Archive for the Cultural Matters Category

An Open Letter To My Friend Bill

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , on August 15, 2012 by playthell

The First Ladies

On God, Science and Gabby

Yo Bill!

You need to take a chill pill!!  Your excoriation of the double gold medalist in gymnastics Gabby Douglass on my wall is outrageous! “The “Brown Butterfly” is an inspiration to us all. … I wish, though, she hadn’t made the ignorant comments about god; but what can one expect from a young girl, especially an African American who are the most religious group in the U.S. Even more than white Southerners.”

Your attempt to add clarity to your original statement missed the mark: “What I objected to was her statement, “God is a win win situation. I praise him and he gives me blessings (gold medals), or something to that effect. … This really pisses me off when athletes praise god for their acomplishments. I understand that she is just a young girl so i will cut her some slack and admire her historic achievements.”

Your insensitivity is exceeded only by your arrogance and ignorance!!!  This young lady is entitled to her beliefs!  She was probably raised in the church: which is a very good thing – especially the Afro-American church!  We as a community and a nation would be much better off if the teenagers presently visiting havoc, committing murder as casually as a walk through the park, were in church, listening to the biblical injunction to “do unto others as you would have them “do unto others as you would have them do unto you;” treat thy neighbor as thyself;” “Thou shalt not kill;” etc.

I also know this young people have told me so.  Once I was sitting in an herb spot in Georgia smoking the high grade Wisdom Weed, when all of a sudden some gunmen kicked the door down ad stuck up the joint.  They were holding their roscoes in that sideways fashion common in gangsta rap videos.  Although they were wearing masks I could clearly see their eyes and I recognized the fear in them.

Since I am trained for trouble I remained absolutely calm as they herded us all in one room and robbed the joint.   I told the other dudes in the room if they came back lets jump them…and I pulled out my blade and waited at the side of the door.  The others began to pray.  After the robbers left, one of the people in the room said the Lord had answered his prayer.  I called his statement of faith nonsense!

At which point another said to me “Lemme tell you something Old School, if it wasn’t for the fact that I believe in god I’b be robbin and killin motherfuckers 24/7.  And I can tell you for a a fact that a lotta othere dudes I know would be doin it too.  So you better be glad we believe in God or you wouldn’t be able to walk the street!”  If you view my debate with Christopher Hitchens on the Iraq War, you will see that I defended the black church against Hitchens’ snide and profoundly ignorant dismissal.  And that’s one of the reasons why.

Not too long ago I participated in a “Great Debate,” where the question upon the floor was: “Has the Bible Been Good for Black Americans?”  To the shock and surprise of many, since I may be the best known black atheist in New York, I argued in defense of the Bible.  Yet I was an avowed atheist before you learned how to pee straight!  And unlike most of you who say that you are atheists, but prove to be “fair weather atheist” in time of trial; I am a tried and true atheists, having successfully passed the “high seas test.”

In case you have never heard of it, the high seas test refers to whether you call on the Lord if you are in stormy seas and believe the ship is about to sink.  Well I have been in a horrendous storm at sea and even the old salty dogs were praying, but I could not bring myself to call on the Lord.  So my atheistic credentials are unimpeachable: I concluded at 13 years old that God was a man made myth and that was over a half century ago!

However I find most atheist to be far too arrogant about their beliefs…you are no exception.  The fact is that your fervent belief that God does not exist is no less an act of faith and has much in common with the religious fanatic.  The fact is that SCIENCE CANNOT PROVE THAT GOD DOES NOT EXIST!   And please spare me the tiresome arguments that attempt to demonstrate the contrary. For  I shall simply dismiss them, and you, out of hand. I have heard every argument on this question, and further discussion would only be a redundant bore: Trust me!!!

You see, I have many friends who are preachers and theologians, more friends who are atheist, and a former student who may well win the Nobel Prize in the biological/medical sciences: Dr. S. Allen Counter, MD/Ph.d, Professor of biology at Harvard, Senior Research Fellow at the Korylinska Institute in Sweden, where the Nobel Prizes are awarded.  Dr. Counter is one of the world’s greatest biological sciences and was good friends with the late Stephen J. Gould, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Harvard.

Dr. Counter tells me that very thing he has learned in science has made him a better Baptist!  He says scientist have no clue whether God exist or how the miracle of life came about…not really!  He feels that all scientist are doing is tracing the marvelous handiwork of God!  He believes that people who think scientist can explain the riddle of creation are fools!

Professor Counter scoffs at the idea.  He also tells me that among his scientific colleagues – the greatest scientist in the world – about half are atheist and half are intensely religious!  Hence if the world’s greatest scientist cannot resolve this question you strike me as the man who tried to be more royal than the king!

The point of this discussion is that you need to show a bit of humility on this question!  Of course you are a grown man and can do whatever you pleas.  But if your convictions lead you to attack a wonderful young lady for her beliefs then  you are an arrogant fool and I will continue to point this out to you.  Consider the following proposition: IT DOES NOT MATTER IF GOD EXIST OR NOT IF THE A BELIEF IN GOD INSPIRES GREAT THINGS FROM HUMAN BEINGS!!!!!!

There can be little doubt that a belief in God inspired Gabby to greatness.  And it’s not just because she is a “young girl.” There is absolutely no doubt that an intense belief in God inspired Muhammad Ali in his astonishingly easy victory over the murderous Sonny Liston to win the Undisputed  Heavy-Weight Championship of the World!

