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KOLA: An Afro Diasporic Remix of the Nutcracker



In “KOLA: An Afro Diasporic Remix of the Nutcracker” — we meet Nzingha, an orphan, who lives with her grandparents.  Actor Makeda Booker’s character doesn’t remember her mother and resents her abandonment. Though she knows her grandparents — actors Dame Drummer and Jennifer Jones, love her, the child feels a sense of isolation at the family holiday party and spends time playing games on her phone. While everyone mingles, then dances, Nzingha moves awkwardly when her Uncle Victor (James “Banks” Davis), whom she hasn’t seen in a while asks her to join him. The next day, he seeks his niece out as she does her chores, and shares with her stories of his sister, her mother.

And so begins the journey where Nzingha, guided by Uncle Victor, transformed into Esu (the Orisha of the Crossroads) takes her on a Sankofa journey so she can grasp her historic past to better understand her present.

Set to music by lead composer Kev Choice and others, KOLA is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate African resilience and fortitude. How many orphans like Nzingha were nurtured by adults in the journey across the water? How many were adopted when parents were killed or died or were sold off?

The cast is superb as the lead choreographer Rozz Nash sets work for this gifted ensemble.  The battle between the Raccoon King and Capoeira King, is a highlight as the masked raccoons square off against the Capoiera posse. This dance is followed by the Resurrection where Nzingha meets tiny mythical snow angels, concluding in a grand finale: The Pantheon. End Act 1.

After a brief intermission where many in the audience go out to purchase KOLA bling, T-shirts and other swag, we see Nzingha on the shore where she meets fishermen and fisherwomen.

Crossing bridges made from bones, Nzingah dances through Bahia where she meets Yemanja—goddess of the salt waters, then into Cuba where she meets Oshun, goddess of love, and Ayiti where she dances Yanvolou, for Ogou and the ancestors known as Gede. It is a dance used to reinforce community and solidarity.

As Nzingha grows in self-confidence, she earns her elekes, or ritual beads, after she dances through each divine portal. The next stop is Southern Spain where Nzingha, also named for a warrior, meets Oya, the goddess of change and transformation. This stop is the beginning of the “great (re)turn,” this time accompanied by the deities Mamiwata, Obatala, and Esu.  The child carries her nkisi, or charm, with her. She is wrapped in literal rainbows as she alights in New York at the African Burial Grounds (now Wall Street), dances into Congo Square in New Orleans then heads back to Oakland where the enchantment continues in Oscar Grant Plaza, where Nzingha meets her young grandparents.  Home again, she meets her mother again in the mirror and embraces her as she embraces this episode of her journey, now complete.

For each leg of the literal journey master percussionists and other choreographers join lead choreographer, Rozz Nash and co-writer, theatre director, Ryan Nicole Austin – who was running the sound, opening night. 500+ students from more than a dozen Oakland and other East Bay schools are involved as performers, composers and costume/set designers, including OSA, Anna Yates, Northern Light, Pear Tree Community School, West Oakland Middle School, Envision Academy Middle Grades, Park Day, Head Royce, and Latitude High School.

Jennifer Johns is a co-writer and composer and also portrays both the grandmother and Mamiwata. Ultimately, it is through African divinity the orphaned Nzingha finds what she believes she lost. Once she steps into the chasm holding Esu’s hand or cane, it is trust that ultimately rewards Nzingha with the answers she seeks. Once she commits to the trip, she doesn’t let go until she reaches home, sweet home.

It is a beautiful story, one of hope and love.  KOLA continues at Castlemont High School, Thursday, Dec. 19-22, 7 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.  It is a family friendly production. For tickets visit

There is free parking on the side of the school campus by the fence near the childcare center signage. Keep driving all the way to the back.


David Drake: A Potter Who Inscribed His Work With Poetry

It was August 16, 1857. David Drake (c. 1800– c. 1870s), an enslaved African American, had just completed a 19-inch greenware pot. On it he inscribed: “I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all and every nation.”



A pot created by David Drake. Wikipedia photo.

