Posted by: Viola | March 31, 2021

Supporting and respecting BIPOC in the workplace

For anyone who has BIPOC coworkers.

1-Be respectful of their mental and physical space and focus. If your BIPOC coworker is working on a task, take a moment to say hello and ask them how they are doing or what fun stuff they’re working on; and if you need their assistance with something, ask if you can trouble them for a moment of their time or if they might be free to talk with you. Otherwise, consider giving them space and letting them get their work done.

2-Be conscious of the time of day and the day of the week. At the end of the workday and toward the end of the workweek, everyone is tired, and BIPOC staff might be extra tired because they’re dealing with micro-aggressions/bias, everyday stresses due to racism, and the exhaustion of code-switching and white-centering or catering to white fragility. If you are approaching BIPOC staff for something that is not urgent, please wait for a fresh workday or please determine if it can wait for a fresh workweek before you bring it up, especially if it’s something potentially stressful.

3-Understand that BIPOC must speak for themselves. They have their own voices and perspectives. Unless they’ve given you permission to speak on their behalf, it’s better to just step back and ask them to share their views for themselves. This doesn’t mean you can’t advocate for someone who is BIPOC; it just means you are not their messenger or spokesperson. You can amplify their voices but you first need to let those voices emerge from the BIPOC.

4-Please never tell a BIPOC that they are in trouble with the boss when they have done nothing wrong. This is workplace terrorism, and it needs to stop. And even if they’ve made a mistake, it doesn’t mean they’re in trouble. It just means it’s an opportunity to learn and grow.

5-Please do not summon BIPOC to an office or to an enclosed space. BIPOC are not slaves or servants or minions. Above all, Black staff or staff descended from Black Africa are not to be summoned or directed as if they are incapable of thinking for themselves. Check your power and check your privilege before you treat Black staff as if they need to be kept in line or reminded of their place.

Note: if you notice that BIPOC are emotional or crying during an interaction or conversation, stop the interaction immediately and offer support or help or comfort or space. Stop talking to or at the person. Allow BIPOC to take a break, to leave, to breathe, to know that it is okay to walk away and rest and revisit the conversation later. Nothing in the moment is urgent or an emergency or crisis and nothing should be grounds to cause fear or terror in BIPOC. BIPOC should not be made to feel that they have caused a crisis or are involved in a crisis in the moment. Prioritize feelings of safety and protection for BIPOC, because BIPOC may already be feeling afraid and fearful that their lives are at risk. Do not further frighten or intimidate or dominate or aggress or terrorize BIPOC.

6-Let BIPOC do their work. They were hired, so it’s their job. They show up to their job to get their work done. They do not need to focus on you and your issues. They are there for their work. Respect that and respect their focus on themselves and their work. If you have an issue at work, strive to find solutions and communicate with your manager, rather than projecting anger or frustration at BIPOC and create conflicts for BIPOC to then navigate. Please find solutions for your issues and do not harm BIPOC because you feel unhappy at work. BIPOC who show up to work are shouldering things you may simply not be able to imagine, please do not burden them to solve your issues, unless they are specifically related to the tasks assigned to BIPOC staff and are part of their job duties.

Note: If you have BIPOC coworkers, and in this case, specifically Black coworkers, keep in mind that the George Floyd trial that began this week is a re-living of his killing and re-traumatizing of Black people, and even if justice is met in the court, the horror/terror of what was done to him and what has been done to Black people historically (and continues to be done) can never be erased from our minds and can never be hidden from history. Show compassion and respect to your Black coworkers. Show gratitude and humility and give them the space and honor and resources that they and their ancestors were robbed of. They are living with a specific kind of terrorism in America and across the globe that is called anti-Black racism and white supremacy. Black people are survivors of nightmares many cannot imagine. Black people are a miracle and a gift to humanity.

~Viola Allo

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt okay. We had a state-wide lock down in California in mid-March, and my library sent staff home. Two months later, we returned to work, and I think that was when I began to notice the new level of anxiety I was feeling. The anxiety would arise when I had to leave home and interact with others, whether at work or at the grocery store (the only two places I was going to where I might interact with people–of note is the fact that there was now an armed security guard at the grocery store, no doubt due to violent incidents at some stores).

