Artists running with opportunity to go to the next level; Carver Bank resident artists bring new life to area
The following cover story I did for The Reader (www.thereader.com) about a group of artists looking to take things to the next level at the Carver Bank cultural center and residency program in North Omaha has received some nice buzz. The four artists couldn’t be more different from each other. Each is doing his or her own thing and having success with it but they themselves and others feel there’s room for them to grow and to make an even bigger splash. It will be interesting to observe what they do individually and collectively from this point forward.
The inaugural resident artists at the Carver Bank cultural center couldn’t be more unalike in some ways and more congruent in others.
Carver is the new Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and Rebuild Foundation endeavor at 2416 Lake Street that houses a Big Mama‘s Sandwich Shop, a gallery- performance space and artist studios. Artist and urban planner Theaster Gates of Chicago is the facilitator-instigator of the project. Caver is one of several projects he’s done through his Rebuild Foundation that repurposes abandoned structures in inner cities to house art-culture activities that engage with community.
Each Omaha native participant was selected in line with Carver’s mission of providing work spaces and showcase opportunities for underserved artists of color whose creativity deserves wider support and recognition
The artists cut across a wide range of disciplines and starting with the Carver’s March 29 grand opening they’ve been displaying their respective chops in performances, readings, exhibitions.
Program director Jessica Scheuerman says the artists “care deeply about the cultural resurgence of the Near North Side,” adding, “In addition to their individual practices, they have quickly taken to the role of host and are developing public programming that will enrich the space throughout the year and expand the roster of artists presented in the space.”
Shannon Marie is a 20-something hip hop and R&B artist. The single mom works full time to support her dream of making it big out of her hometown.
Dereck Higgins, 58, is a pioneer of the Omaha alternative music scene as a bass player, drummer and arranger. This champion of psychedelia recently left his career as a licensed mental health professional to devote all his energies to his art.
Bart Vargas, the lone visual artist of the group, is a 40-year-old art educator and creator of salvage-based paintings and sculptures.
Portia Vivienne Love, 56, is a sometime singer and full-time poet and writing workshop presenter now also penning murder mystery short stories and novels.
Three of the four have close ties to the symbolically potent 24th and Lake area. Once the commercial-entertainment hub of the local African American community, its live music scene used to draw national artists. Love’s late father, saxophonist Preston Love Sr., cultivated his music passion there as a fan and player. The catty-cornered Loves Jazz & Arts Center is named after him. Higgins’ late father, James “Red” Higgins, was a contemporary of Love’s and also haunted the Deuce Four.
Marie, who’s real name is Ennis, grew up a few blocks from Carver. She’s adamant about developing a national name for her writing and singing.
“I’m definitely confident about it,” says Marie, who’s produced several mix tapes. “It doesn’t matter where you are, it’s where you want to go. I can make it happen.”
If it doesn’t happen here she may leave to try her hand elsewhere, though she admits she needs more polish.
“I feel like I need to be more prepared before I step out with the big dogs.”
She got serious about rapping as a junior at Benson High School. Her early professional forays taught her lessons about not selling out.
“I would contact promoters and they’d just kind of brush me off like, ‘Who is this chick?’ Now when they have something going on I’m one of the first people they contact. I’ve gained their respect. They’ve seen the growth and they know I have people backing me.”
Her YouTube videos attract hundreds of thousands of views. Her Omaha fan following is such she gets recognized most everywhere she goes.
Gone are the days when promoters tried extracting sexual favors from an aspiring newbie. “It’s a male-dominated industry and sometimes guys look at females like a piece of meat. You have to be confident to let people know, Hey, you cant treat me like this. Now they’re like, ‘She’s just about her business. She’s not about sleeping her way to the top.’
“I kind of had to learn the hard way in some cases. I still have to learn a few things.
But it’s a lot better now than me being naive and saying, ‘OK, let’s just do music.’ All that glitters isn’t gold.”
A dispute with a local record label resulted in some of her original music being withheld from her. She’s moved on.
She plans a Carver event featuring herself and other empowered women who’ve overcome obstacles. She’s also planning a listening party for her new work.
“Now I’m here, I’ve got my opportunity, everything is still possible.”
Working alongside fellow residents who are “so different,” she says, “is going to be interesting.” She adds, “We really do vibe together. There’s going to be positive stuff going on. I want to support everybody and I want them to support me, too.”
She feels the love from friends, family and fans. “Everyone is excited for me.” She terms the multicultural turnout for Carver’s grand opening “a beautiful thing” and encourages all of Omaha to support its programs. “It’s for everybody.”
She’s eager to add to the area’s rich music legacy, saying, “Now it’s our time.”
Dereck Higgins is intent on opening the Carver to a broad range of artists and audiences.
“It only makes sense that if Im going to be down here I try to get some of the people that work with me everywhere else to work with me down here,” says Higgins, who jams with Nik Fackler as part of InDreama. Higgins is presenting a Night of Sound Exploration with saxophonist and electronic musician Curt Oren from 7 to 9 p.m. on June 7.
Higgins, who has his own DVH Records label and an extensive vinyl collection, makes trippy music that draws on traditional instruments as well as a panoply of electronic and ambient sounds.
“It’s personal, that’s ultimately what it is,” he says, “and that’s probably why I’m not more commercially along the way because I don’t know what genre to be in and I’m not interested in it and I don’t like it. When people say to me, ‘I don’t know what you are,’ that’s a great compliment and I want to stay there.”
Since walking off his 30-year job at Community Alliance in 2012 he’s made music his number one priority.
“I’ve always been a real artist-musician but a hobbyist. Making the break from the job and now doing this Carver thing is really allowing me to embrace truly, fully the role of artist-musician. I’m very thankful. This is a luxury. I can come down here and I can work, experimenting with music and sound ideas at my makeshift little audio studio. I’m already working on my next album.”
He creates the collage artwork that adorns his album covers.
“I’m broker now than I’ve ever been as an adult but I’m happier,” says Higgins, who along with his fellow artist residents receives a $500 a month stipend.
It’s no coincidence that Bart Vargas, the lone Carver resident artist who’s not African American, though his dreadlocks often prompt people to assume he is, makes art from salvaged materials. Just when it looked like his life was a thrown-away bust, he found salvation.
