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Reza Rites Visits A Lively Experiment: On YouTube AND TODAY AT NOON, RI PBS

IMG_2748On Friday, August 19, Reza Clifton participated in “Troubling issues at Kennedy Plaza and the Ethics Commission dismisses the complaint against House Majority Leader John DeSimone,” a conversation on “A Lively Experiment,” a show that airs on RI PBS.

PROVIDENCE, RI – Did you know that Black women and the African American community in RI deal with the highest infant mortality rates, the highest percentage of infants with low birth weight, and the highest percentage of pregnant women with delayed prenatal care? Did you know that the Black and Native American communities in RI have the highest rates of children with incarcerated parents – 63.8 for Black children compared to 8.0 for White children? Did you know that “all minority groups [in RI] have higher poverty rates than [W]hites and the state as a whole,” and that Black Americans and Latinos in RI have higher unemployment rates than Whites and the state?

These sometimes staggering and often saddening facts, gathered and disseminated by the RI Department of Health, show how some communities are more vulnerable to the devastating consequences that come with these conditions and barriers – while others exacerbate the inequities or, at least, remain free or much less affected by them. On the other hand, both Black Americans in RI and Latinos have a lower median age than White Rhode Islanders and the state – meaning there are more and more Black and Brown youth and younger generations being brought up in RI who may help turn the tides on some of these Ocean State trends.


Watch the episode TODAY at noon on RI PBS or click on play above to see the episode on Youtube

Those are just some of the reasons why it’s important that we have inclusive and broad conversations and representations in the media, during and outside of election years. And that is why team #sonicwatermelons was so glad that Founder and Executive Producer, Reza C. Clifton, was selected to be a panelist on this week’s edition of A Lively Experiment, a political roundtable show that airs on RI PBS and PBS Learn. The show was guest-hosted by producer Kim Keough, and at the Friday, August 19 taping, #rezarites appeared alongside the following co-panelists: Ian Donnis, political reporter for Rhode Island Public Radio; Kate Nagle, news editor for GoLocalProv.com; and Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, president of Latino Radio and Chairman, Women & Infants Health Care Alliance.

Catch it on the medium screen TODAY at 12 noon on WSBE Rhode Island PBS, which “transmits standard-definition (SD) and high-definition (HD) programming over the air on digital 36.1; on Rhode Island cable: Cox 08 / 1008HD, Verizon FiOS 08 / 508HD, and Full Channel 08; on Massachusetts cable: Comcast 819HD and Verizon FiOS 18 / 518HD; on satellite: DirecTV 36 / 3128HD, Dish Network 36.” Or see the YouTube clip: https://youtu.be/ENtr-yu-ZU4.


Click here or on the sheet above to review some of the coverage and fact sheets reviewed by Clifton prior to Friday’s taping.

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Follow Reza Rites, On the Web:
http://www.VenusSings.com
http://www.AmbitiousBlackFeminist.com
“Sonic Watermelons” on iTunes
Follow Reza Rites, On Social Media:
@rezaclif (FB, Twitter)
@3amblack (FB, Twitter, IG)
@watermelonsradio (Twitter)
@sonicwatermelons (FB, IG, Soundcloud)

Young, Gifted, Black…and Arrested: #BlackLivesMatter on #SonicWatermelons, Part I

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Young, Gifted, Black…and Arrested
#BlackLivesMatter on #SonicWatermelons
Sonic Sunday Podcast, August 14, 2016

Depending on who you talk to, Christopher Johnson may not quite fit under the moniker of young. Or maybe you think the 45 year old does. Still, there is no arguing that the poet, playwright and actor is gifted and Black, to borrow from the wise words of Nina Simone. In fact, just this past May, Johnson was interviewed by the office of RI state Governor Gina Raimondo for the position of state poet laureate.

However, Johnson now may also be known to some as the “poet” who “was arrested in Providence for ‘walking while black’.” That is because earlier this week on August 10, the Providence Journal published an article sparked by an August 3rd essay written by Johnson, for Motif Magazine, in which he discusses being “stopped by a police officer while walking home from a bus stop in May.” And on August 4, Bob Plain of RIFuture.org, also published a piece about Johnson and his arrest, including the perspective of Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steve Pare who said “‘The officer is going to have to articulate to the court why he asked this man his name and where he was going.’” Matt O’Brien’s piece in the Journal reminded readers that Governor Raimondo “is considering about 20 candidates for state poet,” with a note from the governor’s spokeswoman Marie Aberger saying that an “‘arrest would not preclude someone from being named to the position’” though acknowledging that “‘the seriousness of the alleged offense…[and] the circumstances surrounding it and the outcome’” may be considered.

