Living Tribute

For a minute, it felt like a reality show called Physical Therapy with The Harris Siblings.  Big Brother Glenn was answering questions from his new Physical Therapist. I was listening to her intake interview with him, but I was distracted as Big Brother Ron quietly cracked jokes and Little Sister Anna talked waayyyy too loudly on the phone until I gently waved her quiet.

It would have been exasperating if we all weren’t so nervous and hopeful and if our family didn’t have the same ability to laugh and concentrate at the same time.

Over the next few weeks, we learned that the Physical Therapist was tough enough for Glenn and able to tap into his competitive temperament. As I attended several sessions, she had the former athlete and DC Hall of Fame broadcaster pushing past discomfort to increase his mobility. She had him walking across the room and climbing stairs. And practicing on his own during off days.

I was inspired by Big Brother Glenn – almost as much as I was worried about him before coming to DC for my April-June Nicholson Project residency, my reunion with the extended fam, and my reunion with Glenn after his most recent stroke.  

In 2005, Ron and a community committee produced a ‘Living Tribute’ to Glenn at the Blackburn Center at Howard University. Praise. Flowers. Roast. Affirmation. Electricity in the air as we uplifted a DC Native Son. I told Ron the Living Tribute was a model that should be used for other worthy recipients.

To date, Glenn is the first and only recipient of one of Ron’s Living Tributes, but I’ve kept alive in my spirit the notion that in our lives we must remain ready to ID folks deserving of their own Living Tributes. And we must organize and produce such Praise Events whatever their character or size while folks are still breathing and can savor their dap.

‘What the fuck Mo!’

The young brother yelled at the bus driver, who had accelerated so fast that I stumbled and almost fall.

‘Driving off so fast you almost had OG flying!’

I regained my balance and found a seat. I was touched that Homeboy had looked out for me in such a publicly profane way, setting the ethical framework for all to hear.

‘Yeah and I didn’t wear my wings!’ I said nervously.

Homeboy wasn’t having sentimentality. He just nodded at me and stepped down the aisle to his own seat. I didn’t look back at him when I disembarked at the Potomac Metro station.

Consider this shoutout a Living Tribute to my anonymous Southeast DC knight in shining armor!

I’m the guy who looks to the rainbow in my family. Who laughs. Gets serious. Actually wants to know the grown nieces and nephews and their children. Who can dive into deep waters of family history. Who can discuss what would ordinarily be taboos.

Like Al Jarreau, I convert emotions into music and know when to listen, when to critique a long-ago decision, even my own, in order to atone or sift lessons. Who can graciously be on the receiving end of my sister Anna’s stinging recollections of me wearing my various polyester ensembles during my adolescence. Who can lament with each of us as we tell sacred stories about Ma, who died in 1984 and is still the deepest crater in all our lives.

I walk the lines between brooding and meditation, between paralyzing sadness and liberating knowing that we were raised, I mean RAISED, by flawed but heroic parents who TRULY wanted us to do the right thing as Living Ambassadors to their best aspirations for us! Who wanted us to be Living Tributes to them and to each other, understanding that family is a lifelong set of shifting experiences and vows and opportunities to renew dedication to one another.  

Sit with our oldest brother in silence b/c he chooses not to speak b/c he doesn’t trust himself to speak clearly after strokes, b/c he unfairly compares himself to a 40-year Hall of Fame career of improvising Sports Talk.

Ride shotgun with Ron to his grandson’s graduation from middle school, enrolling in a congregation of DC residents of all cultural backgrounds but grounded by the magnificent Black families roaring their joy out to their loved ones throughout the ceremony, only to have the entire gogo end with the students marching out the auditorium to the timeless Frankie Beverly singing  We Are One!

Living Tribute. Give it up now to our loved ones!

Muster all the family courage to wreak happiness, to excavate the memories that make us hold our heads to the sky.

Continue to make eye contact, to slow your roll if age has slowed one of us physically or mentally, listen to the same stories, the classic songs, and learn anew, learn to renew, get current as possible and bring all drama and trauma into the healing present and sing along with Frankie when he and Maze as they harmonize: I wanna thank you, uttering the heroic gratitude that helps us transform lingering pettiness then transcend it into actual LIVES, lives that can be, for sure, complex, funky, irritating, or downright exhausting, that make our guardians and ancestors proud!