A few days after our return to work, the killing of George Floyd hit me like a ton of bricks. From that point on, it became a little hard for me to “pick myself up” mentally. Suddenly, I felt overwhelmed–not only was the pandemic making me anxious, now the persistent racism in the USA was making me depressed.

I have a pretty well developed mental health toolkit, built up over years of struggling with anxiety and depression. My tool kit is full of wonderful strategies, my tried-and-true methods for finding joy and remaining calm in the naturally rocky waters of life. But the pandemic had yanked several of my key strategies right out of my toolkit and flung them far away from me.

Yoga and the Yoga Studio Community

I am a yoga enthusiast, yoga instructor, and mindfulness lover. Taking yoga classes three or four times a week, as well as teaching a weekly yoga classes, was my way of staying grounded, anxiety-free, and connected to a vibrant yoga community at the yoga studio where I teach, soaking in lots of deep breathing and positivity. In mid-March, my studio closed down due to the pandemic, and it has yet to re-open to the public. Suddenly, I had to practice yoga on my own, at home, with no familiar faces and smiles around me. It simply wasn’t the same. I took up walking, and now I do some jogging. But I am missing the physical healing and mental health benefits of weekly yoga and the warmth of my yoga community.

The Library and the Library Community

I so love being at the library, and library work has been a happy place for me from “day one” when I got my first job as a library aide. Eventually, as a reference technician, and then as a library instructional assistant, and now as a library assistant, I found even more joy in interacting with patrons and coworkers. This was a great boost to my mental health, and I felt fully engaged and energized by work. The pandemic took most of that energetic feeling away, replacing it with concerns over spreading the virus or getting sick. When we arrive work each day, we do a “daily health check” before we start a shift. Sometimes, I want to exclaim, “Yes, I feel fine physically, but I just want to feel happy again, happy to be around people and happy to help people find what they need at the library!”

New Strategies for Self-Care

With some gyms opening up for outdoor fitness, it is possible to return to working out with other people around. However, for me, there is always that fear of infection. So I am coming up with new tools for my toolkit. One of them is dancing to Afro beats or Afro pop music. The sounds and rhythms of African music take me back to my childhood home in Cameroon, and as soon as I put on my favorite songs, I feel a smile creep across my face. I go for my walks, do a little jogging, and then I set aside time to dance to my Afro beats playlist on Spotify. I listen to Burna Boy, Niniola, Tiwa Savage, Rotima, Ayo Jay, King Thona, Fireboy, Buju, Zubi, Maleek Berry, and many other Afro-fusionists, and I feel happy once again.

Library Support for Mental Health

Our library system is doing its best to be mindful of the mental health of staff and patrons, advocating that we be gentle with each other and be flexible and understanding, because the pandemic has certainly had an impact on how we all process the information overload and the near-constant change and updates unleashed by the pandemic. Issues of anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating or finishing tasks, or even issues of feeling safe and able to trust those around us are all very real mental health challenges caused by the pandemic’s stressful disruptions–disruptions in the economy, employment, educational practices, family living situations, and grief from losing loved ones to the virus (Xiong et al., 2020). We cannot just forge ahead in 2020, assuming that we are the same people we were in 2019 capable of cruising through whatever life threw at us a year ago.

As we move toward fully re-opening to the public, I hope libraries will take up the challenge of preparing staff to not only be more caring and understanding of each other but of patrons, as well as take up the challenge of examining our policies and procedures and simplifying things wherever and whenever possible. We can also invest in programs and services that encourage our staff and community members to exercise safely, eat healthy foods, and communicate with loved ones, all wonderful antidotes to the stress of the pandemic (Xiong et al., p. 62). In this way, we can all learn to just breathe again and be okay with where we are, right now, in this new pandemic reality. I guess that is what my inner yogi would say to my students if I were still teaching my candlelit, Sunday night, deeply relaxing, yin yoga class.


Xiong, Jiaqi, Lipsitz, Orly, Nasri, Flora, Lui, Leanna M.W, Gill, Hartej, Phan, Lee, Chen-Li, David, Iacobucci, Michelle, Ho, Roger, Majeed, Amna, & McIntyre, Roger S. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in the general population: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 277, 55–64. Retrieved from

When I received an email a couple weeks ago about the webinar “Libraries and Wildfire Preparedness: A Statewide Panel Discussion” that was to be hosted by the NorthNet Library System, I signed up immediately (NorthNet Library System, 2020a). The NorthNet Library System is a consortium of libraries in Northern California. My first library job was at the Folsom Public Library, which is a member of the NorthNet consortium. I was eager to learn what member libraries have done and are doing to cope with the wildfire crisis in California.

