Winston “Kokayi” Patterson is embroiled in a fight for a justice after a middle-aged white man brandished a gun at him during an altercation near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last month. / Photo by Sam P.K. Collins
For more than 40 years, Winston “Kokayi” Patterson has treated an untold number of Washingtonians through substance abuse and mental health treatment, and natural healing. However, much of that has had to be put on hold after an altercation near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest.
Patterson said a middle-aged white man, angry that he relieved himself in the parking lot behind his storefront, cursed, spat on and brandished a gun at the slender, grey-loc’d elder. Officers later arrested the alleged assailant, Michael James Conway of Central Safe and Lock, charging him with assault with a deadly weapon and having a firearm without a business license. They also detained Patterson on a simple assault charge.
Nearly a month after the incident, only one man has to report before a judge.
“My situation’s no different from any Black man who’s been accosted by a belligerent white man, said Patterson, 64, a lifelong D.C. resident. “The conditions of Black people haven’t changed much.”
After his release from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) 3rd District precinct in Northwest on the early evening of July 13th, Patterson had to submit a urine sample and adhere to a stay-away order. Earlier this week, nearly 60 people filled Courtroom 220 in D.C. Superior Court during his initial arraignment hearing. The presiding judge scheduled Patterson’s trial for the morning of September 26th.
Efforts to raise awareness about the renowned healer’s case and clear his name have been weeks in the making. On Aug. 2nd, a friends and supporters hosted a fundraiser at Sandovan Restaurant and Lounge in Northwest, an endeavor that garnered several hundred dollars in contributions and featured Al-Malik Farrakhan, executive director of Cease Fire, Don’t Smoke the Brothers, an antiviolence group on which Patterson serves on the board of directors.
Earlier this month, Patterson appeared on the To Heal DC Show with Joni Eisenburgon WPFW 89.3 FM. He also said he met with former D.C. Shadow U.S. Representative Charles Moreland (D), The Rev. Graylan Hagler, and other community leaders. On Wednesday, supporters led a demonstration in front of Central Safe and Lock. On Aug. 17th, major activities are also scheduled to take place. Yuma Bellomee, also known as Dr. Yew, recently did his part in hosting an herb walk in Anacostia Park in the latter part of last month.
“I would like to use this situation to raise awareness of human rights,” Patterson added. “We must fight for the rights of all Black people, against the injustice and repressive behavior presented to us by police officials and people in the community who have a reactionary state of mind.”
On the day of the incident, Patterson planned to attend the Fellowship Conference, then in its second day, with a longtime friend and patient who was serving as a staffer. By the time Patterson could no longer hold his urine, the duo had parked their vehicle directly in front of Central Safe and Lock, located across the street from the convention center on the corner of 7th and L streets in Northwest.
As he walked out of the alley between the parking lot and main street minutes later, Patterson locked eyes with a visibly irate Conway, who was standing behind a raised railing. Soon after, with a bag in hand and a knapsack on his back, Patterson strolled over to the crosswalk. That’s when he said Conway cursed at him. Once Patterson turned around and step toward Conway, the angry storeowner spat on him. In response, Patterson splashed water from a half-full bottle on Conway who then pulled a black automatic pistol out of his right pants pocket. Patterson, attempting to duck for cover behind an SUV, fell into 7th Street.
Patterson’s friend, who asked her name not be used in this story, quickly jumped into action, picking up an injured and disheveled Patterson. As she helped him walk across the street to the convention center, Conway yelled racial epithets at him. While Patterson entered the convention center and used the restroom, she flagged down MPD officers patrolling the area on foot.
For the next hour, six officers, and later two detectives, interrogated, Patterson, his friend, and Conway separately, with pairs of officers taking turns to question each person. Shortly after, they whisked Conway away in the squad car.
By that time, Patterson’s friend had been in the Convention Center engaging in activities related to the three-day event. Officers escorted Patterson, who’d been outside by himself for some time, into the convention center to meet her. After one more round of questioning, they cuffed Patterson and drove him to the 3rd District precinct, where he sat for more than three hours before being released. The next day, court officials set the terms of his release during pre-trial services.
