I was reading a scholar’s work today who sounded surprised to know that the struggle for black studies in the late 1960s included other people of color working in solidarity. I had to stop and reflect and give thanks that this is known and not a surprise for me. Thinking of all my UC Berkeley teachers/mentors, I felt so full up I had to write some of the memories flooding through me down…remembering these teachers and “saying their names” the names of the living and the dead lifts me in this time of racial terror and reminds me why I am at work on the project I am at work on now…and what a time it was back at Berkeley circa 87-91.
I’m all about film at the time. Terry Wilson, Mario Barrera and especially Albert Johnson’s film courses change my world. With Johnson it’s not just that he gives me Dorothy Dandridge beyond Carmen Jones, but in his Third World Cinema class he gives me Lucia, Xala, The World of Apu and I find out how instrumental he was in bringing Satyajit Ray’s films to the SF Festival decades before.
Barbara Christian…. Her Black Women Writers class gifts me with Sula, Gorilla My Love and Sister Outsider. Though Johnson is my undergrad thesis advisor, it is Christian who is most enthusiastic about my thesis on Dorothy Dandridge, and she writes then unknown names and phone numbers in her margin notes, “Must contact Jackie Bobo, Pearl Bowser.” Barbara Christian sees what I can’t see yet, and unknowingly I store that seeing, that faith in me somewhere deep. How could I know that 25 years later, after film school and television writing, after “jazz-on-the-sacred-side” curating and divinity school, I’d begin to write a dissertation on a multiracial group of filmmakers who enter UCLA’s film program ’bout the same time of the bay area’s Third World Student Strikes? And how, given my formation, could I only write about the black filmmakers of the UCLA group and not include their radical Asian American, Latina/o and Native American cohort? Unthinkable.
Barbara’s gone and Loni’s gone. Albert Johnson, June Jordan, Marlon Riggs too. Still, when I remember to get quiet, when I remember to remember, I feel their wisdom, legacies, generosity like a protective, warming and illuminating fire around this work. I will never have enough thanks for the gifts I received from them and as well as all of the living mentioned above. As my comrades from divinity school would say, “now that’s good news.”