I attended their webinar on the Zoom platform that was held on October 21, at 10:00 AM California time. I learned a great deal listening to their panelists from various libraries across California, as well as from NorthNet staff who had a lot of resources to share. A great deal of information was condensed into the hour-long webinar, and I believe a recording of the webinar will be available at a future date (I will link it here once it is available). It was well-attended, with over 80 guests present.

The main lessons I learned from the panelists were the importance of knowing who to contact for various services/resources when an emergency occurs and having an emergency plan in place with clear directions on what steps to take when a crisis occurs. They repeatedly mentioned the need for library staff/leaders to know people in different agencies and to forge partnerships and relationships widely, being familiar and connected with as many agencies as possible and the people who work there. They also advised that knowing who the facilities staff and utilities companies are can be crucial to setting up Local Assistance Centers (LACs) using library buildings. These LACs can make full use of library spaces and provide evacuees (and those who have lost homes to the fire) with basic supplies and information on community resources. They noted that many libraries do not have a detailed plan ready for different crises, and when this is the case, it can delay how fast the library responds. Having a detailed plan in place helps the library staff know what to do if power is lost and if Internet access is lost, or how to protect the library and move the collection to a safe place, or what steps to take to set up a LAC at the library.

Panelists also emphasized the importance of training all staff on how the library will respond to a crisis, as well as making sure this training on crisis preparedness is done well in advance of an emergency. In the case of the pandemic, it may have been hard to anticipate it and prepare staff for it, but in the case of wildfires, we know they are coming every year, and libraries can prepare for the fire season. Now that we are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a great opportunity to prepare libraries and staff for future pandemic scenarios. The panelists praised California libraries for putting in place services and health/safety practices that can be duplicated if ever there is another pandemic like the one we are currently dealing with.

The NorthNet staff devoted time during the webinar to speaking about the various programs and initiatives they have been working on to support libraries in times of crisis. They have partnerships that support disaster recovery, and you can view these partnerships on their Disaster Recovery Services page. Their key project is their Recovering Together project, which brings together information to support libraries at various stages of the crisis event. It has information clearly organized under headings for preparing, responding, and recovering from a crisis (NorthNet Library System, 2020b). Their Recovering Together website and project also features a blog, which is one of the ways NorthNet is working to share information and resources with member libraries and their communities. This project also has a page dedicated to “Mentorship and Support” with agencies’ contact information and support services. Overall, I believe the Recovering Together project is a wonderful resource for libraries in California facing the wildfire crisis, the pandemic, and other potential crises.

I really enjoyed attending this webinar, and I will take many lessons back to my library. I felt a lot of respect and admiration for the libraries and staff dealing directly with the threat of the wildfires, and I am grateful they are sharing their knowledge with us in this way, because most of us simply are not ready for a crisis and do not have the insights they have. Their wisdom and experience can help us feel stronger in our preparedness for what is surely the new normal of extensive wildfires in California.


NorthNet Library System. (2020a). Libraries and wildfire preparedness: A statewide panel discussion. [Webinar]. To be archived at a future date but originally retrieved from

NorthNet Library System. (2020b). Recovering together: A project of the NorthNet Library System. Retrieved from

In Unit 6 of our Crisis Informatics seminar with Dr. Hagar, we learned about risk reduction and management. Professor Hagar’s discussion of risk within her lecture this week (Hagar, 2020), in the context of disaster preparedness and crisis response, truly resonated with me, because it is something I think about daily and is certainly something that my public library system is preoccupied with as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic era.

I currently work for a large metropolitan public library system in California. This week, I learned that only two of our library staff have contracted the virus, and I learned that they contracted it outside of our work environment (I learned this by word-of-mouth from a coworker, but I have not verified this with anyone else at work). Our library system has a staff that at any given time ranges from 300-400 employees (sometimes more). With the pandemic affecting so many things at work, some temp/on-call staff have been furloughed and some permanent/full-time staff have opted to retire early or resign from their positions. Nonetheless, we still have a lot of staff, and it is clear that all the precautions and safety measures the library system has put in place have been quite effective so far in reducing our risk of contracting the virus at work.

