Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Condesa Coffee: The Soul of Sweet Auburn

As the Atlanta Daily World Building experiences its revival along with Auburn Avenue a star is born.  That star is Condesa Coffee, one of the many shining lights on this street.  While I am excited about what is going on along Auburn Avenue there are spots that are lighting up the street. They are conscientious business owners who have a respect for history and understand that they are the next chapter in this story of Sweet Auburn. Auburn Avenue has been waiting for a revival and there have been several failed attempts to bring the street back to life.  This present effort is showing signs of hope.  We have quality businesses coming along beside the established businesses and tourist destinations on the street complemented by the new Atlanta Streetcar.  

When I sat down with Octavian Stan, one of the four co-owners of Condesa Coffee, my heart was overjoyed.  He and his partners care about Atlanta and they have a love for Sweet Auburn.  This does my heart good.  They are mindful and respectful of the legacy they are continuing with their work and witness.  The Atlanta Daily world building is in good hands and we hope and pray that we see a continued revival of Sweet Auburn that respects the past while embracing the future.  They also have great coffee and customer service.  You want to check this spot out.  Stay posted as we continue to share the story of what is happening along this great street.  What is happening in your community? How are you balancing the past and the future?  Are you even asking these types of questions?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Don't You Dare Give-up: Four Keys to Completing the Journey

Faces of Auburn Avenue: My friend Alton
One of the keys to the struggle is to keep on doing the work when you doubt that the work you are doing is any good or making a difference.  Being in higher education is an interesting profession. Sometimes I feel like I am not reaching my students.  I come to class, give out assignments, read papers / projects and say to myself, “You are failing these students.”  In times like these I don’t give up but rather I try to do four things that I learned while reading the book Maynard Jackson  a biography written by Robert A. Holmes.  Dr. Holmes reported that when staffers brought issues to Mayor Jackson they had to have the following:
1.     Identify the problem(s)
2.     Describe condition(s)
3.     Discuss alternative solution(s)
4.     Make recommendation(s)
I took this advice to heart and I have continually applied it to my life when I run into obstacles.  I have to work and think my way out of the situation because quitting is not an option.  After reflection I regain my direction and continue the work.  I refuse to fail my students by not being the professor the creator designed me to be..I am called to this work and I take my divine assignment very seriously.

In my present project Faith in Sweet Auburn: The Next Chapter I hit a creative roadblock. I am so emotionally and creatively committed to this project and when I hit the roadblock I was devastated.  I was stuck in pity mode for a weekend and then I went through my four step process, developed a creative action plan and began the work anew. I have found renewed joy in recommitting myself to this work a new.  This new commitment is not about trying to do what I was doing but only doing it better. My new commitment is to do what I am doing in a different more radical / creative way.  I find inspiration in trying to do things differently than I had before.  I changed my approach, which changed my view and this in-turn has made the work look and feel differently.

I offer this to you as you may hit that roadblock sometimes and think it means stop or quit.  I think roadblocks are erected for us to find another way; they are detours not stop signs.  What is in your road?  What is standing in your way?  What is taking your energy and how are you going to deal with it?  Are you going to stop and quit your journey or are you going to find another way so that you can complete the assignment given to you by the creator?

The work continues!
The New Atlanta Streetcar and the bust of John Wesley Dobbs

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What is Next in Your Life? Are you preparing for yourself for the next chapter?

Chester Higgins, Master Photographer
I don’t believe God calls us once but rather God progressively reveals God’s will for our life over our life span.  There is an initial call and then God builds on that call.  Early in life I was called to be a preacher / pastor / community activist and I pursued that call with all of my passion.  I availed myself of the training needed to be a great pastor.  Eventually I would hear God calling me to the academy and I went on to prepare myself for that work.  Let me say here, this is part of the journey.  When we are called we have a responsibility to develop the gift to facilitate the call.  What I am saying is that to be faithful demands hard work and intentional development of the thing God has put in you so that you will excel in that thing and therewith give glory to God.

If I had any success in life I attribute it to following the call God has placed on my life and then working very hard to develop myself in that area.  People ask me, “Why are you back in school?”  I am back in school because as God has progressively revealed God’s call on my life I realize that as much as I am a professor, preacher, activist and multi-media story teller, God has called me at this stage in my life to work on my craft as a photographer.

At the core of my multi-media story telling is my photography.  While I have been to tons of workshops and traveled the world making pictures I felt called to be formally trained.  To be formally trained has been expensive in many ways but well worth it.  I am much better at my craft than I was a year ago.  This has been hard work but I am firm believer that if you are not willing to work hard you will not fulfill your potential or be faithful to the God who has called you.

