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King Kendrick and the Night ‘Sankofa’ Happened at the Grammy Awards

In 1993, Haile Gerima directed the groundbreaking movie Sankofa, a film about the Trans-KL faceAtlantic Slave Trade and how its lessons helped to evolve a Black model, Mona, from her superficial understanding of life and back to her African roots. Named for a term in the Ghanaian Akan language, Sankofa means to go back and look toward the past, for wisdom and hope, in order to be able to make progress in the future.  It means to be grounded in one’s African roots and African past—it reminds us to return to the source.

On the 58th Annual Grammy stage that aired Monday February 15th, 2016 Hip-Hop artist Kendrick Lamar embodied the very meaning of Sankofa in his stage performance and medley of songs from his five-time Grammy awarded album and seminal work, To Pimp a Butterfly.

He was amazing!

image1Dressed in all blue and in chain-gang formation, Lamar was chained and shackled with an all-Black male ensemble and surrounded by jail cages from which a saxophone wailed. With the chains on his hands and wrapped around the microphone, Kendrick Lamar declared:

“I’m African-American. I’m African. I’m black as the moon. “

Not long after this declaration, the Sankofa transformation began under a strobe of black lights illuminating the white patterns all over Lamar’s clothing and the neon colorful spirits standing and dancing along with him.image3

He proceeded to give us what we needed and we were reminded that every race starts from the Blacks.  African drumming further encouraged the Sankofa process to take place as beautifully adorned and spirited women dancers circled Kendrick Lamar amidst the bonfire backdrop, symbolically giving birth to a Kendrick Lamar Renaissance. This was just as much our rites of passage as it was his. He became King Kendrick. The ancestors orchestrated his coronation and we watched it happen thinking were watching a Grammy performance.


image4In a climatic testimony with only a spotlight and a microphone, Kendrick Lamar reminded us that freedom isn’t free and that it requires a kind of transformation in the mind that means seeing Compton in Africa and acknowledging the African in each of us.

Robert Mugabe: Facing the Book of History

Facebook has proven to be worth all of the hype it has earned—it has connected childhood friends, helped friends become lovers, and it has even been a great stage for [healthy] political and historical debates.

My friends of Facebook have contributed to a rich conversation about President Robert Mugabe’s latest decision to remove about 35 white landowners from landownership, but not from owning businesses and other properties in the Southeast African nation of Zimbabwe.

According to a July 2014 article called, “Mugabe Orders White Farmers Off Of Land” written by Abena Agyeman Fisher on Face2FaceAfrica, President Mugabe is planning to make major changes in the distribution of land ownership in Zimbabwe.  Not everybody is happy about it, and my Facebook friends have a lot to say about it.

Some of them view Mugabe’s policies as “ignorant” and they assert that he is no longer the “independence hero” he was once thought to be.  In addition, some of them present that he is establishing a “two wrongs make a right precedent” while others maintain that the people of Zimbabwe, represented by the leadership of Robert Mugabe, have a “God-given right to put changes in place…”

Clearly there are no easy solutions to correcting the wrongs of histories past and rightfully so. History is a very convoluted concept of facts, memories, rights and wrongs.  It is filled with vantage points, imposters, oppressors, victims and survivors.  And ultimately, each of us, whether in positions of power, or as conscious citizens, supports the concept of history we construct and the role we play.

Robert Mugabe is no saint, and of course, like each of us, is a sinner.  And now, he will face the book of history for this recent decision and for his legacy of as a leader.

While Mugabe may no longer be a hero to all, he may certainly become one again to many.

One of my commenters wrote the “…sins of the father don’t pass on like bank accounts and to attempt to correct historical injustices using today’s players sets a bad “two wrongs make a right” precedent.”

When the sins involve racial injustice that have been systemically implemented and violently enforced over the course of prejudicial / discriminatory, unjust, inhumane, dehumanizing laws, the posterity (next generations) of the  purveyors (creators) of those laws reap the benefits, and the subjects reap the disadvantages of those laws. These sins absolutely pass on like bank accounts. Even worse, most of us, especially when you’re on the beneficial end, never question why these sins are so advantageous—it is just passed on as “the way that it is.”

And, those in power often run away from explaining the origins of these de facto benefits.

The reality of Zimbabwe is that it is a country that has not resolved its racial and political issues—the roots run deep.  The other reality is that the generations of white families that have “owned” its land have done so through illegal occupation.  There is no statute of limitations on doing what is right, no matter how many generations pass. The whites of Zimbabwe today are reaping the benefits of the crimes of their ancestors, just like the Africans have reaped the disadvantages of theirs.

Just because the “Star of Africa”, the largest diamond ever to be found in the world, has been in possession of England since 1905, does not make England its rightful owner. Because Africa was invaded and illegally occupied by European nations through violent means and war via the Berlin Conference of 1884, none of what Europe has taken in Africa makes Europe Africa’s owners.  The same is true for the whites in Zimbabwe.

