Archive for Playthell benjamin

Some Final Advice for Marvin X

Posted in Cultural Matters, My Struggle On the Left! with tags , , , , on November 10, 2012 by playthell

           

RAM Comrades: Playthell, John Bracy, Muhammad Ahmed, Askia

Recovering Crack heads shouldn’t Rewrite History!

Yo Marvin, when I posted my critique on the misguided, silly and dangerous blather of Glen Ford – who said it didn’t matter if Afro-Americans voted in the Presidential election – I received a note from the great writer Ishmael Reed.  He warned me that since none of the people that I am critiquing on the left could prevail in a debate with me, they would resort to personal attacks.  Now I see what he means.

You say that I was never a member of the Revolutionary Action Movement aka RAM?  You say you talked to former RAM members and they don’t know me?  Well either you are lying or they are lying.  But you should know better than to lie about things that are a matter of historical fact, and can be easily verified as such.  As a former history professor I sure as hell do!

But then Marvin, since the only things I know about you, or what you believe, is based on the things you have written about yourself and my encounter with you on FB, enriched by things I have heard from people who do know you well in the Bay area.  Early on I was forced to conclude you are a hapless fool stuck on stupid.  And everything you do confirms that conclusion.

For instance, when you wrote that mindless drivel on my page about “Negroes,” I recognized that you untended it as an insult…since the politically correct term is “black.”  But that’s such an asinine move I just decided to play past it.  But then you wouldn’t take no for an answer, you had to keep on pushing.  I have decided that you are suffering from what the psychologist call “projection,” which is a process by which one projects one’s own vices and shortcomings onto others.

In this case it is all too clear.  You are the one with the alter-ego named “Plato Negro,” who spouts pompous prattle that you evidently mistake for wisdom.  However the more I listen to what you have to say I find myself thinking of Queen Mother Moore’s definition of the term Negro – “No, Nay, Never Grow!” – she would say.  Hence it is the perfect term for you; since you are an intellectual anachronism, a poot-butt philosopher stuck in the past who never grows!

Maybe you are actually dumb enough to try and rewrite history while the actors in those events are still around. Perhaps that’s what smoking crack does to the human brain; since I have far better sense than to crack up I really don’t know.  But I did win the first annual Tom Focade Award for honesty and accuracy in drug reporting, presented by High Times Magazine, for my columns and feature stories on drug addiction and anti-drug laws in my in the Village Voice, and the Editorial Page of the “New York Daily News.”

I concentrated a lot on crack addiction becausecrack headsand crack dealers were wreaking havoc in black community at the time.  In my view both are enemies of the black community!  And by the way, I was also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary, in 1995.

The nominating letter is on this blog, and anybody can read it – see: Playthell’s bio- A Thumbnail Sketch.  It is easy to see that thequalities enumerated in the nominating letter are clearly present in the commentaries on this blog, of which there are nearly 500, ranging from 800 to 80, 000 words!  And do note the fact that this is my second nomination for the Pulitzer Prize, the first was for political feature writing. That nominating letter is also on display.

The picture above was taken at a conference held at the University of Massachusetts about two years ago.  It was a program hosted by the WEB DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies, of which I was a founder.  The four men in the picture were discussing the founding of RAM, the Emergence of the Black Arts Movement, and the creation of Black Studies.  And we were speaking from personal experience because we were principal actors in those historic developments.

From left to right they are Playthell Benjamin, John Bracey, Max Stanford / Dr. Muhammad Ahmed, and the great poet Askia Muhammad.  Between the men in this picture are the founders of RAM, Black Studies and the Black Arts Movement. Max Stanford and I co-founded RAM in Philadelphia in 1962, John Bracey was a RAM cadre in Chicago, who became a professor of history, and Askia Muhammad was a leading force in the Black Arts movement, as well as a RAM cadre.

I presented some lectures at the University of Pennsylvania a few weeks ago, and I talked about the development of the armed black “revolutionary” movement of the 1960’s.  There were several people in the audience who were there at the founding of RAM.  One of them was Walt Palmer, who not only was a witness to it all, but was instrumental in putting together legal representation for RAM cadres arrested for trying to poison the Philadelphia police, a dramatic development at the time.

