BirthmarkMedia: Blog en-us (C) BirthmarkMedia (BirthmarkMedia) Wed, 07 Feb 2024 14:28:00 GMT Wed, 07 Feb 2024 14:28:00 GMT BirthmarkMedia: Blog 80 120 THE WOMEN OF PURLIE VICTORIOUS EXCERPT FROM AN ARTICLE IN BROADWAYWORLD.

Dad passed away on February 4, 2005. Every time I go to the Music Box Theatre to see his play I get the chance to visit with him again. I am surrounded by his words and feel as if he is talking just to me. If I listen hard enough, I hear his voice and believe that he and my mother know that I am there.  On the edge my seat. Savoring every moment of every performance I can. Each time I laugh anew and am moved by the relevance of the play and its truth. Each time I discover another layer of humanity in the characters.  Another interpretation of the text. Each time I try to find Daddy’s message to me, his little Black girl.  His grown Black daughter. And each time, I am inextricably drawn to the women of Purlie Victorious.

(BirthmarkMedia) Broadway Ossie Davis Purlie Victorious theatre women Wed, 07 Feb 2024 14:27:22 GMT

The year is young

And already I have learned that intentions are

Spectrums of boundless opportunities

To try again



(BirthmarkMedia) Mon, 01 Jan 2024 14:49:10 GMT
SELF JOY AND WONDER There was a time when I didn’t sense the danger

I didn’t double check or seem to care

about the what ifs of

jumping on a motorcycle

pushing myself to the front of a crowd

or diving deep into the ocean


I know that part of me is still within

My eyes widen and my skin erupts

When I notice the chance

To take a chance


But I have tucked it away

Behind daily chores

Beneath well-made beds

And in the aisle of the local grocery store


And I miss the carefree part of me

that is disconnected from common sense calculations

and familial obligations

And attached instead

to self-joy and wonder


(BirthmarkMedia) Mon, 04 Dec 2023 16:07:31 GMT

How and when do you learn what is important? I ask that question from the perspective of an adult who learned about what is important from my parents and subsequently taught those lessons to my children. Lessons that were co-mingled with those learned by my husband from his parents. Lessons that I revise in my head for the grandchildren I hope to have. 

Like all great teachers, my mother and father talked to me and exemplified what was important.  There were no classroom chairs or chalkboards, rather the dining room table, the garden, and expeditions to cities or theatres or rallies served as my training ground.  My parents demonstrated what was important in the stories they told and by the history they highlighted.  They exemplified the importance of love.  Love of self, family, spouse, and the building of relationships. There were lessons about the habits of living.  Basic things like spirituality, education, health, cleanliness, honesty, survival, equanimity, struggle, respect, responsibility, order, and perseverance—stick-to-itiveness as my mother called it.  There were those step-here-a-minute-sit-your-ass-down-do-you-hear-me-talking-to-you lessons and there were those invisible and silent lessons that were the by-products of sharing a home and spending time with one another.  There were also lessons, prayers, and guidance written in my parents’ letters to me. In their absence, I often re-read their letters and cards and find in them the sound of their voices, the warmth of their arms, and the extent of their love for me.  Always exactly what and when I need to hear about what is important in life.  Especially today:

May your 14th birthday be full of surprises—gifts (or the promise of them)—and newer, deeper insights into the beauty of the human spirit as manifested through friends and those who love you.

May all your birthdays be a celebration of the discovery of the best possible in all people and all situations.

May you have the strength and determination to conquer—to overcome—all negative visions that dull the luster of your profoundly beautiful soul.

May you search for and find those aspects of work and pleasure that satisfy all your inner hungers.

And may this search of your own rich treasures bring forth a greater selflessness and dedication to truth.

We wish you a long, rich life, with good health and much deep joy.


—Love Daddy & Mom & Daddy & Mom


I challenged my parents when I could and strayed from their guidance from time to time, but I believe that I hold and practice what they deemed to be important as what I now deem to be important.   Some of the realizations came a while ago like when at 16 and I announced that I would not be going to college because I thought it was irrelevant.  My mother’s response lasted just a few seconds, and I have since gone on to get a doctorate.  Some of the realizations like the importance of planning and managing my time came much later.

