Posts Tagged ‘Divine’

Request for an omission shows the need for inclusion

February 11, 2010

I am an angel.

I am dark.

Dark as mother earth.

I am an angel.

I am a black angel.

Feel my spark.

I performed my original song, “Black Angel,” at Colored Pencils Art and Culture, One-Year Anniversary Celebration at City Hall this past month.

Colored Pencils is, in the words of founder and Portland artist Nim Xuto, “…a group of newcomers, poets, artists and like-minded people of all colors who gather together once a month to sing, read poetry, and perform in our native languages.”

I am golden.

I am goddess.

I am dark.

I am divine.

Singing my own words, my own truth, for an audience is an exhilarating, humbling and nerve-wracking experience. My dormant familiar inner dialogue never fails to resuscitate immediately before I begin: “Did you practice enough? No. Relax, it’s the words, Sharon.” Nevertheless, gladly taking the stage I smile, inhale, invoking supporting spirits. Strumming and singing my heart, the universe cradles me, the audience smiles back at me. They are listening to my words.

I am regal.

I am rebel.

I am dark.

I am divine.

A man approached me afterward. Shaking my hand, he tells me how much he enjoyed my song. He remains standing before me. I feel my being expand in the warmth of his admiration and I remember the little girl in Jamaica shyly confessing that my song made her cry happy tears. Present again, I await this man’s continued, sure to be complimentary, commentary.

“… But you need to take out the ‘black.’”

Eloquence, articulacy and pride escape me, rapidly deflating me. Discombobulated, a tad perturbed, I am ready to jettison my halo, pluck my wings and climb into conveniently materialized cloven hooves. Miraculously, recovering vocabulary and sense, I am able to exclaim: “I am black.” Momentarily relieved as I glimpse my white angel friend (a.k.a. potential ally) in my, thankfully, re-expanding scope of view, I am quickly forced to refocus while contemplating whether angels can, indeed, fly backward.

Nobody ever talks about angels like me.

I can move mountains.

I have birthed seas.

Transmigrated, I right my halo and fluff my wings.

“You need to take out the ‘black,’” the man repeats in a soft, but menacing tone, akin to that of a concerned but seething parent.

Reconnected, mercifully, with my inner seraph, I patiently explain that I sing of black angels to counter the accepted norm, or mythology, that angels are only white. I shared my belief that we humans are angels, too, and we appear in every color. Sadly, I did not assuage his fears. He stomped off repeating his warning that I needed to take the “black” out.

Where angels are concerned, black angels are not often considered, nor depicted. If they are, they are dismissed as white angels gone astray; the fallen, the naughty anomaly, or quite simply a sullied one covered in soot.

In this life I know there is a lesson in every surprise, every disappointment – every happening. I am grateful for this truth, even as I ponder the pedagogy. The “art of gratitude,” unlike “the art of the guitar,” which I have a tendency to wing, I do practice, regularly. So, thank you white angel in men’s clothing, for liking my song and requesting that I eradicate the “black.”

In these our multicultural times we humans/angels habitually find ourselves mired in the black and white divide of good versus evil. I sing “Black Angel” as antidote to the poison of that gap, or as a tool to use, if one wishes, to assist in navigating your own way out of the quagmire.

Thank you also for teaching me that I need to dare to keep singing “Black Angel.” Try to remember, you, too, are an angel. You, too, are divine, and, as you did concede, angels do come in all colors. You are free to choose your own hue, however I reiterate:

I am golden.

I am goodness.

I am dark.

I am a black angel.

I am.

I am.

I am divine.

This column originally appeared in the January 2010, edition of The Southwest Community Connection newspaper

Where I am from

January 22, 2010

I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from sorrow and sadness and survival and shame
I am from whippings and welts and wounds and weeping
I am from broken promises and pride and palpable pain
I am from struggle and survival and assimilation and success
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from unresolved grief and joy and untruths and blind rage
I am from maligned myths and mutilated memories and hunger and hurt
I am from detachment and deception and disappointment and dreams
I am from learned malaproprism and miseducation and petrified hearts
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from imposed schizophrenia and divinity denied
I am from beatings and bashings and banishment and betrayal
I am from coughed up colonialism and regurgitated rhetoric
I am from misappropriated majesty and ingested iniquity
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from laughter and distrust and religious oppression
I am from the fable of good versus evil and heaven and hell
I am from serpents and mermaids and magic and melanin
I am from stolen stories and language and lineage and lore
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from fear and forgotten and humanity hindered
I am from rehabilitated human relics reassembled all wrong
I am from beauty and darkness and inviolate inner strength
I am from currency corruption and conquest and con
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from ancestors restless and whispering wisdom
I am from ancestors uprising and possessing and guiding
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing
I am from love

Nightmarish encounter leads to friendship, faith

January 22, 2010

I would rather be caught running down the street naked between spa appointments!

This was the predominant thought in my mind the morning after a dead (yes, dead as in deceased) neighbor, had “popped over” uninvited, bearing messages he wished me to deliver to his, very much alive, wife.

He believed that I could calmly knock on her door, a woman with whom I had exchanged passing hellos, but was not a familiar, and boldly state: “Hello. How are you? Oh, by the way, Bob* says to tell you he’s fine.”

This catholic lady would surely run me off her front porch brandishing, if I were lucky, a broom, shrieking: “Witch! Devil’s disciple! Somebody stone her!” Or else, she would fall down in a dead faint. Dead being the operative word and I would be found guilty of murder in the first degree due to my meddling on the “other side.” Nope, I was not going there. Somebody help me with my zipper, please?

