Great folks found in Dakar: Richard J. Powell [@DakartBiennale]

Richard J. Powell at the Global Black Consciousness Conference, Dakar

Duke University is surely proud that John Spencer Bassett Professor, Richard J. Powell, is in the building. I had the privilege to meet him as he prepared for his 5/12/2014 presentation at Global Black Consciousness held at Hôtel Sokhamon.

After he briefly entertained my unsolicited opinions of Kara Walker and Basquiat, he illuminated these areas of my concern and honored me further by agreeing to be interviewed on camera about John Biggers. This recording is for a documentary in production by R/Kain Blaze. This generosity and grace will not be forgotten.

I have had the chance to take a look at richardjpowell.com and within seconds I am wanting a copy of Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture. According to the Amazon.com book market, I would have to pay about $300 for the privilege. Ouch.

Yes, MLK Boulevard is in Dakar, Senegal

My first walk through the streets of Dakar for DAK’ART 2014 was intense. I assume most urbanism over some threshold of population density is intense like this. I was overwhelmed by it and pulled into it. I kept walking through the cacophony thinking there would be a main street with some huge Boulevard opening out into space where I could orient myself. Apart from the beaches (many of them rocky instead of sandy), there were almost no wide open spaces. One of the best was the university named after Cheikh Anta Drop. I got there by walking northward, along MLK Boulevard. It was noticeably difficult to know which street is which according to its name on a map. I talked with several officers and drivers and none of them knew the streets by these names. The most knowledgeable map readers were one working in a bookstore and another in a computer store. Most of the locals I decided to reach out to, just knew where they wanted to go spatially, outside of map literacy.

My subsequent walks through Dakar were ‘escorted’ by friendly young brothers that will eventually take me where I need to go (on foot like most local people). It is important to remember that most people in Dakar are self-governed by conservative Islamic values so (for the moment) it is clear that these youth have been motivated by my efforts to show respect, my time-agnostic attitude and the money I might spend on a street vendor they know or an item in their backpack. The ‘challenge’ for me going forward is letting them know there is not much more I can buy (after about 175 000 CFA, pronounced “cee-fah”) and I am getting better at finding my way around.

My first ‘escort’ is/was a Fulani man that is very rough around the edges, but a handful of people around town still show him respect. My second ‘escort’ has been a younger more cultured man that is a mix of Wolof and he says Fulani (this Fulani thing is important because many folks agree that I look Fulani). His name is Tafsir Diop and many, many people greet him with cheer around Dakar.

Now some pointers and remarks: it is important to remember that prices in Dakar compete with western prices (so dinner can cost 20 000 CFA); the traffic in Dakar can be frightening so taxis may be the only way; I only saw two cyclists in Dakar so far—one had a car right on his tail; I don’t recommend taking pictures of people leading their lives, like a mother combing her daughter’s hair on a street corner or a man attending to his prayers on a rug on a sidewalk—just my opinion; I ordered an international data plan from AT&T only to find it does not work on Windows phone; I download city maps with hotel WiFi to my phone; my local mobile service is Orange Senegal but I don’t use it.

Dead Fox

Dead Fox

This entry into my literary timeline is meant to be a follow-up to “Drifting on a Life Raft 60 Days after Being Laid Off”—a post representing a huge turning point in my W2-labor-camping career. I was turning from government and going back to the private sector. I was officially wading into the world of .NET shops in Southern California (yes, there was a thing before .NET). This entry was meant to report how successful this effort has been. This effort has been successful: I am now ‘officially’ at the end of the Southern-Californian line in terms of career growth. I have worked at what I consider the biggest and best .NET shops in Southern California—this includes Amgen, 20th Century Fox Filmed Entertainment and PIMCO (I am still here at the moment). I mention these companies by name because these companies (especially Amgen and PIMCO) represent the best Microsoft has enabled in Southern California for the enterprise. I do expect disagreement with this statement and I do exclude super-high-end-boutique shops like Tim Huckaby’s Interknowlogy in San Diego.

