For Zayid: Some Brief Impressions From My “Blacksonian” Visit

My friend Annette Alston, who signed and sold 40 of her Harriet Tubman books there Sunday, told me Zayid Muhammad–an activist and poet who is a member of the People’s Organization for Progress (as is Annette)–wanted me to write a few words about my impressions of the “Blacksonian.” So, Brother Zayid, this very poor Amiri Baraka imitation/homage is dedicated to you:

*****

This is as much truth as white people can take and give in 2019; of that, there is no doubt. It turned out at least some of them had listened to Baldwin, and perhaps now Coates, and began to at least take the first step toward understanding. Not that I cared about that at first; I had read not one but two highly critical pieces about the NMAAHC in The New Yorker magazine, not exactly a known journalistic forum for Black radicalism. What’s so bad to merit such a harsh Black critique from a white liberal bastion? I came to Dee Cee like a Black Johnny Storm: Hate On!

What I found was eye candy for the Race Man and Woman, a serious feast for all five senses. (The food in the caf… ) The Smithsonian has used all it has learned and has created by all accounts an extraordinarily powerful experience.

So, Sankofa. We go down to the bottom of the historical well in an elevator that makes me, a certifiable geek, think of an African-American TARDIS, and as we move upwards from Africa to Africa-America (hmm!) we are bombarded by photos, documentaries and exhibits. Harriet’s shawl.  A slave cabin. Funder-approved themes such as “The Paradox of Liberty” greet us. (Us was in paradox?) “Life and Work.” (Wait, slavery is equivalent to work?) Ulp, no time to think, because now we’ve been emancipated and still we rise.

The Jim Crow era had all you could expect: the coolest segregated lunch counter you will ever see, with interactive video Tony Stark would love. I was all, blah-blah-blah, yeah-yeah, saw-the-movie….and then I went into a corner with a guard out in front of it, should we forget that what lay in state ahead of us was not for cameras. So I disappeared into the corner, cynical as hell, and then it confronted me.

Emmett Till’s casket. The actual one.

My critic’s haughtiness fell off of me like a jacket quickly yanked off. I stared. One minute. Two. Then I had to walk away. I couldn’t look at it. Like a good American, I immediately tried to bury the memory and move forward.  But the casket followed me for a long time.

Movin’ on up, I was bombarded by Barack Obama’s voice and face on the big screen. (Of course; reminds me when I heard in 2009 that nonfiction book publishers on Black topics made an edict that every Black nonfiction book had to end with Daddy-O painting the White House Black.) Wait, there’s an Oprah Winfrey Theater in here? Not even stoppin’ to check the part about my birth year, 1968, I refused to be present; I didn’t want to be told that I had overcome because Spike Lee and Queen Latifah have had long careers.

The reason that (two Black writers at) The New Yorker was pissed was that it saw what I saw: a muted historical voice. I walked up to the small but nice Black press exhibit, and it said the same thing I have read millions of times. Malcolm X’s exhibit had nothing about his Pan-Africanism–his trip to 13 African nations as an unofficial Black American head-of-state, his attempt at World African Revolution. I looked in vain for any discussion of Black Marxism. Yes, Kwame Ture was there, permanently frozen as Stokely Carmichael before he split (the American from his mind). A friend of mine who walked around told me he didn’t see anything about the Million Man March. The what? Minister who? There is a high level of sophistication in the air: in the 21st century, Oreos are out and smoothies are in, didn’t you know that?

Ironically, museums and exhibits are not in stone. So let’s grat the Newark brother who built it (’cause this ain’t no con!) but follow The New Yorker’s lead and be as critical as possible. The more criticism, the more the Blacksonian will evolve, the more the white psychic rubber band will be forced to stretch.

 

MOVE, Panthers and Poets: Malcolm X Commemoration Committee Celebrates Black August In “Little Harlem”

Got this in the transom! Made some minor edits. Glad to post it!

MXCC FREEDOM FIGHTER TRIBUTE BLAZES BLACK AUGUST HOT!
by ‘littleRed

QUEENS, N.Y.–The Malcolm X Commemoration Committee’s Annual Freedom Fighter Dinner Tribute blazed in a powerful Black August afternoon at the Langston Hughes Community Library last Saturday!

