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Grandmother Rose and the Little Button

The latest release from Collective Cry Productions.

Grandmother Rose and the Little Button traces the final day of a beloved member of a village who longs to leave a gift to those who have given her life meaning. Rose lost both her unborn child and her husband. Now, facing her own passage, finds the power through the loss to bring a blessing to all who are experiencing loss.

In this film debut from writer Brigitte Manekin, Producer and Director Paulo Gregory brings this timeless story to life. Actress, dancer and storyteller Maria Broom (The Wire, Clara’s Heart) offers a captivating vocal and dance-like performance that literally draws the viewer in to a world that feels more like an internal soul experience than crafted storytelling.

Extraordinary cinematography from veteran Dennis Boni and Ryan Romkema, combine seamlessly with a stunning musical score from Polish-born, Principal Cellist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Dariusz Skoraczewski, and South African collaborators, Gito Baloi, Dave Reynolds, Chris Tokalon, help this film transport the audience to a place of deep contemplation of arguably the most significant moment in each of our lives.

One in a Million – An Historic Moment with a True Evolutionary

I remember Mid-October, 1995 I was attending an African Heritage Retreat in Baltimore. The experience was more deep, and more powerful than I can express in these words. It was facilitated by Rev. Alvin Toussaint Herring and Sister Joyce Shabazz. Countless tears spilled from the eyes of the over 100 attendees, cleansing clear the days preceding the culmination of one of the most powerful experiences of my life. At the close of the retreat on October 16, there was a healing circle in which the women of the retreat blessed the men and their boys, to head from Baltimore to Washington, DC to attend the Million Man March.

It was a glorious day – sky, cobalt blue – with a few billowing clouds. It was a perfect day.

We arrived at Baltimore Penn Station early. The station was filled, wall-to-wall, with Black Men, waiting for trains to head to DC to join the march. I was there with my boy Grayson, Alvin was there with his boys Brandon and Ryan, along with the other men and boys from the retreat.

We watched board, anxiously awaiting the trains. The station has incredibly high ceilings, with walls of marble and arching stain glass which amplified the murmurs of the hundreds, now growing, in the space. The air was filled with the scent of earthy oils and masculinity. Each line of the announcement board would count down the minutes until the train was due to arrive. Then, the word “Delayed” or “Canceled” would appear next to it. This went on for what seemed to be hours, until the frustration of the room became palpable. Alvin looked at me with a look I now recognize from our subsequent work together. He told the boys to wait with me, and made his way through the crowd.

Now, Alvin stands about 6’4. His ample head, made for football, sits assuredly atop a body that has no problem backing it up. In the middle of the waiting area of the station stood stern, wooden, 5′-high benches whose backs joined on opposing sides forming a pedestal. Alvin, with the grace of a Kenyan athlete, bounded to the seat, then to the top of the benches positioned in the middle of the great room. He appeared, standing like a gladiator above the crowd, noting but the glowing ambiance of the light-filled marble and glass around and above him, and a carpet of dark brown men below. A hush fell over the thick room – the kind of silence that declares the anticipation of a great orator. Alvin pounded his fist into his mitt of a hand, bellowing with confidence, “We Want Trains!… We Want Trains!…” His voice echoed through the cavernous space. I felt my hand pound my own fist as our words, and a synchronized, driving rhythm, progressively amplified by every man and boy in the place, until the walls shook from the intensity of 400 years of waiting for the this underground railroad to reach its destination. Within minutes that rolled sanctified like dreamtime, the announcement board started flipping hysterically. A trembling voice announced that a train would be arriving in minutes.

And they did. One after another, as if a floodgate had been opened.
We, 500 Black Men, flowed like a mighty river down the stairs onto the platform. boarded the train cars, with peace and confidence. The train pulled away from the station, and rocked us gently as city turned to suburb, then to rolling space. Alvin once again stood up towards the front of the car. Every seat was filled with men clad in African garb, gleaming sweats, military fatigues, all silently dreaming of what was to come – except one. To Alvin’s left sat a White man, in a business suit, clearly not expecting the commuter experience he was experiencing today, clutching his briefcase as if it would save him. Alvin turned to face the full car. “Brothers, we need to talk!”, he began. The man, grabbing at his briefcase, began to shake with a look of terror in his eyes – as if this was his last moment on earth. Alvin turned to the man who slowly pressed himself into the corner of the seat, wishing he could disappear. Al said. “I know what you must be thinking right now.” The white-knuckled man’s tremors now visible to the entire car. He continued, “But you don’t have anything to worry about. We mean you no harm. We bring nothing but peace.” His shoulders dropped limp like a kid’s at the end of his first terrifying midway ride, realizing he’s gonna make it out live. “My Brothers, we have this rare moment together. We also have a lot we need to say to each other that we have been holding in for a long time. What are we here to do today?” The question resounded like the voice calling for an answer that released the trains. The conversation that ensued still echoes in the chambers of my heart. All words of hope, and love that shattered even my own stereotypes of what we as Black men are capable of.