Would you sing for me?

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “….  These are the kinds of memories that form the elemental layers of mythology. And frankly, the more I think about it, they are real insulation for my daily and symbolic life as a brother dedicated to living humanely. In a world where I can become the boogey man in a minute — fingered out the mouths of murderers from suburban Boston to rural South Carolina — elevating my personal memories into instructive mythology might just keep me sane or calm enough to speak the magic words of self preservation when I find myself in the center of a police flashlight, or dying while the opening credits roll, or even facing down another young brother whose brain is on cultural vapor lock. As I add layers to my mythology — improvising on the keys to better living, gleaning the secrets I’ve learned from the let’s get it on of my life — my confidence grows. I join with other men seeking to keep on keeping on. We swap our tales of families that coped, of love that lasted, of urban lives built on rural gumption, until a common body of insight simmers, ready for freddy with a language as natural as Smokey’s “Tracks of My Tears,” a wisdom as familiar as Richard Pryor’s Mudbone stories, and a mutual ownership as gracious as the standing dinner invitation of a favorite aunt and uncle.This is the mythology we save because of self-love. It ain’t no joke and, quiet as it’s kept, it ain’t no myth .…”


Often, spiraling signifies going down slow.

Singing my baby done gone at a microphone wobbling in the middle of quicksand!

All senses. All skin. Touch discerned only through pain receptors!

Spiraling until we become Blues Song Incarnate!

In the glow of sweeter wisdom, I want to embrace spiraling as a new kind of corkscrew.

Spiraling in all directions in search of richer sensations, in search of full-bodied opportunities.

Irradiating toward peak experiences that singe me with excitement. That leave me illuminated with insight. That move me from a state of grace into a state of ecstasy.

All senses. All skin. Touch discerned only through pleasure receptors.

Neuropathways that sizzle into being with a child’s brazen aha!

Intriguing angles swelling into view tinged with surprise and invitation.

In the glow of sweeter wisdom, I spiraled into my artist residency at the Nicholson Project from April 18th – June 26th, 2023, in Washington, D.C., my hometown. I embraced personal history in imaginative and intimate ways as I worked from the live/workspace on Nicholson Street, in hopes that my work would contribute to the project’s mission exploring “positive roles that art and design can play in strengthening the community” of Anacostia, where I grew up.

Southeast D.C. spirals through my cultural DNA. I was a toddler on Howard Road, an adolescent in Parklands. My parents bought their only house on 5th Street in Congress Heights. I graduated from Ballou. My first apartment was off Naylor Road. I danced at festivals in Anacostia Park. EU’s Sugar Bear was my classmate. Chuck Brown played my HS dances. When I visit fam, I take in the vista from the hill outside the Panorama Room. In my American Book Award collection, The Black Man of Happiness, I recall speaking at my father’s funeral: “I see the faces of people who know what it mean to say, ‘I’m from D.C. I’m from Southeast,’” — “dinner tables always big enough for the child of a neighbor who had to work late or who just didn’t have it all together.” My poem “Local Music” says: “thank god I grew up where bridges named after frederick douglass & duke ellington!” For my book SongAgain, MacArthur Fellow Terrance Hayes called me “one of our original gangsters for truth, love and poetry.” That imprinting came from my OG’s — “grown ass, working-class, men and women” — during my formative years in SE.

During my Nicholson Residency, I continued and deepened my reading on happiness including recent books, articles, and digital media on positive psychology; continued my search for LEGACY photos at the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Moorland–Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, among other collections; refined drafts of essays/poetry for a book I’m writing on Black male tenderness called Baby Talk: Speak a Little Tenderness; formatted community engagement programs in which discussion/creative prompts are tied to “Mandalas of My Life,” my video commissioned by LA County Museum of Art exploring 44 years of devoted fatherhood; and conversated with my sister and two oldest brothers, including Glenn Harris, award-winning broadcaster and humanitarian whose long career in D.C. broadcasting landed him in the Washington, D.C. SPORTS HALL OF FAME, the SILVER CIRCLE of The National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and the National Association of Black Journalist’s SAM LACY PIONEER AWARD.

