A+ R A-

News Wire

Demonstrators 'Disrupt' St. Louis Symphony Singing a 'Requiem for Mike Brown'

E-mail Print PDF

By Rebecca Rivas
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American

Just after intermission, about 50 people disrupted the St. Louis Symphony’s performance of Brahms Requiem on Saturday night, singing “Justice for Mike Brown.”

As symphony conductor Markus Stenz stepped to the podium to begin the second act of German Requiem, one middle-aged African-American man stood up in the middle of the theater and sang, “What side are you on friend, what side are you on?”

In an operatic voice, another woman located a few rows away stood up and joined him singing, “Justice for Mike Brown is justice for us all.” Several more audience members sprinkled throughout the theater and in the balcony rose up and joined in the singing.

Those in the balcony lowered white banners about 15 feet long with black spray-painted letters that said, “ Requiem for Mike Brown 1996-2014” and “Racism lives here,” with an arrow pointed to a picture of the St. Louis Arch. Another banner said, “Rise up and join the movement.”

Stenz stood stoically and listened to the demonstrators’ performance. Some onlookers were outraged and start spewing expletives. Others stood up and started clapping. Most seemed stunned and simply watched.

The singing only went on for about two minutes before the demonstrators started chanting, “Black lives matter.” They pulled up their banners and dropped red paper hearts over the edge of the balcony onto the main floor orchestra seats, which stated “Requiem for Mike Brown.” Then they all voluntarily marched out together and left the theater. While they marched out, they received a round of applause from many of the audience members – as well as the musicians on stage.

Outside, symphony administrators huddled together discussing the demonstration, expressing dismay. When asked if they wanted to comment, they said no. The demonstrators had purchased tickets to the concert.

The St. Louis American tracked down and interviewed the organizer of the event – Sarah Griesbach, 42, a white woman who lives in the Central West End. She said that the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed teen who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, has opened her eyes to the inequalities that exist in St. Louis. She has been protesting since Brown was shot on Aug. 9.

“It is my duty and desire to try to reach out and raise that awareness peacefully but also to disrupt the blind state of white St. Louis, particularly among the people who are secure in their blindness,” Griesbach said.

Two weeks ago, she and another “middle-aged woman who wear our mom jeans pulled up way too high” held up a sign at a Cardinals game that said, “Racism lives here.” A pivotal moment for her was when people around them started chanting in response, “Hands up, don’t loot.”

She and her fellow protester Elizabeth Vega decided to try again at the symphony, which received a much warmer response. She believes that is because the audience was fairly diverse in ethnicity and age.

“There is an inclusivity that comes with that intellectual culture,” she said.

The group of demonstrators was also a mix of African Americans, Latino and white residents – from college kids to college professors, she said. There were “representatives” from Clayton, Webster Groves, South St. Louis, Central West End and Ferguson. Although she lives in the Central West End, her children attend school in Clayton. As a mother, she has been deeply affected by Brown’s death.

“This cannot be just a Ferguson issue,” she said.

The St. Louis American got in touch with Erika Ebsworth-Goold, publicist for the St. Louis Symphony, on Sunday afternoon. She said the musical piece that the demonstrators chose was appropriate because it is meant to “lift up the people who were left in time of tragedy.”

She did not feel the group interrupted the performance but “delayed” it, she said.

“The people audience had respect for what we were do at the symphony, and we are appreciative of that,” she said.

Organizer Elizabeth Vega said the group prefers to call it a “disruption,” rather than a delay.

“Many of us are artists ourselves, so we were very cognizant to not interrupt the performance after it had already began,” Vega said. “But we still wanted it to be a disruption that left people with a seed of thought.”

Geoffrey Holder: Death of a Renaissance Man

E-mail Print PDF

By Herb Boyd
Special to the NNPA

NEW YORK (NNPA) – His voice arrived first, deep and sonorous, prefiguring a man of enormous life and vitality, and such was the often imposing but impressive visage and physique of Geoffrey Holder, who many remember mostly from his promotion of Seven-Up “Uncola” commercials.  But the multitalented Holder was much more than a pitchman.  This artist with almost magical gifts died Sunday, Oct. 5 at this home in New York City.  He was 84.

According to Charles M. Mirotznik, a spokesman for the family, Holder’s death was the result of complications from pneumonia.

Standing 6 feet 6 inches, Holder commanded practically every room he entered, and the niches not covered by his giant-like presence were filled with his resonant voice and laughter, his flamboyant style and persona, something magisterial, je ne sais quoi.

If viewers were reminded of the Jolly Green Giant or Mr. Clean from the many films and Broadway productions, it was understandable inasmuch as he had that same powerful countenance but embellished by a graceful sense of movement and artistic savoir faire.

Even the swerving arc of his autograph provides some semblance of his absolutely total absorption in the theater, dance and art as writer and dance authority Jennifer Dunning captures so well her biography.