Walt is a towering figure in Philadelphia.  He knows who was who and where all the political bodies are buried.  He is a remarkable man whose career includes radical activist, pioneering medical researcher, lawyer, writer, and a teacher at the University of Pennsylvania, and he recently ran the 100 meter sprint in the senior division of the Penn Relays at 73 years old!

At present he has designed and founded one of the best charter schools in the country.  He is a lucid and reliable witness…and there are others in Philly who attended my lectures and remember well who done what!   If you want to set the record straight about my involvement in the founding of RAM I will send you Walt’s number by private message and you can interview him.

I can also provide numbers for others who were there at the beginning!  You claim to be an intellectual so do your job chump!  But I doubt that you will pursue this because you are not really interested in the truth.  Ish pegged you clowns just right!  You are not smart enough   to win the debate with me. This is demonstrated by the fact that you are going through all of these changes to avoid answering the damn questions I put to you about how you intend to make this “revolution” you prattle on about ad- nauseum.  Instead, you attempt to attack my character and deny my personal history.

That’s really some low life punk-ass shit Marvin, especially since my story can be easily verified.   For instance, Walt Palmer has a “Wall of Heroes” in the multi-million dollar building that houses his “Learning and Leadership Charter School.  It is very impressive, with life size oil paintings of great freedom fighters from the 20th Century.  Walt gave me a tour of the Hall recently, and as I was perusing the handsome portraits of Kwame Nkrumah, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mao, and then….I suddenly came upon a striking portrait of yours truly!

Walt Palmer by Wall of Heroes

 Philly Activist, Educator / Griot 50+ years in Struggle!

 It was quite a surprise; I thought the artist really captured the real me.  Of course I photographed it, so you can check it out for yourself Dog.  But I hear that you will be visiting Philly, so you can call Walt and check it out.  You say you talked to people in Philly who don’t know me…you don’t say?

Playthell on the Wall of Heroes

Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

Listen fool, I left Philadelphia in 1969, to go help build the first free standing, degree granting, Black Studies Department in the world: The WEB DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies, at U-Mass Amherst.  This turned out to be quite an achievement, as we persuaded the University to purchase and preserve the voluminous papers of Dr. DuBois, publishing several volumes of them under the distinguished Marxist scholar Dr. Herbert Aptheker, who was Dr. DuBois’ chosen executor of his papers.

I had rejected the idea of an armed revolution in America for some very complex reasons, when I went to Amherst.  That was 43 years ago Dog, and it was 50 years ago that Max and I founded RAM!   But when I quit the “revolutionary” movement I became a professor, and Max took longer to reach a similar conclusion, after spending time in prison for “revolutionary” activities.

He is now a professor too, right there at Temple University – as is Dr. Anthony Montiero, who also spent time in jail for “revolutionary” acts.   Hence it seems that Ram cadres were not only way ahead of the BPP of Oakland in political development….but we evidently had far better character too.  The book below was recently published by the Palmer Foundation; it istitled “Unveiling 150 Philadelphia Iconic Figures from 1950-2002.”  When you interview Walt Palmer ask him to sell you one: Me, Max and Tony are all there!

It’s on the Record
Prominent Philadelphians of the last half century

So what if people you talked to don’t know me.  There are plenty who do, and they were the ones who were around at the time.  I know fuckin well that Dr. Ahmed didn’t tell you no shit like that; so don’t lie on him Dog.  Because everything I am saying can be verified by neutral sources.  What they will tell you is that I was the one with the big following in Philly, because I was presenting black history lectures on the radio; plus I was a highly skilled orator who could move a crowd.  Max was the theoretician who had read widely in the works of Mao, but he was a boring speaker then and now, and he had no following.

So max conceived the organizational structure and was the chief theoretician, but I attracted the crowds from which the cadre was recruited with my black history lectures, which increasingly centered around the history of our struggle for liberation.  We made an effective team, and when I began speaking around the country through the OIC network, whose centers were located in the black ghettoes all over the country, I was by far the most effective national recruiter for RAM.  These were the years between 1962 and 1969, when I left the movement and became a professor.

These facts can be easily collaborated by both living witnesses, and the very accurate FBI Co-In-Tel-PRO documents.  If you really want to know my story chump: DO SOME FUCKIN RESEARCH!!!!!!  Beyond that you will have to await my memoir!  I don’t generally make a point of emphasizing my role in RAM, because unlike your experience in the Black Panther Party, I don’tdefine myself by it.  In fact, I consider it the folly of my youth…well intentioned folly, but folly no less!