This is indeed a serious matter, and this is an ongoing case, all of which should help you understand some of the work Johnson shares, and why he sometimes writes, posts and advocates in the name of or with the inclusion of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Luckily for all of us, he has developed this craft of joining words to create something new, and whether it’s love, racism, or violence, Johnson holds a mirror up to the world we live in, not to placate and soothe us but to ensure that the truth, sometimes harsh, sometimes beautiful, is told. Johnson is not only the face of racial profiling or another victim of police brutality, he is an artist. And that’s the man who joined Sonic Watermelons on June 28, 2016, when Johnson visited the show as a guest to tell us about his relationships and network in Providence, the many projects he has worked on, and the amazing opportunity he was embarking on the very next day in Sedona, Arizona.

No, we didn’t talk about his experience with being profiled and harassed on a short walk home one night this past May. Because we don’t need violence and death to remind us to talk about why #BlackLivesMatter on #SonicWatermelons. To listen to the podcast, “Christopher Johnson Visits Sonic Watermelons Y Las Vidas Negras Importan” click here: http://bit.ly/2aTY7EP. Subscribe to “Sonic Watermelons” on iTunes; follow the show on FB, SoundCloud and Instagram @sonicwatermelons and on Twitter @watermelonradio; and hear the live show via webstream every Tuesday, 7-8 PM on bsrlive.com.

Read/Learn More:

More About Sonic Watermelons:
“The world is a big place. With big ideas. And lots and lots of music.” That is the theme of Sonic Watermelons, a radio show on Brown Student and Community Radio (www.bsrlive.com) started in 2010 by Reza Clifton (Reza Rites), an award-winning multimedia producer. Sonic Watermelons can be heard / streamed live every Tuesday from 7:00-8:00 PM (EST) on bsrlive.com, where Clifton is now joined by co-producers and crew members Jose Ramirez, Deejay Kellan, Jessica LaBrie, and other rotating volunteers. Every Sunday, the team publishes and shares podcast versions of previous episodes and other multimedia tidbits; #BlackLivesMatter on #SonicWatermelons is a series that will be shared in that space. To listen live or find archive links (going back to 2010), visit http://www.bsrlive.com. Follow Sonic Watermelons on Facebook, Soundcloud and Instagram @SonicWatermelons, on Twitter @watermelonradio; subscribe to podcasts on iTunes under “Sonic Watermelons.”

Interview with Danay Suarez, Part 2: Different Festivals, Different Countries, One People

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Interview with Danay Suarez, Part 2:
Different Festivals, Different Countries, One People

By Reza Corinne Clifton
(with translation work by Reza Clifton, Tamara Diaz, Bryant Estrada, and Jose Ramirez)

It’s been almost a year since Cuban Hip Hop Emcee and World Music artist Danay Suarez hit the stages of the Afro-Latino Festival in NYC, and much has happened in between. She’s been featured in the Fader Magazine, on CNN, and in dozens of other news sites, blogs, and multimedia spaces. She has also continued touring and making art.

The year before, Summer 2014, was the first time I met Suarez. I was at the Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC), also in NYC, and she was one of the artists I had hoped to see perform and/or who I hoped to interview. The interview didn’t work out, but because of mutual friends of friends, I did meet Suarez, and she was kind and inimitable. With one set of incorrect directions too many, my friend and I, upon arriving at the venue, found that we missed Suarez’s performance. We still liked some of the bands who performed, like Sante Les Amis from Uruguay. However, the sting of missing Suarez was sharp.

This wasn’t so a year later. That is because in 2015, at the Afro-Latino Festival, I saw Suarez perform on the opening night. I was in the front row, dancing, singing, smiling and catching footage to accompany my interview, which came a few weeks later. Mostly, though, I danced.

