On This September 15, 2016

By Leslye Joy Allen

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Today is my play big brother Walter Dallas’ birthday.  A brilliant director, playwright and composer, I was so glad to talk with him this morning. Today it has also been reported that Sandra Bland’s family has reached a settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit they filed against Texas police officers (Read: Sandra Bland’s Family Reaches $1.9 Million Dollar Settlement).  I can only say that her family fought valiantly for changes to be made at the jail where Sandra Bland died. Her family might have gotten a bigger settlement if Black women’s lives mattered half as much as the lip service we often hear that says that we actually matter.  Talk is cheap.

Today is also the 53rd anniversary of Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that snuffed out the lives of four young black girls named Cynthia Morris (later called Cynthia Wesley), Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, and Addie Mae Collins. Addie Mae’s sister Sarah Collins Rudolph survived the blast, but lost an eye and her sister. Two black boys were killed the same day near the church in additional acts of racial violence; they were Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware. So how does one celebrate the birthday of a wonderful director, playwright, composer and all-around great guy while remembering the deaths of our children, and of those who died needlessly in police custody and much too soon?

On the surface no visible correlation exists between any of these events. Yet, a birthday is often a milestone to look back at what one has accomplished and what one wants to accomplish in the years ahead. These deaths, however, are painful reminders of the work still ahead of us, a reminder to pause and appreciate those among the living for who they are and what they do because no day is promised to any of us.

It is for me also a reminder of all those butterflies, the white and yellow clouded sulfur butterflies, and the orange and black monarch butterflies, that have followed me for the last two weeks, in my yard, in the street, and in parking lots that remind me of renewal and transformation, and that those who live with us for a long time and those who leave us too soon will return again. Àṣé!”

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2016. 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 or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Mama’s “Drew Dinner”

by Leslye Joy Allen

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

Whenever I arrived home and was greeted by very particular smells coming from our kitchen, I knew Drew had swung by my Mama’s house and picked up what she knew was his favorite meal. On many occasions, she just called him and told him to come pick it up. My Mama, the late Syble Wilson Allen-Wms., named this meal “The Drew Dinner” back in the mid-1980s. She enjoyed the way he would often show up. “What are you cooking?,” he asked.  “Your favorite,” she said.      

So on Tuesday, 13 October 2015, on what would have been his 59th birthday, I am eating “his dinner” in his honor so designated by my Mama.  Gone now for twenty-two years, he was mercurial, occasionally difficult, yet sweet in ways that many people missed, artistically talented, and physically gorgeous.  He was devoted to me and routinely defended my honor.  And unlike so many other men who were enamored with their “idea” of me, he loved me exactly as I am.  He meant so much to me for so many reasons, and for so many other reasons that he and I promised we would never, ever share with anyone (and we/I have kept that promise).

I miss him and Mama. I still remember when the two of them occasionally debated about me.  Two dominant personalities, both of them wanted the final say-so on whatever I was doing or planning to do; and neither of them ever got the final say-so.  They would debate to a draw and then I would do what I wanted to do.  They would laugh and shrug their shoulders.  And even when the debates turned into heated arguments, those occasional dramas never interfered with one of my late Mama’s favorite past-times: cooking his favorite dinner.

I still remember times when I would hang up the phone with Mama and yell down the hallway, “Drew, Mama said…”  And before I could finish telling him what she had cooked he was halfway out the door saying, “Tell her I’m on my way.”  LOL!  Memories of them are occasionally mournful, occasionally celebratory, often both; but always funny, warm, and delicious.  Àṣé.


“The Drew Dinner” is a menu and a Trademark ™ of the Estate of Syble Wilson Allen-Wms. Registered Trademark ® pending. All Rights Reserved.

The Drew Dinner:

Meatloaf made from ground chicken and beef

Mashed Potatoes made from red potatoes

Collard Greens with Sautéed Okra 

Homemade Cornbread (baked in a cast-iron skillet)

Sliced homegrown Tomatoes & Spring Onions

Homemade Pickled Beets

Homemade Peach Cobbler…and

a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon

 

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.

An Encounter with the Police on My Way to Latin Class

By Leslye Joy Allen

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

Most of my encounters with police have been rare and routine.  Most of the police officers I have dealt with have been courteous and helpful.  I have made the occasional phone call about the neighbor whose dog has been running around the neighborhood terrorizing a few people.  The police come out, speak with the offender, and the matter is resolved.  Yet, I remember this incident…

A police officer discovered I had a “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension” on my driver’s license.  For those of you born late in the 20th century, let me explain.  An insurance cancellation suspension was common if you changed cars or changed insurance companies.  You used to get a form in the mail from the Department of Motor Vehicles instructing you to record your new insurance or new car.  Occasionally, however, you might not receive the form by mail, and you could easily forget about it.  Therefore, if your new car/new insurance data had not arrived at the Department of Motor Vehicles when you bought a new car or changed your car insurance, you could end up with this particular type of suspension.  You typically had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, show them your new purchase, along with your new insurance card.

