Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind

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A Spell to Save Your Life: Honoring the 19th Anniversary of Toni Cade Bambara’s Ascension

(originally published in The Feminist Wire’s Forum on Toni Cade Bambara)

after Toni Cade Bambara

"Exhale" collage ©Alexis Pauline Gumbs Photograph of Toni Cade Bambara ©Susan Ross


eat salt
not that ocean drowning
snack to stop thinking about dying
unintentional salt

eat salt
on purpose

salt conductor of dreams
ancestor crystal portal
blood water preservation

clean it out
with your eyes


deep sight
practice living in the dark
and seeing what
the light don’t want
you to see

go on a mission
to rescue
the part of the universe
that will always be you
and unknowable


be well
want to be
well deep enough to drink from
bell ringing soul alarms
be buried mineral breakthrough


see birds
love gorillas
listen to dolphins
and do not swallow
what you know

breathe it out
the top of your head

knock on your chest
until you hear it

remember how to fly

*Listen to a guided chant meditation based on Toni Cade Bambara’s wisdom.

*Listen to a podcast celebrating Toni Cade Bambara’s impact released on her 71st birthday

Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a queer black troublemaker, a Black feminist love evangelist and a prayer poet priestess. Alexis has been blessed by Toni Cade Bambara both through her published work, her archival papers at Spelman College and her impact on the lives of sister/mother/comrades Cheryll Y. Greene, Aishah Shahidah SimmonsCara Page, and Kai Barrow.  She honors the legacy of Toni Cade Bambara by taking self-care seriously, committing to “sister” as a verb, writing “out-there” short stories, creating spaces for transformative Black Feminist filmmaking and crafting a life as a community accountable scholar and artist in Durham, NC.  For more information, please visit:


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C(h)ant. Breathe.: Coming Back to Breath in Honor of Eric Garner and Many More


photo by Adrienne Maree Brown

Yesterday I had the honor of bringing Black Feminist Breathing to the BOLD National Gathering which took place on a reclaimed plantation here in North Carolina.  Sister-Comrade Genius Facilitator Adrienne Maree Brown describes BOLD as the current Black Power Movement and beautifully contextualizes yesterday’s miracles here:

In preparation for the paradoxical and necessary task of bringing Black Feminist Breathing into a moment where as Black folks we are collectively remembering and struggling with Eric Garner’s last words “I can’t breathe,” I offered myself and the participants this meditation.  Maybe it can be a healing part of your journey back to breath.

C(h)ant.   Breathe.

Dedicated to Eric Garner

And to Margaret Garner’s Daughter

*take a deep breath everywhere you see a star



return to the place

where you learned

how to breathe


where night washed itself

into your dreams



to the place

where you learned


breathing was bigger

than you

or your fears of

dogs bats and sea creatures


and would continue

all night long

without you trying

to keep it going


human freedom is like that


as the ocean at night

sometimes the crashing is just louder

like right now




we are feeling it in our chests

right now

the underwater knowing

of upside down justice

that has to right itself

that hasn’t righted itself


the sinking feeling

that the chokehold of the state

is more persistent than the ocean


it is not




if I could

I would bring all our people

right next to the ocean

to just sit

and breathe with the ancestors


just listen

knowing all this sand

was bone

and the stars

are just us


across the black history

of the universe




i want every last breath

to be a tide going out

so we can imagine

some baby somewhere

gasping into time

with an unbroken custody

of air


i don’t want the choking struggle

the staccato of bullets

shattering the song

of what we know


but sometimes

even as the ocean

slaps the sand

it sounds shocked to me

shoreline shaping impact

this is happening





I imagine

Eric Garner

becoming the ocean

like Margaret Garner’s baby

awakening stream

how all blood flows back

to the salt in this water

how something






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It Will Not Always Be This Way: Prophecy Poem or Impermanence After Phillis


“Frontispiece Remastered” Collage by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Last night after laying our bodies in the street in protest, while advocating and praying for our comrades who had been arrested, while grieving and grieving the loss of black lives, the audacity of state violence, while remembering the police murder of Fred Hampton and honoring the resilience of our beautiful communities, 5 black women gathered in the name of Phillis Wheatley.  230 years ago today Phillis Wheatley/Peters the first Black person to publish a collection of poems in the United States, witness to the American Revolution, acquaintance of a Queen and a President, died free, cold and poor somewhere in Boston.