Growing up in a chaotic home with a mentally ill mother and alcoholic father Vargas sought refuge in art. “I escaped through drawing,” he says. “Drawing was a way to have control over something and make believe and go other places. When I was 16 I was young, angry and confused and this other family saw the situation and offered me a safe place and took me in. So I have my biological family and what I consider my real family – the family I associate with all these years later.”
Vargas, a Nebraska Air National Guard veteran, feels his salvage art parallels the Carver project and its adaptive reuse of the long abandoned Carver Savings & Loan building and plans to revitalize other long vacant North Omaha properties.
“Everything has a potential. The only place trash is made is in our head…when we decide something no longer has value.”
Bemis chief curator Hesse McGraw says the hope is that by nurturing artists Carver “can generate some cultural heat and create a magnetic lure in North Omaha.” Another hope, he adds, is for their work “to have an impact on public perception of the neighborhood. Imagine when the Near North Side is again known as a place that artists live and work, and where we all can be part of that resurgence.”
A self-described “mixed blood” who’s white and Mexican and not sure what else, Vargas used some of his Carver money to take DNA tests to determine his ethnicity.
“I’ve thought about doing this identity painting after finding out what my genetic markers say I am.”
Or he might adapt a painted words series he began s few years ago to express musings about “my American muttness.”
The University of Nebraska at Omaha and Metropolitan Community college art instructor says he’s already made word paintings “specific to this place or neighborhood,” adding, “I want this part of the city to become part of the work I do here. Before I even moved in I painted ‘Carver.’ My goal is to cover the walls in my little corner in Yeses. To have this wall of positivity. I want to start it out with really good energy.”
Portia Love understands why she’s identified with her father, whose band she sang with for several years, but music was his thing, not hers.
“The writing thing is mine,” says Love, who retreated into words and stories as an “introverted” adolescent and began winning recognition for her work at Marian High School.
She went on to work in and teach human services but always wrote on the side. As a veteran artist with Why Arts she conducts writing workshops for people with disabilities. She also holds workshops through the Bemis.
She’s self-published two books of poems, Eclipses of the Sun and Redefinition. She creates poems by commission for clients, placing her original works in designer boxes, frames and photo albums.
WriteLife is publishing her debut novel, The Men’s Club, as well as a book of short stories, High Heel Shoes, Bright Red Lipstick and Strange Love.
Carver appeals to her for practical reasons.
“I went after it for the working space and the recognition. I’m real if nothing else. I tear my house up doing this stuff. Now I have a studio to work out of. This is my time for me and my writing. This is an opportunity that I hope is going to put me to another level. i hate anybody trying to put limitations on me and what I do.”
Moving artists along is part of the idea.
“We hope this opportunity provides a crucial jump for the residents and that they are able to move their artistic practices to new levels,” says McGraw.
Love says Carver’s location is “significant,” adding, “The whole thing is significant. I love that Hesse (McGraw) said the Bemis cannot be this white organization that ignores the fact there are people of color in this city with talent. And yes this is the perfect place for it, 24th and Lake. I think about my dad and how much he would have loved coming through here wearing the hell out of everybody. I think he would be so overjoyed to see me excelling at something that was not his.”
Love’s hosting a poetry reading from 3 to 6 p.m. on May 25. She’s invited her fellow resident artists to add their distinct flavors.
Carver events are free and open to the public.
For Carver updates visit carverbank(at)bemiscenter.org.
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Louder Than a Bomb Omaha Youth Slam Poetry Festival: “the point is the poetry, the point is the people”
If your usual reaction to poetry is along the lines of “Ugh” or “No thanks” than be prepared to undergo a conversion when you attend a slam poetry event. It’s hard to imagine not being carried away by the sheer exuberance, courage, passion, and talent displayed at one of these celebrations of words and ideas. The Louder Than a Bomb Omaha Youth Poetry Festival is a prime example of all this and more at work. My story about it in The Reader (www.thereader.com) is repurposed here. Check out the team finals this Friday, April 12 at Creighton University. The individual finals are April 21 at UNL. Even if you think you don’t like poetry, you’ll find yourself getting hooked and cheering and applauding poets the way you do musicians or actors or athletes.
©by Leo Adam Biga
Now appearing in The Reader (www.thereader.com)
As the Louder Than a Bomb Omaha Youth Poetry Festival draws to a close after weeks of preliminary bouts and last Sunday’s semi-finals, it appears slam poetry is a new outlet for that rite-of-passage known as adolescence.
The 2013 team finals pitting defending champion Duchesne, Lincoln North Star, Lincoln High and Omaha Central are April 12 at 7 p. dm. in the Hixson-Lied Auditorium at Creighton University‘s Harper Center. The event is free and open to the public.
Poets serve as coaches of participating teams from public and private, inner city and suburban schools and community organizations.
“I love the mix of different schools and geography we have represented,” says Omaha poet and festival director Matt Mason.
He also loves how slam poetry brings together cool kids and nerds. “There’s the football player and the chess player and the golf kid, all lined up on the same team helping each other,” says Mason. “Teachers report this is an approach to poetry that reaches students not reached very much in classes. Asking them to write and perform and tell their stories really opens something up in them and makes them appreciate what’s happening at school rather than sitting there with a bad look on their face.”
Teams prime themselves for a season of poetry concentration.
“We treat this as if it were a sports activity at a school where teams start practicing, getting ready for competition, doing workshops and scrimmages in the fall, and then there’s the big tournament (festival) in the spring,” he says.
There are scores and standings but Mason says it’s more a celebration of creatively expessing ideas and feelings.
Duchesne team member Gina Keplinger repeats a festival slogan “the point is the poetry, the point is the people,” adding, “Poetry is bigger than stages and pages and microphones.”
The often achingly intimate poetic reveries explore love and loss, identity issues, social woes, and everything human. Westside team member Lia Hagen’s “Inappropriate” is a satirical critique of gayphobia. Lincoln North Star team member Shatice Archie’s “My Two Inch Thick Mattress” is about homelessness.
“The thing that continually impresses me is the way the students so directly and honestly address the most challenging issues in their lives…nothing is out-of-bounds or too personal for them,” says Westside and Central coach Greg Harries.
The fest is put on by the Mason-led Nebraska Writers Collective, which sends poets into area schools. When a documentary profiling a Chicago youth slam poetry competition caused a buzz here he rode that impetus to organize the first LTAB Omaha slam in 2012. Twelve teams competed then. The field grew to 19 teams this year, for him a signal of slam poetry’s growing popularity.
