I met a friend today while cruising the town. He’s not mine but I enjoyed our time together. Everyone meet Tutu. We met at this storage place. Isn’t he a cutie :-).
Hey there loves! Yall miss me? Yessss…
For those of you who don’t already know, I’m a native of Chicago, south side. This blog has been closed because this past weekend, we took a trip up to the windy city for the premiere of “Blakk Amerika: From Prophets to Pimps”, a Stage Play produced by my organization, Israylite Heritage, detailing 4,000 years of history of the so called African American people.
The event took place at The Dusable Museum of African American History. Over 300 people came out to see the almost 3 hour show. Words cannot fully express the empowerment expressed through this event. So instead, I put together a post of pics (as promised yess) to help me to give you an idea of what the play was about.
Let’s start with the name, why Prophets to Pimps?
The History of the African American is always told from the perspective of slavery and the America’s. Aside from the scarce mentioning of life in Africa, rarely is the true story of the identity of the black man and woman told from their glorious past before that. Prophets to Pimps embodies the truth concerning the black man and woman today; who at one point was a nation of Prophets, Prophetess, Kings and Queens. A nation of priest; chosen and set-apart to the most high and charged with the duty of teaching and showing all nations of people his ways.
The costumes were nothing short of amazing. As you can see, many of the actors / actresses are dressed in Egyptian garb. This is to showcase, not only the understanding that the Egyptians were a black skinned people, but more deeply, that the Israelites were also black skinned and that they, the Israelites, are the ancestors of the so called African American people. When they came into Egypt 70 in number, they were freed by the most high through the hand of Moses and led into the wilderness. They are dressed as Egyptians because as citizens of Egypt this is how they would have come out of that land.
When the Israelites were freed from Egypt, they made a covenant with the most high. In this covenant that they made, they promised to spread his word to the world. As a result, the almighty would in return make them the most mighty and most righteous nation above all the nations of the Earth. However, if they did not obey the covenant they would be the most despised and downtrodden of the Earth. They would be plagued by disease, oppression, sicknesses, be called by the names of proverbs, mockeries, and bywords (such as Nigga, Coon, Black, Afro-American, African American, American, etc.)., hidden in prison houses and go into slavery in ships. All of this, our entire history, is written and recorded in the bible itself. No longer would we be a nation of priest and prophets, but if we disobeyed the covenant of the most high, now we would be a nation of thugs and pimps. Sadly, we disobeyed the covenant that we made and so began our tragic downfall. We’ve gone from Prophets…..to Pimps.
The word pimp first appeared in English in 1607 in a Thomas Middleton play entitled Your five Gallants. It is believed to have stemmed from the French word “pimper” meaning to dress up elegantly. Pimp used as a verb, meaning to act as a pimp, first appeared in 1636 in the book, “The Beautiful Lover.” In the 18th and 19th centuries, the term was commonly used to refer to informers.
The play covered us being sold into slavery on auction blocks and life on the plantation. The audience really enjoyed this segment. The actors and actresses really put on a good show, causing the room to erupt in laughter and in tears when needed.
In this scene, the slave John is called as a prophet and sent to the other slaves to explain their oppression to them. As you can see, the play also included video on the projector screen and music. Combined, these elements added to the significance of the performances.
This is me! Lol….I play Betsy Mae, a slave on Paul’s plantation whose son gets sold away from her. The old me picture is used in a different scene to show to Besty’s great great great grandson Raymond. His mother, Shelia, explains slavery and what happened to her young son.
This is Ezkekiel. He plays the part of Besty’s son who is sold away from her. Isn’t he handsome! Awww lol.
• During slavery in the United States, the slaves referred to the slave owner as Masa. This was not a mispronunciation of the word Master. Masa is a Hebrew word that means burden/oppression.
• The famous Negro spiritual song KUMBAYAH was often sung on the plantations by slaves. According to the bible in the book of Psalms 68:4, the name of the creator is Yah. Like in the phrase, “Halleluyah” which is spelled “Hallelujah” but is pronounced, “Hallelu-Yah” because it means “Praise Yah”. The song KUMBAYAH therefore means “Come by Yah”. The slaves were singing to the true creator of all to come by and save them.
• The prophets carried the name of Yah in their names, although it has been changed to -iah, many of their names ended in yah. As in IsaiYah, JeremiYah, ZechariYah, ZephaniYah, ObadiYah, etc.
