I Love Her

edwmnspearalbumLook what I found!!!  Isn’t she lovely? One of my favorite ladies remixed by unknown artist (I can’t read the fine print at bottom right.)  It reads: “SAY IT LOUD! 4RT Cicle de Música Negra Oct 20 BCN”  This is another artist’s rendition of my father, Emory Douglas’s piece.                 edwmnspear“African-American solidarity with the oppressed people of the world.” Of all my father’s work, I gravitate to this image often.  As I’m typing the quote, I wonder if my attraction is due to the fact that he has used a woman to represent the idea of African-American solidarity (with all other peoples.)   I’m certainly enamored of her bold, black afro and the juxtaposition of this modern hairdo with her spear.  Then there’s the fact that she has a spear in front and a gun in back, while still careful to adorn herself with earrings.  She’s pretty, proud and powerful.

Here she is again, this time embroidered by a Zapatista community in Chiapas.  Notice her weapons have been replaced by a stalk of corn in the back and flowers replace in front.  I love her.


Representing for Zapantera Negra Encuentro 2012


When I made my EP “Sweet & Lovely” I thought about what images, photographs, symbols could represent each title as I shared them individually on facebook.  Instantly dad’s warrior-woman came to mind for the track “It’s Complex.”  I even considered photographing myself as her for it.

“It’s Complex” is about the Industrial Media Complex, music and exploitation of children.  It’s written from a maternal, protective, yet warrior position.  So, when I stumbled upon my girl holding a 45″ on a poster celebrating black music, I was very pleasantly surprised!


Hear the EP and support The Love Campaign  here

You can also find the The Love Campaign on Indiegogo






The Love Campaign

I’m making a full-length album!  I released my EP “Sweet & Lovely” in July.  You can experience it for free at www.sialove.com  What’s unique about my process is not just in the music.  Although people have said things about my music like:

“Definitely fills a void.” (Marcus, Washington, DC)

“The vibes are strong, refreshing and ire.” (Paul, NY)

“Beautiful and inspiring” (Charles, Nevada)

There is something else unique and inspiring about my process and ‘TheLove Campaign.’  I give back to the communities that support me while I’m making music!  I am a former high school teacher and I taught students that no one else wanted to teach because I was at a continuation school.  These students were viewed as “throwaways” because they typically caused lots of disruptions at the main campus before they were sent to our site.  But my colleagues and I connected with our students in ways that inspired them to believe in themselves and mutually they inspired us.  

Although I have resigned from teaching, I continue to reach out to my former students to help with my projects.  Although I am a single mother of two young girls, I pay my interns from my pocket because they deserve to be compensated.

For my EP, I hired two young ladies (Varina and Vatrina) who helped film and edit the video for ‘The Love Campaign.’  They also took the photo for my album cover and other promotional pictures.  You can meet them  here

When you give to ‘The Love Campaign’, you are giving to young adults like Varina and Vatrina as  I plan to hire 2-3 more interns for the full-length album.  You are also contributing to arts programs here and abroad.   5% of the campaign’s donations go to Art Ambassadors of Oakland and Charlotte and Pete O’Neal’s organization in Tanzania ( United African Alliance Community Center.)  And to complete the entire process, the pièce de résistance is that you are helping to populate the earth with more good, inspiring music to nurture our souls.  Doesn’t that make you feel great?

Take a moment to check out ‘The Love Campaign’ on Indiegogo.  Share it with your friends and networks.  It would REALLY HELP IF YOU BLOGGED, FB, TWEET and IG about it!

Get perks, make contributions or follow updates.  All the tools are there. And if enough of us get behind it, we can make ‘The Love Campaign’ happen!

Everything you need to know and connect with Sia Love music, literature and Indiegogo campaign are at www.sialove.com

Thank you for your support !!! ❤

Literary Recommendations

  1. The Complete Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice, Julia Cameron
  2. Writing Alone and with Others, Pat Schneider and Peter Elbow
  3. The Holographic Canvas, Sonia Barrett

I highly recommend these three books (not in any particular order).  Julia Cameron’s Artist Way reminds me of 12 step programs, but instead of emotional or narcotic addictions, it’s designed to help readers break free from the addictions of seeing ourselves as anything other than creative beings.  I read The Artist Way, then I bought The Complete Artist Way, which includes The Artist Way and two of her other books. 

