BETTER BOY’S FOUNDATION / “Hey Black Child”
Don’t take music for children for granted. Don’t think you can just go out and easily purchase an inspirational record for you son/daughter, niece/nephew, not to mention that young student you teach and want to inspire, or that kid that hangs around the corner store and is always drawing pretty pictures on the sidewalk, or even your darling two, supper-intelligent grandchildren who take over your living space every other Saturday night. Especially if they are black, brown, yellow, red or any other shade of humanity. And most especially don’t think good vibes are available is you struggle through the day to day in America and its nineteen seventy-something. Not that it’s much better now—hey, wait, yeah, it is better, way better but even in this betterness there’s still a deficit. Useni Eugene Perkins is a sociologist, a stalwart community organizer in Chicago. Born in Chicago on September 13, 1932, brother Perkins has been at it for decades. Not days, not months, not years but decades! He’d take a job with The Urban League and turn it into a commitment to turn around his community. And he was dealing with the hardest of the hardcore. My man’s also a sho nuff griot. Takes seriously the dual task of documenting social reality and inspiring the people—yeah, I know “the people” sounds like a “right on” phrase from the sixties, but check this: the people includes millions of children nationwide who are systematically overlooked, ignored, denigrated, exploited, miseducated and daily used as silent statistics in pathological reports on the deterioration of the ‘hood. Marvin said it: who really cares? Useni cares. In the late sixties and the seventies when he was executive director of the Better Boys Foundation of Chicago, Useni produced a play—actually, a musical and it wasn’t no cartoon with cute children dressed up as sunflowers, mischievous mice, or even colorful albeit mythic kings and queens of an ancient Africa. Useni’s reality-grounded play was called The Black Fairy. And the point of the play was that we as a people had to save ourselves. Yes, we had to know our history but we also had to seize the time. Inspired, perhaps, by knowledge of the past, today’s real task was to build for tomorrow. Chi is good for that kind of thinking from the black community. Harlem may be better known, but during the 20th century, Chi’s Southside was the nationalist home of Black America. Barack Obama didn’t come out of nowhere, he came out of Southside Chicago. He’s grounded. Obama fully understands what it takes to organize people: the people, our people, all people. I bet you Obama knows who Useni is. As we old heads are fond of saying, “back in the day” Useni and them put out a record, sort of a soundtrack from the play. I can’t speak for others, but in the Salaam household, five little people grew up listening to and singing along. About two weeks or so ago, I ran across a website that had a picture of the Black Fairy album cover and a question. Not a whole lot of specifics immediately came to mind (I even forgot that it was Useni’s play) but I responded with a brief note and said that though I no longer owned a copy (one of the realities of living in New Orleans is that you have to carry most of your mementos in your head, the water is unforgiving, hell, a lot of landmarks are gone, nothing left but empty spaces literally—not even rubble, just an empty lot where a bakery used to be, an open field where the house you grew up in was formerly situated, so you know what happened to photos and record albums, anyway…), I responded briefly and encouraged the blogger to post the album if he had it. Last week I got a private note passing on a link. A person who has a vinyl copy shared on condition that the link not be posted online. So, instead of the whole album, which is long, long out of print, here are three cuts that will give you a flavor of what the deal-lee-o is. OBTW, the saxophonist is Chico Freeman. While some of the lyrics might sound dated, the music is timeless, and, unfortunately, we still need a Black Fairy. Here it is a new millennium and we still need classics from a bygone era. Damn. But then again, not damn, but just, that’s the way of the world. Think about that. As long as we give birth to them, we need to save our children. —Kalamu ya Salaam
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