by Jerome Thompson
PROVIDENCE, RI - On February 6th, 2007, history was made within the Unity Center - the multicultural hub of Rhode Island College (RIC). On this date, with the help of campus chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP), Organization of African Students and Professionals in the Americas (OASPA), and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc., the Unity Center hosted it’s first African American Art Showing. The event was entitled “The Art of Struggle: A Night of Art with Simone Spruce.”
As an art enthusiast, I was thrown off-center, for Spruce’s art work was not only visually stunning, but it also told the story of the struggle of minorities in America. With the pleasure of having Spruce herself present to explain some of her work, the drawings became even more alive and more engaging as we watched and listened to pieces and themes that dealt with police brutality, redemption, and black matriarchy. After the event, I was given the privilege of personally interviewing the ground-breaking artist, where she revealed some of the motivations for and techniques behind her work.
Jerome Thompson: Seeing that you illustrate such great work, at what age did you begin to draw and what was your inspiration?
Simone Spruce: I began drawing at the age of six. My brother, Donald Ray, was an artist and would always draw pictures of my brother Kenny and I. He was my inspiration. My mother saw my talent and enrolled me into art classes at the Toledo Museum of Art.
JT: What sacrifices did you make to become such a great artist?
SS: I made many sacrifices in becoming a skilled illustrator and painter. Family, friends and relationships were affected. When God gave me this gift, I knew I had to do it to the best of my ability.
Those individuals who have stuck by me understand this.
JT: Where has art taken you as far as your travels in the world?
SS: My art has taken me to Illinois, New York, Virginia, Washington, Rhode Island, Ohio, New Jersey, Tennessee, South Carolina, California, Massachusetts and Mexico. I am making plans to take a trip to Africa.
JT: In your drawing of “Mama” you said that you were not only paying homage to your mother but to black matriarchy [in general]. Do you think that the idea of the black matriarch or positive appeal of black women has dissolved over the course of the years or with this new generation?
SS: The new generation and it’s respect for black women has deteriorated. Our black mothers have provided love, encouragement and discipline. Were their sacrifices in vain?
JT: For all those people who think your drawings were simply “keeping a No.2 pencil sharp,” can you elaborate shortly on what techniques and different types of utensils you used to produce your portraits?
SS: It is in the graphite drawing that I start the first rough sketch and, with the help of photographs, models and props completely develop the image and solve all the problems of composition and tone. I create a grid and transfer the image onto another drawing paper. I work in a succession of layers using different types of pencil until the image is completed.
JT: Do you feel that socially conscious art is needed for the hip hop generation? For the World?
SS: Social commentary art will always be needed in order to focus specifically on social problems and the hardships of every day life. Hip Hop originally was about African heritage, community pride and the dangers of inner city life. Now it’s more about sex and money.
For more information about Simone Spruce, visit www.srs-studios.com.
Jerome Thompson is a student at Rhode Island College, where he is a founding member and current president of the campus’s NAACP chapter, a member of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc., and a volunteer at the school’s Unity Center.
I just wanted to take the time to update you about new articles, listings, writers, photos and more on RezaRitesRi.com. This message became even more important after I saw a friend yesterday who asked me why I had taken him off my list. Perplexed at first, I quickly realized that (Hallelujah), he had become accustomed to – or dare I say excited about – receiving such an update twice per month, yet not one was sent in December and only one was sent last month.
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news – as you probably know, I’m pretty busy and unlikely to get less busy. I will try very hard to go back to two updates per month, but I certainly can’t promise. The good news – 1) as you may remember, I’ve invited a few different, talented people to contribute to the site, and they’ve delivered some excellent work which you can see right now; and 2) new events, articles, and photos are always being posted to the site, which you can view twenty-four hours a day, with OR without prompting.