I will not go into great detail here, but suffice it to say, during Bob’s spectral social call, I alternated between cackling at his jokes and recoiling in panic, belligerently demanding to know what the bloody hell he wanted and why me. And I wondered, had I crossed over to the other side, or simply snoozed my way into insanity? Dreamless sleep eventually redirected me from the nightmare.

Waking the next morning, something told me that the night’s phantasm had not been merely a dream, and that I did, indeed, have a delivery to make. Which is how I came to be contemplating a naked dash through the west hills. I excavated “to-do” lists from clear back in the Neolithic age that day – anything to prevent me from complying.

My ego sang me a cacophonous canon, foretelling my fate should I dare to play spiritual carrier pigeon.

“You’ll be known as the town witch. A black witch!” it keened. “People will laugh at you. Think of your children. You’ll end up the anti-social, angry hag kids torment, a crumpled old lady who hungers for human contact, but lives instead with 37 feral cats and grows out her chin hair.”

In tandem with this raucous rhetoric, I heard an incessant but kindly whisper: “You’ll not sleep until you tell.” If I had not crossed over into crazy the night before, I was spiraling rather rapidly into its abyss now. When suddenly, tranquilized, I surrendered. I made the conscious decision to do as I was told, and accept whatever consequences. In that moment I was alchemist. I met magic. With a flick of my free will my physical boundaries vanished and I became one with the air, a mass of effervescence somersaulting this way and that, in dark, inky ether.

Magic propelled me to my neighbor’s house. It maneuvered my feet up the driveway. It encouraged me as I rang the doorbell and stood for eternity in the silent darkness until, gratefully, determining no one was home, I turned to leave. A light came on. Magic ditched me (or so I believed).

Dale* stood in the doorway eyeing me expectantly. In one explosive exhale, I blurted: “You might think I’m crazy after I have said this I’ll understand if you do but I have to do this I have a message from Bob.”

I steeled myself for the blow. To my surprise, Dale gently took my hands: “Come inside,” she invited. Stupefied, I followed. She led me to a familiar room, (I had never before been inside her home), sat me down.

“Tell me what happened?” she enquired.

I visited with Dale for some time. She shared photos and stories of her life with Bob. I was humbled both by what I had been privy to and her trust in me. Leaving I confessed my terror-fueled reluctance and thanked her profusely for receiving me so graciously. She thanked me for my courage and, my faith.

I delivered a message to my neighbor and I discovered faith.

I discovered that faith is knowing in your heart, the right thing to do, acknowledging and accepting the risk of ridicule, and exposing yourself anyway – fully clothed.

*Names have been changed.

This article originally appeared in December, 2009 edition of The Southwest Community Connection newspaper

Little one’s jaw-dropping question reveals similarities, friendship

November 19, 2009

Different. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the word “different” means: not alike, dissimilar, not the same, distinct, unlike most others, unusual, various. All perfectly benign definitions, wouldn’t you say? I mean a daisy is indeed not the same as a daffodil, and it is definitely distinct from a dahlia.

Who among us would be perturbed should one of our offspring, or a child in our charge, question out loud as to why a daisy is so much shorter than a daffodil? Few, I suspect. Why then do we adults have a tendency to become conversationally impotent, embarrassed and even angry when similar enquiry is made about dissimilar characteristics in human beings?

Strolling along Waikiki Beach with my sons Moses and Malik (who at that time were ages 3 and 1, respectively), a little person with a parrot on his shoulder walked toward us. I immediately began to panic – and it was not because of the parrot. I silently prayed that Moses would not notice the little man, (the parrot would have, of course, been fine, but dear Lord, not the man) and surreptitiously quickened my pace.

Alas, ’twas not to be. Sharp-eyed and precocious Moses clocked the man and promptly bellowed: “Mummy, why is that man so short?” As I struggled for composure and tried to convince myself that nobody else had heard his “whisper,” he barreled on: “Does he talk?”

Had the sands, at that moment, parted and Mother Earth swallowed me whole, leaving my children waifs and strays in unfamiliar and potentially hostile territory, I would have thanked her profusely. Unfortunately, salvation via terra was not to be mine. The atmosphere inhaled, the tide froze in ebb, and a million eyeballs assaulted me, boing-ing maniacally in my peripheral vision. There was nowhere to run to, if I could have managed movement. Trapped and struck dumb, peering down I met Moses’ expectant “curiosity colored in innocence” expression. My mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, I ineffectively sucked at the air. Finally, mercifully, the incognito wise woman within me responded: “I don’t know Moses, why don’t you ask him?” All at once a gentle breeze blew, the tide flowed, and eyeballs retreated to sockets. Or maybe, it was simply that, delivered from fear, I was breathing again.

Moses spoke to the little man, discovering that he did indeed talk, even though he remained short, and for the rest of our holiday they were beach buddies on first-name terms. The man (I must confess, I have forgotten his name, but not the lesson learned) thanked me for seeing the human in him, and ultimately giving my child permission to do the same.

Somewhere along the line in our civilization we have learned that “different” when applied to human beings – whether it be difference in skin color, physical ability, attributes, sexual orientation, gender or stature – can be something not nice, something abnormal, something less than, something not to be discussed (or acknowledged for that matter) in polite conversation, and certainly not with the children.

But different is a fact of life. Different is, as the sky is, as the wind is, simple, natural, nature’s gift, and oh so necessary. Variety, as that trite (but true) expression states, is the spice of life.

A dahlia is different from a daisy. I am different from you, as you are different from Moses, as he is different from that little man in Hawaii. It is nothing to be ashamed of – no need for shrouding in secrecy and silence. Ultimately, you and I, and he, and we, are all, magnificently human.

