ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



ashley and i set up quietly. john banters with us. just like old times. but it’s not. nothing is

just like it used to be for new orleanians. the interview goes very, very well. in conducting

the interviews i have a habit of prodding, pushing to get the emotional reactions

and not just the factual details.



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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kalamu in houston


below smiling student faces are tears & fears

houston, 7 – 10 november 2005. three of us meet up in the houston airport: ashley coming from jackson, mississippi; jim flying in from clemson, south carolina; and myself journeying down from nashville. We’re all actually from new orleans, just don’t live there at the moment. We’ve come to houston to do students at the center (sac) work. for me it’s a mental health regime; i don’t know what i would be doing if i wasn’t working. after a half hour or so in a rental van, which i will be driving to new orleans on friday, we finally find the non-descript motel where we will be staying. i believe it’s misnamed “comfort inn.” adjacent to it is a little restaurant with no signs. i call it the used-to-be-denny’s. jim and i eat a late dinner. ashley, wisely, skips it. over the next three and half days, i never again eat there. early the next morning, we jump into drive time traffic to get to the school where towana teaches. towana is a 2005 howard university grad, a 2001 mcdonogh #35 new orleans high school grad and, along with ashley, one of a trio of students who were the first students to whom i taught digital video. towana and adriane went to howard. ashley went to clark-atlanta; all three majored in communications. both ashley and towana decided to “give back” to their home communities before going on to grad school or starting their professional careers. ashley simply took a year off and committed herself to working with sac. towana opted for a two year stint with teach for america, and requested an assignment in new orleans. when school opened back in late august, as an sac staff person, ashley was tapped to lead the media center at frederick douglass high school, which was the base institution for sac. towana was teaching at abrasom, a high school in new orleans east she was set to carry on a sac class at her school. katrina hits and we’re scattered. it’s been a couple of years since i’ve seen towana. i’m looking forward to us working together. indeed, i’m proud of both ashley and towana, as well as proud of sac—we have been successful at constructing a high school program whose effects are strong enough that four years later, after graduating from college, former sac students decide to work with sac. ironically, the newly opened school that operates in an old building is named “douglass school.” they run it tight as a drum. discipline is a priority. students are bussed in from all over houston. this is a charter school set up specifically for students from new orleans, although there are a couple of students from houston. towana is teaching seventh grade reading. even though she acknowledges she has a lot she has yet to learn about teaching, towana is an excellent teacher. although i had nothing to do with teaching her to be a formal educator, i am nonetheless proud of my former student who introduces me as her mentor and jim as her high school english teacher. when towana gets to ashley, she quietly laughs a deep-throated towana laugh, and tells her class that ashley was her girl or something like that, something warmly affectionate. they both smile. this school is on a four-by-four block schedule with 20 minutes for lunch. its a similar schedule to what we had at douglass in new orleans. the class size is fourteen to fifteen students, again similar to our sac classes. our goal was: initiate a writing program to produce student writings relative to their katrina experiences. one beautiful surprise was that laquita joseph, a sac graduate from douglass high school in new orleans who is now living near houston joined us on tuesday morning. although she could not stay the entire day as she had an afternoon shift on her job, she did make the two morning classes. again, it was a demonstration of sac’s impact and the support students reciprocate even after leaving high school. laquita is now in college. after three days of working with the new orleans students exiled in houston, we were all clear that this was an important program. the charter school itself, however, raises some interesting questions. from my sketchy and woefully incomplete understanding of the situation i gathered a couple of bits of info. the group that runs the school is actually from new orleans and were planning to open a charter in new orleans, post-katrina they moved to houston and received a charter from the school district there. none of the teachers are union teachers, few of them are veterans, the overwhelming majority of teach for america inductees are straight out of college with at most one year of experience (teach for america is a two year program). the school is only scheduled to operate for one year. It’s still up in the air whether