“Who is Geoffrey Holder?” Dunning asks rhetorically in the preface to her book.  “He paints and photographs, but he has never wanted to be called simply an ‘artist.’ He dances and choreographs, but he has no desire to be categorized as a ‘dancer and choreographer.’  He designs costumes and has directed shows on Broadway, but do not call him a ‘man of the theater.’”

Through these things he chose not to be called, we gather some idea of the complexity of his life, the expansiveness of his endeavors and successes.

“Life is strange and sweet and divine,” Holder told Dunning during one of her many interviews with him as he folded his long frame into a delicate white chair in the garden corner carved out his wife, the actress and dancer Carmen de Lavallade, in their loft in Soho.  She notes that Holder’s paintings are everywhere.

And Holder throughout his remarkably productive career seemed to be everywhere—on stage, on film, in the studio, galleries, and anywhere a convivial ensemble was ready a night of gaiety and cultural chit chat.

Whether surrounded by a gaggle of his admiring friends or strolling the streets of Manhattan that he dearly loved and became fond of many years ago when he arrived from his homeland in Trinidad, Holder was immediately recognized and onlookers were not sure if it was Punjab from the movie “Annie,” or Baron Samedi from the James Bond movie “Live and Let Die.”  Or he could have been, for some of his older fans, the principal dancer in the Met’s production of “Aida.”

If left to him, he was Geoffrey Holder, born August 1, 1930 to parents who had migrated from Barbados to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.  He attended Queen’s Royal College and at very early age began demonstrating his prowess as a dancer in his brother Boscoe’s company.  It was from this older brother that he got his first lessons in choreography and design.

Given his height and agility he easily stood out in a troupe and got the eye of dance maven Agnes de Mille in the early 1950s during a performance in the Virgin Islands.  She invited Holder to New York City and subsequently he was hired to teach at the famed Katherine Dunham School of Dance.  After a brief stint as the lead dancer at the Met, he made his Broadway debut in “House of Flowers” with book and lyrics by Truman Capote and music by Harold Arlen.  Here, he met another dancer, Carmen de Lavallade, who became his lifelong companion.  Their only child was Leo.

With excellent reviews from his performances on Broadway, he appeared in a series of films, beginning with All Night Long, a British film in 1962; five years later, he was featured in Doctor Dolittle; then he was the sorcerer in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex; and there was his voodoo turn in the Bond movie mentioned above in which he was also the choreographer.

For the most part Holder appeared to be caught between two very jealous muses: dance and painting.  And they both were somewhat pacified when he was the choreographer, set and costume designer as he did on many occasions, but with particular panache in 1968 with The Prodigal Prince for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  According to Kina Poon, an assistant editor at Dance Magazine, this was his love letter to Haiti.  “I wanted to do the same with Haitian folklore as we with Greek mythology,” he told her.  “I revere Haitian art and I treat it with the same sense of grandeur and respect.”

Grandeur is certainly a word that is evoked when visiting a gallery of his paintings.  Most impressive are his study of the human form and his nudes, male and female, are full of the freedom and abandon that characterized Holder’s restless spirit.

To list even a portion of his awards is daunting, but it’s hard to ignore the stunning work he in The Wiz, which earned Tony’s for direction and design.  In both categories were first for a Black man.  One of his most spectacular productions was Timbuktu, which choreographed and directed, featuring Eartha Kitt.  Here again, the full arsenal of his artistic genius unfolds.

“Geoffrey is someone who speaks with movements and with images more than some other people might,” said Clifton Taylor, a lighting designer who worked with Holder in several productions, including a revival of The Prodigal Prince four years ago.  “Another choreographer might say ‘This is what I want the lights to look like.’  Geoffrey is really about giving images to people, both the dancers and the designers.  He’ll say, ‘We’re in a village at night.  It’s stars and it’s gorgeous.’ He’ll go on in kind of rhapsodic prose. ‘Dahling,’ right?  And then we go with it.”

Then, to express his appreciation, might come that drawn out but melodious “maarvelous,” in a voice as inimitable as his life and legacy.

Obama: Let's Finish the Unfinished Work

E-mail Print PDF

By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Though the U.S. has made tremendous progress since the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, there is plenty of unfinished work to be done in order to make the nation a more perfect union, President Barack Obama says.

“Our high school graduation rate is at a record high, the dropout rate is falling, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before,” Obama told those attending Saturday night’s Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner. “Last year, the number of children living in poverty fell by 1.4 million – the largest decline since 1966.  Since I took office, the overall crime rate and the overall incarceration rate has gone down by about 10 percent.  That’s the first time they’ve declined at the same time in more than 40 years.  Fewer folks in jail.  Crime still going down.