Seemingly through osmosis, what you learn as important shows up throughout adulthood.  It comes out of your mouth as the words of your parents as well as their temperament. It stares back at you when you look into the mirror.  And you can only hope to see it in the faces of your children who, when you have with them the conversations that your parents had with you, remind you of yourself.

Certainly, however and whenever you learn what you deem important changes with experience and time. I believe that the most important lessons and guidance from my parents were in their prayers for me; the hope that I would find and facilitate joy in my life and in this world.  Reading the lessons in their letters to me is like finding pages from the Instruction Manual for Life along my path.  Crumb navigation indeed.  

Crumb #94: May every lesson, each prayer, and all guidance create a path to joy and compassion—the truly important things in life.


(BirthmarkMedia) family guidance lessons prayers Mon, 20 Nov 2017 06:00:00 GMT
THE FRONT I was in grade school when US troops were sent into Vietnam, and I was in college when the troops were withdrawn. During that time, I participated in anti-war rallies and marches with my entire family, which embodied the People’s defiance and resistance against racism and violence.  My parents gave speeches and raised funds. My brother occupied the draft board in New Rochelle, NY during a demonstration against the war, and both he and my father along with teachers and other students were arrested. Some of my sister’s friends were killed in the war. We held signs. We shouted. We locked arms and sang songs.  And like many American families, we relied on the reports from Walter Cronkite and other journalists to bring news and images of the war into our homes.

Watching the PBS series The Vietnam War more than 50 years later was like placing a missing piece into a puzzle. The stories and images not only awakened what I had forgotten, but they also helped me to see and understand much more about the war in Vietnam. Although this critical documentary leaves it to the viewer to recognize that the same American and Vietnamese war crimes, lies, and tactics are being used in the continuing wars in Western Asia, it does indeed tell the story of “What we remember. What we forgot. And what we never knew” about US troops in America’s Vietnam War. This documentary provides comprehensive multiple perspectives of a period in history that was one of the major catalysts in this country’s imperialistic campaigns, the loss of independent media, domestic militarization, the drug trade, de facto discrimination, and the shift to the political right. More importantly for me, however, this documentary–particularly the voices of the American and Vietnamese soldiers and their families–brought significance to a legal-sized manila folder that I have been holding onto for a very long time.

I can’t remember exactly when, but I believe it was in the late 1980’s or early 90’s when I was hosting a writer’s workshop for a local group of writers who would come to my house to read and discuss our writing–mostly poetry.  On one particular occasion, a man in the group brought a friend, a Vietnam veteran, who also brought some of his work.  I can’t remember the exchange, but this man gave me his folder.  At the end of the meeting, I tried to give it back, but he wouldn’t take it.  He wanted me to read it and hold onto it for safekeeping.  At least that’s what I recall.  His work was written in long hand from top to bottom on both sides of pages that had been torn out of a ledger that had tabs with the letters of the alphabet on them. The first page consisted of poorly articulated disjointed ideas and didn’t prompt me to read on, so I didn’t. And although I never took the time to read the rest of the pages, I did keep the folder. 

Throughout the years, when I came across the folder, I would try to remember the man’s name or even the name of the man who brought him to my home.  I would flip through the pages and wonder why he left his words with me, and why he never tried to get them back. Several times I thought of discarding the folder, but I never did.  If it were my folder, I would want to keep it, and perhaps one day he might feel the same.

After a few episodes of The Vietnam War, I thought of the folder and knew exactly where to find it–carefully tucked in a bin with my old journals.  The folder and the papers it held had yellowed.  The tape that bound the fragile pages had dried, and it crumbled in my lap when I opened the cover that read: THE FRONT in all capital letters.  Bro Manning was written in elegant penmanship at the top.

I read some of the pages with different eyes. The first page was about smoking marijuana. Urbs the urbs, Dew the dew.  My brother be, you handed me something that resembles a small tree! Those urbs that VietNamese com soy (Grass). Many days and nights I sit and draw on the bowl. Bro Manning was part of the Army Airborne 173rd, and Pattie Boozer was always on his mind: This Black Queen I do care boo cooh (much) about.  I saw the names of Vietnamese cities and words like revolution, kill the pig, Uncle Tom, black power, and can you dig it? It’s Too Fucking Late was written in large letters that took up a third of one page, and journal entries were dotted with prayers: Dear Lord make me strong. Whitey hurts you worst than Sir Charles.  When Charles drops his rockets in on us I gather with my Blacks because I know Charles don’t want any part of my black brothers. Our battlefield is a cruel mother.  If Sir Charles doesn’t get you, Whitey will. Beware Blacks.  There were expressions of anger, shows of brotherhood, accounts of racism, cries for help, as well as shards of hope.

