By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
We’re two days away from the end of February. It’s been an interesting 27 days. While approaching the shortest month of the year I thought and re-thought what I was going to do.
- Was I going to dedicate the month to Black History Month like I did last year?
- Was I going to continue my special week on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women the way I did in 2011?
- Would I scrap all that and continue with a regular month?
The last question lasted a minute, maybe.
Question # 1 came about via several conversations with Black folk I know. As much as they thought Black History Month is important they are tired of Black folk only given attention during February. They know, as do you, that with blackcoffeepoet.com that isn’t the case.
An interview I saw with Morgan Freeman on 60 Minutes also had me re-thinking the month:
“You’re going to regulate my history to a month!” said Freeman with a disgusted look on his face.
So, I decided to feature Black poets I respected without dedicating the entire month to Black History Month so as not to follow the mainstream. In the interviews with Whitney French and Adrian Matejka, both Black poets, I asked one question about Black History Month to each of them. My focus was on what they as Black poets wrote about and their life experiences. Their poetry spoke it. They interviews stated it.
The cool thing is that French is a poet who is starting out, she just put out a chapbook, Three Cities, and she lives to write.
Matejka is an established poet who won the USA 2008 National Poetry Series for his book Mixology. He teaches at big university in the U.S.
Both are in different places, one starting out while the other is recognized, and both are fine poets.
And as is regular with my site, I gave space to a young writer who has no publications to their name but writes from the heart, and writes well. Meshach Harvey read a memoir piece on video about being mixed-race and the first time he was racialized. Many people commented on how powerful the piece is and shared it on Face Book. I recommend you watch it but be warned that it is about racism and could trigger emotion.
Question # 2 was a no brainer. One of the reasons I started my site was to continue writing political commentary. The epidemic of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women is close to my heart. I’ve been to every rally put on in Toronto over the last 7 years. I’ve read my poetry there, stood in the cold (sometimes with 20 other people, sometimes 250), made and held signs with messages, prayed, and showed my support by showing up.
The question was really, “How will I do the week this year?” not “Will I do the week?”.
Last year I used a title that grabbed attention:
It was one of my most successful weeks in 2011. Tons of hits. The message got out there and that was the point! Those pages are still viewed and read every month.
This year, I did not change the material or topic but I changed the name after consulting two Aboriginal women who I respect, who are older than me, who walk their talk: Jackie Hamlin-Esquimaux and Zainab Amadahy.
My idea was to remember those women who are gone but also remember the women who are here and fighting to stop the epidemic. So, I ran the new name by Jackie and Zainab:
They loved it and I went with it.
If you know anything about journalism then you know that people run to the negative or sensationalist headline. The new title was neither.
I got one-third of the hits this year even though it was the exact same topic and format to last year: book review, interview+ photo essay, videos of people reading poetry, and video interview–this time with a Grandmother in the Toronto Aboriginal community: Wanda Whitebird.
What happened? Why such a low readership?
I have some thoughts on possible reasons to why this happened:
- People, whether progressive minded or not, are still attracted to negativity.
- People I featured last year were hustlers. They all tweeted and re-tweeted and SHARED the week on their Face Book pages. People this year didn’t do that.
- People who GOOGLED Missing and Murdered Native Women were sent to my work last year as this year did not have those key words in the title.
- Racialicious.com, a big supporter of my site, re-posted my stuff last year and didn’t this year. They are a huge American site that gets 10 000 viewers a day, or more, and getting on there spikes my hits.
- Some Native folk I know say that I’ve been silenced by certain activists who do the same work because I did not feature them. Is this true? I don’t know. What I do know is that emails sent out (which I get) during the week had links to big media who covered the rally in Toronto; big media who don’t really care about the epidemic; big media who often stigmatize the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. My stuff was not shared even though I promoted their events leading up to the rally, the rally and feast itself, and I’ve always credited them for the work they have done.
The positives are that I have had support!
One of many supporters is Indigenous Waves Radio. They had me on for the second time on Monday February 13, 2012. I was interviewed alongside a member of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. A lot of people don’t like, or support, NWAC but we were there for the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women, nothing more.
I was also able to talk about my interview with Bridget Tolley, founder of Families of Sisters In Spirit, the group that came out of NWAC when NWAC stopped funding Sisters In Spirit. The NWAC representative heard my words, did not interrupt, and there was no drama. We were there collectively: BCP, NWAC, and Indigenous Waves. And we were there for the 800+ Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women in Canada.
Bridget Tolley is an inspiration! When I think of how she lost her mother, dealt with dirty cops, kept fighting without funding after a nasty breakup with NWAC, and has faced being silenced, it all just keeps me going.
Susan Blight, co-host of Indigenous Waves, asked great questions. Half the show was dedicated to the epidemic. Both Susan and I promoted the February 14th rally in Toronto happening the following day in front of police headquarters. I ended the interview by reading A Poem For Mayor David Miller.
February has brought me a new awareness via thoughts and observations.
Big thanks to all my backers and to those who continue the circle of sharing and support that I do my best to partipate in.
Peace, joy, justice, and reciprocation.
Tune into Black Coffee Poet February 29, 2012 for interviews with the Producer and Co-Hosts of Indigenous Waves Radio.