My son, squirming with delight and excitement, kept raising his little hand as he was instructed to do at school, not realizing the complex etiquette of grown brothers throwing down in conversation. Finally, one brother, Panther black military baret spun backwards on his head, spoke up to break the flow of the voices. “Let the little brother speak!” pointing to Gray. Alvin lifted him to his feet on the seat of the train so that he could be seen by all in the car.

His small voice confidently pushed out the words. “I think we need to make sure everyone has enough money.” The car erupted into sweet, affirming laughter, hoots, and Amens, as the conversation shifted to economic development in the community. I still feel the confidence of that moment in Grayson’s, now 24-year-old voice as he brings his powerful intelligence to any conversation.

The day was magnificent. One Million Brothers, standing in solidarity, to a vision we still dream of today. Sisters flanking us on the bordering streets – cheering us on as we moved aside to let each other pass. We helped the elders find a space they could be comfortable, we handed out water to each other, we put our hands on each other’s shoulders as if to remind ourselves that we were family. We were our best that day, as a foreshadowing of what are and what we can be. Due to the work of folk like Alvin, we inch closer to that vision with each breath.

I remember, as I stood near the front of the crowd by the steps of the capital with my son, then, a boy of 8 years old, perched on my shoulders. He looked out over the sea of men, sun gleaming off of our moist, dark skin, and said, “Poppy, it looks like a million stars.” He was right. We are stars, caked with the dust of years of oppression. But that day, thanks to Alvin, and Grayson, I saw a powerful vision of the future, with the velocity to propel us to manifest our true brilliance.

The time has come!

Letter to a New Year and a New Day

Many of us write those letters at the year’s end that tell our peeps the goings on of the last 365. I was never much of a letter writer. This year I have something to share. It’s a letter, not from me, but from one of the most inspiring individuals I have ever had the pleasure to share time with.

In his 1963 letter from a Birmingham Jail, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us to be “…cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states.” He continues, “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

We too can not sit idly by in Baltimore, or Washington, or San Francisco, or New York, or Little Rock, when innocent people carry the weight of our supposed freedom from the cells that shelter the shame of our privilege. It is with this claim of my own weight of responsibility that I bring you Marshall “Eddie” Conway’s plea for support and restitution. May this be the one that sets him free to live the remainder of his life in the community in which he belongs.

Via Dominique Stevenson 

December 28, 2011
From a Prison in Jessup Maryland

 

Revolutionary Greetings, to all my family, friends, and supporters. The last few months have been a very busy time for me. I am very happy to report that some progress has been made in several areas. The best news to date is the progress with my parole situation. Since my last update letter, my lawyer filed a request for a parole hearing for me. I had the hearing on November 30, 2011. I met with two commissioners and they decided to advance my case to the next level of the parole process for persons with life sentences. That level requires a psychological evaluation, which means that sometime in the near future I will be transferred to another institution for a three month evaluation. This whole process is called a Risk Assessment, and once this level is completed the case goes before the full body of the parole commission. There are ten commissioners and a majority vote is required before the case can be sent to the governor who has the final right to approve or deny.

Thanks to all of you who wrote support letters or sent cards. One of the key reasons for moving my case forward was the enormous amount of community support reflected by those letters and cards. You all really helped, thank you once again. For those who did not know that this process was underway, it happened fast, but there is still time for you to write. The case will go before the full commission and the members will once again read the letters of support. So please continue to send letters requesting parole to:

Mr. David Bloomberg
6776 Reisterstown Rd.
Baltimore, MD. 21215

My lawyer, Phillip Dantes and his legal team has committed to filing my case in court by the end of this year 2011. As of this writing, that schedule is still being honored. We are looking forward to being in court sometime in 2012. Once we have a date, I will make you all aware via facebook and an update letter. We will be organizing a fundraiser in the spring to help with legal and court costs.

Since my last letter I have had the opportunity to speak at a number of events. I spoke with students and activist at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, University of California at Riverside, and Students Against Mass Incarceration at Howard University. I also spoke at several community events and book readings of Marshall Law The Life and Times of a Baltimore Panther: the Urban Network in Detroit, MI., Internationalist Books in Chapel Hill, N.C., and readings in Chicago, Ill., and in Baltimore, MD. Some of these events also included large groups form Occupy Riverside, CA. and Occupy Chicago, plus students from University of North Carolina. In October I participated in a conference of community leaders and activists like Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle organized by Dylan Rodriguez with the American Studies Association; their annual meeting was held in Baltimore. I also had the opportunity to meet and speak with National Black United Front members who visited me and offered some encouragement for the survival of our community.

The work we are doing with the Friend of a Friend (FOF) mentoring organization is going very well. The organization has developed so many positive community leaders and mentors that I can no longer keep up with all the new people around the system and out in the community; that is a good thing and I am happy with both the group’s growth and direction. The (FOF) prison project is expanding into another prison- with one more wanting the program; it is currently in five Maryland prisons.