So, let us each commit to honoring our differences, but celebrating our sameness, our oneness in humanity. And the next time a child in your life lustily expresses their curiosity about a fellow human being, don’t shush, or shame (or wish for the ground to eat you). Dare to dialogue out loud and proud. You will learn something potent and, who knows, you might make a new friend.

This article originally appeared in the November, 2009, edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

Love sometimes means letting go

September 11, 2009

I love to watch my sons play soccer. It’s exhilarating observing their finesse on the field as they charge around like wild mustang in focused abandon. Their skillful control of their feet and the ball conjures images of graceful gazelles darting through the African savannah.

On a recent Saturday morning, I was watching my son Moses’ Westside Metro team, called “Revolution,” play. It was a sensational game of fast, intelligent soccer, the boys passing and juggling the ball, dancing, almost, in harmony. Then, Moses went down, hard, and so did my heart – dropped right out of me, taking my breath with it.

I stood frozen in fear as Moses lay writhing on the turf in obvious pain.

The black panther, or mother lion, in me bared teeth and prepared to pounce, wanting desperately to retrieve him, carry him off to the safety of shelter and lick his wounds all better. But, the all-too-human Sharon in me, sensitive to the feelings of a 13-year-old classic soccer-playing youth, squelched the big cat’s roar and stayed put.

I willed steel pins through the soles of my feet pinioning me. I didn’t trust myself to not shape shift and spring free without them. And then I silently begged for divine intervention.

I implored God, Goddess, Universe, any deity who would listen: “Let him be OK. Let him not be badly injured. Please. Please. PLEASE?” I pleaded, chanting in mantra. No response. Moses remained wincing and squirming on the ground.

Fighting desperately to stay put on the sidelines, I dug my conjured steel pins deeper into Mother Earth. Eventually, surrendering, I resigned myself to making bargains with the almighty white, bearded, smiting dude, when Moses rose unsteadily to his feet. My breath returned exultant. But Moses could barely walk. Each belabored step he took trod footprints into my heart.

A soccer field is large but, as I watched Moses limping across the land, a tiny, solitary urchin, it appeared the size of North America. It became increasingly excruciating to watch him shuffle lamely by, pulsing with pride, pain and disappointment. His ambulatory impediment goaded me, daring me to intervene.

Delirious with anxiety, I witnessed a chasm open between my injured offspring and his fellow teammates, and before my eyes, he metamorphosized. It was no longer Moses out there alone in the center of a continent-sized soccer field, it was me. Me, solitary, rejected, ostracized, betrayed, abandoned, an outsider, exposed and vulnerable, all alone in the U. S. of A.

Visually schizophrenic now – one minute it was Moses on the soccer field, the next it was me in America – I couldn’t take it anymore. I was going in to save him. Sod his teenage pride, he’d get over it. He needed me.

Suddenly, an “angel” in chartreuse-colored cleats swooped in, putting his arm around Moses’ shoulder, lifting him off his injured leg, supporting him in his walk off the field. My breath took its leave again. As I struggled to keep my composure, another “angel” swept in supporting Moses from the other side. My heart swelled to bursting. A liberating howl of joy, gratitude, and relief, percolated and boiled over in torrents of tears within me. I exhaled: “Hallelujah!”

Moses’ world was not my world. Moses was part of the team. His teammates cared for him. He was accepted.

Emotionally recalibrated, sensitive again to teenage emotion, I bit down hard on my lower lip. This to prevent creating a noisy, runny-nosed scene that most definitely would have resulted in my being carted off in a straightjacket, thereby terminally embarrassing my son – a crime for which I would never be pardoned. I didn’t try to hide, however, the healing salty tears that trickled from my eyes as I sheepishly confessed to another soccer-mom how the players’ show of unaffected, spontaneous, active love had deeply touched me.

Call me naïve, call me gullible, call me cliché, but I am telling you, standing on the sidelines of a soccer field at the aptly named Powerlines Park, I saw love incarnate.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons and several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.

This article originally appeared in the September 2009, edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

It’s scary, but true! I think that growth, maturity and liberty is achieved when we can recognize when it is time to, and then, let go.

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part I

February 19, 2009

I realize this post is very long and I know how intimidating streams of words can be, so I have broken this posting down into five parts for ease of perusal, if you are so inclined.

Sincerely,

Sharon
__________ 

Friday, January 30, 2009 I set out to conduct a children’s story time at Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, in north Portland. I had been invited to do this by Krakow Koffeehouse & Café owner, Mark Kirchmeier. I was planning to read my children’s picture books Max and Me, Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! I Love Bugs! And Uh! Oh! Where Did Baby Go? This story telling was to be my first of 2009, and more significantly, my first reading during the brand new “historic” Presidency of Barack Obama, a president of color, whose message of hope and change knits nicely with the message of my mission – that we are all, no matter our color, culture, or nationality, inherently the same – we are all human beings in this world together entitled to respect, dignity, hope, truth and love.

A no-school-Friday, I brought my sons along with me to the Krakow Koffeehouse & Café story telling. Story time was 10:00 AM and we arrived energized and excited to entertain the little ones. I had planned not only stories, but songs – I was going to sing my original composition, “What Color Are You? You’re The Color Of Love.” – and art activities.

We entered Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, one son carrying a display stand, another carrying my guitar and me with my book bag. I approached the counter. There was a tall, bespectacled, white, male, behind the counter on one side serving a customer, across the other side a woman with long light brown hair wearing a white sweatshirt, appeared to cleaning. Neither employee acknowledged my presence, but giving the benefit of doubt, I waited a moment for the man to finish with the customer. Time ticked on. When there was still no acknowledgement of my presence, I politely interrupted the tall, bespectacled, white, male, “Excuse me, is Mark here?”  I enquired (Mark being, Mark Kirchemeier, the owner of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, by whom I had been invited me to do story time.)

