The Contradiction of Being African Centered While Not Supporting African Food Systems

The funny thing about many people who purport themselves to be Afrikan centered and/or call themselves conscious in the city of Richmond, Virginia – they all eat food but don’t purchase food from black farmers nor are they looking to sincerely build infrastructure to grow food. These are facts. Not just an opinion. I may lose supporters for saying this but truth is truth. I work with black farmers in our region. My work in urban agriculture was inspired, mentored and nurtured by black farmers. They want to know why the black folks who call themselves Afrikan don’t buy food from them.

Now Kwanzaa is upon us – (again) an african centered holiday that is based on the harvest – and African people are an agricultural people. Our ancestors were brought to the shores of the Americas specifically for our skills abilities related to food production. The West; (countries of European origin) built their fortunes on the backs of black labor that grew plants for food, stimulation and medicine. So the contradiction is – how are your ancestors agricultural and this is a harvest festival that deals with nation – building and self-determination – but you don’t grow food – which is the foundation of any nation you may build – NOR – do you support black farmers that grow food in your region? The elements of the nguzo saba are all manifested on the farm and through food systems. In every way. 365 days a year. Prove me wrong.

What is even more intriguing is that many of the folks who call themselves afrikan – would dare say that because others don’t do this or that dogma (be it hebrew israelite, be it moorish, be it nation of gods and earths, be it african traditional spiritual systems, be it kemetic sciences) – that those folks over there are asleep. I wonder what woke is – when the very thing you do everyday is controlled by somebody else – and you have access to the tools and resources to reverse that into being independent and self-determining but you don’t.

I find all of it interesting. What I have come to the conclusion is this – many of the folks who call themselves Afrikan – have plenty of energy for what they are against – but haven’t really identified what they are for. The folks who are really about it – I salute you – you aren’t running around yearning for likes on facebook or youtube – you doing the work. You dont feel no way about this post because you know you doing the work.

There becomes a moment where you may get so invested in the problem that you don’t see viable solutions. I think it is called paralysis of analysis. I am not saying that food is THE solution – but it is ONE solution that touches all of us regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, income level, education and/or level of awareness.

“There is no culture without agriculture” – Baba Tarik Oduno

Thoughts on Black Farming Disconnect

Black people were moved out of farming deliberately by the agricultural industry by virtue of the racist policies of the time. So looking for work folks moved to the cities they call it the great migration. So literally generations of black folks having been divorced from the land living in urban areas with no connection to where food comes from is the problem.

The racist legacy of the USDA comes from the work of white people in positions of power working to keep black people oppressed. They wouldn’t help black farmers. So the goal of white supremacy is to make sure that white people stay superior and the folks that worked for the USDA at the time identified with the racist ideologies and operated accordingly to keep black people marginalized. When whites got fearful of having to compete with freed african Americans i.e. former slaves they horded all the resources the USDA had to offer for themselves and discriminated against blacks so they could access those resources.

The USDA admittedly discriminated against black farmers denying loans and credit; then land was taken through black folks inability to compete in the market with white farmers who were getting access to all the programs and assistance the USDA had to offer. The notion is that land is power and using it to produce economically is powerful. So because the folks were racist the agency is complicit in the decline of black farmers. It was deliberate. They didnt want black people to own land or farm on a equal playing field so they discriminated so they can get all the money for themselves.


Everytime An Innocent Black Life Gets Taken

Everytime a innocent black life is taken by the system and displayed publically and makes the center of our attention and there is no response to say otherwise a black child is taught that black life doesnt matter and that black lives are inferior.

There is no amount of black is beautiful no amount of photography with black images or no amount of knowledge of history that can dissuade the bottom line that your very existence is on a lower echelon of value than white people. I dont care how many memes you make or tweets you tweet.

The conditioning by default is that if my black self is unprotected if i were something anything other than black i could have a chance in life. This thought process is called self-negation. So what you see b is the assasination of every black icon of greatness that black men are taught to aspire to be like and then even the regular people are killed with impunity.

In this context non of us should be suprised to see a black person say they dont wanna be called black or african american. Everything that is associated with that appellation in popular culture and statistically is sub par. Highest wealth and health disparity, highest mortality rates, highest rates of incarceration. Add to that our education system does not teach us why these patterns exist. We are left to infer that there must be something wrong with us a black people you kno of course because America is the greatest country in the world!

