“Everything he touched he made better'.” --Historian Lonnie Bunch.
The celebration held at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, NJ, on November 14, 2014, honored the city itself as much as it did the life of historian Clement Alexander Price, who passed on November 5.
Political leaders such as Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D–N.J.) expressed similar observations about the great educator following his death. So did members of the community at Rutgers University where he taught, fellow associates on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, administrators at the Smithsonian Institute, and those at the National Endowment for the Humanities.
A Prodigiously Productive Life
Dr. Price’s exhaustive list of accomplishments includes co-founding (with the late Giles R. Wright) the Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series in 1981, taking on the directorship of the Rutgers Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience, chairing the New Jersey State Council on the Arts from 1980 to 1983, and authoring some four books on different aspects of American and African-culture, including Freedom Not Far Distant: A Documentary History of Afro-Americans in New Jersey (1980). Despite his own demanding schedule and prodigious output, as various speakers at his funeral service attested, Price somehow made time to accommodate requests from those who needed some fragment of his genius to lend weightier substance and dignity to their specific projects. Along those lines, he contributed a foreword to Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File), and an essay to the book Small Towns, Black Lives: African American Communities in Southern New Jersey (Noyes Museum of Art), both published in 2003. On behalf of the citizens of his beloved Newark, he accepted the title of City Historian near the beginning of 2014. In an official entry into the U.S. Senate record, Sen. Booker noted Price’s capacity for giving to others as well as his dedication to Newark:
“…He served not only as our leading historian, but as a powerful spiritual force in our state’s largest city. He was invested in Newark, and – ever generous with his time - was known to arrange tours for visitors that highlighted not only the city’s rich history, but its considerable promise. Clem always recognized the vital truth that charting a brighter course for the future requires a comprehensive understanding of the past.”
Among the most compelling commentators at the service for Price was Mayor Ras Baraka, whose impassioned poetic delivery evoked memories of his poet-playwright father, the late Amiri Baraka. Mayor Baraka credited Price with helping to shape his political and social vision of Newark:
“…Newark is one of America’s oldest metropolises that wears the scars of Western democracy all over her face, tragically beautiful, complex and proud. If you stop on our streets for a second and listen, you can hear Clem’s voice, beckoning us, forcing us all to deal with each other.”
Moreover, in his official statement as mayor following the announcement of Price’s death, Baraka announced the following:
“…Our celebrations of Newark’s 350th Anniversary in 2016 will be a tribute to his love of Newark and his vision of its greatness as our nation’s third-oldest city. He defined the transformation we are making to turn Newark into a City we can all believe in.”
The acknowledgements of Clement Price’s highly-prized singular genius for intellectual scholarship and down-to-earth compassion were so deeply compelling––drawing tears and laughter alike––that one is left wondering why more of the world did not share in more of him. Possibly that would have spoiled the unique pure-gold rarity of his academic and spiritual gifts. Possibly it would have removed him too far from the reach of those whom Pastor Moses William Howard referred to as the “little Clement Prices” that God will send and “who will usher us into this city’s great future.”
Words Sung, Spoken, and Written
The song “There is a Balm in Gilead” sung in his honor by the powerful baritone Kevin Maynor, and Norman Lewis’ brilliant rendition of “Oh What a Beautiful City” were perfectly executed double salutes that could have referred as easily to the historian’s release from the physical world as they could have to the vision of Newark’s rebirth viewed by many as the centerpiece of his legacy.
Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s description of Price as “a speaker of grace and a narrator of hope,” historian Lonnie Bunch quoting his mother’s declaration of him as “the patron saint of Newark,” student Andrea Barton Reeves acknowledgement of her “beloved teacher… a man of immeasurable integrity,” Price’s cousin Randall Kennedy’s description of him as “a cultivator of grace,” and the words of numerous others combined to produce something rarely seen publicly in America in the year 2014.
