Well, you recall the note that one of my best friends, Bernie, sent me. She and I were pages - along with six of our other friends - at Georgia’s State Capital (by way of Savannah). I reflected on that special moment in 1982 via this blog from a few weeks ago: (http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/7/22/in-a-world-of-fading-treasures-love-is-the-greatest-pleasure.html). Bernie reminded me that after listening to Luther Vandross’ sultry cover of The Carpenters' “Superstar” on a loop (compliments of our other good girlfriend Lori - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lULU_-L-v3U) that we too FINALLY got the chance to get another song in. It was Kool & The Gang’s “Joanna” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snzafal2nAw ) – only my 12-year-old brainchild was that we replace the title name with “Atlanta” (“Atlanta… I love you…”). This, as we eased restlessly yet excitedly down the road [READ: I-16 N and I-75 N] to our ‘Emerald City’ (Atlanta which – at the time – was such a big metropolitan compared to Savannah… and still, to some degree)!!!
Well, I couldn’t write that without another friend of old, Tonja, weighing in. She is my friend from 6th grade who shared the title “Oreo” with me as – at our Savannah elementary school – we were the only two African Americans in accelerated classes, which included special projects like our published book “A Child’s View of Savannah Squares” and our history presentation on Wickersham Iron (which took us from Savannah to Atlanta to The Smithsonian in DC). Plus, Tonja and her family – just after our family (and a couple of other brave clans) – began to turn our once-all-white, South side neighborhood “Colonial Village” into a more integrated space, if you will [In my lifetime, a cross was burned in our front yard with some KKK paraphernalia in the mailbox that included a note that read “Niggers go home!”]. I was 10. Tonja nor I had an issue with our identity (as African Americans) and – eventually as we matriculated through middle school and high school – we identified those folks of color who understood us (as we were) and welcomed us with open arms as we also embraced our White brothers and sisters with whom we continued to relate harmoniously. I last saw Tonja in 1987 as she left Savannah suddenly for her mother's hometown of Macon and we never saw each other again. With buzz around our recent 20-year high school reunion planning (http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/6/17/someday-well-be-together-we-still-together-kinda.html), she found me and recently reached out via email. The subject line on her cyber-note read “FROM OREOS TO COOL J COOKIES…” (a line from LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad” – rap from our high school days: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpM4G20Ltpk). She caught me up on her life. She’s a wife and mother now – working in Atlanta… and I’m so proud of her. She too wrote me in response to the blog in which I referenced Bernie's feedback regarding my way with words. Tonja echoed Bernie's sentiments: “… You've always had a knack for "remixes". Don't tell me you forgot "Fried Chicken Woman" instead of “Alligator Woman”. Wasn't that a Cameo song? Also you rewrote a song for [some of the closely-cropped girls] in high school… We should've known in middle school you were destined for greatness-so much creativity.”
So as not to disappoint Bernie or Tonja, I’m channeling Natalie Cole’s “Good To Be Back” (substituting “Black” for Back - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AT_t-3VlOYc) because I was invited back to The South (Atlanta… to be exact) to host an event at Atlanta’s High Museum (www.high.org) on the campus of The Woodruff Arts Center ( www.woodruffcenter.org/ ) – also home to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (which – as a member of the Morehouse College Glee Club - www.mcgclub.com - I had the chance to perform with many times. I even got to speak on behalf of the glee club as we performed a tribute to Atlanta Symphony Orchestra composer and conductor Robert Shaw in 1991 when honored on CBS' "Kennedy Center Honors" - http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2006/12/11/this-house-is-built-on-a-foundation-of-love.html).
But get this: My good friend Kelly Welborn (Senior Marketing Manager at The High) made it possible for me to host “ Art in the City” in which The High extends its hours and hosts an open mic/spoken word experience. Easy enough, but on this occasion, they sweetened the deal with HistoryRemixed: Road to Freedom and After 1968 – two exhibits-in-one that take you on an amazing ride through the civil rights movement and beyond, highlighting how the movement has changed our nation and inspired artists today. And I got a private tour from Julian Cox, curator of “Road to Freedom” (below left). Also, I got to engage in a long, thoughtful chat with Jeffrey Grove, curator of “After 1968” and one of its artists Nadine Robinson whose “Coronation Theme: Organon” segues the museum patron from the ‘movement’ into a sculpture-of-audio-speakers in the shape of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King preached. POWERFUL!
BUT THERE’S MORE: HBO came in to partner with The High (You know how I love synergy…) to host an exclusive, preview screening of HBO’s “The Black List” ( www.hbo.com/docs/docuseries/theblacklist/ ) which premiered this week on HBO (IT’S A MUST-SEE as I wrote about last week from the NYC screening where I met Chairman of Time Warner Richard Parsons and one of the featured "Black List"-ers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar : http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/8/15/masters-mentors.html). And like last week, its creator Elvis Mitchell (seen with me below) was in the house. (Photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders couldn’t make it.)