But see when you see black people waking up though and you start being part of the solution and you acknowledge that it aint always been like this. That you standing on the shoulders of greatness that faced way worse than what you facing then you realize yes we are ancient. You see the cause for celebration because if you here working after all the system then threw at us and you still pushing still upsurping that nefarious negativity in the form of white supremacy in its most covert of covertness, you realize we already won the war all you gotta do is stay on purpose.

Do something. Every something. Thats the reason you were birthed with thay melanin to set the world back correct on its axis.

Everything you seeing thats wrong need fixing. Your talent and skill is your tool and this house need rehabilitation. When you own the land and the home you recognize you can rebuilt the walls and roof when you have a strong foundation. The cornerstones of this fortress of african redemption got names inscribed on em. Fannie Lou Hamer. Marcus Garvey. Noble Drew Ali. Three little girls. Medgar Evers. Kwame Ture. Henry Highland Garnett. David Walker. Maggie Walker. Gabriel. Nat Turner. Toussaint. Carlos Cooks. Akhenaton. Buddha. Vishnu. Seminoles. Abu Bakr. Hannibal Tarikh. Sekou Toure. Cheik Anta Diop. Harriet Tubman. To many bricks on this foundation to name em all.

You gotta stand up to read the names though. Cant be shucking and jiving, on ya knees begging for white jesus to come to the rescue nah. Cant be afraid to speak truth to power. Cant be chasing pussy, twerking ya life away, smoking drinking as your only inspiration in life and expect to be able to read these hieroglyphics. Nope. It wont work. You gone stay off course floating in the ocean of life. Food for sharks

What is Happily Natural Day

‎”Natural hair has its place in the discussion of identity for people of African descent. As does love for ones inherent African features such as skin tone, body type and bone structure. But these ideals are only details in a much bigger picture that in panoramic view is more inclusive of living an authentic and sustainable lifestyle. During Happily Natural Day, one is immersed in the myriad of ways that people of African and indigenous descent experience authentic and sustainable lifestyles in a modern contemporary context. Through Happily Natural Day one becomes more aware of lifestyles that compliment a disengagement from the plastic inorganic life continuum that is forced upon us as people of color living in societies that circumscribed our cultures as savage and uncivilized. Through Happily Natural Day and events like it we seek reclamation of our sacred whether it be through food, adornment, commerce, education or performance art.”

Duron Chavis – Founder of Happily Natural Day Feb 29th, 2012

Happily Natural is a grassroots festival dedicated to holistic health and social change. The purpose of Happily Natural is to educate and inspire. By using music, lectures and workshops as tools for learning and upliftment, the festival reaches a wide audience because of it’s socially conscious approach. The festival brings together artists, musicians, vendors, activists and scholars whose focus is on social change and holistic health & wellness from all across the country.

Social Movement versus Trend Follow

Founded at the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia in Richmond Virginia in 2003, the festival has grown from a one day festival founded in Richmond Virginia to a three day celebration held in Richmond Virginia and Atlanta Georgia. Through community partnerships and the support of socially responsible individuals and organizations, Happily Natural has become one of the most anticipated annual grassroot events in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

In 2008 Happily Natural Day partnered with FTP Movement to annual celebrate Black August; a tradition established during the 1970’s in the California prison system by men and women of the Black/New Afrikan Liberation Movement as a means of acknowledging and studying the legacy of Afrikan resistance in the Americas and honoring fallen freedom fighters like George and Jonathan Jackson, Khatari Gaulden, James McClain, Williams Christmas and Fred Hampton.

17440215Happily Natural focuses on social change and holistic health & wellness. Since inception it has placed a specific focus on natural haircare, cultural heritage, and naturopathic medicine. Workshops are held annually on modalities for holistic healing, natural haircare & naturopathic medicine. Lectures on history, culture and heritage as it relates to Africans in America & throughout the Diapora are presented by scholars of wide & diverse backgrounds and specialties.

