A Cultural Garden in Oakland

root - Posted on 07 April 2003

Expression Art Gallery hosts a tribute to Taswell Baird, a disabled African Descendent Elder who was beaten to death in Oakland

by Leroy F. Moore Jr./DAMO/PNN

Keep it in the family and in the community! But in the homeland of the Black Panthers- Oakland- it has become almost impossible to do what Alan Laird and his brother, Len has done. The brothers have kept their art gallery\cultural arena, Expression Art Gallery, opened in the Jerry Brown 10k-gentrification tornado that has blown into downtown Oakland leaving it in a cultural graveyard. They (the Laird’s brothers) do this without a cent from city funding or local foundations.

Saturday December 29th was a sign of color, music, poetry and other artistic seeds of Expressions Art Gallery’s garden planted on eighth and Washington St. downtown Oakland. The flowers from this garden has deep roots and have come together on this day to celebrate the life and music of Taswell Baird Jr. who was pushed out of his wheelchair and beaten on November 5th outside of ST. Mary’s Garden’s, a senior housing facility in West Oakland. He died from his injuries on November 22. Although I didn’t know him personally, as a Black disabled, fellow artist, I felt his spirit in Expression Art Gallery that night and felt anger but at the same time I realized I was very lucky to be siting and honoring one of my elder and an artist. I was angry that another Black disabled brother was physically attacked but while enjoying the jazz it hit me, the connection of what happened to Taswell and how I was robbed a day before thanksgiving made me view how lucky I was to only lose my groceries. Laird told me that they knew him and he used to drop by the gallery regularly and saw Taswell all over Oakland in his wheelchair just living his life.

The night began with a historical video of Monk and other Black jazz masters. The Gallery lit up like a Christmas tree when Oakland jazz elders took the stage. Bee bop mixed with hip-hop, spoken word created a family affair. The aroma of pumpkin pie, fried chicken, potato salad formed a tasty cloud that invited passers-by inside. After pleasing my apaite of jazz, spoken word and food, I had a chance to talk to Linda Baird, daughter of Taswell. She felt honor that people would come out during the holidays and put this on for her father. She said that the night reminded her of many rehershels and touring with her father. She told me that he was always talking about coming out of retirement. Linda also had a CD of some of his work. I asked where I could get a recording of all of his music. Because he played in many bands and never had his own band, it is very hard to collect all of his recordings. She is looking forward for some kind of project that would collect his recordings. With a self-portrait of her father on her lap she replied "You know Leroy they prey on the elderly and the disabled." Without a word we both subconsciously knoded. As a poet I know one thing and that is art is therapy and it must come out. Linda said that when her father wasn’t able to blow his trombone, he taught himself to play the piano that reinforce what I believe; you can’t stifle the art in you it will find a way out.

The Laird brothers presented a self-portrait of Taswell that Alan drew to Taswell family. Linda took the mike thanking us and talked about her father. Alan once said that he remembers hearing music and laughter floating around West Oakland. As I left Expression Art Gallery, I heard the music and laughter spilling out of the Gallery and for a moment it engulfed Oakland. Let’s keep the music of Taswell Baird Jr. and the vision of Expression Art Gallery alive and growing in the rebirth of the cultural garden of Oakland.


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