Liston scared the shit outta everybody and won his fights mentally before they ever got in the ring!  Former champion looked like he was going to shit his trunks before a single punch was thrown.  But the time Ali spent with Minister Malcolm X  in the week before the fight gave him a feeling of invulnerability, and he came in the ring talkin smack: Joking. jiving and signifying: as Dr. Geneva Smitherman put it. But Sonny was a an ex-muscle man for the St. Louis Mob who learned to box in Prison; he was a for real killer and there was reason to be scared!

Who but an ignoramus could deny that an intense belief in God inspired the artistic genius Michelangelo displayed when he painted the magnificent Sistine Chapel, or Bach when he wrote the marvelous B Minor Mass, or Mozart’s Requiem. Or George Frederik Handel’s transcendent “Messiah,” or the soul stirring oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King that inspired my neighbors in St. Augustine Florida to walk in the shadow of death and fear no evil!!!  I know this because they told me so!!!

What, pray tell, but a belief in the power of the almighty could have enabled by people to survive the long horrible night of slavery here in America – 250 years – and emerge from that experience where everything around them conspired to deny their humanity, yet emerge with their soul in tack but a powerful belief in a just God who would deliver them on the day of Jubilee!!!

Dr. DuBois, the most broadly learned, prophetic, consequential American humanist intellectual of the 20th century – who was also an atheist – wrote some of the most moving prose ever penned in the English language about the power of religious belief among the slaves, and how it helped them through their trials and tribulations.

Read the chapter “The Coming of the Lord” in his masterpiece “Black Reconstruction.” Read his essay on the Afro-American spirituals “Of the Sorrow Songs” in “The Souls of Black Folks.”    Then read my analysis of that essay in my book “Reconsidering The Souls of Black Folk.”

Few white Americans have any idea what the church has meant in Afro-American history or what it means now.  The church has been an overwhelmingly positive institution despite the ignorant denunciations of the church by Black Nationalists and Marxist; unlike much of the white church- which supported slavery, genocide, and apartheid.  But there is also a heroic tradition in the white American church too.  Both the Abolitionist Movement that ended slavery and the Civil Rights Movement that ended Southern Apartheid are unimaginable without it.

I know of nothing that atheist have come up with that can match the grandeur of the progressive black church: the music, the poetry of the sermon; the magnificence of its life giving message to a people in constant struggle for freedom.  If you know of anything please hip me to it.  Otherwise a little humility on your part would be in order!

 The Greatest!

Belief in God is the wind beneath this Butterfly’s wings

**************

As always, I remain

Your friend, Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem, New York

August 15, 2012

 

Opening Night for Harlem Exhibition

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , , , on August 12, 2012 by playthell

           

Mishon & Lisa: Guest and Curator

 Images of Harlem Old and New

On Friday evening August 10, a unique photographic exhibition opened at the Rios II Gallery on Riverside Drive in Harlem.  The photographs in this exhibition celebrated the multifaceted culture of Harlem with selected works from the oeuvres of outstanding photographers who have been capturing images for years.  While there were some color photographs, the majority of the works were in black and white, a form that many photographers believe is the test of their skill and artistry.

The show was curated by Lisa DuBois, Anthony Barboza and John Pinderhughes, and featured photographers: June D. Truesdale, Lenora Brown, Kwame Braithwaite, Adger Cowens, Sonia Louise Davis, Lisa DuBois, John Penderhughes, Shawn Walker, Lewis Watts, Lee White, Burroughs Lamar, Antoine Minter, Deborah Willis, Ocean Morrisette, Andriana Lopez Sanfeliu, Jamel Shabazz and Klytus Smith.

The gallery was packed with a stylish crowd who came out to view the arresting images tastefully mounted on the walls.  There were poets and politicians, writers and musicians, dancers and dandys, folks from all walks ate, and drank and made merry as they strolled about the gallery or lounged on the spacious terrace overlooking the beautiful Hudson river with the George Washington Bridge spanning the horizon like a giant steel sculpture.

This exhibition is the brainchild of Ms. Lisa DuBois, she conceived it and made it happen.  I know where of I speak because she discussed the idea with me in the early stages of conception.  A worker bee with a Queen bee attitude she charged forth and began to put the many pieces of the puzzle together and the result was the poignant pictures of Harlem realities we were treated to last, graphic slices of life frozen in time by visual alchemists armed with Camera’s.

While Lisa was the mover and shaker that brought this historic project to fruition, she is quick to point out that in order to make it happen in such a grand way, she enlisted the critical intelligence and well tutored  taste of the great photographers  Anthony Barboza and John Pinderhuges, who became her co-Curators of the exhibit “Old Harlem/New Harlem.”  And she gave special props to Antwan Minter, her Asistant Coordinator.  “The show would not have been possible his hard work and dedication,” says Lisa.   Everyone associated with this exhibit has reason to be proud.

Lisa told me after the evening’s festivities came to a close that her one regret was that she didn’t get to personally thank everybody who helped make her dream come true personally, the way she had planned.  She especially wanted to thank the management and staff of the Rios II Gallery, and she wanted to thank Sandra Fuller, who donated and designed the floral arrangements.  The food and drinks were superb: compliments of Livians Bakery, Dougee’s Restuarant – owned by celebrated Harlem hip hop pioneer Doug E. Fresh – and the Gallery staff.

