The Gatekeeper's Collective (TGC)

IGNITING THE POWER OF BLACK SAME GENDER LOVE

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An SGL Black Sheroes & Heroes Monthly Series
November's Focus:
Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967)

If you are familiar with the jazz composition, "Take the A Train," then you know something about not only Duke Ellington, but also Billy "Sweet Pea" Strayhorn, its composer. Strayhorn joined Ellington's band in 1939, at the age of twenty-two. Ellington liked what he saw in Billy and took this shy, talented pianist under his wings. Neither one was sure what Strayhorn's function in the band would be, but their musical talents had attracted each other. By the end of the year Strayhorn had become essential to the Duke Ellington Band; arranging, composing, sitting-in at the piano. Billy made a rapid and almost complete assimilation of Ellington's style and technique. It was difficult to discern where one's style ended and the other's began. The results of the Ellington-Strayhorn collaboration brought much joy to the jazz world.

The history, of the family of William Thomas Strayhorn (his mother called him "Bill") goes back over a hundred years in Hillsborough. One set of great grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. George Craig, lived behind the present Farmer's Exchange. A great grand-mother was the cook for Robert E. Lee. Billy, however, was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1915. His mother, Lillian Young Strayhorn, brought her children to Hillsborough often. Billy was attracted to the piano that his grandmother, Elizabeth Craig Strayhorn owned. He played it from the moment he was tall enough to reach the keys. Even in those early years, when he played, his family would gather to listen and sing.

In 1923 Billy entered the first grade in a little wooden school house, since destroyed. Soon after that, however, his mother moved her family to Pittsburgh to join Billy's father, James Nathaniel Strayhorn. Mr. Strayhorn had gotten a job there as a gas-maker and wire-puller. Charlotte Catlin began to give Billy private piano lessons. He played the piano everyday, sometimes becoming so engrossed that he would be late for his job. He also played in the high school band.

His father enrolled him in the Pittsburgh Musical institution where he studied classical music. He had more classical training than most jazz musicians of his time.

Strayhorn lived a tremendously productive life. He influencedBilly Strayhorn's BW Image many people that he met, and yet remained very modest and unassuming all the while. For a time he coached Lena Horne in classical music to broaden her knowledge and improve her style of singing. He toured the world with Ellington's band and for a brief time lived in Paris. Strayhorn's own music is internationally known and honored. It has been translated in French and Swedish.

Some of Strayhorn's compositions are: "Chelsea Bridge," "Day Dream," "Johnny Come Lately," "Rain-check," and "Clementine." The pieces most frequently played are Ellington's theme song, "Take the A Train" and Ellington's signatory, "Lotus Blossom". Some of the suites on which he collaborated with. Ellington are: "Deep South Suite," 1947; the "Shakespearean Suite" or "Such Sweet Thunder," 1957; an arrangement of the "Nutcracker Suite," 1960; and the "Peer Gynt Suite," 1962. He and Ellington composed the "Queen's Suite" and gave the only pressing to Queen Elizabeth of England. Two of their suites, "Jump for Joy," 1950 and "My People," 1963 had as their themes the struggles and triumphs of blacks in the United States. Both included a narrative and choreography. The latter Strayhorn conducted at the Negro Exposition in Chicago in 1963. Another suite similar to these two was "A Drum Is a Woman." The "Far East Suite" was written after the band's tour of the East which was sponsored by the State Department.

In 1946, Strayhorn received the Esquire Silver Award for outstanding arranger. In 1965, the Duke Ellington Jazz Society asked him to present a concert at New York's New School of Social Research. It consisted entirely of his own work performed by him and his quintet. Two years later Billy Strayhorn died of cancer. Duke Ellington's response to his death was to record what the critics cite as one of his greatest works, a collection titled "And His Mother Called Him Bill," consisting entirely of Billy's compositions. Later, a scholarship fund was established for him by Ellington and the Julliard School of Music.


