Review: A Gathering of the Tribes–The Black Lives Matter Issue


A gathering of voices, a gathering of poets, a gathering of breath, a collective breath of history, community and the fight to take back our lives. Guest editor Ishmael Reed has gathered poets and writers for Issue 16, the Black Lives Matter Issue, an issue that takes on police violence aimed at the bodies of black men and women, and the institutional in the bones racism hardened in its marrow. Reed disavows those who decry that we should pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. From the introduction:

The tough lovers say that the content of our

character should be used to judge us. The character

of Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor was okay,

but that didn’t prevent them from being murdered

by the police. Black farmers have been

deprived of loans and grants because racists have

been responsible for distributing the checks.

Tony Robles reads a poem for Mumia Abu Jamal by Julia Wright, from A Gathering of the Tribes, Issue 16

Memory is honored, the names of those slain by police held up in a light of poetry, the fire of strength raging from our streets to the page. Contributor Haki Madhubuti writes of the memory of Emmett Till in We Are a Hated People, that before George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and millions of black others, there was Emmett Till. Madhubuti probes into the antipathy of the nation in regards to the killing.

His slaughter was not just a killing,

it was ritual, a lesson and an open message

to black people

This issue of A Gathering of the Tribes is a testament to the confrontational legacy of African-American literature that Reed has dedicated his efforts to, as both a writer and editor–as the founder of the Before Columbus Foundation–publishing writers whose voices are excluded by the large publishing houses and by academia.

Writer Opal Palmer Adisa writes of the risk of black lives globally. She asks, How many more of us will be denied breath? She writes that the black body has been under siege since the beginning of the 15th century when the Portugese, “Having gone in search of gold, found an even more lucrative and abundant gold in the bodies and strength of black people.” Adisa honors the memory of female activists whose legacy inspired Black Lives Matter: Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer, among others.

Tony Robles reads Somebody Stole My History, by Kim McMillon from A Gathering of the Tribes, Issue 16

The work included in this issue is a collective breath of poetry, and visual art and fire, that insists on articulating our pain, our history and our vision to take back our lives. There is a vision for a future for our children, our young; a vision for a world where their lives will matter. They matter–they always have.

The poetry, short stories and essays in this issue articulate what needs to be said. It is a collective breath of those whose breath was taken away and those who refuse to forget this theft. The breath takes shape as it enters us and, upon its release, forms the words and songs and visions for our community that looks to take back the lives of its people living under the affliction of white supremacy for far too long.

Poet Julia Wright sums up beautifully the overall message of this offering of A Gathering of the Tribes that speaks to the heart of our community.

A Liberty Bell Within

I dreamed

my bronze cast heart

was cracked

with pain

I dreamed

my heartbeat

was tolling

we each carry

a Liberty Bell within

mourning our slain

this dawn

here are

my tenner-bell words

of Love

to bridge

so far distance

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