they will return to new orleans. what will this all lead to? nobody knows. there are precious few definite plans for the future. almost everything vis-À-vis new orleanians operates on a day-to-day, we’ll-see-about-that-later basis. It’s unsettling and makes educational instruction particularly difficult. just below the surface of all the black bright smiling student faces are tears and fears, emotional conflicts and confusions. to sit with the students and listen to their tales of what happened to them, to talk to teachers struggling to maintain their own composure as they minister to the needs of the students, to know all the difficulties that everyone is dealing with, well, let’s just say, it ain’t easy. on wednesday night, ashley and i journey to north houston—it’s damn near a one hour drive to get there—new orleans visual artist and macarthur genius awardee john scott is staying there with one of his daughters and her family. I’ve known and worked with john since the sixties. he had a gigantic studio in new orleans east, which i assumed was flooded. his residence was located near dillard university, i was pretty sure he had flood damage. in fact i had seen an article in the new york times delineating his travails in fleeing to houston. my biggest shock when we get to the house and are warmly ushered in by re, john’s wife, is that john scott is on oxygen. when we were downstairs, he hollered, come on up! we climbed the stairs and there he was, big as cut, a clear, plastic oxygen tube trailing behind him. i buried my shock inside a warm bear hug, closing my eyes as clasped. i’m 58. i know death is not too far down the street. john is sixty-something, he’s got but one more short corner to turn. ashley and i set up quietly. john banters with us. just like old times. but it’s not. nothing is just like it used to be for new orleanians. the interview goes very, very well. in conducting the interviews i have a habit of prodding, pushing to get the emotional reactions and not just the factual details. at one point john is animated and determined as he declares his intentions to return home. i tell him, the camera still on, i have to ask this question. i say, you have a serious respiratory illness—he had earlier commented that he was due to have a lung transplant but it was postponed due to Katrina and given all the toxicity in the air in new orleans, especially in the areas that were flooded, how in the world can he think about going home. john says he plans to be home in january. i push some more. he finally looks at me and says (i’m paraphrasing from memory, but we have the tape), i’m going to die anyway. i don’t want to die in houston. i’m going home. once again it hits me like a body blow to the heart, it staggers you, hurts, takes you aback, way back. these interviews for listen to the people are nothing to play with. i keep the camera rolling. i am painfully aware that if it’s exhausting for me, it must be doubly hard on john. his little grand daughter comes up the stairs. its close to 10pm. she is being the cute granddaughter that most 4-year olds typically are. the interview ends as he winks at her. thursday, the last day there, during her off-block period, i interview towana. we don’t get to finish. i want to do more, but will have to do it on our next visit. so far, every time i think, well, we’ll just do a short interview, it doesn’t turn out that way. towana is very, very animated as she talks about her experiences. looking into the camera. speaking honestly, unhesitantly. i know her, so there are a couple of times i push for more. and she responds with more than more—i’m looking forward to finishing the interview. then it’s friday morning, and ashley and i are driving to new orleans. we were originally planning to have damien join us but he’s catching a ride over with the hernadezes who are driving from tulsa, oklahoma. there had also been some talk about us stopping in baton rouge on our way in to new orleans and picking up rodneka, robin and dominique, but someone else, i think reggie, is bringing them down from baton rouge. so it’s just ashley and i and 350 miles of i-10 separating us from home. we’re going there for a sac-douglass homecoming program. it will be my first time back since katrina. i’m neither nervous nor apprehensive. i try not to have any expectations, but how can i not. i remember jarvis’ column in which he talks about going to see his flooded house and how nothing prepared him for what he saw, even though he was a reporter, had been in the city when the hurricane hit, had traveled around witnessing the devastation, etc. still, nothing prepared him for what he found. i wondered whether i was prepared. at baton rouge we hit a traffic jam, i take an alternate route that is a little out of the way, but at least it’s open. and then the alternate route jams up right when we are approaching a place where we can jump back over to i-10 just outside of new orleans at a town called laplace. another ominous sign. i scoot around on the shoulder and head south to laplace, escaping the traffic. now we are crossing the spillway, lake ponchatrain to our left, watery marshes below us, in the distance, i can see downtown new orleans.