For a D.C. Native Son born, bred and educated from public schools to Howard University, The Nicholson residency afforded consecrated time to continue my growth within the inspiring context of my old neighborhood. Though too much of African American history has focused rightfully, and righteously, on trauma and pain, I was reinvigorated by work embracing an almost paradoxical assertion by Sissela Bok in her book Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science (2011).” [Page 6]:

“The study of happiness never was a luxury to be postponed until more serene, peaceful times.… It is precisely in times of high danger and turmoil that concerns about happiness are voiced most strikingly and seen as most indispensable. From earliest times, views of human happiness have been set forth against the background of suffering, poverty, disease, and the inevitability of death. …” [Page 5]

But all deep thought aside, you know what was at the top of my official Residency to-do list?

Re-up for a library card from the D.C. Public Library’s Anacostia Branch on Good Hope Road, where as a child my mother actually took me for my first library card!

On day one, I borrowed books of poetry and nonfiction that reflected my eclectic spiraling, including the anthology Words of Protest, Words of Freedom:  Poetry of the American Civil Rights Movement and Era, edited by Jeffrey Lamar Coleman; The Mother of All Questions, by Rebecca Solnit; Dying of Whiteness, by Johnathan M. Metzl; The Invention of the White Race, by Theodore W. Allen; and The Firebrand and the First Lady: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice, by Patricia Bell-Scott.

And my second official duty?

Purchase my Metro SmarTrip card since I didn’t have a car during my residency.

While I struggled to figure out how to work the imposing fare machine, Brother Robert slid into my peripheral vision offering to help. I was wary and not really down for the interruption, but I flowed with him. After 5 unsuccessful tries to buy my card, I told brother I was going to ask the uniformed staff for help.

Brother Robert was indignant.

“You messing up my commitment!”

“Your commitment!?”

“To help people.”

“You did help me—or you tried to help me!”

“No I didn’t. You still aint got your card!”

I said no problem, Brother Robert. Take this two dollars and let the man in the kiosk earn his pay. The dude behind the kiosk explained the steps to me, which led to me buying my card.

When I went upstairs to catch the bus back to the Nicholson Project, I saw Brother Robert and explained the mistake we made. At first he was dismissive but then I said, ‘Naw, hold up now, let me break this down for you, so next time you can really help someone.’

He listened as I broke it down. He paused then broke out smiling.

“Awight awight I got it now! We just missed one step!”

We dapped and I got on the 32 bus, and rolled on back to the live/work space on Nicholson Street.

MASCON anyone!?
I read of that word in Stephen Henderson’s book Understanding the New Black Poetry: Black Speech & Black Music As Poetic References.

“…Henderson too has that delightful critical propensity for creative definition,” wrote Barry Beckham in a book review in the April 1, 1973 issue of the NY Times. “He introduces the term “mascon” for the “massive concentration of black experiential energy”—meaning, if I read him correctly, linguistic and musical expressions carrying enormous emotional and psychological significance for blacks while defying understanding by outsiders…”  

Aint nothing more electrifying to me than genuine, intimate exchange of ‘mascon’ in real time. 

Thanks Brother Robert for spiraling with me!

