Tag Archives: black history month

Caleb Banks, psychology major, attended a screening of "Fruitvale Station," a film about Oscar Grant III, on-campus earlier last week. (Photo courtesy of Shawn Calhoun)

BSU Hosts 5th Annual Black Cultural Dinner, Discusses Racial Profiling

The USF Black Student Union (BSU) held its 5th Annual Black Cultural Dinner last Thursday evening.

The event is put on every year to comemmorate Black History Month, and this year, was dedicate dto making conversation about racial profiling.

Reverand Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant III, the 22-year-old male who was shot and killed by BART police in Oakland in 2009, spoke about the challenges of people of color in the Bay Area, the “Stop and Frisk” law, and the film “Fruitvale Station,” which tells Grant’s story.

Greg Johnson, co-owner of Marcus Books, shakes hands with Mayor Ed Lee at City Hall. (Photo by Hamis Al Sharif)

A Story Ending? Historic San Francisco Bookstore May Face Closure

In 1960, Black history was made when Julian and Raye Richardson opened the bookstore known today as Marcus Books. Proudly proclaimed as “the oldest Black bookstore in the nation,” Marcus Books has been at its present location, in a three-story Victorian on Fillmore St. (between Sutter St. and Post St.), since 1981.

For more than 50 years Marcus Books has served as a cornerstone to showcase the great literary achievement of African-American writers. The store gained its fame by hosting African-American authors, poets, and musicians, such as Oprah Winfrey, Malcolm X, Earth Wind & Fire, Dave Chapelle, Toni Morrison, and Queen Latifah. The Richardsons created a place where people could learn about and enjoy Afrocentric culture, history, politics and literature.
But last year, as a result of a predatory loan and eventual bankruptcy, the family was forced to sell the Fillmore property, which, in addition to housing the store, was also home to three generations of the family. After months of organizing and negotiating by Marcus Books supporters, the real estate developers who bought the property agreed to give the Richardsons until the end of February to raise $3 million — twice what they paid for the property — to buy it back.

As of publication time, the fate of the landmark cultural institution was in doubt, though whether or not Marcus Books raised enough money to buy the property back should be determined by early next week.

A pair of Dons, Denise Sullivan, class of 1983, and Tiye Sheppard, a junior media studies major, worked for several months with a core group committed to saving the Fillmore treasure. Sullivan helped with organizing and getting the word out about Marcus Books, and Sheppard, a film studies minor, shot a history of the store and public appeal videos.

In response to the fate of Marcus Books, Sheppard, who attended a meeting with store owners and financers on Monday, said, “no answer that can be released but I can say that things look very promising.”

According to Sheppard, a settlement agreement must be met by the end of this week. “Votes will be casted tomorrow, [Tuesday Feb. 25], from a financial source that can assure a positive fate for Marcus Books. Unfortunately, since it’s a vote, we don’t know for sure what will happen, but things are looking good according to our sources,” she said.

Sullivan, a music journalist and historian, got involved with Marcus Books when her fourth book, “Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music from Blues to Hip Hop,” came out in 2011. Even though Sullivan had relationships with other bookstores, she said, “It was Marcus Books, black-owned and specializing in Black history, that embraced me as an author more than any of the other bookstores or outlets I had previously dealt with. So when I heard they were in trouble, I felt that the least I could do was to be on their side.”

Sheppard is a native San Franciscan and has seen the city go through many changes and gentrification. She got involved with saving Marcus Books when Sullivan reached out to the Media Studies department for help. As an African-American woman, Sheppard believes protecting Marcus Books will benefit younger generations.
“The African-American population is dwindling by the day,” Sheppard said. “It would really be unfortunate to no longer have a positive representation of black business owners. If we want little kids, particularly kids of color, to grow up and have an inspiration, they should [think], ‘Oh, I don’t have to be that guy standing on the corner; I can be that guy reading that book in that bookstore.’”

For the past several years the store has been run by Karen Johnson, one of the Richardsons’ daughters, her husband Greg, and their daughter named Tamiko. Julian Richardson died in 2000, while Raye Richardson, 93, had been living with the Johnsons above the store.
Sheppard and Sullivan were with the Johnsons and other key supporters on February 13 when Mayor Ed Lee signed paperwork designating 1712-1716 Fillmore Street a historic city landmark. The Victorian building has two claims to that status: long before it was a bookstore, it was a famous jazz club called Jimbo’s Bop City.