Its Bigger Than Your Afro

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Happily Natural initially focused on natural hair, which resulted in being called a natural hair “show”. However; it has a deeper significance and does not simply show patrons the latest in natural hair styles. Happily Natural tackles the tough discussion of “nappy” hair in the African community. Issues of self-esteem, identity, inferiority complexes, health and socio-psychological wellness are dealt with through informative sessions and presentations throughout the program.

How much does the ideal of white supremacy affect us today? How does the acceptance of European standards of beauty as universal reverberate through the African Diaspora? In South Africa, there are large numbers of our black brothers & sisters who are so discomforted by their dark skin that they go to extremes to bleach their skins causing illness in the quest to get light, “fair” skin. In adherence to the social mores, status quo, and in conformity to an ideal of beauty characterized by European culture & Western society, African’s in America and throughout the world attempt to lighten their skin tone, straighten their hair texture, and through plastic surgery, thin both nose & lips at serious risk to physical health, not to mention the psychological ramifications of not being able to accept the inherent beauty of one’s ethnicity.

IMG_0925Happily Natural also places a high emphasis on social change. Hosted annually through the collective efforts of a wide array of institutions, businesses and dedicated individuals; Happily Natural is a vehicle through which grassroots organizations, cultural activists and community advocates can network and interact in a festive atmosphere while promoting upliftment of the African community. During the festival, patrons are given the opportunity to talk with scholars, vendors & musicians who promote social change and holistic health & wellness. Community oriented poets, visual artists, and socially responsible business owners work together to make to inspire, illustrate and network to create cooperative socio-economic realities throughout the Diaspora. In the community Happily Natural Day stays active throughout the year with events and initatives addressing issues of culture, health and wellness and social change throughout the Richmond Region.


The Historical Imperative

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During the Black Arts Movement Elombe Brath and Kwame Brathwaite and the African Jazz Art Society & Studio cultivated the slogan “Black is Beautiful” via their “Naturally” shows in the early 60′s up through the late 70′s. Inspired by the “Miss Natural Standard of Beauty” contests hosted by pan-african Carlos Cooks on Garvey Day in Harlem; the Naturally shows incorporated musicans such as Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln into their productions and launched the “Grandassa Models” promoting the natural beauty of women of African descent throughout the Northeast. AJASS is considered to have pioneered the “natural look” and considerable credit is due to them for it is on the shoulders of such giants that Happily Natural Day stands proudly.

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50 years ago, psychologist Kenneth Clark’s work with black children became pertinent evidence in the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education. The now infamous doll test found that black children were identifying with white dolls more so than black dolls showing that segregation of public schools were detrimental to black children. The black children identifying with white dolls was attributed to an inferiority complex that was reasoned to be a by-product of segregation. The findings of that study helped to desegregate the schools, an event we are celebrate throughout the United States. In the 1980’s the same test was done with the same results, showing that the inferiority complex of black children runs deeper than school segregation. The test has been repeated in many different places since repeatedly yielding the same results showing that the inferiority complex of black children runs deeper than school. It stands to reason that it was not the segregation of the schools that caused the inferiority complex; it was ideals of white supremacy & the disparity between whites & blacks throughout society caused by white supremacy that bred this syndrome of self-discontent.


The black community has dealt with the myth of good hair vs. bad hair since slavery. Though the hair texture of people of African descent is prone to be curly, the majority of black women often seek a remedy for their “bad hair”. The “good hair” by definition is straight, long and flowing and easy to get a comb through. “Bad hair” as defined by popular culture is just the opposite, unmanageable, extremely curly, and “nappy”. By definition the hair that our Creator blessed us with at birth should be appreciated and looked upon as beautiful, however in the black community for a large majority of women & men, unlike other ethnic groups that take pride in their natural hair, many in the black community look at their natural, “nappy hair” as a burden of disgrace and socially unacceptable.

Why the Natural Hair Focus?

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As natural hair styles are resurgent in popularity it is important that we dig beneath the surface, and tap into the minds of the masses and wake up the collective mental potential of our African brethren & sisters, for this purpose a significant portion of Happily Natural Day is dedicated to presentations by renowned scholars in the fields of black consciousness, health, & spirit. Also, spoken word poets, musicians, and visual artists from all over the globe are provided a forum to present socially conscious presentations for our patrons to vibe to, be inspired by and meditate on.


