Archives for posts with tag: Nia Wilson

Kai Lumumba Barrow

Gallery of the Streets installation. Because of the art, Kai is being evicted. Because of who she is — insurgent, intransigent, irreverent, principled, warrior — her art has become her house, filling every room with a shifting floor of mulch and sand and pebbles, making each doorway a difficult gateway, lowering the ceilings with ropes and wires from which images hang by clothes pins (“I don’t want my art stuck ON THE WALL”), propping books against the walls in stacks, placing books strategically, bringing in pansies (yes) and other growing plants, banners and scrolls of quotations. Even the closets have not escaped.

All quotes are from Kai Barrow, Swan Song Manifesto


1. kai in magnolia

3B. kai lumumba

3A. kai outdoors smile

Picture it: A multiracial, multi-gendered, intergenerational group of about 250 people are marching down the middle of the street in a neighborhood of North Philadelphia. The people are a loud bunch, carrying signs that read “Free Mumia Now!” and “Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal.”  Community members come out on their porch to wave at the group or raise a fist in solidarity.  There is a pick-up truck with a loud speaker rigged to a megaphone. People are reciting chants that rhyme and have each phrase and pause dedicated to memory. This performance has become ritualized.

There is a lull.  The speaker/chant leader is tired and needs a break.  He hands the megaphone to me. I am known for my energy. I hold the dubious title of “Cheerleader for the Movement.” Holding the megaphone, I wanted to see if we could transform our ritual. Could we inspire spontaneity and surprise within ourselves and each other? Could we share with this Black, working-class community whose neighborhood we entered, an expansive vision—one where Mumia’s freedom was tied in with their own liberation? I placed the megaphone to my lips and faced the crowd.

 Me: What do we want?

Chanters: Free Mumia!

Me: When do we want it?

Chanters: Now!


Me: What else do we want?

Chanters: [silence.]

Me: No really. What else do we want? Shout it out. It doesn’t have to rhyme. It doesn’t have to be scripted. Let’s make a cacophony of sound, shouting out our visions of what we want. [pleading] We don’t even have to do it for more than 60 seconds.

Chanters: [silence.]

Actually, there wasn’t complete silence. 



6. kai I would rediscover


5. kai hanging red lavender


4. kai waiting room


7. kai yellow african



A culture of resistance, protest politics and institution-building by people of color, feminists, queer people, and poor people in the 1960s and ’70s filled me with pleasure and purpose.  It was a period of design and imagination—a period where people re-envisioned and re-structured their lives. Even as a kid, I knew that things were changing. I saw and felt the electricity of change. Nothing was static.  It seemed to me that everything was in question: from diet to living arrangements; interpersonal relationships to altered identities, from the ways that people asserted and responded to power to a new articulation of labor and production.  During this period, people reached beyond national boundaries and re-defined themselves as members of a global community (and in some cases, interplanetary community—see Sun Ra). And though these shifts were taking place on different scales and at a different pace, corresponding to class, race, gender, age, geographic location and sexual orientation, everyone was influenced by this cultural, social, political and economic re-imagining. This was a transformative moment, one that unleashed our imaginations and spurred our actions. We saw what we could be….



8. kai asylum surgery


9. kai black white alter


10. kai alley

11. kai sassafras



We were unprepared for the brutality of the State. As beautiful as this period was, we were also powerful enough to pose a threat so significant to the functioning of the State, that it systematically set out to squash our burgeoning revolution. Individual leaders were discredited, driven into exile, imprisoned, and murdered. Intra-and inter-organizational conflict resulted in a weakened movement that we are still recovering.  Culture was depoliticized and exploited….



13. kai wolverine hanging

14. kai jade alter

15. zogi indoors 2

My fifth grade school year was also the time of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. As is the tradition, many young people from throughout the country arrived in Chicago to protest the War and other repressive policies and my family and other residents of the co-op apartment we lived in, agreed to house several of these protestors, among them David Dellinger.  After Mayor Richard J. Daley gave the order for the Chicago Police Department to “shoot first, ask questions later,” my new out of town “friends” arrived back at our house broken, bloodied, and angry at the police, the mayor, and a system that shoots and kills its children.  I was heartbroken to see people in pain and I too became angry. Later that night, I was awakened by gunshots as the police surrounded our apartment and forced Dellinger out of the building. That day I experienced grief, anger and terror—all directly linked to the violence and abuse of power by the State….