And he was not the only one who had written in the journal.  Other soldiers wrote messages to him and called him Brother Black, Big Skip, or just announced themselves: This is Theopolis J. Hall. I am a brother. I am a black man. I am Theopolis the first. I am Theopolis the last. Some were long letters with warnings, advice, and opinions. Others were short messages like those written in a yearbook.  They signed their names Bro. or Brother and included their addresses: Bro. Roosevelt Taylor from Birmingham, Alabama; Kenneth M. Calhoun from Copiague, Long Island; Vaughn Fuller from Washington, DC; and LaVonce Reed from St. Louis, Mo. Among many others. I marveled at the treasure in my hands.

The Vietnam War is a testament to the excellent research and writing of Geoffrey C. Ward and the masterful visualization of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.  More so, it is a testament of the fortitude of those American and Vietnamese photojournalists, families, civilians, and soldiers who–with a kaleidoscope of motivations–experienced, recorded, protested, resisted, fought, lived, and died as a result of the atrocities of the Vietnam War. For me, it is also a special testament to Bro Manning who entrusted me with his piece of the puzzle. I will protect his pages and read his story. Then I will attempt to return his words. I may or may not find him or any of his brothers, but I owe it to them all as well as to myself to try.

(BirthmarkMedia) family pbs protest vietnam vietnam war Wed, 11 Oct 2017 13:06:55 GMT
THIS PHOTO We took a family trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC. In a section featuring James Baldwin, I found myself in this photo.

I have a different photo from this event. In that photo, I am sitting on Daddy's lap and James Baldwin is at the podium. It is 1963, and we are at a rally in NYC to protest the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. For me, that photo represents the precious times I spent with my father. But this photo. This photo taken by a different photographer broadens the perspective to include Mommy, my sister Nora, Odetta, and so many others singing and holding hands and standing up -even on very young legs. This photo isn't about me being with my Daddy. This photo is about all of us standing up and doing what needed to be done about the terrorist attack that killed 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson and 11-year-old Denise McNair. And in the aftermath, the attacks that killed 16-year-old Johnny Robinson who was shot by a police officer and on 13-year-old Virgil Ware who was shot by a white teenager.

We were standing then as we must stand now.

It was a humbling exciting moment standing there in front of this photo. One moment of many humbling moments during our time at the museum this weekend. More later...

(BirthmarkMedia) 16th baldwin baptist church james odetta ossie davis and ruby dee street Mon, 11 Sep 2017 23:15:41 GMT
I AM BLESSED I am blessed. Every once in awhile I lose sight of that. I don’t remember first that I am blessed. I am moving.  I can see the sky and the trees.  I am warmed by the sun and there are no obstacles before me other than me.

Failure is first some days.  Every once in a while I believe that.  I don’t remember that I am blessed.  I forget that I am the success of my parents.  I have given my children all of who I am and that is enough.

Doubt knocks me down.  Fear pins me to the ground where I give up and give in to the veneer of this existence and to the fallacy of what matters. As if I were expected, I am welcomed into a lone space in a cavern full of people who have also forgotten and whom I have disowned.  I am only thinking of myself.  Only thinking of what I lack and how I must deserve to be in this place because my descension was so quick and because I fit so easily.  Regrets shower down and I almost drown without fighting.  The gravity of quicksand tightens around my stilled arms and I begin to believe the darkness.

And then I remember that I am blessed.  I hear the mantra, and I don’t remember why I lost sight of it.  I am blessed.  I breathe and open my eyes. There is light. I have health and understanding. I have loved ones. I have choices. I have the wherewithal. I am.  I can.  I am. I am. I. Am.