Sullivan noted that Julian Davis, the Johnsons’ lawyer, and Grace Martinez, a community organizer for Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, steered the committee that rose up to fight for Marcus Books. San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen and Supervisor London Breed also pushed to keep Marcus Books where it is.

“It was a community response,” Sullivan said. “The store never asked anything of us. People came forward and wanted to see it preserved. And another thing that I feel is worth reiterating is that the store is not having bad business. It was matters of the physical property and the sale that put the business in jeopardy.”

Another native San Franciscan, actor Danny Glover (“The Color Purple” and “Predator 2”), helped Marcus Books with their “Keep It Lit” grassroots campaign — a campaign to raise a million dollars in 30 days, from Jan. 20 to Feb. 20. If Marcus Books is saved, the campaign will continue, said Sheppard. “The work is not done; we’ve just gotten started. Donations will go towards compensating for borrowed funds from community lenders,” she said.

A big part of the reason Marcus Books inspires such devotion is to due to the legacy of founders Julian and Raye Richardson.
The Richardsons established the Malcolm X school, dedicated to strengthening the education of  San Francisco youth, and Julian Richardson, who ran Success Printing Company, printed issues of San Francisco State University’s student newspaper “The Organ,” after the SFSU board refused to publish it due to the student strike of 1968. As a result of that student strike, Raye Richardson became one of the founders of SFSU’s ethnic studies program. Last fall the store held a “legacy celebration,” and former poet laureate of San Francisco Devorah Major credited Raye Richardson with being the first person to help her realize she was a writer.

“I knew that the store had a rightful place in literary history, American history and San Francisco history,” Sullivan said. “As a native San Franciscan, I am concerned about the cultural welfare of this city, all of its citizens, and the African American culture in general.”

Marcus Books supporters worked with ColorOfChange.org, an organization dedicated to strengthening African American political voices nationwide, to create a petition that drew more than 14,000 signatures in support of the store.

Westside Community Services (WCS), a community-based organization dedicated to restoring San Francisco communities, along with The San Francisco Community Land Trust (SFCLT), which strives to provide strategies for stabilizing lower-income communities in San Francisco, offered to buy the Fillmore property back in order for Marcus Books to keep operating on the site. The SFCLT was approached by the Marcus Books campaign committee to help plan a way to buy the property back.

WCS put up a $1.65 million loan, leaving SFCLT to raise an additional $1 million. One of the methods they used was “crowd-investing,” encouraging contributions from private individual investors. Tracy Parent, organizational director of SFCLT, believes helping Marcus Bookstore is the perfect example of their mission.

“Resident members and general members have a vote in the Land Trust to ensure the assets continue to serve the community,” Parent said. “This is a form of shared ownership and stewardship of community assets. Our primary mission is to create permanently affordable housing for low and moderate-income people, and this historic building has two large flats upstairs that can be preserved as permanently affordable family-size apartments, with three and four bedrooms, which are very hard to find in San Francisco.”

Sheppard concluded: “I got involved with Marcus Books because my mother bought a book from the store that she later used to pick my name. When I heard it was in trouble, I wanted to help because the store closing would be so detrimental to San Francisco’s culture. We already have large waves of gentrification impacting the city’s landscape so the threat of losing another historical business was the last straw for me. I think students, especially those from outside of the state, should find this important because the city that houses our university is experiencing a sort of class war right now. It’s easy to be disconnected from this as a non-native, but ultimately, we all live in San Francisco and it impacts us in one way or another.”