It was August 16, 1857. David Drake (c. 1800– c. 1870s), an enslaved African American, had just completed a 19-inch greenware pot. On it he inscribed: “I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all and every nation.”
According to some collectors and scholars, this message demonstrates “Drake questioning his heritage and personal history … signifies [his] positivity despite facing the many brutalities of slavery, including the loss of personal identity.” Further, by etching what is clearly a personal expression, Drake defied a South Carolina law forbidding Blacks to read and write.
South Carolina’s Negro Act of 1740, prohibited educating enslaved Africans, punishable by a fine of 100 pounds and six months in prison. Most Southern states in the early 1800s restricted Black literacy.
Drake’s date of birth is unclear. It is said that it was during the first half of 1800. The first legal record of him (June 13, 1818) describes “a boy about 17 years old country born … mortgaged to Eldrid Simkins by Harvey Drake.”
The (Harvey) Drake family owned a plantation in Edgefield, S.C. The term “country born” refers to enslaved Blacks born in the United States rather than Africa. David Drake lived and worked in Edgefield’s pottery factories for almost all his life.
David Drake was first enslaved by Harvey Drake, who alongside Abner Landrum, owned a large pottery business. Known to be a religious man, Landrum was the publisher of a local newspaper, The Edgefield Hive. Scholars speculate that he taught Drake to read the Bible, even if doing so was a punishable offense.
After Harvey Drake’s death, David Drake was enslaved by Landrum. In 1846, Landrum passed away. Drake was then purchased and enslaved by Landrum’s son Franklin, who was abusive. While owned by Franklin, Drake never inscribed his works. But Drake’s life, his works, blossomed in 1849, when he was sold to Lewis Miles.
Miles owned the pottery factory, Stony Bluff. There Drake created his best works once again inscribed with poetry. The number of pieces produced increased from one every few years to seven in 1859. Having produced alkaline-glazed stoneware jugs between the 1820s and the 1870s, Drake is recognized as the first enslaved potter to inscribe his work. He became a free man when the Civil War closed (1865).
According to Drake scholar Jill Beute Koverman, Drake created “more than 40,000 pieces over his lifetime.”
When Drake was alive, his pots sold for around 50 cents. Today they fetch as much as $50,000 and have auctioned for as much as $369,000. A butter churn with the inscription “This is a noble churn / fill it up it will never turn,” sold for $130,000.
Various collections including his work can be viewed at museums including the Smithsonian collection of the National Museum of American History in Wash., D.C.
It is thought that Drake died in the 1870s because according to scholars, “he is not found in the 1880 census.”

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My Park Moment Photo show opens in San Francisco Presidio

While a lot of establishments such as restaurants, movies, amusement parks and places where people gather were closed for the past 18 months because of COVID-19, one of the few places people were able to enjoy themselves was at parks.



Courtesy of Lee Hubbard

While a lot of establishments such as restaurants, movies, amusement parks and places where people gather were closed for the past 18 months because of COVID-19, one of the few places people were able to enjoy themselves was at parks.

The New York based non-profit Photoville wanted to highlight this. With a partnership with the San Francisco Presidio Trust, Photoville presented the My Park Moment photo show, which celebrates people loving parks.  

The photo show features pictures of people at parks throughout the United States. The exhibit at the Presidio is spread out over 14 acres of new parkland with trails over tunnel tops creating scenic overlooks and picnic sites in a dramatic display of public art. It will be up from now until August of 2022.

“This exhibit is a celebration of community,” said Michael Boland, chief Park Development and Visitor Engagement officer at Presidio Trust. “It shows how we as Americans can enjoy open spaces. How people can have fun, get fit, fall in love and do a lot of things outside at parks.”

There were 7,000 photo submissions from professional photographers to people with cell phones, of which 400 were selected for the exhibit. The photos were picked by a committee of artists, photographers, and cultural critics from throughout the Bay Area. 

Outside of the 400 pictures used in the show, four photographers who submitted multiple works were given stipends and highlighted for their work as Visual Story Award winners.

One of the Visual Story Award winners was Sheilby Macena, an Oakland photographer, who has 12 pictures in the My Park Moment exhibit. Her work focuses on the citizens of Oakland and specifically, the merchants at Lake Merritt during the pandemic.

“My work comes from the exhibit Black Joy at Lake Merritt, which shows Black people at the Lake, during the pandemic, particularly along sellers’ row,” said Macena.

Sellers Row was a group of 20 to 50 vendors who set up along Grand Avenue and Lake Shore Drive in Oakland by Lake Merritt. This scene would often conflict with many of the new residents in the area.

“My pictures showed Black life and it was a great way to document folks. It was a fun time, but you knew it wasn’t going to last,” continued Macena.

It didn’t. Nearby residents complained and media attention was brought to the Lake. Today, vendors at the Lake are required to have permits and there is a heavier police presence then what was taking place during the pandemic.