SOURCE: From  Billy  Strayhorn  Songs,  Inc.  -  Edited  by  Sonjia  Stone

On Friday, November 1st, 2013 an inter-generational group of forty-or-so same gender loving (SGL) Black men came together in Harlem to launch The Gatekeeper’s Collective (TGC).

Welcoming participants, founder, John-Martin Green proposed: “Gatekeepers is a construct introduced to us in the West by West African shaman and scholar, Malidoma Somé.  Among the Dagara people of Burkina Faso, Gatekeepers exist on the margins of society where they act as guardians who, when there is crisis in the community, taking cues from nature and the ancestors, restore balance and harmony to the collective.  While TGC will never espouse religious or theological doctrine, we recognize spirit as the essence of all things. When he visited with us here, among things Dr. Somé shared with us about Gatekeepers is that, while, not all Gatekeepers are same gender loving, all same gender loving people [have Gatekeeping potential.] 

“For us, The Gatekeeper’s Collective is a same gender loving Black men’s revitalization group which will combine ritual and indigenous traditional practices with elements of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome theory and cultural psychology towards aligning us with our leadership potential.”

[Beyond gaining consensus that the proposed structure is a worthwhile expenditure of time and effort, Facilitator asked participants:]


What does ritual mean to you?

“Everyday movement…When you get up…washing up, preparing mentally for work…Doing my prayers…Something you do automatically…”

“A daily practice to improve you spiritually and physically…”

“A certain type of exercise or practice…”

“Repetition…[It] can include people who like to harass you…”
 
{Facilitator says, “So, ritual doesn’t necessarily have to be something positive?”}

[Collective] “No.”

“Spiritual practice [done at] a specific space and time…”

“Among Yoruba…Killing of chickens is practiced today in our community…Lynching [is a ritual that was regularly practiced]…animal sacrifice…and, in some cultures, even human sacrifice…”

“A sequence of actions performed in a specified time or place [that] can aid cohesiveness of society, or render society asunder…”

“Performing a culturally specific exercise in order to achieve a goal…”

“There are different kinds of rituals [involving different groups of people]…Tribal [rituals] involve a people…cultural rituals [involve larger groups of people]…Planetary rituals, like New Years, may involve the world…Timing is essential to rituals because the gateway is only open at certain times…If you’re setting your intentions in harmony with…What are the outcomes I want [will determine] what’s the best time to do the ritual…”

{Facilitator says, “You mentioned timing of rituals as essential because the gateway is only open at certain times. The gateway to what?”}

“The gateway to empowering yourself or [the] community…I am currently studying gay rituals, and something I’ve learned is that, if you don’t see yourself reflected in the rituals you perform, [to ask,] who are you energizing?...We do a lot on behalf of [the larger Black community]…We always have…But, they don’t [respect us]…When they’re pouring libations to the ancestors, they’re not [saluting] us…So, when you do a ritual, who are you energizing?...”

“Intention is important…If your intention is clear, the actions are not important…”

{Facilitator says, “Being mindful that we see ourselves reflected in our rituals is indeed, vital…These ideas all have some to do with ritual…And, as many have said, there are different kinds of rituals…My understanding of ritual is that, any time two or more people come together with a common goal or intention, whatever they do constitutes ritual…I’ve shared my take on who Gatekeepers are and what they do…Are there other perspectives?…”}

“I wasn’t going to say anything because, when I came in, you were describing Gatekeepers, and your description squared with my understanding…I worked with Malidoma for a few years, and visited Burkina Faso with him…Yes, Gatekeepers hold space in the community for safety…And, they can communicate between worlds…[between our own world and] the world of spirit and the ancestors…Everyone can communicate with the other world, but Gatekeepers have a special connection [and capacity to interface through that connection ]…”

“The Dagara take on Gatekeepers is one of many, and some components are specific to their culture…They’re honored in their culture…Looking at ourselves as Black men here on a spiritual level…We all have the potential to be Gaetekeepers…[But] the pursuit of Gatekeeping and power is not necessarily the best use of our time…”

