Friday, August 8, 2014

My Uncle Jake: International Oil Tycoon

Where I learned the most about my family's incredibly rich history.
Available on Amazon 
Uncle Jake, looking exactly like my Mother's Brother Maurice "Dan" :-) 

"HE was a militant, a patriot, an African nationalist, and an American capitalist all wrapped in one."

Quote from Keith Henderson's review of Staking a Claim, Christian Monitor, April 1990.  The book describes the life of my Grandfather's Uncle, Jake Simmons Jr. Jake Simmons Jr.'s history is so incredible, you have to read the book to put all the details into perspective. He's the grandson of Cow Tom, a freed Slave of the Cree Indians,who went on to become a Chief of that same tribe. Jake Simmons took his father's (My Great Great Grandfather Ray) work ethic and used it to educate himself and others. A good friend of Booker T Washington, he raised funds and recruited for Tuskegee University. He then went on to Broker Oil deals that took him all the way into the white house. He turned land into money for many poor Southerners, and later went on to become an international powerhouse. His story is not all glamour and glory, but you'll have to read the book to get all the details. I want to thank all of the Business Scholars who have studied and written about him. And a Big Shout Out to the Bloggers who have written about him simply because they find my Uncle's story worthy of sharing. (Links Below)

I've Always had extreme pride in being a Simmons, and a Black Indian, but I didn't know why I felt it so strongly. It was not until I read Greenberg's book that I recognized where that sense of pride came from. My 3x Great Grandfather had strong beliefs that were the epitome of familiar. Even though I felt connected to those in the past it was a strange and distant feeling of wondering why no one in the family talked about him in the present. I still have many theories about the reason. One theory is that family members who weren't included to share in his riches, would rather act as if he didn't exist. Basically, people are to busy caught up in their daily lives to respect/study people in their past especially those that they've never met. Sadly not realizing that not only do we share personality and physical traits of these individuals, but more importantly (for me at least) is that they do not simply die. They go on to become Ancestors (Angels) who can protect and guide us on to great things. 

The Elders always warn us to Know Our History, "If you don't know where you come from, you don't know where you're going", are the words we've heard over and over again. Sad to say but the response from our youth could very well be "Because you don't talk to us." We are indeed in the information age, yet there is a healing magic that happens when an Elder tells you something wonderful and personal about your family, your city, and your people.

  Our African American youth in the public school system, are taught a history that  is mostly filled with things that bring shame versus the many beautiful truths about who we are, and what we've accomplished as a people. This carries over into the media and we're left with a society of youth filled with horrible self images. I'm imagining now what if every child in my family knew that they had a 4x Great Grandfather who had strong dreams and prayers of having enough land, so that we would be a village that relied on itself to survive? He then raised a man, Jake Simmons Jr to go on to become the first African American Oil Tycoon. Knowing that our history  doesn't start and end with slavery sounds obvious to some, but not to a child. I'll continue to write this blog with the excitement of knowing that I'm telling my story, my history directly, and one day my grandchildren (not yet born) will be able to know where they come from. 

Check out these articles and reviews.

SPECIAL Shout Out to my Mother Pamela Hooks-Simmons (inspiration) and my Oklahoma SISTER Dawn E. Day (rock)... I Love ya'll, you guys Get me!

Monday, July 28, 2014

DON'T MISS... We Are One Together: Ubuntu

Melanie and Melorra with the
Beautiful half of another Set of Twins!
Please meet Melanie and Melorra Green, The Twins! That is of course if you haven't already had the pleasure of meeting them while they curate or host something wonderful. They are Southern Sweethearts and fellow Culture Keepers. I recently met them in preparation for their Exhibit, Ubuntu: Can Art Save a Community? If you know me even a tiny bit, then you'll know that the Title alone speaks to my passion, and yet it gets better! More than an exhibit, the Greens have created an ongoing synergy of events used to create dialogue and action surrounding Saving our Village.

