April Concerts & Walking in the Footsteps of Giants
Friday, April 9, 2021
April 10th - Joe Jencks – Live-Stream Concert in partnership with Deer Creek Coffeehouse 7:30 PM ET/ 6:30 PM CT/ etc. YouTube Live Link: https://youtu.be/zphHWugXnP8
As Spring is happening around me, I am reminded that last year we got 9 inches of snow on April 17th here in the cornfields. I am reminded that while it seems like Spring is here to stay this year and with it a much-longed-for hope, there is still much sadness and suffering. The spring does not fix all of that. But it sure does help! The life-affirming signs are all around me here in northern Illinois. Flowers, leaves, songbirds, thunderstorms, and longer days. I am so genuinely ready for this season.
This weekend I have a couple of live concerts. Deer Creek Coffeehouse had me scheduled to perform in person a year ago, and we decided at the onset of the pandemic to push it forward a year. And here we are one year later and a trip to Maryland for a concert still seemed ill-advised. SO we’re going to YouTube! PLEASE join us Saturday April 10th at 7:30 PM ET for a live-stream concert. Links above and below. This concert is open to all, and your voluntary ticket contributions are appreciated. Thanks to Jeff King & Crew at Deer Creek for pulling this together. YouTube Live Link: https://youtu.be/zphHWugXnP8
Tonight, April 9th I will offer a concert for the Unitarian Universalist community of Newark, DE. If you ever go there be sure to pronounce it New-Ark. They are very specific about this point. This one requires a Zoom link. Please see concert listings on www.joejencks.com for more info on how to get that link. Thanks to Nancy Plummer and UUCN for hosting this event.
My Highway Home is switching to a new time. You can tune into Folk Music Notebook at 6:00 PM ET on the Second Sunday of each month to catch MHH. The show will be rebroadcast on the same night at 11:00 PM ET and the following Wednesdays at 12 Noon ET. This week’s episode features an interview with Daniel Boling. 4-11-21 @ 6 PM ET and again at 11 PM ET. Wednesday April 14th and Noon ET. www.folkmusicnotebook.com
And not to be forgotten, April 9th is Paul Robeson’s Birthday! There are few celebrities who have had such an immense impact on my life and choices personally or professionally. Some years ago in honor of Paul’s Birthday, I was proud to give a concert for the Puffin Foundation in NJ. It inspired me to dig deep into his life and repertoire, and it made me want to know more. Do yourself a favor and read a little on Wikipedia about Paul Robeson. You’ll be glad you did.
Last but not least, please see below some reflections on the Civil Rights movement in an essay I wrote called: In The Footsteps of Giants.
In Gratitude and Song,
~ Joe Jencks (4-9-21)
In The Footsteps of Giants
Copyright 2021, Joe Jencks, Turtle Bear Music
Six years ago, people from all over the world went to Selma, Alabama to be present for the 50th Anniversary and commemoration of the historic 1965 crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. On March 7th, 1965 a young John Lewis, (now late and beloved Congressman) led a march that was headed toward Montgomery in support of the Voting Rights Act. He was the first across the bridge, and was the first to be beaten and bludgeoned by the law enforcement officers waiting on the other side. It took three attempts for the determined masses to make it all the way to Montgomery, but on March 25th, the peaceful assembly, then more than 25,000 in number, finally arrived in the Alabama state capitol and showed a nation what democracy looks like.
I grew up in the 70s and 80s. I saw footage of the Civil Rights movement in black and white reels and news clips. It seemed like ancient history to me. As did the first walk on the moon, for that matter. I grew up being told that the Civil Rights Movement was a thing of the past, and that the battle had been won, that equality had come to the land. It was a real shock when I began to realize growing up that this was not true. I owe much of my awareness to one woman, a music teacher and educator and Jazz singer named Dorothy Paige Turner.
Dorothy was my kindergarten and 1st grade music teacher. She was and remains one of the most courageous women I have ever known. She taught all of us kids at Garrison Elementary School songs from the Civil Rights Movement. And we sang those songs like we believed. We sang those songs and drank in their lyrics of hope, freedom, fairness, justice, and transformation as if it were our birthright to do so. Dorothy took a diverse group of students and helped us see our similarities before anyone taught us to see our differences. And I know she changed my life forever with her pedagogy and those songs.
Later when I was a freshman in high school, Dorothy asked me to be in a new theater company she had founded called The Black Theater Ensemble. I was the only Caucasian member of the company. And that too was a gift. Dorothy continued where she had left off when I was a child and began again to teach my teenage self about the history of racism in this country, about the history of slavery, abolition, human rights, and the work of liberation and Civil Rights. She put me in some of the hardest situations I had ever been in, and stood by me all the way as she forged me into a more aware and awake person. Woke is the term some folks use now.
The thing is, Racism doesn’t end in the abstract. Racism doesn’t end as a result of intellectual constructs and mass rallies, public awareness campaigns, or the quoting of horrifying statistics. Racism ends because we get to know another person, and become friends with that person. When we start to love that person and feel as if they are a part of our tribe, and then all-of-a-sudden the injustice we see hurting them, hurts us too! And we find we cannot stand idly by and watch our friends endure injustice and hatred.
