3 PM.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Note from Karla Brundage, one of the organizers of the event and co-hostess

Thank you to everyone who participated in any way in the Katrina Three Years Later Fundraiser. Thanks to you we have earned a total of $320.00. We will send a check for $110 to Survivors for Survivors, also we will send a second check to COMMONGROUND for $105 plus another check for $25. Book sales totaled $80 and will benefit LIFE Biloxi.

Year 3 After the Storm

Friday, August 22, at Rebecca's Books, the Bay Area community came out to support the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent catastrophic flooding caused when levees were broken by the wayward barge. Activists and relocated survivors in the San Francisco Bay Area...were present to share stories, give information and renew our collective work and responsibility to keep the pressure turned up until New Orleans and the entire population returned home.

After three years, I agree with CeCe Campbell-Rock that bodies should not be still turning up, people still unaccounted for, and children still orphaned or estranged from loved ones.

Kone Sakura shared statistics and the situation on the ground. He also set the scene for the need for an organization like Common Ground Relief, an organization that emerged from the flood as first responder with health services, housing, clothing, food, and phones and Internet access--all free, nothing subsidized by any government agencies.

He spoke of the black doctors, also first responders who were turned away. Officials told them their services were not needed--I hadn't heard of them. Greg Griffin who runs the free health clinic in Algiers--a Common Ground Relief project, and also a licensed pilot, told me a few years ago, now, he and other pilots wanted to fly in supplies after the levees broke, but the aviation controllers--the US government agency in charge of air space, would not let them land.

I loved Alice Wilson Fried's discussion and reading of her book, Outside Child, and her daughter, Teasha Gable's presentation. She read a poem about growing up in New Orleans; however, it was her story of looking for her family after the storm via phone, and not getting through, but somehow reaching an elder who was alone and without help. It was a wrong number, but then it wasn't a wrong number. Luckily, that story had a happy ending. Teashas got a phone call later to tell her that the elder was rescued by her family.

Nina Serrano's poem about the new cathedral in Oakland, which is shaped like a vagina was funny. Her piece reminded me of the mother-goddess theme in the Davinci Code. Plus, it really does look like a vagina, now that I think about it. I wonder if the design was intentional.

Kim Shuck said it angers her that her poem is still relevant three years later, as she spoke about her people who were in the region now called Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Georgia. Zigi and Raymond shared poetry that showed how what happened in the gulf is happening all over the world.

It was as if folks had been in the car with me and Avotcja, and heard the conversation. Avotcja said it was all relative, there were no new stories. John Curl's poems affirmed this as he read one short poem after another about America and its policies here and abroad--there is no separation. Avotcja and Eric Avilas host a series, The Music of the Word (La Palabra Musical) the second and fourth Sunday of every month, 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Kirk Lumpkin's reading of his poem from the collection, a part of a longer song, was great. I'd read it last weekend on Donald Lacy's show, Wake Up Everybody, on I thought it amazing when he told us that Rebecca's Books used to be his home, and then proceeded to tell us what had changed structurally, along with the personalities of its inhabitants.

There were people standing in the doorway, seated behind the speakers. It was a wonderful event! I saw people there I hadn't seen before. Thanks to Kim MacMillon for setting this up for our annual event. Next week, August 29, the Malcolm X Grass Roots organization has a report back on the anniversary at EastSide Arts Alliance on International Blvd. in East Oakland.

Mary Rudge was as gracious as usual. She concluded her reading with my favorite poem about women, the closing line: stones become bread.

Reginald Lockett, Bay Area Poet who died suddenly in May, 2008, was also honored. There is an altar in the store on the piano with his books, flowers and candles. Reggie published Words Upon the Waters on his imprint, Jukebox Press. It was he who turned many of us onto Rebecca's Books and it proprietor, Mary Ann. Reggie's fiance and uncle were present, he was speaking when I arrived. Lindah Martin was seated next to him, but she didn't read a poem.

Rebecca's is a cute black owned bookstore, that specializes in poetry. It is situated in almost the center of the block, just inches into Berkeley...just kidding, it's more like a few feet, I hadn't seen it before. Alkebulan is around the corner on Alcatraz. Black Rep is just up the street, as is the Ashby BART station.

I am certainly going to try to get back over to the store for the second and fourth Friday poetry readings at 7 p.m. The hostess' children had refreshments: tamales, hot dogs, wine, water, chips and soft drinks.

We got out about 11 p.m. We raised about $300.00 for Common Ground Health Center, Survivors for Survivors, and LIFE of Mississippi, Biloxi site. Cece told us about a House Bill, which needs to pass. Stay tuned for the details.

There is going to be a rally at San Jose State on August 31. Cece said it was a bill to institute a WPA-type work program. She lamented the difficulty of finding a job here, and the need for government money invested in retraining. Stay tuned for the details.

"People seem to forget that for most African Americans in New Orleans, they had jobs." Cece stated as she lamented the awful situation many survivors find themselves in her, like herself, estranged from family and the land of their ancestors. Cece said she hadn't seen her eldest son in three years and though she has been married 25 years, she and her husband have been forced to live separately, when she left New Orleans with the two younger children to come here to safety.

She said many relocated survivors were employed, now they can't find work, here and elsewhere. These displaced African Americans were homeowners too. "They might not have had money to fix the homes up, but they paid their mortgage on time." She said.

After Karla and I shared our own writing, the evening ended and people bought books and mingled.

Karen Fodger Jacobs, another poet, told us about a new film opening in LA this weekend and opening here in two weeks about a woman who rode her bike around New Orleans documenting the devastation. I thought is would be great to have a theatre party. Let me know what you think. Visit to see a trailer. The film opens Sept. 4, here.

I opened a new blog: Please share your Katrina news and look for information about gatherings and legislation. I am launching a blogradio site next Friday, August 29, 8 a.m. The 60-90 minute show will kick off with interviews and stories of the flood three years later. Stay tuned.