You know that feeling when you meet someone new, or when you get to know someone better, and you recognize that you are kindred spirits? Well if you don't I'll try to describe it simply. You speak with this person straight from the heart with a knowing that what you are understood, supported and further inspired! This is what I get from Melanie and Melorra. Their dedication to Art, People (here and past on) is simply beautiful.

This is a project that I could not resist supporting in anyway. There is so much talk around Who is from Oakland and Who is doing what... I appreciate those who Serve the community versus spending time discussing the community. Well, I'm not one to talk much about that because I support whoever is Doing the Work. There is more than enough work to share in the Village. In exiting a meeting for the upcoming show, Artist, K-Dubb Williams says "Well, great conversation but I gotta go do the work". As in perfect synchronicity I had the honor of meeting Ms Janice Mirikitani, Cofounder and ED of Glide Memorial. My sister is there making beautiful waves By The Way. She tells me almost daily of how inspiring both her boss and Janice are as women and human beings. In meeting,  I humbly thanked Ms Janice for her village love and dedication. She squeezed my hand and said, "Thank You for continuing the work." Rev. Cecil and Ms Janice have been serving community for decades and they need us to step up. At an event last week, this was the sentiment of the Board for the Friends of African American Museum and Library. It's the same sentiment I hear from my Friend, Godmother and Mentor, Joyce Gordon says. Bottom line, it's up to US to save the community.

I invite you all to support community and Have Fun at the same time. Art, Music, Culture in every form is healing, lucrative and brings the world together. 

Please join us this First Friday for the opening of 

Ubuntu: Can Art Save a Community?
Omi Gallery inside Impact Hub
2323 Broadway
Oakland, Ca
Friday August 1, 2014 7-10

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sisterhood and My Queens

Georgia, Ann, Ruth and Dorothy circa 1980
Dorothy, Georgia and Ruth circa 1960

My Great-Grandmother, Arabelle has 4 daughters, Georgia, Ruth (my Grandmother), Dorothy and Ann… they are my Grands, My Queens. They have always been an example of strength, loyalty, understanding and dependability for our entire family. It is indeed Sisterhood at its finest. So, I’m the oldest of 6 sisters. My mother never used the words “step” or “half” or “in-law” to our relationship, and we never treated each other that way either.  What’s even more beautiful and remarkable is that I wasn’t raised with all of my sisters but we All have the same traits of being dedicated and loving to one another. We have certainly had our issues but whatever the issue may have been, it was always transformed into a love lesson.

In my family, my cousins all take on the role of sister with one another. We greet each other by title “Sister” or “Cousin” because it makes us warm inside and tells everyone in ear shot that we are Proudly family. Not to diss my friends at all, as a matter of fact, they know that our bond is so deep, they are my Sisters as well.

If I could be a big passionate dreamer that I am, I can imagine a society where instead of seeing all of the differences in each other, women looked at each other and recognized that we are sisters. That’s a Whole lot I know. What I’ll do is start with me. It means working on being a better Sister, Daughter, Niece, Cousin, Friend, Co-Worker, Neighbor and even Stranger.

I think all of this self work is practice to becoming a Queen. It’s easy to be nice to people, and it’s easy to be mean. It can depend on how you feel about a person or simply how you feel in that moment. I’m learning that the more you Love Yourself, you naturally treat people with that extended love. I am a work in progress!

Thank you for being taking the time to learn alittle bit about my Queens, I look forward to sharing each one of their individual stories!

Friday, July 18, 2014

My Atonement

I’m Atoning

I’m guilty of being that person who doesn’t write or call often.  I was so glad when texting became an acceptable means of communicating in business, relationships and family. Here’s the thing, I realize now that I’ve separated myself from the people who mean the most to me. When I told my 81 year old Great Aunt that I was writing a blog she, in her usual encouraging tone, says  “ Now Baby I think that is wonderful and I’m so happy you’re enjoying it… but you got to remember that if folks don’t use a computer we can’t see this blog of whatever you’re talking about.”. Crickets.