This brings me to Chester Higgins and his book Echo of the Spirit: A Photographers Journey in this book Mr. Higgins talks about his call to be a photographer.  He was trying to figure out what it was God was calling him to and he was sure it wasn’t the traditional pulpit.  Through a serious spiritual quest he heard the voice of God and in following God’s call he became one of the greatest photographers of our time.   I have been encouraged by his story because his story spoke to my story and confirmed my theological assumption about how God calls us and develops us over time.  I encourage you to watch the video below as Mr. Higgins shares his story.  I also encourage you to read his book,  Echo of the Spirit.

What is God calling you to at this point in your journey?  What is next for you?  How are you preparing for what is next?  What type of training or education will you need to be faithful to what God is calling you to be and do?  Are you willing to pay the price to faithful?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Remembering How Gordon Parks Saw The World: Can You See What He Saw?

My wife, Vanessa and I, went to the High Museum this past Saturday to take in the Gordon Parks exhibit one more time. I can’t get enough of his work.  What inspires me about Gordon Parks is that he saw the world like no other photographer.  He had a unique vision inspired by what W. E. B. DuBois would call a “double consciousness.” Parks had to understand the world his employers saw and then shoot what he saw and work between the lines to get his work published.

I am convinced that African American photographers, coming from a minority culture, see the world differently than their dominant culture counterparts.  The reason so many African American photographers work doesn’t get the praise their white colleagues get is that those defining the medium and passing out praise don’t see as African Americans see. 

Gordon Parks way of seeing was not only exhibited in his photos but also in his music, his writings and his motion pictures.  He stands head and shoulders above any of his contemporaries.  Not only does his photography stand above that of his colleagues but Parks created art in multiple forms that his colleagues couldn’t even dream of, then or now.

The African American artist can do more and still be seen less.  I don’t know if those from the dominant culture can comprehend or see how minorities see?  I don’t know if one can fully understand what one has not sought to appreciate?  When we refer to the masters of photography you very rarely if ever hear the names of the great African American photographers, women or persons from the two-thirds world.  We are still worshiping at the altar of white male photographers.  If we worship them is this a form of idolatry?

Can you see the work of the modern day African American artist if you don’t understand the roots of his or her work?  If you don’t appreciate the work of his or her ancestors and historic influences how can you fully appreciate what African American artist are creating today?

To: Dr. Gordon Parks:
I just want to say thank you for letting us see the world as you saw it.  Your work continues to inspire so many of us to see as we see and to dare to tell our story.  Every time I see your work I am inspired to go out and shoot, make a video, tell a story and dare to share it the way I see it.  I celebrate you yet again! 

Does American education fully celebrate and incorporate the contributions of those who aren’t members of the privileged dominant culture?  Are the arts as racist as the rest of America?  Are artists being taught to be disconnected from their cultural heritage? 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

If You Don’t Know Your History You Want Know What’s Next in The Struggle

Nasir Muhammad - Historian teaching on Sweet Auburn Avenue, Atlanta GA.
This past weekend, at the start of the Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Weekend, Vanessa and I went on a walking tour of Sweet Auburn Avenue here in Atlanta. Mr. Nasir Muhamad and Black Mecca Tours of the South led the tour. While I have studied this street and its history for the past four years I learned so much from Nasir.  He had information that simply amazed me.  I realize that you can always learn something no matter how much you think you know!

There is rich history in your community.  It is up to us to learn about the towns / cities we find ourselves living.  Many of us live in cities and we take their rich history for granted.  Tourists come in and they take advantage of our cities attractions, history and tours. I encourage you to learn more about your city.  Go to your history center, take a local tour, connect with local historians, pay attention to historical markers and stop and read them.  Find that book(s) that chronicles the history of your city and take time to read it.

If we don’t know the history of our city we will not fully understand the legacy we stand upon and how we are a part of the larger story. We are called to these cities to continue the struggles we inherited. Our ancestor began the fight; we are to continue the fight while preparing the next generation to take on the fight.  As much as Atlanta is a city where African Americans have done well we still have a long way to go. The class divide and the continuing legacy of racism, sexism, classism and discrimination against the LGTBQ community is still with us.  When we learn about those foot soldiers in our community who fought before us their spirit will guide us as to what is next.  I have met historians like Mr. Dan Moore of the Apex Museum, Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado – The Historian in Heels,  Nasir Muhammad of Black Mecca Tours of the South and Roger Pennyman of Atlanta Specialty Tours and they all have become my teachers.  Who is teaching you about the history of your city and what is next in our battle for liberation?