“I didn’t see Dr. Patterson’s arrest coming. MPD misconstrued everything and caused a lot of stress. I would’ve never gotten them,” said Patterson’s friend, a member of Spirit of Faith Christian Center, located in Brandywine and Temple Hills, Maryland. She said Conway’s alleged assault traumatized her, causing her to seek therapy on a couple occasions. She also touched on the hurdles she has yet to overcome in bringing the storeowner to justice.
“I tried to file a complaint against Conway the next day because my life was threatened and they told me I couldn’t. They made it seem like Dr. Patterson was the defendant when he was really the plaintiff. People need to be fair. It’s crazy that the doctor has to suffer like this for no apparent reason,” the D.C. metropolitan area resident added.
Still in shock from what had just taken place, Patterson sent a mass text to dozens of friends, colleagues, patients, and extended family members in the days after, explaining the situation in great detail. A committee comprised of spiritual and civic leaders in the D.C. metropolitan area later crafted plans to raise awareness about the events of July 13th and organize community members of various ages via social media, email, and word of mouth.
“We’re blessed that we could stand by Baba Kokayi,” said Ayo Handy-Kendi, a breathologist and stress manager who served as a member of the organizing committee that hosted last week’s gathering at Sandovan. “People came out because they believe in Baba Kokayi and they believe an injustice has been done. We want him to be let off and we want the gentleman that assaulted him to be reviewed. We feel that he has also committed a threat and should be brought to justice.”
With much of the community on his side, Patterson said victory seems to be on the horizon.
“The response as it relates to my situation has been overwhelming. The concerns my colleagues have shown is a true testament to Black love and our ability to support our own,” he said. “The grassroots, political, health, education, Black media, and spiritual community is coming to support, along with a multitude of community organizations.”
Photo: Young Black girls embracing each other. (Taken from https://yeyeolade.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/black-rites-of-passage-for-young-black-girls-from-assatashakur-com/)
Native Washingtonian and community organizer Samantha Master knows firsthand the punitive nature of the D.C. metropolitan area’s school systems, especially when it comes to young Black women who break rules in a desperate attempt to escape life-threatening situations.
More than a decade ago, Master received a two-week suspension after administrators found a knife in her backpack. Then 13 years old, Master said she had to protect herself against an abusive boyfriend. Her story and pleas for leniency however, fell on deaf ears, jumpstarting a period of depression and disdain for school.
Though Master had the fortune of meeting an elder who helped her complete high school and enter college, she stressed that an untold number of young girls of color with similar experiences rarely escape the perils of a violent home life, particularly because school officials overlook their cries for help.
“It’s important that we understand that gender-based violence makes you fear for your safety in your community. As Black women, we have to speak our truth,” said Master, now 28, during the second of three town halls hosted by the D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the evening of Aug. 3rd at Watha T. Daniel-Shaw Library in Northwest.
The event, themed “Leaving Girls Behind,” shared the moniker of a May ACLU report that criticized the D.C. Public Schools’ Empowering Males of Color (EMOC) initiative for ignoring the plight of Black and Brown schoolgirls. During the two-hour discussion, more than 20 Black and Latino women, many of whom represent advocacy, community, and legal organizations, watched a short film featuring Master and a bevy of Black girls who explained how their schools failed to address their mental and sexual trauma.
Shortly after, participants discussed what they considered the best means of connecting young women of color to resources that can aid them in safely navigating the school system and having a healthy coming of age. Topics included mentorship opportunities, methods of youth engagement, difficulties in empowering young women in the D.C. public school system, and how to force policy change.
“I’m always grateful to share my experiences but disheartened that they’re so common,” said Master, a member of Black Youth Project 100, an activist member organization comprised of millennials who want to secure justice and freedom for all Black people. “There are deep flaws in the Engaging Males of Color initiative and I’m interested in how divestment from it and investment in opportunities for young, Black people look,” said Master, a Capitol Heights, Maryland resident.
EMOC, the proposal in question, aims to improve the academic performance of boys of color through $5.5 million in funding for school-based and community engagement programs that focus on academic, social, and emotional support. Other plans in the works include the opening of an all-male high school housed within the former Ron Brown Middle School in Southeast and literacy-focused mentorship.
