MinterTom  Sep.17.2010 0 Comments

Wednesday I was at the National Press Club, here in DC, attending the 43rd Anniversary Luncheon for the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum.  The invitation came through the Washington National Opera, and I went with my colleague, Stephanie Wright. I’d said ‘definitely’ to the invitation, when asked some time ago, because, as far as I was concerned, it was a free lunch! …-And you know, we writers never turn down a free anything, especially when it involves food and a gathering of people, as the material from such events is inevitably fit for fodder.. Waiting for Stephanie in front of the Press Club, I was happy to spend the time ‘people watching’. Out of the flow of pedestrian traffic I saw Maureen Bunyan approaching the building. Ms Bunyan, newscast doyen of DC’s ABC News affiliate, has been Mistress of Ceremonies for the opera company’s “Look-In” presentation, which brings opera to an audience of elementary and high school students at the Kennedy Center, these last many years. Watching her make a demure way down 14th street, I felt an inexplicable sense of familiarity –knowing, albeit not personally, the local personality who was bringing the luncheon ceremony, and compere cohesion. brought me to think about just how long I’ve been in DC (over 10 years), and how far into its Arts workings I’d serendipitously navigated. I found I was smiling at the thought, which is how Stephanie found me as she arrived- smiling into thin air! But just at that moment, two of the area’s traffic violations officers descended on a mini fleet of limousines waiting outside the Press Club. The interaction was barter on the parts of the drivers, and intransigence on the part of the officers –until one of the chauffeurs whispered who it was they were waiting for. The names Denzel Washington and Ashanti turned into one single word of high breathless astonishment –‘notdenzelandashantinotdenzelnotdenzel’! As a casual crowd of spectators suddenly collected to act nonchalant, Stephanie and I broke away and went upstairs to the luncheon. We entered the dinging room where items of Art -paintings, collages, drawings and autographed books- were laid out along a series of tables, all part of a heated silent auction. The room was energetic with conversation and a large count of lunching Ladies, well connected to the nexus of Arts endeavors of the District and its environs; nothing in the world of Art gets done without such adroit Ladies, or salmon plated luncheons. In this case, the room was predominantly African American; the Anacostia Museum resides in Ward 7 of the District of Columbia and has a community predominant of an African diaspora. The museum’s current exhibition, Word, Shout, Song is about the work of Lorenzo Dow Turner and his documentation of the Gullah people of Georgia and South Carolina, in the 1930’s, who still possessed parts of the culture and language of their enslaved ancestors, which had long been believed lost at the time. [DuBose Heyward, a native of Charleston, S.C., used the Gullah as a model for study when he wrote the book of Porgy & Bess, that later caught the attention of George Gershwin.] Stephanie and I went to our table and sat down; Ms Bunyan went to the podium, and took control of the proceedings; she truly is a generous, affable and an eminent Mistress of Ceremonies. After opening remarks and context, Ms Bunyan gave place to the Director of the Anacostia Museum, Camille Giraud Akeju, who celebrated the community of Ward 7, and the continually burgeoning community of the Anacostia Museum. Ms Akeju spoke of leadership then, making her remarks and thanks to Melvin Deal, who was to receive the John R. Kinard Leadership In Community Service Award. Mr. Deal is a living, “Dancing Griot”; he is Founder and Executive Artistic Director of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers, a group I worked with in 2008, when they were part of a collection of artists enlisted by the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative, in association with the Washington National Opera, in a program called Community in Bloom, where collected stories and memories of members of the Ward 7 community, were passed through the prisms of artists, as visual art, multi-media presentations and an operatic scene, called Threading Time, which I wrote the lyrics for. The final presentation, for Community In Bloom, was a powerful tapestry of history, art and culture. The keynote speaker was next at the luncheon podium; Marquetta L. Goodwine, also known as Queen Quet. A descendent of two Gullah families, Queen Quet grew up on St. Helena Island. She founded the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition in 1996, in an effort to bring together a community dedicated to preserving Gullah history, heritage and culture. She entered the room in song; keening in Gullah patois, enjoining her ancestors to bless the gathering and guard the journey. Queen Quet’s address was wit, admonishment and passion entwined; it brought forward information on the Gullah community and language, and taunted the crowd with tart quips on their lack of church schooling, moving from a sentence in Proverbs 4 [..Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom…], to relating the urgings of African ancestors to “heal the tree” of knowledge; bring all parts of knowledge together, and grow. It was a powerful, animated, engaging, enveloping, masterful locution of Gullah dialect and anthropological intellect and insight. …and had particular resonance, when speaking of the ghosts of ancestors looking to make sure that, in the moment, we feel their hand upon us, leading us; leaving knowledge for us, in song and speech, to smooth and support our own progress..-enjoining us to remember words, songs, and shout. Past and present; ghosts and memory; I felt myself in the circle, using the fodder of one, as a tool of the other. Before Queen Quet left the podium, she exhorted us to listen; to see; to sing; to remember; to grow towards knowledge, and leave wisdom as seed..

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