A standing-room-only audience saw MXCC join forces the National Alumni Association of the Black Panther Party for an afternoon loaded with emotional gravity and historic dimensions.

The historic dimensions are pointed. The Library is in the neighborhood where Malcolm himself lived in those intense times of struggle representing our people’s struggle and from where the unsung but legendary Queens chapter of the Black Panther Party would leap onto the stage of history.

Many may know of the incredible story of the founding chapter of the Party in Oakland in their first skirmishes with the police and city officials over the need a traffic light at a key point that busy West Oakland community. The same is so for the Panthers of Corona, Queens, detailed Panther veterans Yasmeen Sutton, Cyril Innis, and Claudia Williams.

“We did all those other things.

“We got petitions signed.

“We went to council meetings.

“We did all those they said we were supposed, but it wasn’t until we shut down the streets and the traffic that we really made difference,” Williams said.

It goes further. The Black Panther Party, their presence and insistence over a building being demolished in a neighborhood, also fought for the very creation of what became The Langston Hughes branch of the Library.

“They used to call this community ‘little Harlem’ because of this Library, because of the stars and leaders who lived in this community and because of us (referring to the Panthers),” said an insistent Cyril Innis.

The Library, nicknamed “The Schomburg of Queens,” is fully decorated with local and global images of African American History and Art, by the way. The gallery just outside of the auditorium where the event was held was resplendent with an incredible exhibit of Sophia Dawson’s “To Be Free,” her enormous portraits of current U.S.-held political prisoners!

This was also the first time the now-time-honored event was held during Black August, the Panther-launched time for the appreciation of the martyrdoms of George and Jonathan Jackson and hugely important Black revolutionary uprisings and for generating support for Political Prisoners.

“So when we are talking about Nat Turner and Boukman and Dessalines and the mighty ancestors of the Haitian Revolution, the one we won.

“ When we look at the valor of George and Jonathan–I mean, Jonathan, 17 years old, leading a bold military extraction mission–when we look at that, we are looking the fact that there are going to be times when the spirit of our boldest ancestors who took the fight for our freedom into the own hands by any means necessary emerges in the present in that same bold way and we need to push that energy forward among more of us now,” said an impassioned Zayid Muhammad, who stewarded the night for MXCC.

Political Prisoners Mutulu Shakur and Russell “Maroon” Shoatz have Black August birthdays and their families were well represented by their children as was Imam Jamil Al-Amin, Veronza Bowers and Kamau Sadiki. The MOVE Organization and Mumia Abu-Jamal were represented this year not only by Pam Africa, but recently MOVE political prisoners Janet and Janine Africa after 41 years! They survived a bulldozing, water-hosing and shooting by Philadelphia Police back on Aug. 8, 1978, and Janet, Janine were among those MOVE members imprisoned and subsequently dubbed “The MOVE 9.” Only Delbert Africa and Chuckie Africa remain in prison from that ordeal. They are up for Parole Consideration again in September, as is Jalil Muntaqim, who has now been in prison for 48 years!

Incredibly, the gathering, now its 24th year, was also held on the Black August anniversary of beloved N.Y. Panther Safiya Bukhari, who passed on Aug. 24, 2003, at only 53.

Organizers presented the event with a special intensity because most of the political prisoners represented by their families are facing very serious medical challenges. “Maroon” Shoatz and Chuckie Africa are now battling cancer. Kamau Sadiki is facing vascular challenges that almost led to the amputation of his foot. Delbert Africa just survived a kidney failure scare. Imam Jamil Al-Amin, now 75, just survived what is reported to be a minor stroke.

The community was culturally treated to Ngoma, endearingly called “the artistic army of one” in spoken-word circles. His video piece “The Real Panthers Ain’t In Wakanda,” is buzzing on social media. Regtuiniah Reg did a poem dedicated to Black August and Ksisay Sadiki, the daughter of Kamau Sadiki but perhaps better known as an emerging filmmaker, provided everyone with a taste of “First Born,” her one-woman show on her relationship with her courageous father.

©2019