Stay Woke: Write Yourself In

On November 14th, 2014 I had the opportunity and joy to participate with Fordham University, Lincoln Center students, faculty and artists from the greater community in an extraordinary event Stay Woke: Write Yourself In. I did not know what to expect nor what part I was being asked to play as an invited small group leader and guest. I gathered up materials from home, this included poems in an effort to be prepared. I arrived early and was welcomed by facilitating leader and host for the event faculty member Sarah Gambito. I was directed to and walked into the event space whwer I met faculty member Daniel Alexander Jones distributing papers to students and sharing event instructions. Once introductions were made I settled in. It was at this point I understood my part in all of this. I was here with my fellow community members to bear witness to and to memorialize the deaths of those who died at the hands of racial hatred and violence.
The event was hosted by “Stay Woke: Write Yourself In.” In their words, “Stay Woke: Write Yourself In” invite artists from the greater NYC community, Fordham students and faculty to create meaningful action through art. “Stay Woke: Write Yourself In” is a story space for testimonials of racial harmony and violence. It is an event space that seeks to heal, arrest and commemorate. It is a community that holds high the dignity of all people through the ritual and power of the written word.”

The event was held at Fordham University, Lincoln Center. We gathered for collaborative writing and conversation. We were joined by writers from across the country on Skye. Person’s writing a virtual collaborative poem which unfolded in real time. Our writing addressed events in Ferguson, MO and the many counts of racialized violence in America. “Stay Woke: Write Yourself  In” faculty, students and artists later marched with lit candles in hand from Fordham University to the fountain at Lincoln Center, singing at the top of our voices “This Little Light of Mine.”New verses were added to this known and beloved protest song. They are, in the face of hatred, in the face of fear, in the face of violence, in the face of death, on the march to justice and all over the world. We formed a circle  at the fountain where individual members spoke the name of a victim of racialized violence. This was followed by the words I remember.

Afterwards we returned and organized into groups for conversation. Some of the key points of discussion were as follows. Share your thoughts on Ferguson. When in your life did you first think about race? Where do you think we can go from here with regard to acting against race violence and micro-aggressions? What can we do as a community? As individuals? We were then lead by Sarah Gambito in collaborative writing. We included lines from our virtual co-collaborators.

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We were asked to share our thoughts and feelings about I, too sing America, a poem by Langston Hughes.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And Grow Strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed-

I, too, am America.

– Langston Hughes

America needs to take a lesson from those in attendance, a diverse
inter-generational group of people. People who were not afraid to discuss race, white entitlement and privilege. People who came wanting answers, and more than just interacting with family, friends and acquaintances around these words. People who spoke freely and openly of racist relatives and working to change how these individuals perceive the world, those of other cultures and ethnicities. Some group members spoke of living in a dark skin  and having to navigate movement in the world as a person of color. I was moved deeply by the sincerity of  those participating.

Here are some excerpts from Stay Woke Testimonials.

” I will never know understand what it means to be bruised by centuries of oppression. I will never experience these things, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore them. Racial violence-whether it
comes in the form of words, fire hoses, or bullets-is spit in the face of humanity. I may be white, but racism still stings.”

“I was never struck, or treated with physical violence, but I was
made to feel that I was Other. I and others like me (immigrant, poor, person of color) did not belong. This was the America that shelled, dropped bombs, and shot into my parents’ villages in Vietnam. These
acts can only happen when government believes that Other lives are not as valuable as (white) American lives.”

Thank you, Sarah Gambito, Kundiman, Cathy Linh Che, Daniel Alexander Jones, faculty, students and participating artists Saretta Morgan, Amber Atiya, JP Howard and everyone who contributed in the making of this extraordinary event. Aluta Continua/The Struggle Continues.

©Lorraine Currelley 2014. All Rights Reserved.


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