VOLUME 1 ISSUE III August 2017
In this time of violence in our country and especially in communities of color between young men of color and the police art is stepping in the forefront. One of these amazing talented artist is Johnetta Tinker one of Roxbury’s own. She studied under the great John Biggers as she grew into her own as an artist.
I have known Johnetta Tinker for over 20 years and her work always speak volumes about her as an artist and what she sees around her. Her accolades include Top Boston Artist, on the Clara Database of Women Artists and has retired from her position as Community Programs Director at the Isabella Gardner Museum after 15 years. Now Johnetta Tinker is in this place in time where violence is overtaking communities of color and she is speaking out through her art. Her art is in her dreams and culture rooted in symbols, rhythms and natures movement and patterns. Her dreams, her conversations and her heart felt passion for those who have lost loved ones as well herself to violence is what she recreates in her art. This “SPIRITUAL LONGING-IN THE AFTERMATH OF VIOLENCE” all of this creation is rooted in Black & White and if I’m not mistaken the reasoning behind it is that violence has no color. Tinker transfers her ancestry, memory and visions into each one of this series.
This series speaks to those left behind through violence and those who have been the victims of this violence giving them a voice. In a conversation with Johnetta around her preparing these works she specifically talked about the piece “Hope Reigns Supreme” was originally horizontal until a piece of backboard fell creating a breeze and the piece became vertical. When she awoke the next morning and looked at it she thought “here it is” and left. She knew as she always does her guides are the earth, spirits and symbols were in charge. The piece went from “Hands up don’t shoot, to Hope”. This is how the whole exhibit went. The last 7 pieces of this series show the faces of the families, their pain pray for the souls of their children. I learned while listening to Johnetta Tinker talk about this exhibit that there is a “Talk” that needs to be given to our children before they go out into the world each and every time they leave home to protect themselves because the clothes they wear and the color of their skin is a factor in how they are received and/or treated. We must always pray for their safe and whole return home.
Her use of black and white was her beginning, black and white pencils and drawing from comic books. These pieces done in black and white took a dramatic situation and created an imagery. Each piece in this series were created using a number of textures and forms from rice paper, stencils which Johnetta made herself. Fruit baskets, bubble wrap and doilies, scraps of paper that she used until the pieces were so small she had to pick them up with tweezers. She also did rubbing which she layered one on top the other and was her own printmaker. I loved the statement Johnetta Tinker made about the piece telling her when it was finished not her thinking it was finished.
I am ancient and contemporary. My influences are strongly rooted in the symbols, rhythms and movements of nature's surrealistic patterns. Visions from dreams and personal life experiences provide an outlet for my imaginative and spiritual growth. This allows me to "build truth in the hidden memories." My art is an extension of my ancestry, which deeply guides my artistic expression.
~ Johnetta Tinker
Having never heard of Tyaphaka I was intrigued to know what it was as well as what it meant. So this is what I was shown, It’s a Whale-like sculpture that is made from rubber inner tubing and ribbon. Tyaphaka is a representation on the idea that things can be submerged or brought up from below the surface. The sculpture takes the form of a beached whale. Though at first one might not see a whale on shore, but as you follow Hlobo’s sculpture you can begin to see the work take form.
So as the art is taking this form there is an analogy around the metaphor of surrendering to the elements over which we as humans have no control; which surrounds our personal lives and the lack of control we have over those that come in and out of our lives like the tide and their impact on us.
Tyaphaka was presented by Castle of Our Skins at Hibernian Hall this past March. The program included orchestra music, a talk on African mask and a profound dance selection costumed by a spectacular designer.
L’Merchie Frazier. Director of Education and Interpretation for the Museum of the African American History gave a profound talk on African Mask. Her talk gave great significance to the origins of African Mask and their meaning to ceremony and everyday life within the African communities such as the Egun community, Dogan community, Goma Congo to name a few. Frazier spoke of materials they’re made of such as beads, metal and wood as well as how these masks are cared for by the families of the community where they are created. They are part of the family. Frazier gave a talk on quilting and what represents in the African American community like “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” of Gen. Tubman and We Just Keep On Coming, created by Frazier, and “Calvary Spiritual” Birmingham Bombing, creator Silvia Hernandez, and Paul Robeson as Othello On Broadway, creator Glenda Richardson. All of these quilts told the story of a people and the interpretation gave credence to what you saw.
Tyaphaka’s performance was composed by four composers who were selected from a worldwide call for composers for this project. The composers, Jessie Montgomery for “Voodoo Dolls,” Pang Chun-ting for “Static,” Florence Price for “Five Folksongs in Counterpoint” and Clifton Ingram for ‘Tyaphaka”, created compositions that reflected the art that was presented. Tyaphaka’s composition also included a spectacular dance performance by Lexy Lattimore whose costume was created by Kreyol.