To donate to the Keep It Lit grassroots campaign, visit: http://www.gofundme.com/6bvqlk

Students Express Cultural Pride During Black History Month

On Wednesday February 8, USF’s Black Student Union and the Intercultural Center’s Lyricist Lounge hosted a cultural empowerment event called “Expressions.” Students gathered in celebration of Black History Month to share music, poems and dance inspired by their cultural identity.
Reflecting before the event, Black Student Union Vice President Camille Janae sat in the front row contemplating the words of a poem that expressed how she intends to create her legacy.
“I want to create a legacy of giving it my all to whatever I do, and also, being a person who serves others, and someone who does for others for the sake of doing it for others, not for my own honor or recognition,” Janae said.
She also said why Black History Month is important to her.
“It gives people a chance to reflect in the black community, and to remember people from the past who were brave enough and had courage to stand up for change. And in doing so, made a way for people to be where they are today,” said Janae.
Continuing to link the significance of Black history month to the legacy she wants to create, Janae said her appreciation for her ancestors has a lot to do with her passion for her identity.
“No matter who you are, where you are in your life, especially if you have come far…I feel like it’s a responsibility to give back in some sort of way. Paying it forward if you will,” Janae said.
“Expressions” was meant to create a presence of the African American community on campus. It was one of many other events that will be held in honor of Black History Month also known as national African American History month.
Students who do not identify as Black or African American also attended the event. Some contributed pieces ranging from themes of love, courage and female empowerment. Others also spoke about their appreciation of loved ones.
Sophomore Keyaira Lock sang one of her favorite jazz love songs by Julie London entitled: “You’d be so nice to come home to.”
It was Lock’s second time participating in the expressions event. She explained her motivation for participating.
“The environment here is really supportive, and it being Black history month I wish students could come out and support these types of cultural events…A lot of the times we feel underrepresented and a lot times we feel the University community doesn’t support us as much as they should, and I think they are missing out on a lot,” said Lock.
The Black Student Union’s largest event will be their Black Cultural Dinner to be held February 23. The keynote speaker will be MC Lyte, who is most commonly known for being a female rapper in the late 80’s. Her most recent work includes educating the community on issues facing female African Americans in regards to black female empowerment.

Racial Solidarity Linked to Obama’s Political Career

James Taylor

To kick off Black History Month, USF Politics professor James Taylor presented his book, “Black Nationalism in the United States: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama”, at Gleeson Library on February 2.
His book analyzes Black Nationalism as educational, political, and societal thought. His book also seeks to connect the religious foundations of black political ideologies and the nationalist sentiments of today’s hip-hop generation.

After an introduction by USF sociology professor Stephanie Sears, Taylor spoke about the meaning of his book.

“I want to be clear. This book is not an advocacy of Black Nationalism. It is really about black religion, and how it provided a kind of consistency over 180 years of the practice of the earliest form of political sermon, known as the Jeremiah Wright Ad,” he said.

Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr., pastor emeritus of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), is best known as Barack Obama’s pastor. He married Obama to his wife Michelle, and baptized the couple’s two daughters. However, he infamously became known as Obama’s pastor after Wright’s controversial sermons surfaced during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Excerpts from the pastor’s speeches, where he damned the United States for its treatment of African Americans, were stringed together to label Obama a radical.

During his talk Professor Taylor spoke about the roots of Black Nationalism, mentioning historical figures of the Black nationalism movement such as David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

“Doctrinaire Black nationalism is not as powerful a political force as racial solidarity. Martin Luther King Jr. used racial solidarity, but he did not make explicit appeals to Black Nationalism,” said Taylor. “
Although what distinguishes Black Nationalism from racial solidarity was not addressed during the balk, Taylor said, that since 1964 African American voters have been solidly Democratic. Lyndon Johnson received 94 percent of the Black vote, while most recently, Barack Obama received 96 percent.
“Black Nationalism certainly was at play in 2008, but it was not as significant as black racial solidarity in general,” said Taylor.

In regards to the political aspect of the hip hop generation, Taylor said, “The hip hop generation recovered Malcom X from the grave and held him up as a Jeremy Ad himself.”

Some of the issues of social and political justice the hip hop generation addresses are educational access, immigration and minority rights, Proposition 187, and prison reform. Some of these hip hop artists include DMX, Dead Prez, Jay-Z, and Mos Def.

When asked if Black Nationalism had a significant influence in the last election year, Taylor said that like every ethnic, racial, gender and sexual identity segment of the electorate, African Americans tend to use group solidarity as a means to political empowerment and representation.

Although many individuals have reconsidered Barack Obama’s position as president, especially after he signed the Nation Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Professor Taylor feels he still stands a chance for re-election.