Writing Alone and with Others is specifically for writers and leaders of creative writing workshops.  I received leadership training in Mrs. Schneider’s creative writing workshop method (Amherst Writers and Artists) after participating in several workshops.  In the same vein as The Artist Way, Mrs. Schneider acknowledges the writer in every reader and shows us how to access our inner author in a loving and nurturing way.

The Holographic Canvas is not about writing or being an artist.  It’s about being.  Of course, being is the highest form of art. 

My children

I choose to believe that I choose everything.  I’ve chosen my parents, my family, my spouses, my joys and my pains.  And I have chosen my children.  Thank god for serendipity because I chose most of these people and events unconsciously, yet my children have brought me the most joy and relief.  That is strange to say as a single parent with absent and barely-there fathers.  My relationships were tough and painful.  I entered into them blissfully and found myself alone with a child before the baby turned one each time.  I chose that as well.  Unconsciously, or in a past life.  These relationships reflected my deeply held misbeliefs in myself and the impossibilities of love.    I choose to believe that I unconsciously created these painful circumstances.  In accepting that responsibility I can change it, which is what I have been doing.  That’s another story.  This one is about two beautiful young ladies I call my daughters.

Isandla is 14.  She’s nervous about entering high school.  Her name is Zulu for “Hand of God.”  Anelisa is 9.  She’s not nervous about much yet that I can see.  Her name is also Zulu for “Perfect completion or satisfaction.”  They are two sides of me at different stages of my development.  What I love about them is that, like most children I know, they are easy to love.  They listen intently to what I have to share with them.  They share stories with me.  We laugh together.  They forgive me when I’m angry.  We accept each other.  Two Minnie Riperton lines come to mind: 

“I think you are the perfect angel…I think you are the perfect little one…”

“Loving you is easy because you’re beautiful…”


Working on an album

I’m working on an album now.  My experiences in Ashland, Oregon and Chiapas Mexico opened me up to new perspectives.  Chiapas made me remember my lyrical poetic roots and musical inclinations.  Ever since high school, when I finally surrendered to the power of hip hop and began writing rhymes, I’ve loved to analyze music.  That’s what we did.  Dre, would constantly pull me into conversations, analyzing lyrical content and psychological intent and effects of songs, musicians, media, etc.  I wrote my little verse and enjoyed getting acknowledged for my skills.  But truth be told, I was just riding a wave that others were creating.  I hung in circles with Hieroglyphics and childhood friends who were blossoming into bona fide artists like Souls of Mischief.  I laughed, made music, performed and then finally went to college.

Once I was in college, I became nostalgic for the camaraderie I had with group mates, especially the long conversations with Dre.  Hip Hop was changing and there were activists writing and speaking out about the sexism and misogyny of hip hop.  I no longer knew where I fit into this shift without the direction of my group members who looked out for me and whose guidance I followed in those impressionable teen years.  Without them, I felt lost.

I gave up on hip hop, sort of.

I still secretly pinned rhymes and when I’d come home on breaks I’d call up Dre and Joe*.  We’d go to the studio and record something or just brainstorm .  That was enough for me.  Dre had secured a manager for us before I’d gone away to college, and I was happy to go along for the ride, but making an album didn’t matter to me at the time.  Eventually focused on other dreams, like finding love, studying abroad and having children.

