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