Lisa also wanted to thank the poet Lydia Elizabeth, who had written an epic poem, “Harlem Rapsody,” which she came out to debut at the opening of the exhibit.  But most of all, she wanted to thank all who came out to celebrate the opening of the exhibit; beautiful and interesting people.  Hence, at the end of the evening, it is fair to sum things up thusly: “All’s well that ends well.”  The exhibit will be mounted until August 31, if you enjoy great photography, or is intrested in Harlem life and culture: See this exhibit!!!!

“Da Mayor” and the Poet

Leslie Witche and Lydia Elizabeth
The Priemier Historian of Harlem’s Art and Architecture

Michael Adams Perused the exhibit….and said he liked it
Poet Don Raphel was there

And he sang for us
The pianist Accompanied Don

And Serenaded us all Evening
Ernest Gregory Was there

Wynton Marsalis’ on the road photographer
Gregory had his Camera and Preserved this Moment

Iconic Photographer Kwame Brathwaite, A. D. Minter, Lydia Elizabeth, Playthell

The World Renowned Harlem Artists Ademola was in da House!

Strolling with his entourage dressed in casual white

Tajjidin Aleem Was There Splendidly Locked
A Globetrotting Cultural Connoisseur

His poignant pictures capture priceless moments

In the life of Harlem
The Curators

Tony Barboza and Lisa DuBois

It Was a Stylish Crowd

A Black and Tan Fantasy

There Were Free Thinkers like Poet Michaelangelo

With an eclectic approach to fashion

There was Old School Cool

Grand Master Kham and his Lady Representin!

And the Casual Cool of Youth

Makeda Voletta and Odugu

As Night began to fall

TheParty Moved out to the Terrace

Where we were Serenaded by Bruce Edwards, a fine Guitarist

He Entertained us with Timeless Standards

It was a Wonderful Night….

……For a Moon Dance

******************

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

August 11, 2014

All Photographs by: Playthell Benjamin

** Except those in which he appears.

Old Harlem…New Harlem

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , , , on August 8, 2012 by playthell
Harlem Baptismal: by Lisa DuBois

 Eyewitnesses To a Community in Transition

In his classic essay “Things Remembered Times Past: On Bird, Bird Watching and Jazz,” the great Afro-American novelist and essayist Ralph Ellison observed “Music gives resonance to memory.  True enough, but this claim is even truer of photographs, especially when shot by artist who are perceptive observers with a cultivated eye.

This is he quality of work the viewer will find at “Old Harlem/New Harlem, an exhibition opening  at 6 oclock on Friday August 10, in the beautiful Rio II Galleries located at 583 Riverside Drive. Nestled near the corner of 135th street, the gallery offers a commanding view of the Hudson River from their spacious sun deck.  It is an ideal space for a celebration of art.

The pictures at this exhibition is sponsored by the Broadway Housing Communitiesm and features a group of distinguished American photographers with deep roots in Harlem; engaged artist that have spent many years visually recording the rituals, rhythms, color and spirit of Harlem life.  It is a collection of poignant images that touch the soul  and could even  inspire great music; like Mussorsky’s famous piano concerto “Pictures at an Exhibition.”  The panoramic vision of Harlem life represented in these photographs is epic in their sweep.

Luckily, through the miracle of recorded sound the atmosphere will be alive with the sound of that greatest painter of Harlem life: Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington.  Nobody loved Harlem like Duke Ellington.  In his autobiography, “Music is My Mistress,” Ellington tells us that when he first came to Harlem from Washington D.C. during the 1920’s, the people were so colorful and stylish it  “looked like scenes from the Arabian Nights.”

Since Ellington was a talented painter who had studied at the prestigious “Pratt Institute” in Brooklyn before he ever had a band, he tells us that every one of his compositions began with a visual image.  Hence in the tone poems of Duke Ellington we hear sonic portraits of Harlem life in all its heroic splendor and myriad expressions of pathos and bathos that mirror the human condition in this historically Afro-American village in uptown Manhattan.  That’s why Duke’s music is the perfect background sound for the talented poet Lydia Elizabeth to read her panegyric, “Harlem Rapsody;” a poem she will premiere at the exhibition.

 Miles Davis

A great musician and fashion icon

Although the photographers in this exhibition recorded a later era of Harlem life, a period of turmoil and transition, it is a rich tale that they tell.  Great photography involves more than mere technical expertise; although like jazz performance, mastery of technique is a precondition to greatness and therefore assumed. But to be a truly great photographer also requires intelligence, artistic vision and humanistic values.  This is what distinguishes the artist from mere technicians.

 Bob Marley

 

Through the Lens of Kwame Brathwaite

As with any serious exhibition the final production reflects the taste and vision of the curators.  And in the present instance we have the unusual circumstance where the curators – Tony Barboza, John Penderhuges and Lisa Dubois – also happen to be great artist. Thus the selection process resembles a kind of peer review, which insures a high degree of quality control.  The photographers are all first rate, many have been widely exhibited nationally and internationally,  and some are legendary: Kwame Brathwaite, Tony Barboza, Adger Cowans, et al.

                                                                              Gordon Parks!