I grew up inspired by female artists like Roxanne Shante, Mc Lyte and Queen Latifah.  They weren’t as prominent when I got to college.  I figured that time was all over for me.  Imagine my surprise when Lauryn Hill popped on the scene new and improved!  [The Fugees first album wasn’t very noteworthy as they point out themselves in Ooh La La La “We used to be number ten, now we permanent one”, but everyone knows the legendary The Score now]  Lauryn’s just a few years younger than me.  When I heard her voice I was shocked.  ‘That could have been me’ I thought.  For a quick second, I wondered why I hadn’t done it.  But just as quickly I turned the page and found other distractions and amusements.  In reality, I didn’t feel emotionally grounded enough to pursue any kind of performing arts.   While undeniably talented, I still based my success on other people’s perceptions of me.  For example, I mainly felt I was a good lyricist because others told me I was, not because I was confident in myself.     I didn’t have a barometer to measure for myself.  I didn’t own myself yet.  But I never stopped loving music.

When I think about it, my love for music went back even further than high school.  As a child, my step father had crates of soul LPs that he always played.  My uncle loved jazz and had a music collection.  There was always a radio on in somebody’s house.  And the family  house parties were frequent.  When I was nine, my mother bought “The Best of Minnie Riperton.”  mesmerized by her voice, I studied the album cover.  She was demure, beautiful, feminine.  To my nine-year old eyes there was a family resemblance.  She looked like she could be my mother’s sister.  I turned the album cover back and forth, “Is she still alive?” I finally asked.  “No she died already.  She had cancer.”  I held back tears of disappointment for not being able to even fantasize about meeting this woman whose voice resonated so deeply with me.

These are the imprints of music on my soul that I didn’t realize were there.

Then there’s the fact that I’ve been reading since kindergarten and writing stories since third grade.  My inclinations for music combined with my propensity for storytelling (… duh of course I would be drawn into hip hop.) As I prepared to write my first book with limited energy and time, I gravitated toward the use of  poetry as the shortest way to tell a story.  And those who read it reminded me that I am still musical as they hear rhythm in the poems and stories of I Twirl in the Smoke.

Now, embracing all that I am and acknowledging that I have been preparing myself for this next adventure my whole life, I am recording an album!!!  I am soooooooo excited!!!

It’s a snippet of all that has influenced me throughout my life: world music, hip hop, jazz, soul, classic, etc.  Expect it to be sultry and exciting.

*My rap group consisted of me C.Y.N.D.I, Dre (Andre) “The Emporer”, Joe “The Renegade Lord S.J., and our d.j. Quame Allah

25 Random Things About Me

I wrote this in 2009 on face book.   I was surprised at how much of this was still relevant (except I haven’t stood on my head in a few years)  


1. I stand on my head sometimes to calm down.


2. I am a certified Kundalini yoga teacher, but I don’t teach (but I know how to breathe 🙂


3. I believe in co-creating my life with Divine Order.


4. I have never considered myself athletic but I am very physical ( although I don’t feel the most physically fit right now )- I play capoeira angola and love to dance.


5. I used to be in a rap group when I was in high school. We didn’t have a name for our group, but we had a d.j., Quame Allah and a manager and we got gigs. It was Dre aka “the Emporer”, Joe aka “The Renegade Lord S.J.” and myself “C.Y.N.D.I” (C Y No one Dare Intimidate) aka “The Dialectical Daughter”.


6. I just realized that I have Single Mother Syndrome (my term). I continue to put myself in situations where I feel that the sole nurturing responsibility of other human beings lies squarely on my shoulders, i.e I am a Teacher by profession at a continuation school, then I come home to kids who need me just as much. Now that I’m aware of it, I’m working to re-create my possibilities and change my perspective to bring more nurturing masculine adult energy into my life for balance.


7. A friend recently asked me how my love life was going. I told her, “Absolutely wonderful! I’m loving myself greatly right now!”


8. I had children to add depth and meaning to my life. Then I regretted having to do it “alone.” Then I realized I wasn’t alone. Then my life became more meaningful. Then I noticed my children were happier and their laughter became important to me.


9. If I don’t like you, I won’t accept a gift from you and I will tell you why.


10. I prefer to like people.


11. I gave birth to my first child at 25, two weeks after completing a 50 page thesis in French, at the same hospital in France where Princess Diana (RIP) was taken after her fatal accident (hopital pitie-salpetrier)


12. I speak a tiny bit of Martinique creole and a lot of French. I speak “Capoeira-ese” Portuguese :)and Ebonics is my favorite part of English.