NOW STAY WITH ME: I got to invite many of my friends from the industry here in Atlanta… and many of them came out. But most importantly, my sister Janice, her husband Vincent, my cousin Floyd, my “Original Amazing Grace” and best friend from Savannah Natalie, her husband Dwayne, good girlfriend from college Audrey Irvine, my AABJ/NABJ sister Angela Robinson, and a host of others from my intimate world were in the house (I’ll detail a bit of it later).
But MOST excitedly, after not seeing her since November 1987, the aforementioned TONJA was there with her husband Prince in tow (and his client Keyoshe is singer/writer/actress/model - www.keyoshe.com – who performed in the open mic portion of the evening... and is seen in this picture below.).
AND I TOOK PICTURES OF IT ALL!!!!!!!!! (Unfortunately, my camera was stolen once I got back to New York City. MORE ON THAT LATER: http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/8/26/one-lost-camera-dont-stop-no-blog-entry.html).
Fortunately, I have friends in HIGH PLACES. My fellow Atlanta University Center brother ( www.aucenter.edu/ ) who attended Clark Atlanta University (www.cau.edu) while I was at Morehouse (www.morehouse.edu), Shannon Mccollum (myspace.com/shannonmccollum) was commissioned by HBO to shoot the event and he has made it possible for me to illustrate the night via my blog (if not my personal pix with my family, friends, and – most disappointed [in my lust for “full circle moments”] – Tonja). THANK YOU, SHANNON! YOU ARE THE BEST! [He took each and everyone of the pix here from that night!]
OH, ONE MORE THING: Remember Tonja’s reference to “Alligator Woman” by CAMEO (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvKeTQ1pDoQ). Well, one of Cameo’s members Gerald Bright was in the house. He was there to support his wife Sheila Pree Bright whose “Young Americans” exhibit just wrapped (www.sheilapreebright.com). And I made sure to introduce him to my brother-in-law Vincent, fellow-Cameo-enthusiast. And I took that picture too - the one that was on the camera that was stolen. <Okay, I'll move on...>
Now, ONWARD with my telling of the night:
It truly felt like a homecoming for me. And everyone is doing so well. In addition to my Audrey and my Angela Robinson, there were so many others.
My NABJ baby (www.nabj.org) Errin Haines (reporter at The Associated Press - www.ap.org/ ) is doing her thing as the now-emerged journalist that The National Association of Black Journalists named "Emerging Journalist of the Year" in 2006. My friend Gil Robertson was in the house ( www.robertsontreatment.com/ ). His clients did brilliantly in Beijing at The Olympics (www.en.beijing2008.cn/ ). Here's the final medal count for athletes managed by Gil's client Icon Management Inc. ( www.iconmanagementinc.com/ ):
Angelo Taylor Gold, 400mh, 1600 meter relay;
LaShawn Merritt, Gold 400m and 1600 meter relay;
Shawn Crawford, SIvler 200m;
LaShawn Merritt, Bronze 100m & 200m.
I’ve blogged about Icon before: http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/4/16/as-the-sun-has-its-place-up-in-the-sky.html .
And let me just list the WHO’S WHO IN BLACK AMERICA - including Kenny Leon of True Colors Theatre Company (www.truecolorstheatrecompany.com/), which has upcoming final series of August Wilson Full Circle: Gem of the Ocean & Radio Golf at the Alliance Theatre (www.alliancetheatre.org/) opening this week and Stephanie Hughley, creator of National Black Arts Festival (www.nbaf.org/). Many of those from Atlanta, in Atlanta, who traveled to Atlanta … were there:
On the HBO tip: Elvis Mitchell, of course; And a special shout out to Lynn Waymer, Director of Affiliate Marketing and Pat Conner, Director of PR… and though she wasn’t there, Janet Walley was there in spirit and organized everything including the NY premiere particulars before heading out on a European vacation. Also, Valerie Harris, PR, and Stephanie and Jermaine in marketing. WE LOVE YOU, HBO!!!!
Kelly’s High Museum marketing team includes: Terra Washington and Monifa Clunie and recently departed Tiffany Bailey (now at the CDC). And all of my buddies on the security staff in the City and at The High (Officers Holland, Duncan, Waldon, Benjamin, and entire staff). JOB WELL DONE… and THANKS FOR TAKING CARE OF ME!
My fellow Renaissance man DJ Tabone (www.MYSpace.com/DJTabone and www.RawSoulFM.com) who scored the night with his great sounds and helped keep the PASS THE MIC/OPEN MIC going (with over 30 artists, musicians and poets to boot) – so I could continue to hop around from all the concurrent events going on. By the way, “Art in the City” is the High’s weekly event held every Thursday, 5 to 8pm at the High Museum of Friday Jazz. It is a monthly event held every third Friday, 5 to 10pm. Open Mic is held on the third Thursday of the month.
