james-barbour-jr_web.jpgThey came from a mighty long way in search of a better life.

From the Nation’s Capital, to the City Of Wind,

Blacks by the thousands would escape from race riots

Burning bright from the heat of discrimination

until smoke rose from them like from the barrel of the bootlegger’s guns.

Others would leave from the rural Southern lives they had always known,

Some with just a railroad ticket with a suitcase. 

No pillows were necessary,

In order to seek out the City that Never Sleeps,

Just the urge to live out fantasies they had only heard about through word of mouth.

Dreams of social freedom to substitute sights of strange fruit.

And the soulful Jazz and Blues music they brought along for the ride.

The Uptown city streets would become home to them all.

Singers and scholars alike would flock to the de-facto Negro Capital

Of Harlem, New York City.

And there was a reason this decade was called the Roaring Twenties.

The Roaring of the crowds in the Savoy Ballroom and Apollo Theatre,

Perfectly balanced the Roaring of the train cars the Pullman Porters toiled in,

And the factories that workers boiled in,

To create a hum that echoed in the pages of history.

When more publishers and critics began to pay attention to the writing talent in the area

A platform was provided for poets, political leaders, and playwrights to present pieces

on Black life in the present as well as plans for the people to fulfill their potential.  

Marcus Garvey advocated a Pan-African philosophy,

Langston Hughes asked America to become authentically the home of the free,

W.E.B DuBois encouraged higher learning for the community,

And Zora Neale Hurston wrote about Black culture with authority.

With many more writers getting ink at the cross-streets of Crisis and Opportunity.

Not to say they agreed on a single path as there was much dissent,

But their impact on their given fields were very evident

Much like the music of the time.

Musical visionaries were also part of this landscape,

Hall –Of Fame Band Leaders like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong

That impact the music of today.

With vocalists Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday,

These pioneers helped to pour the foundation that the Civil Rights Movement stood upon.

The faceless mass affectionately known as “They” have a saying,

You must learn your history or you will be doomed to repeat it.

I ask what if there is a slice in time you would want to update and recreate.

Not like going back in time, more like a reawakening of a frame of mind

held by our not-too-distant ancestors. 

Because I am concerned about the state of the arts in the here and now.

The recession has brought to bear layoffs and shrinking budgets.

Causing performing arts activities for our next generation of budding prodigies to hibernate,

With the promise of renewal that comes with recovery.

If this is true, my next solemn question is as such,

“How many artistic leaders will we lose as a result?”


Editor’s Note: James “Soula Powa’’ Barbour Jr. performed this poem live at the Urban League of Broward County’s 2009 Equal Opportunity Day Red Gala on Saturday, Sept. 26 at the Broward County Convention Center.