Happily Natural Day as a vehicle was created to uplift the cultural and ethnic pride of Africans worldwide and do away with the idea that the natural characteristics of African culture and ethnicity are socially unacceptable. There is a legacy that the black community confronts daily due to its unique history in America, the fact that for decades anything having to do with black people was considered the object of ridicule and looked upon in disdain by mainstream European culture. This phenomenon gave birth to an intense inferiority complex in the Black community and can be identified around the world as a characteristic response to white supremacy, a response in which many begin to negate themselves in an attempt to assimilate into European culture. Though it would be an over generalization to say that all black women straighten their hair to look like white women; many do so because they simply are not knowledgeable of the easy, cost effective ways in which to take care of their natural hair, it must be noted that for the majority of print & cinematic media especially lifestyle magazines, network television, and the fashion industry the model for beauty is consistently a white woman. These areas of media are referenced everyday by the general public for what is considered socially acceptable in terms of beauty.

The Bigger Picture

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How much do the ideals of white supremacy affect us today? How does the acceptance of European standards of beauty as universal reverberate through the African Diaspora? In South Africa, there are large numbers of our black brothers & sisters who are so discomforted by their dark skin that they go to extremes to bleach their skins causing illness in the quest to get light, “fair” skin. In adherence to the social mores, status quo, and in conformity to an ideal of beauty characterized by European culture & Western society, African’s in America and throughout the world attempt to lighten their skin tone, straighten their hair texture, and through plastic surgery, thin both nose & lips at serious risk to physical health, not to mention the psychological ramifications of not being able to accept the inherent beauty of one’s ethnicity.

Natural hair has its place in the discussion of identity for people of African descent. As does love for ones inherent African features such as skin tone, body type and bone structure. But these ideals are only details in a much bigger picture that in a panoramic view is more inclusive of living an authentic and sustainable lifestyle. During Happily Natural Day, one is immersed in the myriad of ways that people of African and indigenous descent experience authentic and sustainable lifestyles in a modern contemporary context. Through Happily Natural Day one becomes more aware of lifestyles that complement a disengagement from the plastic inorganic life continuum that is forced upon us as people of color living in societies that circumscribed our cultures as savage and uncivilized. Through Happily Natural Day and events like it we seek reclamation of our sacred whether it be through food, adornment, commerce, education or performance art.

The Social Change Imperative

The evolution of Happily Natural from its inception to now; reflects the growth and maturity of an holistic understanding of freedom and liberation. Holistic wellness, cultural identity and self-esteem are the core from which radiate essentially what it means for all humans to experience freedom. Its only natural. Recognizing the interconnectedness of humanity; Happily Natural places a heavy imperative on social change – it is not sufficient for individuals to content themselves in their own wellness and liberation solely as individuals. As a result the festival has engaged in numerous campaigns and initiatives designed to build community from Richmond Noir Market; our work in raising awareness of political prisoners via Black August, to our current push for urban agriculture in low income communities; our efforts regarding social change are of paramount importance and what sets Happily Natural Day apart from its peers. The work we do is more than about how to style hair – our effort is to restyle how we live our lives for the betterment of humanity.

AJASS and The Grandassa Models – Origins of the Black is Beautiful Movement

AJASS and The Grandassa Models – Origins of the Black is Beautiful Movement


In 1956 a group of young artists and jazz lovers, formed The Jazz-Art Society (soon to be renamed The African Jazz-Art Society & Studios – AJASS) and began producing jazz concerts featuring some of the greats of jazz including Lou Donaldson, Jackie McLean, Gigi Gryce, Johnny Griffin, Cannonball Adderley, Hank Mobley, Junior Cook, Art Taylor, Philly Joe Jones, Betty Carter, Leon Thomas, Wilbur Ware and many, many others. coupled with art exhibitions and African cultural presentations. Influenced by Carlos A. Cooks and the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement (ANPM), an off-shoot of Garvey’s UNIA, AJASS began incorporating African Nationalist themes into their productions. After witnessing the 1961 “Miss Natural Standard of Beauty Contest” hosted each Garvey Day, August 17, in which girls competed without straightening their hair, AJASS organizers Elombe Brath, Kwame Brathwaite, Robert Gumbs, Frank Adu, Chris Asmandeces Hall, David K. Ward, Leroy “Satch” Giles, Jimmy Abu Williams, Ernest Baxter and Gus Williams launched the Grandassa Models and the theme “Black Is Beautiful.”

