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Updated: Sep 23, 2022

By Olka Baldeh

All Photos By: Marissa Leshnov

On October 31st, 2019, over 55 people gathered in Oakland, California, answering the call to honor the Black dead and to reimagine the state of Black death. The energy was heavy with the reality of death and yet, true to the ability of Black folks to create joy even amidst pain, there was release, reprieve, held hands, and cleansing laughter.

Through tears, hugs, prayer, and the witnessing of the heart work of seven Black women - people came together in a powerful act of community that surely changed the world, even if for just a few hours.

Olka Baldeh, event curator and host of the Black Moon Podcast brought in the names and faces of 164 people, including those who had been murdered as a result of police violence, white supremacy, and transphobia. Poignantly, Baldeh did not limit the representation of late Black people to those who had died as a result of suffering and violence. The images of Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Nelson Mandela shone out to remind the attendants of all those who fought, survived, and died in God’s time.

In her opening speech (video below), Baldeh reflected that the 164 people represented at the event were not islands onto themselves. That their stories extend over hundreds of parents, thousands of families, given and chosen, and ultimately millions of whom we are all a part of. She invited attendees to hold the intention of the event and to continue show up every time they are able to participate in reaching towards our collective freedom.

Baldeh encouraged attendants to commit to evaluating their own life and to ask and answer the question; “what it is that I can do to get somebody else free?” In a ringing voice she invoked the vision of Ancestor Toni Morrison, having the crowd join her to chant; “The function of freedom is to free somebody else!”

As participants walked around and said the names of the people whose images they were witnessing, they held one another. Attendants witnessed photography by Aneesah Driver, art by Angela Hennesy and Sydney Cain, immense film work by Isha Rosemond and Mariam Abdalgadir, and finally, Black attendees participated in a prayer and ritual lead by Dr. Courtney Morris. Each artist, offered powerful work dedicated to and concerned with the Black dead. They reminded us about the power of intention, art, and reverence to our ancestors, who have given so much, as we all march to freedom.

A personal and deep note of gratitude to all those, near and far, in person and in spirit, who supported the fruition of this vision, this magic.

Our Sponsor: The Reimagine End of Life festival - a festival exploring big questions about life and death through creativity and conversation.

Our donors: Esther Dsouza, Mohamed Ally, Elizabeth Perry, Viviane Mehndiva, Jennifer Martinez, Stephanie Steinbrecher, Golden Re, Heather Moyer, Sara Consolino, Janet Krater, Brittany Walker, Laura Stevens, Radhika Dhir, Jojo Lamboy, and Mackenzie Cane.

Our space makers without whom, the night could not have happened: Teshone Jones & Jared Warren.

Our artists who so graciously showed up in the name of reverence and community:

Aneesah Dryver, Aneesah an artist and freelance photographer from Oakland, California. She focuses on portraiture, street photography, and capturing candid moments. Aneesah’s photography is a direct answer to the murder of Nia Wilson and the demand for safety for Black women.

Sydney Cain, whose art “acts as ciphers to assist decoding unseen realities,” bringing in a deep feeling of the presence of our ancestors even on this physical plane.

Angela Hennesy, most recently a Museum of the African Diaspora emerging artist, survived a gunshot wound while interrupting a violent assault on the street in front of her house. In addition to making “art for the dead,” Angela volunteers with hospice and works with families on home funerals, death vigils, and grief rituals.

Isha Rosemond, a first-generation Haitian American filmmaker and poet. Isha uses much of her time contemplating the nuances of blackness and the intersections of trauma and celebration that encompass this very identity. Isha currently works as a community center facilitator at an organization that serves Oakland, California’s commercially sexually exploited femme/non-binary youth.

Mariam Abdalgadir, an emerging multi-disciplinary artist from the Bay Area. Mariam is a child of Sudanese immigrants whose work is influenced African/Black and Middle Eastern populations. Her work currently centers around the concept of Momin Mokhtafy; a name to an unexplainable space of consciousness beyond the grammar of black theory that delves into spiritual performance. Disordered and infinite, it is intended to respect the curation of black noise and movement in refusal. Inspired by the echoes of black femme worship, Momin Mokhtafy hopes to participate in the bio-poetics of a black prayer. Momin Mokhtafy is a chaotic, non-representational, black femme spiritual archive. Mariam examines this noise patiently by sitting in the spiritual realm of infinity and chaos to catch a blur or a sound wave in the darkness of it’s light. A light that can only be seen by the creator and felt by the worshipper.