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “…. I hugged my father for the first time as a political act. As a new father myself at 22, I struggled to find a setting for my temperament. To channel my fears that smart, successful parenting was beyond me. Just out of college, I also felt reined in, flamed out, domesticated, and unable to exercise all I’d learned from professors, students and Howard’s atmosphere of intellectual and social justice struggle against how American power had been used against Black folks. I was a newbie in Baltimore cultural and political circles. Nationalism and Pan Africanism and passion for political backtalk were demanding that I stand for big public ideas and positions. Every young poet wailed like Coltrane. Strung together syllables like Bird. I was changing diapers. Burping Ketema, trying to get him to stop crying (fighting urges to pop him upside his infant head) when his Moms went to exercise classes. I was washing dishes, washing clothes, trying to write, knowing, of course, that responsbile fatherhood was critical to ‘the struggle,’ but sensing I owed more, that more was demanded of me. I felt alone, isolated. The revolutionary missed his daddy. I got out the car in front of the family home on 5th Street. Daddy got up from his seat on the porch swing and eased down the few steps. We met on the concrete walkway that separated the small square of lawn and strip of rose bushes he tended. I hugged him like I usually did, but didn’t let go or just pound his back. I held on for way longer than he thought was proper out front of the house he and Moms had bought in 71 after years of apartment living. He didn’t try and unclench, but he stood there like rigor mortis had set in. Hugging Pops full out had come to me while I washed dishes one night. I was lip synching Lionel Richie on “This Is Your Life,” from The Commodores’ Caught in the Act LP. What’s the point of being publicly political, if your politics separated you from your blessings, the blessings that had kept you fed, clothed, safe, and motivated to go to college. Family, flawed and frustrating and human, was definitely a blessing. As was whatever music fed you! No doubt, growing up meant foraging and forging ideas different from those of your home/womb space. But accrue, boy, I thought, don’t disavow, like an Educated Fool! I’d heard that term from the elders in my extended family and they said it like there was nothing worse a person could ever be. I sure didn’t want to be no educated fool! I decided that hugging my father beyond protocol was the most powerful way to remind my Pops that we still shared the same last name and the easiest way to begin closing our own Inspiration Gap. From that first hug, until he died, every time we greeted each other I hugged him full out. Every time we departed, I hugged him full out. We went from that stiff first hug to damn near slow dragging as we learned how to commune through our embraces. I felt that anything I did in public would be hollow, if I didn’t consolidate all my skills as a virtuoso communicator (and middle child of two big brothers and two younger sisters), and use this gesture as a way to make new music with this man who’d never attended high school, who drank too much, who passed on his values through accrual, not disavowal.…”


History unfolds. Generations pass. The present infolds into evergreen ideologies draped in new vocabulary.

I’m thinking of our culture’s obsession with whiteness – what Dr. Frances Cress Welsing and Neely Fuller, Jr. dubbed white supremacy.

I’m observing one of its current ambassadors, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, on his quest for power. He’s brazenly determined to shut down, and shut out, the complexity of life and reduce it to one dimension. Treating, for example, pedagogy for children the same as university students.

DeSantis and his donors, legislative minions, bureaucratic bullies, and sidewalk zombies use Wokeness as a scary synonym for keeping Black folks and their cultural and political history in their place. Invisible. Isolated.

They want to keep us from sullying their malignantly, willfully, innocent place in which white men are Undiluted Heroes, are Untouched Genius in all things, are Brave Singular Genius in every human endeavor, are Source, are Touchstone, are Transcendence, are evidence of Divine Anointment who must, sigh, still carry the burden of conquering, training, deporting lesser people.

DeSantis wears his white wading boots as he cynically traffics the fantasy that only his ilk is chosen to create, ignore, and/or deform documented and living history. Armed with his ‘troubled’ Ivy League imprimatur, he’s selectively ahistorical and patently unbelievable, except to earthlings clinging to their fantasy that there exists some mystical state of being where all the greatness resides in bold white men who simply do what they have to do for god, country and white women.

When I see DeSantis’s pious grimace, when I hear his skin-deep intellectualism and pandering cliches, I trace his DNA in a simple way. I superimpose his face on the photos of white males partying at lynchings, spitting on a teenager walking into a public school, braying at nonviolent marchers, stabbing us with an American flag ….

What shortness of vision, what endorphin dump, could bolster a position that makes actual history scary and untenable for American students and American citizens?

I call it Whitelessness, which is not white supremacy, but the psychological state that allows folks to be activated – as if by a white supremacist spell – into being white over being American, or to define being American as (only) being white.

Whitelessness provides folks with the psychological confidence to ignore facts, to ignore causes of actual social arrangements started and sustained and manipulated by rich men.  

Whitelessness frees someone swooning to its allure to willingly and imaginatively create/target human and sociological scapegoats (immigrants, the Woke, self-hating whites, among them), while craving and accepting a social status based on random biology such as skin color.