“I think more and more it is getting into the culture. It wasn’t just the movie that got kids onto slam poetry teams. YouTube made more people aware of it. What we did last year created a kind of momentum, so that we’ve got students trying to get LTAB teams into their schools because they’ve got friends on a LTAB team. So it’s spreading now from the kids themselves. They are the best advocates because they’re excited about it and their friends see how excited they are.”
Slam’s competitive aspects are real but not paramount. Judges award points for individual and team performances. Performers with the highest cumulative marks keep advancing. Audiences are encouraged to express their appreciation and do so with applause, finger snaps, cheers. Mason’s impressed that competitors don’t seem as caught up in the winning or losing as they do in the shared experience.
“What’s really exciting for me is to see how these students support each other and support other teams. They’re cheering for their own team because it’s a competition but when somebody from another team does something they like they’re the first ones on their feet.
“These kids just want to see good stuff and so they get excited when they see it.”
Keplinger says, “Being cheered on, complimented and genuinely congratulated by poets who were not members of my team was a welcome surprise.”
“There’s a competition but there’s also a recognition and acceptance of each other’s talents,” says Lincoln High English teacher Deborah McGinn. “The camaraderie is based on words and language. The energy is just sky high.”
Mason’s enthused the fest is growing the state’s poetry community.
“We’ve held poetry slams for students for years in the area and they’ve been decent, we’ve seen some good work, but it hasn’t had anywhere near this level of talent and just really polished work. I mean, the talent level is just through the roof. I think that goes back to our coaches working with schools for months, not just coming in and doing a one-off workshop.
“A fair amount of our coaches are coaching a team for the second time. I think the work shows that these kids are growing and really speaking about issues the audience responds to and doing it in a way that really brings them alive.”
Spoken word. The word-based performance art ranges the gamut in terms of style and form. But it’s best practitioners usually deliver emotive, intelligent work touching on personal, social, cultural, political themes and featuring a lyrical rhythm and rhyme cadence not unlike that of song. Spoken word events can highlight a range of approaches and subjects that stretch your mind. My soon to appear story for The Reader (www.thereader.com) profiles one of the Omaha metro area’s most diverse spoken word events, Verbal Gumbo, and the two women who stir its pot, Felicia Webster and Michelle Troxclair.
WithLove Felicia, ©photo by Herb Thompson
Spoken Word Soul Sisters Stir the Verbal Gumbo Pot to Keep it Real and Flavorful
©by Leo Adam Biga
Soon to appear in The Reader
Soul sister poetesses Michelle Troxclair and Felicia “WithLove” Webster stir the pot to make the spicy mix of Verbal Gumbo, the spoken word series throwing down the third Thursday of every month at House of Loom.
The artists launched the series last fall at the invitation of Loom’s Brent Crampton.
“Felicia and Michelle have brought a consistently diverse, experimental and truthfully honest night of poetry and performance. They’re two very strong women in our community that have been really active in the social progressive and arts scene here,” says Crampton. “They help us to live out our mission here with social issues and culture and bringing people together.”
Gumbo’s beats and hipsters fit right in at Loom, 1012 South 10th Street, with its music-dance cultural blends and crafted cocktails.
The spoken word sets are as diverse as the poets themselves. Some pieces are intensely personal. Others, political. Some call for action, others ask you to think.
The mic’s evenly shared across genders and races, with people standing to deliver everything from private testimonies to slam spits to hip hop rhymes to indignant rants to preacher-like sermons to social justice screeds to inspired songs.
“This is a very open, diverse atmosphere and we’re not in judgment of how people choose to be in the world,” says Webster, an arts educator. “Diversity is how we present ourselves here. We’re ‘edutainers.’ If somebody comes up and shares a poem about abuse, well that gives us an opportunity to have a conversation about it.”
“Disseminating information that is going to charge people to heal, to change, to move, to educate, to motivate is also a part of what we do at Verbal Gumbo,” says Webster. ”The issues in the community we come from are very deep. There are a lot of wounds, some of them still open. Having a platform where you are not being judged for what you do or what you say or how you say it allows people to get up there.”
“It’s a healing. Like I have anger management issues and I have to write it and say it, it has to come out. It’s a cleansing experience. And that’s what a lot of people are using this for. People share things on this microphone they wouldn’t share anywhere else. We’re here to provide the platform for people to share and to be transparent and vulnerable,” says Troxclair, a former arts and social services administrator.
Poet Ruth Marimo’s raw story of surviving an abusive relationship, being arrested as an illegal alien and coming out as a lesbian has been embraced there. The Zimbabwe native and mother of two reels about the seemingly contradictory facets of her life in her intense yet whimsical piece, “Who Am I?”
I’m a stranger to my own mother,
A child with no parent,
A sister with no siblings,
An immigrant to this land,
An alien to my own nation.
Who am I?
I’m everything I’m not supposed to be,
A Lesbian who owns no cats,
A literate African,
An educated fool,
A voice that can’t be silenced,
A turbulence that can’t be calmed,
An answer that can’t be found…
Marimo describes how for her Gumbo debut “both Michelle and Felicia really took me in with open arms and under their wing,” adding, “Everyone has just been very supportive.”
Troxclair says Marimo’s “very tragic story that’s had this phenomenal outcome” is among many stories of personal transformation told there.
“Sometimes someone will say something that someone needed to hear. That’s how it works here. We’re all about that,” says Webster.
Judging, formally or informally, has no place at Verbal Gumbo.
Troxclair says, “Part of my housecleaning when I get up there is to say, ‘It’s difficult to come up here and put your soul and your life experience up on this microphone and so if you don’t like what you’re hearing be quiet.’ We do not allow anybody to be criticized belittled or demeaned in any way. That’s not what we’re here for.”
“When somebody’s on the mic, we respect the mic,” Webster likes to say.
“People are comfortable here,” says Troxclair. “They feel loved, respected and honored and part of something bigger than just themselves. People who wouldn’t set foot in a regular church, mosque, temple, whatever, say it’s almost like church because it’s an uplifting and spiritual experience.”
“Verbal Gumbo is my nondenominational church,” says Webster. “We’re speaking life into words, we’re breathing life into the experience. And we make everybody feel like family when they come in. There have been plenty of nights when I have needed to be lifted up. This is like my poetic-spiritual reciprocity. It feeds my soul, it mixes that gumbo pot up, adding spices when I’m needing a little cayenne pepper to get through.”
