Monday, 16 March 2015

Women You Should Know - Sylvia Robinson by Angelique Palmer

Women You Should Know:
Sylvia Robinson

by Angelique Palmer

My prayers are usually silent ones: I have a conversation with a god I don’t call god. I admit I am not in charge. I ask that I be made powerful enough to handle my day and that the good people of the world catch a break.

I live in Manassas, VA. It is too far from Washington, DC to be so close. It is also too close to DC to be so far. So DC will start to claim you, and it will insist you know the best parts of its spoken word scene. Speaking spots, slightly off the beaten path and famous for it: Bloombars, Will Work for Food, and the Legendary Spit Dat.

Spit Dat- smack in the middle of Howard University campus, inside the ECAC on Euclid Ave- is more like a church than most poetry spots; there’s more call and response, more material in the raw and more of a patented respect. As a result there is a set of devout followers that call Spit Dat home, and they know Sylvia Robinson as something a little more than human.

Just ask them. A simple, informal Twitter poll, “Who is Sylvia Robinson?,” will yield the good word from the DC spoken word underground:  
“[A] soldier. An example. A preserver. A champion. A cornerstone. A quiet giant,” 
says Nicholas Lampkin, part of the innovative clique known as #infinigrind. 
“Someone who said they were glad I was part of their community when they didn't have to,” 
said Jenny V., “Someone who loved me when I didn't.”  
“An angel who provides sanctuary” says proofreader and publisher Stephanie Chapman, “... a gift from God.” 
Spit Dat host, Dwayne Lawson-Brown credits her with the show’s longevity, 
“She is singlehandedly the woman who saved Spit Dat. My hero.” 
And graphic designer and writer Tisean Bell summed up the mood, 
“She is the curator of a space that brought me back to God and Myself.”

That space is the Emergence Community Arts Collective a place where one could find community gardens and capoeira classes, knitting circles and salsa dance parties, glimpse sof art’s future and a portal to the past. When it comes to the ECAC, she’s the bookkeeper, haymaker, chief cook and bottle washer. So while Angel and Ride-or-Die gets thrown around liberally among her fans, the ECAC website describes Ms. Robinson as, “Executive Director… the founder and visionary for the mission ECAC now holds.” She’s in charge of the vision, and that vision is community.

There’s a book that goes around the room as a performer is featuring on the finished pine boards of the third floor room-turned-sanctuary. Everyone is asked to sign it and it is sent home with the feature. I treasure mine. The lovely comments can send an artist kite-high one day, and dig that same human out of a funk a week later. Printed in the book is the timeline of the building. A history of community service, and shared work; of educators, womanism, and how this tough tall brick house still stands. Inside its covers one can easily discern how the spirit of the old school, the very essence of the ECAC is in fact Sylvia Robinson. She souls the foundation, spines the climbing stairs, and embraces everyone with her solid columns. As another #infinigrind member Chris Harvey explains it, “she is a champion. A beacon for the lost. A pillar of positivity. Warmth and iridescence. Understanding. Love”

Late last year a lot of us learned by way of a GoFundMe campaign that Ms. Robinson had fallen ill. Cancer had come where it was not welcome, and would not be tolerated. Cancer hit a brick wall!

We spoke briefly on Valentine’s Day, Sylvia and I. She said she is feeling better, but not her best. She is happy I am writing about the ECAC and maybe too bashful to be interviewed. I understand this; keep your glasses on and your cape tucked in – this is how superheroes move. 

My prayers are usually silent ones. I pray that the good people in the world catch a break. I pray for Sylvia Robinson a lot more lately. She’s good people doing good things.

Angelique Palmer is a Performance Poet and Educator from New Orleans now living in North Virginia. A former television news producer, she was the host of Silent Treatment Entertainment’s weekly open mic, “Spirits and Lyrics” in Manassas and is the curator of The Lock’d & Loaded Cash Slam. She's all about pancakes, Ska music, and answers to Artsy, Nerdy, and Ang.  Find her on Twitter or Facebook.  (Women You Should Know - Judith Jamison)

Zesty has been running the Women You Should Know series every March since 2012 - to look at previous posts, use the blog archive on the right of this page.


Unknown said...

Sylvia is one of the most amazing human beings I know. She is an angel in human form.

E. Amato said...

Thanks so much for your comment! I've passed it along to Angelique.