A Straight to Home Video
Black Art: Tired and True
A peer of mine referred to 2020 as a movie. A film no one asked for, but almost everybody bought a ticket to see. From Kobe’s death to my past Honor director’s death, Chadwick Boseman’s death, and my grandfather’s death, this dark comedy played on repeat and left every government scrambling, trying to turn it off. Yet. Like Madea movies, it just kept coming. Every second could replace a life, but every second revealed a plotline of pain, joy, disappointment, hope, stagnancy, and change.
This movie played like a beautiful bad dream. The ones that start sweet and bright. Then an ugly, crooked character shows up and silently follows you around. You work up the nerve to turn and make it go away, and it lunges for your face. Waking up in a sweat, all you can remember was the crooked character standing in front of a lovely and warm sunset.
This is how art sustained me in 2020. Each scene of the movie jolted me awake in search of peace without the shroud of anxiety. Black art aided that piece in me. From Tobe Nwigwe’s “Make It Home” and “Try Jesus” to David Asimeng's "Huemans" cartoon series on Instagram, Black art carried me. A refuge, known by many, when our homes become host to trauma and stages for political gain. Kevin Fredericks’s virtual “Keep Your Distance” Comedy show. Kierra Sheard’s virtual Gospel concerts. Poets in Autumn’s virtual spoken word conference. Or, as I know them: safety. Virtual safety. Each event was experienced alone in my room safely.
However, each event expanded my circle. There is a power in art and its expression that draws like-minded people together like the smell of good food. Through IG posts and YouTube videos, I met my Artistic tribe. We shared vibes like our heartbeats were all born on the 2 and 4. We learned that God had directed these “random” moments on purpose through hip hop, poetry, and visual art. In radio, spoken word, and comedy, we found easter eggs of promise, acknowledging our future. Our mutual love for Black art was the motif in the film.
Art created by African Americans is known for intentionally telling a story. Whether by brushstroke or lyric spilled on paper, Black artists speak to daily life, the Great Migration, freedom's promise, and change. Today's artists told the story of pain understood and triumph not denied in 2020. There was great intention among Black art to represent safety and escape for all Black people enduring this isolating B rated film. It makes me wonder what our ancestors sounded like as they sang and picked, sang and cut cane, and told stories and sang.
It makes me wonder: If this “straight to home” film had a soundtrack, what would play? Who would listen? Would it sound like Footloose or Mo’ Better Blues? Selma or Rocky? Saving Private Ryan or Red Tails? Would it have orchestral melodies over a trap beat? When would the slow, heart-wrenching song play? In July or November? Was it composed by John Williams or Quincy Jones? Will we ever know? I pray to God the soundtrack encompassed every feeling with nuance.
In between my prayers to God and living the movie, my poetry breathed breaths I, sometimes, did not have the energy to release. My writings could have been a therapist’s playground in trying to understand me. I wrote about grief like scary slides. The unexpected rush and turns of nerves as I zoom through my mind. I was trying to grapple with how my healthiest grandparent chooses Glory over another day. Love poems were built like swing sets. The legs of my heart pushing and pulling the air to keep love above the ground, soaring. Poems on contentment in God were the sturdiest uneven bars. I could go high or low, as long as I hung on. Personally, this Black art has been sustaining me since middle school.
I realized Black art became my refuge the day Capitol Hill went under siege. It is like exiting the cocoon with new wings, but I did not know that I was there. I was writing when NPR came across the bottom of my laptop screen. I watched in dismay and amusement as rioters were treated like annoying friends. I remembered the inciting incident of a knee in a neck, and the climax of protestors treated like terrorists. I talked to an Artistic friend, and we witnessed freedom and fragility that only can be seen in Black art but not our humanity. We wondered how they moved so freely in Capitol space, yet we could not walk peacefully down a street. I knew that I would be breathing breath onto a page about domestic terrorism soon. I knew as soon as Black creatives caught wind, they would sit at their easels, get in the booth, pick up their pen, and continue. They would see their Black art signal in the sky and prepare to add on another room at home.
Although, it is now April 2021, the signal seems to hang in the stars night by night. As usual, we continue on and on. Singing and painting. Singing and cooking. Writing and Singing. Faithfully.