Cultivating new artists like Marimo is part of the deal.
“We adopt people on a regular basis,” says Troxclair. “I’m very much a mama and so I take in all strays. When people come in here and they share their stories we’re like, ‘You’re family.’ We embrace everybody we come into contact with and we want to make sure everybody feels like this is a home.”
Before her Jan. 17 Gumbo set Marimo said it herself. The author of the self-published memoir Freedom of an Illegal Immigrant says, “It’s something I look forward to every month because it’s such a welcoming space and it’s diverse.”
“The people who come through those doors come from such different backgrounds and are able to share their experiences and it feeds us for a number of reasons,” says Troxclair, “The level of talent is one. It’s always good to see talented people come and do what they do. Some of the things they talk about is another reason. They talk about everything from relationship stuff to political stuff to tragic life experiences. It’s just edifying.”
The styles and themes range from Marimo’s lyrical reflections to Webster’s old-school beatboxing to Developing Crisp‘s rap-style hooks to Nathan Scott’s political history lesson to Paula Bell’s black woman identity manifesto that ends with, “So you can take it or you can leave it, I really don’t give a damn.”
The audience of creatives sits at cocktail tables and cabanas or stands at the bar. Onlookers really feeling it lean into a performance. It’s the epitome of Omaha Cool, complete with snapping fingers, knowing, nodding heads, raised drinks and adult conversation .
The women behind Gumbo have a long history celebrating The Word. Webster lays claim to organizing the metro’s first spoken word series at the defunct Dazy Maze in the late 1990s. She then left for Philadelphia, where she and Davina Natanya Stewart formed the spoken word duo Daughters of the Diaspora. Troxclair hails from a family of storytellers and has written and orated since youth. When Webster returned to Omaha a few years ago Troxclair recruited her for the Poetry in Motion series she hosted at Loves Jazz & Arts Center.
The diversity and the vibe of Loom, the pair say, help set Gumbo apart from other spoken word venues and events here.
“It brings people from all walks of life and every community in one spot and everybody enjoys each other and respects each other’s culture,” says Troxclair. “We’re open to all different kinds of audiences and artists.”
Gumbo’s wide-open aesthetic complements Loom’s ultra laid-back scene.
“It’s very chilled, very relaxed,” says Webster. “The antique furniture, the vintage feel, the exposed brick, the music, the artwork, it’s very eclectic. All of that creates the ambience that is totally different from any other place in Omaha. You feel like you’re not in Omaha for one night. It’s a whole other vibration. It’s for grown-ups. There’s this opportunity to be a part of a rich culture of artistic expression.”
That expression may include music, dance, body painting and moving to whatever groove grabs you. Small community vendors are invited to promote their side hustle goods and services. Webster and Troxclair say Gumbo’s also a networking-information forum, ala the black barbershop-salon, where community issues and events get discussed and personal problems get aired and vetted.
“It’s a lifeline,” says Webster.
The next Verbal Gumbo is Feb. 21. The event starts at 7 p.m. Admission is $5.
For series updates visit http://www.facebook.com/verbalgumbo.
- Harsh Life Revealed in Memoir Gives Way to Growth: Ruth Marimo Comes Out of Silence to Assert Her Voice (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
Omaha South High Student Marissa Gomez Will Stand, Deliver and Be Heard at Louder Than a Bomb Omaha Youth Poetry Festival and Competition
With Omaha gearing for its own citywide Louder Than a Bomb youth poetry festival and competition (April 15-22), I profile high school student Marissa Gomez, a talented writer and performer who will be representing with her teammates from Omaha South Magnet High School. She and her fellow teen poets are brave souls for how deep they plumb the depths of their beings. I recently met Marissa for this story. I interviewed her and saw her perform one of her poems, and I was bowled over by her command of language and her, well, fairly refined poetic sensibilities. She has a maturity about her work and her life that’s beyond her years. Whether she and her team win or lose at the event is beside the point because she’s well on her way to blazing a trail for herself that will get her to wherever she wants to go.
Omaha South High Student Marissa Gomez Will Stand, Deliver and Be Heard at Louder Than a Bomb Omaha Youth Poetry Festival and Competition
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in El Perico
Resident poet Katie F-S, who coaches South’s poetry slam team, has high praise for Gomez:LTaB takes its name and model from a teen poetry festival and competition in Chicago, where slamming was born. A popular documentary about the event has sparked a nationwide youth slam phenomenon.
“Marissa is a fantastic artist. Her writing is authentic and accessible, her performance is compelling, her poetic ear is sharp, and her sense of humor keeps all our work from ever feeling like a chore.”
With friends cheering her on the 16-year-old Gomez took second place in her school’s December slam.
“I let out whatever I had in me,” says Gomez, who rated high-fives and props, even from kids she didn’t know. “It was crazy because (before) these kids would see me in the hallway and just walk past, but once I slammed they heard me.”
On Fridays South teacher Carol McClellan runs an “open mic” in her creative writing class, where Gomez tries out her latest poems. On April 6 she stood to deliver with equal parts conviction and poise her poem, “For You, I Would Pray to God.” The piece, like all her work and that of her classmates, is deeply personal.
“At the beginning of the year when we first started doing open mics it was difficult expressing these raw emotions to people but as much as we’ve gotten to know each other it’s like we’re home. We just kind of go there and we open up,” she says “We open up things in writing that maybe we wouldn’t normally share.
“We break down in tears when we read sometimes and we’re all there for each other, we support each other, give a big round of applause, give a hug. It’s nice knowing there’s those people who I can read to and they’re not judging, they’re just telling me, ‘Hey, that’s good, I can’t believe you said that, I can’t believe you live with that, I can’t believe you actually told somebody that.’”
“Marissa’s work is fearless,” says Katie F-S..” There’s nothing she won’t say on a stage if she feels it’s important.”
Revealing her inner life to others is freeing and healing for Gomez. The turmoil she often expresses comes with the territory.
“Hey, I’m 16, I have a lot of problems. It’s great to relieve myself into my poetry.”
Her poems and those of her peers are not all angst-filled reels and rants about the pangs of youth. There’s plenty of humor, too. However, despair is a common refrain. “Who I Am” deals with the dark moods that once overtook her.