{“Facilitator says, “Quite true…In fact, [no matter our spiritual practice] essentially, many of us already operate as Gatekeepers…[For instance,] How many of us are the ones in our family, who…no matter their regard for us on a regular, ongoing basis, when the proverbial shit hits the fan, everybody comes looking for to be the voice of reason, or some such?...”} [Most hands raise] {“If we agree that aligning with and accessing our Gatekeeping potential may be useful towards loving and respecting ourselves more, and then, if we will, being change agents, and supporting the larger community’s being more loving and respectful…our charge will be to [collectively] discover what being a Gatekeeper in 21st century America means…Do people think that’s a worthwhile expenditure of time, energy and effort?”}  [There is consensus.]


Is a movement for Same Gender Loving Liberation redundant?

"In relationship to gay liberation…As groups with some authority and power…I don’t see us [as having power]…”

“It’s important for people of African ancestry to see a reflection of ourselves [within liberation movements]…I don’t feel affirmed as a person of African descent [in the Gay Liberation Movement]…I need to see myself, my interests, underpinnings [of my experience]….There need[s] to be [a movement] representing people who look like me…”

“The next phase of the LGBT movement…we should implement ourselves in other movements to make sure that our issues are [accounted for]…”

“We’re at the back of the bus [of the LGBT Movement]…We lead [in terms of] premature death…and are last [in line for] health care, education…Older SGL men commonly report loneliness…There are no rites of passage to help [us] be cohesive…We have a lot of work to do before we take up with other people’s movements…We have to be self-determined for ourselves…Nobody else is gonna’ do it for us…Other people co-opt our movements…like Civil Rights…and they benefit…We don’t…”

“We have no tools…We don’t know how to love [ourselves]…We have no tools to fight for a place at the table…We have to come together [to build on our own behalf]…We haven’t built anything for us…”

“It’s very important for us to understand the gifts that we have… The other day I watched The Avitar, and he had all these powers…We have to manage all that energy…We have to learn how to manage all that [power]…”

“I don’t know if a ‘movement’ is what we need…That sounds so political…[I think, rather] a call to service…[For us] to come together to serve each other, and meet each others’ needs…From the younger to the older…to everyone in between… Everyone has needs…”

{Facilitator says, “A call to service sounds spot on…Powerful…And, as quiet as it’s kept, our making a collective determination to collectively take up a call to service is political…”}

“Liberation implies oppression…As far as a movement is concerned, where redundancy comes in…A lot of people talk about gay homeless youth, and the need to get them out of prostitution, but, say they can’t do anything…It’s impossible to do nothing…I’ve opened my home to gay ‘nieces’ and ‘nephews‘…[Telling them] But, I’m not taking a step to enable you, but, I’ll look out for you…The kids that aren’t being helped are being hurt…”

{Facilitator says, “You say ‘liberation implies oppression,’ as if you think there’s a question regarding the existence of oppression…Show of hands…How many among us perceive themselves as having been, or as being oppressed?...”}  [Most hands raise.] 

“I saw Ethnic Notions…It blew my mind…the way the media programs us to see ourselves…Young people now use the ‘N’ word and older people use, ‘people of color’…They’re trying to get us away from being Black…You’ve got to have numbers on it…[To be able] to show, ‘We went from two to eleven!’…Economics [investing in our own]…They’re using us to advance themselves…We need to be all that we can be…Not equal…[Trying to be] equal, that implies that we’re less than…”

“The loneliness piece is real…Deal with your loneliness…There is no need to be [isolated]…Call somebody who says they love you…Go out and have tea with them…T said something that resonated powerfully with me…He said, ‘it’s impossible to do nothing’…That was one of my most important life lessons…If you’re breathing, you’re doing something…[It’s vital to understand that] You have value…You have esteem…You have power…Whether you use it, or not…”

“Tenacity is something that gets lost among us…All too often, we start movements and don’t follow through…We don’t continue to fight…We let them tell us we’ve gotten what we set out for…and, we give up…”

{Facilitator asks, “Let who tell us?”}

“[We let] Society [tell us]…There was a strong culture of movements [among us]…You have to continue to fight…Don’t settle for what they tell us is the goal…We allow ourselves to be used…We have to use our own stories [to advance our own movement]…”

“For hundreds of years we have been caregivers, doing service…We must carry a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other…Everything is political…there are thirty-five men here, and thirty-five groups working against what we’re here to do…”

“It’s [also] a call for resources…We’ve dropped the ball when we haven’t taken [our] resources and [reinvested them in ourselves]…Brothers could lead others…If we can pool our resources…Economic, political, [we can lead]….”

