Jenny Tarnoff: This is Jenny Tarnoff and I'm interviewing Buddy Hannah as partof the Engaging the Oral History archive project. This interview is taking place at Kalamazoo College on May 9, 2013. Well, thanks again for being a part of the Engaging the Wisdom Oral History Project.
BH: Well, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
JT: I'm excited to learn a lot about you, and I was just wondering. Some peoplehave an interesting story about their name, but do you have a story about your name?
BH: Not exactly. It's actually, how can I say it, that's my performing name, andit just stuck with me. I used to DJ back in the disco days and long before Eddie Murphy did the Nutty Professor, Jerry Lewis did it, and in there the character was called Buddy Love and when I started DJing I needed a name, you know, a 00:01:00catchy name, so all my friends always they, "Ah man you remind me of Buddy Love from the Jerry Lewis movie, The Nutty Professor," so I just took the name Buddy Love and used that as my DJ name. Well, over the years, as I began to write and everything and do poetry and write columns I couldn't use Buddy Love anymore so it just stuck with Buddy, Buddy Hannah (laughs), so -
JT: Okay, cool, so, I guess let's start to learn a little bit about yourchildhood. Are there any memories, any particular memories that stand out from your childhood?
BH: Yeah, I wish I could go back (laughs). No, well, you know, my childhood waskind of, it was good but it was kind of tragic in a way. My mother died when I was ten, so I went to live with my grandparents, but that was a good move. I had a wonderful childhood, even though I grew up on the farm. I worked on the farm. 00:02:00I came from Miami, Florida, livin' in the big city, into a little small town in on a farm and in the country, so that was kind of a culture shock for me, but had a good life and everything. My brother was younger than me, ten years younger than me matter-of-fact, so therefore I was kind of like the only child for a while, you know, but my childhood memories was all pretty good, you know, nothing that I could pinpoint other than, you know, I worked hard on the farm but then, it was a good life. We had plenty to eat. I had good friends. I enjoyed my childhood, so, I just didn't enjoy the farm (laughs). Nothing wrong with my childhood, it was just the farm that I didn't like, so when I graduated from high school I left the farm because that wasn't me, you know, but after I got older I realized the experience I had, because I've lived in the city, I've 00:03:00lived on the farm, I've lived in the country. So all of those things, I think, helped to round me and balance me out as a person.
JT: Great, so were there any important specific family members that you feelimparted any values to you [unintelligible]
BH: My grandmother, my grandmother, you know, my grandfather was there too. Theyraised me. They was old when I came to live with them. They had raised all of their children - my aunts and uncles, but I was ten years old and my brother was a week old, so they took on a big challenge, but my grandmother, she definitely had a very strong impact on my life as far as morals and values and how I live my life and the things that, the choices I've made in life. Basically my grandmother instilled that, and then, you know, there was other adults, because 00:04:00when I was growing up there was always adults around, you know. They had extended family that we talk about. We say it takes a village to raise a child. That was true back then when I was growing up, so all the older adults was always a part of your life, and you respected them, and yet they all instill some kind of wisdom and values into it, but I would say my grandmother had the biggest impact on my life, yeah.
JT: Well, okay, so you were born in Miami but then moved to Georgia, and thenhow did you come to Kalamazoo?
BH: (Laughs). Well, I was born in Miami, moved to Georgia, graduated from highschool, moved back to Miami, and came to Michigan from Miami (laughs), which is kind of crazy. Usually people do it the other way around, you know, but I was young and dumb, and, well I just wanted to get away from there and I basically came here to go to school, to go to Western, and in the process I didn't go to 00:05:00Western right away. I met my wife to be, so to speak, at that time, got married, got drafted, so everything happened, boom, boom, boom, just like that, and I really didn't go to school until after I got out of the service, but by that time I was kind of like, my wife is from here, so I was basically, not to say stuck here, but I settled here (laughs), you know. So, yeah, so, it was just one of those decisions where I was young and I, and I knew I didn't want to, I didn't want to be on the farm, so that's why I went back to Miami, but having spent seven to eight years in Georgia, by the time I went back to Miami, then all of the friends I had when I was eight, nine, ten years old, well they was gone and scattered. So really things had changed. My father had remarried, so things was just not as I though they was gonna be, so I knew I kind of wanted to 00:06:00leave there, and when the opportunity came to come to Michigan I just, hey, you know, I just, I didn't have nobody to answer to, so I came (laughs), yeah.
JT: Great, can you talk a little bit more about college. What was it like goingto Western?
BH: Well it was different for me 'cause I was married and I first went toKalamazoo Valley Community College. I was, I didn't have the typical college experience, so to speak, because I was married, I had a child; I had been to Vietnam; I was working full-time, so my college experience was not one of the, you know, typical college experiences. I didn't do a lot of the parties. I wasn't in the fraternity - none of those things. I didn't live on campus, so I was one of those early pioneers of the, kind of adult going back to school. I think I was, well I call myself an adult. I think I was like twenty-five, 00:07:00twenty-six years old (laughs), so, you know, I thought I was grown, but, in the sense that I had a full-time job, had a full-time family, it was just a means that I knew I wanted to get an education. So my college experience was entirely different, but the education was the main thing, as opposed to just having to be on campus and all of that. I never was a part of the campus life, so to speak.