“I used to be really depressed,” she says. “and this poem is kind of telling people that’s the way I am. One of the lines in it is, ‘Would you still love me if you knew that on the inside my anger and hate it grew.’ I mean, it’s really just being honest that I’m not perfect. Everyone seems to think I’ve got it all going on so good, but again I’m 16, I’ve got a lot of stuff going on, and it’s not always working in my favor.
“Another poem called ‘One, Two, Three, Four’ counts the four biggest heartbreaks I’ve ever gone through. My poem ‘Dear Mom, I Want You to Meet Richard’ is about a co-worker of mine who was killed. I was writing poetry that day and I couldn’t think about anything else but him and I wrote about how I wanted my mom to meet him. My mom and I are best friends, we talk about everything. I got the call at work Richard had been murdered and we were all raw about it. I came home and my mom saw me kind of hit bottom. I just kind of broke down and she sat there with me and tried to help me get through it.”
Anything is fair game for a poem.
“I don’t know, my poems cover a lot of different things. ‘A Letter from Mistake’ talks about how I was an unplanned pregnancy and my parents were actually on the verge of splitting up and everything, and they stuck it out for me. One line is, ‘I hope you don’t blame me for everything and I hope you understand that even though I was a mistake I can still be something you want.’ I write a lot about my family.”
Her work sometimes refers to an older brother serving time in prison. They often exchange letters. Hers contain poems, his include raps.
At LTaB she expects family and friends to support her as always but she’s not hung up on the competition aspect.
“It’s not about points and placing. Yes, we would like to place, we would love to win, but when it’s all said and done if someone heard something and took something from what we wrote, then that’s great,” she says.
Having a platform for her voice is all she really cares about.
“When you’re doing poetry you’re letting yourself be heard. Everyone’s knowing that’s what you’re doing. You’re putting that out. It’s a great experience. I love performing.”
For Omaha slam details visit ltabomaha.org.
- Poetry Feeds the Soul! (library.sbcc.edu)
- It’s Slam Time! (chicagotalks.org)
- From Reporter to Teacher, Carol Kloss McClellan Enjoys Her New Challenge as an Inner City Public High School Instructor (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Louder Than a Bomb Omaha Youth Slam Poetry Festival: “the point is the poetry, the point is the people” (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Lincoln High slam poets to perform (journalstar.com)
- Louder Than a Bomb Omaha: Stand, Deliver and Be Heard (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
The reverberation of Louder Than a Bomb, the Chicago slam festival, competition, and documentary, has reached Omaha and spawned a youth poetry slam here that runs April 15-22. As movements go, I must admit that while I’ve been vaguely aware of the growing popularity of poetry slams I’ve never attended one and I’ve only seen a few spoken word artists perform. But it’s not like this is completely foreign territory to me because I have heard and seen my share of authors and storytellers do readings. In the same vein, I’ve attended a few play readings, and so I do have a pretty fair notion for what this is about. Of course, the competitive nature of slams sets this apart from the others. Now that the youth poetry slam format is getting a major showcase in my hometown I find myself covering it, which brings us to the following post, which is essentially a preview of that event through the prism of what is driving this phenomenon of slams springing up around the country, even in my middle America.
NOTE: Check out my companion story on this blog about Omaha South High poetry slam team member Marissa Gomez. And for all you poetry fans out there, this blog has stories about Ted Kooser, William Kloekforn, and any number of literary lights.
Louder Than a Bomb Omaha: Stand, Deliver and Be Heard
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)
Omaha‘s long been home to a thriving adult slam scene, thanks to poet Matt Mason and the Nebraska Writers Collective (NWC), who’ve lately cultivated youths by sending established resident and visiting poets into schools.
All that nurturing comes to a head at the April 15-22 Louder Than a Bomb youth poetry festival and competition, when some 120 students from 12 area high schools battle for poetic supremacy. It’s inspired by a movement based in Chicago, where slam began at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge and where Louder Than a Bomb originated with the Young Chicago Authors collective.
It turns out Omaha’s a spoken word hotbed itself.
“We have one of the best poetry communities in the country, the talent level is really through the roof,” says Mason. “We send a team to the national poetry slam every year and we do pretty well in the competition but mostly people come to respect the folks here as writers who do really interesting work. People from other cities come to the Omaha bouts to see what kinds of things we’re writing about and doing. We’ve got nationally recognized poets like Dan Leamen and Johnmark Huscher.”
South High resident poet Katie F-S coaches the school’s LTaB team.
“We’re lucky in Omaha that as a crossroads for the nation we get a good amount of really quality touring poets coming through here,” says Mason. “We’re able to take advantage of that and make it even more appealing for them by paying them to run workshops or do shows for students.”
Mason long envisioned a metro youth poetry slam and began laying the groundwork for it with NWC’s work in schools. “We’ve been running a pilot program at South High called Poets on Loan that sends teams of poets into schools to give students a real taste of some of the best in the field,” he says. With help from those poet mentors South staged a December slam.
Things “accelerated” when a documentary about Chicago’s LTaB became a national sensation. It found a receptive audience at Film Streams. Support quickly surfaced for an Omaha slam modeled after LTaB Chicago. Poet and LTaB co-founder Chicago Kevin Coval visited Omaha in February at Mason’s invitation to do workshops. Mason joined a group of Omahans attending Chicago’s March slam at Coval’s invite. A local contingent may attend a Chicago summer slam institute.
Why all the buzz? South High poetry slam team members Marissa Gomez and Marisha Guffey say the power of spoken word is as simple as being “heard.”
Mason says it provides a safe, communal forum to unleash raw, personal stories and perspectives otherwise denied kids.
“No matter who we are, no matter if you come from a broken background or a well-to-do background, being a teenager is difficult, it’s insane, it’s brutal, it’s all sorts of different things,,” he says. “But something like poetry and this kind of expression of poetry especially is a way of channeling and processing and looking at your world in a different light that makes it come a little bit clearer and easier to deal with or to at least understand.”
“That kind of courage and commitment is necessary for great poetry to flourish,” says Katie F-S.
South High teacher Carol McClellan, who has several of the school’s poetry slam team members in her creative writing class, holds open mic sessions on Fridays. “I’m often amazed at their candor and honesty. It’s been a gradual process as they developed trust and a willingness to open up in the class. From a teacher’s perspective, it’s extremely gratifying to witness.”
Coval says spoken word fills intrinsic needs.