The tall, bespectacled, white, male, responded curtly, “Mark is not here, but we’re ready for you.” Taken aback that although I had not been acknowledged upon entering Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, this employee was well aware of who I was, and why I was there. This realization unnerved me somewhat, but I shook it off and proceeded to enquire as to where to set up for story time, turning my body to point to the area in question behind me.

When I turned back toward the counter the male employee was saying “Outstanding.” I detected a sneer and condescension in his tone but then, as the sweatshirt clad, white, female, employee was now standing beside him, I questioned whether or not he was indeed speaking to me. To clarify things for myself, I asked him if he had been speaking to me. He responded loudly, “I was speaking to her.” pointing to the female employee in the white sweatshirt. At this I said, “I was talking to you. I asked you where I should set up.” He then said, “When someone turns their back on you, it means they are finished with you.”

Thinking that he thought I had turned by back on him and attempting to clear up the confusion, I began to explain that I had not turned my back on him, but had merely turned to indicate to him where I might set up. He then shouted, “When someone turns their back on you, it means they are finished with you. I turned my back on you. I was done with you.” Still, not wanting to fully comprehend what was going on, I continued to argue my innocence. Suddenly, a white, woman with multiple piercings on her visage, charged over and began screaming at me that she had heard what I said, she was a customer and they, all the other customers, heard what I said. At this point the tall, bespectacled, white, male, fully unleashed his hostility and screamed “See, everyone in here heard what you said.” With a sweeping gesture, encompassing everyone on the premises, he then proclaimed that “See we all know what you say more than you people.”

With his “you people” comment, there was no longer any dodging comprehension for me. From the time I entered the premises of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café and was rendered invisible, my intuition had been willing me to see the truth, but I had bestowed the benefit of the doubt upon my fellow human beings inhabiting the premises at that time.

Slapped to reality I remembered that my sons were with me, watching this all and I worried for them. I tried to locate them, but my senses assaulted, I was rendered temporarily blind and I couldn’t see them. It was as if I were in the center of concentric circles – or a Roman amphitheatre, panicking, with lions slowly, arrogantly, circling – rapidly spinning, out of control, the outside circle rotating, morbidly slowly, in the opposite direction, everything warping in and out of focus; the only thing clear, sharp, and in focus, were the words and the hatred propelling them, which pierced my very being.

As I looked around Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, I caught the eyes of each of the four or five patrons (all of whom were white) who were inside in addition to the male and female employee, and the irate multi-pierced white, female, customer. I looked at every one of them beeseechingly, yet no one stood up nor spoke up. They burrowed their buttocks deeper into their seats; buried their faces in their coffee, cell phone and newspaper. One man looked at me with that “Can you believe this?” look then returned to his phone call. Another smiled sweetly at me on his way out the door. 

When finally I regained my equilibrium and located my sons, I knew I could not read my books in that environment. (My stories are full of truth, laced with whimsy and joy; they’re about equality, love and humanity.) I asked the boys to put my things back in the car, telling them “I cannot conduct a story telling here.”

The tall, bespectacled, white, male employee and the multi-pierced woman, both fired “Good. Get out we don’t want you here.” The woman then ripped a flyer with my photograph on it promoting the event, from a sandwich board, crumpling it in her hands saying, “I’ve seen your picture and you’re not very good.” I shook my head, wondering what my photograph could possibly say about my story telling abilities and began to follow my sons out the door. The tall, bespectacled, white, male, bellowed after us. “Thank God.” (My youngest son clued me in later that what the multi-pierced angry, white, female had meant was that she didn’t think my pictures were very good.)

We returned the guitar and other items to my car. I was about to leave when I decided that I needed to at least let Mark Kirchmeier, the owner, know why I would not be fulfilling my obligation and doing story time. I returned to the store to request a phone number at which I could contact him directly. I was told by the tall, bespectacled, white, male employee to get out. I tried explaining that, as a professional, I needed to let Mark know why I was leaving. The male employee continued to tell me to get out, eventually shrieking, “You need to show me respect.” (In my world respect is earned and you certainly don’t earn mine by ill-treating me.) Then, determined, it would seem, to obliterate any remnants of doubt in my mind as to whom, and what exactly, I was dealing with, the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee vociferated “I don’t know where you’re from, but you’re in my country now.”

Evidently emboldened, the multi-pierced, white, female customer lunged at me, arms flailing, shouting in my face that every one of the customers (waving her arms for emphasis, including them in her sweep) felt threatened by me and that she was calling the police. 

I will confess, that at this time, like a bull at a red flag, all I could see was her silver nose ring, taunting me, tempting me, daring me… It took all my will to not shove my little finger between it and her snout, and pull, really, really, hard. You will be happy to know I did restrain myself. For this I thank my angels, my intuition, or maybe it was the “friendly” immigration officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, this past July, who after informing my two sons that they had more rights than I did; that they could vote (my sons were, at that time, 12 and 10 years old,) proceeded to tell me that should I “so much as hit someone, I would be sent back home (to England.)” (Now don’t get me wrong, I have no problem returning to my birthplace, I would however, prefer to do it under my own volition.)

At the time, I remember wondering, fretting actually, as to why such a “genial” welcome back to the Country for sweet little me. Friday, January 30, 2009, at approximately 9:50 AM, standing face to nose-ring attached to an out of control, bigoted, white, female, in Krakow Koffeehouse and café, my pinky twitching, it became awesomely, audibly, clear – complete with southern drawl. But that’s another story for a later blog.

