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Calvin Macon’s battle from addiction to published author

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES —  Macon started out smoking marijuana, eventually used cocaine and then crack cocaine. After retiring from the military, he was mostly using crack. When he realized he was addicted, he tried several ways to quit smoking the drug.

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By Erica Wright

To this day, Calvin Macon regrets the condition he was in when his parents last saw him.

“I was struggling,” he said. “I had a house and I was married, but I was still struggling with drugs. My parents died within about a month of each other [in 2004], and then my uncle died. I remember my dad telling my mom when she was really sick, ‘The only reason I’m here is for you.’ He died shortly after she did.”

Macon said his father had diabetes and an abscess on his toe. He went to the hospital to have it removed, which resulted in a blood clot that led to his death.

Macon, 62, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, sculptor, and recent author recalled the day he was getting ready to smoke crack cocaine at home—then he saw the light and knew it was time to quit. That was six months after he lost his parents, and he has been clean for the past 15 years.

Resisting temptation hasn’t always been easy: “I can see a cigarette lighter and think about when I used to smoke, or I can be driving somewhere and think about it because there are so many places I’ve been around Birmingham where I would go and buy drugs and smoke it or whatever,” he said.

Faith

Macon’s faith in God’s redemptive power is much stronger than his urge to do drugs, though.

“I believe in God, Jesus Christ, and I always knew I was supposed to be doing something else. That’s how I ended up writing my book,” he said. “I wrote my book in like a week and a half. I had written a couple of poems before, but when I decided to do this, I did it in hopes that it would help somebody because if I can do it, then they can do it.”

Part of his trusting God meant he had to end friendships that were not good for him, he said.

“I had to cut people off because they weren’t real friends anyway,” he said. “They’re friends while you’re smoking, but you just have to let folks go and you can’t be around it.”

Macon said he focused on sculpting, which he has done since serving in the Navy from 1975 to 1999. While serving on his first ship, he hand-carved a sculpture out of a wooden pallet.

“After we got supplies, I would find pallets or … any kind of wood available, [such as] broom handles, to make mobiles, coffee coasters, pipe holders, whatever,” he said. “Then in 1997, I started [working with] stone. I was stationed in Japan, where I met a stone sculptor. He gave me a chunk of soapstone, and I gave him a piece of ebony. Since then, I’ve been [working with] stone.”

Macon said it usually takes a month to shape a piece. Though he has done work for others and some galleries, he now mostly creates works for himself.

First Book

Macon began writing his book last year. He was inspired by some of his sculptures and would write poems to go with the pieces, then decided to put those poems in a book.

“A word or a phrase [would come to me], then I would write a poem around that word or that phrase and put it on Facebook with a picture of my work,” he said. “People would tell me I should copyright [the poems and pictures I put on Facebook].”

Macon got in contact with a publisher about writing a book. A few weeks later, the vice president of acquisitions called and said they were interested. It took Macon about a week and a half to put together material for his recently released first book, “I Can See the Light,” a compilation of pictorial poems that accompany his sculptures and illustrate how he overcame his struggle with drug addiction.

“Some poems are related to a specific carving in the hope that the artwork will add texture to the poem. Some poems reflect my thoughts and feelings as an addict, [as well as] interactions with my family, friends, and other addicts. Some are based on [my] post addiction reflections on the general revelation of God and how I see things today,” he said.

Recently, Macon recited some of the poems from the book at Bards and Brews, a poetry performance and beer tasting hosted by the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

Birmingham Native

Macon grew up in Birmingham as one of eight children; he has four older siblings and three younger siblings.

“I was a middle child, so I was pretty much on my own,” he said. “The older kids got stuff and the baby kids got stuff, but I was in the middle, so I was kind of by myself most of the time. [Even] when I would come home from the military, no one would even notice.”

His father worked at the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Birmingham and Dickey Clay Pipe Company in Fairfield. His mother cleaned houses in Mountain Brook.

Macon’s family grew up in the Acipco-Finley and Hooper City neighborhoods and moved to Hooper City by the time he was in fifth grade, which he began at Lewis Elementary School before transferring to Eagan Elementary.

“We had to change schools and went to Eagan, [where] we were one of two black families,” he said. “We had to fight our way home every day.”

Macon attended Phillips High School, where he was in one of the first few classes to integrate the school. After graduating in 1975, he enlisted in the Navy for advanced electronics.

“I was the only black in the class out of 50-something guys that went through,” he said. “There were plenty of black guys in the Navy, but they weren’t in advanced electronics or air controllers; they were on deck jobs and things like that.”

Macon was stationed in several different U.S. locales, including Memphis, Tenn.; Norfolk, Va.; Jacksonville, Fla.; San Diego, Calif.; Monterey, Calif.; he also served in Japan. While enlisted, he earned a bachelor’s degree from a State University of New York (SUNY) school.

“The Navy had instructors riding on ships, so you could take some of your basic classes onboard,” he said. “The way the program is set up, you could take the classes, or you could take the tests if you thought you could pass. Then [your work would be] submitted to the university, which would give you credit. That’s the way I did it.”

