Thursday, December 26, 2013

Will the Black Arts Movement outdo Michelle Obama at UC Merced

When the Black Arts Movement Conference happens at UC Merced, Feb. 28 thru March 2, 2014, we wonder will the BAM folks get the turn out folks gave the First Lady? Probably not, but the BAM conference will be one of the largest gathering of North American Africans in Merced history.

It will be an event of critical importance as well, setting the stage for the 50th anniversary of BAM, the most radical literary and artistic movement in American history, featuring many of the founders, including Amiri Baraka, aka LeRoi Jones, Askia Toure, Sonia Sanchez, Marvin X, Roscoe Mitchell and others associated with BAM such as Ishmael Reed and Al Young.

For sure, BAM was a Black Nationalist movement inspired by the Nation of Islam, very similar to the Harlem Renaissance that was motivated by the Marcus Garvey Movement. There are those who will try to paint BAM as multicultural, but that came later, a result of BAM's impact on other ethnic groups and especially upon white academia. BAM was the root cause of American academia deciding to include non-white radical literature in its curriculum. Of course the effort was Miller Lite in the form of Black Studies and other ethnic and gender studies. BAM must now pass the baton to the next generation, i.e., the Black Power Babies and the Hip Hop generation, especially the conscious hip hop people.

We congratulate sister Kim McMillan and especially the University of California, Merced for deciding to produce this conference. We are already talking about a national tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of BAM.
--Marvin X, co-producer 

Michelle Obama inspires UC Merced graduates

Published 4:00 am, Sunday, May 17, 2009
  • First Lady Michelle Obama delivers the commencement speech to the first full graduating class of UC Merced on Saturday, May 16, 2009 in Merced, Calif. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
    First Lady Michelle Obama delivers the commencement speech to the first full graduating class of UC Merced on Saturday, May 16, 2009 in Merced, Calif. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

They loved her, she loved them, and in the admiration-fest between Michelle Obama and the graduating class of UC Merced, the first lady of the United States exhorted them to go out and use their newfound skills to help those most in need.

"Remember that you are blessed," Obama told the crowd seated before her on the only big field the fledgling campus can muster, a grassy plain set beneath a scorching midday sun. "You must bend down and let someone stand on your shoulders so they can see a better future."
Obama reminded them that, like half of the student body at this 4-year-old campus, she was the first in her family to attend college. And she urged the 500 graduates, who constitute the first class to go from freshman to senior year at UC Merced, to seek jobs where they help disadvantaged children in particular. Help those, she said, "who never go to college ... who can't get a break ... who have lost the ability to dream."
And if not that, she said, find work innovating green technology or doing other things to kick-start the nation's wobbling economy.
"We are going to need all of you graduates," Obama said. "Make your legacy a lasting one. Dream big."
Mindful that she was speaking in one of the most economically depressed cities in California, the first lady also warned the Class of 2009 that times are tough out there. Instead of a welcoming job market, she said, the graduates are likely to find low salaries, daunting loan repayment bills and "your share of setbacks."
"But in those moments, in those inevitable moments, I urge you to think about this day," she said. "Look around you. ... Never let setbacks or fear dictate the course of your life."
The first lady's 29-minute commencement speech, delivered to the parents, visitors and students with a forceful, building crescendo that hit climaxes akin to a preacher's sermon, couldn't have fallen on more receptive ears.
"Awesome. Everything she said about struggling and motivation applied to myself," said freshman Rogelio Grijalva of Fairfield. "Sometimes I think, 'Man, I'm not going to make it.' And now whenever I feel that way, I'll think about what she said.
"She relates, you can tell," he said, shaking his head almost reverently.
The student body had launched a full-court press last winter to lure Obama to UC Merced, sending her thousands of letters and Valentines and posting come-on-over videos online. Their message was that the 2,718 widely diverse, mostly modest-income students who attend UC's newest campus are fervent about public service, and that she and the president embody the feisty can-do attitude they believe they bring to their own pursuit to uplift themselves and those around them.
On Saturday, as her ascendance to the stage brought the class leaping to its feet, screaming and pumping fists in the air, Obama's beaming smile and wave indicated that she had taken their pleas fully to heart.
"All I can say is, 'Wow,' " Obama told them. "A few people may be wondering: Why did I choose the University of California in Merced to deliver my first commencement speech as first lady? Well, let me tell you something. The answer is simple: You inspired me. You touched me."
A tiny campus of just three main buildings, UC Merced glistened for its big moment with fresh paint and landscaping. The walkways were scrubbed to a shine, eager students set up booths on the quad to tout their favorite causes - for example, volunteering for local children's clubs - and a Mariachi band blared bouncy tunes into the quad.
The field where the gigantic stage was erected for Obama's speech is usually a haven called "The Bowl" where Frisbees and lounging lunch-takers rule. But with 12,000 people seated on it Saturday - 10,000 more than were expected before Obama was booked - the grass and everything around it took on a solemn, distinguished tone that students and faculty hope will carry through for years.
"Michelle Obama's speech here shows everyone, now and forever, that our hard work paid off," said graduating psychology major Alvina Bueno. "And it was hard work."
The day dawned hot and got hotter, and by the time the thermometer flirted with a bone-dry 100 degrees around noon, everyone was swigging water bottles like tipplers at a free bar.
The air-conditioned portable toilets on the sun-blasted commencement field, where people were confined by Secret Service agents for hours once they entered, were jammed with people looking not only for relief, but a few minutes of cool.
It was one day when Obama's much-touted tendency to wear sleeveless clothing would have come in handy - but alas, she had to wear a ceremonial robe for her speech.
"A lot of people from the Bay Area aren't used to this heat, but for us in the Central Valley this is nothing," said junior Elizabeth Kang, who helped hand out 1,000 water bottles by lunchtime. "We call this nice weather."
The same ebullience that greeted Obama on campus spilled into nearby Merced, a dusty cattle town hard hit by foreclosures and chiefly known for the gas stations you pull into en route to Yosemite Park on Highway 140. But this week, its overlooked charms of say-howdy friendliness and pride in its world-class UC campus have outshone all other attributes.
A downtown festival, dubbed Cap & Town, Friday and Saturday packed the streets with thousands of visitors who happily strapped themselves into round metal cages to become human bowling balls at one booth, gobbled Indian and Mexican food at other booths, and sat with toddlers in hand in the middle of Main Street to watch "Finding Nemo" on a JumboTron.
"This is going to give me material to paint forever," gushed local artist Becky Wilson, sipping beer at the Partisan bar while a rock group blared Badfinger cover songs on the street outside. "You remember Jackie O? Michelle's the same thing. There's never been anything bigger than this in Merced. Ever!"

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