(BirthmarkMedia) blessings compassion Tue, 11 Jul 2017 17:15:00 GMT


When giants fall

the earth stills


waves toward the horizon

pushing trees


Flowers bow

and large bodies of water hum

It is just a matter of time for all things;

Even the greatest among us

is merely passing through



fills the lungs of some

Keeps them afloat above our heads

As they lift our legs

and arms and spirits

As they help us to survive this lower life


closer to the ground


When giants fall among us

Their breezes carry us

Their prayers

set us down gently

in open spaces

full of grace

where we inherit their strength

Absorb their intentions

Put on their hands


When greatness breathes

the final breath

Flattens and falls mortal

around our feet

Our tears roll down

from uplifted faces

elevated hearts

and clearer minds

                         When giants fall

we release them

in whispers, cries, and laughter

as they remind us

that we – are – giants – too


We -

are -

giants -




is the honor and farewell

That we learn and grow and challenge and conquer

because we walked beneath these giants

whose words and work and dance and song

and care and love

carried us apace

in giant footsteps



that we were clinging to their

ankles, hips, and shirttails;

That we were filling their shoes

Climbing on their shoulders



that because they walked

we could fly  

(BirthmarkMedia) Muhammad Ali Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee giants heros Tue, 04 Jul 2017 16:30:36 GMT
JANAZAH SHROUD David Bastianoni’s photograph, He Will Never See His Father, is a striking image that depicts a pregnant Muslim woman holding the head of her dead husband.  She is dressed in a black Abaya, and her husband is enshrouded in an American flag. The woman is on her knees with her straight back hinged forward almost in a position of prayer as she kisses the forehead of her husband whose body lays supine on top of a gray coffin that is in front of a gray cross, the highest point in this staged image. The flagged-draped coffin as a symbol of service in the armed forces of the United States has been replaced. Instead, the red, white, and blue flag has become this Muslim soldier’s Janazah shroud. He is not wrapped in traditional white cotton for his final rite of passage. There is no coffin, no satin lining, no uniform between the man and the country for which he fought and died. 

He Will Never See His Father

Bastianoni says that the story of this photograph goes beyond religious symbols to make a statement about loss.  A father is being deprived of being a father, and a child is being deprived of having a father. I would add that a wife is being deprived of her husband. But as art does, this image tells many stories and resonates differently with each viewer.

In addition to seeing the image as both the loss and promise of life, I see an immigrant family from Western Asia depicted with humanity in order to counter the view of Muslims as terrorists.  I see a family’s sacrifice and its display of patriotism for and assimilation into this country. The untold story -what I don’t see- creates a dissonance that resonates more powerfully in the forefront of my mind, however. The absent presence of my historical and political perspective overshadows the “photographic reality” that Bastianoni’s wants the viewer to question in order to bring additional perspectives to bear.

I am a black, African American, 60-year-old, female, native-born Muslim photographer whose ancestors were American prior to the formation of the United States. We Muslims aren’t seen as terrorists per se, we’re not seen at all.  And if we are, we are not seen as “real” Muslims.  Our sacrifice and patriotism is muted. Our assimilation is a burdensome assumption or an accusation of just being black, not American.

The red, white, and blue in this image is a mask disguising corrupt capitalism and greed as democracy, freedom, and peace  –the promise for which this soldier most likely thought he fought and died. My perspective is swift to consider that this man is dead because of this country’s invasion of Iraq, the support of the ongoing war in Syria, its presence in Afghanistan, and the drone attacks on innocent civilians.  My perspective does not easily see heroism or symbols of my safety and security.

Somewhere I read that I have the freedom to hold opinions and the right to expect just citizenship even though I reclaimed my way of life – Islam, discarded my slave name, and -for a time in my life- wore a Khimar.  Somewhere I read that I have the right to shed the propaganda of this country and the obligation to embrace instead the promise of liberty. Somewhere I read that I am compelled to resist the marginalized projection of me as a black African American Muslim woman –even in art. 

When I look at Bastianoni’s image, the spaces are filled with invisible African American Muslims like me.  Also hidden there are the accounts of this country’s acts of terrorism against its own citizens and people all over the world. Certainly one frame cannot tell a complete story, but from the righteous to the criminal, each story that this image does contain comes from a myriad of perspectives on life, death, family, religion, citizenship, politics, and war. I suspect that the most critical story will be that of the unborn child.


He Will Never See His Father, won the Wedding and Portrait Photographer’s International (WPPI) Grand Award for 2017. The image warrants praise for its artistic quality as well as for its ability to elicit emotion including that of agitation –the true role of art as activism.  


To see the image, go to:

(BirthmarkMedia) David Bastianoni Muslim women Somewhere I read Wed, 07 Jun 2017 17:13:54 GMT