There have been many changes in procedures and policies for the library system that have reduced our risk of getting sick. For instance, we now quarantine items returned to the library; we wear gloves when handling materials; we wash our hands frequently; we sanitize surfaces frequently; we wear masks at all times when at work (except when taking lunch breaks or when working alone with no other staff in the room); we wear shields if interacting with anyone not wearing a mask; we require patrons to wear masks while in the library; we practice social distancing; we offer services by appointment for computer use or for curbside pick-up of item holds; and previously in-person programs like story-times and outreach have become virtual programs.

These changes have no doubt kept staff safe and healthy during the pandemic. In addition, there have also been many efforts at communicating with staff and sharing information that reduces our risk of infection. In my blog post, I take a look at the steps taken in the realm of communicating with staff and enhancing our safety through information sharing. I explore what has changed in each of the following information sharing strategies and areas at our library, now that we are faced with serving the public during the pandemic while keeping our staff and communities safe by reducing the risk of infection.

Memos: After the first stay-at-home order in California, my public library system began sending out regular “all-staff memos” concerning state and local safety regulations for the pandemic and how these would affect our library work. This was a significant change, because all-staff memos used to be somewhat infrequent, usually only announcing all-staff meetings and items related to human resources. Suddenly, we were receiving several memos each month, sometimes weekly. The library management team worked hard to keep staff informed of the swift changes taking place as California responded to the pandemic. As new routines got established, and as staff adjusted to the changes, the memos slowed down, but they have picked up again as California deals with wildfires that affect our air quality.

Trainings: As with memos, staff trainings have also become more frequent. Initially, trainings occurred every few months, and specific trainings for all staff took place twice a year. These trainings have become more regular and have shifted in focus; their content is directed at giving us skills to navigate the pandemic and serve the public safely. Trainings used to be around a variety of interpersonal skills needed for work or on topics like intellectual freedom and disability/accessibility issues. Now our trainings are on public health information and hygiene, or on how to ask patrons to keep their masks on in the library, or on how to help patrons at the computers while social distancing and following safety guidelines. With the wildfires now affecting us, our trainings have been around understanding the air quality index (what the various codes and colors mean) and how to stay healthy by using the right kinds of masks or staying indoors. Trainings have also all become virtual/online trainings, whereas in the past some trainings were done in person during annual all staff meetings (no more large gatherings of staff have taken place since the early March).

Emails: Again, as with memos, email updates have become more regular. We receive regular emails pertaining to the pandemic and to the wildfires, and they are sent to us by our library system’s safety manager. This manager sends emails to share information, memos, and reminders to staff about safety issues and resources. An email might include information on testing sites in our city, or it might include a warning about air quality for a particular day or week. An email might update us on whether we need to wear gloves or quarantine items for longer.

Phone Alerts: While phone alerts are not frequent, they are sent out by our safety manager when there is a sudden change in disaster conditions that affects our safety and that might put us or our patrons at great risk. Phone alerts arrive in the form of text messages and voice messages. They are also accompanied by an email alert or all-staff memo.

Manuals: Due to the many changes in our various services, we are required to study manuals on various new procedures. These manuals are now more regularly sent to us, and they accompany any major change in our services. Manuals can be 30-40 pages, and they fall under trainings sometimes have virtual components. Time must be set aside for staff to read and discuss the manuals, and perhaps even practice some of what is covered in the manuals. There are also teams of staff who work on preparing and formatting these manuals.

All-Staff Virtual Meetings: All-staff meetings have become virtual, as mentioned above, but they have also become focused on sharing news and updates on our process of slowly re-opening to the public. All-staff meetings are now less about trainings and more about sharing updates and checking-in with various teams who share information on the services and offerings they are adapting for the pandemic. Other important facets of the all-staff meetings are that they are shorter/more concise, they are are recorded so they can be viewed/reviewed by staff unable to attend the actual session, and they no longer affect our library hours very much since they are short (usually just 2 hours now, whereas they used to be all day or half a day). All-staff meetings are well-attended, and it is important to be at these meetings (or view the recordings), because of the immense volume of information being shared by staff during the meeting.

