Praise Songs for George Edward Tait
Special to the AmNews

“Her love is the motive that makes me dance,” Betty Dopson began reading from a poem by George Edward Tait, dedicated to his wife, Akosua, “as I jump as hemisphere high as the mighty Masai.”

Dopson, a co-chair of CEMOTAP (Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People) was just one of 30 activists, writers, artists, photographers, and civic leaders invited to the 30th anniversary celebration of Tait’s tenure as Poet Laureate of Harlem.

It was a veritable parade of praise for the poet at Dr. John Henrik Clarke House on Convent Avenue last Sunday evening, and practically every speaker seemed to remember when they had first met Tait.

“And those who can’t remember where they met him can never forget him,” said Camille Yarbrough.

Among the proclamations and citations was one from councilman Charles Barron, citing how empowering Tait’s poetry and activism have been, his revolutionary content inspiring us “to fight white supremacy whenever it rears its ugly head.”

John Watusi Branch of the Afrikan Poetry Theatre in Queens recalled Tait’s tireless devotion to the struggle for liberation and his commitment to workshops at the theater. “He’s more than the poet laureate of Harlem, he’s the people’s poet,” he said.

“George has always been on the right side of things,” said Kwame Brathwaite, taking a break from his camera to mention that he has known Tait for 50 years. “We should also note that he his a very fine musician.”
There was a time that Tait kept his trumpet with him and performed with his band. But, as Iyaluua Ferguson declared, it has been his words that have resounded most forcefully.

“He’s a freedom fighter who has given so much, and that’s why we can be here today,” she said. Ferguson had come with her husband, the legendary activist Herman Ferguson, all the way from North Carolina for the tribute.

The playwright J.E. Franklin read a Richard Bartee poem to honor Tait.

Bartee, who died of a heart attack in 2003, was noted for his subway poems as well as his relationship to Tait. Together they produced a series of poetry readings at Poettential. The series, as the late Louis Reyes Rivera wrote, was entitled “Black Words for a Wednesday Night” – just one of the many endeavors in which Tait has been a key participant.

To Layding Kaliba, Tait is the ultimate “foot soldier” in the struggle for human and civil rights. Kaliba began his presentation singing a stanza from “America, the Beautiful,” but then quickly showed America wasn’t so lovely after all, and that you “can’t party with a tramp.”

Before reading his poem, Amiri Baraka said that Tait had been around a long time, and he recounted the splendor of their long association, honoring him with a poem that assailed politicians “who do not represent us” and at the same time invoking and saluting Robert Williams, Malcolm, and Martin.

Booker Coleman, Dequi Kioni-Sadiki, Ave Maria Cross, Jemisi Obanjoko, Black Rose, Onaje Muid, Imani Parker, Viola Plummer, Yusef Salaam, Sheila Robinson-Rivers and Sekou Owusu were among the praise singers who lauded Tait in a variety of ways. Owusu presented Tait with a proclamation that cited reverence for his “divine speech” and his “warriorhood.”

Perhaps the longest stay at the podium, artfully mastered by Tony Mitchelson, Kaliba and Dequi, was Dr. James McIntosh, who delivered a review of “Sword Songs,” Tait’s book of poetry published three years ago. “Buy the book,” was his final admonition after a lengthy recommendation.

There was a presentation also from the artist Ed Sherman of the National Conference of Artists, and from a distance the citation seemed to be a finely rendered replica of an Adinkra symbol of West Africa.

Then it was time for the man of the hour to speak, and he began by explaining how he came to be the poet laureate of Harlem.

“It’s not because I’m the best poet,” he said. “Or because I’m the most popular. I’m the poet laureate because I’ve been recognized by a cross-section of the community – by writers, artists, scholars and activists.” And a representative slice of those who have honored him with that title turned out to add further testimony to that fact.

The New York Amsterdam News
February 21 – February 27, 2013
p. 22