Cecil Brown and Kimberly Bryant, Black Girls Code
Oakland-based artist Bill Hammond and local figure Donald Lacy, Jr. recently held the Urban Games Suite. In association with San Francisco Black Film Festival, the two brought together famed cartoonist Morrie Turner and animator Leo D. Sullivan - the two most veteran African-American cartoonist and animators living today for this event.
They invited me to attend.
The event took place in three places: The African American Cultural Center, on Fulton; the screening room on Fillmore (about a block away.); and at the Rasselas Club, just up the street on Fillmore. These locations were in walking distance from each other and this made for a unified experience. While being unified, the way from the three locations allowed a lot of diversity for lingering and observing the street life on Fillmore.
Here is a recap of my walk:
June 17, Father’s Day, I leave Oakland for San Francisco to see Kimberley Bryant’s Black Girls Code workshop, which was the first event to be presented by the Urban Game Suite festival. After finding (rare) space in the spacious parking of the African American Cultural Center on Fulton, I entered the museum.
On the third floor, I saw young African-American girls and boys standing in a circle around Ms. Bryant. With a welcoming nod, Ms. Bryant invited me to join them. Ms. Bryant asked us to engage in a conversation with at least two people in the group.
Then, they were asked to tell as much about the people they had just met. This was a useful exercise before they all had to sit down in front of their computers and create games, because it showed how important memory is.
Ms. Kimberley gave the young people hands on workshop on the Kudo program. She was assisted by two teenagers, Elijah and Spencer Butterfield. The students learned how to make animated stories by using visual and sound tools. Within an hour and half, they excitedly presented their work. And they learned how to program a computer, to boot.
I left the cultural center and walked up the block to Fillmore - and walked right into the Juneteenth Celebration.
The sun had not come out and there was a cool wind, but this did not dampen the spirit of the people out to have a good time on Father’s Day.
There was a New Orleans-styled band playing jazz, the collective improvisational jazz. There were people eating soul food on skewers and laugher in the air. There was a group of the ladies taking iPhone pictures of themselves in front of their convertible Mercedes. Within in seconds, two pimps, dressed in loud red outfits, descended on them and offered to take pictures with them.
On Fillmore Street, I found the small screening room behind a group of policemen. The same group that was in the Black Girls Code meeting were not in attendance. The room was darkened and we saw the video. This video was of the life of the black men and women who pioneered inventions and discoveries in the Internet world. This included Jerry Lawson, who invented the popular game Demolition Derby and Roy L. Clay Jr., who built the first computer for Hewlett Packard.
After this screening, we all went over to the Rasselas Jazz Restaurant, which was up the street on Fillmore. Just as you close in on the restaurant, you hear the funky music even before you put your foot in the door. And then, once inside, you see the dancers! You see people - big people - dancing.
Where is the Game Lecture, I wondered? Am I in the right place? Then, it occurs to me there is a back room.
Crossing through the dancers, I entered this back room. Upon entering I realize another reality. The large area is soundproofed, so you don’t hear any of the funky music. I am in a large area with chairs and a stage, equipped with a podium on the stage. There on the stage was a television studio set up for interviewing. Donald E. Lacy Jr. is asking questions of the two elderly black men who sat across from him.
The first gentleman was Morrie Tunner and the other one was Leo Sullivan.
Mr. Turner, who is 88, is famous for his “Morrie” cartoon. During the 1960s, he was one of the most published cartoonists, often depicting the Klu Klux Klan. Because black journalism was at its peak, he was regularly portrayed in magazines like Negro Digest and Black World (now defunct). Today, he still creates cartoons, even though there are not many places he can exhibit them.
Leo Sullivan is better served by the new media. He, too began his career in the 60s and became a part of the team that produced the “Fat Albert” cartoon for the Bill Cosby. Recently, he authored the “Red-tails” video game based on the Tuskegee Institute fighter pilots.
At the end of this wonderful and informative event, the audience participated in a Q&A period. This exchange between the veteran artists and the young fans highlighted the role blacks have played in the game development world and it also pointed to their involvement in the future of cartooning, animation and gaming.
As I drove back to Oakland, I realized that the time for blacks to become involved with the gaming world is here.
In a less than two weeks, I will begin my summer class at UC Berkeley. I will be teaching application making and black games from slavery to the video game. I will be bringing in speakers who have already become a part of a growing number of blacks involved in making and creating product for the distribution on the Internet.
It’s about time.