posted 3 December 2005

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

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#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America

By Peter Edelman

If the nation’s gross national income—over $14 trillion—were divided evenly across the entire U.S. population, every household could call itself middle class. Yet the income-level disparity in this country is now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. In 2010 the average salary for CEOs on the S&P 500 was over $1 million—climbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted for—while the current median household income for African Americans is just over $32,000. How can some be so rich, while others are so poor? In this provocative book, Peter Edelman, a former top aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a lifelong antipoverty advocate, offers an informed analysis of how this country can be so wealthy yet have a steadily growing number of unemployed and working poor. According to Edelman, we have taken important positive steps without which 25 to 30 million more people would be poor, but poverty fluctuates with the business cycle.

The structure of today’s economy has stultified wage growth for half of America’s workers—with even worse results at the bottom and for people of color—while bestowing billions on those at the top. So Rich, So Poor delves into what is happening to the people behind the statistics and takes a particular look at the continuing crisis of young people of color, whose possibility of a productive life too often is lost on their way to adulthood


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Allah, Liberty, and Love

The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom

By Irshad Manji

In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to-God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and love—the universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them. Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny and always revealing about these morally confused times.

What prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from expressing their need for religious reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?

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The New New Deal

The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era

By Michael Grunwald

Time senior correspondent Michael Grunwald tells the secret history of the stimulus bill, the purest distillation of Change We Can Believe In, a microcosm of Obama’s policy successes and political failures. Though it is reviled by the right and rejected by the left, it really is a new New Deal, larger than FDR’s and just as transformative. It prevented an imminent depression, while jump-starting Obama’s long-term agenda. The stimulus is pouring $90 billion into clean energy, reinventing the way America is powered and fueled; it includes unprecedented investments in renewables, efficiency, electric cars, a smarter grid, cleaner coal, and more. It’s carrying health care into the digital era. Its Race to the Top initiative may be the boldest education reform in U.S. history. It produced the biggest middle-class tax cuts in a generation, a broadband initiative reminiscent of rural electrification, and an overhaul of the New Deal’s unemployment insurance system. It’s revamping the way government addresses homelessness, fixes infrastructure, and spends money.

Grunwald reveals how Republicans have obscured these achievements through obstruction and distortion. The stimulus launched a genuine national comeback. It also saved millions of jobs, while creating legacies that could rival the Hoover Dam: the world’s largest wind farm, a new U.S. battery industry, a new high-speed rail network, the world’s highest-speed Internet network.  Its main legacy, like the New Deal’s, will be change.

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Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement

By John Lewis  and Michael D’Orso

Lewis, an Alabama sharecropper’s son, went to Nashville to attend a Baptist college where, at the end of the 1950s, his life and the new civil rights movement became inexorably entwined. First came the lunch counter sit-ins; then the Freedom Rides; the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Lewis’s election to its chairmanship; the voter registration drives; the 1963 march on Washington; the Birmingham church bombings; the murders during the Freedom Summer; the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party; Bloody Sunday in Selma in 1964; and the march on Montgomery. Lewis was an active, leading member during all of it. Much of his account, written with freelancer D’Orso, covers the same territory as David Halberstam’s The Children.

Halberstam himself appears here briefly as a young reporter but Lewis imbues it with his own observations as a participant. He is at times so self-effacing in this memoir that he underplays his role in the events he helped create. But he has a sharp eye, and his account of Selma and the march that followed is vivid and personal. He describes the rivalries within the movement as well as the enemies outside.

After being forced out of SNCC because of internal politics, Lewis served in President Carter’s domestic peace corps, dabbled in local Georgia politics, then in 1986 defeated his old friend Julian Bond in a race for Congress, where he still serves. Lewis notes that people often take his quietness for meekness. His book, a uniquely well-told testimony by an eyewitness, makes clear that such an impression is entirely inaccurate.—Publishers Weekly

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar’s changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America’s economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan’s bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar’s dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today.

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Pictures and Progress

Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity

Edited by Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith

Pictures and Progress explores how, during the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, prominent African American intellectuals and activists understood photography’s power to shape perceptions about race and employed the new medium in their quest for social and political justice. They sought both to counter widely circulating racist imagery and to use self-representation as a means of empowerment. In this collection of essays, scholars from various disciplines consider figures including Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and W. E. B. Du Bois as important and innovative theorists and practitioners of photography. In addition, brief interpretive essays, or “snapshots,” highlight and analyze the work of four early African American photographers. Featuring more than seventy images, Pictures and Progress brings to light the wide-ranging practices of early African American photography, as well as the effects of photography on racialized thinking.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 16 July 2012




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