Text and Meaning in Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (part 1 of 3) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com


10th anniversary digital graphic for Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance by Postered Poets based on original cover by Facts on Fact with art by Jacob Lawrence.

“The story of African Americans was crafted anew into a poignant commentary on individual and group progress under great pressure, a story that over time became one of the most compelling of American narratives.” ––Dr. Clement Alexander Price

September 2013 represents the landmark 10th anniversary of the publication of the groundbreaking Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File, 2003) co-authored by educator Sandra L. West and featuring a foreword by Dr. Clement Alexander Price, founder and director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University, Newark Campus, New Jersey. Almost seemingly as if in honor of that event, on August 29 President Barack Obama announced his intent to appoint Dr. Price to the position of Vice Chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

While the Harlem Renaissance has long been one of the most studied periods in African-American history, until the publication of Facts on File’s encyclopedia––the first such volume the subject–– most of the focus was on the literature, art, and music of the period. The encyclopedia expanded that focus by placing an equal degree of emphasis on the political and social aspects of the era, which blends seamlessly with the jazz age, modernism, and prohibition time-frame.

In Honor of Ancestors

Among the authors’ achievements with the title was the fact that it allowed them to pay tribute to a number of Harlem Renaissance icons who were still living when it was first published, but who have since passed on. These included the following:

  • Elizabeth Catlett (1915 – 2012) sculptor
  • Ernest Crichlow (1914- 2005) painter
  • Allan Rohan Crite (1910 – 2007) painter
  • Katherine Dunham (Kaye Dunn) (1909- 2006) dancer
  • Lena Horne (1917 – 2010) actress, singer
  • Fayard Nicholas (1914- 2006) dancer

The Harlem Renaissance itself, as Dr. Price notes in his foreword to Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, marked an extraordinary period of transformation (not wholly unlike that created by the current digital age) fueled largely by the sweeping forces of American and world history, as well as by what the great educator W.E.B. Du Bois referred to as “the talented tenth.” Like the current epoch, it incorporated society-changing technological innovations, major demographic shifts, and a number of political initiatives that tested the definition and application of democracy in the world:

“The coterie of talented blacks in the arts and culture, business, and intellectual life who helped to recast the image of black Americana was actually part of a larger stream of black urbanites whose lives were challenged by the legacies of slavery, its blunt realities found in the 20th-century, when many other ethnic groups in the nation moved forward,” Price notes. “Most blacks during the period lived on the margins of urban America, barred from the best employment, subject to daily racial slights and other manifestations of injustice and the society’s obsession with maintaining their social inferiority.”

The Renaissance as Counter-measure to Guerrilla Decontextualization

Despite the official end of slavery at the conclusion of the United States’ Civil War in 1865, varying degrees of widespread overt social and political oppression based solely on race lasted well into the latter part of the 20th century. A substantial part of what made such heinous practices possible was a form of guerrilla decontextualization that erased the actual histories and realities of people of African descent.

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Text and Meaning in Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (part 1 of 3) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.


Poem for a President: Midnight Flight of the Poetry Angels

Barack Obama officially sworn in as president of the U.S. for the second time by Chief Justice John Roberts. (White House photo by Lawrence Jackson)

“Hope drowned in shadows
emerges fiercely splendid––
boldly angelic.”
Aberjhani, from The River of Winged Dreams

One of the political jabs with which critics of Barack Obama used to attack him during his first run for the U.S. presidency was that his proposed platform was more rhetorical poetry than political substance. That charge has been largely reversed at this 2013 beginning of his hard-won second term.

The cry now––mostly from those frequently described as extremist conservatives, Tea Partiers, and the “New Plutocrats”–– is that the poet in President Obama has allowed power to exert its corruptive influence. It has, they charge, caused him to imagine that he is “a king” in a country where monarchy is not the law of the land. The supposed evidence is his successful passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and proposals submitted to Congress just last week to help end the loss of American lives due to gun violence.

As it turned out, the very quality for which Mr. Obama was ridiculed––his profound eloquence in print as well as in person–– has become one of his greatest strengths. It has also by extension become one of America’s greatest strengths. Again, as it turned out, his “poetry” was filled with a great deal of substance capable of steering the United States through its greatest economic devastation since the Great Depression, restoring the country’s status as a leader in world affairs, excelling when necessary in the role of commander in chief, and exhibiting extraordinary compassion for those battered by disaster. Poetry, it seems, had helped provide him with uncommon communication skills and an empathetic manner that has allowed him to simultaneously lead, steer, and guide.

Leadership and Followership

His achievements of course have not been solo events. Teams of very devoted individuals and the American people themselves have made the different manifestations of political visions possible in an extremely volatile––some might say antagonistic––climate. The poem below, Midnight Flight of the Poetry Angels, was written during the presidential campaign of 2008 as much to honor those whose followership have since made Mr. Obama’s presidency possible as it was to honor the man himself. It is presented here, in acknowledgment of the 57th inauguration, as it was when shared three months before he first won the office, with an introductory quote from Dreams from My Father:

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Poem for a President: Midnight Flight of the Poetry Angels – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

Notes on the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (part 1 of 3) – by Aberjhani

till from National Geographic video dramatization of President
Abraham Lincoln greeting troops during the American Civil War
around the time the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

Welcome to the first of this special 3-part article series presented in honor of the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

The fact that an African American sits in the White House at the helm of government in the United States of America on this 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation represents both phenomenal political symbolism and a victory of faith in democracy that should not be lost on any American.

