Guide My Feet…

by Leslye Joy Allen

“Guide My Feet”
(Traditional Negro Spiritual)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am grateful that my late Mama and Daddy taught me our old African tradition of ancestor worship.   That worship was as much a part of my childhood as was the old Western Judeo-Christian tradition…Now, for those who know me well, you know that I can be the most severe critic of ministers and organized religion(s) that too often fail to act in the best interests of the flocks they claim to serve, lead and protect.  Yet, that is another blog.  Save your breath.  I am only responding to the message(s) sent to me…

I occasionally re-read the poem that my friend actor-poet-writer Charles Reese wrote immediately following the death of my nearly 92-year-old mother in early 2013.  In homage to her, he referred to my Mama as “a Queen,” but he also referred to her as “our newest ancestor.” — Nothing in “Syble’s Poem” struck me as much as that line about her becoming an ancestor.  For people who know my late Mama, they know that certain songs remained in her repertoire right up to the very end of her days here on earth.

I do not need to recount the tragedies that have happened to Black folk in the last few weeks or even over the last year.  Yet, for the last couple of days I have been unable to get the old Negro Spiritual “Guide My Feet” out of my head.  Composed and sung in the caldron of American chattel slavery and passed down from generation-to-generation by my people, I have been singing it and humming it off-and-on for the last couple of months.  At first, I thought I was going crazy.  I must confess that I had a similar experience with “You Gotta to Move,” a Gospel/Blues song composed by Mississippi Fred McDowell.  A few months earlier in the year, I was singing “You Gotta Move” in an impromptu singing session that followed a gathering of my Sistahs that was a combination of good coffee, prayer, testimony, and truth-talking with each other at Dream Café…A few days after that meeting, I ran into a brother in a wheelchair who was singing the same song on a corner in downtown Atlanta.  That had to mean something, I thought…

When I went to my cousin Dexter’s graduation from Morehouse College this past May 2015, the class Valedictorian and Summa Cum Laude graduate Jerek Sharrod Brown burst into “Guide My Feet” before he began his inspirational and spellbinding Valedictory address.   His voice in song was an unexpected, but welcome and perfectly poetic pleasure.  I felt something inside of me shift and move when Brown sang and when he spoke.  I felt something shift again when my cousin Dexter’s name was called as a new graduate of Morehouse College. After all, I remembered when I first held him in my arms when he was still an infant…

Today I decided to see whether the lyrics to “Guide My Feet” would come up in a general search on Google.  It did.  Now, usually when something comes up in an internet search, I typically download it and then email it to myself just to make sure that I have a couple of copies of my research findings in two different places.  Yet, something strange and beautiful happened after I performed my usual ritual…

When I clicked the email button to send my Google search findings to myself, the email did not pull up my personal email address.  Instead, it opened my late Mama’s email address which was and remains a secondary email account affiliated with my own primary account…Sometimes the Creator knows that you need a little help.  Sometimes the ancestors are talking to you…

There are moments when no matter how bad things are or may seem, you simply do not worry and you no longer expend energy on people who do not work in your and your own people’s best interests.   I have reached that moment. More than we know or acknowledge, the ancestors speak to us in small but important ways if WE only listen, if WE only listen…So, Thank You Mama and Daddy and all the known and unknown ancestors and saints…Thank You Goddess…Thank You God…Peace and Blessings.  Àṣé…

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my feet,

while I run this race,

For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

5 Memorable Comments Made to Me by My Teachers

by Leslye Joy Allen 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Archive Joy!,” Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Trying to pick five favorite quotes by former teachers and professors is a real chore.  Blessed with some of the greatest teachers on this earth, I have no other choice but to acknowledge their intelligence and their wit.  It is also impossible to remember what so many of them said to me verbatim.  Yet, when I start to count my blessings, I can hear them.  We may not be able to remember who won the World Series in 1990 or what film won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2000, but we remember our teachers.  On so many occasions I hear their wisdom and humor, loud and clear.  So here are my favorite five; at least my “first” favorite five.  This one is short and sweet.  Enjoy.  

 

1.  “It was a joy to teach you!” – Mrs. Doris Prather, 7th Grade English Teacher

2.  “You are too intelligent for this!!  If I catch you and Louis with Cliffs Notes again, I will call both of your mothers!!” – Sister Barbara Sitko, 12th Grade English teacher

3.  “The only good thesis and the only good dissertation is a finished thesis and a finished dissertation.” – Dr. Jacqueline Howard Matthews, Africana Women’s Studies Professor

4.  “You write very well. But relax, you won’t hit it out of the ballpark every time.” – Dr. Waqas A. Khwaja, English Professor (when I received a grade of “B” instead of an “A” on an English paper)

5.  “Scholars say that there was a heavy concentration of lead in the water back in Ancient Rome. They believe that the reason why so many of those old Roman Emperors went crazy was due to lead poisoning. But just between you and I, I think a lot of them were crazy due to all of that family inbreeding.” – Dr. Sally MacEwen, Latin Professor

Àṣé!!

