VOLUME I ISSUE II APRIL 2017
As I sat down with Derek Lumpkins and Marisa Luse of Northeastern Crossing my burning question was “What is Northeastern Crossing about and who is it for”? regarding Boston’s communities and its residents. In the end it’s about the geography surrounding the Northeastern Crossing space. This space was created out of Northeastern University’s Institutional Master Plan in 2011 that brought together the in relation to the university city, university and surrounding communities. These communities felt unwelcome and found it hard to maneuver the campus grounds among other issues. Northeastern Crossing became the face and front door for the off campus surrounding communities. Marisa Luse, Engagement Coordinator, and an alumna knows the ins and outs of the university. She is the internal connection for the space for not only faculty but students and staff alike to be aware of the space for programming and connecting with the community. Marisa spoke of future community programs such
as Women of Color who are in academia for professors or PhDs to have space to share practices, learn new skills, an
expand the network and collaboration of student and staff participation. This programing is in the planning stages for the future.
I have attended and participated in a few events in the space starting with their Grand Opening on September 28th 2015. I have attended events as well as used the space myself and would like to see more community programs to help neighborhood residents become aware of the Northeastern Crossing space. I’d like for Roxbury/Lo Dorchester communities to be welcome to have use of the space. NEU sits and always has sat in the middle of the Roxbury community and I hope to see more usage by residents. I have found through talking to community folks many are not even aware of Northeastern Crossing’s existence. I will spread the word that this space exists and for the communities to come see and inquire about its usage. In the meantime come and take some Afro Yoga classes that are held twice a month in this space. I’ve done it and have a great time even if I’m a bit sore at the end. Also once a month they feature a new artist complete with a reception. If you’re an artist and want your work featured in the space, artists are featured every six months. Northeastern Crossing hours are 9 am to 5pm Monday to Friday at 1175 Tremont St., Roxbury, MA 02120.
As I sat in Hibernian Hall on the 25th of October, 2016 I listened from beginning to end to the works that would create the tone for the Roxbury Cultural District hearings. Lisa Lee prominent and phenomenal visual and spoken word artists framed the tone in which this hearing would take. Lee’s spoken words expounded on the streets, boulevards, avenues, culture, art and those who have made the history and fabric of the Roxbury community.
Councilor Tito Jackson, expressed community and lifting up our artists and supporting them and recognizing them as entrepreneurs. Celebrating the people who stayed as well as our heroes and (S)heroes who stopped a highway from going through Roxbury community. His plan is for those who are here not those who will come. Artists are entrepreneurs who add to the business fabric of our neighborhood and community. Affordable space for artists to live and create is also an essential portion of the process. Affordable housing for those who are coming is also important. Councilor Jackson followed Councilor Ayanna Pressley who spoke about the work that has been done up to the present. She stated the process has been “community driven and government endorsed.” Pressley gave a statement of the tone set by Lisa Lee, “We are lending our elated voice to your elated pen.”
Panelists included Kelly Chunn, cultural district consultant who spoke about a missed opportunity for the historic story Roxbury has to tell: economic revitalization the few residents, artists, businesses and entrepreneurs. Kelly Chun spoke about the District as an anchor to connect through the arts and for Roxbury to be seen in the neighborhood as an art and cultural assets that are under used.
Chunn also talked about changing the perspective held by outsiders of only crime not the art and culture assets that remain unknown to those outside the community. This is an opportunity to connect art and history.
Marshall Hughes director of the Visual and Performing Media Arts Center at Roxbury Community College (RCC) gave a great example of the use of RCC Media Arts Center. It’s used for civic engagement, performing arts, community events such as theater, oratory readings, graduation for surrounding secondary and high schools.
Artist, Educator and Executive Director of the Research Institute of African and African Diaspora , Inc. Napoleon Jones Henderson, E. Barry Gaither, Curator of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American, Kristen Belton Willis spoke of the artistic education that would not only elevate those who don’t know the community but our youth who need the artistic and historical knowledge. The best of Roxbury artistic community has kept the culture of this district alive such as Akiba Abaka, director, playwright, producer and founder of award winning theater company, “Up You Mighty Race” has lived as well as worked in the district. She has produced plays in a number of venues within the district, such as Roxbury Community College Media Arts Center, Hibernian Hall and the Museum of the National Center of Afro American Artists. Abaka has brought theatrical arts from “Arts Emerson the World on Stage” to the Dudley District through readings to educate and entertain the community
NORTHEASTERN CROSSING Conversation
ROXBURY CULTURAL DISTRICT HEARING
The Black Arts movement came out of the Black Power Movement. These poets, artists, musicians and writers were politically motivated. Imani Imiri Baraka was the father of the Black Arts Movement from 1965 to 1975. On Thursday, February 23, 1017 a noted panel presented the history and culture of the Black Arts Movement past and present at Northeastern Crossing. The panel consisted of L’Merchie Frazier, Askia Toure, Catherine Morris and Jacqui Parker with moderator Valerie Stephens.
Valerie Stephens opened the discussion with a quote from the great Dr. Nina Simone, “You can’t help it, an artists’ duty, as far as I’m concerned is to reflect the time.” As I listened to the opening statements of each of these panelists I realized what this statement truly meant.
