Why We Are Doing It: One POV

Sly Stone released an album June 30, 1973 called “Fresh” and on it is a tune: “Thankful N’ Thoughtful”. A lyric from that tune is “People got to be reminded, where it’s really at...”

Project Chain of Change takes that admonition/observation/whatever you want to call it...seriously.

History has to be kept in the foreground from a variety of sources whether we’re paying attention or not. Reinterpretation is a constant (and in not a few instances, double-edged sword). I think in 2018 we’re between Santayana’s aphorism “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, and one often attributed to Mark Twain “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

To put it as objectively as possible, let’s agree that reminders can certainly help.

The Landscape

So we look around us in 2018 and what do we see?

Symbolic Protest Crowd

Conflict and movements, insult and injury masquerading as anti political correctness, a torrent of information (or “data”) that generates more questions than answers, and a low signal to noise ratio of epidemic proportions. That’s just part of the cynical view.

There is the countervailing view that what has transpired and is transpiring, has galvanized greater participation in politics including candidates for various offices, and marshaled tremendous demonstrations in response to those who choose to follow demagoguery.

The Power of Art

 

A series on PBS called “Civilizations” examines the impact of art on history. I seem to recall the first episode made the statement “Art Is History.”

For those that needed a reminder of the power of art, this resonates. What we see, hear and acquire knowledge of is framed daily by music and artistic expression. Inevitably we associate all of that experience. Music is the sound-track and backdrop.

Most assuredly that which is conscious-raising transcends time. It brings a new way of seeing things which leads to a new way to see ourselves. It does not matter that the necessity for the message still exists, only that it persists.

Mel King has been acutely aware of music’s impact, if only measured by the music produced from books of poetry he’s written. Dr. Cheryl Holmes, who participated in recording that music had been percolating the idea of a live presentation of the book for several years. Mel’s wife Joyce King, an activist in her own right, is an invaluable contributor with special insight to changing neighborhood dynamics.

Inspiration and Enlightenment

I’ve found inspiration and enlightenment from much of jazz, soul, some gospel and rock, fusion, African diaspora folkloric and Afro-Latin throughout my life.

I chose tumbadores (popularly known albeit a misnomer as “congas”) as my instrument because of the history of suppression, stereotyping and attempts to smother/erase the culture it is a product of. They were a part of a demonstration at Lincoln Center when Ed Bullin’s play “The Duplex” was performed. [https://www.nytimes.com/1972/03/19/archives/bullins-its-not-the-play-i-wrote-bullins-its-not-the-play-i-wrote.html]

Playing tumbadores has always been more than a “stress reliever” for me.


When Dr. Holmes approached me with the concept of Chain of Change I thought the timing was quite right. That perception has been amplified many times over in the ensuing months.

I’ve also seen radical changes in the old Harlem neighborhood where I grew up. I see it all around me now. I never forgot the knock on my door of my first real apartment in the Fenway a couple of years after moving in,  and a woman handing me an envelope accompanied by the somewhat melodious warning-style announcement “You’re going condo!”

More acutely, now that we have video at our disposal, disputes about what is captured is a whole new level of concern adding to the horror of the events.

I arrived in Boston around the time the Tent City protest was reaching a close, unaware of the social strife in housing, but I certainly witnessed the turmoil with busing and conflict between communities (sometimes up close and personal).

The protests, culture and art of the 60’s and being around those “woke” (as the current saying goes), as well as reading (Alex Haley, Malcolm X, Hunter Thompson, etc.), turned out to be a prerequisite. I viewed the right to vote (and the implied fairness of 1 vote per person) as a settled matter through the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

More subtle injustices (i.e. gerrymandering) became apparent as I grew older.
In fact, one of the books I read within the last 12 years that had a real impact on me was “A People’s History of the United States” by professor Howard Zinn.

Talk about an eye-opener!

Now, I’ve read Chain of Change and see a mission to join others in maintaining the message: we must be vigilant and constantly working actively against forces that would tear our democracy asunder. Among those are Mel, Joyce and Cheryl.

We choose to serve...with our consciences...

Some say Boston is the ‘cradle of liberty’.  And I love liberty.

-- Brandon Guillermo