The Original models were: Clara Lewis, Black Rose, Nomsa Brath, Priscilla Bardonille, Mari Toussaint, Esther Davenport, Wanda Sims and Beatrice Cramston.

AJASS, with the aid of Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach, began producing a series of “Naturally” shows, beginning with “Naturally ’62″ that projected racial pride, African culture, poetry and art. The show, subtitled “the original African coiffure and fashion extravaganza designed to restore or racial pride and standards” traveled to colleges and universities in the US and self-produced many shows in Black communities for more than thirty years. The AJASS productions, starting in Harlem, was the beginning of what is known as “The Black Arts Movement” that later saw Leroi Jones, Larry Neal, Ed Bullins and others create some powerful theatre in Harlem. They found a Black arts movement in Harlem that had started nine years before they arrived.

AJASS used many forms of art imagery, including cartoon caricatures. They were exponents of African nationalism, and as such, had differences with the way the “civil rites” movement as they called it, handled the quest for equal rights and full freedom. Disturbed by the use of women and children facing the racism mobs in the south as opposed to the MEN doing the confrontations, they advocated not integration but self determination, self reliance, self protection by whatever means necessary and the Garvey philosophy of Back to Africa.

AJASS founded the Black Standard Publishing Company in 1963 that published two small booklets (now collector’s items), the “Naturally ’63 Portfolio” and in late 1963, “Color Us Cullud: The Official American Negro Leadership Coloring Book”, and program books for some of their theatrical presentations. It was critical of most of the Civil Rights leaders and analyzed the suspension of Malcolm X from the Nation of Islam, which prompted Brother Malcolm to tell me, “tell your brother that he is a genius”, speaking of the author, caricaturist Elombe Brath who created the book.

The “Naturally” shows continued on a regular basis thru 1980 and then commemorative events on ten year anniversaries thru 2002

Thoughts on Black Youth Pathology

People ask why black kids keep killing black kids in black communities. I think a huge part of it is because black kids in black communities are not cultivated in anything close to a true knowledge and immersion in a positive and affirming ethnic cultural identity.

The folks who get funding to do work in low-income communities are either white or are of the caste of black people who have been validated by the white establishment. I am fully convinced that this is one of the many reasons why radical left organizations are underfunded despite the amazing work they do on shoestring budgets. I know many far too many for which this is the case for it to be ineptitude and lack of conviction.

That validation by systems of white domination for many means a distancing of themselves from culturally responsive teaching. An unspoken requirement by systems of European domination is that you dont talk about that black stuff. It makes those who value systems of white domination uncomfortable. This discomfort if followed all the way through requires a confrontation of systems of inequity, historical oppression and the evolution of white supremacy across generations. As result of this inconvenience,  the system doesn’t immerse black children in an understanding of their culture.

In absence of an affirming ethnic cultural identity – what is in its place? Mask Off by Future…

#percocet #molly #percocet

Thinking today about how important how in sustainable horticulture and agriculture we talk about “right plant, right place”. The idea is that if you plant a plant and it isn’t in the right place it will have a higher proclivity to disease not develop at its highest genetic capacity.

I am reminded of when I worked for the Indoor Farm we tried to grow red lettuce and the red in the red lettuce wasn’t coming in. We had to change the type of light. All light isn’t created equal. When we changed to the right type of light – the red in the red lettuce came it. The full genetic potential of the red lettuce wasn’t unleashed until it got under the right type of light.

So think about black children who haven’t gotten the right type of light (information) their full potential isn’t being activated. They are planted in a slum filled with limited opportunity and lack of access to resources (poor soil). This is the science project of the projects. Put all the poor people in one area and see what happens when you put crack in there, guns in there and lock the fathers up.

You getting exactly what you knew you would get.If the kids are looked at like plants – we got them in poor soil. We aren’t giving them the right type of light for their genetic identity. Then as it relates to food minerals and nutrients, they aren’t being fed physically as they should because the neighborhood the housing projects are built in don’t have healthy food within a mile or more. Documented that nutrient deficiency causes all types of behavior and emotional issues.