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

One of My Mama’s Friends

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I have lived over fifty years and I have never really met and never really dealt with a Black woman who was passive. My experience may not be the same as everyone else’s, but as a young Black girl growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, there simply was no such thing as an uneducated, passive and do-nothing Black woman; and my late Mama and her friends have been that example. Mama’s friends have been a blessing to me while she was alive and a boon to me in her absence…

I will only share a little bit about one of them here…

Her full name is Mrs. Bendolyn Handspike Ricks. Her nickname is “Peaches.” The house she has shared with her husband of more than forty years has always been one of the homes in the neighborhood where all the kids went to just hang out and be kids and clown around.  Even though she insisted that I call her “Peaches” well over twenty years ago, I had to reach the age of fifty before I could call her anything other than “Mrs. Ricks.”  Being raised to be extra respectful to adults, I simply could not call her by her nickname until after I passed the half century mark.  But here is what I learned from “Peaches.”

Make your voice heard! Everyone at City Hall, the Mayor’s Office, and the local police department knows her.  She will call them all day long if need be to get what she needs and what our community needs. I know….

because when a pipe from the street collapsed and created a plumbing problem for me, the City’s water department claimed that they could not arrive at my house for the next three weeks.  So, I called Peaches…

and she told me the city council person I should call.  So, I called them and the water department and crew arrived the next morning rather than the next three weeks…

When she is travelling out of town, she asks that our police department send extra police officers to cruise by and look after her house…

and this past week, while she and her husband were vacationing, I watched as one police car after another sat near her house…

I say this to make a point…

One need not be wealthy to get something done. One need only be persistent enough to demand what one needs and to fight for what one needs… 

and one needs only to have the kind of Black women I know and grew up with…

On those occasions when I worry, I simply pause and remember my Mama and her cronies—some Baaaad Sisters who I can only hope to someday emulate…Àṣé!

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Black boy and a White boy

by Leslye Joy Allen

Some folk will read the title of this blog and think that this blog is about race relations or racism.  This blog is not about that, at all…

This blog is not about the Black boy who got arrested or killed by police.  It is not about some Black boy who is a genius and who has defied the odds and created some great new invention.  It is not about some White boy that got away with something that would probably get the Black boy killed.  And it is also not about some White boy, who, like that Black boy, invented some new technology or has an unusually high IQ.  This blog is about two typical American boys…

I met the Black boy a few years ago when I went to observe a music class at the Atlanta Music Project.  He was proudly and boldly blowing his clarinet.  A few months later I attended his recital with the rest of the music students in this program.  He remembered me and promptly took me to meet his music instructor.  I chatted amicably with his mother, and like most native Atlantans, she and I discovered we knew a lot of the same people.  Since then, I have discovered that this Black boy has added the bassoon to his growing number of instruments.  He also won some position in student government at his elementary school.  Thoughtful, talented, intelligent and kind, he gives me a big hug, every time I run into him with his mother at the supermarket.  His mother told me that instead of watching TV every night, that television viewing is limited in their household.  Instead, they have full conversations and they tell stories…

Now I met the White boy last week on a ride on the MARTA train heading home. Five-years-old and seated with his young mother, he proceeded to read everything on the signs in the train.  “You read very well,” I said.  He quickly extended his hand to shake mine.  His mother and I chatted about school, education, and how well her son reads.  She told me that she lives within walking distance of a public library where they have these great storytelling sessions for children.  As I approached my stop, I said, “So nice talking to you. Now young man, you keep reading! I get off here.”  She replied, “This is my stop, too!  Take my business card,” she said, “I know a lot of historians. Maybe we can all get together some time.”   I thanked her and watched she and her five-year-old son walk home in what is and remains nearly a 100 percent Black neighborhood. And I am also quite familiar with the library that she told me about.  The Black women who conduct those storytelling sessions there at the library have engaged this little White boy.  He not only could read—his pronunciation was perfect…

It should be obvious to anyone reading this that the Black boy and the White boy have parents who spend time with them. These parents have found programs and activities that are beneficial to their children. Now, I’m not making any major pronouncements here about parenting or race relations.  I am simply writing about typical, well-raised children. I am, deliberately avoiding the noise—at least momentarily—from the media that often dominates the narrative.  Not all the news about children and what happens to children is bad news.  And the future is not all gloom and doom. And, for now, I’m going to bet the future on my Black boy and my White boy. Àṣé.