JT: Okay, do you have any like, what would you say is your best and worstmemories of [?college?]
BH: (laughs) The best memories was meeting Artie Johnston, Artie Johnston, andwho, I think, he's a playwright here in town and he kind of introduced me to writing, so to speak, and then Tom Thinnes. I think that's his name. I might be pronouncing that wrong, but I was kind of in a situation where I was a poet who 00:08:00wanted to be a journalist, so I took his journalism class, but actually I wanted to be a poet, but I wanted to write, so writing classes and things that I took and was introduced to writing, creative writing, and stuff like, those was some of the better memories of what I did. I guess, you know, there really wasn't any bad memories other than it was hard because I was working full-time, had a family, so it was hard but it wasn't, it wasn't bad, so to speak, but I wouldn't do it that way if I had to do it again, I would suggest that, you know, you get that education first, then you get married (laughs), so, did it a little bit backwards.
JT: Okay, so what exactly what did you study in college?
BH: Communications, communications, yeah. I was a communication major, and like00:09:00I say, I wanted to be a DJ. That was the first thing. I wanted to be a DJ on the radio. Well that didn't quite work out, but I did have a successful, I guess if you could call it that, career as the DJ in the club scene. I happened to get into DJing right about the time disco, the disco era was coming in, so I was able to get a job at Mr. President, which was a local nightclub here, and I think I DJed there for like eight years. I was, yeah, about six or seven years, I was the house DJ there, so I did have that experience as a DJ, and then later in life I was able to move into what I'm doing now on the radio, as far as hosting a talk show and stuff like that. So that was the beginning of it. So, yeah, that was, that was, that was my goal to set out and say hey, yeah, you know.
JT: Okay, so, so you got started with DJing and then you moved into everything else.00:10:00
BH: Yeah, kind of, you know. A lot of things I've gotten into, they justhappened to be there, opportunities, you know what I'm sayin'. That's why I tell young people, always be prepared to take advantage of an opportunity, because you never know when it may come. The DJing thing just happened. I used to practice at home with a microphone in front of my reel-to-reel, which you probably don't know anything about a reel-to-reel, you know. Huh?, What is a reel-to-reel?, but I used to practice in front of it with my microphone and everything, and my wife would go like, "What's wrong with you," and I'm going like, "I'm just practicing," but I was preparing myself in case, in case I got the opportunity. That opportunity came when some ladies at UpJohn, where I was workin', they had a friend that was leavin' to take a job in Texas, and they needed a DJ, and they said, "Well, do we know anybody who DJs?" Well I said, "Yeah I do." I had never DJed, but, "Yeah, I do," but I did it. I did it for the 00:11:00little party and the club owner at that time, who owned the club, Mr. Fred Jones, he came up to me and asked me would I like to DJ in between the bands. When the band would take a break, they would have me DJ, well, my good fortune, and the bad fortune for the band is, the DJ, the disco era was comin' in and the bands was kind of goin' out and the DJs was gettin' popular, so one week he came up and asked me would I like to do it on a full-time basis, so, on Fridays and Saturdays I would DJ on the weekends, so that's how I kind of got into it, you know, and it worked out, I had fun doin' it, you know.
JT: Great, so how did, your interest in DJing, how did that lead into all of theother stuff that you do now?
BH: [Laughs] Well, it led into the, what I'm doing now, for as far as radio, thetalk show, that I host, Talk it Up Live, and then I do a prerecording show Talk it Up, a friend of mine, Gene Bowen, back about seventeen, eighteen years ago 00:12:00when the Touch radio station started up, he came to me and he said, well, hey look, you know, we have a little slot, about a two to three minute slot that if you would like to do some type of social commentary, sort of like a Paul Harvey type thing, and you could do it, you know, he said think about it, and think about what we'll call it, you know, I kicked around some ideas and everything, you know, came up with the title Talk it Up, you know, he gave me the opportunity to do it, and I've been doing it ever since, I did the prerecorded thing for about ten or twelve of those years, and then for the last six or seven years I've been doin' the live talk show on Saturdays, so again the opportunity just happened to come by Gene Bowen really, asking me if I wanted to do it, I had no idea that I would be doin' it 'cause up until then I had been more 00:13:00interested in spinnin' records then doin' talk show, hostin', doin' social commentary, but opportunity knocked, I was ready, boom [Laughs].
JT: Great, what would you say is your favorite medium to work in?
BH: My favorite medium to work in is, I love poetry, you know, I don't do it asmuch as I used to do it, but in the early days I really loved bein' on stage reading poetry and writing and reading poetry, sharing [unintelligible] that is what I really, really loved doin', but I've gotten away from that because then I got into acting, theatre, you know, which is really nice, I love doin' that, I love doin' the radio now, you know, but my first love is the poetry, yeah.
JT: How did you get interested in poetry?
