Imagine what peace would look like with 3 or more women at the table. Actually numbers and sex can’t be the sole qualifiers. There are patriarchal women whose framing is no different from the patriarchal men at the table. Official peace processes in use were never designed, built by, for and with women and any marginalized group in mind. Through custom or tradition, the men, the patriarchy, the persons in power have at best put women on the table as transactional bargaining chips along with any disputed natural and financial resources for what becomes a negotiated power grab.
For a panel the Second Sex Conference in New York in 1979, self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” Audre Lorde (1934-1992) remarked,
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about
genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.”
Nevertheless, women need and want a voice at this table. Too often the gun is the loudest voice while the women, children, elders, the vulnerable (those without military might) are mortally silenced.
The women who rise up, organize and demand a seat at the peace table don’t want to be treated like dinner guests. Presence isn’t power. For many women participation becomes a delicate balancing act of negotiating on two fronts: at the seats of power with governments, politicians, military officers, warlords; and on the home front in families where patriarchy can have its strongest roots and impact.
March 25 and 26 (9 pm ET – check local listings) PBS will broadcast Women, War & Peace II, a series of films by women filmmakers documenting the stories of women actively and nonviolently involved in peace making, risking life (and family life) with the hope of changing the course of history. The series is executive produced by Abigail Disney and Gini Reticker for Fork Films.
The series includes four stories many told for the first time on U.S. national television. We finally see the women of Northern Ireland’s Women’s Coalition (Wave Goodbye to Dinosaurs) at the negotiating table. The women elected to the task are steadfast to the goals of peace despite the dismissive and rude reactions from the men in the room. These women could be looking at the conflict reemerging with the UK’s Brexit separation from the European Union and the possibility of the return of a hard border (via trade) separating Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland.
The Trials of Spring, (directed by Gini Reticker) confirms the “Arab Spring” branding of the youth-led movement towards a more democratic Egypt was pre-mature. The removal of Hosni Mubarak from office followed by elections that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, then the military takeover lead to social regression and a precarious situation for nonviolent women activists and religious minorities.
Naila and the Uprising uses animation to recreate student organizer and activist Naila Ayesh’s story of her imprisonment for being part of a secret network of women in a movement protesting Israeli occupaton of Gaza. Naila’s infant son is brought to live with her in prison. The film tells her story to audiences and also servies as a family document for Naila’s now adult son about his early life through his parents’ experiences with the intifada.
One can’t avoid noticing A Journey of a Thousand Miles is the only story in the series where women are required to carry a gun to maintain the peace. The film follows the all-women Bangladeshi UN peacekeeping unit and their mission to Haiti following the 2011 earthquake that devastated the country. It is also a story of the impact of their service causing conflict in relationships back home.
The films in Women War & Peace II show how nonviolent peace making takes tremendous patience, courage, resilience, and a passion for justice. In these four stories women are forced to use the master’s tools to achieve peace goals. Sisterhood is their additional source of support.
Before the Monday broadcast the next Marvel blockbuster movie, Black Panther, will have its nationwide release staring Howard University graduate Chadwick Boseman — the #HBCU alumni of the hour who’s been gracing the covers of Vanity Fair and Time magazine. – for starters
FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve been involved with both entities past and present: organizing a 10 HBCU campus tour for Tell Them We Are Rising (and preview screenings for ITVS, producers of “Independent Lens”); being the playwright for Iola’s Letter — based on the life of journalist, anti-lynching advocate Ida B. Wells — presented as a staged reading at Howard University exactly at this time in 1999 with then-student Chadwick Boseman (or Chad as he was known then) in the cast. The play was directed by Howard drama professor Vera J. Katz.
“I thank God and the ancestors for this opportunity.”
Chadwick Boseman in “Iola’s Letter” program 1999
It’s no surprise to me that Chadwick Boseman’s star is rising. He impressed me as Thomas Moss in the reading of Iola’s Letter. Thomas Moss was one of Ida B. Wells’ dearest friends in Memphis in 1892. Boseman became the voice of Thomas Moss in my head for a long while after the sold-out 8 performances (a 9th was added).
Much of my cultural enrichment from age 9 up came from Howard Universityand its College of Fine Arts. The students and professors (my sister’s classmates and instructors) trained my eyes, ears, and appreciation especially in theater of the mosaic of what some may classify as “the black experience.” I would argue for the plural in “experience”.