“Recent jobs reports and declines in unemployment bode well for his chances. These developments undermine the charges of his opposition that he has failed to manage the economy,” Taylor said.
At an international level, Taylor said, “ His campaign will also be able to tout major foreign policy successes such as the death of Osama bin Laden, the draw down of troops in Iraq, the promise to end the war in Afghanistan in the next two years or so, and support for freedom fighters and ordinary people in the “Arab Spring.”

USF junior and International Studies major, Bryce Chiodo, also agrees Barack Obama has a chance for re-election.

“The GOP candidates are going to alienate any of the moderates on the Republican side. The confidence in the Democrats ability to reelect Obama is seen by the fact that there is no other major Democratic nomination,” Chiodo said.

Chiodo said Republican candidate Mitt Romney would have been a serious threat to Obama, but Romney’s stance on particular issues has made that less likely.

“Romney could win moderate votes, but instead he’s flip-flopped on so many of his previous decisions during his turn as governor and pre-2008 elections.

The Massachusetts healthcare reform Romney created in 2006 is almost essentially the same health care system he is now a massive opponent of. ”

Although not addressing Obama’s 2012 campaign, Taylor said in a personal interview with the Foghorn after the event, “I hope that readers of Black Nationalism in the United States will gain a deeper appreciation for the ways in which subaltern populations scrap together ways and means out of their social positioning that enable them to survive and to articulate their claims against the state and society.”
He added, “African American religion and its ideological variant in Black Nationalism are presented as a perennial force which many African American political elites

A Journey Through Thacher: Making Sense of Glenn Ligon

Artist Glenn Ligon’s work is up on display at the Thacher Gallery in Gleeson Library. It will remain until February 27th, and like many other students I found myself wondering why this mattered at all.

The artwork itself isn’t immediately eye-catching. There are no huge canvases or pretty colors. But upon closer inspection, and with the guidance of one of the exhibition’s organizers, philosophy Professor Ronald Sundstrom, I learned of my mistake. Ligon’s art has the distinct ability of being profound without necessarily pleasing aesthetically– though in many ways it does please. Glenn Ligon is a conceptual artist who is interested in questions of identity, race, and history. The exhibition at Thacher Gallery includes four of his stencil pieces, nine slave narratives, and numerous runaway slave prints. The notion of identity lies heavy on the minds of many of us. We should feel empowered by who we are, but very often that is clouded by sentiments of oppression and anger. Glenn Ligon uses his art to approach some of these themes.

There is not a definitive translation or meaning to Ligon’s work. Professor Sundstrom took me through the Thacher show. “The point, as I interpret it,” he said as he walked me into the exhibit, “is that it interrupts your assumptions.” Ligon’s slave-missing posters embody Sundstrom’s point. I first read the missing slave poster half-expecting to already know the text, “5”11 black slave with good build etc,” but I was surprised to find the poster mentioned very personal qualities, including the fact that the missing “slave,” the artist himself in this instance, was gay. Professor Sundstrom looked at me, eagerly awaiting my reaction, and I had nothing to say except that I hadn’t expected that. “Exactly,” he responded in satisfaction, and took me over to another Ligon piece. The artwork itself is often submerged in humorous overtones, and Professor Sundstrom made a point to emphasize this during the tour. The hilarity of Ligon’s work serves many different purposes, but what struck me was the way it eased the viewer into the serious themes he was addressing. Ligon stands on no pedestal, and does more suggesting than he does preaching.

By doing so, he makes his work more available and less intimidating to the audience. Professor Sundstrom shares a lot of these characteristics. He speaks in an easy manner that doesn’t condescend, which in turn granted me more confidence when I was discussing the artwork with him. I never felt like I was being told something, but rather directed towards fascinating questions, questions I would have never considered without the impressive combination of Ligon’s work and Sundstrom’s thoughtful shepherding.

Professor Sundstrom, who studies and writes about race and philosophy, invited fellow philosopher Paul Taylor, from Penn State, to give a talk about Ligon’s work. Taylor discussed the artwork,and the themes they approach, with a full house of attendees. Roughly half of the audience consisted of students, but many other thinkers and professionals attended the event as well. Taylor started off by announcing that Glenn Ligon is a problem, it is “the nature of his work,” he says. Ligon disrupts the way we categorize and view things. As humans, we instinctively seek to view the world with clarity. We like to assign people clearly defined social identities, whether we’re conscious of it or not. Paul Taylor argues that by “taking things we’re used to seeing a certain way and tweaking them,” Ligon upset our assuming perspectives. In that respect, Glenn Ligon is in fact a problem. But by being “committed to difficulty,” as art critic Darby English describes him, Ligon challenges our broad categorizations.