Of course it does not surprise me that your approach to research is sloppy, because you have a history of undisciplined sloppy thinking.  This is very clear from the revelations you share in your book: “Wish I Could tell you the Truth.”  Well,  if there is more to your story I can’t wait to hear it.  However what you tell is damming evidence.  I ask the readers to consider the following passage, where you and Huey Newton are sitting in a Oakland crack house contemplating the “Revolution.”

“…it had been a long day’s journey into night but it was ending.  In 1989 I lost my comrade Huey Newton, killed by a young crack dealer in West Oakland.  I was happy to have one last conversation with Huey, even though it was in the crack house.  It was one of those rare times in the crack house when conversation was more important that smoking.”  Then Marvin recreates the voice of Huey, who asks

Huey:“Jackmon, what we gonna do about the present situation?

To wit Marvin replied:  “Well, it’s a pretty bad situation: the black army’s on crack – –the generals are on crack, man this is pitiful”

Huey replies: “We can come out of this, Man, we came out of slavery, see what I’m sayin?

Marvin: Yeah, we gonna come out of it or die…Being about five years for me, Huey, caused my family great pain and suffering.  I’m sure you did too.”

Huey: “Right”

Marvin X: “For what?  Some hot air…?”

Huey: “Ah, don’t beat yaself, Jackmon, enjoy yourself…On a lighter note, have you seen you- know- who- lately?

Marvin X: “You mean your buddy?”

Huey: “Naw, Jackmon, your buddy!”

Marvin X: “I don’t see Eldridge much anymore, not after our little escapade driving down the street with the Damned desk on top of the car.”

Huey: “Yeah, that was some funny shit, Jackmon, that shit made Jet magazine. “ 

Marvin X: Huey, on the real, think you and him will ever get together?”

Huey:  Not in my life time.”

Marvin X: “Why?”

Huey: “Too many people lost their lives behind Eldridge.  Just too much blood on the path between us, man, too much blood.  So even though I might want to get together with him, out of respect to the loved ones of those comrades who went down, I cannot deal with him, I will not deal with him.

Marvin X: Huey, fuck all that.  Arabs kill each other in the Middle East every day, but the next moment they are hugging and praying together in the Mosque.”

Huey: “We ain’t Arabs… “

Huey was right Marvin, yhall ain’t Arabs, because Arabs would have actually committed “Revolutionary Suicide” to destroy the enemy and make a statement…not sit around in a crack house conducting a pity party, crying about how yhall can’t fight because the “army” and “the general” is on crack!!!!!

I have nothing more to say to you Marvin, you are just a sad little fat guy, an intellectual mediorcity living in the past.  I shall let the readers reach their own conclusions.   Alas, this exchange has degenerated to the level of what the wise old folks in Florida, who were sober as judges, used to call “a damned nigger mess!”

Every move you make justifies my view of you as a pretentious, hapless, fool.  The proof of it is that you keep picking fights with your intellectual superior in public – anybody who doubts that you are my intellectual inferior should just read my broadly learned essays and compare them to the mindless prattle you write.  Maybe you just get off on public humiliation.  But I don’t want to play your jaded game anymore.  Find somebody else to whip you for your sins!

Henceforth I shall follow my grandfather’s advice: “Never argue with a fool in public, because the people looking on can’t tell who’s who!” You, on the other hand, would do well to understand that while Shakespeare was right, “All the world is a stage,” you are not writing the script!  Rather you should heed the warning of Mark Twain: “Tis far better to be thought a fool….than open yo mouth and remove all doubt!!!!!”

                                                                            Pootbutt Poet Marvin X
            The wisdom gained from 12 Years on CRACK!                
 Alas, Plato Negro I had to spank yo literary mentor too!

                  Chairing the Writers Panel with Sanchez and Baraka, Black Arts Festival

 

*** For my critique of Baraka read: ‘Amiri Baraka: Thought Policeman” on this blog.

 

 *********************

 Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 10, 2012

Magical Realism!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , , , , on October 8, 2010 by playthell

Astral traveling with the Fire Goddess In Hawaii

Makeda Takes Her Female Empowerment  Message Overseas

 

Conducting Her Sensual Strength Training Seminar

Calling Forth the Goddess Sprits with Sacred Rhythms

 

Makeda Takes a Healing Message to her Costa Rican Sisters

Witnessing the majesty of Makeda – A Shaman/Scientist/ Artist/Athlete – and her sisters drumming in Costa Rico, I am reminded of all the male chauvinist nonsense I was taught about women being forbidden by divine prohibition from touching the drums by my male Afro-centric tutors. They were convinced that they were imparting ancient ancestral wisdom.  Drumming, whether summoning the Gods or inspiring kinetic poetry in dancers, was purely a male prerogative in their minds.