Captured for All Times by Adger Cowans

This unique exhibition of graphic images of Harlem life – captured by visual alchemists who are honoring the grand tradition begun by James Van der Zee at the beginning of the 20th century – is a tonic to the senses and food for the soul.  So come out and mingle with some beautiful people in a beautiful setting, and set yo spirit a dancing among the myriad magical images that conjure the spirit of Harlem….past and present.  Be there or be square!

 Lena Horne: Beautiful in the Autumn of life

 

A Portrait by Lisa DuBois

 

*************

 

Playthell George Benjamin

Political Commentator and Cultural Critic
WBAI Evening News
Harlem New York
August 8, 2012

Miss Ann’s Dancing Horse Lures Mitt to London

Posted in Cultural Matters, Playthell on politics with tags , , on July 27, 2012 by playthell
Annie and her horse

 “Mitt The Twit” is a bust in London!

Stiff as Herman Munster, plastic as Barbie’s Ken, Mitt Romney has been described as “insincere” and “apparently devoid of charm” in the British press.  It is hard to take a man seriously who comes across the oceans to see the Olympic games but swears that he will not watch his wife’s incredible dancing horse perform in the Dressage.

As is usually the case when he is allowed to speak freely; Mitt’s mouth got him in trouble.  Since his remarks suggest that he is either a bad husband or a bad liar, Mitt is dammed if he does and doesn’t.  One witty British wag called him “a big pile of Mitt!”

Another chimed in on Mitt’s speculation that the British public might not be behind the Olympic Games with the retort: “If not, it’s because they are too depressed by the kind of economic policies Mr. Romney is advocating for Americans.”  And when Mitt expressed doubts about the ability of the private security company, hired by the organizers of the games, to properly police the Olympics, a British commentator pointed out that the problem resulted from British organizers following his example.  Instead of employing good government police professionals they hired some security guards from Bangladesh at cut rate prices.

Thus far The Mittster has gone over like a lead balloon with the British press and public.  He has become a figure of ridicule for the press, public and even the political elite that he wanted so desperately to impress.  The Prime Minister reminded Mitt in a televised public statement that they were presenting the Olympic games in London, one of the world’s busiest cities, and of course it’s easy to hold the Olympics games “in the middle of nowhere!”  I’m feeling him on this; any New Yorker who has visited Utah knows this is a fairly accurate description of the place.

But of all the embarrassing questions raised about Mitt’s knowledge, character and sincerity during his London sojourn, none is more awkward than publicly announcing that he will not watch his wife’s horse perform – even though he is part owner and it is a great honor to have a horse performing in the Olympics.  I am puzzled by his attitude.

As a life-long equestrian I regard dressage riders as artists on par with classical pianist, given their mastery of complex technique and acute sensitivity to nuance, or great ballet dancers by virtue  their sensitivity to equilibrium, rhythm and grace.  In order to make it into the top ranks of performers in this sport one must gain total control over a Thorobred horse, one of the most magbificent and spirited beast the Gods ever blew the breath of life into.  It is an amazing feat of man/ beast collaboration that’s wonderful to watch. So either Mitt is the actually the stiff boring philistine doophus he appears to be, or this is just another attempt to hoodwink the public by disguising who he really is.

I think this guy is at heart a salesman, and he is arrogant enough to believe he can fool all the people all the time.  Hence spurning his wife’s beautiful prancing horse is but a transparent attempt to shed his Richie Rich persona, to pretend he’s down with Joe Sixpack and share their disdain for the follies of the bourgeoisie.

Mitt might fool the British….and Americans who know nothing of horses.  But those of us are into horses know that you can tell a person’s class status and Anglophillic proclivities by whether they ride English or Western style.  The former is the style of the European upper class, the latter is the style of the working cowboys on American ranches.

Hence the dressage is an art designed to entertain the European aristocracy; the genuinely American horse show, which puts fine horses and skilled riders on display, is the rodeo.  It’s as fast and exciting as Barack’s game of basketball, and both are American inventions.

Mitt Knows this, and like his fluent command of French, he is hiding his appreciation for the fine art dressage because it’s politically incorrect with the ignorant, provincial, right-wing yahoos he claims to represent!  But this fumbling attempt at deception  makes him look like a lying charlatan to thoughtful people.  It is no Wonder The Sun, a London tabloid, dubbed him “Mitt theTwit!  “Oh what a tangled web we weave/when at first we learn to deceive.”

The Dressage: A Thing of Beauty!

Horse and Rider become one in body and Spirit

*****************

 

Playthell George Benjamin

Life Long Equestrian

Harlem, New York

July 27, 2012

Not Even the Sky is the Limit!

Posted in Cultural Matters on July 20, 2012 by playthell

    Three Generations of Omega Men

 Omega Psi Phi Honors a Real Superstar

I have attended many unique cultural events at the Dwyer Center in Harlem.  For a writer seriously interested in the cultural scene…it is an oasis of high culture that displays black genius in a variety of projects.  Hence evenings at the Dwyer tend to be memorable affairs…Wednesday night was unforgettable.  Earlier in the day the last Space Shuttle was formally decommissioned and stationed in the Intrepid Museum, a decommissioned aircraft carrier anchored in the Hudson Bay.