The irate multi-pierced, white, female, customer picked up the phone, waved it at me and threatened, “I’m calling the police.” When that, to her surprise, didn’t scare me, she challenged, “I’m dialing the number…” I told her to go ahead. I am not afraid of the police. (I must say I did get the distinct impression that I was supposed to be afraid.) I had done nothing wrong, unless you count attempting to fulfill the obligations of a story telling invitation, entering the premises, head held high while abundantly melanistic, and expecting to be treated, like anyone else, as a human being – with respect and dignity. 

 Continued/Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part II

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part II

February 19, 2009

Anyway, as I began to take my leave once and for all, Sunshine Dixon, of the Urban League of Portland, entered. I have never been so glad to see Sunshine. Believing she would have a contact number for Mark Kirchmeier, I felt my current dilemma of relaying a message to Mark, solved. I informed Sunshine that I was leaving, telling her “I cannot conduct a story time here.” (For background, Sunshine initiated contact between Mark of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café and me. She had explained that his “global” coffee shop was also an art gallery and he was looking for a diverse mix of artists to adorn the walls and provide entertainment on his premises. I had contacted him on her recommendation. We met and he subsequently expressed an interest in carrying my product, and invited me to conduct a (and possibly several) story time.)

I explained everything to Sunshine and asked her for Mark’s number. Sunshine confidently said, “I’ll take care of this.” She too was met with unbridled hostility. The multi-pierced, angry, white, woman continued to bleat at me telling me to get out and threatening me with the police. Sunshine attempted to both locate Mark Kirchmeier and reason respectfully with the irascible multi-pierced, white, woman. Eventually she tamed enough to ask derisively of Sunshine, “Why are we still dealing with her? (pointing to me) Are you her sister?

Standing talking with Sunshine, suddenly I heard “miss.” I turned to find the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, standing by me, face and body turned away from me, holding the phone contemptuously out toward me. 

I stepped so that I could look into his face and he would have to look into mine. I did not reach for the phone. Refusing to look at me, he, the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, contorted his neck and body, and jabbed the phone at me, saying disdainfully, “It’s for you. It’s Mark the owner.” I was not about to take the phone until he acknowledged me and so I continued to look at him in utter amazement, willing him to recognize my humanity. Alas, ‘twas not to be. The tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee ceremoniously dropped the telephone to the floor at my feet and ambled away.

Stunned I could not believe this was happening. I looked around the room, scanning the faces of the patrons who all, to a person, sat passively by, their reticence smirking at me.

Awakened from my stupor by my son’s movement and fearing he might pick up the phone, I readied myself to knock it out of his hands. A law-abiding, conscious, member of society, I am proud to say that my son kicked that phone away from me. 

Well, this gesture of self-respect and pride sent multi-pierced, angry, white, woman into a tailspin. She began bellowing that we were now damaging property and she was definitely calling the police.

Interestingly, or should I say, revealingly, it is now that the adult patrons of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café were compelled to action – almost baying for the blood of my 13 year old who had simply, unlike any one of them, courageously stood up for something, for his mother, for himself, his brother, for people of color, for humanity.

Sunshine was now on the telephone with Mark Kirchmeier, the owner of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café. He apparently was begging me to stay and wait for him because he was “only ten minutes away.” I finally had had enough. I gathered my children and began to leave again. Still breathing fire, multi-pierced, angry, white, woman, customer, followed behind me ranting, “Yeah! Get out.” “Who do you think you are? There’s only one British Queen.”

Finally outside of that toxic environment and inhaling the unexpectedly magnificent fresh air of highly- trafficked, North Interstate, I remembered a friend of mine was coming to the story time with her children and I rushed to call her to dissuade her from coming. Unfortunately, or fortunately, she was literally around the corner and pulled in simultaneously. Sensing something wrong, she quickly parked and rushed out of the car. I began to recount what had happened and I broke down sobbing. (Still, two weeks later, my spirit sobs when it hits me what my sons and I experienced, and I feel, like thumps on my person, the arrogant superiority of the perpetrators whom, somewhere in their being, believed such bigoted treatment justified, because we were in their eyes, different; in the words of the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, “…not from here” and therefore not entitled, as other paler people, to humane treatment.

I laugh, sorrowfully, when I think about how the stories I was going to read were about inclusiveness and the fact that, though we might be different on the exterior, we were all ultimately, inherently the same – human. I was going to sing my song “What Color Are you? You’re The Color Of Love!”

While my friend was consoling me, an anxious Mark Kirchmeier came scurrying down the street. He nervously asked me what happened. I told him, sharing how his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee had used the eponymous “You people” to refer to me. I too told him how that same employee had screeched at me, “I don’t know where you’re from but you’re in my country now.” I spared him no detail.

He ran inside Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, coming back outside to state, “Well, we have a classic case of he said, she said.” At no time did he, the person who had invited me to conduct the story time, invite me inside so that we could discuss things all together and “sort things out.” He did, however, proceed to tell me that his employee’s social skills were “rough around the edges.” I asked “And you have him working in a coffee shop?” He also informed me that the multi-pierced, angry, white, female, customer, was his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee’s girlfriend.

He then tried to assuage my feelings and wipe the slate clean, by offering me the chance to do story time on another day, “any other time I wanted” were his words. Shocked that he would ask, I told him that no I would never. When my friend who found the whole thing quite ironic knowing me, my books and my message, asked him if he had any sense of what it is I do. Why I do what I do. Why I write and illustrate the books I write; why I sing the songs I sing? Seeming confused, his response to her was “Well, we would still like to carry her children’s books and products.” 

