At new Museum of Black Civilizations, a call to come home
By AMELIA NIERENBERG
Wednesday, December 26
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The Museum of Black Civilizations in Senegal opened this month amid a global conversation about the ownership and legacy of African art. The West African nation’s culture minister isn’t shy: He wants the thousands of pieces of cherished heritage taken from the continent over the centuries to come home.
“It’s entirely logical that Africans should get back their artworks,” Abdou Latif Coulibaly told The Associated Press. “These works were taken in conditions that were perhaps legitimate at the time but illegitimate today.”
Last month, a report commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron recommended that French museums give back works taken without consent, if African countries request them. Macron has stressed the “undeniable crimes of European colonization,” adding that “I cannot accept that a large part of African heritage is in France.”
The new museum in Dakar is the latest sign that welcoming spaces across the continent are being prepared.
The museum, with its focus on Africa and the diaspora, is decades in the making. The idea was conceived when Senegal’s first president, internationally acclaimed poet Leopold Sedar Senghor, hosted the World Black Festival of Arts in 1966.
At the museum’s vibrant opening, sculptors from Los Angeles, singers from Cameroon and professors from Europe and the Americas came to celebrate, some in tears. “This moment is historic,” Senegalese President Macky Sall said. “It is part of the continuity of history.”
Perhaps reflecting the tenuous hold that African nations still have on their own legacy objects, the museum will not have a permanent collection. Filling the 148,000-square-foot circular structure, one of the largest of its kind on the continent, is complicated by the fact that countless artifacts have been dispersed around the world.
Both the inaugural exhibition, “African Civilizations: Continuous Creation of Humanity,” and the museum’s curator take a far longer view than the recent centuries of colonization and turmoil. Current works highlight the continent as the “cradle of civilization” and the echoes found among millions of people in the diaspora today.
“Colonization? That’s just two centuries,” curator Hamady Bocoum told the AP, saying that proof of African civilization is at least 7,000 years old, referencing a skull discovered in present-day Chad.
Like others, Bocoum is eager to see artifacts return for good. The exhibition includes 50 pieces on loan from France, including more than a dozen from the Quai Branly museum in Paris.
More than 5,000 pieces in the Quai Branly come from Senegal alone, Bocoum said.
“When we see the inventory of the Senegalese objects that are found in France, we’re going to ask for certain of those objects,” Bocoum said. “For the moment, we have not yet started negotiations.”
He brushed off concerns that African institutions might be unable to care for their own heritage, pointing to the new museum’s humidified, air-conditioned storage space.
The history of some of the objects in the opening exhibition is grim. Pointing to the saber of El Hadj Umar Tall, a 19th-century West African thinker who fought against French colonialism, Bocoum described how French troops fighting him stripped local women of their elaborate jewelry by cutting off their ears.
Contemporary works in the exhibition touch on both triumph and tragedy. There are black-and-white photographs of African nightclubs in the 1960s shot by famous Malian photographer Malick Sidibe, and a stark mural by Haitian artist Philippe Dodard depicting African religions and the middle passage.
Works by Yrneh Gabon Brown, based in Los Angeles, reference slavery and contemporary race relations in America.
“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,” Brown told the AP. “And here, as a member of Africa’s English-speaking diaspora, I am proud, reaffirmed.”
France, whose president in recent weeks has pledged to return 26 pieces to Benin, is just one of many countries loaning works for the new museum’s opening exhibition. Bocoum now is working with dozens of institutions around the world to plan future exhibits.
“This museum is celebrating the resilience of black people,” professor Linda Carty, who teaches African American studies at Syracuse University, told the AP at its opening. “This is a forced recognition of how much black people have brought to the world. We were first. That’s been taken away from us, and we now have reclaimed it.”
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18 arrested in Tunisia amid violent protests
Wednesday, December 26
TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisian authorities have arrested 18 people during protests that erupted after the death of a journalist who set himself on fire to protest economic problems in the North African nation, officials said Wednesday.
Thirteen were arrested in the provincial city of Kasserine and five others in Tebourba, near Tunis, Interior Ministry spokesman Sofiane Zaag said.
Clashes between protesters and Tunisian authorities took place in several regions over the past two days after journalist Abderrazak Zorgui posted a video online before his self-immolation in Kasserine describing his desperation and calling for revolt. He expressed frustration at unemployment and the unfulfilled promises of Tunisia’s 2011 Arab Spring revolution.
The most violent protests took place in Kasserine, in west central Tunisia, where police used tear gas to disperse stone-throwing demonstrators. According to ShemsFM radio, the military was deployed to help police tackle the protests and secure state buildings.
In Tunis, dozens of protesters gathered on Bourguiba Avenue — the capital city’s main road — to protest costs of living increases and chanted slogans hostile to the regime.