BH: Well, I started out, you know, trying to be a song-writer, because back when00:14:00I was young Smokey Robinson was, with the Miracles, wrote a lot of nice songs, the ladies was crazy about him, so I though like, wow, you know, hey, maybe if I can write songs then the ladies will be crazy about me, well, that didn't work, you know, but I started writin' songs that didn't work, then when I went to Vietnam I started just writin' poetry to kind of, free my mind from what I was in in terms of the war situation, and I continued to do that, and then I met a lady by the name of Gail Sydnor who had founded, one of the founders of the Black Arts and Culture Center, which I'm now still involved with, and begin to talk to her and, here again came an opportunity to do some readings at the Culture Center that they had and from there I began to read, and then I met Elizabeth Kerlikowske, who was a poet here in Kalamazoo, a very good poet, and 00:15:00she was another one that gave me an opportunity to do some readings out of [Kalamazoo Valley Community College], so I began to do some readings and that's how I began to do the poetry thing again, so more opportunities came my way.
JT: What's your writing process like?
BH: Crazy [Laughs], you know, I think everybody has, you have to find what worksfor you, when I was writing poetry a lot of times it just didn't happen, sometimes it would happen all at once and I would write five or six poems, you know, all at once, other times I couldn't, but I just, a lot of times it was more like, this is really weird, and I told you it was crazy, but I did a lot of my writing in the bathroom [Laughs]. Well, you know, the bathroom is one place where people don't disturb you, they knock on the door, you say you're in the 00:16:00bathroom they leave you alone, so I'm in there writin', you know, so I used to keep pen and paper in the bathroom, because with my kids in the house and my wife and all these other distractions the bathroom was one place that I found, and that's where I did a lot of my creating, now when I began to write my column, and I had the opportunity to write for the Kalamazoo Gazette City Life, that was a whole different type of writing that I had never done, experienced, that required me to do something different, you know, and now it's like, with my playwriting and stuff like that that I'm involved in now, my creative, I try to set aside time to write, you know, but the poetry is still, whenever I write poetry, it comes just like it always came, two or three poems at a time, you know, and then, then it's gone and maybe in a year I'll write anything else [Laughs]. 00:17:00
JT: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
BH: You know, I, two things, I grew up in the sixties, so that was a time thatAfrican American literature was at the forefront, but before that I was really interested in the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes, people like that, you know, Zora Neale Hurston, all of these people they was just fantastic people, I wish I could have been there back in that era. So I always liked Langston Hughes, I read a lot of his work, then when the Black Power movement came along they had so many people, Nicki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Etheridge Knight, LeRoi Jones, who later became Amiri Baraka, I began to read them and listen to them, and then there was a group called the Last Poets, I really fell in love with the Last Poets, and so I patterned my style between the crossover Langston Hughes 00:18:00and the Last Poets, so, and now whenever I do write it all comes from experiences, you know, experiences in life, either experiences that I had, or sometimes that other people shared with me, you know people think that writers all the time, especially poets, they think you write a love poem, it's about you and somebody you love, well not necessarily, it's a love poem but it's about somethin' that somebody else experienced, so you heard something about it, you know, so most of my inspiration comes from things around me, life in general, you know, yeah.
JT: Okay, so all those poets you mentioned, in particular how did they influenceyour writing, style [Unintelligible]?
BH: Well, the Last Poets, it was the sixties, and it was the Black Powermovement, and I was a young man and I never was, how can I put this without offending anybody, I wasn't a Dr. King type person, I was more of a Malcolm X 00:19:00[Laughs] type person, the revolution, Black Power, all of this, the Last Poets was, they're poetry was just kind of revolutionary type stuff saying things that I felt at the time, wanted to change the world and all of this stuff, so what they was sayin' and how they were sayin' it was, was, I guess you could say, like sayin' they were the first rappers because they used the drums, the congas, and all of this and had to go on and what they was sayin' at the time, it made sense to me of the ideology that I believed in, so I leaned toward that, you know, so, Nicki Giovanni, you know, they was just, the sixties was such a, how can I say, a creative time that you was free to do, African Americans they, that was one of the times that we was able to produce and create our own literature, 00:20:00you know.
BH: African Americans, that was one of the times that we was able to produce andcreate our own literature. You know, Harlem Renaissance we was able to create our own lit- but we wasn't producing it so much. But in the sixties when the Black Power Movement came along the creativitys and producing and doing your own thing, doing your own thing was in-in style then you know, yeah.
JT: Cool. Okay. Let's see. Well I guess, when you were young, did you see thearts as your long term goal to be a career- or were they just-
BH: No, no, no, (laughter from both) I can answer that for ya right now, yeah,no, no I did not see the arts, as a matter a fact I wasn't into poetry, I wasn't into theatre, all of that happened after I was you know, "grown" (makes quotation marks with his hands) so to speak. No, when I was young growing up, I did love to read, I did love to read. That was always something that I used to like to do. Books, comic books, newspapers, anything that I could get my hand 00:21:00on. I-I-I had a love for reading. So, I guess it was there, but being, growin' up in the south, in the segregated south, a lot of the literatures and stuff that may have been presented in-in the white schools was not presented in our schools, so we didn't, we wasn't exposed to that. My grandparents raised me, they was old, they could barely read and write, so there, they didn't expose me to the arts, you know. So no, as-as a kid growing up I-I never dreamed of bein' and doing all the things that I'm doing now with the poetry, the theatre, the radio, no that was not- My thing coming out of school really was to be a social worker, you know that's what I thought I wanted to do, because I had this desire to help people and change things so I wanted to be a social worker but the arts no it's it-it was a far thing from my mind, you know.