But some people say those moves won’t suffice if it leaves out Black and Brown girls. In its 39-page report, the ACLU concludes that DCPS cannot overlook the need to serve girls of color, citing persistent disparities between them and their white counterparts. Another criticism centered on the notion that single-sex schooling reinforces harmful stereotypes about young women. This document also determined that the D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, despite the prodding of local advocacy organizations and D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), hasn’t considered providing those resources for girls of color.
“We wanted to amplify the need for resources for girls of color. The Empowering Males of Color initiative didn’t address that. It was a missed opportunity; they did all this research about gaps between students of color and whites just to address a segment of that population,” said Kristina Jacobs, ACLU intern and key organizer of the town hall.
“We wanted to hear from our community members, specifically young women of color who’ve been enrolled in DCPS so that we can push an agenda that’s of the community. Our guests brought them full selves and showed how those experiences affected their identities,” Jacobs added.
Students who will attend the new all-male academy are in the midst of a two-week orientation taking place before the school’s Aug 22nd start date. Even so, the ACLU’s collection of data and crafting of a plan will continue, with some consideration of throwing support behind legislation that’s pending in the D.C. Council.
Though she didn’t matriculate through the D.C. public school system, Temi Bennett, a D.C.-based realtor, recounted barriers she encountered as a young woman at an African-centered school in Chicago. She said that though administrators meant well, they provided more enriching activities for the males while relegating the young women to classes that reinforced gender stereotypes. For her, those experiences highlighted institutional inequities at a young age.
“While we didn’t get into strategy, I enjoyed hearing these diverse stories. It’s a great first step and I’m excited to see what happens next,” Bennett said. “The main thing we pointed out was the need for outreach to Black and Brown girls. I think the participation here speaks to that. The main thing is mentoring. Our girls need mentors that look just like them.”
PHOTO: The intersection of Broad and Erie streets in North Philadelphia/ Sam P.K.Collins
“The elections are a distraction. I’m personally not into it because I don’t know these people. I invest my time and energy into people who love and know me,” Hakeem Hawkins, owner of Black and Nobel Bookstore in North Philadelphia told AllEyesOnDC in response to an inquiry about the Democratic National Convention (DNC) taking place a couple miles south from where he spent most of the day selling cold bottles of water to passersby.
“I don’t want to invest my time if these politicians won’t come into my community,” he added, alluding to the conspicuous divide between convention goers ripping and running throughout downtown Philly and the natives who experience the hardships of daily life at the intersection of Broad and Erie streets and other enclaves in this historic American city.
Through Black and Nobel, Hawkins has fed his fellow Philadelphians knowledge and provided a platform for Hip-Hop artists and conscious scholars, including Dr. Umar Johnson, for the last 15 years, a feat that has made him a neighborhood star of sorts. During a visit to the bookstore, located an earshot away from Temple University, one could watch Phil Valentine lectures on a big screen television, order a shipment of books for incarcerated loved ones, and glean a cornucopia of books, pamphlets, and DVDs. This historic meeting place has also served as a de-facto drug detox center and meeting place for those wanting to turn around their tumultuous lives.
For Hawkins, directly tending to the community in this manner proves sufficient enough in making a change.
So much so, he said he had no plans to participate in convention activities beyond moving his water operation near the Pennsylvania Convention and Wells Fargo centers and catching a DJ Khaled performance. Anything else would be feeding into political theatrics he says does nothing but boost the egos of its actors.
“I don’t spend time following a person. I’m an entrepreneur,” Hawkins, sporting a white cap peppered with green marijuana leaf imprints and a neon yellow tank top, said while sitting under a tent strategically placed next to the entranceway to SEPTA, Philadelphia’s metro rail system. “Once you do that, it’s fuck the system and I’m pretty sure the politicians who are entrepreneurs do their business stuff first. They’re all full of shit. With the little they do, they want to be rewarded,” he added.
Hawkins’ viewpoint, though divergent and somewhat controversial to those who belong to the Democratic Party, are based in fact, particularly when it comes to police-community relationships.