Meanwhile, Kasserine tribunal spokesman Achref Youssefi said an investigation “for failure to assist a person in danger” has been opened following the death of Zorgui. He said a suspect has been arrested.
A similar self-immolation, by a street vendor lamenting unemployment, corruption and repression, led to nationwide protests fueled by social media that brought down Tunisia’s long-time authoritarian president in 2011. That ushered in democracy for Tunisia and unleashed similar movements around the Arab world.
Saudi prince who called for reforms dies at 87
Sunday, December 23
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Prayers were held Sunday for Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz, a senior member of the royal family who supported women’s rights and once led a group of dissident princes, who died at the age of 87.
Prince Talal was an older brother to King Salman and the father of businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. He is the son of the founder and first ruler of modern Saudi Arabia, the late King Abdulaziz, whose sons have ruled since his death, with the throne passing from brother to brother.
Prince Talal’s son Prince Abdulaziz bin Talal announced on Twitter that his father passed away on Saturday. The royal court also released a statement about his passing.
Prince Talal served as minister of communications in the 1950s and minister of finance in the early 1960s. In 1957, Prince Talal founded the first school for girls in Riyadh, according to the Saudi newspaper Arab News. The school was founded at a time when females had no access to formal education in the landlocked capital and schools were open to boys only.
Soon after he was appointed finance minister, he struck out and led a group of princes who called for a constitutional monarchy that distributes some of the king’s powers. The royals, who became known as the Free Princes Movement, called for a constitution to govern the kingdom, rather than rules based solely on clerical interpretation of the Quran and other religious doctrine.
Prince Talal led the group from Beirut and Cairo, which under then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was an adversary of Riyadh. The prince’s assets were seized by Riyadh, but he was not stripped of his nationality— a punishment Gulf monarchies have employed against dissidents.
After rifts emerged between Prince Talal and Cairo, he was allowed to return to Saudi Arabia in 1964 under King Faisal, who had deposed his brother King Saud that same year.
Prince Talal served until 2011 as a member of the Allegiance Council, a body of senior princes who are meant to meet and choose the next king from among themselves. He’d reportedly left the council after questioning its efficacy when a senior prince was appointed to the line of succession without the council being fully consulted.
Parolee reflects on her first year out of prison
By MARK CURNUTTE
Tuesday, December 25
CINCINNATI (AP) — Before her parole and release from prison last Christmas Day, Tyra Patterson had to make a five-year plan.
Her goals were to live independently, get a job, travel, see her family and begin speaking in public about criminal justice reform.
“I completed that … in less than a year,” Patterson told The Enquirer in an interview last week from her rented house in suburban Cincinnati.
She knows she is not the typical returning citizen, woman or man. Her case and her insistence on her innocence attracted international support from celebrities the likes of filmmaker Ken Burns and actress Alfre Woodard.
David Singleton of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center became her attorney five years ago and generated more publicity that helped build a roster of re-entry mentors that include a current member of Cincinnati City Council, a former member of Congress, lawyers, business owners and a rabbi.
Patterson even had a job waiting for her as a paralegal at Singleton’s firm. It’s at this point where her past connects with the major goal she has mapped out in her next five-year plan. She is applying for a Soros Justice Fellowship to create a program that would provide more people coming out of prison with re-entry mentors.
The need is great. The number of women in U.S. prisons rose from 13,200 in 1980 to a peak of almost 113,000 in 2010, according to the Sentencing Project. The analysis by the Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy group also shows that 1 in 18 African-American women will be incarcerated at some point in her life, compared to 1 in 111 white women.
Patterson said she saw opportunities for self-improvement in prison and made them happen. Mentors have helped make her re-entry successful.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without them,” she said. “They didn’t just guide me. They held my hand.
“For so long, people have leveraged their privilege for me. They were my voice when I didn’t have one. They kept me strong and believing in me. I understand that now I can leverage my privilege for those who are incarcerated. I can’t walk away and forget them.”
A year ago Christmas morning, Patterson walked out of the Northeast Reintegration Center in Cleveland and kept a promise she’d made to God. She dropped to her knees in the snow, kissed the ground and gave thanks for her freedom.
Patterson had been in custody since being arrested and one of five people ultimately convicted in the shooting death of a 15-year-old Dayton, Ohio, girl, Michelle Lai. The incident unfolded in the early morning hours of Sept. 20, 1994. Patterson was 19, had dropped out of school at 11, and was illiterate.
A jury found Patterson guilty on one count of aggravated murder and four counts of aggravated robbery. She was sentenced to 43 years to life in prison but maintained that she and another girl walked away before the shooting. Patterson did admit to picking up a necklace off the pavement that belonged to one of the robbery victims.
Among those moved by her story to ask for her early release was Hamilton County’s tough-on-crime Republican prosecutor, Joe Deters, who met with Patterson in prison in 2016 and said, “Justice has been served. She’s been in there long enough.”