Earlier this year, around the time that President Obama visited Cuba, I shared part of the conversation between Suarez and I in which she discussed diplomatic relations between our two countries, and how she produced a rap song following similar releases by Jay-Z, Pitbull, Wyclef and Common. Suarez was the only rapper who released an “Open Letter” verse who actually lived in Cuba – the country at the center of the musical and political debate among the artists.

But it’s June now, and the summer festivals have begun, which means LAMC is coming up, the Afro-Latino Festival is coming up, and even here in Providence, PVDFest already comes to a close on Sunday, June 5. Why do these spaces and sites matter? What does using a term like Latin Alternative or Afro-Latino signify? How do festivals and the culture of festivals change from one country or continent to another? These were additional topics discussed during the 2015 interview I did with Suarez, which was conducted in Spanish. Click on the Soundcloud link below to listen to that excerpt.

As you will hear in the segment, Suarez, who lives in Cuba but tours internationally, also talked about her journey from being a computer programmer in Havana to an internationally-known Universal Music Group artist. It started with hip hop in many ways, for it was the rap movement in Cuba that inspired her to move from wanting to be a singer to grabbing a microphone and notebook, and writing and recording songs in the studio. Today she also sings, writes and performs in different jazz, reggae and hybrid styles, and dabbles in visual and multimedia arts. Overall, Suarez says she considers herself a composer of ideas, and any idea is within bounds, as is clear in her music and in listening to her views on macro and micro festival cultures.

Suarez says she understands that people need cultural movements, religion, etc to identify with and feel part of something and to feel like life has purpose. However, Suarez says that when she is part of these festivals, her message is that there shouldn’t be flags or borders. We are all from the same place, says Suarez, and we are all owners of all territories (aka we all have claim to this earth). To hear more, click here or listen to the podcast above.

To hear her music, and to follow Suarez, search for and follow Danay Suarez on Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Soundcloud.

Visit the following link for more information about the Latin Alternative Music Conference: www.latinalternative.com/

Visit the following link for more information about the Afro-Latino Festival: www.afrolatinofestnyc.com/

Visit the following link for more information about PVDFest: www.pvdfest.com

To follow my #rezarites #venussings #sonicwatermelons and #3amblack coverage, follow http://www.venussings.com, http://www.ambtiousblackfeminist.com, and @rezaclif on Facebook and Twitter.

For tips and recommendations on 2016 Summer festivals, listen to “Sonic Watermelons Summer Guide, 2016 and Bonus Danay Suarez Interview, May 10, 2016,” a Sonic Sunday Podcast released Sunday, June 5, 2016.

President Obama Visits Cuba and Danay Suarez Talks to Reza Rites: A Bilateral Analysis and Discussion on Diplomacy, Music, and Mixtapes

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President Obama Visits Cuba and Danay Suárez Talks to Reza Rites: A Bilateral Analysis and Discussion on Diplomacy, Music, and Mixtapes

By Reza Corinne Clifton
(with translation help from Reza Clifton, Tamara Diaz, Bryant Estrada, and Jose Ramirez)

PROVIDENCE, RI – On Sunday, March 20, 2016 President Obama landed down 90 miles away from the US, in Cuba – the first president to do so, reportedly, in 90 years. Three years ago, Jay-Z and Beyonce, another couple that some would consider a President and First Lady (or Queen and Chancellor] of Hip Hop, traveled to the same Caribbean island despite what were, then, even stricter restrictions on travel to the Spanish-speaking island. Then, like now with Obama, Jay-Z and Beyonce inspired conversation, and, some would argue, controversy with their trip. That is because to this day, say anti-Castro protesters, the Communist government running Cuba is still limiting important rights and liberties to their citizenry, such as free speech, a reality reflected in the regular detainment and incarceration of artists and others considered political dissidents. Critics of these types of trips say that visiting Cuba when human rights violations like these are still the norm encourage the Cuban government – now led by Raul Castro – to continue their policies and punishments.

