Luke Ingram and Radio Legend Tom Joyner
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.
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
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!