Without Howard I would have no idea what the Black Arts Movement is, would not have read the poems of Langston Hughes, or folklore and laughter of Zora Neale Hurston, known of the African presence in antiquity (Frank Snowden), been in the presense of a great artist like Lois Mailou Jones, or to put it bluntly have exposure to the best in arts and culture of the African diaspora. Howard spoiled me for the experience I would have at the small PWI college I attended. Note: PWI (Predominantly White Institution) is something I learned on the road with Tell Them We Are Rising.
That PWI was Oberlin College in Ohio. It was my first PWI in my entire academic life. I chose Oberlin because it was the first to admit students of color before HBCUs were established; was in the same Ohio town with an underground railroad stop in the time of Civil War; the alma mater of the first African American woman to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree; and was [at the time] located in a pre-dominantly African American town of the same name with a sizeable Latino population in nearby Lorain the birthplace of Howard alumna Toni Morrison. During my first weeks on campus I distinctly remember the “plague of robins” as Morrision describes in her novel Sula.
I also noticed the cultural footprint of African Americans at Oberlin was not very big or not what I was accustomed to despite the college’s glorious histories. The conservatory of music at the time was committed to a European Classical music training. There were jazz classes and a class on African American music history taught by the late Wendell Logan, but these were electives. The jazz ensemble didn’t have rehearsal or performance space inside the conservatory. Fortunately Logan was a “can do” and “will do” personality. Just book the hall.
The jazz ensemble was one of the few places where I felt grounded in the way I was grounded on HBCU turf. And even with great theatrical talents like Julie Taymor among Oberlin’s illustrious alumni, theater and dance wasn’t on the level of what I saw at Howard. Those expectations were to be had in Cleveland and Karamu founded by Oberlin alumni Russell and Rowena Jelliffe where Howard professors and alumni could be seen in residence.
What Oberlin did offer me was exposure to different art forms including performance art and artists like Ping Chong and Meredith Monk. My dorm mates brought their grounding assets – El Gran Combo, Hector Lavoe, Ruben Blades, Willie Colon, Celia Cruz and other classic salsa recordings. And I got some reinforcements from visiting artists like Gil Scott-Heron, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, poet Sonya Sanchez, choreographer/performer Geoffrey Holder. My HBCU arts experience planted seeds of appreciation and found complimentary companions in new expressions including the old European Classical ones.
My college also gave students resources and space for experimentation. I’ve always been a hands-on learner. If I wanted to put up a play at my PWI college, no problem. “Here’s a space. What else do you need?” Despite some of the quips I mentioned earlier, this made Oberlin the best choice for someone like myself.
“I’d like to thank God and the ancestors for this experience.”
Chadwick Boseman in the program for “A Rhyme Deferred,” written and directed by Kamilah Forbes
In the fantasy world of Wakanda, I still see the Howard alum’s feet firmly planted in the opportunities and experiences he draws from the ancestors. I see the bridges between past, present, and future. I knew as much seeing a video of the red carpet preview of Black Panther in Los Angeles and drummer Jabari Exum grounding the moment before Boseman emerges from the limo. In some ways I was more excited about seeing Exum, an awesome surprise appearance from DC.
At the time my Iola’s Letter play went up, a Hip Hop Theatre movement was emerging among Howard’s students as well as a collaborative of young artists creating new works based on a Hip Hop aesthetic. That circle included Boseman and fellow classmates Hi-ARTS aka Hip Hop Theatre Festival co-founder Kamilah Forbes (currently executive producer for the Apollo in Harlem), and Helen Hayes award winning choreographer/director Gregory Morrison aka Psalmayene 24. On the back of my A Rhyme Deferred program, I notice a shout out to fellow Howard student Ta-Nehisi Coates among many others. Some are now among the ancestors.
I’m no Hip Hop head but I supported these creators and their movements towards a new aesthetic before “In the Heights” and “Hamilton”. I knew my love for historical drama would not qualify me to be part of this inner circle. Yet, my introduction was again through my Howard (HBCU) connection.
What Stanley Nelson gives us in Tell Them We Are Rising is a story that inspires pride and a new look at the value of HBCUs for alumni, prospective students, and persons like myself (who didn’t attend a HBCU) without leaning on the sepia-tinted, cross-fade doo-wop of Black girls in White Edwardian dresses, Black boys in bowlers, and a backup band of rich and famous alumni.
Stanley Nelson is also the filmmaker for the documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (currently on Netflix). Even that documentary kicks off with myth busting. As Nelson described during his classroom visits at Claflin in SC, he wanted the audience to see what they wouldn’t expect from a documentary about the Black Panther Party. Every one and anyone connected to the Black Panther Party had a different perspective, experience, or opportunity. And of course, you can’t capture them all in 90 minutes.