13. I curse unconsciously when I’m stressed. My children reprimand me for it all the time. “Mommy quit cursing!”


14. I joined the track team once in high school. I started off first and came in second (…to last -but I looked first in the picture!)


15. I write all the time.


16. I see the world in story form, sometimes the stories turn into movies.


17. I write letters to myself from other parts of myself and tape them to my walls to remind me of myself. (oooh! spooky!)


18. I don’t believe everything I believe. I’ve learned to check my emotions against my intuition and then do research.


19. The truth is very important to me, however I recognize that it is not always absolute.


20. I gauge my success by how liberated I feel.


21. I think the fountain of youth lies dormant within most of us ( “Youth is wasted on the young.”)


21. My younger brother used to be my bitter enemy when we were children. Now he’s my best friend.


22. I still miss my grandmothers sometimes. beloveds, beloveds, beloveds!!!!


23. I love to laugh with friends about nothing !!!


24. I’m almost done with my list and I’m disappointed because I don’t think I have told you anything new about myself.


25. I would never reveal a secret ambition or past regret on a list like this. But I would probably tell you when you least expected it like in the middle of the night or in the middle of laughter or in a quiet car on the way to the grocery store.


Lessons from Chiapas #2- Stick with Your Herd

I gave a graduation speech once with one of my dearest friends and colleagues, Dr. Dawn Farreira-Williams.  She imparted a message based on the wisdom of certain animals that move together for survival, never leaving a member behind to fend for itself.  “Stick with your herd!” She implored our students so they would be safe in their travels through adulthood.

When I visited Vicente Guerrero community in Chiapas, I was reminded of Dawn’s words.  In this community, the government had cut off their water.  Their pharmacy consisted of some small donations of western medicine from the government, but mostly it was stocked with plants and herbs, picked by their hands.  With no running water to rely on, they had to purchase it.  In the mountains, far removed from any city hospital or western doctor, they relied on their traditional wisdom to gather the medicine for their pharmacy.  It wasn’t fully stocked when we arrived, but my father saw the process a few months earlier when he visited.  There were freshly harvested leaves, drying on the ground.  Now, he could see what it looked like to have them packed up on the shelves for sale.  In discussion about the effectiveness of the traditional medicine, one of our guides told us, “We had a pretty big emergency here the other day and we handled it pretty well.”

In addition to a pharmacy, they’d built a community room to solve conflicts.  It resembled a club house in my opinion.  In it, we shared a nutritious meal of beans, rice, corn and flour tortillas, and sweet coffee.  As a member of a marginalized group myself, I have observed that being marginalized can have it’s benefits too.  While there can be material and political disadvantages, the cultural advantages are invaluable.  The cultural integrity of the group can be higher when there is less external interference and propaganda by the dominant group to lose your identity so that it can feel more comfortable.  Language, customs and expressions of intelligence that would otherwise get lost with assimilation, are nurtured and honored amongst those who are left in the margins.  Many africanisms are retained in the diaspora amongst those who are left in the margins, sometimes seeping out to influence the whole culture of a nation.  We’ve seen that time and again in United States with black language and music.  It happens throughout the diaspora.

At Vicente Guerrero, there was no government interference to “regulate” how they packaged and dispensed their medicine.  And they were able to structure their community in a way that was most valuable to them.  Thus, a community room to solve conflicts was built right next to a church of equal size and not far from the pharmacy.  While there are hardships, there are also many hands to lighten the load.

My Herd

When I returned home I immediately threw myself into the routine of my responsibilities.  As a single mother of two young girls and high school teacher, I often feel overworked and unappreciated.  My children love me and we have a beautiful relationship, but they do not think like adults, of course (although they are very mature.)  They can’t pay for themselves or treat me to regular massages and pedicures.  They don’t think to buy me flowers without being prompted.  I bear the full financial responsibility of caring for them.  Sometimes I will ask for help from family and if they have it, they give it.  But mostly, the onus is on me for the continued day-to-day care of my girls.  At work, my students also love me (mostly,)  but teaching is work that receives delayed gratification.  I couldn’t help but think that while I had certain material comforts that my friends in Vicente Guerrero didn’t have, they still had each other.  They had more than a family.  They had an entire community.  So the water didn’t work?  They still made a copious meal to feed their ten guests.  So the government wouldn’t give them western medicine?  They still built their pharmacy and healed each other.  They birthed their babies and fed their children and wore beautiful clothes.  They protect each other and love each other.  They stick with their herd.  I found myself longing to switch places with them.  I was wishing for a herd.