Askia Toure expounded on the written culture and the struggle. His “War Poem” gave tribute to the soldiers, scholars and writers of not only then but now: people such as Larry Neal, Tome Feelings and Nozanke Shange, August Wilson and Octavia Butler. There are Warrior Women like Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Sonia and Jane Freedom fighters like, Frederick Douglas, Harriett Tubman, Eldridge Cleaver and Kwami Ture who fought the long ward.
Artist and educator, L’Merchie Frazier gave a history of such artists like poet Phyllis Wheatley whose book “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published in 1773. In this book Phyllis references the, Ethiops and, that ‘Puritans should be ashamed of the enslavement of anyone. ” Phyllis Wheatley was a kidnapped African and educated by the Wheatleys, hence her given name.Phyllis was a member of Boston’s Abolitionist Committee, alongside Prince Hall. Though she was kidnapped at the age of twelve her words gave vision to the rise of those such as Askia Toure. Frazier spoke about Frederick Douglas’ 170 photos which he used while traveling through Europe to change the image of Black people in the minds of white people.
BLACK ARTS MOVEMENT PANEL DISCUSSION @ Northeastern Crossing
His goal was to also confront what is right, freedom, democracy and the integrity of Black people. He was changing theperception and mythology of the African people.Edmonia Lewis was the sculptor of the bust of Robert Shaw which sits in the African American Museum on Beacon Hill which you can visit to see the bust. Frazier spoke candidly of these artists like Lewis whose shoulders we stand on and the movement is still alive today.Catherine Morris,founder and Artistic creator of Boston Arts Soul Music Festival began this journey speaking with elders and her peers to find out what the Black Arts movement was like “back in the day’. BAMS will debut in 2018 in Franklin Park.Morris had conversations with Valerie Stephens about black art during the 1960’s and 70’s. As she talked with folks she saw the change in body language and excitement when they spoke and reminisced on people, places and events.
When asked about where it is today she saw body language change to less excitement. Her role now is to connect the generations in a way that is as she says, “cool, relevant powerful and tactful. Food, music, art and dance is what brings black and brown folks together.” This festival is to get neighborhoods exploring each other again and musicians in Roxbury, should know artists in Mattapan and attend events across the river in Cambridge is Morris’s vision. She doesn’t want our youth to the forget the past, but look at their history not as ancient but relevant in their lives.
When I sat in the front row to the right facing the stage I was expecting nothing less than perfection. I have known Jacqui Parker as an actor, director, teacher and keeper of the theatrical flame a number of years. On this night with “Wrestling with Freedom” Parker took her teaching to a new level: history struggle, the fight for freedom and those that took the struggle to the present day and what is taking place in these United States of America now. “Wrestling with Freedom” opens with a young Phillis Wheatley dancing while adult Phillis looks on. Wheatley is returning from England with Daniel Wheatley where her book has been published and interrogated by white men there. The first act is centered around Wheatley’s life and being a servant to the Wheatley’s hence her name. She has friends, and remembers her African language, writes letters to General Washington, kings and queens in Europe. Wheatley marries but dies in childbirth. Kudos to Candis Hilton (Phillis Wheatley) and Joe Mullin (Daniel Wheatley).
Frederick, John and Harriett is well written and profound. Harriett Tubman arrives at the home of Frederick Douglas with freed slaves and they need a place to hide for the night. John Brown (Joe Mullin) an abolitionist also a friend of Douglas who orchestrated the attack on Harper’s Ferry along with freed slaves is also present. During a meeting between Douglas and Brown at Douglas’s home he tries to persuade Brown the plan won’t work. As this scene plays out in a discussion between Douglas with his wife it is implied that Douglas is a lady’s man and had a few distractions which his wife though she loves him is not happy with the situation.
The relationship between Douglas, Brown and Tubman is intertwined because the struggle was for freedom. Harriet is bringing a group of 7 freed blacks north and Douglas provides a place to hide and rest. Douglas, a friend of both Brown and Tubman he was a profound orator.
Harriett Tubman (Stephanie Marston Lee) who at times has been called the “Moses” of African slaves in America, freed over 300 African people. Her strength and courage to free her people was deeply rooted. She was a crack shot and never lost any she freed. In this act I learned Tubman had a sleeping sickness that she acquired from an injury she sustained while protecting one of her freed slaves.
Now it is 2017 and Trump is president and everyone is in fear of the future. At this time 6 people are about to go into seclusion (off the grid), 6 adults and one child and have prepared themselves for what’s to come. There are 7 people who will be without TV and cellphone as well as the internet and also not able to venture out from their new home in an abandoned building. These people have their own issues
Finale of In House Playwright-Jacqui Parker- WRESTLING WITH FREEDOM
related to the state of the country and what will happen when 2018 comes around. They are fighting battles with themselves which at times spills over into the group and how they relate to each other.Some have husbands who are away and not knowing if they will reconnect in the future as well as sons and brothers who are on the other side not only literally but politically. At this moment the time is growing near when all forms ofcommunication will be off and these 7 people will have to wait it out until the next presidential election to know the fate of the country and themselves.
As I stated at the beginning I expected nothing more than perfection, history and a teaching from Jacqui Parker and that’s what I received. I am proud of her gift and her continuing to carry the torch of not only theater but African American history for myself and our youth to know and remember.
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