“But our work is not done when too many children live in crumbling neighborhoods, cycling through substandard schools, traumatized by daily violence.  Our work is not done when working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate, even as corporate profits soar; when African-American unemployment is still twice as high as white unemployment; when income inequality, on the rise for decades, continues to hold back hardworking communities, especially communities of color.  We’ve got unfinished work.”

Speaking just days after Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., the administration’s point man on race, submitted his resignation, Obama spoke more directly about race than perhaps anytime since he has been in office.

In past CBC appearances, Obama was sometimes viewed as lecturing CBC members about personal responsibility while failing to do the same to White audiences. In his speech before the CBC dinner Saturday night, Obama dropped his reluctance to speak boldly about the racial atmosphere in America.

“… We still have to close these opportunity gaps,” he said. “And we have to close the justice gap – how justice is applied, but also how it is perceived, how it is experienced.  Eric Holder understands this. That’s what we saw in Ferguson this summer, when Michael Brown was killed and a community was divided.  We know that the unrest continues. And Eric spent some time with the residents and police of Ferguson, and the Department of Justice has indicated that its civil rights investigation is ongoing.

“Now, I won’t comment on the investigation. I know that Michael’s family is here tonight. I know that nothing any of us can say can ease the grief of losing a child so soon. But the anger and the emotion that followed his death awakened our nation once again to the reality that people in this room have long understood, which is, in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.”

Obama spoke to the everyday experiences of being a Black man in America.

“Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness. We know that, statistically, in everything from enforcing drug policy to applying the death penalty to pulling people over, there are significant racial disparities. That’s just the statistics.  One recent poll showed that the majority of Americans think the criminal justice system doesn’t treat people of all races equally. Think about that. That’s not just blacks, not just Latinos or Asians or Native Americans saying things may not be unfair. That’s most Americans.”

It is unclear what poll the president was referencing. Most polls show a majority of Whites feel the criminal justice system is color blind. For example, a Pew Research Center survey last year found that 70 percent of Blacks feel they are treated less fairly than Whites in their dealings with police. Only 37 percent of Whites said they think Blacks are treated less fairly by police.

The mistreatment of African Americans harms Whites as well as Blacks, the president said.

“And that has a corrosive effect – not just on the black community; it has a corrosive effect on America,” Obama said. “It harms the communities that need law enforcement the most. It makes folks who are victimized by crime and need strong policing reluctant to go to the police because they may not trust them. And the worst part of it is it scars the hearts of our children. It scars the hearts of the white kids who grow unnecessarily fearful of somebody who doesn’t look like them. It stains the heart of black children who feel as if no matter what he does, he will always be under suspicion.  That is not the society we want.  It’s not the society that our children deserve. Whether you’re black or white, you don’t want that for America.”

Three countries – Russia, Iran and Egypt – have cited America’s mistreatment of African Americans as evidence of U.S. hypocrisy on human rights.

Obama retorted, “…As I said this week at the United Nations, America is special not because we’re perfect; America is special because we work to address our problems, to make our union more perfect [a reference to the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution]. We fight for more justice. We fight to cure what ails us.  We fight for our ideals, and we’re willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short.  And we address our differences in the open space of democracy – with respect for the rule of law; with a place for people of every race and religion; and with an unyielding belief that people who love their country can change it.  That’s what makes us special – not because we don’t have problems, but because we work to fix them.  And we will continue to work to fix this.”

Obama, under fire to the limited scope of My Brother’s Keeper, which targets Black and Latino males, said this week he will announce My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, a program to develop strategies to help all youth.

“And we’re not forgetting about the girls, by the way.  I got two daughters – I don’t know if you noticed. African American girls are more likely than their white peers also to be suspended, incarcerated, physically harassed.  Black women struggle every day with biases that perpetuate oppressive standards for how they’re supposed to look and how they’re supposed to act.  Too often, they’re either left under the hard light of scrutiny, or cloaked in a kind of invisibility.

“So in addition to the new efforts on My Brother’s Keeper, the White House Council for Women and Girls has for years been working on issues affecting women and girls of color, from violence against women, to pay equity, to access to health care.  And you know Michelle has been working on that. Because she doesn’t think our daughters should be treated differently than anybody else’s son. I’ve got a vested interest in making sure that our daughters have the same opportunities as boys do.”

Obama ended his 23-minute speech, which was interrupted 34 times by applause, with an appeal for greater voter participation in November.

“Because people refused to give in when it was hard, we get to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act next year,” President Obama stated. “Until then, we’ve got to protect it.  We can’t just celebrate it; we’ve got to protect it.  Because there are people still trying to pass voter ID laws to make it harder for folks to vote. And we’ve got to get back to our schools and our offices and our churches, our beauty shops, barber shops, and make sure folks know there’s an election coming up, they need to know how to register, and they need to know how and when to vote.”

