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Chicago Defender Executive Editor Kai El'Zabar (Photo by James Bernal)

Chicago Defender Executive Editor Kai El’Zabar (Photo by James Bernal)


Being Black is nothing easy. In my heart I feel strongly that people of African descent are the salt of the earth. Yet at the same time, I know that all that has made us strong has literally been systematically robbed from us and exploited. Though we remain the human vehicle most naturally connected to spirit, the circumstances that we have faced for the last 633 years have been short of horrendous. I speak of this today on the heels of having just returned from Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs Memorial in Jerusalem, Israel. It’s an absolute beautiful architectural structure that houses the pictorial history of the horrific Holocaust. Complete with artifacts, documentary testimonials and original art the experience is wrenching. As I walked through the corridors designed as if underground with hints of light that gave faith to continue to those Jews/who were shut off from the world, specifically directs your path to assure that the story unfolds as a chronological journey of a people who survived one of the ugliest moments in human history. I am of the human race and therefore I felt with compassion and empathy the pain that they suffered and endured. As the guide, a daughter of a survivor repeated over and over throughout the tour, “Their only crime was that they were Jews.”

I could not help but hear Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. say, “One day my children will be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.” I could not help but reflect upon Black American’s experience, which as moments in history goes, it’s still going on. I’ll say this as I’ve said before, ‘Much respect must be given to the Jewish people in taking back their story, owning it, telling their history through their eyes and making the commitment to make sure that their people know it but more importantly they make a conscious choice to keep the world in check to prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again.

I contemplate the fate of my people. I know that who we are being now represents but a fraction of who we are and have been—that we are for the most part caricatures of our greatness. I have observed that every unique expression of which we are from the way we walk, talk, move, sing, dance and our physique is coveted. Yes our racial rhythmic vibrational frequency has gifted us with the ability to channel spirit and connect consciously to the Holy Ghost as my church going brethren say, has been a source of curiosity and envy by many. Whites in particular have coveted what we be in the world and have sought to capture it and own it. Every generation has pursued it as a commodity to be usurped, stolen and used to their advantage. We used to call it “soul” and even that was watered down and became pedestrian, suddenly there was “blue-eyed-soul,” and that open the door for them to walk in. The Righteous Brothers, then there was “the Average White Band,” and more recent, Robin Thicke. The power is in maintaining ownership.

Now on the flipside, can you believe that white folks get upset when you say blues and jazz originated out of the African American experience? I wrote an article years ago for a publication called the la Musicale, where I dared to write that. The publisher, a young white man, called me into his office and said, that he knew white musicians that eat, sleep and drink jazz. And I responded, ”So I know Blacks that eat sleep and drink ballet, but that doesn’t take away from the reality that the dance form originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century and later developed into a concert dance form in France and Russia.” He wanted me to change my statement. I refused and the article did not run.

Since then I began to look closely at their cultural pathology. They have according to each advancement of understanding over the years reaped little by little our essence. Stay with me. See some of us remember when they could not dance, could not find the rhythm. They often joked about it all the while secretly pursuing the magic because they understand its power that we take for granted and so they have downplayed its importance pushing for the more mental/brain-based tasks. When all the while it’s the instinctive intuitive intellect, which is most valuable. Let me say this to you. You can be brain dead and live as long as the machines are plugged in but you can’t be heart dead. Think about it. The balance comes when you allow the innate to dictate the intellect like the heart manages the brain.

So while we were being in the flow with life rhythmically in tune to the universal vibration they were running the greatest con on us. If you don’t get how important the alchemy of life is then you better think again. Music is organized sound–a vibration, voice is a vibration, as is the way all the modern technology is based on vibrational frequencies.

This is an innate understanding that we have because rhythm is math . . . play 2/4 now convert it to percentages; calculate it into dollars and cents. What comes natural to us was made to seem as if it were less than STEM studies when vibration is in fact the basis of math’s foundation. When Charlie Parker played ‘Salt Peanuts’ it blew the white boys mind. He played it so fast, each and every note that it took them years to break it down before being able to grasp it, to then play and record it. Now here’s another difference. Blacks aren’t interested in copying another’s sound as much as they are in doing their own thing. So most were busy creating new music; not trying to play Charlie Parker’s music just like Charlie. Because Blacks are innately creative we operate in the moment. Improvisational input allows for the organic expression of the moment unique to that flash in time, which all those present—musicians and audience contribute, thus Jazz was a living music. The standard composition is written but the solo allows each musician to bring his own contribution to the performance creating music and the meaning of experiencing it ‘live.’ And as much as the jazz musician may hate rap, ‘Freestyle’ was the same principle of allowing for that organic process.

Unfortunately we have been so oppressed, our creativity stifled that as a collective we have failed to make the connection of our unlimited creativity to the utilitarian piece of the puzzle. The hip-hop generation has come closest to achieving the connection but they did so imitating the oppressor.

So we’ve been bamboozled to giving away our culture, our art, our DNA, our secrets. Yes they steal that too. Read up on Henrietta Lack and learn that they stole her DNA without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance.

Today our culture is the new cotton for sale to the highest bidder. If I never see another talent show where the Black artist is told, “you’re to ethnic,” but the white person who has worked to imitate the Black soul sound is told, “Great, you really have a powerful unique voice,” it’s fine with me.

I have so much more to share but I’m pressed for space . . .. To be continued. But think on this, we have to harness our unique manifestation of creativity to work for us. We have to take back our culture, capture, record, document, expose, introduce it and tell our story our way unapologetically. That’s what inspired me to share my experience at the museum today—the importance of telling our story in our voice, our vernacular, our affect, our patina and owning it.

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