On Friday, shopping at Pan African Connection (across from Fair Park), a fast friendship was struck up with an Accidental Tourist. Her flight to Jamaica missed, she was back among friends to wait out the night. She was promoting #OccupyPinnacle, in short, stopping developers from destroying sites important to Rastas. It was familiar since we had spent the day with Activating Vacancy: an effort to save 10th Street, the last remaining Freedman’s Town in Dallas.
It turns out that our new friend is, Donisha Prendergrast, first granddaughter of the legendary Bob Marley, and her energy and tenacity for her community is equally worthy. Ideas and remembrances were flying across the outdoor table at Café Brazil. We have all lost so much ground, literally, from communities represented around this table: Malawi, Arkansas, Kenya, Pinnacle, 10th Street/Dallas/Oak Cliff. Tisha Crear points a finger in multiple directions and names off legacies from this very street on which we sat eating. “Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson and T-Bone Walker played these boarded up joints! Right up the street is one of the greatest spots to be designed, built, lived and honored in the history of Black Dallas! Oh, there are stories of how they danced up on that fifth floor…elegance, style…class. There’s even a historic marker about The Pythian Temple!”
Minutes later we’re on the street. A journey into the noisy bowels of a re-developing Deep Ellum and into history. Standing with her small hand fingering the iconic, bronze lettering that recants life at 2551 Elm St, young Donisha offered us this simple and dynamic idea: “Ya kno’ the power of blackness is a Gorgeous Thing!”
Thirty minutes after that, we’re trailing cars to the Freedman’s Memorial Cemetery. It’s 1am and everybody’s wide awake and eager to know what they’ve missed. Myself and Tisha Crear are a good tag-team to history. Donisha and the others are out of camera memory before we make it to the entry and the massive, sword-bearing Guardian and Scribe. Along for the journey are three more youngsters, locals, lost to the history that shimmers in the brilliance and design that so many have forgotten…again. Freedman’s Town. The Building of Central Expressway. The upturned graves…bones…glass…people. “Home. Home. Home: sometimes, the worst of the four-lettered words“1
If you’re going to show a world-renown activist how to preserve a spot of land and you only have an hour before the next plane starts counting stand-bys, then Freedman’s Memorial is your only choice. In the night there is a lone homeless man who sits up when greeted by our loud entry. He doesn’t know that he sleeps among the long suffering…dead. Above him is Sculptor, David Newton’s central piece, Son Reclaims his Mother. This man-child’s whipped and barred torso is like a wall around her bent, but rising frame. Around him we chant a reclamation into the night. Tisha remembers a song from her youth and pieces it together on the still night air.
“We are the children of the ones who would not die.
We are the children of the people who could fly.
We are the children who persevered.
We are Fearless.
We are stong and we are ready to carry on”
Donisha is a vocal passion in her Grandfather’s tongue and tone. I read aloud the dim-lit poem written by my friend, Nia Akimbo, that’s etched into the stone wall that completes this circle. Each of us takes to a corner and gives thanks and honor to the ancestors of Freedman’s.
It is beyond the leaving hour and no one is moving fast to the street. 2am and we resolve that sleep is not coming for us tonight. We pretend to pour a libation offering and Donisha prays in a fast tongue. “We need this story, Brother James. I need to say it to the people. Help me to tell it again, just like tonight, when I am back home”. We are trying to leave for home and coffee and water and the airport, but Donisha stops again at the facade and bows her head to honor the Scribe one last time. One last time is not the story that she will tell , now. What she…what we will tell forever more from this night is that, at that moment of bowing and honoring and wanting to remember this place of remembrance, forever…at that moment a breeze lifts a stone that has been placed into the hand of the Scribe. That unsuspecting stone rises to the moment and lands with the sweetest surrender into Donisha’s upraised palm: a gift: a stone to build into a foundation…back home…back at Pinnacle.
She says again, as if we could forget, “Gorgeous Black Power in this place”, then strikes two poses as one to make the idea a reality. Gorgeous: a mock model’s raised arm, as if to block a unwelcomed camera, then she raises the other hand in the iconic, Black Power sign. Gorgeous/Black Power: A Movement Begins.
10th Street Story Corners Videos: http://vimeo.com/bcworkshop/videos/sort:date
FACING THE RISING SUN: Freedman’s Cemetery current Exhibit: http://www.aamdallas.org/#!exhibitions/c1pna