On the other hand, Cuba is also known for its high-performing educational system and effective medical care. There are opportunities and programs for Black American students as well as students from all over Latin America who want to study medicine in Cuba, for instance, and the country’s music, art and culture is rich, varied, magnetic and appreciated all over the world – including in the United States. That’s right, not even a blockade or end to official diplomatic relations could interrupt the world meeting and learning about Cuba through the simple act of pressing play or sitting in person to hear musical selections from an “Habanero” or farmer from the countryside. As I saw in the years 2000 and 2002, the opposite was true too: many Cubans, at least in Havana (la Habana) were aware of American music and different cultural norms from the US despite the divisions being imposed diplomatically. Moreover, I remember during my trips with American University and the State University of New York, Buffalo, that the American dollar was an accepted form of payment everywhere we visited and stayed! If the blockade and harsh policies both governments have against each other – once harsher, too – aren’t stopping the co-mingling of the two cultures, shouldn’t policies be shifted, ask advocates on the other side, to support partnerships that would benefit both regular Cuban citizens and regular Americans?

In the spring of 2013, a number of musicians joined the America-Cuba relations debate when Jay-Z released a single called “Open Letter” to respond to what the radio and world music website Afropop described as “Cuban-American Republican politicians” who “raised an uproar, demanding to know if the trip was legal…” Following Jay-Z’s “Open Letter,” a number of artists released remixes, remakes and responses to Open Letter: Common, Pitbull, and Wyclef, for example.

But so did another artist: Cuban hip hop emcee and world music singer, Danay Suárez. Suárez, whose debut album is called “Polvo de la Humedad” (or Dust of the Moisture), lives in Cuba, though her music is known across the world, including in Europe and here in the US. I know this because she has performed the last two years in spaces I attended and covered, specifically the Latin Alternative Music Conference in 2014 and the Afro-Latino Festival in 2015 – both in NYC. I caught her performance in 2015 and can assure you: many sang along during her set.  

I spoke to Suárez shortly after her performance at the Afro-Latino Festival, and one area I asked about was her Open Letter verse and her feelings on what is happening between the two countries. Obama may not see it in time, but the podcast, and Suárez’s insights, may help with understanding what’s at stake and what’s at play in this moment. Please note our conversation was in Spanish.

As a citizen of Cuba, Suárez says she felt proud that popular and well-known artists Jay-Z and Beyonce would visit her hometown. But as for her musical response, Suárez knew that, coming from the streets of Havana, she could offer perspectives that none of the other Open Letter artists could.

Some of those perspectives include the reminder that Cuba represents a place full of contradictions, with its limited liberties that exist alongside a commitment to bring up very educated people and professionals. And that’s nothing to ignore, suggests Suárez, as two areas considered valuable for humans – healthcare and education – do exist and thrive in Communist Cuba.

With her inclusion in “9 Cuban Artists You Need To Know Right Now,” an article published March 16 in The Fader, and her inclusion in a recently-aired CNN mini-documentary it’s clear that Suárez herself is a valuable part of contemporary Cuban culture. To learn more and to hear her music, visit http://www.danaysuarez.com or look for and follow Danay Suárez on Youtube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. You can also find her on Soundcloud, where where you’ll find the link to carta abierta, aka Open Letter.

For news on when additional snippets from the conversation with Suárez are available, and for other music updates from me, Reza Rites, visit ambitiousblackfeminist.com and venussings.com, follow @rezaclif on FB and Twitter, @3amblack on Instagram and Twitter, and Sonic Watermelons on FB, Twitter, Soundcloud and BSRlive.com.    

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MUSIC

Danay Suárez (and band) performing LIVE, July 10, 2015, Madiba/MIST Harlem, Afro-Latino Festival, NYC, 3rd Edition, #afrolatinofestnyc, afrolatinofestnyc.com.

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ADDITIONAL/REFERENCED LINKS

http://www.thefader.com/2016/03/16/cuban-artists-you-need-to-know

http://www.afropop.org/8176/cuban-artist-danay-suarez-responds-to-jay-zs-open-letter/

 

Celebrating a Decade of Blogging and Chillin’ with the Guys: Reza Rites Visits The Codex Prime Podcast

Article by Reza Corinne Clifton. Photo/Collage Credit: Codex Prime, R.Clifton
Article by Reza Corinne Clifton. Photo/Collage Credit: Codex Prime, R.Clifton

I don’t remember where I was when it hit me: Reza Rites, you are celebrating a decade of blogging.