JT: So, how- when did you make that transition, then, from social worker to
BH: When-when, I began to, you know, do the DJ thing.00:22:00
BH: That exposed me to music and I always had a love of music, you know, I usedto listen to all kind of music, you know, country and western, I didn't care. Whatever I could listen to I always did- but the DJing thing exposed me to music in terms of that. Then I began to meet a lot of musicians. Then when I got involved with the Black Arts and Culture Center, I began to meet a lotta other writers, poets, and visual artists, James Palmore, who's an excellent artist, Reggie Gammon, James Watkins, just all kinda people that was just fantastic artists and-and, they helped me approach my craft, with a seriousness cuz I saw how they approached their craft even though
they was doing visual arts and I was doing literary arts I saw how theyapproached they craft I saw how they had that love for it. So it changed my whole way of thinking about this-this poetry writing thing, you know, and then I 00:23:00began to meet other poets, and-and-and socialize with them, and then I-I got an opportunity to get into the theatre, you know. And there, that gave me more exposure to the theater so, and then Linda [Tinsley?] introduced me sorta to the theatre. I had my first role in a play called The Meeting, I played Malcolm X, that was cool cuz I always loved Malcolm, so I got a chance to play it. I was in the play with Sid Ellis who is the executive director of the Black Arts Center now. He played Dr. King and I-I- that gave me that exposure. Then, I met Dr. Von Washington Senior. And that just took me a whole 'nother way in terms of appreciating the arts, the theatre, writing, playwriting, all of that. You know, so there-there been a lot of people who just- by being exposed to them led to exposure to other things in the arts you know, so. 00:24:00
JT: Hmm. How would you say that you've changed as an artist, as you've-
BH: Well, I hope I've gotten better (laughter from both) That's the first thing-I'd like to think I've gotten a lil' bit better, and-and- I do think I've gotten better, not to brag, but when I look back at some of the earlier works that I wrote and I still look at it, you know, I was- I been fortunate enough to self-publish several books of poetry. So when I look back at that first book and my last book, I can see, I can see the change there, so-so I-I think I've improved as an artist. My appreciation for the art itself has grown, my knowledge about art, the art, theatre, writing, poetry, and stuff has changed. So I've grown as an artist, and I-I think that's where I-I can look back and say that I've grown as an artist and-and I'm happy with my growth. Yeah. 00:25:00
JT: So, you talked a little bit about before how, like, you saw art as a way forsocial change, and you wanted to be part of a, like a revolution.
JT: Can you just talk a little bit more about that?
BH: Well, you know, in-in the sixties it was- literary arts was a means forAfrican Americans to express themselves. It was a means for us to be a part of the Civil Rights Movement, by sharing our thoughts. You had playwrights who was writing plays that talked about the injustice that was going on, the fight for freedom, you had poets who writing about what was happening at that time, you had singers who was singing' about it. So everybody, singers, artists, everybody was trying to express themselves and their views on what was happening to us as a people and-and through their art. So that was my thing, I felt that that was 00:26:00my way of -of making some type of contribution, you know, to be able to express myself and share with people and to bring about awareness a-a-about struggles, bring about awareness of our pride and stuff like that you know. So that's how I felt that I could bring about some kinda change, not so much from what was happening around me but from what was, what people were thinking, cuz as a writer you-you're trying to share your views and-and-and wake people, make them aware of different things through your art. And poetry it-it's a sweet, easy way to do that, sometimes, you know, so.
JT: Mhhmm, how- how much, how much of your art would you say is about like, ispersonal, and how much would you say is speaking to the political?
BH: Well, when I first started out it all was political (laughs) you know. I00:27:00think my-my whole focus was on this revolutionary thing, the Black Power thing. Because it was the sixties, the times was changing and then you still had a little bit of that going on till the seventies. I had came back from Vietnam the whole thing had changed, the two years while I was in the service, you know everything was just changing. So when I started out I think a lot of it was more political then personal. As I began to grow as a writer it didn't become-a lot of it is not personal as it is human. I began to write more about the human experience. Still with the focus and the viewpoint of an African American, but also from a viewpoint as a human. A lot of the things that I write about in my poetry was- was aimed at just making people aware that yeah we're all human. Now, when I do plays and everything having studied, not, when I say studied with 00:28:00Dr. Washington, I never had a class from him or anything I just worked with him and learned from him by watching him. I tried to tell the African American story, okay and share our struggles but yet our accomplishments, our pride and all of that so now it's more, it's a little personal, some of- some of it is my experience I'd say personal from a standpoint of our history as a people.
JT: Okay. Let's see, so how do you use your art specifically to like engagediscussion in Kalamazoo?
BH: Well, the radio show is-is-is-is what I'm doing now. I've had all kindaguests on my show. You know, everything from pimps to preachers, you know so, you know, if you wanna come on you can come on, you know (laughter). But what I 00:29:00try to do is-my thing is that- number one is, is it's the passing of information that's the first thing. Number two, entertainment, okay, and then number three, have fun while you're doing that, you know. So you can pass out information, you can entertain and you can enjoy what you're doin'. So, so I-I think my show, what I try to do with it is to-to pass out information, make people aware of different things and inspire, motivate, you know, hopefully some of that happens, you know, sometimes I have somebody come on and say "oh wow, hey I heard one of your comments, one of your commentaries the other day and wow that was right on point," well that makes you feel good, that mean that you reached somebody. You know, so yeah, so inspire, motivate but entertain, and inform, and enjoy what you're doing, you know.