This ceremony occasioned a visit from the Director of the National Space and Aeronautical Administration Charles Boldon:  a retired Major General in the Marine Corp, Astronaut and former commander of the Space Shuttle.  And while he was in the city General Bolten was feted in a separate ceremony in Harlem hosted by his Frat Brothers in Omega Psi Phi.

It was an impressive affair that should have been on C-Span and certainly BET.  In fact, several of the speakers referred to the lack of media coverage and lamented the fact that the media only seems interested in stories of crime and pathology when discussing black men in America.  I regard their absence as proof of what the great Harlem writer Albert Murray has long argued: “Whenever they are given a choice of a story of black heroism or pathology they inevitably choose the tale of pathology.”

As I sat watching this very impressive group of black men honor one of their own.  It is hard to imagine a more impressive choice.  General Bolden embodies the very best values of the “Talented Tenth,” the striving class called into existence by Dr. Dubois in 1903 that would set the standards to which all should strive in the Afro-American community.

He is the son of southern school teachers, a class that produced generations of outstanding citizens despite the hardships and restrictions of a racist apartheid police state based on the principle of white supremacy.  Charles Boldon was indoctrinated with the idea that education is the road forward in the world, and the narrative of his life is proof of the veracity of this approach.  As a graduate of the demanding Naval Academy, Bolden chose the Marine Corps as his branch of service and rose steadily to the top.

Throughout the evening they speakers stressed the importance of “manhood,” which they defined as hard work, disciplined study, and achievement against all odds.  In fact, they emphasized taking on the hard tasks, an ideal symbolized by General Bolden.  They young men in the audience, some of whom were recently initiated Omega men, proved to be achievers with their sights set on the distant star and are shooting for the top.  One young man was introduced to us as a budding aero-space engineer with a 4.0 academic average – straight A’s!  Another young man had just graduated from City College where he was the campus chapter of the Omega’s.

While some observers are surprised to find Afro-American fraternities on predominantly white college campuses, the first black Greek Letter organizations were founded on white college campuses.  They provided mutual support for black men in hostile racial environments.

Omega Psi Phi was the first Fraternity founded on a black campus when they established a chapter at Howard University on November 17, 1911.   Among the founding members was the faculty advisor Dr. Ernest Just, whose own life of achievement set the standard for Omega men. Dr. Just was one of the world’s greatest scientists.  A biologist, he became the world’s foremost authority on the reproductive process of marine mammals when he published his path breaking book “The Biology of the Cell Surface.”

Even living in racially segregated America, where the life’s chances of Afro-Americans were severely restricted by law and custom.  As Dr. Kenneth Manning, an Afro-American scholar who was Professor of the History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tells us in his biography of Dr. Just, “Black Apollo of Science,” despite his brilliance Dr. Just experienced the same racial insults and discrimination as all other black people in racist America.  However he refused to let that stop him from achieving the highest standard of excellence in science.

Dr. Just was the first black scientist to be invited to conduct research at the world renown marine biology laboratory at Wood’s Hole in Massachusetts.  Dr. S. Allen Counter, Professor of Neuro-Biology at Harvard and a Senior Research Fellow at the Korilynska Institute in Sweden, one of the world’s outstanding biologist, told me a story of how he learned of Dr. Just that is instructive.  He was sitting in a drawing room reading at Wood’s Hole late one night, when he started looking around the room at the portraits of great scientists who had conducted research there.  Suddenly he saw a handsome black man of regal bearing staring down at him.

Dr. Ernest Everett Just

A World Renowned Scientist 

Dr. Counter was shocked!  Who could this mysterious black man be?  He looked at the name on the Plaque and it said Dr. Ernest Everett Just; he had never heard of him.  As he researched his anonymous ancestor he discovered that Dr. Just was one of the best biological researchers of his age; and that he had done this work without the tremendous support that an institution like

Howard could offer: reduced teaching loads; paid sabbaticals; state of the art research laboratories; talented grad students to work on research on projects under his tutelage.  Yet in spite of these deprivations Dr. Just was the first American scientist from an American university to be appointed to teach a professorship at the Kaiser Welhiem University in Germany, which was generally regarded as the most did distinguished scientific university in the world!

These are the roots from which the Omega men grew.  And they have held to that standard ever since; they are committed to produce first class citizens and top shelf professionals.  The men of Omega Psi Phi would go on to become fixtures on black college campuses all over; a critical component of college life in whether the school was black or predominantly white.

As I witnessed this ceremony conducted by elegant black men of gravitas, several thoughts came to mind.  First and foremost I was stuck by the fact that General Boldon was a worthy heir and splendid exemplar of the tradition of Omega man begun by Dr. Just – like Just Charles Boldon is a for real superstar.

I reflected on how different the quality of life in the black community would be if these men, not the rich Hip-Hop thugs and vain young ballers, were the role models celebrated to our youths.  For these Omega men have a viable formula for success; it is inherent in the values they stress.

I also thought of how wrong we radicals were in our assessment of the value and purpose of black Greek Letter fraternities back in the day.   In the 1960’s black “revolutionaries” spurned these fraternities, dismissing them as nothing more than organizations that promoted parties and engaged in silly secret rituals that set them apart from the uninitiated like pretentious snobs.  We were out to change the world; hence fraternity life seemed like the epitome of bourgeois nonsense to us.  We were wrong!