I recommend you browse the site at your leisure and over the course of more than one visit to really enjoy the experience; on the other hand, there are a few things toward which I want to make sure I direct you. For example, RezaRitesRi reporter Marco McWilliams has delivered the first multimedia piece to the site with a three-part, filmed interview and tour of the current exhibit on Lynching at the URI Providence campus gallery. There’s also a play review for the Providence Black Repertory Company’s current play, Black Maria, written by reporter, Natalie Myers, and an article about a national restaurant that recently made Providence it’s 100th location.
Don’t forget the recent photos section, which has had many additions made to it, from a Civil Rights Forum, a reggae concert, and more. The Listing section is where you can find out about these types of events before hand, or, if you’re interested, you might see a place where you might meet a RezaRitesRi staff person (hint hint – follow the link to the RI College Black History Month Flyer or to the RI Young Professionals).
I hope that all is well, I thank you for reading – and forwarding for those who do – this message, and I look forward to receiving any feedback you might have about the site, the new writers, or anything else.
Sunshine and laughter,
**Keep reading or click here to view all of the three-part, RezaRitesRi.com PREMIERE (video) PODCAST**
by Marco McWilliams and Reza Corinne Clifton
PROVIDENCE, RI - On February 2, 2007 Marco McWilliams of RezaRitesRi.com visited the University of Rhode Island’s Providence Campus to experience their gallery’s current display, “Strange Fruit: An Exhibit on Lynching and Hate Crimes.” The works went up on January 6, and they’ll remain till February 23.
During his visit, McWilliams met the exhibit’s producer and curator, Lisa McLeod, a student pursuing her Bachelor of Arts degree at URI’s Providence campus. Working with the campus’ Arts and Culture Program and with its coordinator, Steven Pennell, as well as with URI Professor, Robert Dilworth, McLeod received and arranged work from places like the RI Commission on Prejudice and Bias, Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP, and RI for Community and Justice. She also worked directly with artists and filmmakers, like Gode Davis, Reuven Wallack, and Ken Gonzalez-Day.
(Click on the image to view Part I. Click here to view all of the three-part film.)
The depictions captured by the artists and history recalled by McLeod are chilling and almost surreal, and as URI’s website described, “potentially disturbing due to the gravity of the topic and the level of inhumanity involved in this type of violence.” But, as McLeod shares with McWilliams, “it needs to be dealt with and spoken about for any change to occur.” And there is still time to start dealing, for the exhibit is up until the 23rd. And for those looking for more, on the 20th at 7:00 PM, there will be a performance by Providence-based Everett Dance Theatre and a discussion with filmmaker Davis and others.
(Click on the image to view Part II. Click here to view all of the three-part film.)
But if you’re not here in RI, or if you want a private tour of the exhibit, view the three-part short film - which McWilliams also posted on YouTube - that shows the movement from a simple decision by McWilliams to film he and McLeod casually discussing the works to a journey via image and word that must, he later explains, “lead you to a place where change is inevitable.”
Gallery Hours for URI Providence campus, 80 Washington Street in Providence, are 9-9 Monday through Thursday and 9-4 on Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 277-5206 or email email@example.com.
(Click on the image to view Part III. Click here to view all of the three-part film.)
Marco McWilliams is a double major in African/Afro-American Studies and History at Rhode Island College. He works in RIC’s multicultural affairs department as an African American Studies specialist. He has developed the college’s first ever cultural and socio-political film series with both a domestic and international focus. He also lectures on North American enslavement, critical Black history, the politics of hip-hop, and media literacy.
A review of “Black Maria” running through March 11 at The Providence Black Repertory Company
By Natalie Myers
(Alexis Brown who stars in Black Maria as the character, Delilah Redbone. She is also a singer with the Black Rep’s Neon Soul Collective.)
PROVIDENCE, RI - Call it abstract art or a work of jazz. Either way audiences should expect something extra from The Providence Black Repertory Company’s new play, “Black Maria,” directed by Donald King – artistic and executive director of the Black Rep – and running since February 1 and until March 11.