Incredulous at Mark’s attempts to appease me and negate my experience, I communicated to him emphatically, that his employee’s actions were racist. Mark recoiled, horrified that I had dared to not only identify the elephant in the room, but also the piles of doo-doo on the floor. Then, shamefacedly, asked me, all the while looking down at the floor “So, you don’t think it was just that he was rude, you think it crossed the line into racism? You don’t think you’re being…” Mark didn’t complete that question, though I, staring at the edge of his spectacles (for he still would not look me in the eye,) willed him to do it.

Next thing, wouldn’t you know, a police car pulled up, parked, and the policeman entered Krakow Koffeehouse & Café. Mark took off back to his business. A minute or so later another police car pulled up. This time a policeman replete in bulletproof vest and ammo belt sprinted across the street into the coffee shop.

Susanne and I continued talking on the sidewalk for a little while longer. Neither Mark, policeman number one, or number two, nor anyone else from inside Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, approached me for any, or, additional information.

 Continued/Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part III 

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part III

February 19, 2009

Returning to my car I glanced in the window of Krakow Coffeehouse & Café. I was shocked and offended to see Sunshine (who too had been the recipient of, and witness to, a racially motivated assault,) conducting a story time that I had, in good conscience, chosen not to do, due to the racist environment. Seeing Sunshine sitting there I was so angry. I felt slapped, no punched and stabbed in the back – she might just as well have put on black face and danced.

Watching her gushing and grinning all I saw was someone trying desperately to be seen to be perfectly fine with everything, unlike the uppity Negress, namely me, on the other side of the window. What I saw was her condoning their racism, siphoning off their hatred for them and swallowing it down, trying hard not to wince as its bitter rancidity tore apart her innards, and all the while ensuring that they didn’t feel bad. Her actions said to me “I’m not like her Massa. I won’t make you feel bad Massa. No. No. You just give me whatever you feel I’m worth Massa. What’s that you sayin’ Massa? You need to kick somethin’ Massa? Here I am sir, I’m layin’ down for you Massa. Kick me hard Massa. I can take it. Jus’ please, please, please, Massa, don’t make me go back in the field. I’m beggin’ you Massa…

As I replayed the scene in my mind later that day, my anger abated, settling to a profound sadness. She was only doing what “sane,” “safe,” “sensible,” black people who know their place do. Shutter your heart, shroud your soul, swallow your pride, but keep on working, keep on doing, keep on trying to prove your worth, prove you are just as good, just like those of the dominant culture.

Don’t just catch the filth thrown at you, ingest it, rub it in your pores, be a willing receptacle, but be sure to keep one eye and your nostrils open so you can continue to see, and smell, the ever elusive prize – that prize being, equality in humanity -, because someday you will have that prize, someday you will be worthy, someday when you’re broken enough, maybe when you’re “dead” enough, it will be yours? Someday they will let you win it. Won’t they?

Now that black people are free. (Come on you people, there’s one of your own sitting and shitting in the White House and we’re no longer hanging you now are we?) Free to accept whatever the dominant culture deigns to discharge on us; free to swallow our anger – eat it into sickness, so that we can still have access to the crumbs that might be tossed our way as long as we bend low enough, assimilate enough, work hard enough, stay in our bucket. Pardon me, my mistake, I meant place.

A couple of hours later Mark Kirchmeier telephoned me, enquiring as to whether it was a good time to talk. Before I could respond, he launched into the reason for his call. “I wanted to call and let you know what I have done with my staff. I have given Ben (that it turns out is the name of the tall, bespectacled, white, male, “coffee mixer and pourer,” aka barista) a reprimand and I have banned his girlfriend from the store.

He then kindly shared with me that Ben had thirteen years coffee experience so … he knew a lot, and he (Mark,) didn’t want to fire him at this time. Was he concerned about finding a suitable replacement? In this time when jobs being lost like hair follicles on a balding pate!  Poor, poor, Markie would surely have a monstrous time finding a suitable replacement for the socially inept (my British translation of Mark’s words) Ben. I mean, it’s intellectually taxing pouring boiling water on coffee grounds all day long. But, I digress.

Mark then informed me that it was in fact the girlfriend whom had uttered “I don’t know where you’re from, but you’re in my country now.” Aware of what he was attempting I firmly corrected him and reiterated that the comment had come direct from the mouth of his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee. (I reminded him that it was the multi-pierced, angry, white, girlfriend whom had made the “…there is only one British queen” retort.) He conceded saying, “But that’s a racist comment? When I concurred. Mark plummeted into a whine of how dazed and shaken he was by what had happened.

At this point, my patience expired. Not only had this man not called to apologize, rewritten my story, presumptuously retelling it to me (all in an attempt to justify not dealing with his racist employee, thereby sidestepping his own racism,) he was now going to try to elicit sympathy from me.

I was standing in line at the checkout in Trader Joes; it definitely was not a good time to talk, and had Mark given me the chance I would have informed him of that fact, but, I believe everything happens for a reason and so I let him have it, in a proper, regal, British way.

I told him that he couldn’t even begin to feel what I was feeling when I set out that morning to conduct a story time filled with inclusiveness and love and that on entering his business I had made the mistake of expecting to be treated with respect and humanity and that I had, instead, been met with disdain and racism. I then informed him that this was not a good time to talk.

Driving to my home later that day, I suddenly felt exposed, and afraid – what if those hate filled people knew where I lived. I felt afraid for my children’s safety, my own safety and the safety of my home.

I received the following email from Sunshine Dixon that afternoon:

I am sorry about the event today
Sent By: “Sunshine Dixon”   
On:   Jan 01/30/09 11:23 AM

Sharon

I am heartsick about what took place today. My heart goes out to you and your kids for everything they/you witnessed and felt. This was so unexpected and out of line with what I personally experienced just one week prior. My heart breaks for what I witnessed and experienced today and I am so sorry that you and your kids went through that.