Their spoken and written words offered as tribute to Dr. Price produced a portrait of a black man who had been unreservedly cherished for the contents of his character and the balanced weight of his once-living presence on Earth. The contrast was a brutally stark one compared to the images and implications that followed the deaths of so many black men in America in 2014. Whereas the tears shed for numerous others this year have been from inconsolable aggravated grief and political outrage, those wept for Clement Alexander Price were clearly tears of joy and gratitude.
My AuthorsDen colleague Ronald Hull commented recently that I seem to have successfully managed the art of literary social media network hobnobbing (my descriptive language, not the impressively cerebral Ron’s). The compassionate behind-the-scenes team that helps me remain connected knows it has more to do with their willingness to lend an indispensable helping hand than with any techno-savvy or social-media wizardry on my part. Also, for me, it’s more like visiting diverse friends and associates in different virtual neighborhoods when time allows.
The team, however, can only do so much and some issues have to be dealt with through as much direct engagement as possible. Two big examples are the upgrade at Creative Thinkers International that has been in progress since the beginning of 2014 and the lamentable shutdown of Red Room back in July. The CTI upgrade is largely a matter of working with and adjusting to rollouts provided by the Ning/Glam Media Network. As many Ningians and members of various social networks have discovered, adapting to those rollouts can be a very tricky dance (Check out The Splendidly Revitalized Colors of Change ).
Endings & Beginnings
The Red Room shutdown was unexpected and has proven challenging for reasons that are more than sentimental. Blurbs for posts shared on Red Room were automatically shared as status updates on several Facebook profiles as well, so that distribution outlet has been lost (See The Saving Grace of an Old School Strategy and Impulse ).
There were also more links connected to books, articles, stories, poems, videos, and photographs scattered around the web than I could begin to count or think about removing on my own. They had accumulated, after all, over a period of nearly 7 years and were then rendered dysfunctional in less than a week.
Making the LinkedIn Connection
There is, however, that old saying which goes, “When one door closes another opens.” Sometimes even 2 or 3 new doors open. Just as Red Room said goodbye, LinkedIn issued an invitation for me to publish blogs alongside some of the world’s leading organization and industry strategists (A recent share Let’s Fix It 7 Steps to Help Replace Legislated Fear with Informed Compassion ).
Because I have become so accustomed to posting works of a definitive literary or journalistic nature, I was uncertain about how effective such a move might be. In the end, the challenge was one I could not resist and to date I have shared just over half a dozen posts on LinkedIn that combine advocacy for the creative arts with entrepreneurial, social, and political concerns. In addition, I also found myself living up to my pledge to support the Charter for Compassion organization in ways I had not previously anticipated. (Like this Creative Flexibility and Annihilated Lives )
I think that upon signing the charter at the beginning of 2014, I might have presumed that the signature, a few retweets of Charter statements, and some shared links were as far as my involvement would go. Thankfully I was wrong. As the world began to realize the full magnitude of threats posed by groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS, as well as by domestic violence and homegrown terrorism, the Charter provided me with an extended platform to address such issues.
On top of all the above, there was also the launch of the blog Tao of the Rainbow, about which I will share more in that specific space.
The year 2014 thus far has meant negotiating a lot of important exchanges. Determining exactly how influential or significant those changes are may have to wait until 2015 gets underway. For now, the only thing I can say for certain is that at least a few more very interesting developments are on the way, which is generally about how things tend to go in my world.
© Oct 25, 2014
“It has always been much easier (because it has always seemed much safer) to give a name to the evil without than to locate the terror within. And yet, the terror within is far truer and far more powerful than any of our labels: the labels change, the terror is constant.” –James Baldwin, from the essay Nothing Personal
Before there were human resource managers and action research teams counseling American corporations on the advantages of embracing diversity rather than vilifying it, there was author James Baldwin putting the theory to the test in acclaimed essays, novels, plays, short stories, poems, and dialogues. Social networkers in recent weeks have found occasion to quote those writings in regard to everything from a Palestinian state and gay marriage equality to Barack Obama’s presidency and the American identity.
