The Labor Day Literary Extravaganza

 

This annual event, sometimes called “Readings with Ralphie,” is hosted at Ikaros Restaurant in Greektown, Baltimore. Using a different theme each year, it provides an opportunity for writers, artists, and musicians to showcase their works; and I am honored and proud to have been invited for a second appearance.

But most importantly, this event is a benefit for Mother Seton Academy [http://www.mothersetonacademy.org/], located at Greenmount Avenue and 22nd Street. Mother Seton Academy, a tuition-free private middle school for young men and women from communities with the greatest economic need, provides a world-class learning environment that prepares these young people for success at Baltimore’s elite high schools and colleges.

It was a Night of Moments. In Honor of Labor Day. Not just a “holiday” – as host Rafael Alvarez reminded us at the beginning, while reading his Op-Ed, “Women of Steel,” published in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [https://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2019/09/02/Rafael-Alvarez-Women-steel-mills-Jeannie-Nesbit/stories/201909020014], but a commemoration of the Labor Movement and Labor Unions, which secured rights and protections for workers: Equal Pay for Equal Work. Equal Pay for Women. Equity for Black and other minority workers. The 40-hour work week. Security. In the form of retirement income. Pride in quality workmanship. Pride in what was once “Made in America.”

Not a single person in attendance could find any item of apparel or other goods in the room that was Made in America. But everyone in the room could remember when that “slogan” was true.

It was a Night of Moments. Moments that flowed seamlessly from one segment of the program to the next. In his Op-Ed, Rafael paid homage to the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union as he recounted his grandmother’s long work history and struggles, and lamented that too many of the beneficiaries of such trailblazers do not know the history and struggles that made their lives easier.

I continued that thread, when I first recited, then sang, then led the audience in singing the ILG’s commercial song from the 1970s, “Look for the Union Label”:

Look for the union label
When you are buying that coat, dress or blouse.
Remember somewhere our union’s sewing,
Our wages going to feed the kids, and run the house.

We work hard, but who’s complaining?
Thanks to the I.L.G. we’re paying our way!

So always look for the union label,
It says we’re able to make it in the U.S.A.!

[See one of the 1970s commercials at https://www.facebook.com/WashingtonIsBroken/videos/131508653584377/UzpfSTEwMDAwMDQ4Mzk3NDQzOTozMDYwNjExMjk0OTk0MTQ6MTA6MDoxNTY5OTEzMTk5OjI3NDQxNTk4Nzc5NjkzODUxODU/]

I followed up with my new poem, “The Boss,” written for this occasion and published here on baltimoreblackwoman. A tribute to my great-grandfather, a native Black Marylander who lived out his American Dream here in Baltimore. He was not a wealthy man. But he was rich beyond measure.

I ended my segment with the song “Good Night, Irene.”

Alas, My Moment was not recorded. But you will hear it, anyway, in a re-creation I made this morning. Because (selfishly?) I need my work to be heard. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkqT6OeIrm0; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoEPXvYOdHE]

 

But on this Night of Moments, the Brightest and Best was saved for last! A sneak-preview performance of a new musical, The Moment Was Now. A Musical Moment When America Almost Did the Right Thing, presented by the Cultural Worker Ensemble. It is a tribute to the Reconstruction era in American history, using the real words of some our most famous and revered abolitionists, suffragettes, and Black Civil Rights Leaders, in an imagined musical dialogue. Once again, those who benefit from History too often know little to nothing about the struggles that have made their lives easier and better.

Watching this preview, I was first reminded of Henry Louis Gates’ seminal PBS program detailing the Reconstruction era and the ramifications of its failure, which impact our lives to this day.

I was also reminded of another great musical about another Moment in History: Hamilton! Don’t forget that the seed for this record-breaking musical was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s impromptu performance of a rap he was working on. At The White House. For President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama! I saw that seedling performance. Live on television! I witnessed History in the making.

So, please, if you’re in Baltimore between September 13th and 22nd, go see The Moment Was Now!

Happy Labor Day!


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