I stayed for half and hour to share with the 9 – 10 little ones who where there for you. The parents are going to check your website for other shows of yours to bring their little ones. They were sorry they missed seeing you and really want to connect with you in the future. I asked them to lookup your website. 

I talked to Mark as well.

I am so sorry to you Sharon and to your little ones for today’s events.

Sunshine Dixon

Yet, she stayed…

The sad thing is Sunshine really believed that directing people to my website and me potentially making a sale or two, would somehow mop up, be the antidote for, the poison liberally poured on my children and me by the inhabitants of “friendly, global, neighborhood, coffeehouse” Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, that morning; actions which, in her own words, had rendered her heartsick. When will humankind (and in this case, particularly, black (the melanistic among us) humankind) learn that Liberty, Truth and Equality are not, contrary to popular belief, commodities for sale to the highest bidder?

Continued/Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part IV 

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part IV

February 19, 2009

The next morning, January 31, 2009, I received this email from Mark Kirkmeier, owner, Krakow Koffee:

RE: I am sorry about the event today

Mark

Sent By: “Mark Kirchmeier” 
On:  Jan 01/31/09 12:15 AM

Dear Sharon,

I had a good conversation with an Overlook parent named Claire Michaels, who came inside Krakow when you were talking with Ben (the tall barista with glasses).   Claire said that she picked up on some tension you were feeling with Ben, but she thought the situation was manageable, and then after the unfortunate phone dropping incident

happened, Ben’s girlfriend (with the nose ring) completely lost it, and starting shouting the “get out of her remarks.”

I am asking the girl friend to write a letter of apology to you.  If she doesn’t do so, she will banned from the store.  I have given Ben a reprimand.

Again, as I mentioned on the phone to you, I am dazed and mind boggled, that a staff person, and an girl friend with evidentally some behavior issues, and who had no business being party to this discussion, could screw up something as benign as a children’s story telling.

One tremendous grace note today, was Sunshine’s graciousness in staying, and giving some of the kids what they had come for, a story telling experience.

You didn’t have do that, Sunshine, and I greatly appreciate you’re doing so.

Sincerely

Mark

Find a white person to contradict, over-sensitive, angry, black person’s (in my case, uppity negress’) story…

It would have been better had Mark continued on in his daze and not “said” another word. However, he felt justified in denying my veracity and taking the word of someone who was not -party to the whole incident over mine. What was it his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, Ben had said? Oh, that’s right. “You see we all know more what you say than “you people.” The truth, as they say, will out. I did not feign a response.

And that staff person is still gainfully employed. Hmm! Let’s weigh things up a little. Racism vs. thirteen years coffee pouring experience, what am I thinking? No comparison!

Mark, obviously no longer dazed and mind boggled, and buoyed by the privilege of his the dominant “his-story” writing culture, continued his march toward domination.

On February, 2, 2009 at 7:30 pm, I received the following email:

written apology forthcoming

Sent By: “Mark Kirchmeier”
On:  Feb 02/03/09 7:30 PM

Sharon,

I have a signed written apology from barista Ben Reed on his behalf and his lady friend, who so spectactularly lost control last Friday.

If you have a fax, I could fax it to you, or mail it to you.

Sincerely,

Mark

That same said multi-pierced, angry, white, female, girlfriend, of the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, whom Mark had banned from his shop? Oh, that’s right, silly me, I had forgotten I’m black, I obviously misheard.

Baited, here is my response.

Mark,

Do not under any circumstances forward me any correspondence from your racist employee, nor his girlfriend. You cannot truly believe that anything you force them to write, coupled with your absolutely insulting email of yesterday, and your telephone call and comments on Friday, during which you shamelessly attempted to explain away your employee’s racist assault, by virtue of social skills that were, as you put it, “rough around the edges,” thereby negating my (and my children’s) experiences, our pain, our truth. But isn’t that the way those types transgressions are always handled?

I am including the text of your email for you to take a long look at. Try reading it out loud, preferably in front of a mirror, looking yourself in the eyes:

From: Mark Kirchmeier

To:

Subject: RE: I am sorry about the event today

Date: January 31, 2009 12:15:47 AM PST

Dear Sharon,

I had a good conversation with an Overlook parent named Claire Michaels, who came inside Krakow when you were talking with Ben (the tall barista with glasses).   Claire said that she picked up on some tension you were feeling with Ben, but she thought the situation was manageable, and then after the unfortunate phone dropping incident happened, Ben’s girlfriend (with the nose ring) completely lost it, and starting shouting the “get out of her remarks.”

I am asking the girl friend to write a letter of apology to you.  If she doesn’t do so, she will banned from the store.  I have given Ben a reprimand.

Again, as I mentioned on the phone to you, I am dazed and mind boggled, that a staff person, and an girl friend with evidentally some behavior issues, and who had no business being party to this discussion, could screw up something as benign as a children’s story telling.

One tremendous grace note today, was Sunshine’s graciousness in staying, and giving some of the kids what they had come for, a story telling experience.

You didn’t have do that, Sunshine, and I greatly appreciate you’re doing so.

Sincerely,

Mark

If you think that I, and my children, can be appeased by empty words penned on paper, when the Truth of the heart and soul of your employees, the patrons of your establishment, and ultimately you yourself, have already been delivered to me loud and clear, at high decibels and in silence, in words, spoken, unsaid, and insinuated, in every action and inaction, then you are even less of a human being than I, at this time, believe you to be.