I mean what is supposed to come out of that situation?

Thoughts on Cultural Genocide

I remember vividly; as if it had happened yesterday – the first time I had the pleasure of traveling to London. For those who are unaware of the reality of the UK; particularly London or Paris – there are a great many people of African ancestry there – a by-product of Great Britain’s colonization of the continent of Africa.

On this occasion; I was blessed to be there in light of our Happily Natural Day work at a festival dedicated to similar themes called Adornment. Well; as I exhibited there very proud I might add of my posters of Marcus Garvey; my table with a red black and green flag and my books for sale of African consciousness and the like, I was approached and joined in conversation by a patron who as the conversation would have it was from Madagascar. Another patron joining in the conversation was from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and another from the Ivory Coast. Well; when the question was asked of my where I was from I proudly proclaimed I was from the United States and that I was born in Virginia. Well one of the patrons asked me again – more inquisitive than disrespectful almost as if I did not understand the question…

No where are you from?

I fumbled in response- immediately embarrassed and feeling a sudden anxiety explained that because of slavery my ancestral homeland was unknown to me. That the records of such had been destroyed lost or not felt any of the littlest bit if import over the generations that my bloodline had sojourned in these shores. In that moment I felt a feeling wash over me that I hadn’t felt before. That though I prided myself in who I am and who I knew myself to be – a piece was missing a piece that I could not know intimately. I feel as though this must be understood when we as people of African ancestry explain what has happened as a result of slavery particularly in the North American version of white imperialism – we have had to construct an entirely new identity born out of a devastating cultural violence – a cultural genocide that no one could imagine or empathize with – not even our family across the ocean.

The patron would go on and ask if I had gotten a genetic ancestry test couldn’t that tell me where I was from. Somehow; even though I would get one years later – knowing by way of such methods does not connect one with the same glue that connects you if you know by way of your mother’s mothers mothers grandmother….

Reflections upon the transition of MarShawn McCarrell

Reflections upon the transition of MarShawn McCarrell

It is very hard to be a leader. Especially a leader in the black community on a grassroots level. Speaking from a first person perspective; there are many nights that the work wears on you. You have to remember – this is not a job that you typically get paid for.

Being a grassroots activist OFF the Internet requires you to be willing to stick your hands in the sewage of human depravity; in an attempt to pull up the treasures of human virtue.

It is often a very LONELY road. Despite whatever notoriety one may think being in the paper, on tv, on the radio may give someone who is active – the truth is often those who give from a pure place – have very small circles unto which to call forth to recharge their batteries. Sometimes you don’t want to talk about the movement. You want to talk about nothing. You just want to be quiet with loved one. Someone who cares for you not for anything but for who you are. We have to be there for each other in that space.

I pray we all learn to be compassionate unto those who give of themselves so intimately. Who put their very essence of life on the line for you and yours without you knowing. It is beyond Facebook posts and likes. It is about calling. Visiting. Not taking those who do this work for granted.

For new activists; my prayer is that you commit to self care as much as you do community work. This work is a marathon not a sprint. Seek counsel with elders, find refuge with peers and most of all cherish and hold love and trust tight as if your life depends on it because it does.

MarShawn McCarrel was a prominent Black Lives Activist who committed suicide in front of Ohio’s Statehouse on February 8, 2016. Hours before he committed suicide, MarShawn posted on , “My demons won today. I’m sorry.” MarShawn was 23 years old. MarShawn originally hails from Hilltop, one of Columbus’ most dangerous neighborhoods.



VTSP-ADV-4696_20121023_Lincoln Identity_TAThe shooting of the Lincoln movie was huge for the city of Richmond. It continues to generate tourism dollars for the city and is attracting more movies to be shot here. Being that I worked downtown (off Broad Street) every day, I saw the set design at the state capital, the horse buggies, the actors, the production trailers, it was a monstrosity of an affair.  Richmond loved it. Here was a chance to celebrate the historical aspects of the city under the guise of the Great Emancipator. However, if you watch the Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln,” you would think that black people were sitting waywardly, passively twiddling their thumbs, waiting for white folks to pass the 13th amendment for freedom.  As it was a biopic and not a documentary, we can only be but so disgruntled at Spielberg’s interpretation of history. Unfortunately, the oversight of active black participation in their own liberation, in a movie about slavery that takes place in Richmond, VA proves a truly sad discourse. It perpetuates the idea of the white man’s burden; or that it is the responsibility of Europeans to “give” freedom to someone as if the synergy of our collaborative action catalyzed by the unrelenting desire for liberation by the black people was not the spark that ignited the flame.