(My previous blog is Frank Wittow’s Legacy…Nevaina’s Dream)

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Frank Wittow’s Legacy…Nevaina’s Dream

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

The late great actor-director-educator Frank Wittow remains one of my favorite figures in Atlanta’s rich theatre history.  His work with the late, great Georgia Allen was second to none—He placed this multi-talented Black woman in a non-servant role on an Atlanta stage in the early 1960s when the city and indeed the nation were still grappling with the idea that maybe Black folk were more than just the servants of White folk. Georgia Allen had appeared in numerous films and theatre productions throughout the nation and on the campuses of Spelman and Clark Colleges, and Wittow was wise enough to recognize Allen’s superior gifts.  He was simply a different kind of White man. There were no syrupy and useless White liberal platitudes about race relations spewing out of his mouth—he just did what he wanted to do.

Now, Allen predated Wittow’s arrival in Atlanta and she had a much longer career, and to fully honor her contributions to all of the arts and to education would require writing a tome. So, I will save that project for a later date.  Much like Allen, however, Wittow directed, trained, and mentored some of the best performers on the planet and took theatre performances into Atlanta Public Schools throughout much of his life.  He did this almost to the day he died in 2006.  One of his younger protégées had the benefit of his training…

Her name is Nevaina Rhodes—her first name is pronounced “Nih-Von-yah” like “lasagna.”  The first time I saw her perform, I did not know she had any affiliation with Wittow.  When she told me her basic philosophy about acting there was something refreshingly new about her approach to her craft, but also something rather familiar…Let me explain…

You see, when I was growing up in Atlanta, an actor, a musician, a poet, an academic, an intellectual, was simply part of the community in which we all lived.  Importantly, you had to participate in the arts and the humanities, and it did not matter if you had talent or an exceptional intellect or not.  While I adore and admire many younger performers and scholars—and by younger, I mean anyone born after the Baby Boom—I find an increasing number of them who are quite insular; they have fewer connections to each other or with the folk in the communities where they live.  Unlike the Atlanta of my childhood, in recent years I have attended far too many functions filled with musicians, actors, poets, filmmakers, and historians and I end up being the only person in the room who actually knows everybody in that room…

Well, to make a long story short, Nevaina’s conceptualization of Real Actors Workshop (RAW) makes it open to amateur and professional alike.  Her basic theory is that whether you are a professional actor or not, all of us humans act and perform in certain ways depending on the circumstances.  In other words, she insists that, we all are actors. Although she is a North Carolinian by birth, her approach feels much like the Atlanta of my youth, where the long theatre traditions on the campuses of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and people like Georgia Allen and Frank Wittow made certain that theatre reached who it was supposed to reach—the people. We were not a community of strangers…everybody knew everybody, which is the way it should be.

I should add that I am writing this to inform you that Nevaina is not only a dazzling performer and an amazing drama coach, but she is also a real survivor. Native Atlantans, in particular, love people with a strong work ethic and those who bounce back when things do not always go as planned.  Less than five years ago, Nevaina miraculously and fully recovered from a stroke that could have easily killed her; and she remained positive while she also endured some personal losses that probably would have destroyed some weaker souls.

Today her Real Actors Workshop (RAW) is headquartered at Dream Café, Atlanta’s first cafe and empowerment lounge, which is owned by Nevaina and her partners, Jay White and Stevie Baggs.  Dream Café‘s premise is simple.  It is designed to be a place where artists, intellectuals, young and old folk can meet and greet and talk and achieve their dreams, over coffee and healthy food.  This concept and these young owners have my support not only because it feels familiar to me, but because it feels right…and it also feels rather cyclical…

Now, I am aware that my hometown has changed.  Nothing stays the same, nor should it stay the same.  Yet, there are some core elements that we must never lose—namely, the ability to connect with each other and exchange ideas.  Not even a semblance of community can survive if we lose this ability.  So, I am proud to call Nevaina a friend. It has been a great privilege to watch her perform; and I have been encouraged by her intellect, her big smile, and her big spirit…I am also certain that Wittow (and Allen) are watching her from that place where great souls go when they leave this earth…So, in honor of them and in honor of future generations, go visit the Dream Café, and write your dream on the wall. Àṣé!

To learn more about Real Actors Workshop (RAW), and Nevaina’s distinguished career as an actor, drama coach, and public speaker, click here: Nevaina Rhodes Inspirational Speaker and Drama Therapy Specialist.

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.