Unlike white fraternities, in which active involvement generally ends after graduation, black fraternities are devoted to rendering service to the wider community and their members remain active for the rest of their lives.  One fraternity brother received a badge of honor marking his 60th year as an Omega Man.  Given the abundance of destructive role models that proliferate among young black males the work of fraternities is more valuable than ever; both as sources of mutual assistance and service organizations to the black community.

But in all that they do, keeping our grand traditions alive in the lives they lead; then passing them on to our youths, inspiring them to “jump at de sun,” as the great Florida writer Zora Neale Hurston’s unlettered mother instructed her, may be the most valuable of all.  They are wisely storing up treasures for the future, honoring an ancestral imperative to life our brethren as we rise.   This is a highly valued concept in Afro-American culture.  You can hear it in the highbrow poetry of Maya Angelou “And Still I Rise, and in the Rap anthem of Doug E. Fresh: “We Just Keep Rising to the Top!”

The celebration of Omega Man, Major General Bolton at the Dwyer Center in Harlem is the kind of event that the contemporary black community can’t get enough of.  Leslie White, the elegantly attired political operator universally known uptown as “The Mayor of Harlem,” pointed out: All of our young people should have witnessed this!”  I second that emotion.  But it is the job of responsible parenting to see to it that your kids know who people kike General Bolton is.

He is a marvelous role model from many perspectives; for he is a man of many virtues.   First among these is his astonishing humility and profound humanity. For a man of such grand accomplishments General Bolton, is very low key and down to earth – except when he is talking about space travel.  The remarks that touched me most profoundly were his description of how the earth looks from outer space, and the deep wisdom about the nature and fate of the Homo sapiens species.

General Bolden said from space the earth is one, a few areas of land mass on a planet covered with water. From this perspective it is easy to see that many is one species, and the conflicts sparked by differences in race, nation and class seem petty and self-destructive when we consider our uniqueness among the vastness of God’s creation.  After wining and dining on fine spirits and gourmet fare, I left happy as a clam; feeling lucky to be human, and feeling that not even the sky is the limit

                                           The General Recieves His Awards

More Precious than Gold
The General and His Lady

Everything came up Roses
The General and his Frat Brothers

Strong Men of Omega
Professor Jamal Joseph reads a Tribute

Eloquent Panegyrics for a praise worthy Subject
 Leslie White: The Unofficial Mayor Of Harlem

Lavishing Accolades on the General

Then he Presented a Plaque

Honoring General Boldon for his Service and his Example
The General Bolden Adressed The Crowd

His tales of outer space lifted us higher!

An Heir Apparent?

An Aerospace engineering student with a 4.0 GPA

Singing their Frat Song

Once more with feeling

The Festivities were Elivened

Wtth fine wine and scrumptous foods

Kudos for the Chefs

Cusine Spiced with Love

There was Song…..

And Dance….From IMPACT!

Elegance and Beauty

Graced the Evening

The Founders Greet and the General

A Mighty Three: Ademola, General Bolden, Cliff Frazier

The evening was a fitting Tribute

For an explorer of New Worlds

Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 19, 2012

On God, Science and Man’s Fate

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , on July 7, 2012 by playthell
     The Giant Hadron Collider

Can Modern Science Save Us?

The reactions of some people who believe in God and Science to the discovery of the so-called “God Particle” offers food for serious reflection. While they are intrigued by the discovery of the subatomic Higgs Boson Particle, which is believed to be the force that sparked the “Big Bang” that created the universe; they hasten to point out that even if the particle turns out to be what its discoverers are claiming, it is just another manifestation of the power of God.

This argument always intrigues me because I continue to marvel at how religion survived the dawn of the age of reason; let alone thrive in our highly scientific age.  Thus I turned to religious scientists for answers. Over the years I have had some deep conversations on religion vs. science with Dr. S. Allen Counter – Professor of Biology and medicine at Harvard, and Senior Research Fellow at the Korilinska Institute in Sweden, where the Nobel Prize winners are chosen in these fields.

I first met Dr. Counter when he was a grad student at Case Western Reserve University and I delivered a series of lectures on African and Afro-American history there.  We would become friends and have remained so for over 40 years now.  He is one of the world’s greatest scientists but, to my amazement, like most Afro-Americans he continues to believe in God, and scoffs at the idea that science can explain the creation of the universe without the agency of God.  And he finds my belief that science will eventually explain the mystery of creation, without what I believe is the God myth, laughable.

I concluded God was a fiction when I was 13 years old and living under legalized white supremacy in the South. Listening to all those bible quoting redneck crackers in Florida, I noticed what an astute British observer had also noted over a century earlier when he commented “It is the keepers of slaves who speak most passionately about their God given liberty.”

Of course, Thomas Jefferson would be an excellent example…except that Jefferson was a skeptic on the question of God.  I came to believe that if God exists there are a few things that are fairly obvious: he is neither just nor color blind.  In fact, the evidence of world history – something I have studied for over half a century now – suggest he is a racist, sexist, blood thirsty madman!

And although I recognize the Good that some religions have done…far greater evil has been done in the name of God.  Neither the idea of preordination nor “free will” makes any sense to me.  As Albert Einstein said, when the Rabbis questioned his theory about the creation of the world:  “God doesn’t shoot craps with the universe!”

Professor Counter, who daily works with the greatest scientists in the world, tells me that among the best scientist he knows half have become deeply religious as a result of their scientific knowledge, and half have become atheist!   Once when we were walking across Harvard Yard after I had delivered a lecture there we passed the chapel.