The initial scene of the movie features two Union soldiers talking to Lincoln, one arguing for equitable pay and promotions and reciting part of the emancipation proclamation. Later in the film you meet Elizabeth Keckley and later William Slade, two African Americans who were close to the Lincoln family. Their speaking parts are extremely limited and it wasn’t as if Lincoln was an action film deprived of dialogue. So essentially, you have a talking film that is 3 hours long about black people where black people don’t get a chance to talk. The way in which Spielberg incorporated black people – as in not at all – in the movie Lincoln says volumes. The fact that there were so few critiques from people who watched it in Richmond saying much of anything about the lack of black activity in the film says so much more. It was as if the ongoing cognitive dissonance that resonates in Richmond when talking about the Civil War; you know the conversation that starts with it being more about state rights than the states right to enslave Africans, finally took hold of everyone in Richmond’s mind and caught their tongue. Or maybe we were too focused on a film about a fictional character named Django to care about the depiction of real life events in the movie Lincoln.

20130217_POSTRACIAL-slide-PNG7-sfSpanAnyway….I can let my last black history month post on the Cheats Movement blog for 2013 serve as a cinematic review.  Also for the sake of brevity, I am not going to argue the reasons behind Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, nor why he pushes for the passage of the 13th Amendment. I can say that I agree with most scholars who concur that his main objective was the salvation of the Union – not to free enslaved Africans; and from his own pen quote a letter he wrote from August of 1862:

“If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it,”

We know that the war couldn’t have been won without African’s fighting for their freedom against the confederacy in it. After Africans had fought so bravely for their freedom there were limited ways to re-enslave us except through Black Codes (cough cough Prison Industrial Complex) whereas you could still have slaves if it were punishment for a crime. Yet that is another longer discussion. In fact, the only reason I am talking about the movie is because Richmond was the capital of the confederacy and this is essentially where the Civil War ended.

There is no talk in Lincoln of the African American XXV Corp of the Union Army, which on April 3rd, 1865 was the first command to enter Richmond signaling the end of the Civil War, though. There are no references to Frederick Douglas’s ongoing dialogue with Lincoln regarding the abolition of slavery. There is no reference to the highest commissioned black officer in the Civil War in the form of Martin Delany and his proposal for black resettlement in Liberia. There is no reference to the invitation of black militant abolitionist Henry Highland Garnett to speak to the Congress, making him the first African-American to do so and that it was under invitation by Lincoln to commemorate the signing of the 13th amendment. No mention of the major uprising of Africans such as Gabriel Prosser, Nat Turner, or John Brown – that would inspire abolitionist to fight for the end of slavery. No Garnett, no Douglas, no Delany – no prominent African American abolitionists of that time who were known to historically have talked to Lincoln were featured or referenced to at all. The movie did what a lot of movies (and people) do when they talk about racial justice – it focused on President Lincoln and others helping black folks; instead of actually mentioning the active conversations of Africans working together so we can all be free from the bondage of oppression – both oppressor and the oppressed.

The lack of black voices in Lincoln speaks to an ongoing reality for people of African descent who live in poverty in the city of Richmond. We are stripped of our voice. The city of Richmond Virginia is 54% black and has a poverty rate of 25%. Just like in the film, there are conversations being had about us, decisions being made for us, on issues that affect us directly – however those who are in power rarely hear from us, nor take the time to invite us to the table to discuss what it is we want for ourselves. It was a strange example of art imitating life. I mean I honestly never saw Jamal, from Creighton Court, in Leadership Metro Richmond or Tanesha, from Ruffin Road, at any of the Capital Region Collaborative meetings. Yet their perspective is valid and needed if we are to make decisions for all of Richmond.