JT: Are there any issues particular to Kalamazoo that you really focus on?
BH: You know, my thing, first of all, is to deal with African American people,00:30:00in terms of our pride, in terms of what we're doing, as a people. I mean, we're all down here together, but there's nothing wrong with being proud of who you are. If you're an Irishman, then you should be proud of you Irish heritage. If you're French, it doesn't matter, you know what I'm saying? So that's my first thing, is trying to make -- especially our young people -- understand what took place for them to be where they are right now, and the proud history that they have in this country as a people, and the things that we've accomplished, you know. I mean, look at, now we have an African-American President, but long before that, we had a lot of people who accomplished so many firsts, you see what I'm saying, you know. So, my thing is to try to inspire that. But also, the other thing is to inspire and motivate us as human beings, because at the end of 00:31:00the day, that's what we all are, you see what I'm saying? Because once we leave this life, so to speak, and we're both laying there on the slab, it doesn't matter whether you're black or white, we're both laying there and that's it, we're done, we're finished. So in the end we're all human, we all bleed, we all cry, we all suffer, we all have fun, and in the end, we all die. So in the midst of inspiring and motivating my people, I also want to motivate us as human beings and say, hey, you know, yeah, a lot of this stuff that's going on--it's gonna go on, but we can deal with a lot of this stuff if we realize, that, we're all human. In the end we all want the same thing. It's just like with religion, you know, you have all these different religions, but I think they're all trying to get to the same place, you know, I mean... [Laughs] they wanna go up instead of down, you know what I'm saying? I don't care what they call themselves, they 00:32:00don't wanna go down, you know, so, and that's the way it is with us as humans, we're all human, and we're down here on this earth, and this is where we're gonna be, you know.
JT: To get to where you are today, have you faced any significant challenges?
BH: I think one of my main challenges was always the fact that I started late,and I had a family and everything, and didn't have my mind set as to where I wanted to go, so therefore it was always a struggle to do what I do and to work, 'cause I had to work, sometimes seven days a week, because I had a family to take care of, so that was one of my challenges. I wasn't able to just focus on my writing, focus on my acting, or focus on... that was the challenge. However, having a job, a full-time job that paid pretty decent, it gave me the 00:33:00opportunity to be free to create. I didn't have to compromise some of my work, you see what I'm saying. You know, 'cause I didn't depend on it for a living. You know. I could really write poetry for the sake of writing poetry, and say what I wanted, so if I sent it to an editor and they sent it back and said, (?whlwlrl?) it didn't matter. That's how I got into self-publishing, I (?figured?) well, hey, you know, this stuff is good, you just don't know what I'm talking about. So I began to publish my own stuff and then, it was time, that, I just gave people a book because I wanted them to read it. I could afford to do that because I wasn't depending on it for a living. But on the other hand, it may have hindered me in terms of how far I might- could have been today. Who knows, but. I'm happy where I'm at with it, but the challenge has always been how do you blend, you know, your writing and your work? And a lot of times, the work rules out, [Laughs] you know. 00:34:00
JT: Where did you work, during your writing process?
BH: I worked at- well, I started out, it was Upjohn, and when I retired, afterthirty-five years, it was Pfizer. So that pretty much was my career. Before that I had kind of worked in retail, uh (?well?) [Laughs] It really wasn't what I wanted to do. [Laughs] But my whole time here in Kalamazoo, as far as a full-time job... Now, I've had a lot of little part-time things in there, I've been the Executive Director for the Black Arts Center, I coached basketball at Nazareth, I did (? this, that DJ?). But those was always just part-time things, that was done more for enjoyment, sometimes they paid, sometimes they didn't, you know. But the full-time thing was always Upjohn, and I was fortunate enough to work there, and retire after thirty-five years, and to have it better than some people had it. So for that, I'm thankful, and blessed, as they say. You 00:35:00know, so that was always my main thing, which has been a good thing, so.
JT: Throughout your time living in Kalamazoo, have you seen any significant changes?
BH: Uh, yeah, some good, some bad. Kalamazoo, the city itself, has grown. Thereare a lot of things here that wasn't here, and, I came to Kalamazoo in, what, '67, '66, somewhere around there. The good thing is that Kalamazoo, the city itself, has grown. The bad thing is that a lot of things for African-Americans have changed, and not grown, (?as they were?) In the sixties, we had more businesses, we had more creative outlets, we had more a sense of pride, more a sense of unity, all of that stuff. I think some of that has (?dwindled?), you 00:36:00know, to some degree. Kalamazoo itself, as a city, a whole, there, I mean, when I started at KVCC, they had one little building out there, you know, you went out there... Now, it's like, I mean, you go to KVCC, they got all kind of opportunities. You have KVCC, K College, Western, you got Davenport, you just got all these opportunities, so there are more educational opportunities, so yeah, the city itself and things within the city, a lot have changed, so. I think the most significant changes that I've seen has been with the [Kalamazoo] Promise that came along, that was a big change, that opened up a lot of things for young people to get an education. That right there was a major change, you know, so. I think that's one of the biggest changes that I've seen in my lifetime here, you know, yeah.