“We as people just have a desire to be heard and to be seen, so we’re providing public space for young people to talk about things they care about – who they are, where they’re from, what are their dreams, what are their fears, their dissatisfactions. It’s a a very simple form, it’s a very ancient process.,” he says. “We’re doing the work of just standing up in a public space and telling stories. People have been doing that since before civilization, so I think this is in some ways a call back to that. It’s a call to reengage young people in their own process of education.”
Coval uses himself to illustrate the medium’s transformational power.
“I certainly was not the best student in the world, but once I started reading and writing on my own and I could follow my own interests I became hyper-literate, and in part that’s what hip hop taught me to do. I think that’s what the movement of hip hop poetry and spoken word is encouraging other young people to do.”
South principal Cara Riggs, whom Coval and Mason give a shout-out for her support of spoken word, sees it as a powerful avenue to engage kids. “The format of a poetry slam is so hip and contemporary to our urban kids. It is a beautiful way for them to express themselves and the audiences are always so amazing in their feedback. The events are contagious to kids…they want more.” Besides, she says, “as a performing arts high school, I just thought it belonged here.”
She says South’s poetry slam had “kids coming out of the woodwork with their own hidden talents and supported by their classmates for their brave expression.”
Mason says schools should embrace spoken word because it promotes “creativity, writing, expression” and it “catches students’ interest and imagination.”
“I think specifically the model of Louder Than a Bomb is about engaging educational institutions around the idea of a team sport in some ways,” says Coval. “And so as opposed to just me as an individual poet coming to a place and reading my poem I’m coming representing a community. You’re going to hear what your city sounds like collectively from the voices of the young people that live here.”
Coval says Omaha like other cities is rife with segregation that divides people and LTaB “is an opportunity to come together across those boundaries that typically keep us from hearing one another.”
Mason joins Coval in suggesting spoken word can promote harmony, saying, “It can unite a city by bringing students from different parts of the community together in one room telling their stories and finding connections.” Youths interacting in this way, says Mason, realize “that no matter what community you’re from you face some of the same struggles and some that are completely different. Gaining an understanding of those struggles can really help you help our community.”
He hopes to grow the spoken word culture and encourage poets to stay here. “This community has so much talent with creative writing and not a lot of outlets. It’s about creating opportunities for students to explore writing in a fun and constructive way and giving established poets an opportunity to earn money as coaches.”
Yes, LTaB is a competition with points and prizes, but it’s mainly about affirmation and bragging rights. The mantra, says Mason, “is bring the next one up. It’s not about getting to the top of the mountain alone, it’s about helping everybody up. It’s a real pleasure to encourage and recognize young poets.”
Round One prelims are April 15 at the PS Collective, 6056 Maple Street. Round Two prelims are April 17-18 at the OM Center, 1216 Howard Street. The Finals are April 20 at the Harper Center Auditorium at Creighton University.
For schedule details visit ltabomaha.org.
- Boston’s Best Spoken Word And Poetry Venues (boston.cbslocal.com)
- Best Venues For Spoken Word and Poetry Readings In DFW (dfw.cbslocal.com)
- It’s Slam Time! (chicagotalks.org)
- Omaha South High Student Marissa Gomez Will Stand, Deliver and Be Heard at Louder Than a Bomb Omaha Youth Poetry Festival and Competition (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- From Reporter to Teacher, Carol Kloss McClellan Enjoys Her New Challenge as an Inner City Public High School Instructor (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Louder Than a Bomb Omaha Youth Slam Poetry Festival: “the point is the poetry, the point is the people” (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Lincoln High slam poets to perform (journalstar.com)
Urban hot spots come and go. A rocking new one in Omaha that’s all the rage is House of Loom. What it’s staying power is no one knows, but it’s almost beside the point as far as co-founder Brent Crampton is concerned. He’s more about using the venue as a launching pad for socially and culturally progressive ideas and connections that assume a life of their own than he is in making the place a runaway commercial success. So far, he and his partners seem to be doing both. Crampton is another in a long and growing line of creatives making an impact here and his House of Loom is another tangible expression of the more sophisticated and diverse cultural menu emerging in this once sleepy Midwest burg that has awakened. Omaha has actually come into its own as a hopping place where there’s always something compelling going on no matter what you’re into. This blog is full of profiles about the persons and places transforming the city into a cosmo receiving center and exporter of new, different, engaging stuff. Much more to come. Keep reading and checking back.
House of Loom Weaves a New Cultural-Social Dynamic for Omaha
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in Encounter Magazine
For a startup bar, House of Loom at 1012 South 10th St. is generating mucho buzz. The reasons for its popularity are as eclectic as the place and the young creatives behind it.
Start with the name. It’s both a brand and a social theory that co-owner and music director Brent Crampton, a DJ by trade, conceived with business partner Jay Kline. Five years ago they launched loom, with a small l, as a roaming multicultural dance party aimed at getting people who normally don’t mix to meet, experience new cultures, form social networks and have fun.
“I have a passion for bringing people together,” says Crampton.
It never sat right with him that despite the Afro-beats he played, his DJing gigs drew mostly white crowds. Under the loom name he began inviting diverse audiences to intersect over music or art or causes at theme nights. “Cultural ambassadors” spread the word.
“These are people who are naturally connectors who have a social network within a certain cultural demographic,” says Crampton. “Through networking we have a lot of people who are into what we’re doing and support us.”
For Crampton and Kline, loom describes their intent to weave the social fabric through music, dance and other art forms, thereby broadening the cultural experience and moving forward social progress. With his Russell Brand looks and persona, Crampton’s a new-school hipster at ease talking about groove as an instrument of change.
He, Kline (the former owner of Fluxiron Gallery) and a third partner, entrepreneur Ethan Bondelid, made loom hot ticket events. The turnouts and cachet kept growing but loom lacked a home of its own. By the partners leasing and renovating the former site of Bones, the Stork Club and the Neon Goose, they now have a distinctly urban space with more flexibility to entertain patrons and promote social agenda issues.
“It opens up possibilities to a lot of great things,” says Crampton.
Bondelid says it’s all about “getting people to try new things,” adding, “We invite people to go on an experience with us.”
Regulars have followed Crampton and Co. to the House of Loom’s near-Old Market location. First-timers are quickly becoming devotees. With a decor equal parts classic Old World bar, nouveau club, chic salon and kitsch bordello it has a warm, funky ambience that, combined with an intimate scale, encourages staying awhile and interacting.