After a month of mental anguish and sadness over returning to work, over feeling that I did not have a herd to help lighten my load, and many other things, I fell ill with typhoid fever.

Apparently I got it while in Mexico, but it can take up to a month to surface.  On January 23, I was admitted to the hospital where I stayed for a week.  I had a temperature of 104 degrees.  I was so weak that every time I stood up I fell down.  My body ached.  My nervous system had been compromised and I couldn’t coordinate my movements well.  I slurred my words when I spoke.  The bacteria had gotten in my blood so I was septic.  I had a blood transfusion, and a breathing treatment.  They wanted to do a spinal tap, but I argued against it.  My head constantly ached.  I sweated profusely.  I only wanted water and fruit.  I refused to eat.  My eyes were dark and sunken.  When I finally developed strength to go to the bathroom myself, I had to use a walker with a nurse in attendance to ensure I was safe.  I had to practice walking again.  I was tired for a month once I returned home.

I was amazed at the strong personalities that gathered around me to provide comfort, cushion, care and strength.  The week-end after I was admitted to the hospital, I was supposed to host a sleep over for my nine-year old’s birthday party and go ice skating the next day.  My mother and friends made sure the party went on.  My mother kept my girls until I was better.  Friends visited me in the hospital.  My father took me home from the hospital and supplied me with my granny’s old walker and bathtub chair since I was too weak to stand in the shower.  My cousin came over as soon as I was home, got the house together and put cooked food in the fridge.  My colleague and dear friend visited everyday in the hospital, bringing me fruit and music.  He and his wife visited me at home and made foods I craved.  My spiritual brother moved in to cook for me.  My parents continued to visit me at home, as did my girlfriends.   I finally saw what I couldn’t see before… I have a herd!!!!

Enjoy the sounds of Manik B’s Zapanteras Negras with Brownie and my father, Emory Douglas. 

Lessons from Chiapas: #1- Don’t Ask “How?”

One of the first things my coach, Nigel Henry, told me when I was writing my book was: “Don’t ask ‘how?'”  I understood in theory what he was teaching me, but it was hard to practice.  My ego was stubborn, wanting to be able to control situations and outcomes.  My trip to Chiapas, showed me that “how” and “why” are superfluous when it comes to fulfilling dreams.

I arrived in San Cristobal prepared to share two poems for an informal poetry reading.  It was something I would do to pass the time, share who I am and enjoy being able to tell folks at home that I read my work internationally.  They wouldn’t have to know that it was an informal gathering that happened to be in a different country.  It just sounds nice to say “I read my work in Mexico.”  Reading my poetry was actually incidental, because I really came to Chiapas to support my dad’s presentation at the international indigenous people’s conference– as I’ve stated in my earlier post.

As I also mentioned in the previous post, the informal reading turned into a huge, heavily promoted new years party with professional performers and musicians and the presentation I came to support my father with by sitting in the audience, turned into an opportunity to be a part of the panel, supporting him by introducing him and sharing my work as an artist.

Don’t ask how, just answer the call

Because Dr. Raymundo suggested with such assurance that I could present along side my father, I understood his invitation as an opportunity to grow.  I had three days to write on a theme that was vaguely familiar to me.  I intended my words to be a short introduction to my father’s multi-media presentation.  After I spoke my words the morning of December 31st, the audience response was overwhelming.  Whistles and cheers filled the room in recognition that I had spoken words to their hearts.