It is ironic that 10 days after America celebrated (led by liberal progressive Portland, Oregon) the “historic” inauguration of President Barack Obama, in the year 2009, I entered your business, Krakow Coffee, invited by you, to conduct a children’s story time; to read my children’s picture book, Max and Me, a story of friendship highlighting our differences, yet celebrating our similarities, and I was drop-kicked, side-swiped, clear back into the 1950s and 60s – the only thing missing were the police dogs.

For your information Mark, “Max and Me is a story about friendship between two little boys of different colors. (Yes, that’s right, color, not race. There is only one race – the human race.) It is a sweet and funny story that reminds us that we are all the same at heart.”

“In this era of multiculturalism, and a seeming emphasis on our differences, we sometimes forgot that people, no matter their color, or culture, are inherently the same. “Max and Me” is a fun, uplifting story about friendship that illustrates this fact with levity and candor.”  http://www.sharonmartini.com/MaxAndMeReviews.html

It is obviously far more important for you to retain your supremely knowledgeable and experienced (13 years was it) though socially “rough around the edges,” coffee mixer and pourer, (aka barista) and provide free reign to his pierced partner, thereby, maintaining your bottom line – remaining in the black – (pun intended,) than it is for you to stand up for Truth, Love, Liberty and Humanity.

In the words of Henry David Thoreau: If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth–certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

Sincerely,

Sharon 

“Love is not possession. Love is not control. Love is everywhere, everything. Love is not something to hold.” ~ Moi! 5/08
Sharon Martini
Lady Bird Designs, LLC
Wonderfully Whimsical Works of Art by Sharon Martini
www.sharonmartini.com
sharonmartini@mac.com
503-709-7298
www.mummychatter.wordpress.com

Continued/Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part V

Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part V

February 19, 2009

It blows my mind that ten days into this new “historic” Presidency, in liberal progressive Portland, Oregon, when the world is looking at America with new eyes, and the American media are talking “post racial” and the American people are patting themselves on the back for once again dodging that “racist” label, I and my children were caught smack dab in the middle of the hurricane of truth. Racism is not dead (I know this, which is why I do what I do in an attempt to help us all see it for what it is, how it infects us all, how it is perpetuated, sometimes innocently, sometimes not, by human beings who don’t see it for what it is; how it is spread in the air we breath, in the lessons we learn, in the prayers we pray; in the things we see and more often than not, in the things we don’t see. Only when we see it for what it is and own it in ourselves, can we move to change it) it is alive and well and festering in a coffee shop near you.

Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1964, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

While we can, technically, sit anywhere we like on the bus nowadays, and some of the American people did vote for a black President, I am still waiting for that particular dream to come to fruition.

It’s taken me longer than I wanted to be able to write about this experience, purge it from my being, my soul, and I have been frustrated with myself for it, but reading the article (specifically the excerpt copied below) in the February 8th 2009, edition of The Sunday Oregonian, on Oregon’s history with immigrants, I was reassured that everything happens when it needs to.

While Oregon was admitted to the Union as a non-slave state, Oregonians decided the way to avoid racial problems was to bar black residents altogether. Their argument was that by doing so they would abolish the inequalities between the rich and the working class. “I’m going to Oregon, where there’ll be no slaves, and we’ll all start even,” said Capt. R.W. Morrison, a pioneer from Missouri, in 1844, according to historical accounts.

The same argument was later used to bar immigrants of other races: They would bring down wages and establish inequities.

“White Oregonians have associated people of color with hierarchy and disparities,” Peterson del Mar says. “Owning slaves gave you an unfair advantage. Some thought wealthy people would use blacks and immigrants to get wealthier at the expense of regular white men.”

Oregon was the only state admitted to the Union with a black exclusion law in its constitution (Illinois and Indiana had had similar laws, while other states made it difficult for blacks to live there). The state ratified the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed citizenship for all U.S.-born people regardless of race, then rescinded its ratification. Oregon did not ratify the 15th Amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote, until 1959.


I was aware Oregon was a non-slave state, my mistake had been in believing it was a non-slave state due to fact that the people abhorred slavery. I did not know that it was purely because of competitiveness, insecurity, and ultimately, money. Here again, the root of all universal disharmony. Call it my ignorance if you must, but I have spoken to many who were not aware of this fact. Had I, of course, been truly thinking, I would have known better, look what they did to the Native Americans.

However, the contents of that article confirmed for me the existence of ancestral memory of a place and its people. As the spirit of my ancestors, their memories and their grief, rises unbidden in me, the spirit, of a place lives on, takes up residence unbeknownst, in its people, but bolstered by the institutional racism that is the matrix of our conveniently “Obama-frenzied” town today.

It is, I believe, this ancestral memory, that flowed freely through the veins and hearts of the two rabidly bigoted perpetuators of the racist attack on my children and me (and Sunshine too) that Friday morning, January 30, 2009. It also flowed uninhibited through the hearts of everyone else who sat, inside Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, comfortably, complacently, looking, leering, listening and whom, in their rancorous, smirking, silence, corroborated and condoned the actions.

The experience in Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, January 30, 2009, was so shocking, so unexpected, and so deeply painful to me at the time, yet the pain pales in comparison, when I think about what my children perceived that morning. My two little boys, American boys, born and raised here in Portland, Oregon, considered by society, black (defined by the dominant culture as tainted and inferior, not the true definition – powerful, melanistic, “Womb of the World and its people” black) first, other, and therefore, in some minds, unworthy of the spoils of basic human rights.

My oldest son said to me the next day, “Mum, I can’t believe Friday happened.” And later, “Mum, next time I’ll try to protect you better.” I am weeping as I type this.

Nevertheless, I, strengthened by my, intrinsically more powerful, ancestral memory, shall not bend, and I shall not bow. I shall keep walking head held high, strong in my knowledge of the truth of my heart and my soul, that I am whole. I am human. I am.