Thoughts of the Emancipation Proclamation or the text of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution generally evoke images of American Blacks departing fields and kitchens to lend their own interpretation to the country’s great experiment in western democracy. But the end of legalized slavery did more than provide liberation for the bodies of some four million slaves by the time the Civil War ended. It also provided a kind of freedom for the minds and souls of those Whites who for whatever reason had believed that slavery was a sustainable institution in a society founded precisely to restrict limitations imposed upon individual human liberty.

For slave owners, it therefore meant release from the shackles of fear of awaking some night to the grip of a slave’s gnarled hands choking his or her life away. It meant freedom from the entanglements of hypocrisy that had led them to employ Biblical scripture to justify the vilest actions. And it meant escape from a jailhouse constructed of self-delusion and over-inflated egos incapable of reconciling personal desire with the realities of irreversible history.

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Notes on the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (part 1 of 3) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

Why Race Mattered in Barack Obama’s Re-election: Editorial and Poem (part 1) – by Aberjhani

Passersby in New York check out billboard announcing Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election.
(Reuters photograph by Carlo Allegri)

Beneath the armor of skin/and/bone/and/mind most of our colors are amazingly the same.” –from ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love (Aberjhani)

 Despite the Associated Press’s recent gloomy poll on racial attitudes in the United States, most Americans would probably agree that race should not have played as powerful a role as it did in the 2012 presidential election campaign resulting in the ultimate re-election of Barack Obama. But there are at least two good reasons that it did.

First, consider the approximately one million African-American men and women currently either imprisoned, on parole, or rushing blindly down a path likely to lead to prison. Too many of them grew up, during any given decade of the last half century, believing they were either destined to go to prison as some form of rites of passage, or they should expect to die ––as Trayvon Martin and my brother Robert Lee did––young. What were the predominant images that led them to define themselves as they did?

As powerful as the legacies of individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Oprah Winfrey and others are, for many people they comprise little more than fairy-tale-like legends with minimal bearing on their individual existences. Despite the greatness of such cultural icons, much of their lives seemed but a different version of American slaves’ battle for freedom a century and a half ago.

For four years, the image of Barack Obama presence in America’s White House has embedded itself in the minds of many young black males––just as that of Michele Obama has done the same in regard to many young black women–– as a living symbol emblematic of very different possibilities for their lives. It would not have been difficult for historians who may have been so inclined––with the assistance perhaps of certain eager Republicans––to guerrilla decontextualize a single Obama term to such a degree that his phenomenal accomplishments could all but disappear from the history books.

In fact, even eight years could be erased from certain pages if empowered individuals set their minds and resources toward that end. But what cannot, and will not be erased, is the impact of his very visible presence on an entire generation entering the world at this moment, growing into adolescence at this moment, or reaching young adulthood––at this moment.  Like the little boy, in the now famous video, who asked if he could touch the president’s hair to confirm that it was like his own, and to make sure he could get his cut like the president’s, there are now millions for whom the idea of a black American head of state is not a Hollywood fantasy but an historical political reality.

The Noted Past and Possible Future

By contrast, consider those who grew up during the 1960s or 1970s when specific laws and/or social convention still defined them as second-class citizens. Think of the lives lost––to either death or perpetual incarceration––following the massive infusion of lethal drugs into black communities during the 1980s. Or reflect upon those who later still danced to hip hop prophecies proclaiming they were born to live mangled oppressed lives and to die early.  Far too many have seen those prophecies come true in the live and deaths of such mourned talents as Biggie Smalls and the highly gifted Tupac Shakur, who once wrote this:

To read the full article by Aberjhani please click this link:

Why Race Mattered in Barack Obama’s Re-election: Editorial and Poem (part 1) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

Posted Perspectives on America’s 2012 Presidential Election (part 1 of 2) – Special Report by Aberjhani

                  President Barack Obama and NJ Gov. Chris Christie survey damage caused
                 by Hurricane Sandy and comfort survivors. (Reuters photo by Larry Downing)

Was it a matter of political irony or plain old-fashioned racism that prompted the lack of definitive media headlines proclaiming President Barack Obama––currently immersed in managing the United States’ recovery from the impact of Hurricane Sandy––the overwhelming winner of the third 2012 presidential debate?

Instead of headlines such as “Barack Obama Triumphs with Second Consecutive Debate,” or “Obama Slams Romney in Debate Showdown,” readers were treated to the likes of these from FOX News: “Third debate sets tough tone for campaign’s final stretch” and “Obama scores hollow victory against Romney (if that’s what it was).” Among the few bolder as well as more accurate announcements was: “Sargent: A pummeling for Mitt Romney in the final debate.”

