February 17 2021 Edition
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By the Way
This morning I remembered a day in July in a garden along the Housatonic River. The River Walk has planted native wildflowers there, and in midsummer the butterfly weed blooms vivid orange. A woman was singing in a strong, rich alto, leading a spiritual. A percussionist soloed with quick, strong hands. A group of us were sitting on folding chairs on the grass in the sun, in the W.E.B. DuBois memorial garden, and we were thinking about how he felt about the town where he was born.

He wrote all his life about the Housatonic River. As Professor Frances Jones-Sneed told me later on, DuBois said you could easily drive through town and not know this broad waterway was there. And he asked what would happen if the town turned to face the river.

“The Housatonic River is the natural Main Street of Great Barrington," he writes. "It should be a clear and limpid stream … flanked by broad roadways and parks as the lifestream of a town.”

He was writing from strong early memories. He used to sit by a stream bank as a boy, a short way out of town, and listen to the water. That place held a kind of peace for him. He was often alone. He was working to help his mother, outpacing his classmates, struggling with the challenges of growing up as a black boy in a mostly white town, as he writes in Souls of Black Folk.

Back then Great Barrington was a working town, with its factories and quarries on the train line to New York. The river, he said, was polluted with waste from the woolen and paper mills. He was a boy working his way through school and going to debates at the AME church, and a young man writing columns for a New York newspaper.

He grew to become a teacher, a professor, a world traveller, a father with a young son, a writer known around the globe, an advocate and a founder of national and international movements.

When I see him here, through the places in this valley where he stood, I see him by the river. He was a brilliant, passionate man, living in a world that constantly told him not to think, not to act, and not to exist. He wanted to change that. He had to change that. It was a question of survival, for himself and everyone he loved.

He was thinking about how people connect with one another, and in converging currents, he was thinking about how we respond to the land and how we think creatively. He was talking about how a community forms, and what values it embodies and makes strongest.

And so putting the river at the center of town and cleaning its water meant more to him than healing the body. It meant healing the mind and soul of the whole community. “Perhaps,” he wrote, “from that very freeing of spirit will come other freedoms and inspirations and aspirations …”

On that summer day, I remember MaryNell Morgan-Brown singing her interpretations of the Sorrow Songs he brought into his essays. Ghanaian master drummer Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng and saxophonist Antoine Roney performed together.

A feeling of intent quiet took hold as we sat together listening, and for a few minutes, an hour, the elements of what he loved came together — the strength and sadness in the music, the vision of community and connection to the land that we are still trying to realize today, the anger at bias and unnecessary pain, and the love and the depth of language, and ideas that stay in the mind and call for action.

If we can distill that feeling … if we can feel it here, with the artists who feel his words in their bodies, and the white pines growing on the land where his family lived for 150 years … how far can it carry us? — By the Way Berkshires

Stories

Will Amado Syldor-Severino holds his three-week-old son, Abi.

Will Amado Syldor-Severino speaks to silence

Will Amado Syldor-Severino, a senior fellow with Americorps Massachusetts Promise, is holding his three-week-old son, Abi, on a winter day, as he talks about diversity, his work with local teens and painful issues too often left unsaid.

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A drink with a kick of ginger swirls at MoonCloud in Great Barrington.

MoonCloud seasonal cocktails bring warmth home

How about a drink with a kick for a night with frost in the air — a touch of pumpkin, honey spiced with ginger and cloves? At Moon Cloud in Great Barrington, you can pick up a carefully blended bottle to bring home.

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From the sweep of where W.E.B. DuBois' first wife and son and daughter lie buried, the cemetery stretches toward the hills south of Great Barrington.

Black in the Berkshires: Revealing the past and future

Frances Jones-Sneed has walked along the Housatonic River, finding and telling the stories of black men and women in the Berkshires who have reshaped this country since this country began — and they are reshaping it now.

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Events

A photo of a sparkler appeared as a work of art in the Berkshire Art Association's annual Real Art Party in 2016.

Real Art Party 2021 — 10×10 festival (virtual)

February 18 at 6 p.m. (online)

Berkshire Art Association will hold their annual 10×10 Real Art Party 2021 — online. Berkshire artists are making and offering 10x10-inch works tonight, and anyone with a ticket will choose one. Anyone at all can come to enjoy the artwork and the gathering.

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Taylor Stanley, a principal with New York City Ballet, comes to Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival to create new work.

Inside the Pillow Lab: Taylor Stanley

February 18 at 7 p.m. (online)

A celebrated principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, Taylor Stanley comes to Jacob's Pillow in a residency with a team of artists including Lloyd Knight (Martha Graham Dance Company), Jacquelin Harris (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater) and more in a new Pillow-commissioned ensemble work.

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Michelle Alexander, legal scholar, social justice advocate, columnist at The New York Times and visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary, will speak with Williams College. Press photo courtesy of Williams.

An Evening with Michelle Alexander

February 18 at 7:30 p.m. (online)

Michelle Alexander, bestselling writer and legal scholar, social justice advocate, columnist at The New York Times and visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary, will speak on mass incarceration in the U.S. justice system.

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Image Cinema and the '62 Center for Theater and Dance at Williams College present the film 'Pina,' a tribute to German modern-dance pioneer Pina Bausch. Film still courtesy of Images Cinema.

Dance on Screen film festival: Pina Bausch

February 19, 20 and 21

Image Cinema and the '62 Center for Theater and Dance at Williams College present 'Pina,' Wim Wenders' film tribute to German modern-dance pioneer Pina Bausch.

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Dancers in a Jacobs Pillow cast party celebrate with Ronald K. Brown and Evidence and Sharon Friedman. Press photo courtesy of Jacob's Pillow

Dance On — 10x10 virtual community party

February 20 at 8 p.m. (online)

Christal Brown, Founding Artistic Director of INSPIRIT, and New York-based DJ DP One will host Dance On, a virtual party, with Jacob's Pillow and 10×10 Upstreet Arts Festival, in support of the Berkshire Immigrant Center and Volunteers in Medicine.

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Redbud blooms in May at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge.

Berkshire Botanical annual talk: Cultural Landscape

February 20 at 2 p.m. (virtual)

Berkshire Botanical Garden hosts Charles Birnbaum, president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, in a virtual talk on Our Shared Landscape Heritage.

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Awardwinning musicians Reggie Harris and Greg Greenway perform in concert together. Press photo courtesy of the artists and Mahaiwe Performing Arts center

W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Festival

February 21 and 23

Great Barrington's W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Committee will commemorate the 153rd birthday of native son Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois on Feb. 21 and 23, with performances, presentations and community reflections.

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