In an everyday world where concepts of racial identity are hushed and avoided, it was refreshing to see these essential questions surface at such a public forum. And in my  amateur opinion, I see that as one of the main point of Ligon’s artwork; to continue the dialogue, in spite of its often frustrating indirection.

The exhibit will continue through February 27.

Art Proves Priceless

Kimberly Connor calls her gamble on acquiring conceptual artist Glenn Ligon’s work a “horse that won.” In memory of her father’s death in 1995, she spent the small inheritance the way she thought he would. “My father was a wonderful man,” Connor said, then leaned in and whispered, “but he loved to go to the racetrack.”

Since her purchase of thirteen of Ligon’s title pages and stencils in 1995 from the Max Protetch Galleries, Ligon has “vaulted into substantial prominence,” Connor said. President Barack Obama chose to display Ligon’s work in the White House. The Whitney Museum of Art in New York City, will present a major retrospective of Ligon’s work next month.

Glenn Ligon, who is black and gay, is known for his work in highlighting issues of racial identity.

Kimberly Connor2

Assosciate Professor Kimberly Connor (pictured above) inspired the exhibit with her purchase of a few Ligon peices 16 years ago. (Courtesy of USF website)

Connor, whose academic fields of interest include African American culture and religion, is an associate professor in the University of San Francisco’s College of Business and Professional Studies in the Department of Organizations, Leadership, and Society. Her Ligon pieces, along with several others, are the Black History Month on display at Thacher Gallery. “Textimonies,” the Thacher show, features Ligon works that use text to explore ideas about race, identity and slave history.

For years, Connor enjoyed them as decoration and conversation pieces for her home. Before now, their only viewers were visitors to her home. The works, for which she paid about $10,000, have appreciated significantly in value.

Connor, who said her formal training in aesthetics was limited to a core class requirement in college, feels her Ligon works deserve to be displayed in an appropriate place. “It belongs to the ages now and I’m not comfortable having it anymore,” Connor said. After her mind was made up, she set out to prepare them for a more public viewing, that cost the same as the original purchase: $10,000. The preparation costs were paid for by Connor and went mostly toward professional framing.

In addition to providing the art for the show, Connor curated, helped install, organized supporting lectures  and gave public and classroom lectures about the exhibit. Glori Simmons and Amber Dennis of the Thacher Gallery did more than anyone to make this exhibit happen.

Glenn Ligon’s work references famous slave narratives. Connor finds this characteristic intellectually inspiring and continually intriguing. Connor, who earned a Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Virginia in 1991, is particularly interested in literature.

Straightening up her posture and using exaggerated hand movements, she listed authors and historical figures like Toni Morrison and Frederick Douglass to explain the abolitionist movement and the lingering mess slavery left behind.

“What’s especially interesting to me about Glenn and Glenn’s work…he references so directly literary texts in his vision of work,” Connor said. Relaxing into a slightly forward leaning slouch, she continued. “So it just sort of made the perfect connection for me intellectually and thematically and even theologically. You know –what are the ways that we still try to do what literary theologians do? Which is to fight oppression, but in more indirect and subtle ways. We don’t necessarily claim the sort of inspiration from the Divine but nonetheless are part of a kind of spirit of respecting humankind and wanting to make the world better.”

To do good deeds and perform good acts are responsibilities of her faith, but not the sole reason for her passion for liberation theology in literature. “My academic training in the study of religion and the scholarly research agenda that I have in religious studies is distinct from my personal life of faith and the manner in which I recognize a deity in my life. I see the study of religion as an academic and as a questioning human to be fascinating, necessary, and inspiring” Connor wrote.

Connor explained how Glenn Ligon’s work is deeply connected to her as a human being and not just as an academic or an amateur art collector: “It has this spiritual dimension that goes back to the abolitionist movement, but for me as an individual, part of the reason why I was drawn to these works and to liberation theology is because it’s where I locate myself personally in my own life of faith. But
that’s just a little motive; it’s still primarily an intellectual enterprise.”

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