HBCU administrations have struggled with students who want to move their programs forward from the mythical past. The sepia-tinted world and American dream promises are often held up to qualify the value of the institution for preparing students to assimilate respectfully into what can be called the “social order”. Sadly the cultural and artistic assets of these institutions are simultaneously neglected, undervalued, and/or rejected and lost. This parochial house cannot stand when it is divided between limiting traditional values and new ideas.
Alain Locke learned as much when he was fired from Howard University’s philosophy department in 1925 for siding with students who were being encountered and embracing the ideas of the “New Negro”. BTW Locke also had PWI experiences at Harvard and Oxford Universities. This and other stories are included in a ground-breaking biography The New Negro: The Life of Alain Lock” by Jeffrey C. Stewart. I see a tinge of “New Negroness” in the conceptualization of Wakanda in Black Panther – a fusion of modernism (tech today), continental African aesthetics, and the ability to transform and reversion oneself in times of crisis and awareness (African American).
I’ll see Black Panther on the same #HBCURisingDay before the 9 PM broadcast of Tell Them We Are Rising. I’m in that throng of ticket buyers who took advantage of advance sales. I’ll see it for Chadwick Boseman though I wish there was this much excitement around his previous films — ’42, Get On Up, Marshall. Maybe people will catch up on the stream. I’d like to think my Ida B. Wells play helped pave that trajectory. I also enjoy the comic book hero films for pure entertainment value. They’re becoming America’s 21st century mythology.
If there are any shoulders the Black Panther filmmaker, cast and crew stand on it is stories, cultural treasures, and experiences, fortunately documented by Stanley Nelson and many others. The power of the myth is strong, but making connections between myth and fundamental truths is essential.
I too would like to thank these creators, the ancestors, and the source of all creation for the gift of opportunities and experiences I’ll treasure for my lifetime. Much of it is possible thanks to my HBCU encounters. On the day I graduated from Oberlin I wore a cap and gown. Cap and gown was optional at Oberlin. Students chose not to wear them in protest of the 1970 Kent State student shootings by the National Guard. A similar incident would happen in 1972 at Southern, a HBCU in Louisiana. Their story is revealed in Tell Them We Are Rising.
I draped a long strip of woven kente (a gift from my sister) around my shoulders. I believe I was the first non-Ghanaian at Oberlin to add kente to the graduation robe. That choice was inspired by Jeff Donaldson, an art professor at Howard and a member of the Africobra artist collective in Chicago during the Black Arts Movement. On graduation day at HU Donaldson walked with the professors in his grand robe and regalia of beautiful hand-woven kente. You couldn’t miss him. I never forgot it.
EU leaders’ response last week to PM David Cameron and the Brexit leadership resembled Elizabeth Bennet’s rebuff of Mr. Darcy’s first boastful and lame marriage proposal in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Britain and the EU are now at the beginning in what has been described as a bitter divorce following the results of a nationwide referendum vote in Britain to leave the European Union. It doesn’t look as if anyone’s willing to make a second go of it.
Since the vote even I’m watching and re-watching my favorite British dramas and series with a different attitude especially after the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, who supported the EU’s position on immigration and Syrian refugees. Every narrative now comes framed in a Brixet context. Is Jane Austen only for the “English” not the “Brits”? Are her stories embedded with a nationalist agenda?
Does the vote take the the icing off the cake for ”The Great British Baking Show” and “Masterpiece/Mystery!” on PBS? Afterall, Americans weren’t privy to the original UK versions of “Downton Abbey” during its broadcast. England for the English. (UK version of “Downton Abbey” is available on DVD and Amazon Prime).
Was there fear that Jane Austen’s England would be lost to Zade Smith’s Britain?
The result of the vote has definitely hit a cultural nerve and altered identities especially for the generation that grew up as citizens of the continent. And the Brexit leadership demonstrated more strategic hubris without a viable exit plan from the EU for the good of “the people”.
Truth is, there’s no certainty about anything on the outcome of Brexit including this post. Everything is pure speculation even by the experts and Brexits own leaders (now resigning like rats jumping ship).
I imagine those who wanted to remain in the EU can not imagine a world without it. Membership has its benefits. I thought Massachusetts’ 5 College Collective (Smith, U Mass, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke, Hampshire) was awesome. Imagine having that with multiple countries. And after college explore your options across the continent paid with a single currency. Companies can hop all over the map to set up shop. The EU forged a global identity and a freedom of movement like no other time in European history.