• The true name of the biblical messiah is Yahoshua. This Hebrew name means Yah’s Salvation or Salvation of Yah. It is equivalent in English to Joshua.
I also play the Shelia character in modern times, who teaches her son about his great great great grandmother (the Besty character I played in the beginning). The parallel in this scene showcases how our children are still being taken from us. Shelia gets a surprise visit from a DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services) agent who tries to take her son away. In this scene, my son is played by Zuri.
The most moving part of the play has to be this scene, when we talk about the lynching of African Americans. The scene begins in a home where a discussion is brewing between a woman who says black men should stand up and defend themselves.
But there’s a knock on the door from the neighbor who says police are looking for black men who they say killed three white women. All of the men ran to the woods to hide except Otis and Lewis who are still in the house. Her voice is filled with fear and urgency.
Otis and Lois
Nina Simmon’s Strange Fruit and live footage of hangings occupy the scene.
Fun Fact: The word picnic came from, “Pick a Nigger”. During lynchings, racist whites posed in front of camera’s, gathered blankets, and brought food to the executions. They brought their babies and children along as well. It was an entire event. And they watched as black men, women, and children hung to their deaths under trees. This is why your picnic must be in a spacious land area and under a tree. Lynchings were the first picnics.
**Disclaimer: We are an organization of all nationalities of people. We believe Yah’s love is for ALL men who accept his truth and walk in his ways. Israylite Heritage does not support any racial superiority doctrine.**
No longer do our children respect their mothers and fathers. Now, they oppress them. They have no obedience for the elders in their communities. They have no fear.
No longer do black women look at themselves as princesses and their men as princes; now we are thots and our men are niggas. No longer do we submit ourselves to their authority and recognize them as heads of our households. Now we don’t need a man because we can pay our own bills and buy our own cars. We have made money synonymous with protection. We have turned our glory into shame.
The leaders and so called preachers and deacons within the Black community have led them astray. No longer do they teach you about your mighty heritage, instead they rob you physically and spiritually. They teach you to give tithes that were reserved for the Levite priest (of which we have no knowledge of today), and that was not money to begin with. They do not teach you to fear your almighty creator. Instead they teach you to worship the Gods and Goddesses of your oppressors. Our leaders buy million dollar jets, monopolize on our sorrows, and give nothing in return. They have led us astray and destroy the way of our path.
My husband as Muhammad. Hubby is actually an experienced actor. He has done commercials, voice overs, and has been featured in films alongside Lorenz Tate, Lisa Ray and others. He has many parts in the play but this particular one is that of the store owner Muhammad. It is to showcase the fact that other nationalities of people come into this country and in no time build up businesses within the Black community. We have been in this country for centuries and have not built much of anything, why? Prophecy says this will happen to the children of Israel if they disobeyed the covenant. People wonder why racism in America always surrounds blacks? Because of every nationality in the world, we are the lowest. And that’s just real.
However, the truth is being restored and we will be made great again.
Because this is already a long post and does not even begin to scratch the surface, I am going to leave it here. However, there is so much response from this play that we are already booking to show it again 3 more times this year in different states and again in Chicago this fall. It is possible that we will put together a tour. Details are forthcoming. In the meantime, here are some more pics of the family, rehearsals, etc. (They are not professional pictures because we are still processing the footage and pictures our camera guy took).
Just thought I’d share this article as a current events type deal before heading out for today. Though I don’t really get photography as an art far as all the technicalities are concerned (I mean, there are good pictures and then there are…good pictures), I do love the camera myself and I do think photography plays an important role in the unfolding of historical events. Had it not been for photographers, we would not have the opportunity to relive some of the most profound moments in history with such intimacy. As for my thoughts on the specific events rocking the country, I will have to come back with another post when I have more time, however I am led, we will see. Till then stay in tune:
Devin Allen is a self-taught photographer and Baltimore native. His images from the protests following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody have received thousands of likes and shares on social media. As the situation continued to unfold in his hometown, Fusion caught up with Allen to learn more about his work and the gaps in the narratives being reported on the news versus those being experienced on the ground.
Fusion: So how old are you and how long have you been doing photography?
Devin Allen: Well, I’m 26, and I started photography [about] 3 years ago, in 2013.
Fusion: What got you started?