Count and I had not discussed the God question in some time, so he asked, “You still don’t believe in God?”  When I said I was still a non-believer he said: “So what do you believe in…science?”  He guffawed and said “Well I know a hell of a lot more science than you….and everything I have learned has just made me a better Baptist!”

My conversations with Dr. Counter serve to underscore the inability of science to provide a definitive answer to the riddle of whether God exist.  This is because “Does God Exist?” is not a scientific question.  Therefore the scientific method can’t address it, because religious claims are based on faith and  science is based on observable evidence.  This means belief in God is fundamentally irrational.  For instance, if one must profess a belief in Jesus Christ in order to enter heaven in the afterlife the question arises: what is to become of millions of good people who are Budihst, Or Muslims,” or Jews, or those who practice polytheistic African religions?

No one has been able to answer these questions in any way that makes sense to me; neither scientist nor theologians.  Nor have I heard a credible explanation of why so many evil doers prosper, while the righteous are so often cast asunder. Yet the failure to resolve these differences in the nature of God has led to more oppression, war and mass murder than any other problem in the history of man.  It was the major rationale for the enslavement of our African ancestors.  However, unlike some atheists, I don’t attack the church in general because many churches perform great service for their followers and people in need who may be un-churched.

There are many occasions in which I have defended the black church in America, such as in my debate with the famous British atheist Christopher Hitchens in the Great Hall at Cooper Union.  In another debate sponsored by CEMOTAP, an important Afro-American organization here in New York City, in which the question at issue was: “Has the Bible Been Good for black People?” to every ones astonishment – since I am a well know atheist, and reminded the audience of that fact in my opening remarks – I vigorously defended the bible!

And just a couple of months ago I delivered a “sermon” from the pulpit of “The Church on the Hill,” an AME Zion church in New York titled “On the Heroic Role of the Afro-American Preacher in the Pan-African Liberation Movement. “  The speech was videotaped and will soon find its way to YouTube after proper editing.  However some of the arguments I make in that speech are previewed in my essay “Pan-Africanism: Reality or Myth?” on this blog.

Hence although I am a militant atheist, I do recognize the good works of the progressive church.  I also recognize that the worst people in America – racist, reactionary right wing Tea Party Republicans – wrap themselves in the pages of the Bible while transforming Jesus Christ from the God of the poor and downtrodden into the God of billionaires who would starve the poor and deny medical care to the sick!

Thus I am forced to wonder where are the righteous preachers willing to denounce this abomination?  Why is the theologian Cornell West madder at President Obama – the only friend of the poor who is likely to be president – than these evil blasphemers?  I have attacked them more than him….and I don’t even believe that Jesus Christ was a real presence!

For all these reasons and many more I shall remain an atheist…in spite of my unbridled admiration for the good works of many churches.  Hence the “God Particle” is of great interest to me because it may serve to finally debunk the God myth.  Yet I must admit some ambivalence, because I am not sure we would be better off if there were no true Christians in the world…or if some people didn’t believe their ass was going to burn in hell if they don’t behave themselves!!!!

And while I agree with those who contend that we need more research on ways to apply scientific knowledge to solve pressing human problems right now; the search for the origins of the universe, the grand questions of science, must not be short changed in the process as it was under the Bush Republicans.  Which is why this great scientific breakthrough occurred in Europe and not in the USA!

Yet the most critical problems facing the survival of the homo sapien species on this planet are not scientific but political. We already have the technical means to solve many of the critical problems that threaten humanity; it is the political organization of our planet that prevents it.

The failure to see ourselves as one species struggling to survive on a planet with limited resources; the horrible waste of blood, treasure and intellectual resources on endless wars; the greed of ruling classes; racism and ethnic strife; the refusal of governments to deal seriously with the destruction of our natural environments, which the world’s scientists have warned is approaching the point of irreversibility – we can see it reflected in the horrible killer heat waves and devastating storms that are wreaking havoc and claiming lives all over the world.  These are disasters of biblical proportions!

These are the things that will lead to our extinction if not corrected. As my grandmother was fond of saying “If man don’t change his ways Almighty God will end our days!  The problems that threaten our existence are failings of human character that science is powerless to correct, and God has not seen fit to intervene and save us. Hence in spite of the constant refrain that we hear from politicians and businessmen that scientific and technical education is the key to our salvation: I say it is expanded humanistic education that will save us…or we shall not be saved!

Professor S. Allen Counter: Biologist/Medical Doctor
Dr. Counter escorts first black Miss Sweden to Nobel Prize Ceremony For Obama 

  ********************

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 6, 2012

My Life Among the Chattering Classes

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2012 by playthell
 
On WBAI FM, Live and Direct from New York City

 Why I love the Radio

On May 25, 1962, my 20th birthday, I made my debut in the wonderful world of radio.  It was a live broadcast over WDAS AM in Philadelphia.  I presented an hour long lecture on African history, analyzing the African character of Egyptian religion and Divine Kingship.  At the conclusion of my lecture the producer opened the phones and I took questions for two hours.  The response was sensational and I presented a series of history lectures twice a week for four years.  My life has never been the same.