I imagine those who wanted out of the EU didn’t seek or have access to membership benefits. Freedom of movement may have been out of reach for persons who lacked the trade or language skills to pull up roots and make a go of it in another country. Imagine how the unemployed felt from the industrial sector now affected by automation and mobile technology. The only secretaries you see now are the appointed ones with a capital “S”.
Then there’s the impact of Cameron’s austerity moves. Predictions are Brexit will bring about more austerity measures. When services are reduced, and Eastern Europeans and other immigrants are living in neighborhoods…I can imagine who will be blamed and the first point of attack?
Heirs from the old empire may have hated having their hands tied from dipping into any and all pots at whim. And as for who really came out on top regardless of success or failure – let’s say in most novels and plays I’ve read, bankers and financiers are rarely the heroes.
For me miracle of European Union is that it happened at all and there are countries who want to keep it going. Like the U.S.’s Affordable Care Act, the European Union isn’t perfect but it isn’t a bad idea either. Those who benefit are the ones who know how to access, how it works and how to work it to their advantages.
There’s more work to be done with EU. And like a marriage that takes commitment and patience. For Mr. Darcy, to have the woman he loves, he must accept and on occasion manage her family baggage.
I was an “English” major in college in the literary sense. My literature courses included “The British Novel” and “Feminist Approaches to Shakespeare.” I was leaning “English.” It’s writers like Zade Smith, Andrea Levy (Small Island), and others who coaxed me to lean “British.”
Once again the fact-checking debate is on. This time it’s Concussion featuring Will Smith as the Nigerian-born pathologist Bennett Omalu who diagnosed the repetitive head-trauma disease suffered by NFL players known as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). During the opening credits of Concussion I noticed the titles were animated to simulate double vision, an intentional and nuanced graphic representation of the film’s central theme.
Journalists have honed in on the timeline for Dr. Omalu’s research, settlement cases between the affected players, their families and the NFL. Finger pointing aside, the ex-wife and son of David Duerson (1960-2011) have publicly expressed their disagreement with the portrayal of the Chicago Bears, New York Giants football champion (played by British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) as a “a villain, someone to take the fall” in the Concussion feature.
In the film Duerson belligerently blocks Dr. Bennett from a NFL medical conference. Coming from a NFL Players Association Board meeting for retired player’s disability, Duerson tells a former player suffering from CTE “Got a headache? See a doctor” and pushes the player aside.
“That portrayal of my brother [in the movie] was absolutely the way he was,” says Michael Timothy Duerson, Dave Duerson’s older brother.
This post may be one of the few interviews with Michael Duerson since the film’s release over the Christmas holiday. The hunger for conflict ignores a significant development in the tragedy of David “Dave” Duerson’s CTE story – the foundation Michael founded and named for his brother, The Dave Duerson Athletic Safety Fund, Inc..
Initially founded to service K-12 schools in Muncie, Indiana the foundation is seeking to expand through Indiana state and nationwide to install protocols for the education, prevention, and detection of head injuries in school sports. The protocols include special CDC training for coaches, imPACT tests for students in grades 5-12 to provide a baseline neurocognitive assessment of their brain that can help healthcare professionals track recovery of cognitive processes following a concussion, and special Concussion Goggles distributed to K-8 students in schools to simulate the sensation of a head trauma.
There’s more to the Duerson brothers story. Like Dave, Michael suffers from Accumulative Concussion Syndrome (CTE is often diagnosed after death). Michael’s ACS is not from football, but college basketball. In 1977 when he was 18 and playing for Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis Michael says he was making a defensive play to block a slam dunk by planting himself in the middle of the lane. The other player rammed into his body shattering the hard contact lens in Michael’s right eye. Teammates told him his feet went straight up from the floor and he landed on his head.
“My roommate told me there was blood coming out both of my ears. They got me to the hospital – don’t know how long I was in the hospital. I know I had paralysis on the left side for 6 months. I was restricted during that time. It was a horrific injury.”
Michael returned to the game but suffered a career ending injury in his second year. He says he devoted the remainder of his college time to his academics. He was allowed to keep his sports scholarship and received a degree in Industrial Management in 3 years and 1 semester.
Dave was on call to address his brother’s injuries. Having come from a family of athletes on their mother’s side (Houston Rockets Allen Leavellis a cousin), and their father, who was 40 when Dave was born, could outrun his son until he started his NFL career – the idea that Michael was suffering physically and mentally from a sports injury was unthinkable.
“David always told me I was soft. He has the football players mentality. I didn’t have a football players mentality.”
