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Black History

At 88, Toni Morrison Personifies the Strength of Black Womanhood

NNPA NEWSWIRE — With each masterful stroke of her pen, typewriter or (later) her computer keyboard, Legendary author, Toni Morrison keeps readers of her works and listeners of her words spellbound. “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives,” she once said.

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By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Black Girl Magic, Black Girls Rock, and other slogans have surfaced in recent years to describe the power, resilience and steadiness of the Black woman. But, 88 years ago, a legend was born who would eventually embody the spirit and definition of strength of Black womanhood: Toni Morrison.

“Being, a black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn’t limit my imagination; it expands it,” Morrison famously said.

With each masterful stroke of her pen, typewriter or (later) her computer keyboard, Morrison kept readers of her works and listeners of her words spellbound. “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives,” she once said.

This week, this month and likely throughout Women’s History Month in March, Morrison will undoubtedly be talked about. Her words will flood social media and other platforms, and somewhere a young Black girl will be inspired.

Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, on February 18, 1931, Morrison earned a B.A. in English from Howard University in 1953 and a Master of Arts from Cornell University in 1955.

She later taught at Howard for seven years.

In 1958, while she was teaching at Howard, she married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect and the couple had two sons before they divorced in 1964.

In 1988, Morrison won the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel, Beloved, which was later adapted for a film starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.

Her first novel was The Bluest Eye in 1970. Other celebrated novels include Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Jazz, Paradise, and God Help the Child.

The first Black woman to ever be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Grammy Award, Morrison’s list of accolades are nearly endless.

Some of those awards include:

  • 1977: National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon
  • 1977: American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award
  • 1987–88: Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
  • 1988: Helmerich Award
  • 1988: American Book Award for Beloved
  • 1988: Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Race Relations for Beloved
  • 1988: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Beloved
  • 1988: Frederic G. Melcher Book Award for Beloved.
  • 1989: MLA Commonwealth Award in Literature
  • 1989: Honorary Doctor of Letters at Harvard University
  • 1993: Nobel Prize for Literature
  • 1993: Commander of the Arts and Letters, Paris
  • 1994: Condorcet Medal, Paris
  • 1994: Rhegium Julii Prize for Literature
  • 1996: Jefferson Lecture
  • 1996: National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
  • 2000: National Humanities Medal
  • 2002: 100 Greatest African Americans, list by Molefi Kete Asante
  • 2005: Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Oxford University
  • 2008: New Jersey Hall of Fame inductee
  • 2009: Norman Mailer Prize, Lifetime Achievement
  • 2010: Officier de la Légion d’Honneur
  • 2011: Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for Fiction
  • 2011: Honorary Doctor of Letters at Rutgers University Graduation Commencement
  • 2011: Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Geneva
  • 2012: Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • 2013: The Nichols-Chancellor’s Medal awarded by Vanderbilt University
  • 2014 Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award given by the National Book Critics Circle
  • 2016 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction
  • 2016 The Charles Eliot Norton Professorship in Poetry (The Norton Lectures), Harvard University
  • 2016 The Edward MacDowell Medal, awarded by The MacDowell Colony

“At the wisdom-age of 88, the creative courage and genius of Sister Leader Toni Morrison continues to awaken the consciousness of millions of people in America and throughout the world,” said National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.

“Morrison personifies what it means to be a long-distance freedom-fighting author. The NNPA salutes and wishes Toni Morrison a happy birthday,” Chavis said.

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Arts and Culture

IN MEMORIAM: Autris Paige

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

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AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.
AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

August 17, 1938 – January 12, 2023

AUTRIS T. PAIGE was the youngest child born to Estella and Overton Paige in Sugar Land, Texas on Aug. 17, 1938.  He passed away on Jan. 12, 2023 in Oakland after a brief illness.  He was supported and comforted by his longtime companion Donna Vaughan.

Mr. Paige grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

He served in the U.S. Air Force.

In 1971, he made his debut with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, appearing in Candide at the Los Angeles Music Center and at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. He appeared with Ray Charles and the American Ballet Theatre and performed in several musical theatre productions on Broadway including Lost in the Stars; Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope; as Walter Lee in Raisin; and in Timbuktu with Eartha Kitt.

Mr. Paige has also sung with the New York City Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and with the San Francisco Opera. Other opera companies in which he performed include the Seattle Opera and the Glyndebourne Opera in England. He was featured in the PBS film and award-winning EMI recording of Porgy and Bess as well as the recording of the opera X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X.

When he returned to Oakland to “retire” he met Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams, Founder and Director of Today’s Artists Concerts (now Four Seasons Arts), who auditioned Paige and invited him to perform on his series. Mr. Paige began a new phase of his musical career.

He appeared many times under the auspices of Today’s Artists Concerts/Four Seasons Arts in New York’s Alice Tully Hall and in venues around the Bay Area in their Art of the Spiritual programs. He was featured in his own Spiritual Journey in 2009. His recently released solo CD, Spiritual Journey, based on this program, has received critical acclaim.

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

In 2011, Mr. Paige was featured in Four Seasons Arts’ annual W. Hazaiah Williams Memorial Concert with the Lucy Kinchen Chorale and later with soprano Alison Buchanan. In 2013, he performed his Spiritual Journey II in Berkeley with pianist Othello Jefferson. A second CD entitled Classics and Spirituals was released in September 2013. Pianist Jerry Donaldson of Oakland was a frequent collaborator with Mr. Paige, performing throughout the Bay Area.

A Celebration of Life for Autris Paige will take place Friday, Feb. 3 at 11:00 a.m. at Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, 1399 McAllister Street, San Francisco.

A repast will follow the service.

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Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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