This blog is composed of images and writings related to the life and work of Faith Ringgold, her mother Mme. Willi Posey, and her daughters Michele and Barbara Wallace. There are pages with links to blogs composed of the materials arranged by decades. The blog, itself, will ultimately be composed of materials related to the life of the family in the 90s and the 21st century.

Wednesday

Critical Essay: 1960s--Barbara Ann Teer & NBFO

http://xenba.blogspot.com/2008/08/beloved-dr-barbara-ann-teer-1937-2008.html is the address for the Barbara Ann Teer Funeral Procession as photographed by Xenobia Bailey, whose blog is a great source of information on Harlem in general.  

Here are my notes upon first learning of Teer's death:
I find it more and more difficult to take in the deaths of so many people who have been so important in my life.  When MJ, my grandmother, died in 1981 I began to wonder and continue to wonder what does life mean once you've lost your major signposts?  In any case, the longer I live, the more it seems as though everybody who really matters is gone but I remember laughing at the elders who I heard say such things when I was in my twenties.  

I use to love to hear them say it, and the attempt to imagine where it was they had gone in their thoughts when they said such things.  I pondered the names they would call as the ones who were gone and who would never return in any form.  And now here I am myself at 56 mumbling names and hoping that the young ones will have some idea of the spirits that existed behind the names because it is becoming clearer to me that some of them are not coming back in any form, at least not in the orbit I am in.  Maybe in India or in Saigon or in Moscow somewhere where they desperately need such spirits, by the way.  

So today getting this news that Dr. Barbara Anne Teer had transitioned out of my orbit brought me suddenly back to 1968 when I was 16 and the tumultuous and turbulent times in Harlem in which I first met her, studied under her and simply adored her.  After I passed on to other things, she continued to be there, to fight the very best kind of fight for the soul, spirit and culture of Harlem.  And it is the Harlem she imagined that is rising like a phoenix as I write this.  

How ever some of us may subsequently regret the excesses of black cultural nationalism in the Harlem of the 60s and 70s, I don't think we can ever afford to forget how much fun we had, how much we all learned about one another and ourselves in the course of that intoxicating moment of full body immersion into the folkways of the African Diaspora.  

I've since begun to gather that some of the larger distinctions between how others of my generation may remember it have to do with the fact that I was particularly lucky in that my home was in Harlem in the household of one of the emerging leaders of that generation (my Mom Faith Ringgold).  As a result, our brand of black cultural nationalism was stylish, sophisticated, anti-racist and cosmopolitan.   Political people sometimes make the mistake of thinking that style isn't political but when other forms of power are questionable, style can be the ultimate public protest.

And in Harlem we were stylish indeed, with both Mom and Dr. Barbara Anne Teer serving as role models along with Sonia Sanchez, June Jordan, Nikki Giovanni, Michele Murray and the stunningly beautiful Amina Baraka for all of us who happened to be born female. 

I don't think I need to mention the gorgeous men  who are better known to the general public and who were everywhere--such as Don L. Lee, Clayton Riley,  Archie Shepp, Charles Lloyd, Amiri Baraka, Rap Brown,  Stokely Carmichael, and the various Last Poets (Kane was my particular favorite) who shared a space on 125th Street with the NBT (National Black Theatre) and who were often in and out during my classes there. 

 I won't get into the hairstyles and the clothing and the accessories and jewelry because without lots of photographic illustrations it would be pointless.  Suffice it to say, that I can't hardly look at a music video or a film or a television show from any country on the planet in which that style doesn't resonate.  

As for music, which was always at the core of everything we did, our everyday choices for live entertainment might range from Aretha Franklin at the Metropolitan Opera House to Nina Simone at the Filmore East to Marvin Gaye at the Apollo to whoever was gigging at the local club just around the corner.  To this day, I still feel as though recorded sound is an insufficient second best to the vibrations of live acoustic music. 

When Fidel Castro visited the city, he stayed at Harlem's Theresa Hotel resulting in traffic jams on 125th Street in every direction.  But it was also absolutely normal because it was Harlem. There is so much more that could be said and not enough time.

These following words come from a press release I just got on her transition:

Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, Founder and visionary of the National Black Theatre Inc, made her transition peacefully at home Monday, July 21, 2008.  Dr. Teer was an icon in the healing art of Black Theatre.  Leaving behind a lucrative show business career in 1967, she came to Harlem in 1968 and founded the National Black Theatre (NBT). This began a 40-year passion that changed the cultural landscape of the theatrical world. She created a new cultural art form by blending cultural appreciation, performing arts and community advocacy. In 1983, she expanded that vision with the purchase of a 64,000 sq ft building located at 125 Street & Fifth Avenue. There she created a thriving cultural and business complex housing the largest New Sacred Yoruba Art collection in the western hemisphere.  Through a commitment to her vision and purpose, the National Black Theatre is a world-class institution that inspires cultural transformation, social change, human re-development, historic relevance, and futuristic innovation.

Throughout her life, she was always on the cutting edge as the world paced one step behind her trail blazing vision and provocative stage productions. As a former dancer, actress, producer, director, writer, cultural entrepreneur, and more recently officially an African Chieftain, she has won countless awards and received numerous Honorary Doctorate Degrees. However, what mattered most to her was spiritual, self-empowerment.  She was known for providing a cultural incubator and training forum for artists in all walks of life. Her commitment through the National Black Theater was to offer an alternative learning environment where she attracted people from around the world whose work she impacted and showcased.

Dr. Barbara Ann Teer loved Harlem and took a stand for it against the odds.  As much as she loved Harlem, she loved her birth home, East St. Louis, Illinois .  Dr. Teer leaves in spirit and love two children: Sade and Michael Lythcott and a host of long-term staff, friends and family. Owens Funeral Home will host her transition in New York. She will be released in perpetuity when returned to her home town for her interment with her family who preceded her. 

In her own words: "The only thing you can take to the bank is love."  Love is the currency, the vibratory frequency that Dr. Teer's spirit leaves for us to continue.  She's given the world her legacy as a treasure chest of authentic, unprecedented achievements that will stand forever as a tribute to her vision and tireless work.  Now and forever more, her legacy and love will live on to impact generations to come.

Contact: Pat Faison, National Black Theatre

For More information: www.nationalblacktheatre.org

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Michele Wallace: Talking in Pictures

Michele Wallace: Talking in Pictures
Barbara, MJ, Michele and Mom in the background in sunglasses at a fashion show in the early 60s