Under the leadership of the Democratic Party, Black people in Philadelphia haven’t fared well. After all, this is the city where the MOVE bombing, the 1985 incident that killed nearly a dozen Black people and set ablaze blocks of a middle-class community, happened at the urging of then-Mayor W. Wilson Goode, a Democrat, and the city’s police chief. More recently, the Philadelphia Police Department, with the support of a powerful union, has been cited for using controversial “Stop and Frisk” tactics against Black residents.
Other signs of systemic inequality, including disparities in healthcare access, quality education, and income, count as parts of a legacy of racial tension that goes back to American Independence, characterized by Black Philadelphians’ struggle to create their communities peacefully. Majority-Black cities and communities across the country have encountered eerily similar situations, brought on by a combination of white flight, the shuttering of factory jobs, the flow of drugs, and overzealous drug laws that punish those do what they feel they have to do to overcome these conditions.
“We don’t have friends in politics. They give us nothing for our votes and support,” Brother June, an employee at Black & Nobel and journalism student at Temple, told AllEyesOnDC. June, a returning citizen who found a love for reading while incarcerated, said his experiences in the criminal justice system showed him how attorneys, judges, and politicians prey on the ignorant.
“Anytime we start to think critically, they call us conspiracy theorists. Hillary Clinton’s husband signed the unjust laws that incarcerated Black men for a long time. She used the word ‘super predators’ and supported the law to further perpetuate slavery,” June added. These days, he wants to get North Philly residents engaged in local politics, mainly through his upstart City Talk Newspaper. Plans also include the launch of his own political party, a testament to the anti-establishment views that perpetuate underserved U.S. communities.
Political Favors at the Expense of the People
After the overtly hate-filled Klan meeting that was last week’s Republican National Convention, many politically active melanated people converged on the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia earlier this week eager to boost the morale of voters weary from months of Democratic Party infighting and frightened by the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency.
So far, party elites haven’t disappointed in putting together a show, rallying around Secy. Hillary Clinton and rehashing old political talking points about freedom, America’s promising future, and this country’s position as the “best in the world.” Hearing those messages from my living room on Monday and Tuesday didn’t make me feel too good, especially after considering the people who delivered them.
Just as I had suspected, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) turned out to be a pseudo-revolutionary, throwing his support behind the woman he constantly painted as a Wall Street darling, even after WikiLeaks uncovered the DNC’s attempts to sabotage his campaign. In what many touted as an historic address, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) kept referring to the “forefathers” who drew up the U.S. Constitution, totally neglecting the fact that the white, male group of Founding Fathers more than likely had his ancestors in shackles in 1776.
First Lady Michelle Obama, with as much Black Girl Magic as she could muster, sang Secy. Clinton’s praises, but not before describing an American utopia that in no way, shape, or form matches the conditions blocks away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, or much of the U.S. for that matter.
Once again, our elected officials played politics with us, delivering more style than substance and duping their followers, as well as members of the public who believe they have no other choice than Clinton, into thinking that a special group of people will save them from the Hell they said is guaranteed to ensue if Trump wins in November.
By the time I touched down in the city of brotherly love on Wednesday, daytime convention activities had been well under way and Democratic delegates, along with other party members and media folk, gathered in the halls of the Pennsylvania Convention Center to discuss various issues and address the constituencies that make up the Democratic Party.
That morning, the Black Caucus kicked off on the terrace of the Convention Center, providing me an opportunity to hear commentary on Black America’s current state of affairs, particularly that from former Attorney General Eric Holder who would be delivering the keynote address that morning.
Nearly an hour before DNC Black Caucus Chair Virgie Rollins started the program, much of Black America learned that charges for the three remaining Baltimore City police officers on trial for Freddie Gray’s death had been dropped. While this didn’t come as a surprise to me, I must admit that I felt sorrowful for State Attorney Marilyn Mosby and other key players, in the government and outside of the establishment, who put in the work necessary to ensure the case would make it this far. Once again, police officers wouldn’t be held accountable for the death of a Black person.
Surely, the speakers in the Black Caucus that morning, including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, would at least mention this news and devise methods of reforming a system that allows killer cops to walk the streets freely.
It didn’t turn out that way.
