Friday, October 10, 2008

A new kind of dancin’, a few week’s ago.

In his fashion, Ursinho hit on a big idea. As part of Hannah’s residency at Sacatar she had arranged for a Cariocan children’s book author, Rogerio Andrade Barbosa, ( ) to spend a week in Itaparica and collaborate on project development.

Rogerio was one of the first children’s authors to write books focusing on Afrocentricity and positive global racial role models for Afro-Brasilians. Augusto set up a palestra/lecture at Colegio Estadual Duque de Caixas in the heart of Liberdade. A firebrand of a guy with a booming baritone, a passion for self determination and a bloodline that includes an African grandfather and two half Brasilian/half Swedish offspring. He is a loaded pistol.

The plan was to for two people who have both lived in Africa to share their vision of Africa. Two non-Africans, visually white, speaking to an all black assembly of 200+ teens. Hannah currently lives in Cape Town, South Africa. In the 80’s Rogerio was a U.N. volunteer to Guinea Bissau, where he says he received his calling. Over the last twenty years he has traveled extensively throughout the African continent.

Going into the gauntlet Hannah was beside herself with what appeared to be a time management crunch. She had a heartfelt desire to bring the best of her consciousness of Africa to these kids, though she had few materials to illustrate the realities of her African life with her. Add a healthy fear of public speaking through a translator to a tough audience. Finally Hannah seemed to have a dose of anxiety regarding the validity of her voice as a reflection of African culture.

Rogerio was balls to walls, rough ready and preachin’ from the mountaintop. Mr. Robeson step aside, here He comes. Together they were a dream team. Within in moments this odd couple had enraptured their audience better than Rev. Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, or Minister Farakhan could have done with their flock. Those aren’t my men, but in their way, they got rhythm.

Hannah had carefully constructed a visual image of South Africa to show the land and its wonders, a face of the people, a snapshot of her home, the township life and the bright lights of the city. She spoke passionately of her love of the African people, their culture and economic realities. Prior to Sacatar Hannah had illustrated one of the first children’s books to be originally written in Xosa. Her work with Rogerio hopes to find stories, lullabies, folktales and myths from Brazil and make bilingual books for children.

Rogerio reiterated how African Brazilians and particularly Baianos truly are. He gave a variety of illustrations both concrete and poetic to galvanize the children. His tone embodied the sentiments ingrained in the first verse of the American Negro National anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, by James Weldon Johnson:

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Rogerio's books are a tapestry of subtle and profound stories that introduce iconic images drawn from American Negro Spirituals, African Folktales, interwoven with the real life stories of Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela or Zumbi. Today he took us to church.

The children unsure at first as to why these two people would be addressing them had been sitting for more than 90 minutes waiting for us to arrive from Itaparica. After the assistant principal quelled their teen spirit they hung on every word and image.

The only awkward moment came when a young vitriolic Brazilian woman, not a student asked if she could ask a question at the podium. Venomously she insinuated that these two had no right to speak on the subject of Africa as non blacks. To her mind, Rogerio's reference of Capoeira and its roots in Angola did not credit Angola enough for its contribution to African or Brazilian culture. As an American I have seen this scenario many, many times before. Instead of welling with pride that non Africans want to embrace Africa and sing praises,didactically she latched onto the idea that white people were representing Africa.

In the end, the students did not share her piss and vinegar. A swell of students rushed forward kissing and hugging them both, throwing questions that they hadn’t wanted to speak out loud to the duet.

It was quite apparent during the lecture that they were acutely concerned with the economics of the Township vs. the Favela. Who lived better? What was the furniture and decorations like? Did their peers dress the same as they? Basically all the stuff of interest to teens with little global awareness, and a small slice of the pie.

Afterwards we went upstairs to have a more informal discussion in the teen sexuality center, a lounge where students can receive advice, referrals, condoms and comfort. The teacher who ran the center was proud and passionate of her achievements. This was one of a few facilities like this nationwide. She had the support of the school board and the local government, so with luck it could grow exponentially.

I had had other plans that morning, but was so elated to have been able to listen to the lecture and share in the pride that the palestra brought to these students. De verdade era Legal!

Rogerio’s speech: ( )

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