My first site was called RezaRitesRi.com, my first post went up in 2005, and it’s how I earned the nickname Reza Rites. Some of the work I posted there earned me awards, and some job opportunities where I was asked to replicate the style or topics I was publishing on the site. My presence, persistence, outreach and networking also helped me start and run other sites (including VenusSings.com and AmbitiousBlackFeminist.com, the two sites I run today) and contributed to readers and collaborators not only from RI, but also from and within different spaces and quarters around the country – and world – like Washington, DC, Boston, MA, New York, New Bedford, and even San Sebastian, Spain. In short blogging has been a big part of my personal and professional development, so it feels significant that I’ve been doing it for about a decade.

Soon after realizing and reflecting on all of this, I found myself in one of the chairs in the home studio where Maurice, Aris, Carl and Victor tape their weekly podcast, “Codex Prime.”

Codex Prime, if I had to describe it in one sentence, is a space for nerds, blerds, gamers, techies, fantasy football players and/or Comic Con enthusiasts. In my case, I was invited as a guest to talk broadly about music and my current projects (ie, as a music nerd). But after hearing about my decade of blogging, and two trips to Cuba that happened before that, the window opened for a full, fun conversation with me and the guys.

Click on the Soundcloud file below to hear the Codex Prime Podcast that featured me, Reza Rites, as the special guest. And check out the show info below, from the Codex Prime page, to learn more about their program and about some of the topics that arose during the show.

The Famous Foursome of Maurice, Victor, Aris and Carl are joined by writer, digital storyteller, cultural navigator, and friend of the show Reza Clifton. Their awesome conversation delves into Reza’s work in media and education, Aris’s tales of salty Best Buy employees, Victor’s reviews of The Martian and Sicario, Reza’s experiences with the Afropunk and Afrolatino Festivals in New York this past summer, and some super cool music talk as well.

All of this and so much more, so listen, like, subscribe, GET IT!

Recorded October 6, 2015
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CATCH REZA CLIFTON AT:

Venus Sings: www.venussings.com/

3 AM is the New Black: www.facebook.com/3amblack
+ instagram.com/3amblack/

Sonic Watermelons: www.bsrlive.com/shows/sonic-watermelons

Ambitious Black Feminist: ambitiousblackfeminist.tumblr.com/

Twitter: twitter.com/rezaclif
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LINKS OF INTEREST:

Afropunk: www.afropunk.com/

Afrolatino Festival: www.facebook.com/afrolatinofestivalnyc

Ixcanul (trailer): www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMMP0Z21zqU

Gary Clark Jr. music: www.youtube.com/user/garyclarkjr

High School of the Dead: www.hulu.com/high-school-of-the-dead
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Email: CodexPrimePodcast@gmail.com

CATCH CODEX PRIME AT:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/codexprime
Twitter: twitter.com/codexprimecast
Instagram: instagram.com/codexprimepodcast/
iTunes: itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/codex…id998035389?mt=2
SoundCloud: @codex-prime

I May Move: A New #3amblack and #RezaRites Flick


Sometimes you have something to say. And sometimes it’s time to walk away and move on. But where do you go?

That is one way to describe the newest short film – and question – produced by 3 AM is the New Black and Reza Clifton called “I May Move.” The video features a short poem written by Clifton as well as photographs, drumming and an audio clip from a graduation program honoring adults and teens who completed a community-based Black Studies course on August 14, 2015 in Providence, RI. Clifton served as the graduation speaker, delivering an address she called “Getting the Revolutionary Word Heard.”

Click on the video above, or here, to view the film. Learn more about the class, talk and partners involved by visiting the links provided below.

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ADDITIONAL LINKS:

To learn about, donate to, and read class materials from the DARE Black Studies Program
http://dareblackstudies.com/

To read more #3amblack poetry from Reza Clifton
http://3amblackpoetry.tumblr.com/

To read the full Washington Post article referenced in the talk
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/08/12/black-poverty-differs-from-white-poverty/

To see the “PVD Black Resistance Zine” produced by the first graduating class of the Fred Hampton Institute for Resistance
http://issuu.com/sophiarwright/docs/pvd_black_resistance_zine_-_color_-?e=18914926/15234109

To read/follow #3amblack updates and other arts/culture updates
http://venussings.com/

