Interview: Al Black – Poet & Activist


One of the goals of PaisleyPerspective is to share the opinions & ideas of others.  A recent Q&A with Al Black creator behind the Columbia, SC poetry venue ‘Mind Gravy’ brought about some interesting discussion.  Al gives open and honest opinions about living in South Carolina including his thoughts about the Confederate flag that is on State House grounds as well as activism in his home state of Indiana.  I know that this Q&A will raise some eyebrows and I hope start open and honest dialogue.

This is not the first time Al Black’s name has graced the PaislyPerspective blog, he has provided us with poetry in the past.  You can find his poetic verses by selecting poetry under the category list.  In an upcoming post you can hear Al Black in his own words reading two poems at his ‘Mind Gravy’ poetry venue.   You can also check out the ‘Mind Gravy’ page on Facebook.

Al Black
Al Black

Paisley:  So tell me, how does a Hoosier end up living in South Carolina?

Al Black:  After our four kids got older my wife, Carol, returned to school in her late 40’s; she received her doctorate in Sociology from Purdue University at age 55 in 2008.  She deserved her own career so she became a professor at Newberry College and I closed my business in Indianapolis and joyfully followed.  I am now the dashing trophy husband and a Hoosier in the Land of Cotton.

Paisley:  What are some of the main differences you’ve noticed between Indiana & South Carolina with regard to the overall society? 

Al Black:  The weather first of all – I do not miss snow and cold.

Socially the ‘Good ‘ol Boy’ network is entrenched here in the Deep South.  Things are more relaxed – which can be good, but it also means issues are tolerated that would never be tolerated up North.  Example: Black folks and most White folks up North would never tolerate that hateful Civil War flag be flying nor would the racial agitator, Wade Hampton, be still sitting on a statue of a horse as a show of white dominance on the State House lawn.  I believe 100% of Black folks and the majority of White folks in

South Carolina are disgusted with this, but it is why it is tolerated I don’t know.
Here in the South being polite is ingrained in the culture and it took awhile for me to know when I was being dismissed or welcomed.  Overall, we are happy here and making many friends and social contacts

Paisley:  You have a blog ‘HoosierInTheLandOfCotton’ What type of topics do you primarily write about?

Al Black:  I don’t post often enough.  I started writing this when I first moved here and felt like such a fish out of water; as I become more involved in community I post less often.  Mostly, I post my observations as a Hoosier in the Land of Cotton and an occasional poem.  Prior to blogging I never shared my poems in writings – so moving here and becoming a fish on dry land is a good thing.

Paisley:  What is your opinion regarding flying the Confederate flag on the grounds of the SC State House? 

Al Black:  First all those who first unfurled this rag above the State House in the 60’s in response to the ending of Jim Crow and segregation are so ignorant that they don’t even know that this is not the Confederate flag, but that it is the Army of Virginia’s battle flag.  So claims of honoring South Carolina’s Confederate soldiers with a Virginia battle flag is erroneous and an insult to the whole concept of ‘State’s Rights.’  I could go on and on, but to no avail – I am working on a 3 act play using Wade Hampton’s own words that I hope to stage in a year or so.  I using his own words as dialogue, because staging the truth will have backlash- especially when I close the play with a surprise ending regarding the Confederate flag.

Paisley:  What is your opinion of the current South Carolina governor? 

Al Black:  If I have nothing good to say I try to be silent – I have nothing to say about the governor.

Paisley:  You have a poetry venue named ‘Mind Gravy’. How did you come about the name? 

Al Black:  When I was starting to put this venue together I needed a catchy name and I had just written a short poem about waking up with new lines for poetry being revealed in my dreams, “…..poems sliced thin drenched in gravy of dreams forgot.  Hence. I named it Mind Gravy.

Paisley:  What is the purpose of ‘Mind Gravy’ and what type of poetry or other talent do you highlight?  Also when does ‘Mind Gravy’ take place and is there a website? 

Al Black:  Originally, I was seeking a small group (8-10) who would get together regularly and share and discuss poetry in a workshop atmosphere so we could work on our craft together – a closed group strongly committed to regular attendance – then I realized that there was no venue for poetry except at a local bar and it was primarily for performance and slam poets.  I have a knack for organizing so I decided that starting a venue would be a wonderful service and adventure.

Mind Gravy is every Wednesday from 8-10 PM and is presently held at the Tapp’s Arts Center;  I purposely host Mind Gravy at locations that are not a bar, because I want to encourage participation & attendance of the under 21 crowd – so they have a place to come for creative expression.