Paternalism is behavior by one group that seeks to keep another group’s autonomy limited for reasons the offending group considers the latter group’s best interest. Essentially the offending group attempts to constrain the latter group’s ability to act in their own best interest by making decisions for them, instead of allowing for self-determination. How paternalistic are we when we operate in an exclusionary, non-inclusive, manner when we are in rooms discussing the future of the city of Richmond and we can count on one hand how many people of African descent are there – and very few in that number live in poverty? In what ways are we re-affirming the silence of marginalized voices when we don’t invite stakeholders to the table when we start talks of demolishing housing projects? How effective can our efforts to alleviate poverty be, when we are not welcoming the poor to participate in the planning of the plan?


Richmond is now full swing in celebration of the sesquicentennial. Where are we as a city 150 years later? With 25% poverty, 54% blackness, and the major movie production, made in Richmond, basically put the black folks in it on mute – perhaps still in bondage – by the same ideologies that create such inequality and sparked the Civil War in the first place.


African history is so awe inspiring to me. Being an African born in Richmond , Virginia makes me particularly interested in the story of people of African descent from right here in my hometown. Interestingly enough, the city of Richmond is pretty well renown for some amazing personalities, many of whom few of us have ever heard anything about.

The time period immediately following the civil war, which W.E.B. Dubois called, “the Black Reconstruction,” was an era of black history that I was particularly drawn to. Spanning from 1865 to 1891, historians ascertain that over 2000 African Americans held political offices in the South. One such man by the name of John Mitchell Jr. was from Jackson Ward.

Mitchell was born a slave in Richmond, VA, on July 11, 1863, two years before the end of the Civil War. What you find in Mitchell that is so astounding is that he melded his life around service to uplift the black community. His approach was multidisciplinary and evolved over time. He started out as journalist speaking out against lynching. His journalistic activism kept the conversation in the public eye via the Richmond Planet, a black weekly paper to which he would later be appointed editor. He promoted the works of activists throughout the U.S. such as Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Dubois, and Booker T. Washington, in addition to local leaders and the business community.

Mitchell used his pen and political influence as a weapon. His work to highlight the injustice of lynching was one thing, but Mitchell stepped out to combat injustice on even a broader scale. For example, the case of Simon Walker – a 15-year black boy accused of raping a 12-year-old white girl was brought to trial and the young man was found guilty and to be executed. Mitchell was able to keep the story alive in his paper and through advocacy on the boy’s behalf to the Governor at the time, Fitzhugh Lee (nephew of General Robert E. Lee), was able to eventually get the sentence commuted to 20 years in prison versus him being hanged. This was an amazing feat considering the ever-present threat that whites would simply snatch the boy up and lynch him anyway. Mitchell was able to corral the support of state officials to ensure Walker was delivered to prison unharmed.

What’s even more impressive is that Mitchell wasn’t afraid to represent and stand up as a man in defense of his community. When threatened with hanging himself after reporting on a lynching of an African American in Smithfield, VA, Mitchell loaded two pistols, boarded a train to Smithfield, arrived, and then walked from the station to the site of the hanging. In this day and time, where we have so many internet revolutionaries and rappers talking about gangsta this and gangsta that, with fabricated stories of killing their own – I have to say, John Mitchell Jr. was really really gangsta, in a positive way.

The beautiful thing about Mitchell’s act of resistance is that it paints an accurate picture of African Americans as courageous and self-determining, standing in self-defense of their families and community – not cowering in corners fearful of mob violence that was on the rise post-Reconstruction as whites attempted to reestablish white supremacy and Jim Crow throughout the south. We were not passive at all. We owned businesses, newspapers, participated in local and state government and stood together as a community against injustice.

Mitchell held down a spot on the city council for Jackson Ward, organized a successful black boycott of the segregated electric trolley streetcars, founded the Mechanics Savings Bank in Richmond, and eventually ran for Governor of the state of Virginia in 1921 even though he didn’t win.

Mitchell died in December of 1929 in his office at the Richmond Planet. From a journalist to activist, to a banker and politician he truly dedicated his life for the betterment of African people. Our leaders of today and aspiring leaders of tomorrow can learn a lot from his courage and tenacity.

John Mitchell Jr. 1863 – 1929. Born in Richmond, VA.