“The idea is for it to look really nice but we don’t want any form of pretentiousness. We just want a nice, unique, comfortable place that does look elegant in its own way,” says Bondelid.
The bohemian vibe extends from the lounge’s rich, multi-colored Victorian-style furniture, homey book cases and tiled fireplace to the well-appointed oak and cedar bar and its crafted cocktails and premium beers to the black painted tin ceiling. Contemporary paintings and sculptures dot the interior.
Curtains can be drawn and furniture rearranged to create more private or open spaces.
A custom-built booth is where Crampton and guest MCs ignite the music. LED lights frame the electric mood. When weather permits, an outdoor patio and garden offer an open-air hang-out.
House of Loom has hosted everything from an Omaha Table Talk dinner to an Opera Omaha night to a Project Interfaith speed dialogue to a celebration of India’s Festival of Lights to a Tango Night to private parties, tastings and spoken word events. It’s an in meet-up spot for arts patrons before and after shows. Featured bands have played Cuban, hip-hop, jazz and a myriad of other music.
Catered international cuisine accompanies some events.
The cultural mix happens in a blend of music, food, ideas, personalities and walks-of-life. Bondelid says House of Loom is a haven for creative class urban adventurers seeking to sample “all different kinds” of experiences and expressions.
For events, bookings and hours, visit http://www.houseofloom.com or call 402-505-5494.
- Art Trumps Hate: ‘Brundinar’ Children’s Opera Survives as Defiant Testament from the Holocaust (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Living the Dream: Cinema Maven Rachel Jacobson – the Woman Behind Film Streams (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Art as Revolution: Brigitte McQueen’s Union for Contemporary Art Reimagines What’s Possible in North Omaha (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Omaha Film Festival Celebrates Seven Years of Growing the Local Film Culture (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- To Doha and Back with Love, Local Journalists Reflect on Their Fear and Loathing Adventure in the Gulf (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Nancy Kirk: Arts Maven, Author, Communicator, Entrepreneur, Interfaith Champion (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
Soul on Ice – Man on Fire: The Charles Bryant Story (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)
Never is anyone simply what they appear to be on the surface. Deep rivers run on the inisde of even the most seemingly easy to peg personalties and lives. Many of those well guarded currents cannot be seen unless we take the time to get to know someone and they reveal what’s on the inside. But seeing the complexity of what is there requires that we also put aside our blinders of assumptions and perceptions. That’s when we learn that no one is ever one thing or another. Take the late Charles Bryant. He was indeed as tough as his outward appearance and exploits as a one-time football and wrestling competitor suggested. But as I found he was also a man who carried around with him great wounds, a depth of feelings, and an artist’s sensitivity that by the time I met him, when he was old and only a few years from passing, he openly expressed.
My profile of Bryant was originally written for the New Horizons and then when I was commissioned to write a series on Omaha’s Black Sports Legends entitled, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness, I incorporated this piece into that collection. You can read several more of my stories from that series on this blog, including profiles of Bob Gibson, Bob Boozer, Gale Sayers, Ron Boone, Marlin Briscoe, and Johnny Rodgers.
Charles Bryant at UNL
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally published in the New Horizons and The Reader (www.thereader.com)
“I am a Lonely Man, without Love…Love seems like a Fire many miles away. I can see the smoke and imagine the Heat. I travel to the Fire and when I arrive the Fire is out and all is Grey ashes…
–– “Lonely Man” by Charles Bryant, from his I’ve Been Along book of poems
Life for Charles Bryant once revolved around athletics. The Omaha native dominated on the gridiron and mat for Omaha South High and the University of Nebraska before entering education and carving out a top prep coaching career. Now a robust 70, the still formidable Bryant has lately reinvented himself as an artist, painting and sculpting with the same passion that once stoked his competitive fire.
Bryant has long been a restless sort searching for a means of self-expression. As a young man he was always doing something with his hands, whether shining shoes or lugging ice or drawing things or crafting woodwork or swinging a bat or throwing a ball. A self-described loner then, his growing up poor and black in white south Omaha only made him feel more apart. Too often, he said, people made him feel unwelcome.
“They considered themselves better than I. The pain and resentment are still there.” Too often his own ornery nature estranged him from others. “I didn’t fit in anywhere. Nobody wanted to be around me because I was so volatile, so disruptive, so feisty. I was independent. Headstrong. I never followed convention. If I would have known that then, I would have been an artist all along,” he said from the north Omaha home he shares with his wife of nearly hald-a-century, Mollie.
Athletics provided a release for all the turbulence inside him and other poor kids. “I think athletics was a relief from the pressures we felt,” he said. He made the south side’s playing fields and gymnasiums his personal proving ground and emotional outlet. His ferocious play at guard and linebacker demanded respect.
“I was tenacious. I was mean. Tough as nails. Pain was nothing. If you hit me I was going to hit you back. When you played across from me you had to play the whole game. It was like war to me every day I went out there. I was just a fierce competitor. I guess it came from the fact that I felt on a football field I was finally equal. You couldn’t hide from me out there.”
Even as a youth he was always a little faster, a little tougher, a little stronger than his schoolmates. He played whatever sport was in season. While only a teen he organized and coached young neighborhood kids. Even then he was made a prisoner of color when, at 14, he was barred from coaching in York, Neb., where the all-white midget-level baseball team he’d led to the playoffs was competing.
Still, he did not let obstacles like racism stand in his way. “Whatever it took for me to do something, I did it. I hung in there. I have never quit anything in my life. I have a force behind me.”
Bryant’s drive to succeed helped him excel in football and wrestling. He also competed in prep baseball and track. Once he came under the tutelage of South High coach Conrad “Corney” Collin, he set his sights on playing for NU. He had followed the stellar career of past South High football star Tom Novak – “The toughest guy I’ve seen on a football field.” — already a Husker legend by the time Bryant came along. But after earning 1950 all-state football honors his senior year, Bryant was disappointed to find no colleges recruiting him. In that pre-Civil Rights era athletic programs at NU, like those at many other schools, were not integrated. Scholarships were reserved for whites. Other than Tom Carodine of Boys Town, who arrived shortly before Bryant but was later kicked off the team, Bryant was the first African-American ballplayer there since 1913.