I will never be able to thank the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) for taking on this task and helping us save hundreds of lives and put many positive activists back into the community. We are now organizing our families outside with the support of a local church, Pleasant Hope Baptist Church and Pastor Heber Brown. Members of a Friend of a Friend are working with a local school to help provide guidance to youth; they are starting a Freedom School in 2012, and are also speaking at colleges in the region.

Our Neutral Grounds project has opened up a snack and beverage stand to demonstrate our concept of “Do for Self”. Since unemployment is highest among people of African descent and even higher among former prisoners we have to think of ways to employ ourselves, and create our own economic opportunity. My family is okay in general. However, I recently lost a brother-in-law; he was married to my sister for thirty-nine years. Many of the family are planning a large holiday dinner and I plan to call in to the gathering. I am still struggling with high blood pressure, but I am exercising and trying to eat right, but prison food only allows so much right eating.

One thing I wish I could do better is write everyone as soon as the mail comes in, it’s just not possible, but I greatly appreciate every letter – thank you all. I am looking forward to the coming year, and hope to see positive changes in the world. 2012 is an important year for our community and as the economic picture continues to change and capitalism collapses, food and basic needs will be in greater demand for the most vulnerable people in our communities. We need to learn and teach everyone how to grow our own food in local city gardens, and meet our needs collectively. Block by block – help rebuild the community- grew something to eat!

In Struggle,

Eddie Conway

Peace and Blessings to you this New Year, and let us all make this a new day for freedom across the globe, as we begin here at home.

Paulo

Foreseasonal Experiences

You know that crisp, cool day, just before the heat of summer yields its scorching temperatures, that seems to come out of nowhere to remind us that fall is around the corner. There is at least one of these “foreseasonal” days towards the end of each season. It’s like the universe’s way of giving us a heads up that something new is coming.

I realized a couple decades ago that this gift of the universe is not exclusive to seasons. For every significant experience in my life, there have been similar moments of peering forward that let me know where I was headed. I remember riding up the elevator of The Baltimore Sun ~ I’m not sure if it was a particular smell, or the way the light was reflecting off of the stainless trim on the elevator door, but I do know that in that moment I heard an internal voice say, “I will be working here sometime soon.” Sure enough, within a few months I was. I am guessing that I am not the only one with these semi-psychic experiences. I am also assuming that this phenomenon is not reserved for individuals, but can be more generalized.

I was at the wedding of two community changers in Baltimore recently. I am only semi-sentimental. Well, that is a semi-lie. But I certainly don’t cry when there is nothing but the architecture of ceremony to evoke emotion. This was different. Really different. It was a perfect day. Billowing white clouds. The temperature was warm enough to hold you, with a breeze that kissed you cool just when you needed to feel it. The setting was an absurdly enchanting place ~ The Cloisters. It looked like a full scale gingerbread castle, with a glistening slab mica schist roof ~ impossibly heavy, and absolutely eatable. Flowers abounded, bursting out of the earth like I remember from my childhood visit to Hawaii. And the people were as radiant and multicolored as the flora. It was as if the gods said that it was ok for babylon to fall, just for this moment, to remind us of what we can be.

The children ran carefree, with flowing dresses and little suits, allowing all the adults to care for them as if they were their dearest aunts and uncles. As the African Drums announced the procession, time stopped to watch. The drummers were dark, beautiful and strong. A stilted glowing white bird emerged from the castle reaching six feet above the heads of the procession. Then came the fathers with their daughters perched upon their shoulders, both adorned with huge flowered robes that flowed to the ground. The girls distributed paper cranes, flower pedals, and rainbowed bubbles throughout the gathering. Feathered girls and tassle-capped boys followed ~ faces shining with the spectacle.

The procession opened. A sound emerged that pulled open my heart to its breaking point as it moved through my soul. Radant Sisters, adorned in Gomesi and other traditional garb, hands opened to the heavens, moved and sang in harmonic waves as though our lives depended upon their song. Everyone, to the smallest baby was as still as a tree.

When the song fell silent, Mark and Rebecca emerged, holding hands, joining their many worlds together. A Black, revolutionary healer, with a White, Jewish, creative, facing each other under a flowing chuppah held by witnesses honoring the four corners of the globe. They spoke intimate truth to each other and to us. They laughed and cried as we echoed the emotional honesty. In that foreseasonal moment, the world was in peace.

We all knew it ~
and the tears flowed free throughout the cloistered garden.

It does not matter that the summer’s heat has returned. Nor is it important that the divisions that set us apart in this post babylonian age, continue to tear at the fabric of humanity. I know, that this moment was a remembering forward, that we as humans will find a way to hear the song the Sisters sing again, and that we will learn their ways and weave the torn pieces of beautiful and tattered fabric together into a quilted tapestry that will cover, protect and adorn us all.