Set circa 1950s in Shadowtown (an alias for Hollywood), the protagonist Delilah Redbone - played by Alexis Brown - finds her dreams of becoming a “big time” singer/actor diminish in the violence, lust and greed all around her.
But it’s not the story or character development that makes this production particularly unique. One might argue the play lacks both, though really, it’s that the story and characters are secondary to the holistic experience created through music, lighting, sound effects and a richly poetic script.
For example, each scene is filtered through a variety of sounds. Common are sound effects of gun shots, running trains, or jazz music - bass, piano and horns - while the delivery of the script often mimics the sounds - sharp and loud moments resembling gun shots and slow and churning ones like the chug of a train.
But it is Delilah who truly carries the melody. “Lord I’m afraid… Whoa, so afraid. I done married Mud and took on his name,” Delilah sings at the beginning, middle and end of the story. The only verse repeated, it symbolizes her struggle throughout the piece. It also reveals the fact that in essence, the play is a song - Delilah’s song of broken dreams and heartache.
Not that Delilah is without controversy or complexity. Whether she falls in love with private eye, A.K.A. Jones - played by Aaron Andrade - is up to the audience to interpret, for instance, while she is affirmatively sleeping with The Boss, played by Raidge. It is at times a precarious situation that interrupts the flow of empathy and leaves the audience asking, “Who is the real victim?”
Brown, a Providence native, is truly stunning in her first lead acting role as Delilah. Particularly phenomenal is her voice, which permeates in subtlety and in strength. Some might already be familiar with Brown’s talent, for she is a member of the Black Rep’s vocal group, the Neon Soul Collective. Brown is an aspiring singer/actress.
Andrade gives an equally compelling performance in his lead role opposite Brown. Also a native of Providence, he is in his final year of an M.F.A. of performance and society from Rhode Island College. Andrade also took a lead role in the Black Rep production “Yellowman” last year.
(Actor and hip hop producer, emcee and performer, Raidge, who plays The Boss; the cast of Black Maria with, from left to right, Bob Jaffee, Alexis Brown, Raidge, and Aaron Andrade.)
Raidge (“The Boss”) and Bob Jaffee, who plays The Naked City - a number of roles throughout the production - give context to the story. Though their parts are secondary, the emotions they convey are indispensable.
And that’s due in large part to the script, which comes almost entirely verbatim from Kevin Young’s book of poetry, “Black Maria,” published in 2005. Young graduated from Brown University with an M.F.A in creative writing in 1996 (King is also a graduate of Brown University). He wrote the book to read like a film noir – the cinematic term used to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas from the 1940s and 1950s.
King and Young call the play a “black noir,” though, in acknowledgement of their altering of the traditional American noir film, which they say tell a story about disenfranchised characters in an urban underworld, but rarely – if ever – portray them as non-white characters.
Consider it black noir; consider it art; consider it jazz. Better yet, consider it worth seeing.
Black Maria runs till March 11 on Thursdays at 7:00 PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM. A Talk back will follow the Sunday Matinee, which is also the Black Rep’s “pay what you can” day. For information about ticket costs and group, student, or senior rates, visit www.arttixri.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 351-0353 x2. For more information about the Black Rep, visit www.blackrep.org.
Natalie Myers lives in Providence, RI and works as a reporter at Providence Business News. She has also worked as a community reporter in Florida, has lived in Texas and London, England and is from Ohio.
by Reza Corinne Clifton
I am happy to report that the popularity of RezaRitesRi.com has grown to heights I never necessarily imagined - thanks so much for reading and supporting us. In response to this, and a few other elements, I’ve invited a few Providence and RI residents to join the team or contribute. Still, this won’t solve everything, for there’s still a vast amount of events, people, current affairs, studies, exhibits, etc that warrant coverage. But it is a proactive decision to not only continue, but to serve you, the visitor, better.