“I have to respond to something that Young Blood said a minute ago…It’s more complicated than just saying, we gave up too quickly or, ‘we don’t do this,’ or, ‘we don’t do that’…There are systems in place designed to impede and stop movements…And, we shouldn’t beat up on ourselves…”

“If I can just briefly rebut…We settle too much, saying, ‘it’s too hard’…”

“I was present at the founding of BMXNY, and I’m aware of the power of languaging…When the assumption was made in the room about ‘same gender loving,’ [being used as an identification]…Numbers are universal and scientific…Language changes…The term, same gender loving came about because we felt left out of gay…[But] when we say, ‘same gender loving,’ as opposed to ‘gay’…referencing gender…am I saying that, I would find a masculine female attractive?...Outside of America, the accepted term for homosexual is gay…So, what are we really saying?...”

{Facilitator says, “Yes, the power of languaging is vitally important…and, just as your calling to our attention the importance of seeing ourselves reflected in the rituals we take up…the term ‘gay,’ as a cultural and political identification has been extraordinarily powerful for the people who coined it [to empower themselves]…In case you hadn’t noticed…Same sex marriage is now the law of the land in fourteen states, and the District of Columbia, and counting…among other advances…How’s that for an example of [a successful] movement against oppression?…And, homosexually-wired people all over Africa do not identify as gay…And, the extent to which they do, [there and elsewhere,] is more evidence of the efficacy, unto ubiquitousness, of the Gay Liberation Movement…the latest layer of the hegemony of cultural imperialism…And, by my reckoning, ‘same gender loving’ didn’t emerge out of any lack, but rather, as an affirmation that I love my gender… and, as a Diasporan African, an affirmation of my way of loving and being…”}


Cite something, if anything, you may have found useful or meaningful in this engagement

“The question of SGL [as an identification]…”    “Insightful…”        “Economics…”

“Timing....”        “Resources...”        “Service and giving...”    “Intent.”   

“Since we’ve been doing [service] for hundreds of years, what would it be if we used our leverage in not doing it any more?”    “Being all that you can be...”

“Not being stagnant, and reattaching myself to someone who says they love me…”

“Moving forward, it takes a lot of transparency and impartially…”

“Selflessness…in order to be supportive…”        “Hearing what the other person needs…”

“In our zeal to be Gatekeepers on behalf of others’, we must first be Gatekeepers on behalf of ourselves…”   

“Everything that has been said here tonight needs to be ritualized…”

“The power of all our intent to show up and go forth fearlessly…”

Topic For Friday, November 1st, 2013:
SAME GENDER LOVING LIBERATION?

- What is a gatekeeper?

- What is TGC?


- Is SGL liberation redundant?


- How can we be more supportive of each other in a Black community context?



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The Gatekeeper

The Gatekeeper

The Gatekeeper's Collective Venue



FIRST FRIDAYS
EVERY MONTH
730 RIVERSIDE DRIVE
(@ 150TH STREET)
SUITE 9E
HARLEM, NEW YORK CITY
8:00 PM

TRAVEL DIRECTIONS:
TAKE THE #1 TRAIN TO
145TH STREET STATION
OR THE
M4, M5, M100 OR M101 TO
149TH STREET & BROADWAY
GOOGLE MAPS

BROTHERS ARE ASKED
TO BRING A POTLUCK
DISH AND / OR BEVERAGE

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thegatekeeperscollective@gmail.com

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