Whitelessness is a geopolitical state of genuflecting asphyxiation.

In an essay I wrote to accompany my poem Whitelessness, which closes my new book SongAgain, I Xray my reaction to this artificial state of being, which nonetheless is, and has been, a clear and present danger to so many.

“I am wearing my freshly-pressed Griot Clothes,” I write. “I am dedicated to inspirational individuality. I reflect my bent, my set-point, toward joyous, politically charged, uncensored self expression. I seek the worthiness to find change on the sidewalks of improvisation. I seek worthiness to heroically wield the Flashlight we have for generations kept charged to illuminate American B.S., hypocrisy, and violence.”

I also trace the DNA of our resistance to proponents of Whitelessness, including the scathing 1791 letter from Benjamin Banneker that calls out Thomas Jefferson’s double standard on the ‘state of slavery’ – soaring language for colonists revolting against England’s monarchy and medieval consolidation of wealth and power vs. self-serving accommodation justifying bondage of those who labored for Jefferson’s pursuit of happiness.

I even quote George Clinton’s Star Child, who signified succinctly:

‘Let me put on my sunglasses here, so I can see what I’m doing ….’

Since I coined Whitelessness, I’m compelled to hold it up to the light and distill additional definitions to capture the generational hold this malignant exceptionalism has on the American political class and its willing executioners, who are so afraid of e pluribus unum they’d rather ally with a powerful minority of divide-and-conquerors than forge and cultivate common ground with the majority. 

So, here’s the current glossary of my Wreaking Happiness Lexicon of Whitelessness:

tribal siren song … cult member’s mantra … malignant self regard …
conceptual atrophy … vigilante’s psychic bassinette …

violence crystallized … misplaced malice … curdled hypertension … unearned exceptionalism …
weaponized innocence … pawn’s lagniappe … poverty’s carpool pass … pimp & circumstances …

desperate camouflage … cosplay over leadership …
press gang’s wet dream … indentured servant PTSD … patty roller’s bedazzlement …

power’s coinage … ruling class IOU … withered currency …
OG AI … neuro apartheid … synaptic fibrosis … prelude to wreaking havoc …

unresolved apathy … empathetic decay … exhausted imagination … depleted resilience …  

I make no accommodation with Whitelessness, with this one-note trap sporting the contradictory, schizophrenic, trappings of scientific insight, the inevitability of evolution, and the certainty bestowed by true believers.

I make no accommodation with this power tool, with this tool of powerful interests collaged from generational governing myths.

I make no accommodations to this psychological camouflage for holding onto power, with this historical divisiveness premising itself as an antidote to divisiveness.

I make no accommodation with this congenital enemy of debate and discourse, which seeks to assign and calcify my place in the world, which seeks to establish an official hierarchy, govern by decree, hoard power, replace current and historical rigor with strategic and fanatical zealotry.

I make no accommodation with this imposition on my freedom, a natural state of being long before Jefferson’s resounding language in the US Declaration of Independence.

Count me among the music makers and ‘discontented inspirationalists’ in service of creating the society that integrates the truth, and nurtures citizens who can handle the truth …!  

I close today’s sermon with this question I asked to close out my poem:

where are the diaphanous motherfuckers
who bear oxygen into this genuflecting asphyxiation
who bear iridescent witness against this myopic Whitelessness

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “…. I’m thinking about the most profound pursuit of happiness, which makes me think of Thomas Jefferson, which makes me think back to August 19, 1791, the date of a letter Mr. Jefferson received from Benjamin Banneker, who “freely and cheerfully acknowledge[d], that I am of the African race, and in that color which is natural to them of the deepest dye.” I smile at just how free Mr. Banneker must have felt to write the dude who crafted the resonant lines that inspired a Euro-American revolution against the British. Mr. Jefferson was a bonafide OG in 1791! … So how bold was Mr. Banneker to speak up at all…, calling out Mr. Jefferson, OG to OG, in that 18th Century diction that still bumps across the centuries like Dr. Dre playing the soundtrack for Jesus in mid-Crunk:

Sir, suffer me to recal to your mind that time, in which the arms and tyranny of the British crown were exerted, with every powerful effort, in order to reduce you to a state of servitude: … This, Sir, was a time when you clearly saw into the injustice of a state of slavery, and in which you had just apprehensions of the horrors of its condition…. but, Sir, how pitiable is it to reflect, that although you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of Mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges, which he hath conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves.”