Of course, I came of age in a drumming culture, but of a very different sort – the world of precision rudimental snare drumming associated with military style marching bands.  Bands that played marches like “El Capitan” and “Stars and Stripes Forever,”  Songs made famous by the great United States Marine Corps band, and composed by its founder John Phillip Sousa.  In these bands the percussion section sounded like thunder!  And while I can recall no instance when a woman was prevented from playing the drums, either by divine decree or social etiquette, I can’t recall a good drummer who was a girl either.

Girls played the clarinet – which is both a reed and a woodwind – and is one of the most difficult instruments to play. And they played piano, the master of all the instruments in the orchestra; they also played the violin – a feat I still regard as some sort of inexplicable alchemy.   But they rarely, if ever, played the drums.  There was something about the drums that emitted a macho vibe…it seemed to me a manly thing to do early on.  In retrospect I wonder if, like my initial love for football,  I was  attracted to drumming because it provided me an opportunity to show off for the girls.  Max Roach, the greatest improvisational artist on the drum kit in the twentieth century once told that this was the impetus for his virtuoso drumming style, which featured extended solos.  “Man I got tired of the horn players getting all the girls,” he recalled, “so I put the drums out front!”

However, Makeda is not one to be quietly shunted off into what some misguided male may mistakenly believe is her “proper place.”  She is an intellectual iconoclast and irreverent free thinker who is smart as a whip.  Plus she as stubborn as a Tush Hog.  In this she is every bit my daughter in mind and spirit.  She is exactly how I raised her to be!  I am explicitly making this point because lately she has informed me that some of the dudes who play drums have criticized her for wanting to play, demanding that she respect ancient taboos.  When she greeted such suggestions like the absurd insults that they are, some of these jokers caught an attitude and accused her of having problems with men.

The Greatest Drum Line in the world!

 

At which point Makeda pulls their coats to the fact that her daddy raised her to be just the way she is.  And I just wanna say “The girl didn’t tell a word of a lie” as my grandmother would say.  Witha twin brother who is also smart and was a two sport athlete to boot, Makeda had a worthy male competitor all of her life.  When she came to me one day and asked if she could be a cheerleader, which seemed a natural progression because she had been formally studying ballet since the age of five,  I told her in no uncertain terms: “Later for being a cheerleader, be an athlete and let somebody cheer you!”

She went on to become a multi-sport athlete and ran the 100 and 200 meter sprints in Division One.   I am delighted to report that she got everything I wanted her to get from playing sports.  Although there are myriad virtues embodied in active participation in competitive sports: learning how to view both success and failure as imposters; chameleons that are subject to change at a moments notice; thus accepting each situation with grace, maintaining your cool no matter what; this is the greatest lesson for real life.  Thus one does not become deluded by success or demoralized by failure.

This is what I learned from playing football, and I wanted my daughter to be armed with these virtues.  Especially since I knew that because she is a girl most boys would always try to play her cheap.  There would of course be some exceptions, I told her, “but the general lot of them will always underestimate you.”   However, I also told her that it was no disadvantage being thought a fool unless you are a fool; but if you are not a fool her competitors had placed themselves at her mercy.  And Makeda Voletta is nobody’s fool!

These are the attitudes that made her a division I athlete, Science Merit Scholar, and Dean List student.  It is also the reason why she has decided that she wants to possess the power and experience the ecstasy of playing the drums for dancers. I was surprised when she told me that she wanted to learn how to drum.  To tell the truth, I didn’t take her seriously because she had never shown any particular interests in playing a musical instrument.  But, of course, her interest in the drums grows out of their organic relationship to the dance traditions that most intrigue her.

