Reflection at the end of Week 3: Summer 2017
Written by Carlos Sirah
We spent the week of the 10th-14th of July with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Helena and West Helena. Arielle and partner, Rev. Dr. Kyle Miller, director of the Delta Cultural Center, spent time with the kids from the Helena site, and Carlos Sirah and Ashley Teague spent the week with the children at the West Helena Site. The children ranged in age from fifteen being the oldest, and four the youngest. Joyous, rambunctious, and eagerness are all apt descriptors of the folk and the energy they brought to our shared time together.
Following closely in the wake of the curriculum begun in the previous week with the Visiting Elaine’s Heroe’s in Elaine, these workshops were entitled respectively: “Visiting Helena Heroes” and “Visiting West Helana Heroes.” Through playing theater games, building song, performance play, and story circling, the children of the Boys and Girls club wrote in text and their bodies, the material that would culminate in a sharing for themselves and their parents on Friday.
This week also found the cohort meeting with Beatrice Shelby, who is the director of the Boys, Girls, Adults Community Development Center (BGACDC) in Marvell; a town in Phillips County just sixteen miles due west of West Helena via Highway 49. From the BGACDC, Ms. Shelby provides programming in art, IT, food nutrition, mental health, life skills/coaching, among others for children and their families. In conjunction with the connected restaurant, The Best Food in Town, and an on-site garden, Ms. Shelby, also conducts classes in nutrition, and diabetes prevention as well as providing mentorship for the cultural workers on staff at the site.
As we inquire about the state of Phillips County, we counsel ourselves to look to the work already being done in the county. Many of those people have been named in the previous blog. An inquiry, inevitably follows: which indigenous models of work and cultural health practices are/have been successful in Phillips County? Can those models be replicated? How are the models replicable? What are the modes of transmission?
In Zong #15, Nourbese Phillips conjures, “defend the dead.” the words float in the mercurial abyss of the white page. There is a tacit understanding contained in the words, “defend the dead,” which is defense of the dead, which is also preventing death, which is preventing more death.
As my week drew to a close, my ears heard something that shocked, and yet did not shock me. While I had been looking and listening for the dead, in an air-conditioned Mazda, moving around Phillips County from Ratio to Hoop Spur to Lambrook Plantation, then north to Marvell, to Elaine, and to Helena, the revelation of a mass grave found in the capital of my home state rode over the radio waves.
How many more graves are there?
This work of re-membering signals that something somewhere has been dis-membered. One genesis of that rupture is slavery. Its consequences being long and wide, and running very deeply. There are others. We should name them.
The children re-membered themselves, they re-membered their families, the story of the heroes in their lives, in ways unique and substantive to them. In The Unfinished Genesis of the Imagination, Wilson Harris writes, “One senses that the models we have enshrined—whether tragedy, epic, allegory, documentary realism—are partial, and if we invest in them absolutely then alas the abyss into which our civilization is slipping has nothing to offer us but an ultimate divorce from the genesis and mystery of consciousness, ultimate divorce from reality, ultimate loss.”
Does the soul have restraints?
In Phillips County, in the Delta, in this America. It happens like this: you’re redoing the backyard, renovating your home, and the push of the bulldozer enters the earth and comes up with bone. That’s what it means to enter the ground. In this land. It is to come up with Bone. Whose bones? A determination must be made.
The technologies that the kids of Elaine, Helena-West Helena children brought to their week with us are instructive of how the work of re-memembering should and does manifest. A spirit of joy, of pleasure, of witness, of chaos, even. And then they sang their damn song!
We must always listen to the song of children.
We must empower their songs to be sung.
In Scenes of Subjection, Saidiyah Hartman writes on remembering/redress in this way, “Redressive action encompasses not only a heightened attention to the events that have culminated in the crisis but also the transfiguration of the broken and ravenous body into a site of pleasure, a vessel of communication, and a bridge between the living and the dead.
The technologies of Phillips County are present and at work. Work that defies the move toward divorce from reality and loss, and toward that which is reparative. This ability to move through (trans) that Hartman invokes is paramount: by bridge, by oration, by bodying forth, and communing with and communicating with all that lies between us.