The final Our Hallowed Ground performance features the testimony of Yasmin Flores - mother of Daniel Booker. This weekend we are celebrating Daniel’s life and his mother’s testimony in the final Our Hallowed Ground - The Love Balm Project performance in San Jose. The Yasmin Flores' testimony will be performed by Anna Maria Luera and directed by Rebecca Novick. 4pm at 52 E Santa Clara St San Jose, CA 95113 on Saturday October 5th! Post show talk back and reception to follow. See you there!
I had just returned home from allowing spirit to exorcise itself off of my tongue when I heard
About to return to walking the streets
There were no tears
Just a tension in my chest
Just a weight I had no idea what to do with
There are still no words
This afternoon, I let testimony flow through me
Let life breathe in my lungs
Let his/her story avalanche itself off of my tongue
It was salve to the wound
A reminder that the flesh can heal even if the scar remains
And the scar does remain
This world likes to deliver its cuts daily
A reminder that those of us with melanin in our skin that we will forever be the other
Every news outlet verifies this:
In Florida there is a family mourning
There is a woman sentenced to lose 20 years of her life for keeping
her feet firmly planted for her own protection
There is an elder singing truth that was met with bottles and fists
A flurry of rage
Every word feels like nails in my stomach
Like a shackle clamped around my neck
Tastes like salty water coming between wooden slats
Like piss, shit and blood
Like history rewinding itself before my eyes
It feels like it could be easier just to lay down
To wire my jaw shut and let the darkness of sleep take me
But then I remember that words can act like salve
How each cut has healed and mended with time and care:
In San Francisco there is a woman fighting
There is bread being broken
In Oakland there are people winding themselves in the streets like
the never ending length of a snake
There is a porch in West Oakland with an old black woman
She is standing still as granite
Her fist raised strong, unbendable and fierce in the air
I remember that now is not the time for sleep
For closed eyes and hearts
Now is the time to for my throat to be raw
For my eyes to unleash rivers
For my tongue to practice its talent for exorcism
Now is the time for movement
Now is the time to wake
When Cat Brooks and I first arrived at Brenda Grisham’s house to begin working on the site specific performance of her testimony, it felt like a doomed blind date. I just sat there strangely fidgeting on the passenger side of Cat’s car, waiting for a nudge, a call off in the distance, a burst of wind from inside of the car- anything to inspire me to open the door. While I waited for my big girl courage, Cat reluctantly turned to me with her eyes half full and admitted that she was scared. And all I could do was involuntarily turn to her and affirmatively nod in agreement. In creating site specific performance around murder, we inevitably callback the air of that memory - this is part of the contract - this is understood. to begin the procession of this work on a mother’s doorstep is disheartening. Brenda Grisham is a survivor of both gunfire and her son. I’ve met Brenda on this porch many times but never to call back the night where she lost her child. Many times a day she walks past the bullet holes on her porch, past the threshold that her son Christopher LaVell Jones crossed each day coming home from school and over of the place where he died.
I felt the undying urge to tiptoe around that porch. This family has a way of walking through that history each day on their way to choir rehearsals and jr high graduations. My greatest fear was disrupting the ozone layer they had seemingly created for themselves.
Weeks of development of this piece shifted our understanding of how to work as a creative body on this piece. As a community liaison working on this piece, Brenda curated a beautiful performance space out of her front yard. Holding true to her boundless hospitality she made homemade cupcakes and barbecue fare for community members at each performance.
Adding to the performance in spirit, Christopher offered his instrumental repertoire as inspiration. Christopher was a resourceful drummer by the ripe age of four. Inspite of having hearing complications Christopher was known for drumming on Brenda’s pots pans and lampshades. In reverence to this, I curated a community share circle after Cat’s humbling performance in which all of the witnesses and participants gathered and shared hopes for Brenda and her family as well as the streets of that community. These intentions were inscribed into the concrete of the streets with chalk. Participants beat on pots, pans and lampshades in resonance with the intentions that were spoken.
For longer than a moment, we truly reclaimed that street.
And as good as that felt, all of us were far too aware that after the performance was over, and after rain and hard tires eroded any semblance of the words we transcribed, Brenda Grisham and her family would yet still walk the ground where their Christopher died. So it honestly wasn’t until Sunday’s final performance that I understood my urge to tip toe over the place where Christopher once lay. And as much as that original urge seemed to be in honor of the family, I now realize that part of that urge was an effort to guard myself. These site specific performances, carry the assumptions of both disruption and reclamation of public space in witness of death. But what does that assumption mean for a private space like a porch or a home? As both a collaborator and a witness I must say that the most jarring disruption for in this performance happened within my own body. This was not a street corner, this was a porch not unlike my own and I felt terribly uncomfortable watching a testimony that was so viscerally colloquial and ungraspable at the same time. In some bewildering event of redemption, I was able to find hope within this discomfort. It attached itself to me hard enough that it bolstered my resolve in this work. I hope that the others that came felt it too. As for Our Hallowed Ground in general, I pray that this performance along with the others works to instigate discomfort in ways that make movement toward peace most urgent.
- Arielle Julia Brown
In a little shy of two weeks, the fourth performance of the Our Hallowed Ground series will take place at Fruitvale BART station. This performance will showcase the testimony of Bonnie Johnson, grandmother of Oscar Grant III. Mark your calendars and RSVP on FB to follow updates about the event!