Katherine Dunham and master drummer Ladji Camara

Two Legends Collaborate

 

Makeda Dancing Haitian Ra Ra

Like Katherine Dunham, Sevilla Forte and Pearl Primus – her God Mothers in the tradition – Makeda is a serious student of the dances of the African Diaspora throughout the Americas.  But she alone among these seminal figures in Afro-American dance has decided to learn to play the drums that so inspire them to dance.  I believe this is because Makeda never accepted the prescribed “place” set aside for women.  She has always pursued her dreams and ambitions without regard to the conventional wisdom on gender relations.

Makeda’s attitude toward life’s challenges can be summed up in Robert Kennedy’s favorite adage “Some people view things as they are and ask why? / I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”  That’s what she tells the women she counsels.  In studying traditional dances with a ritual function in society, it is also necessary to study the belief systems of that culture.  As a person raised free of religious dogma of any sort, delving into the spirit world of Shamans, Voodoo Priests and Priestess, Babaloshas and Babalaos,  Gods – Goddess are more her speed – has been a mind expanding experience.   By some inecpilcable alchemy she has managed to integrate these non-rational beliefs into her scientific view of the world and the human condition to arrive at a place I, as a cold and sober rationalist, cannot fully enter.

But for those who can go there – most especially women in search of a holistic experience of mind/ body/ spirit development – Makeda has a life enhancing message.  She is rigorously trained in the sciences of fitness and nutrition – she holds a degree in Sports science with a specialization in exercise physiology and a minor in nutrition from the University Of Delaware, plus graduate study in nutrition at Columbia University – Makeda holds certifications in Olympic style weight training and Sports Nutrition among others.  Beyond this she is a serious student of ancient spiritual beliefs that center on the Goddess figure in ancient cultures.

From this body of highly esoteric information she has devised a system for empowering women that strengthens them in mind, body and spirit.  Since she is in the process of trade marking her method, a necessary step in a field where everybody is looking for a new angle; I will say no more about it here.  What follows is a series of pictures and a couple of video clips showing her in action with the women in Costa Rica, as well as some pictures from her recent trip to Haiti, a country whose culture she has developed a profound love and understanding.

Makeda says her trip to Haiti was a spiritual sojourn in which she engaged in healing rituals centered around sacred dances and dispensing scientific information about fitness and nutrition based upon the resources available to the Haitian people in this time of national crisis.  Needless to say, as a Pan-Africanist for virtually my entire life, I am immensely proud of my daughter and her work.  However, as an Afro-Indio woman Makeda has passionately embraced her native American roots also.

In Search of her Seminole Ancestors!

Standing Outside the Castillio de San Marcos in St Augustine Fla

 

 

Standing In Front of War Chief Chief Oceola

Look At Their Faces: An Afro – Seminole Member of the Tribe?

 

 

Communing With Her Latina Sisters

 

 

Sharing Warm Vibes

 

 

Full Moon Ritual

 

 

Earth Mothers!

 

 

Conjuring the Rhythms of Life

 

 

Jubilation!

Moon Vibes!

Possessed!

 

 

Good Food Was an integral Part Of the Training

Like This Scumptiuous Soup

 

 

Or These Exquisite Delicacies

 

 

Fish and Rice Costa Rican Style

 

 

At the Edge of the Rain Forest

We could hear the monkeys chattering in the Trees

 

 

Poster Art In Public Places is Still Au Courant here

A Community Bulletin Board

 

 

Costa Ricans Are Beautiful

Rainbow people:  Black, Brown and Beige

And

They Showed Makeda Much Love!

She got the whole front page!

Her Visit Was Well Covered In The Press

 

 

And When her Healing Work Was Done

They Bade Her A Warm Farewell!

 

Her mother went down to Observe and the women thanked her…

for birthing Makeda!

Praying to The Fire Goddess Pele in Hawaii
Evoking The Feminine Powers Of Earth’s Flaming Bosom

I Believe She Can Fly!

No running start; no special effects; just a straight vertical leap!
****************************
Double click to watch Makeda on Costa Rican Television
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTGvNkANhvY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSF-k_JaTd0
Text by Playthell Benjamin
Photos from Coasta Rica by: Makeda Voletta
Excepting the ones in which she appears.
Cover Photo by: Tim Ormand
Other Photos will be credited later.
Harlem, New York
October 8, 2010

It’s A New Day!