I can’t tell you how I came up with those words.  I could but it wouldn’t really explain anything.  I can’t even tell you why the words I spoke were so meaningful to so many people.  I am still waiting for someone to tell me why it touched them the way it did.  All I can tell you is that I heard a call, Dr. Raymundo speaking to me as if it was already going to happen.  And I answered it.  I agreed to do what Dr. Raymundo suggested.  I could have understandably refused to participate in that way because I was “unprepared” and had not been given enough time.   Instead, I decided that the very fact that I was being called meant I was prepared, whether I understood how or not.

If I refused the request, no one would have looked at me in any less way.  Caleb, my father and Dr. Raymundo would have understood my reticence to produce something so quickly.  However, by answering the call, taking courage in hand and doing the unexpected of myself, I strengthened my character, increased my spiritual fortitude and strengthened the foundation on which I choose to stand in this world.  Now, I have unshakable faith in my abilities as a writer and speaker.

The process

I wrote free thoughts for three days.  I brainstormed and played with ideas in my journal.  I know some things about the Zapatista movement.  I know some things about the Black Panther Party.  I don’t know as much as I’d like about either.  I was coming to the conference and Chiapas to learn more.  What could I say of value when I know so little?  These questions and other doubts ran their course through my mind as did the reminders of my intentions. My intentions were to create an experience of solidarity.  There was one thing I knew for sure. Based on my informal research of African diaspora history throughout the years, I knew we had a common ancestry.  Sure, the world has a common ancestry beginning in the place called Africa, but I knew with a little more specific detail about the Mayan- African relationship and oneness.  I had alluded to it in my poem “You Bring Out the Oakland in Me.”   I could mention a little bit of what I know I little about and a lot of what I know a lot about.  So that was the way I allowed my speech to take form.

The response

Every day until the end of my trip, people asked how they could get a copy of the “poem.”  (It’s in the previous post and on my home page).  Strangers hugged me and thanked me.  People asked to take pictures with me.

I think their response has more to do with the nature of who they are than with my actual words.  I think the people who are drawn to this conference and to San Cristobal are already artistically and spiritually impressionable.  I mean they are sensitive to subtle levels of beauty and kindness.  I also got the feeling that some were waiting for the recognition of African ancestry that my words reflected.  I will never know really, until someone tells me.  When strangers pulled me into their arms for hugs, thanked me for my words and asked for copies of the poem, I didn’t dare ruin the moment with a how or why question.  I savored the love and affection.  I revelled in the opportunity to experience authentic connections.

The party

Again, I won’t ask how.  Not even how a simple poetry session turned into a big new years party.  Nor, how I performed the way that I did that night.  Kylie said I was “policking” – when you become the art.  I felt like I was “Bob Marleying”.  He’s my reference for becoming one with art, life, music.

I went from the mindset of seeing myself as  an inexperienced (by the standard of the other musicians present) performer, with only two poems to perform, to not seeing myself at all.  I was just being.

I wasn’t really nervous per se at any point.  I knew that I would give 100% and that it would be appreciated.  I was concerned that two poems was not enough to give, and that my lack of material for the night would make me look like an amateur in comparison.  Of course, I had to put it in perspective that I had not been performing as long as the others, nor did I have the team that the other performers had to support and participate with them.  I came with a newly written book that I had not written with intentions to perform.  They came with other performers, musicians, CDs, time and experience.   On top of all that, my voice felt like it was getting weak once the performances started.  I was losing my voice!

But it was in the stars.  Lalo, Alvan, Cristian and I created a sound of beauty so strong that even I could not resist it’s power.  That is why I say I went from nervousness to being.  When we performed, I felt myself pulled into the sound of their instruments.  My pauses became opportunities to be serenaded.  I enjoyed the call of their instruments, like hearing my own name. I had to remind myself to keep going because my spirit wanted to take off and dance through the sound of their strings, forget about reciting poetry.  It’s hard to believe that  I had rehearsed only twice with Lalo and Alvan and never with Cristian.  Two rehearsals for one hour each.

I let myself go.  Kylie and Mia said, “Just have fun.” right before I got up to the stage.  So I did.  I released my  concerns.  I accepted that I was answering a call to be a better performer, to show up.  It was too late to doubt then.  And because I perceived myself as having less than the others in a lot of ways,  I said I decided I would make up for it with fun, high vibration and pure energy.