“The pandemic was hard on people and parks,” continued Boland. “Parks for some were the only outlet for people.”

Marissa Leshnov also had her work featured in the Presidio exhibit one Visual Story Award winners. Her work profiled the Oakland OMies, which showed a group of Black women practicing restorative yoga in the Presidio.

“These women came together as Black women, supporting each other and promoting wellness,” said Leshnov. “It’s important that people see themselves reflected in the art and I hope this brings people out to the Presidio to see the exhibit.”

The San Francisco Post’s coverage of local news in San Francisco County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Arts and Culture

Michael Morgan, Music Director and Conductor, Dies at 63

He served three decades with the Oakland Symphony and was a passionate advocate for change



Michael Morgan leads the Oakland Symphony in a concert curated by W. Kamau Bell; Photo Courtesy of KQED

Michael Morgan was the music director and conductor with the Oakland Symphony. He died August 20, 2021, at an Oakland hospital. He was 63.

During a career that spanned 40 years, Maestro Morgan was one of the rare Black conductors to rise to prominence. He had guest appearances with leading the top orchestras of St. Louis, Los Angeles, Baltimore, New York, and San Francisco. He served as assistant conductor of the Chicago Symphony.

Maestro Morgan became music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony in 1991. He also served as artistic director of the Oakland Youth Orchestra and was the music director of the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra.

He was artistic director of Festival Opera in Walnut Creek for more than 10 seasons. He taught a graduate conducting course at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He was music director at the Bear Valley Music Festival in California. He conducted the San Francisco Ballet for several performances. He also conducted the San Francisco Symphony.

Maestro Morgan did much more than bring classical and new music to Paramount theater audiences. He brought music to thousands of underserved children in the Oakland public schools.

 “Michael Morgan was an advocate for change, both within the classical music community and also outside, in his community and beyond”, said Paul Cobb, publisher of the Post Newspaper Group.

Morgan’s “’Let Us Break Bread Together’ concert presented music from the Black Panther era that reflected back on the protest music from the 60’s and 70’s”, Cobb continued.

Morgan was always interested in providing an early education in classical music. “Talk to people of whatever color in any professional orchestra, and ask them where they started, and you’ll find that most of them started, as I did, in a public school somewhere,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1998.

“And if there’s not that possibility, then of course there’s not going to be people at the other end,” he said. “It’s impossible to maintain the respect of an orchestra if they think that the only reason you’re there is that they needed a Black conductor,” Morgan said.

Maestro Morgan started the Symphony’s MUSE program as a multi-component music education and enrichment initiative to serve young people at public schools and community sites throughout Oakland.

These programs were free to participants, ensuring that each year thousands of young people have access to a variety of music education and enrichment activities, regardless of their economic situation.

“The MUSE program is a lifeline in difficult times. It’s not just a token – it’s keeping the music program afloat in Oakland. It’s the tipping point between success and failure”, said Ted Allen, former Instrumental Director, Skyline and Oakland Technical High School.

At the onset of distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, all engagement visits and teaching artists adapted their work with students to an on-line format in partnership with OUSD into 2020-21.

MUSE has continued to be there for the community as programs, captivating and exciting students about music, encouraging a lifelong passion for the art of sound.

Over 2,500 students are served through the symphony’s school programs hosted by MUSE. The students work with professional musician mentors from the Symphony as part of the In-School Mentor and After School programs.

Michael created the “NOTES FROM” series, designed to welcome different elements of our community into the symphony family.

The diversity of the Bay Area is well known and was reflected in the concert hall in the NOTES FROM programming.

These programs included NOTES FROM Persia, China, the Philippines, Mexico, NOTES FROM LGBT America, and the African Diaspora.

Michael DeVard Morgan was born in Washington, DC, Sept. 17, 1957.His father, Willie DeVard Morgan, was a biologist. His mother, Mabel Morgan, was a health researcher.

When Michael was 6 years old, his father bought the family a piano. Michael began to play two years later. By the age of 12, he was leading two orchestras, one founded by Michael at MacFarland Junior High School and the other at the People’s Congregational Church.

In his teens, while a student at McKinley High School, he was named conductor of the Washington D.C. Youth Orchestra. He attended the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, originally as a composition major.

While at Oberlin, Michael worked with conductors Seiji Ozawa and Leonard Bernstein at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts. He accepted the position of apprentice conductor at the Buffalo Philharmonic in 1979.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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