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , , on October 20, 2009 by playthell

Luke Ingram and Radio Legend Tom Joyner 

 

The Jazz in the Gardens Concert 022

Businessman Ingrahm is all smiles as he contemplates the future

 

On a recent trip through the American South I visited the sleepy little town of Brunswick Georgia.  However the boredom that is usually associated with small towns is alleviated here by virtue of the fact that St. Simon’s Island lay just over the bridge and attracts a cosmopolitan crowd.   It was while grooming and decorating myself in preparation for a visit to the cafes on St. Simon’s that I wandered into a Tonsorial Parlor – which is what they called elegantly decorated full service barber shops back in the day – located in a mini mall shopping strip located across the boulevard from the Georgia Costal College.  As it turned out, the proprietor was an enterprising young black man who was both a pleasant host and an artist with his clippers; I soon learned that his name was Luke Ingram.  And we hit it off right away.

As a class, barbers are a unique bunch.  Like beauticians, they must sell the illusion that they can make a person attractive by their cosmetological conjurations.  Hence people tend to have great faith in them as the alchemist who possesses the power to grant the gift of beauty.  As such, barbers and beauticians must also be part amateur psychologists and priest because they are forced to listen to confessions and offer home spun advice.  And their independent financial position was a catalyst for their support of and participation in the Civil rights struggle in the Deep South during the 1960’s; they had a first hand knowledge of the community’s problems and they didn’t work for the white folks.  Hence the racist defenders of the status quo couldn’t take away their livelihood.  However black barbers were active in the struggle all over the country, not just in the south

During conversations with Luke on my present visit to Brunswick, I learned that he was starting an organization aimed at giving direction and redefining the goals of the many young black males who are either misguided in their ambitions or wandering about aimless with no plan at all.  In too many cases these hapless young men wind up in jail or the graveyard before they have ever had a chance to really live.  As a young black man who was once fascinated by the sporting life of the streets and went afoul of the law, Luke knows first hand that the path being taken by far too many young men can only lead to disaster…sooner or later.  It’s in the cards.  That’s why as a music promoter he refuses to present rap acts that extol negative values and celebrate criminal or anti-social acts. 

The organization he founded, “Mature Movement: New Horizons for Youths,”  is  a mentoring program that engages young men in rap sessions and other activities designed to help them formulate a set of constructive values and define a life plan for success.  In this endeavor Luke is following in a distinguished tradition of barbers who have assumed leadership roles when their community was in crisis.  Two dramatic examples of African American barbers who led in the struggle against white supremacy and apartheid in their home towns were Clyde Jenkins of St. Augustine Florida and Ernie Chambers of Omaha Nebraska. Chambers would go on and become a lawyer then get himself elected to the state assembly.  Clyde Jenkins would perform some of the most self-less and heroic service to the struggle that few can match. 

I first heard of Ernie Chambers one day back in the turbulent Sixties when black folks were teaching white folks a new racial etiquette; by nature this effort could not be confined to the formal demonstrations lead by charismatic revivalists with silver tongues – those great orators, such as Dr. Martin Luther king and James Farmer, who could fire up the spirit of a crowd and inspire them to walk unarmed through the valley of death and fear no evil.  Although a few stars of the movement monopolized the attentions of the media, it was the masses of Afro-Americans who remain anonymous that made the movement successful.  Ernie Chambers was such a foot soldier for freedom, and a splendid one indeed.

Ernie first caught my attention because he made national news by just being what I consider a man and a good father.  He went down to the school house one day in Omaha and stuck in foot in a cracker teacher’s ass because the punk-ass muthafucka had insulted his little girl with a racist epithet.   However what I considered par for the course made big news in the media and most of white America was appalled.  I publicly applauded the brother during a speech soon after in Omaha, and he received greetings and salutations from black fathers all over the country.  The chain of events that followed Chamber’s actions propelled him into the thick of the struggle against the racist caste system in America.  He became a Civil rights activist, a lawyer and a state legislator.  Ernie Chambers set an example of leadership and manhood for black youths all across the nation.

 I remembered Clyde Jenkins as being easy like Sunday morning; a good natured even tempered pecan tan guy with a wit as sharp as his razor…a guy with a luminous smile and ready story or joke to provoke laughter; yet he seemed like a different guy when I read about his heroic deeds in the newspaper clippings preserved in the historical archives of St. Augustine Florida.  The records show that when the time came this slightly built good natured barber proved as tenacious as a tick and a man of uncommon courage.  He even scouted out a Ku Klux Klan meeting way back out in the piney woods.  When he and his companion were discovered they were captured by the Klan and came very close to being torched and burned alive!   They escaped this horrid fate only because a Federal Marshall had infiltrated their ranks and stopped the lynching from going down.

