Monday, March 10, 2014

Brother Umar Ben Hassan

Last night at the Still Water's Writing Workshop Umar Ben Hassan from The Last Poets was the guest speaker. What an honor and treat it was for us to hear his stories, poems and wisdom. He was funny and honest and in the slang of the 60's and 70's, the brotha was "down."

I was eager to see him again. When he was here for the Still Water's event last year I had the privilege of picking him up from his hotel and driving him to the location. We talked and laughed. He felt like home. He reminded me of my father, who to me, was the funniest man in the world. Last year, after the show some folks were going to a class reunion of Dorsey High School. Hey, it was a party, he wasn't ready to turn in and the gig was over so he was like, "I wanna go." So we went. I didn't even go to Dorsey and here I was crashing, but I was rolling with royalty so I felt due. We danced and had the best time. Folks talked to him and he talked and laughed with folks. We even went to Denny's afterward with some people from the party. Tuesday Conner, a poet I know and graduate of Dorsey was there too and made the evening lovely introducing her crowd to our east coast elder. In fact, Tuesday was the one who invited us to the reunion. Anyway, we had a blast. Brother Umar called me Sista Jihad all night but so what.

So of course I was excited to see him last night. He didn't remember me at first as I am now beginning locks and donning specks. But I reminded him and he said, "Yeah, Sista Jihad!" Hey, it's nice to be remembered.

Last night sat with us through the workshop and gave us notes and encouragement. When he got up to speak he was with us. He was like, "Look, I came down here from Northern California on the bus..." and went on from there. We were quiet kittens at his feet. He opened with a poem he dedicated to Winnie Mandela! Word! "Anybody can be dignified from a chair. But you take a woman fighting for her people and being persecuted and running with children...You gotta give it up!" And we did. To him and to Winnie Mandela.

He went on from there telling us stories about other poets and how they fought and wrote and read. O how they read. "You had to read." He said. Because if somebody came at us talkin' some bullshit we had to know how to come back at 'em. He went on.

Ok. His words and quotes got so good I couldn't keep up so I just started writing down quotes I could catch. Here are some:

"The future needs a friend to believe in." That one was in the poem dedicated to Winnie Mandela

"Poets help build civilizations."

"Poets help to heal people."

"Take the ancestors seriously. They are there to be used and there to help. It ain't spooky stuff. Hug them. Someday all of us will be one learn how to be one."

"Love the children from the beginning. To save them from the end."

"My mornings belong to me!" He said this in response to a friend of his telling him that he should get a job. He said that poetry was his job. To reach people.

"Doctors and lawyers have to have certificates to treat people but an audience of people will give their attention and hearts to poets automatically. That is special."

"This is our history and somebody's got to keep it going."

Special thanks to Food 4 Thot and Queen Socks for providing for us a space to receive such wisdom, entertainment and love.

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