For access to Reza’s “Confessions of an AmbitiousBlackFeminist” blog
http://ambitiousblackfeminist.tumblr.com/

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FILM CREDITS

Producer/Director: Reza Clifton

Poetry/Graduation Address: Reza Clifton

Photography: Reza Clifton, Fred Hampton Institute for Resistance

Video: Reza Clifton

Music/Drumming: Sidy Maiga, Rachel Nguyen, Marco McWilliams

Additional Thank you’s to: Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), Rheem Brooks, Marco McWilliams, Cherise Morris, Kabir Olawale Lambo, and Sophia Wright

#3amblack and #RezaRites at Afropunk 2015: Video and Photo Coverage

#3amblack and #RezaRites at Afropunk 2015: Video and Photo Coverage
by Reza Corinne Clifton

BROOKLYN, NY – On Sunday, August 23, 2015, two women hit the road for a one-day voyage to the annual Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn, NY. Why would two women spend six hours in a car for half of a festival? Take a look at this video for hints, cues, and clues about what makes this growing cultural gathering a force that can’t be stopped and a destination not to be missed if you identify with words like underground, alternative, Pan-African, weird, different, black….

Afropunk_collage_square_EDITS

With performers like Lauryn Hill and Grace Jones, Afropunk producers proved they were willing to offer big names while also displaying a high level of consciousness as far as the importance of including women in festivals. Unfortunately I missed both Hill and Jones, the latter of which performed and produced a show that prompted a high volume of chatter on social media afterward.

On day two, upon arrival, I shopped…a LOT because the vendors and overall marketplace there speaks to me aesthetically, personally, and culturally. Apart from that, one of the most memorable parts of the day was catching the performance by Gary Clark Jr., who I realized I recognized from his performance at this year’s BET Awards (see video clip below), when I was also impressed with his chops. I also got to catch some of the multi-decade career-spanning beautiful brown rocker, Lenny Kravitz, whose enthralling set was loud and clear enough for decent cellphone footage – featured in the #3amblack and #rezarites at #afropunkfest15 video podcast above.

Photos can also be seen on Facebook in one of the 3 AM Is the New Black photo albums; click here to link to it. Below are credits for the Vimeo film embedded above.

Gary Clark Jr. performs with Anthony Hamilton at the BET M

Producer:
Reza Clifton

Music:
Live cell phone footage of Lenny Kravitz at Afropunk, 8.23.15

Photography:
Reza Clifton and Sophia Wright

Info on Afropunk:
afropunk.com
afropunkfest.com
@afropunk on FB and Twitter

Info on #3amblack and #rezarites
venussings.com
ambitiousblackfeminist.com
@3amblack on FB, IG, and Twitter

Afropunk_collage_banner_edits

Problems with Private Prisons and Students Against the Prison Industrial Complex: New Podcasts from Reza Rites and Sonic Watermelons


Cherise Morris, a Brown University student and member of Students Against the Prison Industrial Complex, visited Sonic Watermelons to discuss divesting from prisons and dismantling the Prison Industrial Complex. She also talked about how private prisons were developed and how states’ relationships with private prison-makers are contributing to high incarceration rates and unequal/disparate prison rates for Black and Latino men and women; watch that excerpt above or here.   

Divesting from Prisons, Problems with Private Prisons and Students Against the Prison Industrial Complex: New Podcasts from Reza Rites and Sonic Watermelons ft. Student-Activist Cherise Morris

by Reza Corinne Clifton

PROVIDENCE, RI – “Columbia First US University To Divest from Private Prisons.” That was the title and topic of a June 23, 2015 article written by Jenn M. Jackson, a writer who focuses on politics, news, and culture as the Assistant Editor for The Black Youth Project (BYP) – where the article appeared. BYP is an organization and multimedia news blog that serves as a “platform that highlights the voices and ideas of black millennials” by working with young people on “producing research about the ideas, attitudes, decision making, and lived experiences of black youth.”

I’ve been following and admiring the work of BYP for years, and I’m frequently pulled in by their headlines. That was the case in this instance too, but this time I was also interested due to the movement-building I’ve observed and individual relationships I have with at least a dozen scholars and activists working on “reforming prisons,” “abolishing prisons,” ending “legal slavery,” dismantling the “prison industrial complex,” and “ending the school to prison pipeline.”