Truth be told, though, I should have asked for help earlier. Even now, I’m still trying to play catch up. Oh well; there’s so much you should be aware of, and let’s face it, I signed up to help you with that. Enjoy the photos and brief write up below about a restaurant that opened here in Providence about two months ago.
PROVIDENCE, RI - On December 2, 2006, RezaRitesRi.com was among the exclusive guests celebrating the Providence, RI opening of Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Ruth’s Chris, which was founded in New Orleans by divorcee Ruth Fertel in 1965, is a nationally recognized chain of upscale steakhouses known for their “sizzling” USDA Prime grade steaks. With locations as far away as Hong Kong, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, the Providence opening was nonetheless significant, for it marked the restaurant’s 100th location.
To celebrate the opening, Ruth’s Chris partnered with Save the Bay to offer an exclusive event complete with a signature bottle of wine, a miniature version of Waterfire, and a performance by a New Orleans first line jazz band—the Stormville Stompers. The location of the Providence restaurant is in the newly built GTech Center at 10 Memorial Boulevard, and the restaurant is only open for dinner.
(Charles Hughes, who was born in Haiti and lives in Miami, has worked with the company for 16 years. At the time, he was “looking for a home” as a chef. As part of his position and as part of the culture of the corporation, he had come to Providence to train the staff. Click here - and scroll down - to view more photos from the night.)
(Trumpet player from the frontline jazz band, Stormville Stompers. The group has been together for 25 years. They’re all from New Orleans, and they have traveled to all of the Ruth’s Chris Openings since Hurricane Katrina occurred. Click here - and scroll down - to view more photos from the night.)
For more information about the Providence Ruth’s Chris Steak House, visit www.ruthschris.com, email email@example.com, or call 401-272-2271.
by Reza Corinne Clifton
PROVIDENCE, RI - As a satisfied member and current Vice President of the RI Young Professionals (RIYP), I thought that I would share a posting I left on two other blogs, (RIYP’s blog and rifuture.org) for those of you who might be completely unaware of the organization or those curious about the new leadership and direction. I encourage you to visit www.riyp.org or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have more questions about the organization, would like to join a committee, or are interested in partnership.
2007 RIYP President, Raymond L. Watson, is going to be featured this weekend on Sunday morning the 11th as a guest on the well-received television program, the Jim Vincent Show. The first broadcast can be seen on CW 28 (COX 9) this Sunday morning at 9 am. Re-broadcasts can be seen either 1) Sunday night at 9:30 pm in Providence, North Providence, Warwick, West Warwick, East Greenwich & Coventry on COX 18; or 2) Statewide on Monday evening, February 12 at 7:30 pm On COX 13. Below is an excerpt from an email sent by Vincent, an honorary RIYP member, describing Ray’s visit and the significance of the organization.
(RIYP president Raymond Watson stands second in from the left and in the back row, to the right of RezaRitesRi Publisher and Editor - and RIYP Vice President - Reza “Rites” Clifton. To the right of Watson is RIYP Secretary, Kenndra Leary-Poole; former RIYP President, Dwayne Keys; RIYP Treasurer, Glen Palmer; and former RIYP President and founding member, Melissa Husband. Photos are courtesy of Rufus Abdullah and from the January 27, 2007 RIYP Winter Soiree.)
“One of the most dynamic and diverse groups on the Rhode Island scene today is the group known simply as RIYP–the Rhode Island Young Professionals– affiliated with the Urban League and founded four years ago by Rhode Island Housing’s Melissa (Bridges) Husband.
But who are they? What’s their mission? goal? vision?
Recently, I spoke with newly elected president Raymond Watson about the organization’s past accomplishment, current projects, and future plans. Folks, if you are between the ages of 21 and 40, interested in professional development and social interaction, and above all are passionate about giving something back to your community then RIYP is the organization for you. Membership is even open to those over 40 (”honorary” members)–I’ve been a member since the beginning.