In the first of the several presentations that she has made to high school students since her release — Aiken High School on Feb. 1 — Patterson told that piece of her story.
She warns them about the dangers of dropping out and using marijuana. She says that even after the mistakes she had made that she realized she had an opportunity to make herself better.
While in prison, she learned to read and write and completed a GED. She also earned a steam engineer’s license and a paralegal certificate. She would start work Jan. 25 as a paralegal at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, Downtown. The client became an employee. She often walked to work from her apartment on Vine Street in the north end of Over-the-Rhine.
She estimates that in her first year of freedom that she made 50 public appearances and spoke to 4,500 students from middle school to law school. She has told her story to students at Turpin, St. Xavier, Walnut Hills and DePaul Cristo Rey high schools, the latter among those she mentored electronically while in prison.
At Cristo Rey, a religion teacher introduced her students to Patterson’s story while she was still in prison. Some students then met with Singleton and helped create the #FreeTyra campaign.
Donald Whittle, 17, now a junior from Finneytown, was among the students most engaged with her case. Patterson visited the school in the spring.
“Her story is important to me because it’s about overcoming obstacles,” said Whittle, an African-American. “She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It made me evaluate my friend group and who I hang around with.”
A couple of times, Patterson said, high school students told her after her speech that her message convinced them not to try to take their life.
“I talk about how important it is to hang on tightly to hope,” Patterson said. “I did.”
She has spoken to groups of public defenders in St. Louis, Atlanta and Mobile, Alabama. She delivered a keynote address at a youth rally in Shreveport, Louisiana, and was a featured guest speaking to students at Harvard and Northwestern universities’ law schools near Boston and Chicago, respectively.
“It’s not easy getting up and being transparent and vulnerable,” Patterson said at home, as her miniature Husky, named Diva, and a rescue cat, Dainty, took turns sitting on her lap. “I want to change somebody’s life. If somebody had told me not to drop out, it might have changed my life.”
Patterson’s speaking engagements often end with students swarming around her for a hug, to shake her hand or pose for a selfie with her. She is a warm, engaging speaker — “real” is a common description — smiling and making eye contact. Professionally, she pulls her long, dark hair back and tight off her forehead, revealing, at 43, an increasing number of gray hairs. She cuts an athletic figure. She trained with one of her mentors, Jean Schmidt, former Representative for Ohio’s 2nd congressional district, and completed with Schmidt the 5-kilometer race in the Flying Pig in early May.
Attorney Singleton and another of her reentry mentors, Cincinnati councilwoman Tamaya Dennard, have traveled with Patterson and attended some of her local presentations in schools and to community and faith-based groups.
“I sometimes worry that she has taken on too much, and I try to tell her to slow down,” said Singleton, Justice and Policy Center executive director. “But then I realize that she is working as hard as she can to make up for 23 years that she lost.”
Patterson can make up for some things lost to time. With Dennard’s help, Patterson in April — a month before her 43rd birthday — earned her first license. She has a car. Her personalized plate refers to her employer, which promoted her in April from paralegal to the newly created position of community outreach and education specialist, which allows her to educate the public about OJPC’s work to reform Ohio’s criminal justice system.
Away from work, she likes to shop in second-hand stores and road-side flea markets. She’s a self-confessed neat freak, and while an Enquirer photographer was setting up additional lights in her home for a portrait beside her Christmas tree, Patterson refilled air freshener containers and scooped her cat’s litter box.
She is regaining rights as a citizen she didn’t have while serving prison time. She voted for the first time in May’s primary and said she won’t miss another election. When Fifth Third Bank refused to allow Patterson to open a bank account on Jan. 31 — she did not have a required second form of identification — she went down the street and opened one at a PNC branch. The ensuing negative publicity caused Fifth Third to change its policy
In late summer, she moved from the Over-the-Rhine apartment to the suburbs. Two months later, on Oct. 17, Cincinnati City Council passed a unanimous resolution honoring Patterson “for her courage and perseverance and efforts to improve her life and those of many others.”
Dennard said of Patterson, whom she now refers to as her best friend, “She dispells what people in prison look like, those negative social norms.”
For all of her positive energy and forward-looking vision, Patterson said she has missed out on some things and faces a closing window of opportunity for others.
“I’m just now starting a 401(k),” she said. “I want to have a child.”
Yet she has no time for a relationship with a man, she added.
In addition to starting a re-entry mentoring program, Patterson is involved in art programs for prisoners and those who have been released.
She paints. She also advocates. Patterson proposed to ArtWorks, the nonprofit responsible for many of the city’s murals, to create one depicting returning citizens who’ve come home to make a positive difference in their community. Patterson leads the project and is hiring six artists, some with criminal records. Completion is expected mid-year 2019.