Our conversation, blessed by the literary and historical expertise of Dr. Tara Bynum, ranged from the possibility of “ordinary” Black life in a context where just being a live and Black is framed as not just extraordinary but abnormal, to speculations of the layered and syncretic spiritual cosmologies present in Wheatley’s work and her correspondence with her friend Obour Tanner, to Morissonian (as in Toni) reflections on the normalcy of evil, to raw honesty about slave-funded academic institutions that continue to enslave black scholars, to just wondering where our friends are and if they are okay.

Inspired by Wheatley’s invocation of the sacred nine in her poetry, we mused a while and generated resources of laughter, love, epic realness, star-knowledge, movement, history, tragedy, song and hymns to share with each other as a reminder that the institutions that harm us are not our only sources of power, we are resources for each other.   Finally we created this poem together out of our outrage at this moment and our faith that our lives and our world can be different.  This is a prophecy poem offering on the date of Phillis Wheatley’s ascension.  May all of our ancestors receive it and join us in transforming life on earth.

Prophecy Poem (impermanence after Phillis)

by the participants in Bright Black Broadcast #3: Phillis Wheatley

black bodies disappearing into death, state-sanctioned choke-holds.

it will not always be this way

the impossibility of breathing.

it will not always be this way.

I listen to my ancestors when they say

it will not always be this way

to steady my steps I have to pray

it will not always be this way

it cannot always be this way

it will not always be this way

it will not always be this way,

i will continue to say

it will not always be this way,

as I smile remembering what’s gone is for yesterday

liberation is possible – perhaps not today.

it will not always be this way

hasten the change, no more lives should pay.

it will not always be this way.

y’all must got me f—d up

it will not always be this way


you must not know who taught me to pray

it will not always be this way

trickster teacher chaos clay

it will not always be this way

i’m gonna be here anyway

it will not always be this way

it will not always be this way

there is more than one way

gather the children and tell them

it will not always be this way

remind each other that

it will not always be this way

name your babies

it will not always be this way

the ancestors promise

it will not always be this way

baptize in the name of

it will not always be this way

we make joy

because it will not always be this way

i was born to love and play

It will not always be this way

we will dance into the black light of a brand new day,

it will not always be this way


If you want your own limited edition print of the “Frontispiece Remastered” collage of Phillis Wheatley you can get on with your next $35 donation to Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind.   Be sure to include “Wheatley Print” and your current address with your donation:  

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the vessel: dimensions of freedom (after and with Benjamin Banneker)


Last night was the first Brilliance Remastered Bright Black Broadcast and it was miraculous.   Guided by the brilliance of Benjamin Banneker, and some of his enduring texts we engaged the rhetoric of our integrity, the equations of our freedom, the core beliefs that inform our problem solving, the locations of the planets and the trajectories of our own orbits in relationship to creativity, freedom, institutions, work, family and everything else.   At the end of our time together we created our own three part group poem in response to Benjamin Banneker’s “A Mathematical Problem in Verse” a beautiful poem about some drunk people who have plenty of confidence and specificity (take that respectability politics!) as a way of reflecting on the dimensions of our freedom.

the vessel

by the participants in Bright Black Broadcast #1: Benjamin Banneker

(after Benjamin Banneker’s “A Mathematical Problem in Verse”)

i. the diametrical proportions of freedom

seven answers for every one question

three loves for every one life

one breath for every thousand years

one thousand heartbeats for every one connection

one circle for one change

one thousand stars for every one night sky

ii. the depth of freedom

deep enough to fill sound

deep enough to dance in technicolor

deep enough to invite the whole family and community in

deep enough to get baptized  in every single day

deep enough to hold our energy

iii. freedom capacity

it can hold my imperfections

it can hold our pain

it can hold our hands

it can hold our dreams

it can hold the past and the future at the same time

it can hold heart

it can hold space

it can hold light

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Brilliance Remastered Bright Black Broadcast #1 Benjamin Banneker (This Thursday!)

BannekerThe Brilliance Remastered Bright Black Broadcast Series is an opportunity for contemporary black intellectuals to glean lessons from black intellectuals during the era of US enslavement.  Anti-blackness and structures of exploitation continue to impact the lives of black intellectuals in the United States.  With guest experts, poetic activities and archival information the intellectuals gathered will support each other in imagining intellectual freedom in our time.