Everyone tells me it was amazing.  I tease and say, “I don’t know.  I wasn’t there.”  I wasn’t.  Not the egotistical “I” who wants to know how and why.  She wasn’t there.  Only my being was present.  Such a beautiful experience of oneness.

Now, I believe in myself and my Self more intensely than I ever did before.

I don’t like to advise, but I have a request.  If you have been allowing concern to stop you from anything, please answer your calls and show up.  If you are being called, you are ready.  And like someone told me:  The world is waiting for you!

With much love, warmth and solidarity on these artistic life travels,


This will automatically post on the Twirl page of my website at http://www.meressia.com

Chiapas, Mexico: Passion, Inspiration and Creativity

I just returned from my trip to Chiapas, Mexico.  I begin this midnight blog with words of gratitude to several people: 1)  My children– for understanding and staying at home while mommy travelled, always being supportive of me.  2) My father– for his generosity in helping me make this trip and 3) Caleb Duarte whose Zapantera Negra movement made this whole expedition possible.

I am listening to Manik Bankil’s “Nosotros” as I write this, to keep my memory steeped in the experience of Chiapas.


participant badgeI went to Chiapas to attend the 3er Seminario Internacional de reflexion y analisis.  The theme was “…Planeta tierra movimientos antisistemicos…”  I was going to witness my father’s  20 minute presentation on the Black Panther Party.  Whenever possible, I like to attend his presentations.  He’s given many around the world.  I usually follow him around the city, but I have been to England and to New York to hear him speak also.   I learn more and more each time.  This event felt especially important to me because my dad would present in the context of an International Indigenous People’s Conference.  I had to go!

Caleb took us to meet with Dr. Raymundo a few days before the conference so that my father could organize his presentation around the specific theme.  In that meeting, Dr. Raymundo suggested that I could present something along with my father.  Apparently, Caleb had told him I was a poet, so he expected that I would be a part of the presentation.  Although, it hadn’t crossed mine or my father’s mind previously, I was not going to ignore this invitation to be a part of something so important.  Even if it was just one line, I was determined that I would say something.  It’s called showing up.  I was being called to show up and I agreed.

I was nervous.  None of the work I had written at that time fit into the theme of antisystemic movements of the plant earth.  I feel that my work is revolutionary in a personal way, but they weren’t asking me to share the beauty of vulnerableness, or the insight of children, or the impact of love– all the themes I feel I cover in Twirl.  I would have to write something entirely new.  I would have to write a piece tailored to this conference.  I asked myself, “So, are you a writer or not?”   And before I could answer, I demanded, “You are going to write this!”

Everyday I wrote something.  Many things.  But nothing was working.  I knew from experience that as long as you keep on doing anything with the intention to succeed, you will succeed.  A friend once told me that an ex-boxer told him that the magic rule to achieving anything is: “Stick with it.  Don’t quit it.  You are bound to get it.”   That includes writing.  So I kept writing, although I wasn’t satisfied.  Whose perspective should I write from?  What angle?

“Write from your perspective,” Mia* said.

Then it all came together.  Of course.  How could I forget?  “I” is universal.  Here is what I wrote, from my perspective:

“I speak these words in solidarity with the Zapatista community.

May they please the ancestors.


Long before Spain invaded the Americas with ship loads of enslaved Africans, before America was called America and Africa was called Africa, when a snail was just a snail and a panther was just an animal, historians write of an ancient Mayan-African relationship — one of trading ideas, cultures, goods and more.  Some archaeologists go further.  They write that before Mayans and Africans traded, before they were two different people, they were one.


When I heard that my father would present on our legacy of the Black Panther Party for this symposium, I felt an impulsive reaction to attend,  like an ancient calling, urging me:  ‘Be there! Let your presence be testimony to the ancestors that your spirit remembers a time before colonization, subjugation and plantations.’ 