According to Jackson, the actions followed a period in which “Columbia held approximately 220,000 shares in a company called G4S, the world’s largest private security firm, and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the country.” The policy-change, explains Jackson, “sets a precedent regarding how universities in this country align themselves with private corporations.” She goes on to say that “[w]hen those business firms are harmful, violent, and exploitative of certain racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual groups, these schools should seriously consider what their financial support for these companies means to students, staff, and alumni.”

2015-06-30_PIC (34 of 37)What does this mean as far as the movement and awareness-raising happening nationally and globally? What are the other trends – historically and currently – we should be examining as we talk about racial disparities in prisons and problems within the prison industrial complex? And what role do private prisons play in exacerbating incarceration rates and abuses faced by prisoners?

At Columbia, it was many students “who protested via sit-ins, teach-ins, and other public displays of concern for the University’s involvement and support for private prisons,” so to answer and discuss my questions, I reached out to Cherise Morris, a Brown University student and member of the campus organization Students Against the Prison Industrial Complex (SAPIC). In addition to her organizing work, Morris recently published an informative and artistic zine to provide “a brief introduction to the massive entity that encompasses the prison-industrial complex, its historical legacy, and its modern manifestations inside of and beyond prison walls.” Morris also works with a group of community members (including me) who are helping to found the Fred Hampton Institute for Resistance in Providence, in part, to provide community-based Black History courses and she teaches art at the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institute (ACI).

Full interview – Cherise Morris Visits Sonic Watermelons, Discusses Prison Divestment from Reza Clifton on Vimeo.

To hear/watch the full conversation featuring Morris speaking with me and my Sonic Watermelons team member Jose Ramirez,  click on the Vimeo video above or click here to access the Vimeo podcast link. To hear it in small parts use the Souncloud links provided below.

For more information about SAPIC, follow @againstthepic on Twitter or facebook.com/studentsagainstthepic. For more information about Sonic Watermelons, click here. For more information about the Fred Hampton Institute for Resistance, click here.


In the first part of the interview, Morris defines the term Prison Industrial Complex and talks about the communities most often targeted or caught in incarceration nets – men of color, the LGBTQ community, the Transgender community and women of color. She explains that prison industrial complex refers not only to prisons and jails, but also to indirect things like neighborhood segregation, educational inequalities, screening workers and students for previous incarceration, and the factors that lead people to be incarcerated and the realities that happen afterward. Morris also points to the practice of colleges looking at students’ disciplinary records as a practice that is a function of the prison industrial complex, as well as their practice of selling products on-campus that are made by incarcerated men and women – or what some call prison slave labor.


In the second part of the interview, Morris talks about the concept of consumer complicity and the idea that, often times, the store you’re frequenting that has lower prices can make those deals because they’re using incarcerated men and women and low to no wages – and they’re investing in things that “[get] your cousin locked up too.” Morris acknowledges that activism cannot be about demonizing individuals or ignoring some communities’ needs for affordable pricing. She says the focus, instead, needs to be on institutions like Columbia, Brown University and other colleges and universities, and she points to work being done by students at different schools who are advancing a campaign to “ban the box” (asking students about past convictions) on student applications.”Students from fifty schools who are all using the same common application can have real power.”


In the third part of the interview, Morris discussed the history of prisons and how they evolved over time from the 1700’s to 2015: “Everyone’s talking about mass incarceration and black men and women being incarcerated at such high rates, but this has been happening since the birth of the modern prisons.” Prior to the Civil War, she explains, prison populations were predominantly white; Blacks were enslaved at the time – with legally sanctioned constraints on movement on top of labor demands already. After the Civil War, she explains, prisons everywhere changed to being predominantly Black and one reason is because of the introduction of “Black Codes” or laws that intentionally targeted former slaves and “criminalized blackness.” Morris contextualizes the situation with a reminder that the 13th amendment bans slavery unless it’s used for punishment and imprisonment. Morris linked this history with the more contemporary story about the rise and impact of private prisons, and how the war on drugs, and the differences between crack and cocaine sentences in particular – a more contemporary version of the Black Codes – helped fuel the development of private prisons. The racially biased laws and high incarceration rates, says Morris, led to states both making financial deals with private companies to house the growing prison population and appeasing private prison companies by ensuring filled prisoner beds. Not meeting the lock-up quotas means paying the corporations, says Morris, which means governments are incentivized to keep incarceration rates up. Morris talks about other scams, abuses, and problems within the prison industrial complex, including bad practices by telecommunications companies providing phone services in jail, “human rights violations” such as maggots being found in food continually and sexual assault in the facilities.