JT: Any specific changes in, like, your area of work, in the arts?
BH: Well, no, because, you know, I think Kalamazoo has been and still is a00:37:00wonderful art town, okay? And when I say art, I'm not just talking about Irish art, Black art, I'm talking about art in general, you know, the arts community. I mean, look at all the theaters we have here, that you could go see a play just about any time of the week that you want to, there's always some plays going. There's clubs where you have music, different things. There's so many writers here, with the colleges and all of this. So it's always been that, you know, I think that more peope, I would like to see more people, and especially more African-Americans be a part of that. You have the Art Hop, uh, wonderful. I mean that is something that, man, you can just see all kinds of the creative there, I mean, jewelry-making, art, you name it, you know. And I would just like to see especially more African-Americans be more of a part of that scene, you know. But 00:38:00the arts scene here in Kalamazoo has grown bigger and bigger. But it's always been a good place to be for an artist. Even an African-American artist.JT: Have you faced any specific challenges in your work due to the fact that you are African-American?
BH: For me, no, simply because, again, I wasn't dependent on it for a living. Soif I saw anything that wasn't right I could go, like, hey, I don't have to deal with this, you know, so, I've never really faced those challenges myself, in terms of, as an individual, for an outlet, really, I've had all kinds of support from non-African-Americans. I've done a lot of -- I work in the school system that was -- I was there because non-African-Americans wanted me to come there, invited me. So no, I haven't seen it, but I think the challenges that a lot of 00:39:00African-American artists find now is just support from the African-American community; that's where the challenge lies, and I face that challenge, you know, I think if you're trying to sell your work, or if you're performing, trying to get people to come see you, I think we as African-American artists, we find that our challenge is getting more African-Americans to be a part of that, you know, so.
JT: I want to know more about-- I just feel like there's so much more you cantell me about your art and the process and everything. So the title of your most recent book of poetry is "Love Poems for Women or Men Sensitive Enough to Read Them"?
BH: Right! (Laughs)
JT: How did you, [inaudible]
BH: Well, here, again, what I did was, I took all of these experiences fromdifferent people, I have a lot of female friends, I listen to what they say, 00:40:00okay. Funny thing about females, if they find a male that'll really listen to them and know that he's listenin because he's interested and not because he's trying to hit on them or anything, know that he really cares-- they will tell you things, they will open up, they will share with you, you know, so what I did was, I had all of these poems in my mind that I wanted to do, and I wrote this manuscript, and I gave it to five ladies of various ages and color, and got their opinion on it, you know, and from what they- from the feedback I got from them, I put all of these poems together, and the reason- I came up with the title, "Love Poems for Women or Men who are Sensitive Enough to Read Them" because men should be sensitive to read poetry, you know a lot of times men go, ?ehh?, I don't need to read no poetry, but they should be. But the sensitivity was to the feelings of these ladies, to the feelings of the opposite sex, you 00:41:00know, that's where the sensitivity comes in, I think a lot of times men don't get into that, you know, they don't really understand. But me having all of these female friends and being around them I understood a lot of what they was going through just by listening to them talk, and that's how a lot of these ideas came, so, no, the book is not all about me. (Laughs)
JT: Have you found that your-- So you were talking about before, the differencebetween your first book of poetry and your last book of poetry, the difference in content, or [inaudible]
BH: Oh, by all means, I mean when I pick up that first book of poetry, I go, Ohmy God, did I writes this? What was I thinking? I mean it wasn't bad, but it wasn't where I, you know, I don't know. I've seen the changes, not only in my writing style, in my ability to write, but also in my thinking. But that should 00:42:00happen when you mature, as an adult. So if you're a writer and you're mature, your writing should reflect that. If you're a singer and you're mature, your singing should reflect that, you see what I'm saying. So, you know, when I look back and I see what I was doing, yes it was good, but I was always trying to be better. And that's what you should do as a writer, you want each one to be better, at least that's what you're shooting for, you know. So, have I had a best-seller? Nah, not really. Have I had success? Yes. I was fortunate enough that Dr. Ben Wilson, who was a retired professor at Western Michigan University-- he used one of my books in his black studies class, for two years, so that meant, every semester, students was buying my book! That was a success, you know what I'm saying!? (Laughs) So that was my best-seller, of all times, 00:43:00you know. Being a self-publisher, and publishing-- how do you base success as a self-publisher? Well, I base it on the fact that, if I made my money back that I spent to publish the book, then that's a success, and so far I've been able to do that, you know, so I didn't get rich off of, and you won't get rich off of writing poetry, you have to do other things. That's how I got into playwriting and stuff, writing columns, but if the book paid for itself and you was able to get your work out there to the public, and then get your money back, that's a success.
JT: What's- has there been a moment when you've been most proud of your work?
BH: Yeah, I guess, when I received the Community Medal of Arts, from the ArtCouncil, because I was in the company of so many talented artists that I had heard about, and read about, in this community, you know. And to have my name on 00:44:00that wall-- I walk past it sometime now, I stop and look at it-- to have my name up there with these talented artists, and some of them was instructors that I had in college, you know, so to have my name associated with them and to receive that award, that was a proud moment. The other one, was when I, year before last, I received the Tony Griffin Radio Announcer Award, and that was another one, because that was something that was judged and given to you by your peers, you know. And anytime you can be honored by your peers is a good thing. It's always great to be honored by anybody, but when the people who do what you do single you out and say, hey, this year, you is the best at doing that, that's- that's an honor, that's really something to be proud of, you know. I'm proud of 00:45:00all of the awards that I've received, but those two really stand out because they related to what I was doing as an artist.
