Why Yeye (Celebrating The Lives of Africana Women & Girls) Mattered!
By Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
As a lover of dance and movement with historically temperamental knees and ankles
Constantly juggling the work with an active toddler
And wife to a busy campus administrator
I had no REAL time to participate in “Yeye”
But wanted to support a sister-colleague as she had supported me in my own anti- gun violence efforts.
Ironically, what was meant to support her actually supported me.
From the moment I began attending rehearsal, I was reminded of the daily bondage we carry in too many contexts.
Participating in Yeye allowed me to reconnect with other selves
A younger self
A more African self
A more feminine self
A self beyond the tight rope of White supremacy and patriarchy masquerading as good governance
A post-childbirth self
A mothering self
An intergenerational self
A physical self
A rhythmic self
Surrounded by women
Senior and junior to me who were all teaching me
Via their commitment
Via their artistry
Via their sacrifice
To support each other’s contributions to the project
In this context, process was as powerful as the outcome
Sitting on the floor off to the side
Watching Dr. Amira and her daughters dance
Or watching my own daughter drawn to instruments and music-making
Or listening to the words of women impacted by gun violence
Or rising to offer my own support musically, vocally, via shekere or a short dance solo at the end
Transported me to earlier experiences of work, collaboration and celebration with women
Going to the mosque with old Yemeni women to pray, drink tea, do henna and chew qa’at in Sana’a
Eating couscous with Moroccan women who welcomed me into their homes when I was a student in France
Sitting outside with women in Kankan (Upper Guinea/West Africa) preparing rice and leaf sauce for an evening meal
Working with elder women in my mother’s church on Chicago’s South Side laboring for days to prepare lamb, herbs, washing linen and fine china and cleaning the church in preparation for Holy Week and the Seder meal.
Yeye reminded me of women coming together and passing on traditions to the next generation
In this case the dance, spoken word and music offered was a valuable cycle of sharing, receiving feedback, learning how to become part of a whole ensemble, returning home to process/ reflect /prepare for the next rehearsal…and repeat the cycle all over again
Babies, tweens, teens, young adults, current and future mothers/teachers, middle mothers, mature mothers
giving voice to our concerns about gun violence
offering movement and song to our resistance
And it required insistence on staying connected to older memories, older rhythms…older than the Great Migration…older than Jim Crow...older than slavery, older than America…
In a society dependent on forgetting…and OUR forgetting in particular
On consumer-driven “progress”
On African American narratives rooted in self-hatred, consumerism, empty politics, and chronic geographic instability
On preferring a citizenry pre-occupied with pop culture while ignoring the drum beat of war, surveillance and armed annihilation block by block
The Yeye experience was about
listening to works, rhythms, breaks,
listening to cues from fellows
letting you know it was your time, your turn to share your gift
And---more than anything ---made us reflect OUT LOUD on why it is that we suffer the unspeakable on a constant basis
So, in a week shrouded by Egypt in free fall, righting the wrongs of stop and frisk, giving “The Butler” his due, Presidential rodeo clowns, continued shootings and kidnappings around the nation
There could have been no more powerful act that to
share in this journey from Africa to America with my sisters and daughters and mothers
We need movement.
We need sweat.
We need music and laughter.
We need our babies to run, laugh, dance, disrupt and join in as they find their own ways within the Yeye experience
Within the safety of women keeping an eye on them
Sharing a snack with them
Being tolerant of them crying, hollering, picking up instruments themselves
And we need husbands willing to keep those children at home when necessary so that their mothers can create art that matters
We need spaces to sit with our own heartbeats and drumbeats
without fear of being invaded, demoralized, raped, ripped from one another…
…Or forced to destroy one another while other look on…
And we thank Mother Dr. Amira Davis
For keeping the flame lit.
SO MUCH has been taken from us,
so much has been stripped from us
in the hopes of being modern,
successful, acceptable, assimilated American people.
The Yeye experience was a PROFOUND reminder that Africana women
are more than consumers
are than diversity hires
are more than hated vixens in reality-tvia
more than bodies to assault, defame, malign
more than incarcerated subjects of the state
more than disheartening statistics
more than targets and pawns
more than an American problem.
Yeye reminds that WE matter.
Our stories matter.
Our lives matter.
Our experiences matter.
And if no one else believes that we matter,
Nicole Anderson-Cobb, PhD, Educator, Playwright & Founder of Samaritan Road Productions is the author of the SRP blog "Writing On The Go"