For me (personally) my work at 20th Century Fox (probably now entirely called 21st Century Fox) represents my first opportunity to build the .NET application of my very limited W2-at-will-employment dreams. This achievement is huge to me and no bizarre (and quite evil) revisions of history can take it away from me. At Fox I built a Silverlight application on top of RIA services. I built this application in a brown field. This means I built it inside of an older, crappier version of the same application. My new code ate the old code from the inside out (like a parasite). This brown-field experience makes me even more proud of my work because brown-field building is hard: you have to know how the old crap is built while discovering how to build the new crap at the same time. This made the work all-consuming. It was so demanding that I put up with a noisy neighbor for over a year to avoid complicating my life away from Silverlight. I am glad I was not a married man during this project because I would be in the throes of divorce court by now. When younger programmers talk about how “passionate” they are about building software, check with those kids when they get my age and see where the passion lies (most of them would have moved into management to have more time with the wife and kids).

So this entry is meant to be cheerful, celebratory and what they call “positive.” Yet simultaneously I show this photograph of mine. And I declare that this photograph represents my W2 life from the beginning of my career all the way to the present day. This one, “depressing” photograph says it all. One of the first things I am saying is that there is always room for improvement. There is nothing like an old, dilapidated building (with Fox on it) to symbolize this. Somehow, in spite of my vast amounts of experience, it has never (okay, rarely) been the “right” time for me to suggest what an organization can do to improve itself. Some of these folks actually give me the title of consultant and never consult me on anything. You have to get the Black history straight kids: it is not like they trusted me first and then I did something to lose that trust; it is not like I was able to “earn” trust and then did something to lose it. I just showed up and began to work—and the work is supposed to speak for itself without any political campaigning. So um… let us take another look at the whole burning bridges thing. Let us start with a rule that I am pretty much completely dedicated to:

You have to meet people where they are or simply refuse to meet with them.

So, yes, it is true I actively refuse to meet with a great deal of people—most of these people are middle managers of large corporations or owners of small businesses. I can still make myself laugh with the image of a guy walking in an office to meet someone sitting a desk. The guy walks in with a balsa-wood-and-string scale model of a suspension bridge. The guy sits down and starts talking. Eventually the guy sets the bridge on fire, gets up and leaves the room.

My point is that I am certain that the whole burning bridges thing is not always about irresponsibly destroying relationships that might be “useful” later. After being myself in the workplace for over 20 years, I can safely say that burning bridges responsibly and carefully only fails in a totalitarian society monopolized by one dominant organization of efficient oppression. So that means I’ll not be working in China anytime soon (but a lot of so-called democracies are starting to look a lot like China).

Imagine a world completely dominated by a cult of personality around the company that posted on the building of this photograph of mine. See that “executive realtors” sign posted on the building? Over 20 years ago I tried to be a freelance graphic designer in the City of Inglewood (just like this guy named Hannibal Tabu). I saw the horrible logo of this “executive realtors” outfit and offered to change it. I think we did business (I think the company paid me to trace the logo from a bitmap so it can blown up to any size). But my goal of changing the logo was never achieved. What is worse, is that years after I am gone the crappy logo is still there. At some point we can (sometimes) amicably agree to disagree but effectively burn any bridges between us that would allow us to reach agreement. I don’t even remember these people. I just remember the logo. From a time-management point of view, I do not see any loss in that (although ego bounds).

The “executive realtors” sign on the building represents my first forays into business (it also says that, like Hannibal Tabu, I first tried to establish myself as a professional within my Black community—so, in spite of monumental non-recognition of our devotion to ‘our people,’ dudes like me are Black first). The fact that the building in my photo is a Fox movie theater represents where I am now as a professional. Racism aside, these “two worlds” are not far apart—this is why it is so wonderful to see that “executive realtors” sign on that old Fox Theater.

WillPower iPhone skins and Dream Seeker Media…

LA: iPhone Skin

The multi-disciplinary artist/musician William Ismael gave a show in Los Angeles last year called “11/11/11”. There I was introduced to his excellent work—much of it is driven by computer programming as well as traditional visual arts. When you can’t go to his work then let his work come to you in the form of iPhone skins! My favorite is “LA: iPhone Skin.”

DreamSeeker Media

I haven’t written about filmmaker Mobolaji Olambiwonnu since 2008—so I was pleased to find his latest terrestrial project(s) at dreamseekermedia.com. “Dreamseeker Media is a fully-integrated creative consulting firm that specializes in branding and production, bringing years of award winning experience to the creative process.”

For old times’ sake, check out “Mobolaji Olambiwonnu: Candlelight Dinner (YouTube.com)” here in the kinté space.