A Poem

Nighttime Sky ©Hasna Muhammad

The house became a nursing station

when you got sick

Everything was

poised to cause your ease

I could not look at your wound

as I helped you bathe and change your clothes

Your audible pain closed my throat

and dropped

like wet clay

onto my heart

We both slept downstairs

because your movement

was more bearable on the couch

And I wanted to be able to see you

and hear you

just in case

Now you rest downstairs

while I turn on the lights

upstairs in my chambers

The lights have been out

for the past eight…

Remarks for My Father’s Funeral — February 12, 2005

People photographing the casket after the public viewing at Abyssinian Baptist Church, February 11, 2005 © Hasna Muhammad

My father passed away on February 4, 2005. What follows are the remarks I made at his funeral 16 years ago.

You know Ossie Davis in many different ways. You know him as brother Ossie, actor Ossie, writer Ossie, director Ossie, and activist Ossie. You know him as a strong black man, a humanitarian, a citizen of the world. My brother and sister and I know him as Daddy. I could talk about Daddy the handyman, but he really wasn’t all that good. When he fixed the light in the closet, the light in the basement turned on. I could…

Dedicated to La Verne Davis

Self-portrait by © Hasna Muhammad

At 12:01 AM in the morning I opened my eyes as that little girl who’d lain on the floor and wondered what if she could walk on the ceiling. Today, I am that same little girl who believes she can fly. Who hangs upside down on a jungle gym and lets her blouse fall down around her armpits. Today is the day I climb boulders and conquer the back yard. Find friendship in butterflies and solace in the sound of the wind. …

When Will This Madness End

I’ve been thinking about this new era of The Struggle — this same fight against inhumanity, injustice, and inequity. This same fight for the freedom to be. I’ve been thinking about the seemingly never-ending line of victims, martyrs, activists, and advocates throughout history who have fought, died, or have been killed in this Struggle, as well as those who have yet to do so. Calls for justice echo through generations of those who believed in freedom and did not rest. …

My mother, actor/activist Ruby Dee, was a survivalist, environmentalist, and way ahead of her time. Someday, she told us, something is going to happen, and you’re going to need to know how to survive. Now is one of those times.

To Mom, survival meant being tough and being resourceful in every aspect of her life. Mom grew up poor, black, and female during the Great Depression and developed a deep-seated sense of lack and fear of never having enough food, money, or basic resources. Even though eventually she earned enough money as an actor to contribute to a financially stable…

Photo from THE BIRDS, Ypsilanti Greek Theatre, 1966

I’ve seen my mother in dozens of performances. And although I connected with the characters she played, I always looked for a layer of my mom; not Ruth or any of the other names she would slip on, but Mom. No matter how closely she wore her characters as an actor, I usually found just a hint of her in her hair, her voice, or the expression on her face. I knew that the woman on stage, on screen, or on television had not been consumed, and that I’d have her back at the end of the day.

It was…

Photo by David Bastianoni — All Rights Reserved

David Bastianoni’s photograph, He Will Never See His Father, is a striking image that depicts a pregnant Muslim woman holding the head of her dead husband. She is dressed in a black Abaya, and her husband is enshrouded in an American flag. The woman is on her knees with her straight back hinged forward almost in a position of prayer as she kisses the forehead of her husband whose body lays supine on top of a gray coffin that is in front of a gray cross, the highest point in this staged image. The flagged-draped coffin as a symbol of…

How and when do you learn what is important? I ask that question from the perspective of an adult who learned about what is important from my parents and subsequently taught those lessons to my children. Lessons that were co-mingled with those learned by my husband from his parents. Lessons that I revise in my head for the grandchildren I hope to have.

Like all great teachers, my mother and father talked to me and exemplified what was important. There were no classroom chairs or chalkboards, rather the dining room table, the garden, and expeditions to cities or theatres or…

Bro Manning’s Vietnam

Photo by Hasna Muhammad — All Rights Reserved

I was in grade school when US troops were sent into Vietnam, and I was in college when the troops were withdrawn. During that time, I participated in anti-war rallies and marches with my entire family, which embodied the People’s defiance and resistance against racism and violence. My parents gave speeches and raised funds. My brother occupied the draft board in New Rochelle, NY during a demonstration against the war, and both he and my father along with teachers and other students were arrested. Some of my sister’s friends were killed in the war. We held signs. We shouted. We…

Just unwinding from a weekend family trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC. In a section featuring James Baldwin, I found myself in this photo. I have a different photo from this event. In that photo, I am sitting on Daddy’s lap and James Baldwin is at the podium. It is 1963, and we are at a rally in NYC to protest the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. For me, that photo represents the precious times I spent with my father. But this photo. This photo taken by a…

Hasna Muhammad

Writer, visual artist, educator, and advocate whose work focuses on family, social justice, education, and the human condition.

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