Continuum: Who Your People?
We are continua.
My own roots are in a river of art that carved liberatory space; art created through acts of daring and compassion by artists and by communities who participated in and supported it.
My trunk is the body of my experience making live art (theatre, music, performance art), writing and teaching in many communities and circumstances with a host of powerful collaborators.
My branches reach toward the third thing, toward the spaces between and beyond-sounding the blue note.
The stories and the languages we inherit can feed us, but if we, in turn, do not make our own, we will be caged by the past. We must gestate, birth and raise new language and tell new stories to achieve liberatory space. That is our responsibility.
Free your own and others' imagination and the rest will flow, like a river. A river meant for rooting.
I have learned from the presence, wisdom and insight of masters. I have been inspired by artists who have made their own pathways. I have been blessed to study with great teachers (of all ages). I align myself with thinkers and craftspeople who long preceded me, but whose souls feel as close as breath.
My friendship and collaborative relationship with Robbie McCauley has gone from early apprenticeship to familial feeling. She is a master of performance; she is comparable in the theatrical work we do to the fully developed forces of Davis, Mingus, Coltrane or Carter in Jazz Music. I have learned more about the power of uncompromising presence from her than any artist. She is a fearless intellect who is also gracious and confident enough to be kind.
I was able to study with Aishah Rahman at Brown University. She taught me Playwriting and also all about the Black Arts Movement. She passed away in December, 2014.
DR. CONSTANCE E. BERKLEY
I wrote this remembrance of Dr. Berkley after learning of her passing in 2014. I consider her the "mother of my mind". She taught me the discipline and fortitude that I've needed to stay true to myself, and to stay open to the vast field of potential. She also taught me about the cycles of history.
I painted this portrait of her in 1990-1991:
Portrait of Dr. Constance E. Berkley, Acrylic on Canvas, by DAJ, 1991.
Magic. Transformation. Tradition. Transgression. John Emigh. A guiding light as a professor, a luminary as a friend and mentor afterward. John opens portals to the other dimensions effortlessly and leaves you signs to suggest just how to get the most productively lost and found you can be.
ANNA DEAVERE SMITH
While my time with her was relatively brief, I can say with certainty, that Anna Deavere Smith had a gigantic impact upon me during our crossroads experience at Brown University. She opened up a way of seeing and hearing that forever changed my perceptions of human character and communication; and her utter confidence in me and her near-prophetic insight into my future path had baptismal force. She generously offered her time, good word, and many opportunities after Brown. I will always credit her with inspiring me to soar and worry about boundaries and others expectations later... no, wait... not. at. all.
Angelic force - the real, piercing, holy fire kind. Rebecca was inimitable. She was magical and wholly practical all at once. As an actress, she possessed a bone-shaking force onstage, be it in a wrenching drama or a belly-shaking comedy. She cultivated meaningful relationship with everyone she met, yet did not suffer fools, and left behind a legacy of activism that was profiled movingly by her mentee, the artist Tanisha Christie in the film Walk With Me. There are tools she gave me that I am still learning to use; she had deep faith and was a living reminder of the need for and the challenges of resistance to oppression. She died having made an indelible difference in the lives of so many people through her art and her activism, absolutely, but also through the indescribable power of her very presence.
I was connected to Laurie Carlos for seven years before I met her, having read about her and pinned her photo (torn from For Colored Girls... to my bulletin board. When we met, it was a powerful connection, the stuff of metaphysical alignment. I learned so much from her iconoclasm, aesthetic precision, uncompromising approach and indisputable NYC Loisaida swag. Our ten year collaboration ended in an abrupt and irreparable way, much like most of the stories I've read of jazz apprentices and masters. Though we are no longer connected, I will always be grateful for the gifts she gave me.