Before Zapatistas took to the mountains in Chiapas and Panthers to the streets in the US; before we were revolutionaries fighting our own unique battles in different countries; before there was ‘you’ and ‘I’, there was ‘we.’   And we were one.”


communityAs if being invited to speak with my father at the conference was not enough inspiration, I also visited an indigenous community.   The Vicente Guerrero-Elambo Community is named for the heroism of Afro-Mexican, Vicente Guerrero.

This is what I hoped for the entire visit.  And on our last day, Caleb took us to there.

This picture is of the place where they have meetings and settle disputes between community members.  Right next to it is the church they built of the same size (not shown) and not far away is their pharmacy,pharmacy filled with plants that have been picked, dried and placed in bags for consumption.  I asked how they knew what  to look for, the pharmacist said it was handed down from the ancestors and elders.  Out of necessity of not receiving government aid, they returned to their ancestral knowledge of using herbs to heal themselves.



me, alvan and laloAlvan and Lalo.  I wish I could take these guys home with me.  They brought something out of me that I will always cherish.

I began exploring performance poetry with jazz musician Michael James in Oakland.  He read Twirl and heard music so he invited me to collaborate.   He taught me to slow down, relax and tell my story.   In this process, I realized that I actually heard music when I was writing some of the work in Twirl too.  I had just ignored it.  But working with Michael provided an opportunity for me to express it.

I heard a lot of strings.  I thought maybe harp, violin, guitar.  I wasn’t sure.  I just knew there were strings.  I wasn’t sure how they would sound either.  When I got to EDELO in Chiapas, Caleb and Kylie suggested I could perform with the two gentlemen Kylie plays with: Alvan and Lalo, violinist and guitarist.   Wow, I would get to try out the strings I had always imagined!

But I never imagined it quite like this.

My heart melts when I remember it all.  There were only two rehearsals.  About an hour each.  “You Bring Out the Oakland in Me” I had rehearsed many times, although only performed twice and never to music.  The untitled poem, I had barely finished writing and hadn’t even memorized it.  Kylie guided us as an extended listening ear who could hear what we, as entrenched participants of the process, were over looking.

“What kind of music is this?” I asked.  “I don’t know,” Alvan said.  “It’s just what we came up with while we are doing it.”

Let me start from the beginning.

My father left one of my books with Caleb on his previous trip to Chiapas.  When he found out I was coming with my dad on the next trip, Caleb invited me to participate in a poetry reading he was organizing.  Although I was coming to Chiapas with the sole intention to support and witness my father, I had the added pleasure of being able to share some poetry.  At least, that’s how it all started off sounding… simple.

Well, Caleb’s poetry reading quickly turned into a New Years party with live music, posters, flyers and a theme: “2013 Nuevo Chance: Reflexion y Celebracion de Las Luchas Dignas”  (2013 Second Chance: Reflexion and Celebration of the Dignified Fight.)  I was concerned because I was the only one who didn’t have a band or musical partner to perform with.  I’d performed my poetry a few times and only once to live music.  I only had two pieces that I felt would fit with Caleb’s theme and lineup.  “You Bring Out the Oakland in Me” was in Twirl and the other piece “Untitled”  I had recently written.  He wanted each performer to have 15 minutes of material.  I had about 5.  I was definitely nervous, but again, I refused to give up on the invitation to make myself known, be present, share my gifts and grow.  So I agreed to do it.  I knew I would have to give 150% to make up for the lack of time.  What I didn’t know was that I would grow so much in so little time and expand my capacity to give , so that 150% felt like I was floating on air.

When Mia’s done editing the film, I will post my performance from that night on youtube.

Crisitan, below center, is a drummer who joined us the night of the performance.  We did one quick rehearsal with him and that was it.  But the performance felt like we’d all been playing together our whole lives.  Could music be the highest form of communication?  A majority of my audience didn’t speak English, but they understood what we were saying and they thanked me over and over again.

I may write more on this very important creativity topic later.  I’m so tired now.  It’s 3:36 am.

You can see more pictures in my Chiapas, Mexico photo album on facebook.

In this picture: Protestango members, Cristian, Lalo and me.