Solution Sessions

solution sessions: conversation about shared identity

August 26, 2018

The second day of great, important Solution Sessions Live conversations unfolded Saturday early afternoon at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s film theater #3, where a capacity crowd was enthralled by two separate programs. And though one featured the Hollywood black brilliance of Ava DuVernay and Terence Nance, while the other included activist depth of knowledge provided by Alicia Garza and Michelle Antoinette Nelson, it was the audience’s participation —a Solution Sessions trademark— that was the finest touch-point at both.

The early program, Trigger’d, was a community panel exploring the psychological and environmental risk factors for people of color, including the effects of mental health, trauma, and stress. In addition to AFROPUNK SOLUTION SESSIONS hosts Bridget Todd and Yves Jeffcoat, the panel included Garza, a long-time Oakland-based activist who’s become world-renowned as one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, and there was Baltimore’s Antoinette Nelson, a poet who founded Brown & Healthy, a non-profit organization that promotes wellness and facilitates mental, physical, emotional growth and wellness among people of color.

Even before the audience’s brought their stories, the panelists spoke of the tasks of remaining healthy and present in the daily environment that people of color must endure throughout American society daily. Alicia Garza discussed learning to cope with the incessant media chatter of being branded a founder of a “terrorist organization,” and Bridget Todd told an anecdote about the self-destructive path she was forging while working tirelessly for Planned Parenthood but not taking care of herself. As Garza said, invoking the 74-year-old author and activist Angela Davis, “we want to be here and doing the work for a long time.”

But it was the audience stories of triggering, and the panelists’ responses to them, that stirred the conversation most. A mental health professional from Oakland talked of trans and queer patients, constantly harassed in the work-place and on the street; while another therapist, based in the Bronx, discussed how the opioid crisis of the 1970s ravaged her extended family and sent her on a career path to guide the wellness of people of color.

A young lady from, in her words, “the real-real hood” part of Detroit talked of being the first member of her family to attend a university, and the distance it was creating whenever she returned home. A Black mother of a mixed-race boy from Oakland spoke of the anxiety caused by worrying for her child’s safety but also the importance of his knowing both sides of his identity. And a young dark-skinned bi-racial woman raised in South Dakota talked about the loneliness of people of color in the rural American Plains, but also the stigma of “real Blackness” (she wore a sweatshirt that said “Pro-Black Anti-Bullshit” to make her matters clearly known).

To say the conversations were inspiring and empowering is an understatement. “This is a safe space. But take these feelings with you, and use them,” Yves Jeffocat reminded the audience before we took a break.

Though somewhat shorter, the second program, The Unsimplified, Complicated Realness of Telling Our Stories and Owning Our Images, featured a one-on-one conversation between filmmakers Ava DuVernay and Terence Nance but it too was highlighted by great audience insights.

photo by Terrence Jennings

With DuVerney as interviewer and Nance the subject, the pair opened in a short back-and-forth about the roots of the development of Nance’s hit (it’s been renewed for a second season) HBO show, Random Acts of Flyness, in which DuVernay told the experimental filmmaker that she could see him making a great news show; to which Nance responded that it isn’t likely because “objectivity doesn’t exist” (a point with which DuVernay agreed). Talking about influences on his work, Nance invoked not only the writers Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison, but also his family’s lineage of creativity and activism while he was growing up in Dallas — especially the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s (“we were *that* family,” he said)  as well as the musical avant-garde royalty of Dallas/Ft. Worth, with free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman and the cross-genre artists of Dolphin Records getting a shout-out.

Towards the end, there was a great audience question about how Nance balanced both his belief in the Afro-Futuristic idea of time collapse (as opposed to its linearity), with the need to do activist work for a better NOW. Nance’s answer was nuanced. Yes, he said, time is subjective. But the value in improving circumstances and lives in the present remains.

Then we all sang “Happy Birthday” to Ava DuVernay, who turned 48 yesterday and headed for Commodore Barry Park.