So here I am writing to honor my Elders and they can’t even access it! I quickly atoned and asked the Mighty Spirit for a solution and Auntie interrupts the thought and says “You can always show me when I see you Baby”. I let her know even better, I’d print each one and mail it to her and her siblings. This would let her know how often they are on my mind (Everyday they are, they are my motivation).

Ironically, Auntie has a very close friend, Ms. Shirley Sanders, 83, who is not only online but she’s recently written a book, Sessy’s Journey. Ms. Shirley is the essence of phenomenal. She’s born in Mississippi and lived most of her life in Oakland, Ca. I don’t want to tell you the entire book but I will share that if you have ever been through poverty, abuse, and/or grief, This is a must read! Ms. Shirley has phoenix, she’s educated herself, ran a successful business and raised 7 Grandchildren as her own. Her story feels me with a pride of knowing that it doesn’t matter What you’ve been through, it’s How you go through it. Ms. Shirley is remarkable, she practices Tai chi and is currently writing her second book.  

This blog is my atonement. It continues into my work and my art. I'm excited to have 21 year old Artist and Student, Lamarr Thomas collaborate on an art piece that honors Sessy for her journey. We hope to show gratitude for All of Elders, especially those who tell their stories… shining healing lights of love to the village. The piece will be a part of the Ubuntu Exhibit, curated by Melanie and Melora Green at the Omi Gallery in Impact Hub. 

Impact Hub
2323 Broadway
Oakland, Ca 
Opening Reception August 1st, 2014, 7-10pm

Artist Interactive Talk August 14th 6-9pm featuring
BOOK SIGNING by Ms. Shirley Sanders

Monday, July 14, 2014

Boxing from Oakland To Ivory Coast!

My great grandfather, Benny Von Hooks AKA Big Daddy, is famous for his storytelling from MS to LA. I have inherited his gift of “having ears that listen,” says my Great Uncle Washington. Uncle Wash was born in Louisiana, he migrated to Oakland in 1944. He later became a Boxing Coach in the 1964 Olympics for the Ivory Coast. Uncle Wash is 74 and shares my family’s love for African and African-American culture. He is a keeper of jazz, blues, history and art. His collections are priceless and will be available to share with the public soon.

I visited Uncle Washington in Georgia recently. He's getting up in age and it was heavy taking it all in... taking in the fact that my Elder is getting older and not going to be here forever. I'm sure it's the recent unexpected death of my father that has me thinking this way. Sad that it took that but, glad I had a big wake up call. Those Adults that I've always admired, respected and have been there for me in many ways... are getting older and leaving. It's not something just to make me sad but instead make time more PRECIOUS and each moment something to savor. It also makes it important that I get things off of my chest now... How much I love them and what I would do different if I had the chance. I'm getting them to open the door for us to understand each other better. And getting their approval for the Family healing that I desire, this takes talking about things that make us uncomfortable at times, but it happens in a space of Love.
We have to hold on to our stories with pride. They aren’t always pretty and perfect…often times they’re painful and cause shame. All we can do is Love enough to share, learn from our mistakes, forgive, ask for forgiveness and move on. I'm glad Uncle Wash and I never had anything too deep to ask forgiveness for, other than taking each other for granted and not communicating as much as we could have... thankfully he is still here and we are changing this and Another reason why I write.

Now, I'm off to print this Blog and mail to my Great Grands... Aunt Georgia said yesterday "That's great you wanna honor us Baby but how we go read the blog if we not on the computer, Ya got ta think about that!" Yes indeed, I should've but instead I needed the wisdom out her mouth. Glad I listen...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Arabelle's Song

Arabelle's Song by Patanisha Alia
    I would kiss you,
    and no one would despise me.