That’s why I’m so deep off into this meditation on happiness. Speaking my mind is the prime proverb of happiness. Cannot bite my tongue, no matter who’s in the audience! No matter what the odds. Learning from my personal past, learning from the cultural past … Silence equals death, as the ACT UP folks said .…”

Stairway to Heaven

Once, I envisioned the sweetest stairway to heaven in a slow drag – dancing close, in a mutual dip, breath steaming up the room, singing lyrics into her ear in an intimate whisper, feeling her arms tighten around my shoulders in response, as the O’Jays sang the roadmap to paradise.

Now my first heavenly step tends to be when I find myself intimate with unexpected exhilaration.

Meeting someone whose silken intelligence humbles me and ignites curiosity. Accepting an invitation to collaborate in a way that allows me to infuse imagination into an otherwise linear admin experience. Observing a public display of generosity or service. Witnessing and savoring well-wrought creativity – onstage, at the open mic, in the movie house.

When I experience my daily living as if I were on a constant adventure, then I know I’m walking the stairway to heaven. When I smell fragrance from the stressful frictions of my life, when I feel supple despite the stresses in my life, when I keep my mind clear, my analyses sober, then I know I’m walking the stairway to heaven.

When I earn respect across borders, when I respect diligent ethical work by folks different from me, when I find the words of a timeless praise song, then I know I’m walking the stairway to heaven.

5th Street Sky

for Richard Fulton

in the 5th Street sky

white clouds drift over a bandstand of raining sighs
brighten after hours with storms proclaiming my my my
steaming away wrinkles in once sprawling lives

under the 5th Street sky

grown men cradle horns
float solos full of caffeine & whipped cream
sweeten melody with aroma of their high-hat wisdom
return time’s meaning for twitching family members
once slumped on sidewalks cackling with pain
now bowing into music with no shame

… sacred gone ground found …

summoning us into forgiveness
praise of dishonored angels
on the black & white walls

beneath 5th Street Dick’s baby blue ceiling

we find shelter from sticks & stones
bad days & broken bones
bottles & bubbles
sour drink & endless troubles

look how light falls on the humid faces turned up
as old timers tip toe into Harlem Dip & Central Avenue Stroll
stride past the curve of a sizzling piano
finger snaps shooting sparks through the air
old school medicine sipped & savored by hip hop heads
igniting language incinerating diction like lindy hopping dragonflies
homing in on a kaleidoscope of Monarch butterflies
to conjugate fantastic murals across dazzling 5th Street sky

who remembers the dawn when our cherished OG waved goodbye?
I will never forget the dawn when our cherished OG waved goodbye

In their song, the O’Jays ask in the fever of ecstasy: ‘don’t you wanna go, don’t you wanna go!’

And even in the midst of a slow drag I’m reminded to answer:

Yes yes yes, I do want to sense and trace the dimensions of life; yes yes yes, I will cultivate the aurora borealis within and around myself; yes yes yes, I will tap my self discipline, I will peep and avoid the humble’s promise of easy street, I will refuse the siren song of the political con; yes yes yes, I will network with subsonic harmonics of human living; and, yes yes yes, I will sync my future with a lifetime of precious memories.

Until, yes yes yes, I ring in harmony with my own exhilaration and my own Amazing Grace.

