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by Marvin K. White
Paying homage to black funerary practices; artist and professor Angela Hennessy and The Oakland Peace Center’s Artivist-In-Residence Marvin K. White, hosts free community grieving and performance rituals.
A black boy is not a broken bottle.
A black boy is not a unlucky cat.
A black boy is not a bus stop.
A black boy is not an ant colony.
In the midst of displacement and gentrification, historically black funeral homes rarely close. In fact, large funeral conglomerates are buying up historically black-owned funeral homes. Black people have always sat with the dead, have always meditated on death as we mourned the loss of loved ones and community folk. And now it’s a get-rich-quick scheme.
A black boy is a powder keg.
A black boy is a revolution.
A black boy is a sister city.
A black boy is not a puddle.
In the Wake of The Quiet Hours… is a monthly, site-specific community container and grief ritual. It is now more important than ever to hold space for our collective grief, disbelief and fear. “The last one”, the last shooting of an unarmed black person, the last killing of a black or brown trans woman, the last young woman forced into sex trafficking, was not “the last one”.
A black boy is not a snapped tree.
A black boy is not a flash flood.
A black boy is not a run over skunk.
A black boy is not a Newport.
The “Quiet Hours” are facilitator-led meditations, conversations, and rituals that collects the grief, that the people in Oakland carry, gives space for it to be spoken, whispered, cried, broken and learn from it. We offer those in attendance, a “Quiet Hour” (silent meditation centering on the attendees historic and contemporary, past and present, deaths, passages, and losses. We then move into the “Wake”, where those gathered read the names of their dead that they are carrying with them and introduce them to the other people’s dead that they carry with them. Mothers, fathers, friends, victims 400 miles away and 400 years ago have all been brought in. The evening concludes with the “Visitation”, where storytelling about the names entered into record become transformed into lessons and strategies of survival, resilience and love.
A black boy is not spearmint gum.
A black boy is not a briquette.
A black boy is not a double yellow line.
A black boy is not a dropped grocery bag.
With the proliferation of images, videos and livestreamed killings of black people, and the ways that marginalized people have been forced to witness the killings, our communities have always had to have meditation practices to move the fear, anger, rage, grief, tears and distrust, through our bodies. We have always known how to meditate because there has always been the killing of black people.
A black boy is not folk art.
A black boy is not a cast shadow.
A black boy is not motor oil.
A black boy is not a “Candy Gold” Camaro’s donuts.
In the Wake of The Quiet Hours… is where we gather, where we sit sangha with death, where we embrace the living, and where we leave a little more aligned and reconciled in our bodies, after having lived with and under various oppressions. We know that in front of grief, as well as going through grief, and ultimately coming out of grief, that there is joy. If the community becomes a “wake”, then it speaks to itself a vigilance that we have always needed and called upon. We sit with the dead but we listen for joy. We sit to hear what lessons were on their lips as the living became the bullet’s dead.
A black boy is not hopscotch.
A black boy is not a Coors can.
A black boy is not sunflower seeds.
A black boy is not a telephone pole.
This, first of its kind community grief ritual, is a “community mind renewal” practice, and it, through the meditations that are created, allow for the din of violence that is anti-black, anti-woman, anti-lgbt, anti-immigrant, anti-homeless, and anti-religious, to be blocked out, for several house, so that we remember that we are here, alive, breathing, surviving, possible, and thriving.
A black boy is not a fire hydrant.
A black boy is not a manhole.
A black boy is not an altar call.
A black boy is not a god.
In the Wake of The Quiet Hours are held monthly at the Oakland Peace Center. They could be as easily held in the busy historic black funeral homes of East and North Oakland. While there is no body, we are mourning the loss of our lives and livelihoods by displacement, state violence, poverty, racism, white supremacy, ageism homophobia and misogyny. our feelings of belonging here. And depending on the wisdom in the room we will also provide to each other resources for how people can engage in resurrection practices: engaging in renters’ rights campaigns, collaborating with organizations and community spiritual, social justice & creative activators addressing HIV/AIDS in the Black community, joy in the black community, senior housing access work, organizing, dignity, access, and equity.
Marvin K. White, MDiv, is a graduate of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA. He is currently the ARTivist in Residence at the Oakland Peace Center. He was the Public Theologian in Residence (’17-’18) at First Church Berkeley and a recent Yerba Buena Center for the Arts “Equity” Fellow (’16-’17). He is the author of four collections of poetry: Our Name Be Witness; Status; and the two Lammy-nominated collections last rights and nothin’ ugly fly. He is a highly sought-after preacher, poet and performer. He is articulating a vision of social, prophetic and creative justice through his work as a poet, artist, teacher, collaborator, preacher, cake baker, and Facebook Statustician.
This has been a year of great staff transition and expansion at the OPC. We bid farewell to our communications and development intern Tia Rounsoville who is starting at Mills College, and we bid a partial farewell to our operations manager Aja Minor who will continue to partner with us on our high school internship program through her OPC partner organization InSolidarity. We have a phenomenal new operations manager we hope you’ll get to work with in the months to come. And we’re grateful that Clidell “Franceyez” Jackson is providing continuity as our facilities coordinator.
