The Zimbabwe Poets for Human Rights partnered with the United States Embassy in commemorating Black History Month, ending the month-long celebrations with a poetry and music slam on Monday evening. The occasion marked the closing of the arts program that saw poets showcasing their theatrical skills in Harare, Mutare, Bulawayo, Kadoma and Gweru. On Monday night, the mostly youthful poets were joined by musicians Tariro NeGuitare and Pauline Gundidza, and veteran poets Chirikure Chirikure, Robson Shoes and Mbizo Chirasha, who produced a fusion of music and spoken word in both English and Shona.
In the United States, Black History Month is celebrated annually to remember the achievements of black Americans and recognize the role of African Americans in U.S. history.
During Monday’s event, Kudakwashe “Da Voice” Murombedzi delighted audience members when he set the tone for the event with a short prayer –“Lord, I am vulnerable. I am weak to temptation and to beautiful women. Though I want to pray, my flesh is putting me the other way. Lord I am vulnerable. Amen.” His poem “I am a black dot” reflected the desire displayed by civil rights activists for black emancipation, with its lyrics designed to reduce negative stereotypes associated with African Americans in music, livelihoods and ambition. “The truth is being said from afar . . . I try so hard to make work suit the pain,” said the award-winning poet.
Other poets, U-mind, Thee Orator and Shakespeare, recited poems about love, race, identity and art. Thee Orator shared “Meditations of a Conscious Mind,” a piece that called for an end to discrimination based on color and race. “Love is the only formula that can solve the equation,” echoed U Mind. “We are the same in a way which is different yet different in a way which is the same. Let’s appreciate other people for who they are, not who we want them to be.”
Speaking at celebrations, Karen Kelley, Counselor for Public Affairs at the United States Embassy, paid tribute to the Zimbabwe Poets for Human Rights for organizing the nationwide poetry slams which began on February 6th. “The poetry and music from contemporary poets is a reminder that where black people are, there is art, life, enjoyment and remembrance,” she said.
She related the history of the February Black History Month commemorations, which started out as “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans.
“The idea is to remember and reflect but also to learn as there is so much about this history that has yet to be plumbed and understood,” said the African American diplomat. “So the field is ripe; the historians are busy collecting and preserving this history, not only for African Americans but for all humanity.”
The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. That September, the Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASALH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent. Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the group sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host performances and lectures.
The Association announces a theme each year for Black History Month celebrations in the United States. For this year’s Black History Month commemoration, the theme was “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories” to recall all the places that have played an important role in the story of Africans in the Americas. As President Obama noted in his Proclamation on January 29, “for too long, our most basic liberties had been denied to African Americans, and today, we pay tribute to countless good-hearted citizens — along the Underground Railroad, aboard a bus in Alabama, and all across our country — who stood up and sat in to help right the wrongs of our past and extend the promise of America to all our people.”
The Zimbabwe Poets for Human Rights was established in 2008 to broaden and strengthen performance poetry as an alternative media in human rights advocacy. – ZimPAS © March 2, 2016