Editors Bashir, Lansana and Medina have gathered an impressive collection of artistic expression by the young and gifted, illustrating clearly that activism is alive and flourishing in the Black creative community. Utilizing a variety of forms and styles, the talented contributors have composed works that are distinctive on many different levels and the message is never given short shrift. Scathing commentary on governmental practices that maintain the class system is juxtaposed with parables about the effects of history and racism on our collective psyche. There is something for everyone in this book, from the armchair activist to the Black Panther militant who never gave up the fight. Each piece relates in some way to aspects of the complex socio-political of being black and identifying as bi-racial/female/ male/ straight/gay/adopted/abused/young/old/spiritual/poor/middle class/upper class/ immigrant/citizen in America.
Haki R.Madhubuti's foreword refers to the "young fired up minds" of contributors and the bravery and honesty in their work. He recalls how in the 1960s the Establishment sought to quell the voices of young revolutionaries and criticized them for being "too ghetto, too rude, too black..." Madhubuti sees similarities in the quality and quantity of work featured in Role Call and how the artists adress such "serious subject...,the problems of being young, bright and ambitious in a fast aging country, questions of family and much more. His acknowledgement of the elders and notable upholding of the literary tradition by these young voices is accurate. I would add that this volume should be on every shelf in America. To those who live the struggle it is as necessary as sacred writings, a reference source to help renew the spirit and keep the faith. Those who would be part of the problem need it as well; they must be taught and continually warned of the hazards of impeding justice and progress. Role Call conveys all of this and more.
The book is divided into seven sections the first two parts ask definitive questions.
The pieces found therein answer those questions clearly and passionately:
What is the Role of today's Emerging Young Artists in the Current Struggle for Equality and Justice?
How do the Voices of the Next Generation Define the Issues and Politics of Today?
The third section is a roster of the contributions and a brief listing of their accomplishments:
The Role Call
The next three sections are comprised of a vast array of pieces that ask and answer tough questions about the individual conscience and the collective consciousness. These words and images make self-examination inevitable:
The Role Call is An Exploration of our current Cultural Landscape in Poetry, Fiction, Essays, Visual Arts and Theater-on-the-Page.
Role Call is a Litmus Test Of- And A Call To Arms To- A Generation Grown Fat on the Limited Freedoms Won by the Civil Rights Struggle.
Role Call takes on Race ,Sexuality, Education, Nationalism, Spirituality, AIDS, Globalization, Hip Hop and The Prison Industrial Complex.
The last section is divided into three parts: Black Rage, Black Love and Black Fire are the themes. A variety of subjects are featured and tribute is paid to many notable heroes and heroines.
Each section denotes how the work found represents the role call as it relates to the contributors' interpretation of the Black American experience. The visual art is engaging and thematically telling: arresting collages, paintings, drawings, photographs, etc.., are appropriately integrated with poetry and prose to make each section a distinct part of a whole. Role Call illustrates how we define the way we live in and with our skin, and the variety in our perceptions; how we persevere presently and historically through the challenges of the Black American experience. We know that even with notable progress there is still much to be done.. In Role Call we are reminded strongly of our part in maintaining the status quo and responsibility for changing it. Contributor Akintiunde's Thought on Those Flags sends an unmistakable message about the roots of injustice and how lowly we crawl toward progress if we forget the mistakes of even the recent past:
I hear they want to remove the flag from the capitol building. Thy say it drags them kicking and screaming down memory lane, scarring on the jagged rocks of Jim Crow. Seperate but equal, and Dred Scott.* They feel that removing the flag will make it all better...* No one notices or cares, it seems, that that flag does not wave in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Diallo did not live and die under its yoke, and it did not wave over that trials' courthouse. No, they gather down there calling for the sheriff to release that flag into their custody...* No one notices Old Glory waving just a few feet above. No one notices the malevolent twinkle in those stars, the sadistic smile hidden within the folds of those stripes-the smile of the older sibling who prodded the younger into wrong doings only to step back, pointing an accusing finger when the deeds attracted the attentions of Morality and Decency. And as they gear themselves up to punish the younger, the elder quietly gets away with murder.
The editors re gifted writers as well and have contributed evocative pieces with powerful messages to the collection. I interpreted Samiya Bashir's American Visa with my Afro- Caribbean heritage on my mind, and the multi-faceted question/answer that has plagued our efforts to define our place here-as captives or citizens-the first time I read it. On subsequent readings I was struck by the effects of her metaphor of America as a mistress, supplier of all we need to remain ignorant and subservient. My feminist sensabities warred with the admiration for her poignant portrayal of our contending. Ms. Bashir held nothing back in her explosion of the love/hate relationship between the source of our separatist ideals and our internationalization of the conditioning of the oppressor.
Role Call may seem overwhelming upon first examination. It is a large volume of work but packs a powerful punch down to the last detail and the intensity of its power is conveyed in every word and image. I had to put it down for brief intervals, but was always compelled to pick it up again, reading and reviewing particular sections that laid hard truths bare or caused me to consider the positions on which I'd been raised and educated, about race, class and politics in this country. During the first reading one is made aware of the need for every human being's involvement in the struggle to bring about lasting change. By the time I began reading the final sections, I was cognizant of the integral part each voice must play in the call and answer to action.
At times I envisioned Role Call as a series of books, each one providing food for thought but leaving the reader hungry for the next installment. While reading the book for the second time, I realized that there is no way to serialize work of significance. Everything about this book has to be prolific and magnanimous. Talent of this caliber must be communicated and exhibited in a manner as large as life and in forms as varied as the ways in which we express ourselves. Role Call is consciousness rising with raw emotion-stylized, but not packaged-so the passion and message shine through in one great book.
Readers of Role Call are made privy to many stories, and like the gifted creators, feel the unmistakable urge to riot, rage, and shout. Those who would respond will see, hear, and be touched by the echoes between the pages. Those who must assume their rightful places, like our artistic activists, are prepared to become part of a much needed solution. They will learn to choose their battles wisely, like heelers and ancestors whose pervasive influences make Role Call a classic.