Thursday November 13th at 7pm Eastern Time

Broadcast 1 is in honor of Benjamin Banneker and occurs the week of his birthday.  Looking Banneker’s mathematical, poetic and astronomical work as an oracle for freedom now, this broadcast will invite participants to map the stars differently and claim the power of a bright black universe.

There are 8 spots for live participation.  Reserve your spot on eventbrite here:

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uh huh: enduring affirmations from the Spill Webinar Participants


Last week’s Brilliance Remastered Webinar (the Spill Intensive) was miraculous.   We investigated our long-held narratives, decisions we had outgrown, and systems of oppression we had internalized and addressed them on intellectual, creative, and on the deep level of what Audre Lorde calls the “non-european consciousness” (sometimes also known as the subconscious).  We also found enduring affirmations, core sources of inspiration and boundless power in our spiritual and community-activated practices and beliefs.  I am so excited about the intellectual lives these brave visionaries are living and I am honored beyond words to be part of what sustains their work!   Really I don’t want this intensive to be over, but the praise dance of what it felt like is staying with me always!  This last collective poem of the Spill Intensive outflow includes the realness we are taking with us into the future and the ancestral chorus says uh huh!!!

uh huh

enduring affirmations from the Spill Webinar Participants

daily practicing of heart attunement

(uh huh)  (uh huh)  (uh huh)

listening to what love demands

(be still)  (be still)  (and know)

my heart is open and speaking

(yes) (yes) (yes)

gardenias in the hands of my grandma

(alright) (uh huh) (enough)

our boundless creative life force

(uh huh) (amen) (ashe)

i am enough. we are enough

(amen) (ashe) (say that!)

sistering is on purpose!

(mmhmm) (uh huh) (oh yeah)

directed by desire!

(amen) (ashe) (all the way)

water and wishes everywhere

(uh huh) (that’s right) (that’s right)

dancing the freedom into being

(mmhmm) (uh huh)  (ooowee)

soul stirring songs in my heart

(uh huh)  (that’s right) (amen)

full belly breathing

(uh huh) (uh huh) (at last)

when we laugh we laugh all over

(oh yes) (oh yes) (oh yes)

alive all the way through my cheekbones

(YASS!) (uh huh) (that’s right)

Fannie Lou’s courage in my mouth

(uh huh) (amen) (amen)

joy in my hair follicles, bliss in my pinky toe

(that’s right) (that’s right) (uh huh)

letting this animal body loves what it loves

(mmhmm)  (uh huh)  (all day)

remembering that we are stardust and using that magic moment by moment

(again) (again) (again)

conspiring with the ancestors to let the writing flow

(amen)  (ashe)  (do that!)

the embers of houses built on fear burned to the ground

(yup) (yup) (yup)

miracles and magic in the mundane

(uh huh) (alright) (okay)

love is the ultimate lifeforce

(amen) (uh huh) (ashe)

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How I Got Ovah: Future Memoirs by the Spill Webinar Participants

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 10.04.22 AMLast night the Spill Webinar participants, shared dreams, got embodied, mapped strategic decisions (and others) and stomped three times hard enough to unshackle somebody.  This poem is made up of the titles of memoirs that we will be able to write based on the changes we are making in our lives right now.   Brilliance Remastered. Forthcoming :)

How I Got Ovah

Future Memoirs of the Spill Webinar Participants

(with gratitude to Carolyn Rodgers, Melvin Dixon, Essex Hemphill, Joseph Beamand more!)

How I Turned Excellence Into Excess

How I Said Yes When the Universe Asked Me to Dance

How I Got My Life in the Life

How I Stopped Proving My Genius to White People (co-authored with Phillis Wheatley)

How I Started an Organization to Save My Own Life and Yours

How I Made Family Through Radical Intellectual Conversation

How I Made a House a Queer Home

How I Let the Ancestors Dance Forever

How I Brought Mindfulness to Writing

How I Created Space for Intergenerational Healing

How I Let a Love Blossoming Through Tumblr Change My Life

How I Learned to Sing Like Fannie Lou Hamer

How I Learned to Be the Value of My Time

How I Became Present for the Broadness of My Vision

How I Got Ovah


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