I am thinking of doing a Mind Gravy blog, but I do not want to start a blog and not post regularly.  I think in the near future I will start a blog.

I believe all creativity streams from God through what Christians often call the Holy Spirit.  We reflect this creative energy much like a mirror reflects the rays that stream from the sun.  The diversity of expression is a not a condition of the Holy Spirit, but rather is dependent upon the type and amount of dross and worldliness that clouds the mirror of our hearts.  In a sense Mind Gravy is a worship service.

The main focus of Mind Gravy is poetry, but I want to encourage all creative expressions.  We start with a guest musician who does original music, we follow with featured poet and then open mic for poets and musicians.  We have occasionally had dancers and visual artists(painters) participate, as well.

I would say 60% of our poets are page poets, but I encourage and feature slam, performance, dub, etc…..I do not like that the different forms of poetic expression do not mix and often they diss on the other forms of poetry.   We also try to really keep the musical expression varied and mixed.  Mind Gravy tries to encourage the acceptance of the diverse range of creative expression – toleration is not good enough we must have acceptance.

On the first Wednesday of each month I have turned over hosting and organizing duties to a local hip hop artist SheemOne TheMC.  He books the creative talent and hosts the venue; he brings a wonderfully fresh vibe to Mind Gravy on the first Wednesdays.
The third Wednesday is Columbia Writer’s Alliance night and we encourage the use of prose writing in addition to original poetry and music; it also is an opportunity to highlight the work of the Columbia Writer’s Alliance.

Paisley:  I know you to be very opinionated; have you always been this open & honest even during your youth? Were you active in civil rights or social rights activism? 

Al Black:  I was active in the anti-war movement and civil rights movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  In Indiana I have been the VP of the NAACP Chapter and a national convention delegate.  In the mid 90’s when the KKK announced they would do a public recruitment drive on the courthouse steps of my home town I founded an organization that put together a unity march & concert with thousands of participants the weekend before the KKK’s recruitment drive to show that our city was for unity and not hate and race mongering.

I was a diversity trainer at Purdue University and served on various community boards – including being the only non-Christian on the board of Lafayette Urban Ministries and the only non-Jew to serve as chairman of the International Holocaust Conference held annually at Purdue University.  This is a short list of activities and organizations I have been involved with.

In Greater Columbia I also work with the 4th Annual Reel Black Pix Film Festival, the Columbia Writer’s Alliance and I am active in my faith community, Baha’i Faith.  I am sure as time goes on the participation in the social fabric of the Midlands will expand.

Paisley:  How have you instilled in your children a passion for being honest & active in society? 

Al Black:  They are not as active at starting organizing and protest but they do get involved in their communities.  I think showing them by example is how they became aware of right and wrong.  I believe my wife & I have been successful in doing [showing right from wrong]: we are proud of what they have become and their values of community and family.

Paisley:  Finally, other than your blog & poetry venue are you involved with other cultural activities? 

Al Black:  I try to support other artistic venues and artists and I am beginning to work directly to assist the careers of a couple of deserving talented musicians.  Being a trophy husband of a professor at Newberry College has given me the opportunity to attend events there and I have read poetry and featured at some events outside the Columbia area and South Carolina.

I believe I am most talented as an organizer and I expect to expand the reach of what I do beyond Wednesday nights @ Mind Gravy.

We all have talents and there is no such thing as doing nothing – not speaking up on issues or participating in your community is in its self a statement and an irretrievable squandering of your gifts and potential.


7 thoughts on “Interview: Al Black – Poet & Activist

  1. Great questions! Great answers! Great cultural, community, contribution!
    Great community response! I love Mind Gravy! Who would have thought id be writing poetry. It’s not ready for public presentation, but im putting words on paper instead of trying to separate all the mixed thoughts in my mind. Thanks to Porchia Moore & Joyce Rose-Harris for sharing your passion for poetry with me. Thanks to Al Black for inviting me to Mind Gravy.

  2. Joyce & all, Don’t believe the ‘hype’ about being a trophy husband. He knows he is no such thing. We have always each had our own interests and skills, and worked at what we love. Sometimes we get paid for it, sometimes not. I was a stay at home mom for 11 years at a different point in my life. He now does Mind Gravy & doesn’t get paid for that. He did sports programs for youth in Indiana and never got paid for that. We do what we love & try to better our communities or family in some way. The important thing is to share goals and values, & still enjoy each other’s company as well. (But he’s no trophy husband! That’s a lotta bunk.

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