I would lead you

    and bring you to my mother’s house
    she who has taught me.
Song of Songs 8:1-2

 My family is very eclectic. I have relatives who are Baptist, Muslim, Catholic, Jehovah Witness and Buddhist. What we all have in common is Faith and Love in Action. My Great Grandmother, Arabelle "Patanisha" Kingsby, and her daughters, fuel my Faith and Love. I made the image above to show the Sacrifices, Prayers and Praise that intentionally tool place for this specific family. I appreciate them.

Now the Elder Matriarch has passed on. I always think about her stories. She told me that our family name was actually George. It was George because their wasn't a last name to pass on, this is common for decendants of slaves. Most took their owners family name, my ancestor chose to use the one name he was freed with. Now, my great grand mother Arabelle would repeat her history to me over and over. I never knew why until I became a woman, until the day she died. She had a legacy of love. Love of life, love of family and love of God. I cannot tell you which love came first or if they were simply all the same thing to her. She was the epitome of wisdom.

Once again, My great grandmother was a woman of faith and a woman who in her golden years opened her way of thinking to be connected to her descendants. What was constant about her thinking was that you need to have faith to make it this world, you need to educate yourself to open up your world and to never forget your connection to family and humanity as a whole. With all of that comes responsibility of action, not just to know these things but to live our lives daily based on these principles. Pretty advanced for a sharecropper huh? I told you she was a wise woman. She’d tell me the story of how she worked so very hard as a little girl to educate herself and her sisters as well. The reason I write is to show the love, wisdom and protection of my Elders past.

I can't help but to think of another Elder that's past on, she was my grandmother's friend. I didn't grow up knowing that. I grew up knowing that she was simply my Aunt, EllaRae. She never treated me different from her own blood. Family was most important to her and I thank her for the food, love and laughs she gave me. She left a legacy of loved ones so tight you couldn't split us with a machete. Each generation grew the village with love. I am blessed to know my mission this lifetime. I honor those here now and before me.

(The Above Image hangs at Actual Cafe in Oakland, Ca. Show Opening is Saturday 7/12 from 3-5. All are welcome to join us for part of Love Your Neighbor Day... Arabelle would love it!)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mighty Musicians and an Oakland Girl

My life has always been connected to art and music, which was mostly the influence of my great Aunt/Grandma/Friend, Ann. My understanding and connection to music were made up of magical moments, like walking into a room while my cousin, Anna Monique, braided Disco Diva Dom DaDa Sylvester’s hair. I later realized how my upbringing made me comfortable with every type of person I’d ever come across. I especially loved what Sylvester represented, Creativity and Being You, no matter what! He was in the Deep East Oakland, getting his hair done and representing blurred gender lines before it was even talked about.
In that very same house I met Sylvester, Stevie Wonder sang happy birthday to me over the phone. Ten years later, from my St. Mary's dorm, I found myself talking to a very outgoing guy named 'Pac. He was calling from Marin City, and I just remember teasing him for being a Rapper from Marin. I told him Oakland would eat him up and that I could probably rap better than him. Needless to say, we found each other hilarious. Not more than a year after this conversation, I was riding in a car with DJ Daryl and he pops in a song he produced for lil known Rapper, Tupac! It was "Keep Ya head Up". It's one of my Theme Life Songs.

My ALL TIME favorite music life altering moment…feeling the music through my body at 12 and thinking Betty Carter was singing just to me (she later brought me albums after the show)! She could express emotion through her voice like a Goddess. I felt her Love for Love and she made it into pretty sounds, sometimes No Words. She ignited my jazz fire! That year, I put up Wynton Marsalis' album cover next to DeBarge and Michael Jackson's Off the Wall Posters on my wall. A couple of years after that, Aunt Ann brought me a note from Wynton that said "Happy Birthday Pumpkin". He is still my #1 Music Crush. I just found out a few weeks ago that my big brother and he are friends... That is the crazy synchronicity that I mean.

Much appreciation goes to my Aunt Ann for bringing most of these moments have helped shape my taste, appreciation and understanding of culture, music and people as a whole.