When we welcomed our ARTivist-In-Residence Marvin K. White in March, OPC executive director Sandhya Jha interviewed him and shared the interview in that month’s newsletter as well as on our webpage. As we welcome our brand new OPC Peace and Partnerships Communicator, Todd Atkins-Whitley, Sandhya has done the same thing. We hope you’ll check out Todd’s bio on our webpage to learn more about his expertise and gifts in the field; but for now, here’s a little glimpse into Todd’s vision for his work with the Oakland Peace Center’s 40 partners!
SJ: Todd, what got you connected to the work of peace and justice in the first place?
It would not be until late in my life, actually after I became a community organizer, that I realized it was my mother who modeled the work of peace and justice to which I aspire. Her life’s work—well into her 80s—was focused on making life better for senior citizens in our community, particularly those on fixed incomes or experiencing poverty. Not only did she advocate for their immediate needs of food, transportation, and companionship, but she also lobbied governments and councils to address systems that marginalized and harmed the elderly and admonished them to care for these most overlooked folks. Her advocacy was done in the secular arena but it was 100% motivated by her faith. She felt those “little old people” (as she called them) deserved to experience peace in the sunset of their lives and that belief, as much as anything, prompted her justice work—even though she would have never called it such.
After spending a couple decades raising my children and working a corporate job, I began searching for meaningful work that would make an impact in society. So I began to show up in justice- and peace-oriented communities—listening, being present, following the lead of others. It would not be long before I was invited to leverage the skills and knowledge I had gained over my life toward efforts that not only responded to folks’ immediate needs but also addressed systemic issues that kept people oppressed.
Today, I realize this sense of connection to works of justice and peace simply runs in the family.
SJ: I love that. It raises an important question for me. At the OPC, all of our partners are working on peace, but they are working on it in 40 different ways. What is peace to you, and how do you hope to participate in peace at the OPC?
To be honest, I never really framed the work of peace in the same context as my justice work. You see, I was raised to think that “peace” was simply being nice to others, or being quiet, or meditating—certainly more of a passive, individual, heady pursuit. So even though at times I have thought I was experiencing peace in an interior way, I did not experience it fully until I came to imagine peace, and the work of peace, as a collaborative experience.
OK so—It may sound strange, but I think of “peace” as a sort of energy. Sure, it’s energy that must be cultivated within but for me, the work of peace, when done alongside other peace-makers and peace-dreamers, is exhilarating and much more productive. It is that energy—that varied hum of peace—that compels and propels my work among and alongside people committed to cultivating a culture of peace. I feel that energy here with the OPC team and I felt it in a powerful way in our partner meet-up last month!
I guess you could say I thrive on the idea of working among such a diverse community, with as many different practices as there are organizations, in partnership with folks who are committed to this great enterprise we know as seeking and creating peace.
SJ: You’ve gotten a few glimpses of that community so far. What are your thoughts about how we might be able to move towards peace together, and what’s your role in that?
It is important for us to be aware of each others’ hopes and dreams and what we’re doing to achieve and fulfill them, as well as our movements toward co-creating this peace we aspire to. I also believe a more unified peace is possible—and more realistically attained if not also more lasting—when we’re all aware of the intersections of our work. Where are we able to lean into the practice of solidarity, where can we lift together, where can we diversity, where can we learn from one another. And that’s how I perceive my role here—communicator, cheerleader, amplifier, evangelist, collaborator—not just for our community here in Oakland but for each member of this incredible collective.
SJ: Thanks so much! Anything on the horizon at the OPC you’re particularly excited about?
You mean, besides hearing Alice Walker live?! I am truly excited about getting to know this community and really immerse myself in the culture of peace being cultivated with such intention and great love. And honestly, I can’t wait to help bring as much attention as possible to the incredible work being done by the OPC team and the collective of people assembled here.
SJ: Thanks, Todd. Super excited to have you on board.
We are really thrilled to announce that esteemed poet Marvin K. White is joining the Oakland Peace Center team today, and we wanted you to share in the excitement! One OPC partner has already asked if I can get him to sign her copy of his latest poetry collection.
To introduce you to Marvin, I interviewed him briefly, but I’ll be honest: to really know Marvin, you need to meet him in person. I hope you’ll get to do that as he creates arts programs this year that help empower us to address the displacement crisis that is taking away the possibility of peace from so many in our communities.
Marvin will be co-creating some projects with our partners (he’s already percolating ideas about lifting up the art of our brothers behind bars with one of our partners and helping us connect creatively to the Poor People’s Campaign with another friend of the OPC…and keep an eye on your local bus stop in the near future to get a glimpse of art helping us talk about displacement in new ways, although that’s all I’m at liberty to say right now).
You’ll learn plenty about Marvin from our conversation below, but we first began dreaming this collaboration when he performed at our International Day of Peace event and he realized he was supposed to be a part of the work we are about at the OPC, preserving culture and community and creating peace in the city of his birth.
