The Village Well Coffee and Books upheld its reputation as Culver City’s community center hosting a very well attended and enthusiastic celebration of Black History Month on Feb. 23, 2023. The event featured local elected officials Congresswoman Sydney Kamlager, Vice Mayor Yasmine Imani McMorrin and School Board member Triston Ezidore, in addition to poets Shannon Theus and Leah Johnson, and local activist Dr. Giovanni Washington.
All those who spoke kept soul central and serious, with acknowledgements of past daring and disappointments, as well as future plans and dreams.
The crowd filled the room while the weather outside changed from hail to rain to cold winds, the warmth of the gathering continued to build. When Theus opened the program with poetry from Maya Angleou, Langston Hughes and a final poem that was her own work, her playful vivacity brought smiles through the crowd. When Johnson recited her poem ‘I know of a house,’ (full text included below,) the mood was so intense and electrical, she paused several times while the audience responded with applause and cheers. Ezidore was so moved by her work, he had to compose himself for a long moment before he could speak.
Ezidore noted the unanimous vote at a recent CCUSD School Board meeting for a plan to specifically support Black students as evidence that things could change, and that giving young people access to educational support would continue the changes needed to create real equity in our culture.
Dr. Giovanni Washington, reading from Dr. Christena Cleveland’s book ‘God is a Black Woman,’ observed that “we define liberation by what it’s not; anti-racism, or anti-violence,” noting that the negative terms could only reflect what they wanted to reach to the other side of. “How we define liberation frames our pursuit of it.”
The mission of Black History Month, to remind and affirm the realities of Black American stories, was also put into poetry by Congresswoman Kamlager reading Langston Hughes’ iconic poem ‘Let America Be America Again.’
Vice Mayor McMorrin was the final speaker, reflecting on philosopher bell hooks ‘All About Love’ and the need to continue the work of opening up local government to representation reflecting the population.
The last round of applause for the night went to the artists whose work was on display at the cafe, and each one came forward to receive a commendation for their work from the congresswoman.
The sense of camaraderie and kinship in the room was tangible, and the diversity of the crowd was a clear reflection on the importance of harvesting history, and seeding the future.
Photo- Kamlager, Ezidore and McMorrin give certificates to participating artists.
Leah Johnson – I know of a house
I know of a house
I know of a beautiful house that sits in the middle of the street
I used to think the placement was odd but I never questioned it
I was taught that this was how it’s supposed to be
It sits quietly in all of its beauty, in place of a life that once was
A bright green lawn, a white fence, neatly painted on the outside
but the inside of the house is what they hide from us
They don’t show the rotting of the wood or the chipping paint
Or how it leans too far to the right
Or how the system was only made to benefit those who are white
Or how they expect our black men to be in cells before they even get to experience life
How they allow racist minds to decide the difference between wrong and right and expect us not to fight for our own rights
How they can illustrate our moments of frustration but are somehow deaf to our cries
How they used our bodies to build a system, that uses its power to tear our community apart right in front of our eyes
How the grass is only green because it pulls life from the bones of black lives
How it only thrives because its roots in the ground have threaded themselves into this countries spine
How the beauty of it is only a disguise
We all know of a beautiful house that sits in the middle of the street
The purpose of its placement to erase a beautiful history
I was taught that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be
They made it so the color of my skin would define me
So that I was labeled inferior before I could mold my own identity
They took my voice away before I knew that i could breathe
To keep us from feeling peace, to keep us from being free
In fear that we’ll dismantle their manmade hierarchy
This house sits quietly, in all of its corruptness, and we know what lies inside
A broken system, built in statistics waiting to claim yet another life, people in power fighting aggressively to keep the divide
We’ve had these conversations
But none of us ever go in this house
We just like to pass by
Leah Johnson is a Senior at Culver City High School