In what appeared to be a routine road check for driver’s license and insurance, the Decatur Police held me for three hours only a few months after I purchased a car from my elderly uncle.  This happened in the spring of 1998 when I was back in college to complete my Bachelor’s degree at Agnes Scott College.  After checking my Driver’s License number the officer stated that I had a “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension” on the car I previously owned.  I showed him my new insurance card on the car I was driving.  I knew I would have to straighten out the suspension before I drove my car again.  Since I was about a mile from the campus, I asked him if he could radio the Agnes Scott College Police and have someone from that police department drive down the street, and pick me (and the car) up.

I explained that I would have my Mama come pick me up at Agnes Scott and we would go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get the suspension problem cleared up.  “I’m not calling anybody,” he said.  I pulled out my student ID.  He said, “I don’t need that. Girl, get out of the car.”  I was a grown woman in my thirties; and while I might not have looked as old as my birth certificate said I was, I was no “girl.”  I kept my mouth closed, but I am sure he sensed my displeasure.

I got out of the car and he instructed me to lie down in the street.  When I asked why are you doing this?  He told me to shut up.  While I lay down in the street for over 30 minutes, he and another two officers pulled the back seat out of my car.  They searched the trunk.  If it had not been for the little old man that came out of his house to watch, I do not know what else might have happened.  I was terrified, but I suffer from something my Mama used to call, “Your Daddy’s Disease.”  She said my father never showed fear when under pressure.  He always looked fearless, even menacing, when some horrible event was going on.  Then later when everything was all over, he would fall apart, shaking and reaching for a good stiff drink.  “That kind of thing can get you killed, Joy,” Mama said, “When someone expects you to be afraid, sometimes the worst thing you can do is look like you have no fear.”

Eventually a female police officer appeared and asked me if I wanted to call my Mama using her phone.  The first police officer decided to write me a simple ticket for driving with a suspended license and left me standing there in the street.  He drove off.  That sweet little old man stood there and talked with me until Mama arrived.  He told me he thought the Decatur police were doing some kind of sweep.  “They’re looking for somebody that’s up to no good, and they’re tryin’ to find ‘em in these road blocks,” he said.  Mama arrived in about 30 minutes and picked me up.  My new best friend—that sweet observant little old Black man told me to leave my car where it was until the suspension problem was straightened out.  “Them SOBs are probably waiting somewhere watching and waiting for you to drive off so they can give you another ticket or take you to jail.  I’ll watch your car until you get back,” he said.

Mama asked me how my clothes got so dirty.  I lied and told her I slipped and fell.  She would have had a heart attack if I told her what really happened to her only child.  We headed to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  The clerk handed me a simple form that I filled out citing that I no longer owned the previous vehicle and therefore had no insurance on that vehicle.  I had to write down the serial number and model of my current car and provide my proof of insurance.  The clerk recorded my data and lifted my “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension.”  All of this took about 20 minutes.

I did argue my case in traffic court.  The police officer rolled his eyes at me as I explained in detail his refusal to call the Agnes Scott College police even after I showed him my student ID.  I told the judge every detail and showed him my insurance card, the purchase of my car, and the statement from the Department of Motor Vehicles that lifted my insurance cancellation suspension.  To add as much injury as I could, I said, “I missed my Latin Class because of this!”  The judge dismissed my case.  I paid no fine.  I was lucky.  Yet, I sensed that what happened to me was not rare.  This kind of treatment happens to women, and particularly Black women and women of color, with a frequency that many people do not want to admit.  Black women encounter more than our share of rudeness and physical intimidation from police.  

I consider myself to be an average size woman.  I finally managed to gain enough weight to make it to a whopping 135 pounds at 5 feet, 5 inches tall.  At the time of this incident, I weighed only 115 pounds.  That police officer was at least 6’ 2” tall and weighed over 200 pounds.  He called me a girl.  He told me to shut up.  He did not throw me to the ground, Thank God.  Yet, just imagine how easy it would have been for him to do so.

 

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.

Common Sense

by Leslye Joy Allen Weary Self-Portrait 2 by Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

I am a Black woman, born and raised

in the American South, but I have

often had to yell or give long lectures

about my circumstances and my

problems and about what has happened to me

or other folk like me

and yelling and lecturing is a bore and a waste of my time, in spite

of the fact that I have met many of my Black folk that I love

and many White folk that I love and who love me,

but I have never seen any mass movement of White folk who

marched in the streets to say that they loved or supported Black women and

I have never seen any mass movement of Black people

who marched in the streets to say that they loved or supported Black women, so

I figured that in spite of that loving handful of

men and women who do or did love me, that

remain in my life or my memory, that I better

depend on myself because Common Sense demands that since I

am a Black American woman I better not make too many assumptions

about who I can count on

besides myself.

Copyright © 2014 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.