For Those Who Suffer

Once he retired from the Navy, Macon returned to Birmingham and worked as a receiving manager at a home-improvement store. While working, Macon was a self-described “functioning drug addict.”

“I probably started using drugs in the 1980s, when I was still in the military,” he said. “When I wasn’t around it, I was fine. Whenever I would come to Birmingham, I would be in trouble until I could get back up to Memphis, [where I was stationed], and then I would be fine. Once I retired, [though], there was no control of it because I was retired and getting a check, and I had my own house, so it was hard.”

Trying to Quit

Macon started out smoking marijuana, eventually used cocaine and then crack cocaine. After retiring from the military, he was mostly using crack. When he realized he was addicted, he tried several ways to quit smoking the drug.

“I would carry only certain amounts of money. I couldn’t call anybody I would smoke with,” he said. “None of that worked until I just said, ‘Lord, help me, just help me!’ Somehow it worked, kind of like that let-go-and-let-God thing. [At the time], I didn’t know what that meant, but now I do. … I used to just pray for one day, for Him to just give me one good day to quit.

“It’s extremely difficult for people who smoke crack or use any other opioid to stop. They may tell themselves, ‘I’m just going to do a little bit,’ but you can’t do just a little bit. No one starts out to be an addict; they just get caught up in it. Once they’re hooked, the world collapses because they can’t get out.”

Macon was finally able to get out—and he knows his parents would be glad to see that their son has now seen the light.

“I Can See the Light” (Covenant Books) is available at Amazon and in bookstores, including Barnes and Noble and Books A Million.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

Activism

San Francisco Proposes Art Installation to Honor Black Lives, History of African Americans

The sculptural figures created in all-black steel with vinyl tubing, each standing four feet high, would surround the empty pedestal where a statue of Francis Scott Key once stood. Key, who wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was a slave owner and abolition opponent.

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Dana King/ Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco, CA. – Mayor London N. Breed today announced the City of San Francisco is planning a new public art installation to honor Black lives and the history of African Americans. The installation is planned to be located in Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse next month, in time for Juneteenth.

The installation, ‘Monumental Reckoning,’ by Bay Area sculptor Dana King, honors the first Africans stolen from their homeland and sold into chattel slavery in the New World. The installation consists of 350 sculptures representing the number of Africans initially forced onto the slave ship San Juan Bautista for a journey of death and suffering across the Atlantic in 1619. A handful of these original 350 ancestors became America’s first enslaved people.

The sculptural figures created in all-black steel with vinyl tubing, each standing four feet high, would surround the empty pedestal where a statue of Francis Scott Key once stood. Key, who wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was a slave owner and abolition opponent. Protestors toppled the statue on Juneteenth 2020.

“The art and monuments that we choose to display in our city and the civic art that fills our public spaces must reflect the diversity of our community, and honor our history,” said Breed. “This powerful public art installation in Golden Gate Park will help us not only commemorate Juneteenth, but also serve as an example of how we can honor our past, no matter how painful, and reflect on the challenges that are still with us today.”

Monumental Reckoning would allow visitors to commune with the figures. The phrase “Lift Every Voice” would shine from atop the nearby Spreckels Temple of Music through a second, connected piece by Illuminate the Arts. These are the first three words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, a song written by civil rights champion James Weldon Johnson which was first performed in 1900—the same year the Spreckels Temple of Music opened. 

For more than a century, Johnson’s song of unity has been sung as the Black national anthem. U.S. Representative James Clyburn is currently leading an effort to have the song named America’s national hymn.

“I’m excited to see the new monument go up in Golden Gate Park to honor Black lives and the rich history of African Americans,” said Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton. “I think this is a perfect example of trying to right a wrong. Rather than uplifting individuals with oppressive histories, this is an opportunity to honor diversity and our community through public art.”

The installation was approved by both the San Francisco Arts Commission and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission’s Operations Committee this week. It is currently under review by the Planning Commission. “Lift Every Voice” will also need to be approved by the City’s Historical Preservation Committee before it can be installed. If approved, Monumental Reckoning would open to the public on June 19, or Juneteenth 2021, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. The art piece would remain in place through June 20, 2023.

“The memory of African descendants deserves to be told truthfully and publicly,” said King, Monumental Reckoning’s creator. “Monumental Reckoning fulfills both objectives with the installation of 350 ‘ancestors’ who will encircle the Francis Scott Key plinth in Golden Gate Park. The ancestors stand in judgement, holding history accountable to the terror inflicted on the first group of enslaved people brought here in 1619 to the last person sold to another, all victims of chattel slavery. Even though the business of enslavement ended long ago, it still resonates generationally for African Americans and forms the bedrock from which systems of oppression proliferate today.”

Fundraising, community outreach, and ongoing support for the installation is being provided by the Museum of the African Diaspora. Creative and programming support would be provided by The Black Woman is God, which is an annual group exhibition of Black women artists curated by Karen Seneferu and Melorra Green. The project celebrates Black women as essential to building a more just society and sustainable future and reclaims space historically denied to Black women artists.