Strip Mines, Pollution and De-foresting Linked to Ebola's Deadly Spread

E-mail Print PDF

Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Pits in the ground from mining, forests stripped of trees and water poisoned by toxic materials are among the lesser known culprits in the current outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease. In less than a year’s time, the virus has migrated from its “reservoir” in fruit bats to humans who may have supplemented their diets and income with infected animals recovered from the forest floor.

With wildlife squeezed into ever-smaller parcels by the expansion of foreign corporations, fruit bats carrying Zaire ebola virus are suspected of migrating from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the virus first appeared in 1976, to the West African nation of Guinea and from there to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The bats’ habitat in the former Zaire was also disrupted by long periods of conflict. Thus, the devastation of African natural resources, combined with recurrent war, could be considered among the triggers of the now rampant epidemic.

Another possible link to the spread of the virus is believed to be unsterile medical injections. Injectable drugs, syringes and needles are available in rural villages, where injection by traditional healers and self-injection are common practice. But between 50 percent and 90 percent of these injections are deemed unsafe, according to an article in the publication Viewpoint.

These insights were among those gained from a discussion lead by a panel of experts at a recent Africa Roundtable discussion titled “We Could Have Stopped This,” organized by the Global Information Network.

Speakers at the roundtable included Stephanie Rupp, noted anthropologist and researcher in the Congo River Basin; Ernest Drucker, epidemiologist with prior experience in Africa and a researcher in HIV/AIDS; and Nvasekie Konneh, Liberian writer, author and community activist just returned from Liberia.

Despite a link to Ebola, any effort to eliminate bats would be “an ecological disaster,” according to Fabian Leendertz, a disease ecologist at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. “Bats pollinate plants and devour insects. And bat hunts would also only increase human contact with potentially infected animals.”

Meanwhile, efforts to provide the three endangered countries with medical supplies are increasing. Humanitarian groups sent nearly $6 million in medical supplies to West Africa, including gloves, masks, gowns, goggles, saline, antibiotics, oral rehydration solution and pain killers. Charities contributing to the airlift include the Clinton Foundation, Direct Relief, Last Mile Health, Africare and the Wellbody Alliance.

The United Nations has said that controlling the epidemic will require the world to increase its efforts twentyfold and to spend $1 billion in the next six months. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously last week to launch a medical mission to West Africa to fight Ebola, and President Barack Obama announced that he is sending 3,000 American troops.

New Report Finds Gender-Based Violence 'Too Costly to Ignore'

E-mail Print PDF

Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

On the heels of the Ray Rice scandal in the U.S., a new report by the accounting firm KPMG says that violence against women in South Africa costs the country between $2 and $4 billion yearly. The lost funds could pay wage subsidies for all unemployed youths, build half a million houses or give health care to a quarter of all South Africans, the report says.

“We aren’t always able to put a number to human suffering, and it is controversial to do so,” said KPMG staffer Laura Brooks. “But this [figure] puts gender-based violence in a language that people can understand. If we can try put a number to it, it at least draws attention to it.”

The report, “The Economic Impact of Violence Against Women,” also follows the manslaughter conviction of Olympian “Blade Runner” Oscar Pretorius, who claimed to have shot his girlfriend four times by mistake.

In South Africa, a woman is killed by domestic violence on average every eight hours. The rate of intimate femicide, the killing of women by their partners, is five times higher than the global average.

To put that figure into perspective, more than seven times as many murders are committed in South Africa than in the U.S., and South Africa has a population of just 51 million, compared with 317 million in the U.S.

The cost to government of $45 million a year includes expenses associated with preventative programs, medical and aftercare services and police and judicial services.

A related study by researchers at Stanford and Oxford universities found that domestic violence, mainly against women and children worldwide, kills far more people than wars and is an often overlooked scourge that costs the world economy more than $8 trillion a year.

The authors urged the United Nations to pay more attention to abuse at home that gets less attention than armed conflicts such as those in Syria and Ukraine.

“For every civil war battlefield death, roughly nine people … are killed in inter-personal disputes,” Anke Hoeffler of Oxford University and James Fearon of Stanford University wrote in the report.

From domestic disputes to wars, they estimated that all violence worldwide cost $9.5 trillion a year, mainly in lost economic output and equivalent to 11.2 percent of world gross domestic product.

In recent years, approximately 20 to 25 nations experienced civil wars, devastating many local economies and costing approximately $170 billion a year. Homicides, mainly of men, unrelated to domestic disputes, cost $650 billion. But those figures were dwarfed by the $8 trillion annual cost of domestic violence, mostly against women and children.

Bjorn Lomborg, head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which commissioned the report, said household violence was often overlooked, just as car crashes attract less attention than plane crashes even though many more die in road accidents.

“This is not just about saying ‘this is a big problem,’” he told Reuters. “It’s a way to start finding smart solutions.”

Page 17 of 352

BVN National News Wire