2013 has been an amazing year.
I met new collaborators and stumbled upon new ways to think out loud, from live storytelling on stage, to community conversations about art and education in Miami, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta and New Orleans. My book Go-Go Live was recognized by the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award nomination and I published essays and interviews in The Root, The Washington Post and Essence Magazine. I taught a graduate seminar on culture reporting at Georgetown University and my kids are growing way too fast.
Here are a few highlights from 2013. Here’s to a productive 2014!
Back to the Theatah…
For the first time since I was a teenager with Asante’s Children Theatre in Indianapolis I was back on stage as a cast member for the premiere of Speakeasy DC’s “Crank & Groove: A Go-Go Love Story” directed by Jess Solomon which had its world premiere at the Atlas Theatre on DC’s H Street NE. I was one of five storytellers who shared true tales of go-go music backed by the bad-ass all-female band Be’La Dona. I told the story about a teenager named Slush, an innovator in dance who died shortly after I interviewed him for the Washington Post in the early 2000s. It was a sad story, but I was honored to be able to bring him to life on stage again. (See Slush’s photograph above me below.) You can listen to an interview and audio of my story HERE .
My year began with “Race, Class and Education Reform,” a conversation in print, online and at community centers, another partnership between Allison Brown Consulting, the Interactivity Foundation and the Washington Post. I presented a paper about our multimedia, interactive education series at the inaugural Black Doctoral Network Conference in Philadelphia, where I got to hang out with Jack White who wrote about the groundbreaking gathering of black academics for The Root and Cornel West. I moderated an education reform panel for the Washington Post. I was also invited to speak in Atlanta at the very first Teach for America African American Corps Members Summit. Here is the video of our panel.
I had another magical experience in New Orleans talking about my research on go-go music during a panel: “DC Bama: Go-Go Music in the Nation’s Capital” at the Experience Music Conference at Tulane University with my girl DJ Soul Sister, the poet Thomas Sayers Ellis and my old friend Rhome “DJ Stylus” Anderson. Stylus brought them our DC flavor and I danced dangerously at Soul Sister’s Saturday Night gig at the Hi-Ho Lounge. I also experienced my first Sunday Second Line parade in Nola: Transcendent.
I gave a speech about go-go at the last place I expected: a conference for Washington, D.C. Superior Court judges. I was thrilled that my 2012 book Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City was nominated for a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in the nonfiction category along with 6 other nominees. I did not win, but what amazing company I was in. The event coincided with Howard University’s Homecoming celebration, and I had a moment with my fellow alumna Isabel Wilkerson, author of the masterwork on the Great Migration “The Warmth of Other Suns.”
I published several essays in the Washington Post and The Root on culture and education and interviewed Angela Y. Davis and the comedians Key & Peele and the artist LaToya Ruby Frazier for Essence magazine. And I taught a graduate seminar at Georgetown University on Culture Reporting for in the Master’s in Journalism Program on the university’s sparkling new Chinatown campus.
I published my first sanctuary project as a fellow of the Interactivity Foundation which was the culmination of many months of conversations with artists, playwrights, writers, poets, rappers, musicians, media scholars and other D.C. creatives: “The Future of the Arts and Society a public discussion guide designed by the incredible L.A. artist Calida Rawles.
I took this project public during Art Basel Miami Beach in December with “Art. Change. Community.” I trained Teach for America teaching corp members on how to facilitate community conversations using the arts guide, and got the Miami artist Darin Williams to exhibit during our talks. Check out event photos. And see the press release here
THE FRESHWATER PROJECT
Since 2004, my extended family in South Florida has been working hard at the restoration of the historic Cracker Johnson House in West Palm Beach. This was a 1926 house built by the mixed-race numbers runner, bootlegger and entrepreneur James Jerome “Cracker” Johnson in the once-segregated black community known as Freshwater. (Check out this 4-minute documentary on us on local ABC affiliate in 2009. ) There is no way to sugarcoat it: It’s a difficult road ahead. The Florida housing bust devastated the project and left us and the surrounding community severely under-capitalized. But our nonprofit organization The Freshwater Project is plugging along. This year we launched a public policy conversation series at the house that was covered in the Palm Beach Post in September and our volunteers were critical in pulling off the Art Basel event. But the financial stresses on the project are a vivid illustration of the consequences of the black migration patterns that Isabel Wilkerson so eloquently wrote about. What happens to the depressed black communities left behind after desegregation? What if the historic and cultural value is there, but banks. real estate and financial markets don’t agree? I am grateful to survive another year, and will continue to try to figure out the way forward.
ON THE HOME FRONT…
Our kids grew even taller, and got so much smarter. There is a lot of grumbling about D.C., their gentrifying hometown, and how the new yuppy culture seems to value pets over children. My children only see opportunity: They started M & M dog-walking, and they are accepting customers! My amazing husband Rudy McGann, who has always enthusiastically supported our dreams, pursued one of his own: Straight Smoked Meats. Rudes is an election lawyer but he grew up in New Orleans, where food (along with music) is the official language. (I married him for the chicken y’all. Cute kids too )
A big thank-you to Rudes, the Interactivity Foundation, my BFF Allison Brown and all the other countless co-conspirators who supported my “nerd parties” and made this year great. I feel so blessed to be able to do this work. Here’s to a fantastic 2014!