The football players mentality and “Gladiator” culture of the game sustains the belief that the damage of multiple head traumas is more associated with a player’s physical and emotional limitations and not the actual risks of the game. It is also the fear that something you love, that you put your heart, soul and body into may permanently debilitate or potentially kill you.
This is not a call to ban football. I get that adrenaline rush around sports. The rush was described to me as a cushion and pain killer. But once the adrenaline pump’s turned off and a player goes into retirement, the injuries and the pain begin to settle in for the remainder of a lifetime. But no one wants to talk about that. Talking critically about the risks in football is akin to talking treason in the U.S. And for players, it signals weakness and vulnerability on and off the field. “This is what you signed up for.”
Will we remember when the New Orleans Saints were exposed for their “bounty hunter” plays in 2012? Defensive players were given cash bonuses for taking a player from the opposing team out of the game for the season with a crushing “knockout”.
Michael, now 57, says he turned his medical power of attorney over to his brother Dave for 23 years. Michael was able to achieve success as an engineer despite his suffering and multiple medications (up to 20 pills a day) and their side affects. He says he’s now able to sleep thanks to the successful treatment of a psychiatrist.
In 2006 Michael was inducted into the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago as one of the top-ten African American engineers in the country. But as his symptoms worsened Dave became his medical “boss.”
“Most professional athletes (Gladiators) don’t approve of treatment because it implies weakness. As my boss he [Dave] said I was weak mentally. He was my Medical Power of Attorney. I chose him because I knew that he was one family member that would ‘pull the plug’ without hesitation thereby not wasting lots of money on medical bills.
Dave knew more about mental health than the average person. During the 23 years he was my Medical Power of Attorney I voluntarily went into the locked psychic department 18 times.
Dave learned a lot watching me during those 23 years.”
2011 would be a crushing blow for Michael and the Duerson family. Michael forced to give up his duties as a turnaround professional for non-performing plants was ruled by the U.S. government as “gravely mentally disabled” and unable to perform the duties due to his symptoms.
That same year Dave Duerson left a note for his family to donate his brain to Boston University’s brain bank for further study before shooting himself in the chest.
Several years ago while channel surfing in search of entertainment I happened upon the PBS series Frontline and their [Peabody award winning documentary] “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” based on the book by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru. A documentary isn’t usually my first choice on a sleepy evening of television watching. But the story was so compelling I put the remote down. I even jumped on social media to alert friends on Facebook.
Eventually one of my Facebook friends would introduce me to his cousin Michael Timothy Duerson.
I have few arguments with the film Concussion related to the events of the CTE story. In fact, I felt a great sadness as a Steelers fan during those glory days knowing the defensive wall of steel and some of the greatest human drama on the field, resulted in one of its greatest tragedies. According to some reports of last week’s playoff game between the Steelers and the Bengals, history may repeat itself based on the helmet-to-helmet bashing play that made Bengals fans livid.
The protagonist in Concussion is not the football players aka victims of denial, but the doctor willing to risk everything to solve a mystery, expose the truth and save lives. In real life, these risks often follow the pattern of the adage “No good deed goes unpunished.” Or in football talk, “No one wants to piss off the NFL.”
Neither is anyone saying sports-related brain trauma is limited to football as Michael’s story illustrates. Michael says he’s also requested for his brain be donated upon his death to the Boston University brain bank since he and his brother Dave “look like twins” (that’s for sure) and “probably share similar DNA”.
It’s understandable the children and other family members who loved and admired Dave Duerson would want to see him as a hero on the big screen. Not being close to the individual, and having seen the Frontline documentary before the feature, I saw no Duerson villain. I saw the pain of fighting against the culture and protecting the game that gave you the ultimate feeling of being alive. In the final scene the Gladiator falls on his own sword in what this story paints as the noble sacrifice.
Will parents pull their kids out of school football as a result of the CTE debate, or seeing the movie, maybe the documentary?
“Football will survive,” Michael says. “[Tom Brady] didn’t play tackle football until he was in high school. Flag football will become a more acceptable choice for the way kids will learn the game.”
The Dave Duerson Athletic Safety Fund, Inc. is advocating for students to play flag football until they’re 14 years old before making tackles in the game.
The Dave Duerson Athletic Safety Fund, Inc. is not affiliated with the appeals process or seeking settlements from the NFL. The Fund is independent of those activities, as well as family foundation activities by Dave Duerson’s ex-wife and his children.
Dave Duerson’s greatest legacy can be preventing the outcomes that forced him to take his own life, and his brother Michael continues to suffer. For me facts will mean nothing if we continue to intentionally or blindly repeat the mistakes of the past. We should mean it when we say, “Let’s do it for the children”.