Devin Allen: Basically, hanging in the city, we don’t have a lot to do…one of my friends actually got me into doing poetry, so I had my own poetry night. But I suck. I can write poetry but I cannot perform. So I had to find a way to give people that poetry feel, but visually, so I started making T-shirts. From there I got into photography. I would take pictures and put them on T-shirts and eventually, I fell in love with it and that became my major outlet since then.
Fusion: How long have you been in Baltimore?
Devin Allen: All my life.
Fusion: Your whole life, so you’re local?
Devin Allen: Yes.
Fusion: What stands out to you about Baltimore when you are taking pictures? What makes Baltimore so interesting to you?
Devin Allen: It’s just real. Baltimore is a real city. It don’t cut no corners. You know, when you get around certain people or certain places it don’t feel real? You know, like everything seems perfect? Baltimore is not that. It’s a beautiful place, it’s like a rose in concrete to me. It’s a beautiful place, but most people don’t see it like I see it. I was born and raised here, so I see the negative, I see the positive. I see the good and the bad. I’ve been on both sides of the fence – both the good side and the bad side. So that’s what it is for me – it’s a beautiful place, and it’s real.
Fusion: When you say you’ve been on the bad side, what do you mean? What is the bad Baltimore that you know and what is the good Baltimore that you know?
Devin Allen: Well, growing up here is very stressful. You can get caught up in a lot of things if you don’t have a strong environment [around you]. Growing up, I got caught up in a lot of foolishness because of friends, where I hung at, and umm…I was raised by my mother and her family, I was raised good, but I just had affection for the streets. I had a lot of friends in the hood who’d run the streets all day, I hung with a lot of people. I lost a lot of friends. I buried both my best friends back in 2013. Both of them were murdered. I lost both my best friends, so they’re like my inspiration. I was just doing whatever, you know, to get the day passed. I tried the school thing, didn’t work. Got a job, but you know it’s hard to stay the narrow with so much stress and negativity. Drugs everywhere, crack-infested, heroin-infested. It’s very difficult, but [an] easy city to get caught up in. As far as being on the bad side, I hung with drug dealers and I ran the streets with some bad people, you know?
Photography actually got me away from that because both my best friends were both murdered; one was murdered on a Friday, and my other best friend was murdered on a Saturday. The only reason I was not with them was because I had photo shoots both days. And that kind of bridged the gap between the streets and my art, and I chose my art over the streets.
Fusion: What would you say about your interactions with the police growing up in Baltimore?
Devin Allen: (Exhales.) Well, I have been subjected to racial profiling. You know, I have had friends beaten by police. I have had police plant drugs on me because they’ve been mad that they didn’t find any.
When I think of storytelling, a familiar image creeps into my mind: an elder with the strength of several generations. Eyes covered with glasses slightly tilted off the nose, he or she nodding slowly to the beat of a rocking chair. Their hands or knees are stiff with arthritis so it is rubbed continuously as the history of whatever crawls out of their mouth. And when it does, the ears jump with excitement, wondering how a single individual can be so vivid with detail. The story is told from somewhere down south under the roof of an inherited home, one passed down from generation to generation. A place where even the oldest relative once had his/her diapers changed, a place to always come back to and to always call home. This is a house on the countryside or perhaps a peaceful place in the city. Storytelling has been around since forever. It predates writing and has proven to be one of the most oldest and most effective ways to relay a message. Stories have been shared in every culture as a means of education, cultural preservation, entertainment, and instilling moral values.
One of the characteristics of storytelling that makes it so powerful is the colorful expression as showcased by the orator. The tone of voice, gestures, creativity, and point of view of the speaker. I always enjoy a good sit down with the elderly in that I may relive moments to which I had not existed. Even in my mind, as I pass an elder on the street, I cannot help but fathom what today’s world must look like through their eyes. It is a silent and private game between me and that person. Quickly and excitedly I create a background for them. Did that old black lady experience Jim Crow? What was it like for her? Did that old white lady experience the first integration of schools? What was it like for her? As I remember it, I was one day standing under a foyer at the Veterans Hospital waiting for my husband. It was raining out so I was careful to keep under the hood of the building. An elderly white man came walking out of the building. His back slightly hunched as he glided from one step to the next. “Is it still raining?” he asked, more so to the air than anyone in particular. “Yep”, I said looking into the sky. As he walked away, muttering a phrase under his breath I’d never heard but cannot remember accurately enough to share, I wondered about his youth and about how he would compare today’s world to the one he grew up in. Did he think the direction of things had bettered or worsened? I wondered, as I do always.