It is true that he marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., and shared podiums with Malcolm X, Marlon Brando, and other iconic figures of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. It is also true that the author was something of a mentor to both the late Literarian Award-winner Maya Angelou and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. Yet these biographical notes cannot fully account for the astonishing resurgence of interest in Baldwin’s legacy as observed in New York City and elsewhere via the ongoing Year of James Baldwin in honor of the 90th anniversary of his birth.
Baldwin understood that diversity was about more than racial dynamics or shifting cultural demographics. He knew that once society made its way past surface categorizations it would have to confront the more beguiling challenge of individuality dwelling beneath the surface of public demeanor. He was acutely aware of every American as a crucial stakeholder in the future of democracy, and just as aware of humanity’s need in general to liberate itself from the fear-driven inclination to oppress another for the sake of laying false claim to a doubly-false sense of “security.” What may provide greater insight on the resurgence of interest in his work and encourage reasons to host dialogues regarding the same on every educational level is the following:
The Year of James Baldwin Now in Full Classic Literary Swing
Members of New York City’s cultural arts community made a rare kind of decision earlier this year and the results of that decision continue to generate exceptional events and responses. They–– as in Columbia University School of the Arts, Harlem Stage, and New York Live Arts–– elected to observe The Year of James Baldwin from April 2014 until June 2015 in honor of the late iconoclastic African-American author’s 90th birthday August 2, 2014.
Long before he died on December 1, 1987, millions came to recognize the indelible mark of Baldwin’s impact on, and the incredible depth of his singular voice within American literature. He is in many ways more alive now than ever before, a statement that holds especially true when considering the events that have already been held to launch the year dedicated to him.
“There were few political figures as deeply engaged and as capaciously soulful as James Baldwin, nor we’d like to insist, any as urgently pertinent to our own times,” noted curator Lawrence Weschler in the brochure for Live Ideas, James Baldwin This Time! He added the following:
“We agree with one of our Festival’s premier participants, the poet Nikky Finney, that James Baldwin may well have been one of ‘the most salient, sublime and consequential American writers of the twentieth century.’ And this is not just because he confronted truths about race and gender with a vividness and lucidity few before him had done, but because he always did so from the vantage of an American—not just a black man, not just a gay man, but an heir to the whole harrowing, horrible, magnificent American project, and a prophet as to what that project yet could become, and indeed has to become.”
Initial enthusiasm for The Year of James Baldwin has been backed up with many outstanding events launched during April. One of them was the premier of Patricia McGregor’s stage adaptation of Nothing Personal, based on photographer Richard Avedon’s (1923-2004) and Baldwin’s now classic 1964 work of quietly understated images and provocative text such as this:
“…Wherever love is found, it unfailingly makes itself felt in the individual, the personal authority of the individual. Judged by this standard, we are a loveless nation. The best that can be said is that some of us are struggling. And what we are struggling against is that death in the heart which leads not only to the shedding of blood, but which reduces human beings to corpses while they live.”
Another noted event was a “preview” of the multi-talented Carl Hancock Rux’s stage piece, Stranger on Earth (the title comes from a classic song by Dinah Washington). Featuring Rux and vocalist Marcelle Davies Lashley, the work imagines Baldwin and Washington in a powerful dialogue on race, music, and creative artists’ perceptions of the future of the world.
Among the most talked about events thus far has been a conversation focused on Baldwin’s still-controversial novel, Another Country, between the Academy-Award nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal and author Colm Toíbín held May 1at Columbia University’s Altshcul Auditorium. The year-long celebration also received substantial attention during the Harlem Book Festival held July 11-14 with important panel discussions on work by Baldwin held at both Columbia University and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
In addition to those already noted, numerous others have lent their celebrated voices in support of the event, including: choreographer Bill T. Jones, the dramatist Stew, poet Yusuf Komunyakaa, and authors Michelle Wallace, Walter Mosely, Jamaica Kincaid, ad Fran Lebowitz, just to name a few.