Whether we are Black, White, Latino/Latina, Asian, Indigenous, Indian, Mixed Race/other, we are all franchised into some system of racism. And the system that we are handed is not our fault. But what we do with it, that IS our responsibility. And what Dorothy Paige Turner did in my life was to work for transformation of that system one child at a time, one song at a time, one heart at a time. Dorothy taught us through the music to see the character of the person first and anything else second. And she invited me into a performing ensemble that forever changed my life.
I might not have crossed the bridge in Selma in 2015 if it weren’t for Dorothy’s work 35 or 40 years earlier. I might never have been attracted to the music that now resides at the center of my life had it not been for the courage of a young black music teacher from Arkansas who came north and carried the hope and the love and the courage of the Civil Rights movement with her.
So as I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a bridge still (disturbingly) named after a Grand Dragon of the KKK, I carried Dorothy and all of the members of the Black Theater Ensemble in my heart. I remembered playing a slave auctioneer and a slave master in those ensemble productions. I remembered crying after rehearsals at how unconscionable it was that these things actually happened. I remembered members of the ensemble surrounding me with love, assuring me that they understood I was only fulfilling a role I had been asked to play, for the sake of a piece of teaching-theater. And I recommitted while walking across that bridge 6 years ago, to doing what I can do in my life to challenge Racism in all of its forms.
The work of “the Civil Rights generation” must continue with us, and with our children and grandchildren. It was not a bloodless revolution, but the blood only ever seemed to flow in one direction. And as we now address the injustices of our contemporary society, I think we have a great deal to learn from our forbearers. “Black and white together” as We Shall Overcome says, along with Latino/Latina, Asian, Indigenous, Indian, Mixed-Race and all other identities, we MUST overcome. We must overcome the callousness of a society that allows any of its children to be seen as disposable. We must overcome the indifference that allows people to see others as less than fully human. We must overcome the hatred that allows unarmed people of color to be shot and killed, or suffocated… with limited or no punishments handed down to the perpetrators of those heinous acts.
We are all a part of a system that was handed to us, but that is not the measure of who we are. What we do with that system is our cultural legacy. And over that week six years ago in Selma, I saw tens of thousands of people committed to changing that system. It was one of the most hopeful things I have ever experienced in my life. I am here to tell you, whatever coverage you may have seen on the news could not have captured the sheer awe inspired by seeing so many people show up and be counted among those who will work for positive change.
In addition to the AMAZING experience of crossing the bridge in Selma along with something like 70 thousand people, I had the unbelievable joy of spending nearly two hours in private conversation with the wise and fiery Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian. We talked about the past, present, and future of civil rights globally. We spoke of Mohandas Gandhi, Rev. Dr. King, Rev. James Lawson, and other agents of transformation, and Dr. Vivian shared in great detail about the day he was beaten and arrested. The day he told Sherriff Jim Clark, “Sherriff, you can turn your back on me, but you can’t turn your back on FREEDOM!”
We got to hear the wickedly intelligent Rev. William Barber preach in his charismatic and passionate style. And listen to the ideas of a younger activist named Opal Tometi, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. And for those who may not have encountered BLM before, certainly the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others in 2020 brought that movement to the forefront. And it brought a new wave of Civil Rights music, theater, poetry and art. How beautiful it was to hear the Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, Amanda Gorman, recite moving and passionate verses at Biden’s Inauguration.
Six years ago, I also traveled to the historic City of St. Jude (now part of Montgomery, AL) where on March 24th, 1965 the marchers camped out the night before they headed to the capitol in support of the Voting Rights Act. And where a historic concert was held in support of the movement featuring: Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr., Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, & Mary, Tony Bennett, Nina Simone, and others. We sang the hymns and songs of the movement there, and then traveled to Selma to march with thousands upon thousands.
I have listened to and conversed with Bernice Johnson Reagon (The Freedom Singers, Sweet Honey In The Rock) about the movement. I have heard Betty Mae Fikes, Jimmy Collier, and others sing those songs. I have been a student of the Civil Rights movement my whole life thanks to Dorothy Paige Turner. But to walk in the footsteps of giants and feel their beckon call, to hear the echoes Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s voice still reverberate in the streets of Selma and Montgomery, I was awe-struck. It was both joyful and solemn. It was a celebration of the distance we have traveled as a society, and it was a sobering acknowledgement that we have so far yet to go. How do we turn this around? How do we love our way through this?
Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."
Opal Tometi said, “Justice is not an inevitability. We must work for it.”
Both statements are true.
So how do we make a difference? How do we work for change in a system that seems so far beyond our influence? How do we move through guilt, hopelessness, frustration, and into effectiveness? We cannot make progress on this or any other difficult issue by using anger as our fuel. We must LOVE. The Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, King, and so many others have spoken this truth again and again. I would phrase it this way: Anger may be the spark that lights the fire, but the fuel of change must be LOVE.
One relationship at a time, may we take risks, make mistakes, and fail forward. May we learn from yesterday and today, and apply that knowledge toward a better tomorrow. And may we learn better how to love one another, every day. And through it all… KEEP SINGING. The songs above all else, help us stay connected both to our history and to our humanity. And with both in mind and a song in my heart and on my lips, I find hope for the future.
~ Joe Jencks (4-9-21)
Image: Paul Robeson