16. zogi outdoors


17. kai libertad

18. kai bricktop

19. kai ayanna red

20. kai femm cave quilt

22. kai hoop in tree

21. kai malcolm x


This contradiction creates a “raw opposition” that is explosive.  It can change the terms of a space.  As organizers, our challenge is to identify the nature of our raw opposition and build/create within the space between oppression and freedom. We are charged with entering the space of raw opposition with clarity, precision, and analysis, passion, energy, and generosity. In Black tradition, this is known as the “Cool.” Think Miles Davis.


23A. kai shirlette


23B. kai pam kagele?


24. kai erin


25. kai erin cath





26. kai Jess


23C. kai Nia painted

Video trailer by film-maker and organizer Jazz Franklin, a preview of Kai Barrow’s “visual opera,” entitled “Gallery of the Streets,” installed in Durham, NC April 3-6, 2014.




MATTHIAS, sometimes in pink hair and hoodie

On the rooftop, who am I

I am the white-hair woman on the rooftop whose face can light up like a firecracker, but who can stay awake past midnight, one, and two in the morning shredding herself down to worrying, worrying about money, about her daughter, about things undone. I work to stay fit, but I am a “girl” of the 50s, who would not be able to do anything except she walked her dog her entire childhood and youth, up and down and across lower Manhattan including the trucking cobbled routes and walked to school or the subway. I have ringing in my ears: is it my past shaking like aluminum foil? Will the tinnitis rise up and block all sound? I love olives. I used to think that loving olives was a mark of my Jewishness despite that Jewishness always seeming ill-informed and fumbling. I have a loved partner of my age. I love our shining youth, our future.

Below, on the ground, in the real place, he is he

If I were on the ground with him, he would be tall, willowy, standing a head above me, but from the roof, he is most prominently head top, hair cut close to the scalp and dyed pink on the crown, no way except literally  covering his awesome brain. His arms hang ungainly long from my perch above, long and sinewy enough to grasp the world, expressive boy hands which can push away. From here, his feet are big, for a world which wants to tumble him. His heart is falling out of his chest, his words of disaster and disgust spew, but he looks toward the sky and the roof. And he smiles.

hair not pink this week

Working on a piece about my friend, Matthias Pressley, but can’t as I stumble over the name Trayvon Martin. Matthias is two years older than Trayvon Martin. In his eyes and in his FaceBook posts, Trayvon Martin looms, huge like Matthias’s eyes.

I listen on YouTube to several mothers and one father of black teenage men murdered by the police: Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, Malcolm Ferguson. Ramarley Graham’s mother was summonded to the police station and even there never told, but left to guess when she heard the word “homicide” casually exchanged between two officers, that her son had been killed. Neither she nor her son’s father were accorded any deference though they were grief-stricken and shocked. The testimonies were posted by my friend, and Matthias’s mentor, Nia Wilson of SpiritHouse NC. Her son is a Black High School Senior.

I can say nothing original about this and I guess the point is not originality, but how many of us there are who feel this way. We have always been here, outraged and indignant, but in this age we have an electronic voice outside the commercial venues. That is where many of us have been:  dogging every piece of information related to the case, mired in it, giving the death of a seventeen year old its due in something our culture measures in terms of work not grief: time. For a while I didn’t realize how heavily Treyvon Martin’s murder weighed on me. The heaviness was compounded by the negligent/intentional mishandling in the case on the part of authorities.

I am a child of the Emmett Till generation. I am 69; today Emmett Till would have been in his 70s. So many women in HANDS ON THE FREEDOM PLOW cited the murder of Emmett Till as a critical factor in their development as activists.

Matthias, self portrait

On FaceBook: Matthias Pressley says: Secondly, I very damn well like my MF hoodie. It has a nice spinal cord piece that I might duly note that I added myself. If I want to wear my pimped out black hoodie to the freakin’ corner store or to BEST BUY or to church or to stand at the bus stop or to a gotdamn GALA, guess what? I purchased that shit and I will wear it, it’s mine. Who says hoodies are out? Who says it’s dangerous for people of color to wear hoodie’s just because of racial profiling looney-tunes? Huh!!!????!!!! I would like to kindly state/suggest: “Geraldo Rivera and ALL those alike, SHUT THE FUCK UP.”

Matthias, self portrait

I haven’t written here for several weeks. I plan to continue to write every two weeks, on Wednesdays, from now on. I have to embrace my voice, as in photo below with AfroLez film-maker, activist, Aishah Shahida Simmons (a daughter of SNCC).

Faith n Aisha Shahidah Simmons, Duke University Women's Center