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “….  In the next few days, I came down with the worst case of what I now call the flu and the Blues. Fever. Sweats. Vomiting. Diarrhea. Breathlessness. Chest pains. Depression. Hallucinations.  Including one hallucination in which I saw myself as a helpless human pendulum swinging between the temperaments of my two older brothers, whom I’d always idolized for their radically different ways of being men. My oldest brother’s style? Think Old Faithful, the geyser, whose profanity-laced rants were sonic masterpieces as beautiful and riveting as Pete Townsend solos. My second oldest brother’s style? Think Agent 00 Soul…. I felt raging within my body these unhealthy extremes.  And my last hallucination plunged me into the healing sounds of hundreds of Black men singing from a core of wholeness, of vulnerability, of vision, to face whatever was ugly inside us, to celebrate an awesome faith in love and a faithful participation in love.  Listen … it’s no question, and I understood this even in my 20s, that great singing, great music, is an ineffable emotional aphrodisiac under any circumstances.  I am definitely not saying I had to lip synch Rose Royce (“…I’m going down …”) in order for pop ballads to become 4-minute mantras of metamorphoses.  But I have come to discern that this unbidden, flu-ridden, rite of passage was a genuine Round the Way Initiation.  I had a 20-something revelation that I could face what scared me, what scarred me, what stymied me, but only if I invested in my own genius and established my own elemental endowment.  I sensed I had discovered a sensual and regenerative operating system for the rest of my life, to deal with my drama, to activate my potential, to consolidate my triumphs .…”


In my early 20s, the Beach Boys turned me out! Me and my first love had gone to the Capital Center because we both dug Chicago, the opening act. We almost left the arena after Chicago blew us away with its muscular horn section. But as the song says, God only knows!

I was drifting on a contact high, the buzz of 20,000 fans, and my lover’s uncut groove, so I advocated that we give the corny California white boys a chance. We decided to listen to a couple of songs, and if they failed to meet the standards of two Chocolate City natives then we’d hat-up.

Have no idea which song they sang first, or the song list, but I swear the Beach Boys made believers out of two skeptics from SE, DC, who were steeped in the ferocious scope and depth and dimension of Black music.

But like Marvin sang: Come get to this!

I sang along fiercely with California Girls, I Get Around, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, and songs I didn’t even know I knew!

Alongside the most beautiful woman in the world, I glowed, she glowed, the whole joint glowed. 

I was so uplifted! I clapped till my hands ached. Stood up the whole damn show. We danced on-beat to the soaring, mesmerizing vocal overtones of the Beach Boys. We danced like two flower children from Topanga Canyon who made a stop in PG County Maryland on their way back home from Harlem’s Summer of Soul, with a side stop at Woodstock!


Everybody’s bioluminescence blazed in the house that night. Everybody was linked. We celebrated as “members of the same species.” We were inflamed by music and love and sincerity. Illuminated by song(s). Lit by lyric and voice and echo.

We could see each other listening to each other.

The light I shared with my first love didn’t keep us together, but it keeps us connected! Close my eyes and I can see her joyful face and I can feel my own joy reflected in my memory!

I mean, Good Vibrations for real!

Our glow remains palpable. Pure. Reminds me to sustain myself, to love myself more today than yesterday, and swing that love/keep it supple, ignite that love/keep it blazing, peep that love/stoke it till it’s ever ready to amaze.

Glow head on brother/bring that love on home.

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “…. I’m trying to tell him that none of this will be easy. That it takes the hardest work of our lives to remain personally resilient, ethical, hopeful, artistic, and resourceful, especially in the face of challenges …. I tell him that we should look within ourselves at least as deeply as the think tanks, foundations, nonprofits, prison systems, and public intellectuals are looking at our lives. We should care more about our health and more about our futures. I just want to be an animating force in my grandson’s life, which he has to live for himself, of course. I want him to have a clue about those elemental focus areas of all our lives: education, health, family, work, living incomes, and criminal justice. But I want his tool kit to also include inspiration, imagination, creativity, metaphor, celebration, empathy, compassion, and improvisation.  When I think like an administrator (and not a grandfather), I ask how can we trust the cultivation these so-called ‘soft’ tools? What role could they play in our lives? How could we seamlessly weave and incorporate them into even administrative processes? How could ‘Inspiration Specs’ maintain the rigor necessary to execute an administrative mission or reach organizational goals? Talking and listening to Jelani, I am full with the understanding that there’s nothing soft about trusting intentions, knowing viscerally, concentrating deeply, loving simplicity, developing fortitude, building stamina, and accepting excitement and curiosity as catalysts for new angles, supple thinking, leaps of associations, and vocabularies of possibilities. But don’t wait until you’re in crisis, I’m trying to say…. Locate the sources of your power, your strengths, your vitality, your vision, and become a powerful circuit breaker to actual and potential violence by using your mind and imagination to inspire change within yourself and within your world. Create your own governing myths, craft your own life-saving metaphors, generate your own inspiring narratives for the future, and stitch what’s awesome into the quilt of ‘practical’ approaches necessary to ensure your healthiest future.…”