Reading about the incident in the archives was so gripping that I wanted to hear his recollections; I have tried to interview Clyde about those divine days but he dose not wish to remember…at lest he won’t speak on it.  But on my recent trip to St. Augustine I found plenty of people who lived and struggled through that period and were quite willing to talk about it.  And I am in the process of making a radio and video documentary of their testimony of remembrance, as well as their elation at the election of Barack Obama; which they rightly feel they had something to do with.  So when I arrived in Brunswick Georgia to visit my senior daughter Sandra, my head was full of stories about the bad old days of Southern apartheid and the heroic struggle Afro-Americans waged to overcome it.  And that’s what was on my mind when I returned to Luke’s barber shop for a haircut recently.

 

Droppin Science!

Rapping with the Youths in Brunswick 004

 Rapping with the young bloods at Mature Movement

 

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Luke, who is also a local concert promoter and thus has a conduit to the youths, is seriously concerned about the fate of young black men in the US and has a vision for turning them away from the self-destructive patterns that are becoming the norm for large segments of inner-city youths. An ex-offender who once did three years for aggravated assault, Luke has managed to put his life back together and is flourishing.  In this sense he is like Malcolm X, who also did time for things he did when he was young and dumb, then joined the movement to uplift our people.  Luke has a college degree and a thriving business cutting the heads of the most important and powerful black men in the city, as well as wayward youths fascinated with the gangsta life.  Thus he has the kind of street cred that one must have in order to get the youths to listen.  And he is a solid church member to boot!

Last Friday evening I sat and rapped with Luke and another young brother “MC Wood from the Hood,” an aspiring rapper and enterprising young man who has built a recording studio in his apartment, and I was impressed with the passion of their convictions. They had different takes on the significance of the Obama election – although both agreed that it was a great thing – and I learned much about the thinking of our youths from listening to their conversation. To MC Wood Obama’s victory represents a giant step in the struggle for the recognition of black talent and intellect.  “If you are a black man whites just assume that you are stupid!  These same people may not like the Chinese but they still concede that they are smart.”  Hence for Wood the presidential election represents a triumphant vindication of black intellectual prowess.

  However for Luke, who is ten years older,  the election of Barack Obama is a victory for American society as a whole.  “This is a win for all people in this country regardless of color, because it shows that we as a nation have come a very long way,” Luke argued, “but the most important thing about the election of a black man to the most powerful position in the world is that it cancels the cop outs that so many of us are using to excuse our failures.  You can no longer credibly say ‘I can’t be nothing because I’m a black man.  That rap is over!”

        For Luke this election means that “Now we are full fledged Americans…maybe we ought to forget the African American stuff and just concentrate on making the most of being productive American citizens.”   MC Wood took passionate exception to Luke’s vision of the new America that has emerged since the ascension of Barack to the Oval Office; he’s not convinced that the red neck element and elite racist of the south are really on board with the program.  After all, Barack lost here, and Wood is convinced that most whites down here – especially the older generations – remain unrepentant rednecks!

 

MC. Wood: The Voice of the Hood

Live at Club Lnbre 009  Mc Wood and D.J. Unpredictable at the Hip Hop convention in Atlanta

 

Since our conversation developments such as the Tea Party demonstrations, with their blatantly racist signs and rhetoric, and the swelling ranks of whites who deny that our President is a native born American and therefore has no right to occupy the Oval Office, has convinced Luke that there are a lot more flaming white racist around than he thought.  Notwithstanding this reality, MC Wood and Luke continue to believe that the election of President Obama has ushered in a new day and there can be no credible excuse for failure in life because one is black.  “When I was still in school just a few years ago,” Wood recalls, “if a black kid had said they wanted to become President they became the butt of jokes.  People thought you were out of your mind!   So we limited our ambitions to lesser things, the presidency was a goal beyond our reach even though we were American citizens. But now that’s all over; we can become anything that our talent and hard work can get us.”   Listening to their hopeful vision of their future prospects in America, I had to agree with Will-I-Am: “It’s a new day! 

 

 Playthell Benjamin

Atlanta Georgia 

 2009

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,108 other followers