In September, she was in Cleveland as a panelist discussing prison reform, an event tied in with the opening of the Prison Nation exhibit. A month later, Patterson was in Columbus, where she exhibited a painting, titled “Midnight,” that she completed in prison. The event was the second annual Ohio Prison Arts Connection, an effort to increase arts and creative medium to people while incarcerated.
At the same time, she has her eye on another type of prize: clemency. Singleton filed with Ohio Gov. John Kasich in 2016.
“I want my name back,” she said. “I don’t want to have to face any more barriers.”
Though Kasich has not yet acted, Patterson’s clemency push received a major boost in April 2016. That’s when Holly Lai Holbrook, the sister of the woman killed that night in 1994 in Dayton, told the governor that Patterson should not have been convicted of murder.
The victim’s sister said Patterson was not with the group of people who robbed and killed her sister.
In the meantime, Patterson keeps traveling and telling her story where she thinks she can help force positive change.
The week before Christmas, she and Dennard were in New York to meet with a producer for “The Dr. Oz Show.” No film or air dates are yet scheduled. Patterson said show executives want her to talk about her life journey but also the health challenges she deals with: the chronic autoimmune disease lupus, colitis and Crohn’s disease.
“All the preservatives in the institutional food I ate for 23 years,” she said.
Yet here, as with the time she served for crimes she said she did not commit, Patterson said she is not bitter.
“I lost more than half my life to the system,” she said. “I want to live my best life. Me giving back is part of my survival.”
With that, she put a coat on over her sweater and blue jeans. The heels of her leather boots clacked as she raced down the wood steps of her split-level home and out the door. She had to get to the store to buy a few things for her trip the next morning to New York.
Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com
Quake from Mount Etna volcano jolts Sicily, sparks panic
By FRANCES D’EMILIO
Wednesday, December 26
ROME (AP) — An earthquake triggered by Mount Etna’s eruption jolted eastern Sicily before dawn Wednesday, injuring at least 10 people, damaging churches and houses on the volcano’s slopes and prompting panicked villagers to flee their homes.
Italy’s Civil Protection officials said the quake, which struck at 3:19 a.m., was part of a swarm of some 1,000 tremors, most of them barely perceptible, linked to Etna’s volcanic eruption this week.
Italy’s national seismology institute said the quake had a magnitude of 4.8 on the open-ended Richter scale and 4.9 on the moment magnitude scale, which relates to the amount the ground slips. It struck north of Catania, the largest city in the eastern part of the Mediterranean island, but no damage or injuries were reported there.
The quake opened up cracks in homes in several towns, sending chunks of concrete debris tumbling to the ground. It toppled a Madonna statue in a church in Santa Venerina and broke up sidewalks and a stretch of highway, forcing it to close. Many people spent the hours after the quake sleeping in their cars.
In the town of Piano d’Api, firefighters removed cracked stucco from the bell tower of the damaged Santa Maria della Misericordia church. Italy’s culture ministry said the quake damage to churches was being tallied by experts.
“Etna remains a dangerous volcano, and this country of ours is unfortunately fragile,” government undersecretary Vito Crimi said as he reported 10 people injured.
The most seriously injured was a 70-year-old man who fractured ribs and was undergoing surgery for chest injuries. A 71-year-old patient was being kept in hospital for observation, while others were treated and released, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. Additionally, 18 other people went to local hospitals suffering from panic attacks or shock, news reports said.
One 80-year-old man was safely extracted from the rubble of his home, ANSA said, while a woman told state radio that her sister was pulled out from under a heavy armoire that had toppled. A ceiling collapsed in another house, and in other homes parts of exterior walls crumbled. Some stone walls along fields and local roads crumbled.
Etna, the largest of Italy’s three active volcanoes, has been particularly active since July. In recent days, Etna’s latest eruption has been shooting volcanic ash, heavy smoke and lava stones into the air, coating roads and homes nearby with ash. A new fracture has opened near Etna’s southeast crater and lava has been flowing down an uninhabited slope.
The quake was also felt in the upscale Sicilian resort town of Taormina and in other towns in eastern Sicily.
The Civil Protection agency said temporary shelters were being set up in gyms or municipal buildings for people whose houses were damaged or who were too frightened to return to their homes.
Similar volcanic activity on Etna has been observed many times in past decades, Andrea Billi, a geologist with the state National Council of Research, told RaiNews24.
This kind of activity “can last days or weeks,” he said, “but it’s unpredictable.”
Italy’s Civil Protection chief said it appeared the activity at Etna was calming down.
“From a scientific point of view, we’re dealing with an isolated event,” Angelo Borrelli told Sky TG24 TV. “The technical experts tell us we’re heading toward a cooling of the lava, and we ought to expect a quiescence of the phenomenon (of earthquakes).”
Some residents told reporters that after a similar quake in 1984 which killed a person, many on Mount Etna retrofitted their houses to enable them to withstand more powerful temblors.
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