Don’t miss this!”
by Reza Corinne Clifton
Check out the Black History Month lineup at Rhode Island College by clicking on the smaller-sized version below, and see what’s coming out of the school’s Unity Center. Students and faculty have invited an array of speakers to present on exciting topics like Black-Brown relations, Black Art, and Hip Hop and Media Reform. Support it, Learn it, and Teach it.
And check out the March 1 closing event; I, Reza Rites of RezaRitesRi.com, have been invited to deliver a keynote address dealing with emancipatory journalism and returning to the motherland. Thanks for your support.
By Natalie Myers
RezaRitesRi Guest Writer
(From left to right: Iyeoka, from Boston Massachusetts and Providence-area Lady D.U.B.B perform at Tazza Caffe in Providence, RI. To view more photos from the night click here)
PROVIDENCE, RI - The ladies that performed the show, “Do My Ladies Run This … ?,” at Tazza on Saturday night January 20 delivered empowering lyrics mixed with sultry vocals and politically charged spoken word that left many buzzing with praise.
The show was organized by a Providence-based hip hop, R & B, soul group called Zawadi. After being “off the scene” for a minute while producing some music, the group wanted to start the new year – 2007 – with a collaborative show, said Desiree Nash, vocalist of Zawadi. “We started looking at all the female events around and I thought we could pack the house,” she said.
And they did. Tazza was jammed with fans of bands/musicians Zawadi, B-Mor7, and Lady D.U.B.B. of Likwid Fyah – all of RI - and Iyeoka from Boston, Massachusetts.
Nash said she chose the performers because they are friends of hers - “ladies that are all fabulous.” But that alone wasn’t why these performers were selected. “You’re not going to hear bitch or hoe here,” she said. “We’re here to honor women being talented.”
When Providence-based B-Mor7 hit the stage after a short set by Zawadi, she echoed the mission of the night in her lyrics. She spoke about the misogyny that can be heard in rap and hip hop today, indicting both musician and listener alike (“Exploitation of women and we let them do it.”), as well as offered commentary and reaffirming messages (“Women are not weak, we are warriors of strength … there isn’t anything at all that we couldn’t do.”
(Longtime Providence emcee B-Mor 7 was one of the featured performers. To view more photos from the night click here)
The next performer, Iyeoka, took the stage after B-Mor 7 delivering poetry and soulful, empowering melodies over verses like “Talk, smile, be you,” and “Don’t be invisible. Maybe I can help you find your center … and realign my soul.”
After her, Lady D.U.B.B. of Providence inspired the crowd with her spiritually charged wordplay and rhythmic delivery of lyrics. “My king came just in time, made the sacrifice, took my hand married me into rebirth … the enemy under my feet,” she sang. “Seek his everlasting truth, that’s when you find you.”
Iyeoka said women-focused shows like Saturday’s show are easy to market because women, in general, are naturally drawn to attend. “Women [have] got it together,” she said. “It’s just a matter of us doing this often enough so people realize.” Nevertheless, Iyeoka, who is based in Boston, said she was surprised to see so many men in the crowd and to see that Providence has such an active “scene.”
Iyeoka shared other great qualities she recognized in the night. Shows like “Do My Ladies Run This … ?” are a great way to open up fan bases of all the performers involved, she explained. It introduces fans to the music of other performers, which can only help independent artists, Iyeoka asserts, most of whom perform and record music in their spare time.
This is true of B-Mor7, for example, who indicated she writes and performs because it’s a form of expression; it’s not something she does full time. Rather, she teaches songwriting, spoken word and rap to middle school students in an after school program, helping them to develop their own lyrics to counter what is on the radio. “Kids hear messages on the radio that are not helping them grow in any way,” she said. “I help them develop originality … [something] that they can use as a tool in a positive way.” Or as a tool for their generation’s Ladies Night.
To find out more about the artists that performed at the event visit: www.myspace.com/lovezawadi , www.myspace.com/iyeoka, www.myspace.com/bmor7, and www.myspace.com/ladydubb80.