This past year has been shaped by a global pandemic, social unrest, and civil disruption, and agitated by systemic racial and political divisions. The current political and social climate has ignited unprecedented fear and violence that threatens civil governance and the soul of American democracy. On top of that, we are riding serious Black/white and red/blue fault lines that are waiting to tear this country apart. It is in these times that artists, poets, and compassionate community leaders are needed most to lead a conversation toward what truly matters: civility, community, respect, and love.
Although this past year has been super irregular, it has also been my most productive, as I have responded to COVID-19 with my KoronaKilla video game, and to the death George Floyd with an open letter to the police and a petition to change pro-Confederate laws in the state of Florida. The below image, “Self Portrait of An American,” summarizes it all for me.
However, I must admit I don’t feel very American at the moment—and barely human, sometimes. On one hand, we have the nightmare of watching the Confederate flag traversing the halls of the Capitol building; on the other hand, we have the reality that some folks cannot even say goodbye to their dying loved ones in person because of COVID. The suppressed social interactions are taking their toll. I miss traveling, meeting my family and friends. The hugs. The laughter. The general closeness. The real-time facial expression. All of this has compromised the expression of love and intimacy.
Last year, the theme of the SquareRoot of Love event was about food, wine and togetherness—a far cry from the current social attitudes. The food was so good. The SquareRoot of Love wine, a Super Tuscan I selected from a trip to Florence the previous October, was divine. I remember we were all hanging on poet Laureate of Florida Peter Meinke’s every word as he spoke of the love that he shared with his wife of many years. Civil rights legend and trailblazing journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault combined her queenly elegance with the humor of a comic ready to cut loose. Special guest Gregory Vincent, the leader of the famed and very important Boules, gave us his special solution to the SquareRoot of Love. The music was also exceptional, with Dan Jordan, concertmaster for the Sarasota Orchestra, setting a perfect tone in opening the program with a powerful Bach composition and virtuoso interpretation. The highlight of the night was Michelle Giglio’s incredible opera performance, the power of her soaring high notes breaking a wine glass. A three-minute standing ovation quickly followed. What a night at The Rosemary! Four weeks later, the restaurant closed due to COVID. It has been closed ever since.
Michelle Giglio, Charlayne Hunter Gault, John Sims, Peter Meinke, Dan Jordan, and Gregory Vincent
The Rosemary will open for the first time in almost a year for the 5th Annual SquareRoot of Love: Beyond the Divide this Valentine’s Day weekend. The theme this year is meant to be motivation. With all of the drama, trauma, and deaths in 2020, and with the pre-inauguration insurrectionist behavior, one might think that love left the country sometime last February. We need some love back, especially from elected and community leaders. Since the partisan divide is so strong nationwide, and especially here in Florida, we need a way to start a conversation about how to reset the polarization, to bring everyone to a neutral zone where we can have a space to reflect on what holds a family, community, and a country together. So, the idea was to invite Republicans and Democrats to read their favorite poem about love. I know I was making a very interesting assumption about poetic literacy among our elected officials. But, my hope was there would be a desire in the political community to provide some civil and spiritual leadership in these most troubling times.
After many rejections, we were able to come up with a nice group of respondents for the SquareRoot of Love dinner. We have Hagen Brody, a Democrat and Mayor of Sarasota, a bipartisan couple Marsha and Hank Goldsby, Dr. Scott Hopes, who served on the school board, and Dee McFarland, president of the Sarasota Democratic Black Caucus. Each respondent will introduce a course in the menu by reading of a love poem of their choosing. This event will be broadcasted at johnsimsprojects.com/live starting at 7 p.m. EST on Valentine’s Day.
In addition to this Valentine’s Day dinner, I have added two more events to the SquareRoot of Love series. On February 13, 2021, we had another dinner event that featured poets Soul Adani, James Cook, and Steve McAllister and music by the Naima Barake Trio. And, the day prior, on February 12, we held an event at Ligon Fine Art featuring the SquareRoot of Love wine and video and reception for the Halo Arts Project Fellows.
As we come through this social and political storm that is amplifying the American divide, my hope is that we as a nation can weather this difficult period by finding civility and love in the way we reflect our differences, and by honoring our diversity and the democratic process.
Photographs and images provided courtesy of John Sims.