***
Visual credits:
Reza Clifton
Sophia Wright (in-studio photos)

***
MORE INFO:

Black Youth Project article on Columbia
http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2015/06/columbia-first-us-university-to-divest-from-private-prisons/#more-52041

SAPIC zine; good info, stats, etc.
bluestockingsmag.com/2015/05/08/the-prison-industrial-complex-zine/

For-Profit Prisons: Eight Statistics That Show the Problems
truth-out.org/news/item/20880-for-profit-prisons-eight-statistics-that-show-the-problems

Free Spirit Media video on
youtube.com/watch?v=v1X9g-9zPJc&spfreload=1

Risk-Taking, Art-Making and Bringing the Funk: A VS Podcast and Review of Esperanza Spalding’s ‘Emily’s D+Evolution’

Click on the video or here to watch/listen to my newest podcast on Vimeo.

Risk-Taking, Art-Making and Bringing the Funk: A Venus Sings Podcast and Review of Esperanza Spalding’s ‘Emily’s D+Evolution’

by Reza Corinne Clifton

BOSTON, MA – In 2009, I trekked alone to Jazzaldia, one of the biggest jazz festivals held annually in Europe. The concerts that make up this melodic gathering happen in San Sebastian, a city in northern Spain also known as Donostiako for those who speak Basque. As I noted and remarked back then, “It is a place with mountains, rivers, coves, sand-surrounded bay waters, handsomely aged facades and edifices, city-side ports, cobblestone streets, and so much more.”

It is also where I first saw Esperanza Spalding perform. Back then I wrote the following review based on her set at Jazzaldia:

PG_9_Esperanza_mmoves_issue3“During her mesmerizing performance, Esperanza Spalding played familiar and signature tunes like Fall In, She Got to You, and I Know U Know from her album “Esperanza,” among other selections, showcasing her distinct skill as a jazz vocalist and sophisticated upright bassist. She also ushered in the return of Plaza de la Trinidad as one of the performance spaces [after several years of renovations that caused a popular stage in the festival to be closed for years]. Off-stage, she talked personally and intimately about her hair – which is styled in a distinct, large afro – and its significance in terms of pride in her heritage and abhorrence of chemicals, and she confessed to participating in impromptu jam sessions. Spalding also performed on a second day alongside saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Roy Haynes.”

Fast forward to a little less than 6 years, and I was on my way to once again see (now Grammy award-winning) Spalding do her thing! This time around it was a May 16, 2015 concert she was holding at Paradise Rock Club in Boston as part of her recent (and still touring at the time of the podcast) project called ‘Emily’s D+Evolution.’ And I was with artist Tamara Diaz, so I had someone with whom to reflect, share and compare notes.


Don’t necessarily have time to watch the full podcast? Click on the Soundcloud link above to listen to part I.

What did Diaz and I think? Take a listen to this #musicmovesreza / #venussings podcast to hear the report we shared on Sonic Watermelons, the online radio show I produce every Tuesday alongside Jose Ramirez and Deejay Kellan.


Click on the Soundcloud link above to listen to part II.

In addition to the concert review presented by Diaz and me, the segment features audio clips dating back to my 2009 “Venus Sings in Spain” interview of Spalding at Jazzaldia, short snippets of selections from Spalding’s Chamber Music Society cd, and a short promotional video by Spalding about her ‘Emily’s D+Evolution’ project.


Click on the Soundcloud link above to listen to part III.

To tune in live to Sonic Watermelons, listen from 7-8 PM every Tuesday here:  http://www.bsrlive.com/live-stream

To read my Venus Sings in Spain coverage, click here: http://venussings.blogspot.com/2009/08/venus-sings-in-spain.html

To follow Venus Sings and #musicmovesreza updates, bookmark here:
http://www.venussings.com

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