JT: So the second one you mentioned was for radio,--
BH: MhhmJT: The first one you mentioned--
BH: Was the Community Medal of Art as an artist, as a poet.
JT: And that was given by--
BH: By the Art Council of Kalamazoo
JT: Oh-- can you talk about your involvement in that organization?
BH: Well, I'm not involved with the Art Council so much as it is the Black Artsand Culture Center.
BH: Yeah. The Black Arts and Culture Center was founded about, hm, maybetwenty-seven, twenty-eight years ago, by a group of people, I think it was James Palmore, Gail Sydnor- since deceased, Lois Jackson, and I think it was one other person, but, Bertha McNeal, who is one of the members of the Velvelettes brought the idea to them. She had been to a festival, mighta been in her hometown, I'm not sure, but she brought this idea back to them, and the four of them, and all 00:46:00of them got together, and they said, hey, why don't we do a festival that would highlight African-American culture, African-American talent, okay. And that's how it came about. Was since that time that I've been involved with them. I've served as the board President, I've served as the Executive Director, and now, I'm back as the President again. But, I do that because that's where I got my start, that's what provided me the opportunity to do the things that I've done. That's where I started acting, that's where I started writing. So my involvement with them will continue, because I feel like that's something that I need to give back to other young writers, other young actors and poets and what have you.
JT: So in your community work you obviously have [inaudible] a lot of people, sowhat's some core principles that you have?
BH: Basically, if you working for the right thing, and you're sincere about what00:47:00you're doing, and you're sincere about helping people, then I can work with you, you know. Sincerity is what I look for in a person, I don't care who they are. If you're sincere about what you're doing, and it's for a good cause, and you're doing it the right way, and you're putting your heart and soul into it, let's do it, I can work with you. So that's what I look for, you know. If you're just there on an ego-trip, if you're just there to put something on your resume, then no, I don't have the time for that. But sincerity, sincerity is what I look for. I can deal with anybody that's sincere, no matter who it is.
JT: So obviously you care a lot about the community, and you feel like it'simportant, but what would you say to other people, who are not [inaudible]--
BH: Well, I tell em that they should, because this is where you live, and if youlive somewhere, then you should do something to try to help improve, you know, 00:48:00that way of life, not only for yourself, but for your children, your grandchildren, whomever. I look at it this way, it's like, the community where I live is like-- the things that I do is my way of paying rent for living here, you know what I'm sayin? It's like, I've had a good job here, I've had a good life here, I've raised my children here, so it's my way of saying, hey, I want this to continue. So I usually tell people, hey, you should be involved in the community, in some aspect. It doesn't-- you don't have to be in the arts, you could be in politics, which-- I would never go into politics-- why anybody'd wanna go into that-- but we need that. But you could be into politics, you could be into the Church, whatever you're into or find that you can provide something positive. Maybe it's not always giving as much time as myself and other people give, because there are other people that give way more time than I do, you 00:49:00know. But maybe it's just a matter of giving a donation here and there, maybe it's a time of just going to volunteer and do something, you see. So, so, no, I would tell people, get involved. Get involved, because this is where you live, and it all revolves around the people themselves. The people is the key to everything, you know, we really have the power to change things and to make things happen. But you gotta be involved, you know, and you can't change anything that you don't know nothin about.
JT: So at the Black Arts and Cultural Center, so what in particular do they do there?
BH: Basically, well, everybody know them for doing the Black Arts Festival, butwe also do things that are--
BH: Our goal is to make people aware of African American culture and history.And to provide an avenue for African American artists to express themselves and 00:50:00be exposed to the community. So we have the theater, we do the theater, we are also doing a youth theater type thing we're starting. Matter of fact, I'm doing the festival this week, this year I'm gonna be working with a group of youth, they're gonna work with me to write a play about adults. Actually the title of this play is-is "What is Wrong with Our Adults", so that's a whole 'nother thing. But we-we-we also have a writing, cultural programs, history programs, we work in partnership with different organization, we've worked with The Boys and Girls clubs, the school system, K College, Western Michigan University. So it's-it's really about promoting and-and-and-and encouraging African-American artists and promoting them and providing them, while sharing all of this with the community as a whole. 00:51:00
JT: So how-Was there a time in your life that made you, like, that reallysparked this interested in community?
BH: Yesterday. No. (both laugh) Well, you know (pauses) when I was growing up, Iwas always involved in the church, so that was, that was something that made me aware of what was happening here. And I say that because of my grandparents, you know, not because I was going "Oh, I want to be in the church," no, I had to. But, the community thing, again, when I met Gail Sydnor at the Black Arts and Culture Center. That's the person that pushed me into the community and community service. And once you begin to do things and meet people, then you do other things, next thing you know, you're doing a lot of things, you know, and I just found myself a lot of opportunities that I took advantage of, a lot of 00:52:00things I put myself and say "Hey, yeah, I want to be a part of this organization, I want to be a part of that if somebody asked me to." So, but Gail Sydnor really sparked my-my-my community interest. Not just in the art, bit in the community as itself to do community service, you know, yeah.