“What Dana King’s powerful installation communicates and commemorates is a sober cultural gut-punch long overdue, and I hope it’s the beginning of many such visual testaments in the public realm that venerate the origin stories of our most marginalized and disenfranchised populations,” said Ralph Remington, San Francisco’s Director of Cultural Affairs. “We almost never see images of Black people represented in our public monuments, or in the American telling of history. So, it’s no surprise that in a society rooted in white supremacy, people of color remain invisible and undervalued in our mythology, symbols, architecture and national narrative. While the City examines the historic works in our Civic Art Collection and the future of monuments in San Francisco, this installation will help build and advance a discourse about who and what we venerate in our open spaces.”

 “We are incredibly proud to host this powerful piece,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “Monumental Reckoning prompts frank discussion about the legacy of slavery, while charting a course between past, present and future. We are grateful to have these crucial conversations in Golden Gate Park—a beloved public space that belongs to everyone.”

This story was produced by the San Francisco Mayor’s office.

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Art

MC Arts Gallery Opens During the Marin Open Studio

The Gallery and its website display the art of a number of Black artists which includes: TheArthur Wright, Lumumba Edwards, and Maalak Atkins. Zwanda and Mitchell Howard also display their art at the Gallery. 

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From top: Oshalla Marcus (director/curator, MC Arts & Culture) with Osiezhe’s drawings to the right of the photo, Zwanda, Mitchell Howard , ISOJI’s Art Is Health Band: Carlton Carey (drums), Mwanza Furaha, (vocals), Jack Prendergast (bass), Ricardo Moncrief (keyboard), James Moseley (guitar, vocal). Photos by Godfrey Lee.

The MC Arts Gallery, located on 100 Donahue St. in the Gateway Shopping Center in Marin City, is open during the Marin Open Studios, which took place on Saturday and Sunday, May 1 & 2. 

The Gallery and its website display the art of a number of Black artists which includes: The Arthur Wright, Lumumba Edwards, and Maalak Atkins. Zwanda and Mitchell Howard also display their art at the Gallery. 

Zwanda seeks to be creative as she expands her ideas as a sculptress and painter. She is inspired by the human figure and dancers and is fascinated with music and the instruments themselves. Her art is a way to express this love and to share it with others.

Mitchell Howard studied art at San Francisco State University and the Computer Arts Institute of San Francisco. He was an art director at Cummingham & Walsh in San Francisco and has displayed his paintings at the Hannah Gallery, worked on the Rocky Graham Park Mural and has taught art at the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy Elementary School.

“Art can bring people together and illustrate things that people can relate to,” Howard says. “Art can also be powerful in sending social messages to society. Art makes you think, it expands your horizons and makes you use your imagination. People may see different things in the same painting.”

Osiezhe, Shakira Gregory’s son, will be displaying his drawings at the Gallery.

The ISOJI’s Art Is Health Band played last Saturday afternoon with Mwanza Furaha as their guest vocalist.

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Art

City Council Approves $480,000 in Arts Grants

The city made the announcement Tuesday about the grants, which will support 772 distinct arts events and activities that will expose more than 110,000 participants to cultural programming.

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The Oakland City Council approved $480,000 in grants to 17 Oakland-based non-profit organizations and 20 individual artists through the city’s Cultural Funding Program, Neighborhood Voices.

The city made the announcement Tuesday about the grants, which will support 772 distinct arts events and activities that will expose more than 110,000 participants to cultural programming.

The grant program seeks to bring Oaklanders together to create and support a sense of belonging within a community, to foster social connections that lift people’s spirits, to encourage community well-being and offer visions for a collective future, according to the announcement.

The following individual artists each won $7,000 Neighborhood Voices awards:

Frederick Alvarado; Karla Brundage; Cristina Carpio; Darren Lee Colston; Maria De La Rosa; Elizabeth D. Foggie; Rachel-Anne Palacios; Laurie Polster; Hasain Rasheed; Kweku Kumi Rauf; Carmen Roman; Michael Roosevelt; Fernando Santos; Teofanny Octavia Saragi; Kimberly Sims-Battiste; Cleavon Smith; Lena Sok; Babette Thomas; Ja Ronn Thompson; Joseph Warner.

Each of the following organizations received $20,000 Neighborhood Voices awards:

Asian Health Services for Banteay Srei;

Beats Rhymes and Life;

Chapter 510 INK;

Dancers Group for dNaga GIRL Project;

Dancers Group for Dohee Lee Puri Arts;

Dancers Group for Grown Women Dance Collective;

East Oakland Youth Development Center;

Higher Gliffs for Endangered Ideas;

Hip Hop for Change;

Junior Center of Art and Science;

Mycelium Youth Network;

Oakland Education Fund for Youth Beat;

Oakland Theater Project, Inc.;

Sarah Webster Fabio Center for Social Justice;

The Intersection for Alphabet Rockers;

Women’s Audio Mission;

Youth Radio/YR Media.

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