Other than Julian and Jeffrey, the other HIGH creators were in the house (and quite lovely and supportive to this event):
Linda Dubler, Curator of Film
Carol Thompson, Curator of African Art – High Museum of Art
Virginia Shearer, Assoc. Chair of Education, High Museum
David Manuel, Director of Community Affairs of Woodruff Arts Center
Tara Perry, VP of Strategic Planning
Joe Bankoff, CEO of Woodruff Arts Center
Road to Freedom &After 1968 Creative Team:
The HistoryRemixed campaign was created by Co-CEO, McGhee Williams Osse and her team: Cara Cocroft, Michele Andwele, Jacqueline High, and the creative team: Lisa McConnell, Ron Smith, Karen Kane. Shout out to Jeff McFarland of Verizon for the lead). Media Director, Gail Warren and new account reps from the Atlanta Burrell Communications office attended Thursday’s event.
Dawnne Amey and Ashlee Feemster from Brand Apostles promotional agency were in attendance. They produced the engagement program and street team activities (promoting “Living Statues” pulled from the photos in the Road to Freedom exhibition around the Metro-Atlanta area at festivals and parks (check them out at V-103’s For Sisters Only and 100 Black Men of Atlanta’s Parade in September)).
Artists: Sam Mahone was also in the house!
V-103: Joyce Littel of the Quiet Storm, Bob Jackson, Shelice Smith, and Elle Duncan
-- all of whom represent the Number one radio station in Atlanta ( www.v103.com/ ).
High Museum of Art Civil Rights Influencers: Frank Sanchez of the Boys and Girls Club of America; 100 Black Men of Dekalb County Sylvester Hopewell Jr.; Mocha Moms Shenia Kirkland; GA State Coordinator, Marie Smith; Wande Meadows, President of South Dekalb Chapter; Lesia Mescudi of USalon in Buckhead; and Cynthia Craig of Azar Salon in Buckhead; Melissa McGhie from Turner; Rasheedah Ali of Spectrum Communications; and Ed Phelps of Studio Vis.
Other notables: My Savannah homeboy Stacy T. Quarterman, Artist Development from SONY BMG and Terrell Henderson from Universal Music Group for their Art in the City/HBO gift bag contributions; Johnna M. Snell , Senior Director of Workplace Giving, American Heart Association; Lisa Turner, member of the High, Carmen Jones of Turner, Author Roger Louis Kennedy of “My Spouse Made Me Rich”, Xylina Knuckles of 300 Atlanta, Michael Heard (and wife) from CNN’s “Black in America”).
AS IS HER STYLE: My friend Kelly Welborn ensured that I was truly taken care of. I was put up at 12 ( www.twelvehotels.com/AtlanticStation/HotelHome.do ). We had a briefing lunch at Lobby at 12 ( www.lobbyattwelve.com/home.html ).
For dinner, Lynn Waymer, Director of Affiliate Marketing at HBO, joined Kelly and me for a lovely dinner at Spice Market ( www.spicemarketatlanta.com/ ) inside the W Hotel in Colony Square (www.starwoodhotels.com). When Ant and I stayed there last year, it was a Sheraton (http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2007/2/9/kiss-my-grits.html ). It has totally been transformed into a slice of Los Angeles.
Afterwards, we enjoyed cocktails upstairs at Whiskey Park with David Manuel, Director of Community Affairs of Woodruff Arts Center and Johnna M. Snell , Senior Director of Workplace Giving, American Heart Association.
The next day, I got to experience the Atlantic Station my nephew has boasted about (as he is a junior at my alma mater Morehouse and is ever the patron in these parts - www.atlanticstation.com/ ): Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro ( www.copelandscheesecakebistro.com/ ). My "Amazing Grace" and best friend from Savannah Nat came and sponsored that moment which gave us our face-to-face time vs. our daily voice-to-voice time during her (and sometimes my) commute to or from our work. Later, she came to the event with her husband Dwayne in tow.
OTHER HOUSEKEEPING NOTES:
The Atlanta Dialogue: Met many of the family members participating in the program who attended the screening. Check out theatlantadialogue.org to blog about your experience after visiting the High Museum or any of the Arts entities in Atlanta this year.
High Museum of Art highlights:
FINAL WEEKS of HistoryRemixed: Road to Freedom: Photographs from the Civil Rights Movement, 1956-1968 and After 1968: Contemporary Artists and the Civil Rights Legacy.
The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army is coming to the High Museum on November 16. Hurry, tickets are selling fast! Become a member and enter for free.
The High has already pre-sold over 20,000 tickets in anticipation of this exhibition.
“Highlight”. This is going to be the largest exhibition to come to the High Museum!
Art in the City, Thursdays,
Talk and Talk Back: Gallery Talk with After 1968 artist, Hank Willis Thomas “Unbranded”
Yes, in my lifetime, this African American man was invited back to Atlanta to host an event at The High Museum featuring content that celebrates the resillience and brilliance of being African American. "IT'S GOOD TO BE (BLACK)", indeed!!!!!