In addition, although the New York Times did not put it in the headline, it did feature an in-depth editorial analysis of the debate in which it observed “Mr. Romney’s problem is that he does not actually have any real ideas on foreign policy beyond what President Obama has already done, or plans to do.  

Given the public record of muted responses to many of Mr. Obama’s singular achievements and services to his country, only one kind of irony seems involved: it is that of some Americans’ choice to pretend no such achievements or services exist. The issue is not about being on one or the other candidate’s side, as it were. It is about acknowledging reality in order to make the best political choice for oneself and one’s country in the 2012 presidential election.

Lesson on When and When not to “Give a damn”

It is also about remaining true to one’s humanity. That point was driven home powerfully in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie repeatedly affirmed before reporters that President Obama, working with FEMA, had acted swiftly to expedite his state’s recovery from the now historic storm. 

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Posted Perspectives on America’s 2012 Presidential Election (part 1 of 2) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

Tricks and Treats of the 2012 Presidential Debates (part 1): Editorial and Poem – by Aberjhani

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney greet their audience
at first presidential debate. (Photo by: ZHANG JUN/XINHUA/ZUMA PRESS/MCT)

 “I really think that one of the profound decisions the American people have to make now is whether they want to be governed by a president, or a boss. And I mean a boss!” ––Bravo Television’s James Lipton in conversation with Chis Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball Show.

 Halloween is close enough to the date of the 2012 American presidential election that the idea of the country waking up to either a trick or a treat on November 7 serves as an appropriate metaphor for the intense anxiety that has characterized much of the current campaign for the White House’s Oval Office.

Critics of Democrats have accused them of guerrilla decontextualization trickery in the form of a presidential administration that has delivered less that they believe it should have over the past four years. Likewise: critics of Republicans have charged them with attempting to force upon the country a potential leader whose potential administrative policies seem to shift and adapt to audience preferences.

In one sense, critics of both parties can claim the opposing candidate guerrilla decontextualized himself during the first 2012 presidential debate on October 3. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney did so by passionately presenting his political platform in much more moderate terms on such issues as affordable health care, women’s rights, and taxation than in the positions previously stated in live campaign appearances or the notorious 47 percent video. This penchant for reversing positions has been described by Mother Jones Magazine, Mr. Obama, and the Urban Dictionary as “Romnesia.” 

Republicans can claim the president engaged in guerilla decontextualization during the first debate by playing the role of a timid schoolboy allowing a classmate prone to bullying others to, in the consensus of the news media and much of the Democratic base, walk all over him and straight to a first-debate victory. For the second debate on October 16, it was Mr. Obama who executed the U-turn, not so much where his stand on fundamental issues is concerned but in regard to how dynamically he presented and defended his position. Whereas he had previously appeared somewhat reticent or even docile while Romney drove home point after point, in the second debate he repeatedly stood and challenged Romney’s contentions to such a degree that the two men often appeared more as if they were engaged in a boxing match rather than a debate.

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Tricks and Treats of the 2012 Presidential Debates (part 1): Editorial and Poem – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

Poetry Plus Journalism Equals What?  A Reconciliation of Sorts – by Aberjhani

Cover of first edition of I MADE MY BOY OUT OF POETRY featuring original art by celebrated New Orleans and New York artist Gustave Blache III.

Recently I found myself on the verge of crossing over from ambivalence into guilt due to the amount of time and creative energy devoted this year to online journalism and other forms of prose-writing as opposed to a more luxurious immersion into the rich flow of poem-making. There were actually at least two instances in 2012 when I managed to combine the genres: the first came in February when writing about the death of Whitney Houston and the second came, ironically enough, in August when writing about the life of one Michael Joseph Jackson.

Although the poems included with the stories can stand well enough on their own, the fact that they were generated by journalistic concerns instead of employed as an initial means to a necessary end in themselves made me feel somewhat negligent. After all, where journalism was concerned I had written stories on a variety of topics ranging from the creative arts to political battles. And I had even launched two major series projects–– Paradigm Dancing and Guerrilla Decontextualization.

Maybe remorse had crept up on me because in the beginning of my breath-taking literary adventures poetry had been my first great love and journalism a secondary acquired passion. An early reading of essays by Albert Camus, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin had hinted at the possibility of a sustainable marriage between the two.

This being the year America decides whether or not its first black president has earned enough love, trust, and respect to grant him a second term, failing to address the political dynamics of the hour journalistically has not proven a viable historical option. Therefore, I eventually arrived at that precipice of doubt and anxiety where I could hear poetry weeping that I had abandoned it while journalism proudly gloated over its ostensible dominance.  Had I been writing political poems––such as Claude McKay’s commanding “If We Must Die” or W.H. Auden’s “Spain 1937”–– I likely would not have experienced this crisis of literary conscience.  

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Poetry Plus Journalism Equals What?                                      A Reconciliation of Sorts – Bright Skylark Literary Productions.