The theft of land is a horribly debilitating offense, and it is directly tied to a people’s sustenance, the sustainability of their generations, and acquisition of [future] wealth–ask any of the Blacks that endured Jim Crow America and were forced to abandon their hard-earned, formerly-sharecropped, and former plantation lands in places like Alabama and Mississippi due to vicious, legal and uncontested racial violence; and, without delay, they would attest that their stolen land has created major communal, familial and financial setbacks in their lives. Remember Mose Wright–Emmet Till’s uncle that testified against the men that killed is nephew? He was run off of his Mississippi land and there are many more stories like his. He and the others are entitled to reparations.

In his very craftily written article, The Case for Reparations, TaNehisi Coates presented a pristine argument for reparations for Blacks that had been unfairly denied access to wealth-building and the acquisition of property due to Chicago’s unfair red-lining and housing laws.  These laws were established by an American government that refused to recognize the rights of all of its citizens.  Blacks were left out.  And, we are entitled to reparations because the policies were wrong.

The whites in Zimbabwe are not entitled to own Zimbabwe’s land because the policies that made them “owners” were wrong.  The Blacks were denied access to Zimbabwe’s land during imperialism, and history has a way of correcting those wrongs.  It’s called reparations; and, Robert Mugabe is leading that charge for Zimbabwe on his watch.

Over the course of nearly 60 years, Germany has paid some $89 billion in reparations to Holocaust survivors, survivors’ children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren–and they’ve even paid the survivors living in Russian-occupied territories. The policies that savagely killed Holocaust victims and left some scarred for life were wrong; and, the German government of today says that its people are entitled to reparations.

In all issues of race and racial injustice, we must speak plainly, openly and honestly. The whites of Zimbabwe do not “own” the land.  No matter how many generations have been on the land, they are in Zimbabwe due to colonial occupation and racial subjugation.

Robert Mugabe does not have all of the answers, but we cannot be so quick to condemn his policies as “ignorant” when they attempt on implement fairness for people for whom justice escaped. If Robert Mugabe is a villain for attempting reparations for his people, then all leaders that correct past wrongs are villains.

There is the implication that once the land gets [back] into the hand of the Zimbabweans that they will be very unproductive with it and the land will lose value because Zimbabweans will not industrialize the land for business. It is the same arguments America used to deny Black Americans access to land, property, politics, and education.  The argument is wrong.

I am always intrigued by the use of semantics when there is an examination of white people being governed by the policies of Blacks.  Arguments of morality and justice are quickly asserted in their cases whereas Blacks are usually only afforded a legal argument—about laws that are already unjust and immoral.

Robert Mugabe must face the book of history about the legacy of his leadership, and in the meantime, I look forward to reading more about his plan for implementing [land] reparations.

Standing on Bones, Part 1

Today, August 20th, 2013 is an Anniversary that we never acknowledge. For the capitalist it could easily be marked, “Reversal of Fortune” Day.  For the humanitarian, however, it is easily marked “The Day the Oracle[1] Bones Spoke.” jamestown slave tradeOn this day the first Africans were kidnapped by British pirates in the Atlantic Ocean, and brought to Jamestown, Virginia—to be enslaved in the Western Hemisphere’s enterprising system of chattel slavery, the system that bound persons in servitude as the property of a slaveholder or household, primarily for economic gain.

Today is for them.  There were 19 in total coming from the Congo and Angola in Africa. We have forgotten them. But we must remember who we are and not the label Europeans used to identify what we were while pursuing their interests.  

Today and forever we stand on their bones, not just their shoulders. We stand in their light, not in their darkness. We are their reflections; and, they are not simply a part of our past.  We are their children, the “posterity” the Preamble refers to—we are their future generations and we have inherited their same resilience, intelligence, and honor. But, we have to remember who we are.

On the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, we will walk the same paths our ancestors walked, molding our feet to match the imprints of their footsteps. And, for the [Community] Organizers of the March on Washington of 1963, they walked the same petrified paths of those that came before them where the footprints are no longer visible, but where bones lie underneath the protected Earth to be returned to a forgiving universe and the comfort of the Almighty’s spirit.

Every question we have about the challenges we face has already been answered by our ancestors if we just remember who we are and acknowledge that we stand on their bones.

Did You Know?

The largest maximum security prison in the United States is called the Louisiana State Penitentiary, formerly known as Angola. Check out this article: http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2013/07/angola_prison_conditions_inhum.html

The African Burial Ground is a great place to visit to learn more about the discovery of a cemetery of enslaved men, women, and children in the Wall Street section of New York City. For more information or to visit, go to www.nps.gov/afbg/.  There is also an African burial ground in Portsmouth, NH that you should check out: http://www.africanburyinggroundnh.org/

You can learn more about the Jamestown, VA slave trade from this 2006 article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/02/AR2006090201097_2.html

[1]  Oracle Bones were used by the Ancient Chinese as a way to communicate with the ancestors. They were inscribed with questions that would later be revealed as answers once the oracle bones were heated and inspected.


Marcus Garvey

The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr.