Being a product of Lower Roxbury at birth I was amazed at those who came before me, many of whom I knew coming up. So I listened to how the Lower Roxbury Black History Project was created as well as those who contributed to its inception. I felt honored to listen to both historians and prominent residents whose families built the Black history of Lower Roxbury. Margaret Burnham distinguished professor of law and founder of Civil Rights Restorative Justice Project on this day gave the welcome to all in attendance. Following the welcome she introduced the speakers beginning with Professor of History William Fowler who gave a profound introduction of the history of those who built Lower Roxbury. Prof. Fowler spoke of the hardworking sacrifice and charity of the African American and immigrant residents who settled in Lower Roxbury starting in the 30s and 40s. Of stories about reception, perception and identity told through the stories of ordinary people who did extraordinary things.
State Representative Byron Rushing expounded on the history speaking about the demolition of the Lower Roxbury. He spoke about how the West End and the New York Streets were destroyed to build the Herald Traveler Building, up to what occurred in the Lower Roxbury community which really was about the geography that still exists today. It’s because of the history that this project is presented here today.
The Lower Roxbury community has birthed such prominent people like Rev. Dr. Michael Haynes statesman and pastor of 12th Baptist Church in the Roxbury Community. Kenneth Guscott whom we recently lost was a real estate mogul and developer. Their family homes were demolished behind greed and racism and not to be considered as priceless history in this community. In the words of Rep. Byron Rushing: Streets that have been removed still exist through this documentary in this space and the memories of the people who lived here. We must keep the project alive through interviewing those who are here and collecting photographs, snapshots “so this community is never forgotten in the great city of Boston. It is our job, our work, our memory.
Rev. Dr. Michael Haynes spoke of being born and raised in Lower Roxbury and the changes he has seen come about. What he has seen happen on this turf of Lower Roxbury could fill books and change lives. He spoke about what radio stations would say on the air about Roxbury as a whole, saying: “You don’t want to come to Roxbury, they don’t hang curtains in their windows and all that sort of jazz.” The gold that was Lower Roxbury were its people, was paraded up and down the streets every other day from Vernon St. to Mass. Ave. At one time a black doctor from Jamaica ministered to this community in a building that once sat at the corner of Shawmut Ave and Madison St. It was torn down, there is no memory of it.
I was intrigued listening to Rev. Dr. Michael Haynes’ memory of the 6 room cottage on Hastens St. where he was raised with his sisters and brothers. He remembers when blacks began migrating to upper Roxbury called Sugar Hill, then a story in itself .
The late Professor Joseph Warren the initiator of his project said: “We need a building to put it all in.” Well my dear friend Professor Warren the building is here and we’ve put it in.
Five students and staff of Northeastern University gave their narrative stories about coming to Northeastern to either study and or work. They come from similar or difference backgrounds, some from even different states. Those Boston born spoke of Northeastern as employees and graduates. Each narrative was different but every one saw differences in this university community where they studied and/or worked. While stories were being presented, Ron Jones founder of Dialogues and Diversity pained a verbal picture of the Roxbury community on which this university sits. He spoke of the Jazz scene that was during the 40’s and 50’s and where it still is today. Ron spoke of the migration to this city of Boston and this place, Roxbury by African Americans and immigrant blacks “which I must say my grandparents and mother were among them”. Jones gave credence to the music of such greats as Duke Ellington who graced this place with his presences along with Roxbury resident Harry Coney who played with him and the jazz that come from it. The Jazz that’s all around this place Lower Roxbury and the multitude of personalities within itself and issues people wrestle with. All along side by side with the Roxbury community growing and being a destination for new arrivals to Boston and home to the African American and black immigrant population. Roxbury is where black roots took hold, building on a future of a legacy for those who only wanted to show what they could do. For them Roxbury was that place, thriving and growing. One day and upheaval was visited upon this community which changed not only the people but the landscape. It diminished and the forces of this city weighed heavy on it, but is till marched on.
Nicolette Aduama a Mattapan resident’s narrative talked of going to Boston Latin, riding the #28 bus to Ruggles Sta. She reminisced about her and her friends stopping at A Nubian Notions to get the latest cd and some thing sweet.
Nathan Simms Roxbury resident from birth spoke of his first memory of Northeastern at 8 years going to see his sister present at an oratory competition which she won first place and she was his inspiration.
Chu Huang resident of Boston’s Chinatown community and graduate of Northeastern spoke of her commute each day to Northeastern Crossing going through South End, Back Bay and finally coming to Roxbury. She travelled this route daily, and her mode of travel was walking. Chu expounds on her value system in her travels down Tremont St to work daily which one day she encountered a mother and daughter waiting for a school bus at Douglas Park. After seeing for awhile she became brave and introduced herself to mother Tami and daughter Natalie, this was her first interaction. During her walks daily saw Natalie playing hula hoop and commented to her how good she was and to keep it up. For Chu building organic relationships on her travels to and from work, learning each other names and building a rapport was important.