In-Branch Staff Meetings: The number of staff meetings has also increased, with branch teams and staff needing to meet regularly to discuss any sudden changes to what we are doing. A meeting can be as simple as us needing to go over a memo we have received, or as complex as our team needing to redo the way our floor-plan works for social distancing or needing to practice role-playing for how we will talk with a patron who refuses to wear their mask in the library.

As I reviewed some of the ways in which our library system has been communicating with us, I recognized how they are using many different tools and methods to keep us informed. In her lecture, Hagar (2020) mentions this need for there to be many different ways of communicating with people, because this increases the likelihood that people will get the information that they need for staying safe. I also recognized how the pandemic helped us set up practices, procedures, and habits of communication that have served us well with the wildfire crisis. This is an important facet of risk reduction, because setting up procedures and infrastructure for disaster preparedness helps reduce the risks associated with the crisis (Mcclean, 2020). For example, we are used to new procedures and trainings due to the pandemic, and so it is not difficult to create new procedures or implement new trainings for the wildfires. Also, our library system stocked up on extra masks of various degrees of effectiveness and provided us with the different kinds of masks, thus we had exactly what we needed when the air quality and wildfires got worse, even though the masks were initially intended for the pandemic.

The increased communication with staff has been an indication to me of the importance of reducing our risk of getting sick, thereby reducing our overall risk of losing our lives or potentially infecting others. Our locus of control is in reducing the risk within our library buildings, and witnessing our library management take this risk seriously and work to reduce it has made me feel valued and protected as an employee. As our public libraries prepare to become voting locations with ballot boxes and as patrons arrive to drop off their ballots, we must now navigate the 2020 presidential elections by rethinking our curbside service, computer appointment service, and outdoor book return areas. I anticipate receiving more trainings, memos, emails, and meetings in the coming weeks. Our focus shifts again, once more, as we look to support the community in voting safely and securely at our library branches.


Hagar, C. (2020). Unit 6: Using “traditional” ICTS: Human-centered information responses to crises/disasters. Retrieved from San Jose State University Canvas Course Site for Info 281–11 Fall 2020.

Mcclean, D. (2020, September 23). UNDRR chief’s 5-point plan for resilient infrastructure. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Retrieved from

In Unit 2 of our Crisis Informatics seminar with Dr. Hagar, we learned about the stages and life-cycle of a crisis. There are the “preparation” and “response” and “recovery” main/overarching stages of a crisis; these stages can be broken down into the various phases/sub-phases of the life-cycle of a crisis–the “preparation, warning, impact, response, and recovery/reconstruction” phases of any given crisis (Hagar, 2020). However, crises can be very unpredictable, and some natural disasters do not conform neatly to these stages.

It is difficult to prepare for a disaster that is invisible and unanticipated. There is no warning, and there is no time to prepare. There is only the death and devastation left in the wake of the disaster, and the painful reality of responding to the disaster, seeking to understand what triggered the disaster, and finding ways to prevent its potential recurrence. This was the case with the devastating and mysterious 1986 Lake Nyos disaster in Cameroon. So mysterious was the disaster that it appeared to be the case that most of the residents and livestock of the towns around Lake Nyos fell into a deep sleep from which they never woke up. Or so it seemed to me at the time. I was a little girl growing up in Cameroon, when the Lake Nyos disaster occurred, and I was both mystified and terrified.

The impact and death toll was significant, with 1746 people killed and almost 4000 livestock decimated in the farming communities surrounding the lake–a death toll that extended up to 25 kilometers from the lake (Wikipedia contributors, 2020). Vegetation on one side of the lake was destroyed by what was believed to be a tsunami-like wave of water. As scientists began to research the cause of the disaster, they uncovered what can only be described as a massively explosive amount of carbon dioxide at the bottom of the lake, to the tune of over a million tons of CO2 gas, a portion of which had been released from the lake and had formed a dense, toxic cloud of lethal gas that covered the surrounding towns of Nyos, Kam, Cha and Subum (Krajick, 2003; Wikipedia contributors, 2020).

The residents of these towns could not have prepared for this disaster, because they did not know what the lake contained beneath its placid surface. Also, once the CO2 gas was released, it was difficult to detect due to its being mostly invisible and mostly without odor, perhaps appearing as no more than a light fog moving so swiftly over the land that even if some residents had perceived its approach, they would have had little time to escape and no knowledge of what poisonous levels of gas the fog contained (Krajick, 2003). This fog was moving up to 50 kilometers per hour and extended up to 50 meters above the ground (Wikipedia contributors, 2020). It killed almost every animal, bird, insect, and human in its wake, and the few survivors who eventually stirred and regained consciousness reported waking up to a world that was eerily quiet and lifeless.

These few survivors were left with fear and the loss of most of their loved ones and the double loss of the livestock that was the mainstay of their livelihood and local economy. The government was left with undertaking the costly task of solving the mystery of the disaster and preventing its recurrence, and foreign aid (mainly from the United States) was necessary to cover this expense (Krajick, 2003). With the discovery of just how much carbon dioxide was still forming in the lake, scientists devised a method of degassing the lake by installing pipes and pumps that would release the gas forming at the bottom of the lake, thereby preventing a build up of explosive pressure that could lead to another disaster (Krajick, 2003; Wikipedia contributors, 2020).

The region of Cameroon where Lake Nyos is located is an area of active volcanoes. Geologically, there is a wealth of carbon available and circulating just beneath the lakes in this area, most notably Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun. Lake Monoun is also known to have had a less lethal but equally mysterious eruption in 1984, two years before the Lake Nyos disaster; scientists also set up pipes for degassing Lake Monoun, because it was found to contain high levels of CO2 (Krajick, 2003). Eruptions like the ones at Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun are called “limnic eruptions” (Wikipedia contributors, 2020), and though rare, they are deadly because they occur without much warning, if any at all.

The Lake Nyos disaster is a great example of the need for partnerships between different nations, agencies, and individuals, when it comes to understanding what causes or triggers disasters and taking the necessary action to prevent future disasters (Hagar, 2012). Solving the mystery of the Lake Nyos disaster and installing the machinery for degassing the lake required extensive collaboration between European, American, Asian, and Cameroonian governments, agencies, scientists/researchers (volcanologists, hydrologists), engineers, and technicians—collaborations that were multidimensional, in the sense that they were financial, intellectual, and technical (Krajick, 2003). The Lake Nyos disaster illustrates how future disasters can be prevented and countless lives saved, when people work together, communicate with each other, and take action based on research and knowledge about what causes a specific disaster or crisis (Hagar, 2012; Hagar, 2020).


Hagar, C. (2012). Information needs and seeking during the 2001 UK foot-and-mouth crisis. In C. Hagar (Ed.), Crisis information management (Chapter 5). Oxford: Chandos Publishing. Retrieved from

Hagar, C. (2020). Lecture for Unit 2 of Crisis Informatics Seminar for Fall 2020. Retrieved from San Jose State University Canvas Course Site.

Krajick, K. (2003, September). Defusing Africa’s killer lakes. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from

Wikipedia contributors. (2020, August 24). Lake Nyos disaster. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:35, September 13, 2020, from

Posted by: Viola | September 7, 2020

Reflective blog posts coming up!

Dear Readers,

Just a note to say I am back in school for the fall semester, and I will be using my blog for some of my assignments. These assignments will be reflective blog posts, similar to the ones done during my spring semester earlier this year. This spring, the course I took was on globalization, and so I wrote my reflective blog posts on topics related to globalization. This fall, my course is on crisis informatics/crisis information management, and so my blog posts will reflect this focus on crises/disasters.

Thanks so much for visiting my website. Take a look around and happy reading!


Posted by: Viola | August 27, 2020

A poem in honor of Jacob Blake and his children

BELL ~ A poem by Viola Allo

A school bell falls to the ground, sleeps in the dust.

Children go by, toss pebbles at the bell for sport, strike it with sticks for music.

How hollow this heart is. But never soundless.

Heart of mine, severed bell, sing in the belly of the Earth.


By Viola Allo. All rights reserved. Please contact poet for permission to share this poem.

Posted by: Viola | August 18, 2020

The Ancestors ~ A Poem for Honoring First Peoples

The Ancestors ~ A Poem by Viola Allo

For First Nations/First Peoples of California (Western USA) | For First Nations/First Peoples of Cameroon and of Western-Central-South Africa

Removing all coverings from my body and my being, I prostrate myself upon the Earth and fall before the Ancestors. The voices of the Ancestors fill the air. They rise from the Earth, a mist that settles over the land. These are the voices of the people of this land upon which I stand. These are the voices of the Nisenan. I, who now reside in the Colony of Carmichael, in the Colony of Sacramento, in the Colony of California. Those of us who walk upon the land of the Nisenan, let us bow to the Nisenan. Let us say the names of the Maidu, Miwok, Patwin, Pomo, Wappo, Wintu, Yokut, Costanoan. Tipai, Nomlaki, Achumawi, Atsugewi. Washoe, Luiseno. The Hupa, Yana, Yurok, Yahi, Shasta, Chumash, Karuk, Tongva, Modoc, Salinan, Shoshone, Paiute, Esselen, Monache, Chemehuevi, Mojave, Quechan, and all the First People of this Land. We honor all the First Nations of Turtle Island.

Removing all coverings from our bodies and our beings, we go into the land to meet the Ancestors. To hear the cries of the ancestors. To know their songs of sorrow. To eat and drink with the Ancestors. To dance with them and heal the Earth. We, who are made of clay moistened with their tears and sculpted by their hands. Let us now go into the land. Let us now go into the river that cuts and opens the land. Let us now go into the ocean.

Removing all coverings, removing even the covering of hair on our heads, we meet our Ancestors of Africa. We rise with the ones who first rose from the rift valleys and walked on two feet. The First Peoples of Africa. The first carvers, weavers, hunters, gatherers, toolmakers, wanderers. The first migrants. The first settlers. We march across the land until we find another new land. We fight with the ones who fought the colonizers. We learn a new language. We bargain and barter for the Whiteman’s guns, until our limbs are broken, our children are stolen, our land is taken. We stumble from the holds of the ships. We sleep in the ocean with the ones who never saw land again. We weep with the ones in the slave castles whose voices are now forever in the walls. We work the land and weep on the plantations, in the mines, we run for freedom before we fall, our blood is in the land. We are the ones whose children are sold from farm to farm, limbs of our ancient family, uprooted. We sigh our last breath with the ones who plead for air. We are the people of Africa enslaved in America. We are the ones who still plead for life as we meet the land. We are Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland. We are Elijah McClain, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Amaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd. We are Amadou Diallo, Jamar Clark, Vanessa Guillen. We are Stephon Clark.

Removing all coverings placed on us, removing all names the colonizers placed on us, our Ancestors names are our names. We are Mande, Wolof, Akan, Fon, Fulani, Kongo, Igbo, Yoruba, Makua, Hausa, Tuareg, Ashanti, Bambara, Zarma, Sao, Temne, Tiv, Mongo, Kanuri, Khoisan. We are Mbororo, Herero, Kung, Xhosa, Zulu, Shona. We are Tchamba, who are my people. Tikar, who are my people. Pinyin and Ngemba, Bali and Bamun, Bamileke and Duala, Bakweri and Bakossi, Bafia and Beti, Tupuri and Bassa, Babanki and Bafut, Bayangi and Bafor, Mankon and Nso, Ndop and Wum, Fang and Mandara, all who are my people. I, from the Colony of Cameroon. We of the forests, of the grasslands, of the mountains and plateaus and plains, of the deltas, of the deserts and coastal lands. We are Bantu and Khoisan and many whose names we have yet to learn but feel in our blood and see in our dreams. We are the Bamenda highlanders. The Ancient Ancestors whose bones are in the rock shelter at Shum Laka. We are Baka and Aka and Mbuti, who are my people, pygmy people of the forests of Cameroon, of Congo, of Central Africa. All are my people, all who know the land, who honor it with their hands and bare feet hardened by the ground.

Removing all coverings from my body and my being, I prostrate myself upon the Earth and fall to feet of the Ancestors. I offer my heart as kola nut. I offer my blood as libation. If it pleases the Ancestors, may the Ancestors walk with me. If it pleases the Ancestors, may the Ancestors talk with me.


By Viola Allo. All rights reserved. Please contact Viola for permission to use this poem.

Whose Land Are You Living On? ~ A Poem by Viola Allo

Whose land are you living on? Do you know whose land you are living on? Do you know the names of the indigenous people whose land you now walk, stand, sit, drive, run, build, eat, and sleep on? Can you say their names? Do you know their names? The names of all the people whose land was stolen so that you can now call it your own? So you can now believe that it is yours and act like you belong on it? Do you know the names of the people murdered and the villages burned to ash so that this settler colony and its white colonizers could take land and expand, mine for gold and grow rich, take people and enslave them, take and take and take, in the name of being The Great White Man Nation of America? Can you say the names of the people whose land and women were stolen and whose men were killed, the names of the ancestors whose land was taken from their children, whose children were marched and tortured away from their homes and the land that they loved and honored with their hands? Can you weep and fall with the ones who fell on the Trail of Tears? Can you say their names and give them back their land? Can you fall on your knees and say “This land is not my own. This land is stolen land.” Can you teach your children this humility? And can you wake up and begin the healing of this crime and this injustice? Can you atone for and fix the cruel errors of your white ancestors? It’s time to make things right. It’s time to honor the First Nations of this land. Can you say their names and give them back their land?


By Viola Allo. All rights reserved. Please contact Viola for permission to use this poem.

On Being Black and Bountiful ~ A Poem by Viola Allo

I know how you go about your day, and as you do, almost no one sees you. A few people do see you, but when they do, they see something negative. They see you as an object. They cannot grasp that you are a person, a vast person full of all the rich emotional and intellectual complexity of humanity. They see you as a negative object. To them, you are a bad thing, a thing to be confined, to be held down. To them, you are a threat, you are dangerous, you are monstrous and terrifying. As you go about your day, you begin to notice that the people you meet react to your presence in a way that indicates they fear you and want to avoid you, and when they cannot avoid you, they snap at you or dismiss you. They seek to make you feel small and unimportant. As you experience their reactions, you pause to re-calibrate your day.

You begin to wonder if you should change something you are doing, if maybe you should change how you move, or if you ought to wear something different or do your hair another way. You ask yourself if you should smile more, if you should put makeup on, if you should soften the brightness of the rich colors you like to wear. You wonder if more pastels or neutral colors would suit the people you meet. You gaze at your fingernails, your toenails, your eyes, your ears, your nose. Is your forehead all wrong? Are your lips okay? And what if something is up with the way you talk, what if your voice and words are all wrong and the way you sound frightens everyone. Perhaps the problem is your name and how it does not fit the smallness of the way people treat you. Is your name too big? Is your voice too big? You wonder all these things and forget the reason you left the house. You lose time. You lose a day. Everything slows down, as you hesitate with each new person you meet. You forget why you showed up, you forget what you really need to do when going about your day, you even forget how the day started, how you woke up with a plan to do something grand.

You make a new plan, as you lose track of your day. Your new plan is to go home and see how you look. You want to hear how you sound. You make a plan to find what is wrong. The day trudges on. Finally, you are home. You go to the bathroom. You look in the mirror. Scrutinize yourself from every possible angle. You even walk back and forth and watch your hips glide softly from side to side. You fake a conversation with a stranger and mimic yourself from earlier in the day. You smile like you did earlier, wave your hand like you did earlier in a gesture of openness. You squint and pout and even frown. You check the colors of your clothes and the color of your skin. But you cannot find anything wrong. All you find is your mother in the way you move, your father in the way you smile, your brother in the way you stand, your sister in the way you frown. Your grandmother gave you the shape of your eyes, and your grandfather’s curls are your own. You open your mouth and say your name, which is the name from your ancestral homeland. The name your father and mother gave you because they knew it to be true of you. Your lips press together and open, as they circle your name. Your name is Bountiful. You say your name again and again.

I am Bountiful. I am Bountiful. I am Bountiful. As you say your name, you feel the love of your mother and father, the love of your brother and sister, the love of your grandparents. You feel the love of all the ancestors who came before you. You feel them rise. You feel them sing. You feel them dance. They rise and sing and dance in you and you are bountiful. You are BOUNTIFUL because of all the people you hold inside you, all the people who walked before you, all the people who lived so that you could live. They are all alive in you and you are bountiful.


By Viola Allo. All rights reserved. Please contact Viola for permission to use this poem.

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