No matter, Bryant walked-on at the urging of Collin, a dandy of a disciplinarian whom Bryant said “played an important role in my life.” It happened this way: Upon graduating from South two of Bryant’s white teammates were offered scholarships, but not him; then Bryant followed his coach’s advice to “go with those guys down to Lincoln.’” Bryant did. It took guts. Here was a lone black kid walking up to crusty head coach Bill Glassford and his all-white squad and telling them he was going to play, like it or not. He vowed to return and earn his spot on the team. He kept the promise, too.
“I went back home and made enough money to pay my own way. I knew the reason they didn’t want me to play was because I was black, but that didn’t bother me because Corney Collin sent me there to play football and there was nothing in the world that was going to stop me.”
Collin had stood by him before, like the time when the Packers baseball team arrived by bus for a game in Hastings and the locals informed the big city visitors that Bryant, the lone black on the team, was barred from playing. “Coach said, ‘If he can’t play, we won’t be here,’ and we all got on the bus and left. He didn’t say a word to me, but he put himself on the line for me.”
Bryant had few other allies in his corner. But those there were he fondly recalls as “my heroes.” In general though blacks were discouraged, ignored, condescended. They were expected to fail or settle for less. For example, when Bryant told people of his plans to play ball at NU, he was met with cold incredulity or doubt.
“One guy I graduated with said, ‘I’ll see you in six weeks when you flunk out.’ A black guy I knew said, ‘Why don’t you stay here and work in the packing houses?’ All that just made me want to prove myself more to them, and to me. I was really focused. My attitude was, ‘I’m going to make it, so the hell with you.’”
Bryant brought this hard-shell attitude with him to Lincoln and used it as a shield to weather the rough spots, like the death of his mother when he was a senior, and as a buffer against the prejudice he encountered there, like the racial slurs slung his way or the times he had to stay apart from the team on road trips.
As one of only a few blacks on campus, every day posed a challenge. He felt “constantly tested.” On the field he could at least let off steam and “bang somebody” who got out of line. There was another facet to him though. One he rarely shared with anyone but those closest to him. It was a creative, perceptive side that saw him write poetry (he placed in a university poetry contest), “make beautiful, intricate designs in wood” and “earn As in anthropolgy.”
Bryant’s days at NU got a little easier when two black teammates joined him his sophomore year (when he was finally granted the scholarship he’d been denied.). Still, he only made it with the help of his faith and the support of friends, among them teammate Max Kitzelman (“Max saved me. He made sure nobody bothered me.”) professor of anthropology Dr. John Champe (“He took care of me for four years.”) former NU trainers Paul Schneider and George Sullivan (who once sewed 22 stitches in a split lip Bryant suffered when hit in the chops against Minnesota), and sports information director emeritus Don Bryant.
“I always had an angel there to take care of me. I guess they realized the stranger in me.”
Charles Bryant’s perseverance paid off when, as a senior, he was named All-Big Seven and honorable mention All-American in football and all-league in wrestling (He was inducted in the NU Football Hall of Fame in 1987.). He also became the first Bryant (the family is sixth generation Nebraskan) to graduate from college when he earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1955.
He gave pro football a try with the Green Bay Packers, lasting until the final cut (Years later he gave the game a last hurrah as a lineman with the semi-pro Omaha Mustangs). Back home, he applied for teaching-coaching positions with OPS but was stonewalled. To support he and Mollie — they met at the storied Dreamland Ballroom on North 24th Street and married three months later — he took a job at Brandeis Department Store, becoming its first black male salesperson.
After working as a sub with the Council Bluffs Public Schools he was hired full-time in 1961, spending the bulk of his Iowa career at Thomas Jefferson High School. At T.J. he built a powerhouse wrestling program, with his teams regularly whipping Metro Conference squads.
In the 1970s OPS finally hired him, first as assistant principal at Benson High, then as assistant principal and athletic director at Bryan, and later as a student personnel assistant (“one of the best jobs I’ve ever had”) in the TAC Building. Someone who has long known and admired Bryant is University of Nebraska at Omaha wrestling Head Coach Mike Denney, who coached for and against him at Bryan.
Said Denney, “He’s from the old school. A tough, hard-nosed straight shooter. He also has a very sensitive, caring side. I’ve always respected how he’s developed all aspects of himself. Writing. Reading widely. Making art. Going from coaching and teaching into administration. He’s a man of real class and dignity.”
Bryant found a new mode of expression as a stern but loving father — he and Mollie raised five children — and as a no-nonsense coach and educator. Although officially retired, he still works as an OPS substitute teacher. What excites him about working with youth?
“The ability to, one-on-one, aid and assist a kid in charting his or her own course of action. To give him or her the path to what it takes to be a good man or woman. My great hope is I can make a change in the life of every kid I touch. I try to give kids hope and let them see the greatness in them. It fascinates me what you can to do mold kids. It’s like working in clay.”
Since taking up art 10 years ago, he has found the newest, perhaps the strongest medium for his voice. He works in a variety of media, often rendering compelling faces in bold strokes and vibrant colors, but it is sculpture that has most captured his imagination.
“When I’m working in clay I can feel the blessings of Jesus Christ in my hands. I can sit down in my basement and just get lost in the work.”
Recently, he sold his bronze bust of a buffalo soldier for $5,000. Local artist Les Bruning, whose foundry fired the piece, said of his work, “He has a good eye and a good hand. He has a mature style and a real feel for geometric preciseness in his work. I think he’s doing a great job. I’d like to see more from him.”
Bryant has brought his talent and enthusiasm for art to his work with youths. A few summers ago he assisted a group of kids painting murals at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. He directs a weekly art class at Clair Memorial United Methodist Church, where he worships and teaches Sunday School.
Much of Bryant’s art, including a book of poems he published in the ‘70s, deals with the black experience. He explores the pain and pride of his people, he said, because “black people need black identification. This kind of art is really a foundation for our ego. Every time we go out in the world we have to prove ourselves. Nobody knows what we’ve been through. Few know the contributions we’ve made. I guess I’m trying to make sure our legacy endures. Every time I give one of my pieces of art to kids I work with their eyes just light up.”
These days Bryant is devoting most of his time to his ailing wife, Mollie, the only person who’s really ever understood him. He can’t stand the thought of losing her and being alone again.
“But I shall not give in to loneliness. One day I shall reach my True Love and My fire shall burn with the Feeling of Love.”
–– from his poem “Lonely Man”
- A Family Thing, Bryant-Fisher Family Reunion (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
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