Today, August 17th, 2013, marks the 126th birthday of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).  Listen to him here:

Explanation of the Objects of the UNIA (UCLA):


He was:  a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, a thinker, a Black nationalist, a Pan-Africanist, an apprentice (Booker T. Washington was his “great hero”), an entrepreneur (The Black Star Line Ship Company), a visionary, a political critic, a writer, an orator, an organizer, a world traveler, a publicist, a revolutionary, a critical thinker, a poet, a cultural critic, a bridge builder (“Back to Africa Movement”), a publisher, a journalist, an economist, an inspiration (Ghana and Kwame NkrumahThe Nation of Islam (Malcolm X’s parents, Earl and Louise Little met at a UNIA conference) and the Rastafari

International Convention of Negroes of the World, Liberty Hall

International Convention of Negroes of the World, Liberty Hall 1924

Movement were all inspired by him). He was controversial, an advocate, adversarial…he was HUMAN.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King visited Marcus Garvey’s shrine when they visited Jamaica, the Island of Garvey’s birth, June, 20th, 1965. They placed a wreath for him.

Marcus Garvey’s life was filled with many accomplishments, many setbacks, and it was a life that was GREAT because it was a life that SERVED!

—-> “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Dr. King remarked that Marcus Garvey “was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody (Salley, pg. 82).”

UNIA Flyer seeking investors

UNIA Flyer seeking investors

All great people are inspired  by and copy the actions of other great people. For Marcus Garvey, it was Booker T. Washington.  For Dr. King, it was Mohandas Gandhi and Marcus Garvey.


Who inspires you?

Click on the following links from PBS’ American Experience to learn more:





Hon. Marcus Garvey speaking on his return to the United States:




Last Friday May 19th, 2012 marked the 87th birthday of Malcolm X, the man Ossie Davis eulogized as, “our manhood, our living, black manhood!”  I am always touched and softened by the love Ossie Davis blanketed Malcolm X with when he adamantly stated that Malcolm X was “a prince—our own black shining prince!”  How endearing is that!  Even when the media and individuals had castigated Malcolm X from the same communities to whom he had been betrothed, Ossie Davis spoke up for him.  To Mr. Davis, Malcolm wasn’t too “militant” or too “Black” or too much of a “separatist” or a “Moslem,” he was just a man–heckled by a vicious world too blinded in racism and violence to understand the jewel that had now been forced to speak from a coffin even as he lay in silence.

From one man to the next, Ossie Davis and Brother Malcolm spoke the same language and knew the same struggle as Black men in America. They had fought the same fights for human and civil rights.  Who better to humanize the man who had almost outgrown and transcended the consideration of humanity than another “Brother?”  Although Malcolm X was in plain sight for the entire world to see, as far as humanity was concerned he was an invisible man.  He was an angry Black person stepping out of line and there was no tolerance for that sort of behavior in the 1960s. He died as a man, but he wasn’t allowed to live as one unless he conformed to the masking of his own humanity.  Ossie Davis reminded us of this man when he asked, “Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him.”

For each of his posthumous birthdays, I only wish that he had smiled at me. When I’m walking down the streets in my new home of Harlem, I feel the winds of Brother Malcolm’s spirit wisp past me, and I only wish that I could have listened to him from a Harlem street corner.

My favorite thoughts remind me that he was a husband and a father. He was a son and a brother. How many times must the trepidation of anxiety have crept into his body feeling concerned that he would never have another home-cooked meal, hear the pitter-patter of his daughters’ feet, or see the doting eyes of his siblings while seeking approval at the good news of having a new crush or getting a promotion?   Every time I see a picture or watch a video of Brother Malcolm smiling and jovial, the leitmotif of him only being the angry militant dissipates further from my mind; after all, he was only human.
I shared my celebration of Brother Malcolm’s life at the Brooklyn Museum in a discussion about Black men by Black men organized by Question Bridge: Black Males Blueprint Roundtable. To listen to the conversation was enlightening and hopeful most times, but it was also hurtful and contemplative at other times. To think that Black men live trapped in a dichotomy that either embraces or misunderstands them is tiring to me! I can only imagine what it must be like to live it. The discussion made me think of the throngs of Black men I know and the ways they cling to other Black men out of necessity because to not have a “crew” would place them in a world alone. Indeed, each of them would become that Invisible Man that Ralph Ellison had written about.

From what I witnessed on the stage at the Brooklyn Museum, and from what Question Bridge has assembled says that Black men are not invisible—we just have not been listening.  We have not been paying attention.  For so long, Black men have been role models, even when they deny that they are. There isn’t a creature on Earth that can resist stopping in his, her or its track when a this man enters the room.  Invisible is a state of mind that too many of us have grown comfortable with, but when we shirk the veils of complacency and comfort we realize the best of each of us is unclad–stark naked for all to see.

“However we may have differed with him—or with each other about him and his value as a man—let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now. Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man—but a seed—which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us (Malcolm X’s Eulogy, Ossie Davis).”  

For Malcolm X to have died in the manner in which he did was to open the door for the spirit of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz to continue to live and celebrate another day on this earth, on every birthday, for everybody to finally see…invisible no more.

Please enjoy the recording, courtesy of Democracy Now, that I have provided for your listening pleasure: http://www.democracynow.org/2005/2/7/ossie_davis_eulogizes_malcolm_x_i

Full text of Ossie Davis’ Eulogy here: http://www.malcolmx.com/about/eulogy.html