Guess what I did?
Yep. I spent some more time in the actual town that North of the Grove is set in, West Grove. After getting suggestions from the book club to add more local flavor in the novel, I went to West Grove to get a feel for the place that put the Goombay Festival on the map, baby! The presence of the Bahamians that came in the 1880’s is still there. The neglect that has left vacant lots and boarded up windows cannot eradicate it. The spirit dances off of the African diasporic murals up and down Grand Ave. When the heat from the street takes flight with the breeze, in spite of the exhaust from passing cars, you can still get a hint of it in the scent of cocoa buttered black skin, old houses and the leaves of vigilant palm and oak trees. This is the kind of stuff I added into the novel.
The people poised to bring new life into West Grove are two powerful brothers, J.S. Rashid and Charles Byrd of the Collaborative Development Corporation. Set right in the thick of Grand Ave (West Grove’s main thoroughfare), I sat with them and discussed my project and my progress with my short film. It’s an understatement to say they were interested.
As any progressive mind would be. They’re looking to replace the urban blight that has crippled West Grove for half a century with projects like Gibson Plaza, a five-story apartment building with the elderly in mind. The $15 million project will also feature an educational facility run by Miami Dade College that offers training and workforce programs for West Grovites. It is scheduled for completion in about 15 months. So yes, they are looking to bring culture and an upscale feel back to West Grove, which is why they suggested I have a reception for North of the Grove in the Korma Gallery a few doors down. The gallery is new and features work by artists throughout the country as well as local talent like R&B legend Betty Wright (yes, the woman who wrote the southern anthem for black females losing their virginity). It was sweet. Hard bop jazz followed me into different bays of collections of African-American artwork spanning the full scope of our history here. I saw a pair of swimming trunks for men back when we were segregated to beaches like American Beach.
One of the baddest Nina Simone paintings I’ve come across, featured at the Kroma.
I spoke with gallery manager Julia Polonyi. We agreed on Thursday, May 29th to be the day of the reception. Three radio stations are already on my radar. Two of them are in the public radio market (NPR-type folks). I’m looking forward to mixing in those circles. Also, there is a nearby bookstore in the area that I look to work an arrangement out with to carry the book -which makes sense -if you’re going to get a rebirth, a renaissance poppin’ off, you need all the food, literature, music and folklore available to really set the scene.
I went outside and spoke with uber-smooth brother Byrd, who told me how Gibson Plaza was eight years in the making and that it could have materialized much sooner if political forces outside and in West Grove (yes, the ignorance of some errant landlords and small-minded locals played a major part of hateration). It astonished me. I felt dizzy and small when he began to discuss ordinances and bonded money that could have been used for renewal. (Only bond money I ever heard of was, well… nevermind.) WHat they went through is a story in itself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Thank God for this book and this movie. It forces me to get out beyond campus and meet people at ground zero in what they do and why they do it. I’ll keep you posted as I get ready for the 29th. I’ve ordered a shipment of books due at my door by Tuesday. Now I’ll possibly be talking with tastemakers here in South Florida and others that could definitely move the book and novel along. My blackness feels so bow-tie funky, cultured, accomplished right about now. In fact…