Soulful Visions of the Speaking Self: Ronald Mason on At the Edge – Thinking Culture


Ronald Mason the spoken word artist who came to Washington DC as an educator from New Orleans returns for part two to talk about poetry, spoken word, and making culture. Poet Carl Moore who hails from Philadelphia will briefly join us to share his work as well. Tonight we will each share our works, methods, and stories about what it means to be creative writers in a highly politicized time period while holding true to our visions as artists. Tonight we will discuss soulful visions and being true to the speaking self!

American Nightmare

After reading Kevin P. Keating’scleveland-visitor-bureau post in, “Cleveland’s Heart of Darkness,” I felt a need to respond to his description of racism and classism in my hometown:

I lived it everyday in suburbia.

I faced it everyday, as did my parents, brother, and most of my relatives. My parents thought moving to Bedford Heights would protect us from the ills that plague our culture–it was there in suburbia–just hidden under euphemisms.

This latest incident in Cleveland comes as no surprise–but through it all, the people still come together even when the rich and privileged don’t care. Notice I didn’t say that this was about race. Race is only one part here–SOCIAL CLASS has ALWAYS been the measurement by which the institutions and those running them have dispersed services and care in most cities. You see just as many if not more poor Whites getting ill-treatment as Blacks and Hispanics. We just tend to be locked up at higher rates.

To be poor is to be invisible in this country. That, to me, is part of the horror story unfolding in my hometown.

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Birdsfoot Trefoil: The Lady Of Charity (Part One) Story #6 [30 Stories in 30 Days]

Birdsfoot Trefoil:  Lady Of Charity (Part One) Story #6 [30 Stories in 30 Days]birdsfoot-trefoil

By Cherie Ann Turpin

The stench of old urine was almost overwhelming.  The floor had not been mopped, and the desk chair itself was covered in dried urine.  Emma Smith was forced to sit in that very chair for an entire week.  At eight years old Emma was potty trained and normally would not have urinated all over her school uniform, her desk chair, and the floor around her.

Emma was a transfer student from St. James Parish School, a Catholic school in Cleveland to Saint Margaret Parish School, a Catholic school in Bedford, a quiet suburb far from the city.  Her family arrived as new residents of the adjacent suburb Bedford Heights, part of the early wave of African-Americans migrating to outer suburbs for better schools and clean streets during 1974.  During their first week of suburbia, eggs were smashed against the side of the tan, three-bedroom house, and the word “nigger” was drawn in large black letters in their driveway.  Dan Smith was short, reddish-brown, and stocky, with prematurely grey hair and matching grey eyes that tended to frighten strangers.  Dan, still wearing his mechanic’s uniform, stood outside in his driveway staring at the slur crudely drawn, as if to comprehend the implications of bringing his family into a war scenario.  His normally calm face drew tight with silent anger, anger he swallowed as he washed and scrubbed away the offensive word from his property.

“But the schools out here are better, Dan,” pleaded his wife Janet, her large brown eyes watching him mark the kitchen floor with dirt from his work boots while he paced.  “The kids need to be away from the city.  It’s not safe for them.” Janet watched Dan as he stopped in mid-pace and said, “and this is safe?”

Emma’s first day at Saint Margaret’s was marked by the initial reaction of the two girls to her appearance at the bus stop one cloudy Monday.  The two were waiting for the school bus at the end of Deer Run Drive, and were curious about the waif-like girl with three big plaits and cinnamon skin wearing a dark blue uniform and neat white oxford shirt with a rounded collar.  Her brand new saddle shoes were black and white leather.  She carried a Scooby-Doo lunchbox full of snacks, fruit, and a cheese sandwich. The two blond girls wore identical uniforms, and carried lunch boxes as well.  Emma spoke first, smiling.  They stared at her for one whole minute, silently.

“Why do you talk so proper,” responded one of the girls. She made a “eww” face, and whispered to the other girl.  The yellow bus appeared, and the two girls got on first and moved to the middle seat, while Emma sat up front.  The entire busload knew that the Black girl talked “weird” by the end of the bus trip.

Third grade teacher Miss May was not amused at the prospect of her classroom becoming integrated.  By the time the urine incident happened, she had routinely downgraded Emma’s homework and marked her as disruptive in class for asking questions.  Unfortunately for Emma on that fateful day, the row where she sat had been punished because one student spoke out of turn: no bathroom or playground breaks for the entire afternoon.  Emma tried to hold the pee inside, and begged to be allowed to go to the toilet.

Miss May, a tall, thin, stern woman with cold grey eyes shrouded by spectacles and short bangs, was not moved.  She watched the little girl squirm and finally, as the urine flowed, cry silently, ashamed and humiliated.  Emma’s luminous brown eyes lost its shine that day, and grew duller as the week progressed and the smell lingered.  Her little classmates were already hostile to having a Black girl in their midst; they laughed at her in the playground and on the school bus taking her home.

“Why don’t you like me?” Emma asked Miss May, as the class filed in a row to depart for the weekend.

Miss May paused for a moment, then bent down, looking at the sad girl, “Of course I like you, Emma.” Some of the girls in line giggled.

Emma felt something break inside herself, and a voice near her ear began to speak: she lies, bitter, angry woman.  Emma looked around to see who was talking, but saw no one.  I am here, child, take notice of my voice.


To be continued….

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