JT: And so why, in particular, do you feel like it's important to educateAfrican American youth?
BH: Because, I think so many of our young people don't know their history. Theydon't know first of all the struggle, you know. Yeah, they've heard about slavery and all of this stuff, but, you know, my granddaughter is sixteen years old, , what ?, that don't mean anything to her, you know what I'm saying? They've heard about segregation, but she didn't live through it, you didn't live through it, you know, you see it on TV and everything, but I think it's important that we all know it. Just as as it is important for all people to know their history, and most people do that, you know. I mean the Irish people, they 00:53:00know their history, you know what I'm sayin? Jewish people, they know their history. Asian people, know their history. So I think there's nothing wrong with everybody knowin' their history. America is a big melting pot, we're all here in America but we all have a diverse history, it just so happened that African Americans and Angelo-Saxon as they say, you know, intertwined a little bit more than everybody else. But I think it's important that our young people know that you have a proud history before you came here, and since you been in this country. And you should know the accomplishments and things that-that we made in this country and the contributions that we made to this country, y'know.
JT: Is there-Is there a particular memory that you have when you became aware ofyour race and how it affects you?
BH: Well, yeah, growing up in Georgia. I mean, you know, I mean I went to asegregated school. I think the first time I was in a classroom with white 00:54:00students was in 1970, '71 or '72, when I came back, '71, when I started going to KVCC and I had came back outta the service. That was the first time I was in a classroom with white students, you know. So yeah, I was, I was made aware of that from the time I was, well, in Florida, I was made, it was aware, but I wasn't aware, so to speak. Because I lived in the city, and we had this huge African American community, that well, you know, hey, if I didn't see you white people, it didn't matter, you know. But in Georgia, yes, I was made aware of it then because I going to segregated school, there was segregated fountains that you could, you couldn't go here, you couldn't go there, you know. So that's when it became aware that, yeah, because of my color, there was things that other people enjoyed, I couldn't enjoy, you know. I wanted them, I was entitled to 00:55:00them, but I couldn't enjoy them because of my color, so yeah, when I came to live in Georgia is when I really begin to become aware of it. Not so much from incidences that happened to me, because I really didn't have any individual incedent, but as a collective, as a people, it-it affected me, ya know. Knowing that, yeah, I didn't even know where the white school was when I was growin' up, you know. We used to, I knew there was a white school, because we used to get their old books, that became our new books. There were certain sections of town that I couldn't go in, and places you couldn't eat at, you know. So, yeah, it, that, that's when I began to be aware of everything, you know. So, yeah.JT: Can you, can you just speak a little bit more about how, like, how growing up in segregation effected you and effects you now?
BH: Well, you know, at the time it didn't affect me to where I was, I felt like,00:56:00oh, I was threatened, you know, because we lived out in the country. I was fortunate enough that my grandfather, we didn't share crop, he had his own farm, so I didn't have to work for the Man, as they say. So I was able to go to school and do all the things, I worked on, we had our own land that we worked on. So from that standpoint I wasn't affected. But from the standpoint that I was black I was affected, because of the fact that I could say, the education that I got, we had good teachers and everything, but I think that there was things that we, we was denied, that we could have had better. There was places (coughs), 'scuse me, there was places that we couldn't go to to eat, you see what I'm sayin', you know. There was things that we couldn't do because we was black, you know. So from that standpoint, yeah I was effected by that as a whole, you know. But that's what the whole Civil Rights movement was about, and being part of that, 00:57:00and growing up in that environment, I realized that, yeah, these things were worth fighting for, you know, because it was an injustice, you know, to have a people that couldn't vote, you know, couldn't drink from the same water fountain, you know. It was, it was just one of those things that yeah, it affected me as a person, as a person of color, yes.
JT: Ok, great. Well, I think we gotta start wrapping up, but I feel like theres,now theres a million more things I want to ask you. But is there anything else you want to add before we close?
BH: Well, you know, I-I-I I think that the things that I've done, and enjoyedare, a lot of them again has been that opportunities came about, and I was able to take advantage of the opportunities, so that was a good, but you can only take advantage of an opportunity if you're prepared to take advantage of it. Just because someone give you an opportunity and you're not prepared, it don't 00:58:00mean that the opportunity is just there. So you have to always kinda know what you wanna do, I wished I had of known a little bit earlier, but once I did know, and find the things that I wanted to do, then I tried to prepare myself for those things. So, I guess my thing is always work towards being prepared, you know. Try to be prepared. Know what you wanna do, and then go do it. If you're an artist, whether you want to be an actor or you want to be a writer, a visual artist, whatever, find out about those things. What does it take, know the business end of it as well, especially if you want to do it for a livin'. Again, you know, I was able to do it for purely enjoyment to some degree, because I had a full time job, so I really could do it for enjoyment, but of you want to do it for a living, you need to know the business end of the craft, you know. Know your craft, learn your craft, and know what it's about, you know. And, again, 00:59:00sincerity, I look for that in people, you gotta be sincere, you know.
JT: Great, well thank you so much for your time this was-
BH: Thank you.
JT: Really interesting.
BH: Oh, thank you
JT: Thanks so much.
BH: All right, appreciate it.