Ron Jones continues his memories of Lower Roxbury of people coming hear with goals, fears and hopes with little knowledge of this place.
Craig Parker is from New London, Connecticut and the Ujima Global Leaders Early Arrival Program who arrived two weeks early to Northeastern University. Though not one to make friends easily unless on a basketball court, he and I did become friends and he broke bread with four other students he met with on tour. Craig talked of his introduction to a group of guys at a basketball court in the Fenway. Though he was new to the court he knew he had to prove himself. He did and was picked up and make new friends and it too felt like home.
Jasmine Ana Ramon talked of her first few minutes and days on the Northeastern campus and her new city. Following Hemingway to Huntington, she says, you can’t really tell where the city ends and the campus begins. She talked reaching the Latin Student Cultural Center, where she was amazed they had their own building. Jasmine didn’t go into the center right away, but sat on the pavement in the shade. When she found the Social Justice Resource Center again amazed they too had their own building, whereas back home it was a suite, but the space felt like home, and works at the center as a graduate assistant. She talked of starving from the heat and eventually found a number of restaurants right in her own back yard. Her thought; Welcome to the neighborhood.
Breannah Conward-Lewis talks about those she has met, learned from and the affluent ones that don’t understand the neighborhood in which this university sits. Breannah being a black woman born and raised in Dorchester and graduate of this university where she also works and surrounded by people who never and don’t want to venture there. The intersection is involves working with people don’t and don’t wish to understand who she is or her story. Northeastern University claims to be diverse but only have a 5% student body that ‘s Black, 7% Hispanic and 13% Asian, but do have a large International student body which we know gives large funding to this university.
Due to the imbalance due to proximity, how do we seek solutions around this proximity, cultural divides and expansion? Though Northeastern has put some programs in place, how does it change the cultural divides and its expansion across the community in which it stands? Questions to be answered. Ron Jones stated, “is there something deeper?” I say yes there is. Breannah Conward-Lewis expounded on, she sees change, expansion and global for this university. Also she sees poverty, conflict, 28 bus, Dudley Sta., police and the list increases Though Northeastern has grown its growth has taken lots and made them into dorms and research facilities and the library no longer open access to students as it was back in the day. Landmarks such as A Nubian Notion now gone from not only Ruggles Sta. but Dudley Sta. after almost 50 years that’s change. All we can see of the place Roxbury is change, gentrification such as Whittier Street Project and Dudley Square being taken over by affluent people to make space for other affluent people because they feel safe and not afraid of Roxbury. I believe that’s because this place sits between two police stations, one in Dudley Square District and Boston Police Headquarters directly across from Northeastern. This place also Northeastern University has little diversity and no inclusion and many overpriced franchises such as juice bars and yoga studios, not for those who reside in this community. This community as the surrounding one have their own organizations, programs and history that shouldn’t be forgotten. Public schools surrounding this university should be supported by it not drowning them. Though as I listened to Nicolette Aduama of City Communities who sincerely believe that Northeastern University does quite a lot for students in the schools surround them. She also believes the university have the burden and should be met half way. Every institution can’t separate itself from the place in which it sits. The Northeastern has a vast list of programs and initiatives. It’s not how much but how many know.
A community with so much hardship, trauma, culture and so much more is what Breannah sees when looking out across from Northeastern Crossing. Also for a premise of a community that’s not valued or understood. One side it’s a land of opportunity and the other side the opposite. Northeastern has been built on the land of a community that’s so misunderstood. On every corner across from this university are families whose lives are totally different. What does a student know about those in the community in which this university sits and what does the community know about the student? Connections can be made but never solidified as well as misunderstood. Boston maybe different today but the challenges are similar to the past.
Nathan Simms a graduate of Northeastern, worked at Belfour Academy a few summers and now works in Office of City and Community Affairs. He says Northeastern has been his greatest foo and ally, double edge sword. Simms sees Northeastern across the color spectrum, sometimes black, sometimes white and mostly gray. His internal struggle has been around who he is and what he needs to do and the needs of hi community. Through all of this he knows he would not be who he is or where he is without the Northeastern University.
Finally, Ron Jones says, trials and changes of this place is made up of regular people. However, one has landed in this place either by birth, admittance or hire. The opportunity to tests your level to affect world around you. Jones quote “Don’t move through like a ghost. Be a spirit, that raises other spirits.”
by Elaine Corbin
by Elaine Corbin
by Elaine Corbin
by Elaine Corbin
IN THE AFTERMATH OF VIOLENCE
LOWER ROXBURY BLACK HISTORY
THE VOICES OF NARRATIVES OF CHANGE
Kurtis Rivers: Kurtis Rivers Quarter 4.23.2017
Arnie Cheatham release of album 4.2.2017
Makanda Jazz Project 7.8.2017
Photos by D. Elaine Hall-Corbin
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