Sixth Séance [Circle Songs]

I speak in tongues. My pantomime speaks volumes. I dance with the many dimensions of meaning. With or without words, I’m a poet. I sing circle songs to the horizons offered by my birthday this month, which puts me two steps from 7.0 on the Richter Scale.

Cultivating all 5 senses, finding joy in the swirl of being myself, I’ve become a medium for my own Sixth Séance, quietly attuned, slipping beyond, sensing visitations, inhaling light, seeing with my eyes closed, a sightless bird feeling my sacred place in the pandemonium …..

I “shake within the very depth of my most interesting being,” to quote Larry Neal’s poem, Malcolm X—An Autobiography.

“… He plays so beautiful don’t you agree…”And here I’m dreaming that Philip Bailey is praising my solo instead of the sensual wailing by saxophonist Don Myrick on the song Reasons, captured by EWF’s Gratitude recording.

For my 68th, I want yall to clap your hands this evening, sing out for love, and sing a message, sing a message, sing a message to whoever needs you to be their fragrance, medicine, balm, or lifeline into fully realized substantiation!

Continental Shelf

Ring Shout on a continental shelf
timing of a geyser or amniotic sac
submerged stomp over the edge

here we go again
channeling panic at a runaway government
into thunder push up mountains
vexation transform individualism into a coalition’s
predilection to get down on the upthrust
knee-deep in subduction between executive order & constitution
tectonics in our testimony against annihilation
discussed with indifference of a knock-knock joke
air bubbles like underwater flares

who’s there?
we submit to earth’s governance of our Turns
but heirs to legacy of unbound memory
we deep weeping & honor bound to channel panic
into drum major’s flamboyant echolocation

read the popping bubbles of our insistence
sing echoes of our inspiration
hold hands with your ancestors
survive on their water-logged go head on
bet with evolution  

here we go again
reforming the circle of shoulders on shaky ground
stomp & reverse a whirlpool high enough
to saturate beams from Star Wars
consecration unleashed from the sky
contemplation underwater
we wake in sacrifices of emissaries carry ID at gunpoint
reshaping contour of our own historical wish
names bursting mouths
ricochet branding hips
consensus unlocking jaws  

Ring Shout on continental shelf
timing of geyser or amniotic sac
risking quick step on H 2 O

who’s there?
who’s there?

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “…. All I’m asking is this: what is a happy Black man? All I’m getting is this: Raised eyebrows that sneer, Huh!? Heads shaken in doubt & resignation. As if it’s easier to look up and see Jesus hop-skotching barefoot down Pennsylvania Avenue than to ID a happy brother. I don’t mean happy-go-lucky, either. Clicking heels. Grinning. Eyes wide. Joking. Sacrificing like a slave. I don’t mean an update on minstrel do dah day. I mean happy. In stride. Flowing. Connected to an epic reason for living as unique as fingerprints, yet repping an inner fortitude and Fandango that catalyzes other folks, even when we’re facing and negotiating drama. Living. Laughing. Crying. Angry. Melancholy. Silly. Serious. Getting it done. Wrong decisions. Human. Whole enough to be grateful for breath, even when our mierda hits the fan, bank account’s running on fumes, no lover’s in the mix, and we need yoga classes to stretch what little income’s trickling through the pipeline. Resting, and relying, like elder Albert Murray says, on “that dynamic equilibrium, which is always precarious, but which makes for what we call happiness,” that unscripted sense of grace, which keeps us balanced on the tightrope, when we’re tempted to unhinge from accountability and plunge into depression, or get stuck on rage and indiscriminate anger, or brood until folks can smell it from our pores! Or is that Johnnie Walker Red, or weed, Camels, or prescription drugs? .…”