I was asked a question once and it comes to mind as I write this blog, “If you could go back in time, which time period would you go back to?” I wanted to say ancient Rome because I read that the parties were epic. However, upon further reading, it became apparent that being black in Rome was far worse than being a slave in America. Therefore, my ultimate choice became the Harlem Renaissance. From 1920-1930 Harlem, New York became the birthplace of African-American Literature and Jazz. Jobs were scarce. Creative expression gave African-Americans what little opportunities available. Those little opportunities became a huge part of American history and culture.
In a small elementary school classroom, in the middle of Detroit, I see those creative opportunities embracing African-Americans once again. Phette Hollins Ogburn sat at a table with the production team as the movie casting call “Sext Messaging”; based on her book of the same name, was in full swing. Each actor and actress auditioned as if standing before Spike Lee himself. Phette examined each actor and actress with great scrutiny. Bringing the characters of her book to life is an exciting process. The excitement in the room was thick but tempered by the professionalism of all involved. One audition given by a seasoned veteran was especially moving. I won’t say who gave it but I can assure you. You will see it again. Before leaving, I noticed those waiting for their turn in a separate room. Some had been there over an hour and would gladly wait another hour for their opportunity. It was written all over them. Some engaged in small talk to ease each other’s nerves. Some just sat and mentally prepared themselves. Through this room ran the road to the life each of them wanted and none of them was leaving that road until their names were called and they had the opportunity to audition. I immediately thought about all of the African-Americans who auditioned at the Apollo theater in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. Many of them probably had the same thoughts these people are having right now. Gifted performers seeking their chance. I drove away still clinging to what I had just witnessed. One woman’s book becoming an opportunity for many in Detroit is uplifting. The following day proved even more uplifting and it all started with an addiction.
My addiction for a good cup of coffee is well-known. You can always find me anywhere that has a great Mocha and I found myself at Biggby Coffee on Woodward near Wayne State University. Upon entering the shop, the smell of coffee filled my nose. My eyes however, glimpsed the sight of a few familiar faces. T Elice and Adra Robins were hosting their Fall edition of Coffee, Arts, and Entertainment Forum. I’ve missed several forums prior to this one but this time I was in the building! In between speakers, I was greeted by my fellow writers and colleagues. I quickly made my way to the counter to purchase my Mocha and noticed the big smile of Quincy L. Lewis. His book “Off The Block” was just released and his Tuesday blog talk radio show “Straight From E-Block” was giving his listeners all they could handle. Quincy and I always get in a good laugh before the business of networking whenever we run into each other. WXYZ Channel 7 Public Affairs Director Chuck Stokes was in the building as well. Chuck Stokes is as visible in the community as he is on TV. His commitment to the city is unquestioned. Local actress and personality A.J. Williams was present. You can see her in a new stage play “What Shall I Do?” Starting this Friday Nov. 11th at the Charles H Wright African-American Museum. Also on November 11th Versandra Kennebrew will be releasing her new book “The Art of Reinventing You”. And they are not the only artist with a big weekend ahead.
Job losses have given some people time to explore their creative expression. For some, the time has come to reap the benefits of perfecting their craft. In Detroit, that time is right now. Me and all of the people I have mentioned in this blog are part of the new Detroit Renaissance. Much like our predecessors in Harlem during the 1920’s and 1930’s, we are committed to what Langston Hughes called “The expression of our dark-skinned selves.” That alone should tell you that these are exciting times here in Detroit. I consider myself blessed to be a part of it! Holla if you hear me!
The Essence of Motown Literary Jam info: