Stone Mountain is a weird little town. I'm pretty sure it's the only wealthy, predominantly African-American suburb in the country that surrounds an enormous relief carving celebrating three men who fought to preserve slavery.
Last week, Stone Mountain got even weirder. Just a few miles from the giant carving honoring Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson, there is now a "Peace Garden" whose centerpiece is a larger-than-life bronze statue honoring that great promoter of peace, Tupac Shakur.
The ceremonial unveiling of the statue took place Sept. 13 at Memorial Drive's Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts (which, by the way, is now offering yoga classes). Sept. 13 was the ninth anniversary of Shakur's murder.
The center, garden and statue appear to be brainchildren of Shakur's family, led by his mother, Afeni Shakur-Davis. While it's understandable that Shakur's mother wants her child to be remembered positively, the tone and substance of the memorial are pretty disturbing. Tupac Shakur was not a peaceful or even likeable man. He was a convicted sexual predator. He shot two cops. Yes, charges were dropped, but no one argues that Tupac "Peace Garden" Shakur actually shot the men. And while he indeed deserves credit for the lyrics of "Dear Mama," a tender rap directed at his mother, shouldn't he also then lose a few points for the lyrics "So I fucked your bitch, you fat mutherfucka" from the Notorious B.I.G.-baiting "Hit 'Em Up"?
The memorial and its unveiling completely glossed over Shakur's violent, hateful side. Instead of presenting him for what he was -- a talented man whose carelessness and mean-spiritedness led to his demise -- he was instead presented as a modern-day Christ figure. The minister who led the pre-unveiling prayer actually said that Shakur "gave his life so that we may live further." The statue, a creation of sculptor Tina Allen, sits in the middle of a fountain shaped like a gothic cross. According to the event's press release, the gothic cross is a shape "universally associated with Tupac." You see, Jesus never had a hit record.
The Tupac Shakur Peace Garden and statue are indeed powerful monuments -- monuments to how celebrity, good looks, money and marketing savvy can turn a certified thug into peace icon.
By the way, when I got back to my car, there was a glossy postcard tucked under my windshield wiper advertising a new rap single. The track, by a group called Cool Water, is titled "You Better Buy A Gun." I'm glad to know that I wasn't the only person there who understood the real meaning of Shakur's so-called legacy.
Esta Fiesta No Termine: Last Sunday morning, I drove up to the Plaza Fiesta shopping center on Buford Highway for an Afro-Latin drumming festival. The festival was canceled, though. According to its organizer, he didn't feel it would be appropriate to hold a party-like event so soon after Hurricane Katrina.
My visit wasn't a waste, however, because in the back parking lot and the runway of the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, organizers were setting up a massive Hurricane Katrina benefit. "Mexico Y Atlanta Juntos Ayudemos A Katrina" said the sign (my Spanish is sketchy, but it roughly means "Mexico and Atlanta helping Katrina [victims] together").
By midafternoon, when I returned to catch the party at its peak, the parking lot was packed with people. Most of the attention was directed at the main outdoor stage, where a Norteño band called Rima (Norteño is a sort of Mexican polka) played peppy, rhythmically square songs about pretty women ("Que Bonita") while offering the occasional shout-out to their peeps ("La raza Michoacan!").
For those not paying attention to the music, there was plenty more to do. There were carnival games, public service tents and lots of giveaways. Consistently, the longest lines were in front of booths offering people the chance to spin a wheel and win a prize.
I didn't try it because the line was too long, but among the food offerings were tongue and tripe tacos from El Rey Del Taco -- a Buford Highway restaurant I've been dying to try because I love the idea of a restaurant whose name means "the king of the taco."
Festivals: Saturday was a double-festival day for me. Late in the morning, I went to East Atlanta for the seventh annual East Atlanta Strut. In tone, the Strut is a sort of Little Five Points-meets-Virginia-Highland festival, combining willful weirdness with arts, crafts and shopping. At 11:30 a.m., there was even a parade, which I managed to miss most of because there were vendor booths between me and the route. I only figured out that the parade was happening because several of the paraders decided it'd be fun to extend the parade through the vendors' tents.
After the Strut, I moseyed (via car) on over to Centennial Olympic Park to check out Field Day. The CL/Mellow Mushroom-sponsored event raised money for the 24/7 Gateway Center by selling people the opportunity to sign up with teams to participate in old-fashioned field day events like tug-of-war, competitive eating, three-legged races, human wheel-barrow races and dodgeball.
Dodgeball was the best spectator sport to me, because you got to watch otherwise easygoing people turn into animals. Don't get me wrong, it was a peaceful, happy event, but some of those people looked possessed when they threw balls at others. An even stranger sight was the costumed team from Netherworld Haunted House competing in the pizza-eating contest. I kept thinking that one of their guys was about to hurl, but it was really just his ghoulish makeup making him look sick.
For more peace gardening, visit Scene & Herd at andy2000.org.
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