FOR MORE PLEASE READ: The Year of James Baldwin Now in full classic literary swing (part 2): Letter to James Baldwin
Quote by Aberjhani with original digital MLK poster: “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was a manifestation of hope that humanity might one day get out of its own way by finding the courage to realize that love and nonviolence are not indicators of weakness but gifts of significant strength.” --Aberjhani
Different roads provide diverse routes to freedom. For many, the path is an interior one. It first requires an individual to the clear from the landscape of inner beingthose areas overgrown with woody thickets of doubt and trauma or buried beneath swamplands of self-imposed limitations.
There are others––like the Americans who struggled for civil rights in the 1960s, and citizens of the Middle East and various African countries currently battling for basic human rights–– who take a more public journey to freedom. Their sense and experience of liberty is defined by interaction with the external dictates of history, evolving cultural persuasions, and dominant political trends. Individuals such as these inspired the article Text and Meaning in Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech.
Whether the journey is undertaken within or without, the impulse to demand, claim, and exercise freedom ––not just as a politicized human right but as a fundamental tenet of human existence–– is as automatic as gulping air when first leaving the womb. It therefore is not particularly surprising that the King Center in Atlanta has chosen to conclude its 50th anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech with a “Let Freedom Ring” international bell-ringing event at 3 p.m. on August 28.
“We are calling on people across America and throughout the world to join with us as we pause to mark the 50th anniversary of my father’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech with ‘Let Freedom Ring’ bell-ringing events and programs that affirm the unity of people of all races, religions and nations,” said King Center C.E.O. Bernice A. King in a news release from the Center.
When considering in 2013 the horrendous number of people who have died in Syria’s civil war over the past several years, those who have lost their lives to domestic gun violence in the United States over the past several decades, and writers and artists who are persecuted daily in different countries for “speaking truth to power,” the idea of ringing bells in the name of freedom might strike some as ludicrous. It is, however, this insistence upon liberty in the face of weighted oppression that has always given self-determination its strength and value.
Freedom rings bells because throughout history silence has too often served as an accomplice to genocide, slavery, and other forms of barbarity.It rings bells to remind humanity that the most precious gifts in life––like children and love and time––must never be taken for granted. Freedom rings bells to wake us from the comfort of beautiful dreams and empower the efforts that turn them into reality.
While considering which quote to share for my #MarvelousMonday Twitter tweet this past week, I felt instinctively that it should come from I Made My Boy Out of Poetry. What wasn’t so clear was whether it should be taken from a specific story or poem. That this particular #MarvelousMonday also happened to be my birthday seemed inconsequential so far as the quote was concerned.
Flipping through pages and skimming through lines, the final stanza of “Crossing the Bridge of Bones” volunteered itself with a subtle flash:
Just above our terror, the stars painted this story
It spoke well, I thought, to both the cataclysmic nature of our era and the enduring persistence of the human spirit to survive the roaring sound and fury of these very same times. The odd thing was that I paid almost no attention to the poem from which it was taken until after the quote had been posted.
Poems are sometimes born of a perspective, or a singular blast of sudden heated awareness, indigenous to a specific moment. To a degree, “Crossing the Bridge of Bones” is such a poem. At the same time, however, it transcends that description in that it stands as a parable gleaned from memoir. But the surrealistic imagery, bordering on the phantasmagoric, evokes a kind of nightmare experience with which many might identify and then happily abandon at the poem’s more luminous conclusion. What moved me the most upon revisiting it was seeing how the central image of the poem and the presence of the angel prefigured the images, themes, and characters that would give form to The Bridge of Silver Wings, which later would evolve into The River of Winged Dreams.
Crossing The Bridge of Bones
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.