Marvin K. White is just completing a stint as “First Church Berkeley 2017-2018 Public Theologian in Residence.” He is currently an arts liaison and a co-facilitator of the “Faith Leaders Round Table” at The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. He is the author of four collections of poetry published by RedBone Press; Our Name Be Witness, Status and the two Lammy-nominated collections last rights and nothin’ ugly fly. As a public theologian and community-based artist, he is articulating a vision of social, prophetic and creative justice through being a poet, artist, teacher, facilitator, activist, community organizer, preacher, homemaker, cake baker, and Facebook Statustician.
Join me in welcoming Marvin, and do feel free to support our new staff and program addition by investing in the Oakland Peace Center today.
Sandhya: Marvin, the fact that you live the values of the OPC around equity, access and dignity as the means of creating peace, and the fact that you do it so creatively through the arts (and with more than a little playfulness) is pretty amazing. I’m really excited we’ll be getting to work with you over the course of the next year. What are your hopes for how we’ll be partnering together?
Marvin: I am a cultural activator, thought partner, and collaborator. It is my practice to first honor the groundwork that has led us to this place where our political and prophetic express, can be our creative expression. It is my hope in this partnership to lift up and surface the many creative gifts and skills that peace workers have gathered. I want to collect the chants organizations have chanted, the poems peace workers use as sacred text, and the origin stories of peace, that guide those who believe peace is possible. I want to help create a front facing, a public creative offering that calls out to communities, who are doing peace work, but by other names.
Sandhya: There’s something about what you’re cooking up that is deeply Oakland, deeply spiritual and deeply collaborative. I’m really excited about how your work will draw in folks who didn’t realize they were or wanted to be peace workers. Have you had experiences before with your work that helped people from our community realize they were artists or activists?
Marvin: I have always been the one to proclaim, “You’re a writer.” Or “You’re an artist.” Or “Your mama was a profound visionary.” Or “Your grandmother’s kitchen cooked up revolutions.” My work is not to convince people they are or want to be peace workers, but that ultimately everything we do is leading us to peace. I think my work is to demystify artistic practice and merit. The work is to decolonize art and wrestle it out of the capitalist grip on our imagination and remember that we are inherently creative, creators, co-creators, and the authors of our stories.
Sandhya: And demystifying it is the right word…you had folks riding on bart and writing poems about it! Mind telling the OPC folks about that?
Marvin: I believe that in a city that is experiencing deep dispossession and displacement, that we must look to “time” as a space. The “time” we use participating in the rat race of commuting to and from work, is “time” and space that can be transformed into creative time and space. The BART “Writers & Riders” series was about not being numbed out by the grind of having our creative capital ripped from us for a check. That commute became a creative writing workshop on “Journey, place, home, love, stopping, starting, openings, closing, transference, and return.” We boarded at one station, rode and wrote for three hours and returned home different. Not deplenished of our power, but empowered to tell a new story, our stories.
Sandhya: Amen. That is pretty amazing. So, one of the reasons I’m excited to work with you is that I really see the project we’re looking at (a series of events grounded in the arts and connected to ending displacement) as a way to address something really tangible that is happening to people we love and that is happening to this city where we “live and move and have our being,” and also inviting people into acts of grief and resistance and joy. The displacement crisis is something I carry in my heart all the time. Anything you’re excited to explore in that work particularly?
Marvin: I think public practice and public offerings are key to removing the blame from oppressed people. I am looking forward to creating creative containers and community pouring-outs around grief, state violence, physical and metaphysical displacement, and sharing. Sharing is key. “You mean, it’s not just me?” is often the first self-affirming thought people have when they know they are not alone, that they saw what they saw, heard what they heard, and that they cannot be gaslighted any longer. I want to explore liberation and freedom as well creative and prophetic placemaking. I want to know how we know our ways home in a city that destroys our monuments to make way for unaffordable housing.
Sandhya: That is so real. Thanks. So, you haven’t met all the partners yet, but anyone you look forward to working with and want to give a shout out to?
Marvin: I am hoping that we can send a “Creative Gifts Assessment” to the partners and ask them about the ways that art and culture has informed their work. I want to know who and what kinds of arts are practiced and weaved into the work of our partners. I want to know the knitters and the metal workers, the cooks and the gardeners, the dancers and the preachers, the poets and journalists, those who write it all down. And I want to find patterns and connections and synergies to help think across sector and build networks that are wired creatively.
Sandhya: So the revolution won’t be televised but will definitely be crocheted.
Marvin: And lip synced and signed and postered and rapped and DJd and gardened and walked and churched and accessible and free.
Sandhya: I wonder if there are any things you’re looking forward to particularly about working with us at the opc considering all the super high level arts communities you’ve rolled with like Yerba Buena and BAM/PFA, and whether you have any final thoughts for the 1,500 OPC community members who will get this.
Marvin: I’m looking forward to being a creative matchmaker. I want us all to be in love. And I want our movements to be fueled by love and creativity. I am looking forward to circling back to the institutions that I have presented in and introduce them to the communities associated with the Oakland Peace Center. But mostly I want folks to know that I am in my most creative place in my life; I call it my “Harriet Tubman” and I am ready to run with whoever is ready to get free.
If you want to send Marvin a congratulations or welcome message, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!