The show was called “The Listening Post,” and was hosted by Mr. Joseph H. Rainey.  Judge Rainey, as he was known through-out the city, was a retired Magistrate in the Civil Court, a political player in the Democratic machine, which allocated power and privilege in the city, and a militant advocate for Afro-American rights.  Judge Rainey was the grandson of Congressman Joseph H. Rainey, the first Congressman seated from the defeated confederate state of South Carolina after the Civil War.

Judge Rainey had deep roots in the Afro-American elite, but the militant fighting “Talented Tenth,”who answered the call of Dr. DuBois to assume the leadership of the black community, and guide the masses to higher ground.  One of the benefits of my association with Mr. Rainey on “The Listening Post,” was that it was the show all the smart progressive Afro-Americans listened to in Philly, Southern New Jersey and Nothern Delaware.  It also had a smaller white audience composed of leftist intellectuals and civil rights activist.  The Listening Post would have been right at home on WBAI.

My involvement with the show transformed my life; it was a gift that keeps on giving.  Among the highlights of my participation on the show was the fact that Judge Rainey was good friends with Malcolm X.  And whenever Malcolm spoke in Philadelphia, Wilmington Delaware or Camden New Jersey, he came on the show the day before his speech.

Hence I got to know Malcolm quite well, and had a bird’s eye seat during the last three years of his life as he went through radical changes and ultimately assassination.  I was there for the broadcast that Dr. Manning Marable describes in his Pulitzer Prize winning biography: Malcolm X, A Life of Reinventions.

Judge Joe Rainey Interviewing the Great Jackie Robinson

 The “Listening Post” was a pioneer in Progressive Talk Radio

But it was also on The Listening Post that I met Queen Mother Moore, an indefatigable freedom fighter whose resume included a stint with Marcus Garvey and the American Communist Party.  A New Orleans Creole who had settled in Philadelphia, she was 65 when I met her and she took me under her wings just days after my birthday broadcast, and tutored me in the art and science of politics and mass struggle.

The Queen Mother aka Audley Moore was one of the great women of the 20th century, and she left an indelible mark on me.  I also met the Reverend Dr. Leon Sullivan, “The Lion of Zion,” who was to become one of the most powerful men in America by the end of the turbulent 1960’s.

Queen Mother Moore

My first political Tutor

 The Lion of Zion!

 

 A visionary and servant of the people

Suffice it to say that Reverend Sullivan hired me to teach a course on black history in the basement of his church, Mount Zion Baptist.  Me and Max Stanford would organize the Revolutionary Action Movement from that class. And it was RAM cadres who went on to organize the black Panther Party of Oakland. Bobby Seales and Huey Newton were students at Merritt Junior College, where one of our Cadres’ got a job teaching sociology, and they were his first recruits.  Bobby refers to his teacher and revolutionary tutor as “Kenny Freeman,” but that was his “slave name,” we knew him as Mamadou Dia.

When the War on Poverty began Reverend Sullivan founded The Opportunities Industrialization Centers, which began in Philadelphia and spread to over 100 cities.  He hired me to each in the main center in Philadelphia, and develop a black history curriculum for the national program.  The Philadelphia Board of education hired me as a consultant to work with cirriculum specialist and conduct seminars with history teachers in the school system in the teaching of African and Afro-American history in 1966.

Other school boards around the country also began to hire me to conduct seminars or present a lecture series on the subject ranging from witchata Kansas, Minneapolis and Saint Paul Minesota, and Riverside California.  By 1969 I was a founding member of the WEB DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at U-Mass Amherst, he first degree granting Black Studies in the World.  That’s what my first foray into radio did for me.

When I left the university and moved to New York, after a stint in the music, boxing and construction business I returned to radio at WBAI around 1986.  That’s when I began the series “Commentaries On The Times.”  This brought me to the attention of Terry Johnson, the City Desk Editor at the Village Voice, who invited me to write for the paper.  The second article I wrote was an 8000 word feature that was publshed as the cover story in 1988 titled “Jive at Five: How Big Al and the Bully Boys Bogarted the Movement.” 

It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Journalism. ( see the nominating letter in my bio on this blog)  This article brought me to the attention of the Senior Editor of the Manchester Guardian in England who commissioned me to write a feature for the Guardian.  Thius began an association that lasted several years, in which I wrote for the front and the back of the paper – politics, the arts, and boxing.

When the Arts Editor, Joslyn Targett, became the Editor of the prestigeous Sunday Times magazine “The Culture,” he invited me to come along for the ride.  I was given carte blanche to write as much as I wanted to.   When two of my feature stories from the Village voice were selected for study at the Columbia School of Journalism, the top of the food chain for training professional journalists, I was recruited to write by the New York Daily News. 

From there I was recruited to write commentary and features for “Emerge” magazine, a nationals Afro-American hard news publication.  I was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary at the News, and I was nominated for Foriegn Correspondent of the Year several times.  And I won awards at ever othere one of the publications I wrote for.   And eventually I held an Adjunct Professorship in Journalism at Long Island University.

All of this grew out of my work at WBAI FM in New York, where I would also host two different talk shows.  Radio has been as good to me as baseball was to Chico Consuello!  That’s why I’m still droppin science on the radio 50 years after my first broadcast on the Joe Rainey show on May 25th 1962.

Double Click on the link to see Playthell Live on Air at WBAI

http://youtu.be/pnpR9p7Sl1U

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Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 25th, 1942

 

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