Dr. Courtney Desiree Morris, a visual/conceptual artist, social anthropologist, and an assistant professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Courtney believes in performance that functions as a kind of time-traveling technology where she can revisit and restage sites of ancestral memory, interrogate the present, and imagine new kinds of social and environmental futures.

Olka Baldeh, a writer, poet, activist, space maker, and truth teller.

The ones for whom we do this work:

Atatiana Koquice Jefferson, Korryn Gaines, Charleena Chavon Lyles, Sandra Bland, Mya Hall, Malissa Williams, Meagan Hockaday, Natasha McKenna, Nia Wilson, Janisha Fonville, Tanisha Anderson, Shukri Ali Said, Pamela Turner, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Aura Rosser, Rekia Boyd, Sheneque Proctor, Michelle Cusseaux, Pearlie Golden aka “Miss Sulie”, Gabriella Nevarez, Yvette Smith, Miriam Carey, Kyam Livingston, Kayla Moore, Shelly Frey, Alesia Thomas, Shantel Davis, Sharmel Edwards, Shereese Francis, Tarika Wilson, Kathryn Johnston, Alberta Spruill, Kendra James, LaTanya Haggerty, Margaret LaVerne Mitchell, Tyisha Miller, Islan Nettles, Erica Garner, Eleanor Bumpurs, Darnisha Harris, Alexia Christian, Frankie Ann Perkins, Nizah Morris, Claire Legato, Ashanti Carmon, Duanna Johnson, Dana Martin, Jazzaline Ware, Muhlaysia Booker, Michelle "Tamika" Simone, Paris Cameron, Chynal Lindsey, Chanel Scurlock, Zoe Spears, Brooklyn Lindsey, Denali Berries Stuckey, Kiki Fantroy, Pebbles LaDime Doe, Bailey Reeves, Itali Marlowe, Brianna “BB” Hill, Reecey Walker, India Kager, Sasha Wall, Shante Thompson, Maya Young, Naomi Hersi, Amia Tyrae Berryman, Phylicia Mitchell, Celine Walker, Gregory Hill Jr., De’Von Bailey, Eric Logan, Jamarion Robinson, Timothy Russell, Malissa A. Williams, Tamir Rice, Botham Shem Jean, Emantic “EJ” Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., Michael Brown, JaQuavion Slaton, Ryan Twyman, Brandon Webber, Jimmy Atchison, Willie McCoy, Andre Catrel Gladen, D’ettrick Griffin, Jemel Roberson, DeAndre Ballard, Robert Lawrence White, Anthony Lamar Smith, Ramarley Graham, Manuel Loggins Jr., Trayvon Martin, Stephon Clark, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Derrick Jones, Kimani Gray, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Tyrone West, Justin Teigen, Amadou Diallo, Wendell Allen, Kendrec McDade, Larry Jackson Jr., Freddie Gray, Sean Bell, Jonathan Ferrell, Christian Taylor, Yusuf Hawkins, Michael Griffith, Michael Jerome Stewart, Emmett Till, George Stinney, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Brendon Glenn, Samuel DuBose, Angelo Delano Perry, Keith Lamont Scott, Jordan Baker, Victor White lll, Roy Nelson, Dontre Hamilton, John Crawford lll, Jamar Clark, Akai Gurley, Ezell Ford, Phillip White, Dante Parker, Kajieme Powell, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, Martin Luther King Jr., Charly Keunang, Matthew Ojibade, Tony Robinson, Demarkis Stansberry, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, Wangari Maathai, Nina Simone, John Witherspoon, Elijah Cummings, Nipsey Hussle, Coretta Scott King, Jo Ann Robinson, Prince, Marsha P. Johnson, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Octavia E. Butler, Frantz Fanon, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, W. E. B. Du Bois, Stokely Carmichael, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth…….. and so many more…

We will never forget you, may you rest in eternal and perfect peace.

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