Perhaps Storytelling is so impactful because of its ability to both educate and entertain at the same time. Spoken Word Poetry, Theater, Photography, and writing in general, for example, is built from the foundation of the orator. It is in its basic form, Storytelling. While we may add the glitter and gold of our own poetic technique, it is the expert story teller who catches the peoples attention. It is the person who can design for us not just a collection of good-sounding words, not just a picture, but a reality. A stepping forth into someone elses world. Maybe we will enjoy our stay, maybe we will not. But whether or not we like it here is of no relevance, the whole point is to be taken there. The author has taken you there and you must then decide if you really want to continue to be a part of this persons world. If you believe you can extract from them some portion of themselves that may be of benefit to your own life. What can I learn from the history and the experiences of this individual, whether character or real live personnel. In short, Storytelling is a means for sharing and interpreting experiences. Stories are great teaching tools because, like love, it is a universal language. Universal in that they can bridge cultural, linguistic, and age-related divides. Although my image of the storyteller is that of an elder, Storytelling can actually be adaptive for all ages, and can be used as a method to teach ethics, values, and cultural norms and differences. Books and organized / structured schooling is one way to acquire information, but experience has taught us that social environment and contact physically with others is of great benefit to learning. It provides real life examples about how knowledge is to be applied. Stories then function as a tool to pass on knowledge in a social context.
In the end, stories exist to create a visual example of word in the mind of the listener / reader. To take the creative skill and the imagination and express them in a way that can literally be seen. And since Art is defined as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination (typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture), Storytelling is also a form of art, producing stories to be appreciated primarily for its emotional power and for the beauty in which it is told.
Honestly, I can’t teach your ways to anyone, nor do I know much about you. I don’t talk about you a lot either, or cough up revelations about how I came to enjoy the way your eyes capture and then freeze our lives. I do remember however our first real encounter. It was the 11th grade. Mrs. Luno coupled us for the school yearbook, and we walked the hallways of Harper High School like we had been together for years. You wrapped your arms around my neck and let my pupils kiss your face. Together we recorded, froze, and transformed time into memory. We followed Jesse Jackson and Arnie Duncan through interviews and meetings. You even let me choose what to see and hold you in my arms during assemblies, plays, and basketball games. Letting me control the way your body felt in my hands, and in seconds we created images both tangible and symbolic; both real and fantasy. It was the first time I came to appreciate this kind of relationship with technology. We had so much in common: Your shutter and my pupil, your film and my retina, and our capacity to record the past; your memory card, and my brain. I still don’t completely understand you, but goodness, don’t I love holding the camera!
The best thing about pictures is capturing a single moment. By stopping time in its tracks you freeze not just that moment but also the emotion stamped into it. Not only do you remember what you felt but you also experience that feeling again. Every glance is a blast back to one moment; the second movement was blessed with stillness; light, color, and atoms all bonded together and locked tight into the single shape of laughter, joy, sadness, or a relaxed coolness; giving you the permission to hold time in the palms of your hands, and the miracle of revisiting yesterday if only to feel what you felt again.
This picture was taken almost three years ago, and the history behind it always makes me laugh. Hubby and I had just boarded the Carnival Conquest for a trip to Jamaica, Cozumel, and the Cayman Islands. I wasn’t smiling so hard because of excitement necessarily, but because I was actually not just smiling, I was laughing. These people were worse than paparazzi (not like I live the lifestyle to know what that feels like but I imagine it was something like this). They practically pushed us in front of the camera. Imagine walking down the street… (no, gliding is more like it) yea, gliding down the street encased in your own thoughts. You are somewhere between right now and yesterday and tomorrow; basking in the joy of this moment. Imagining what this week away from the world would be like. At the same time your accounting for the items you carry with you: tickets, card, purse, luggage….smile! Just like that someone snaps a picture, somehow simultaneously pushing you both in front of the camera. A burst of pending excitement is no longer concealed to your inward parts, but is about to give birth to an eruption of butterflies once protected in your stomach and are now visible in the creases of your face. But you’ve got to hold it all together with a pose that won’t look like you’re really rolling on the floor laughing, and will make the most gorgeous couple headlines at the same time.