Instead, much of the conversation from Rawlings-Blake, and later Holder, centered on the drawbacks of sitting out this election or voting for a third-party candidate. In what I considered the most ironic moment of the morning, Rawlings-Blake told audience members to “think about the youth [who] don’t want [live in] a country ruled in fear.” Obviously, she forgot the quasi-Martial Law imposed on the young Baltimoreans who took the streets in the aftermath of Gray’s murder last year.
Holder, in my opinion, performed a little better in the delivery of his keynote address. Unlike Rawlings-Blake, he addressed police brutality and weighed in on the Black Lives Matter movement as it exists, calling on its grassroots players to continue building their revolution in non-election years.
“People didn’t want to hear us when we talked about these police departments. The things we’ve been saying can be documented,” Holder said as audience members clapped. “For too long, people showed that Black lives didn’t matter and now we say that Black lives do matter. So don’t you let those brave young activists be marginalized. The Black Lives Matter folk have to not just make this a moment, but a movement. I need to not only see you during the presidential campaign. I need you to do the hard, boring work.”
I don’t know where Holder has been but the young people have been doing the work, even those not rallying under the Black Lives Matter banner. Shortly after leaving the cold, stale Pennsylvania Convention Center, I saw just that at different rallies within a three block radius. By Wednesday, Black Lives Matter and other Black grassroots organizations had already made their mark in that vicinity so it proved difficult finding groups of brothers and sisters.
After circling the block a couple times however, I found someone who had quite a bit to say about organizing as it pertains to awakening Black people and helping us achieve results. “Power is in the people and we can stand up,”Kashif Cole, a 21-year-old Brooklynite and representative of WorldCantWait.net, told AllEyesOnDC as he sat in front of a church.
“Beyond protesting, we can network and reach out to the people. Speak and be with them,” he continued.
Under the hot afternoon sun, we did just that, exchanging information and reasoning about Black unity, anti-capitalism, and grassroots organizing. Since taking my community work to new levels, I’ve reveled in such conversations, as they are the building blocks to movements that can catch fire.
“We have to do our own research and not take what anyone says at face value. We have to get educated and get powerful,” Kashif added. “We need more Black bodies on the ground protesting, not just when someone gets shot. It’s also very necessary to support Black business and take our money out of these corporations. The ultimate goal is revolution. We have to take down the system: no if, ands, or buts.”
That mantra became even clearer that evening after I heard President Barack Obama speak highly of Clinton and later hug her for what made a great photo op. Though I wasn’t in the Wells Fargo Center to capture that moment, a sense of calm overcame me listening to him talk about his political journey and encouraging those who booed to just go out and vote. After a couple seconds, I realized that it was a mix of adolescent nostalgia and the “Obama Effect,” what I like to describe as the president’s hypnotic presence, cadence, wordplay, and story telling that puts people at ease, even as he’s trying to sell us something that won’t do much good.
As a young voter in 2008 and 2012, I fell for this presidential marketing scheme. This time around however, I couldn’t let go of the fact that Obama, even as he praised her credentials, questioned Clinton’s judgment at one point. From the outside looking in, one could assume that their work together in the years since the 2008 Democratic Primary could’ve compelled this change of heart. I have reason to believe differently, understanding that when it comes to party politics, you have to move with the collective, even when that move is in support of someone who pretty much guaranteed her placement as the 2016 party nominee when she agreed to concede to Obama just eight years earlier.
Admittedly, I don’t have concrete proof of this assertion, but when you think outside of the box, you see the system for what it truly represents. Everything after that becomes commonsensical, even if the outside world doesn’t think so. Giving a group of people who have no agency a limited number of choices in who will run this country proves to be nothing more than a tool of control. Albeit, Clinton has decades of experience, but her mastery of party politics saved her more than anything else. The e-mail leak controversy that almost derailed the DNC and the subsequent cover up speaks to that.
Change Outside of the Political Arena
The global Black struggle for self-determination is more spiritual than anything else.
As a people without a common consciousness, we’re susceptible to the influence of outside forces that want our resources in return for nothing. Malcolm X told us this in his “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech, demanding that we as Black people build up our own institutions and take control of our communities. Without the common unadulterated heritage and backing of sovereign nations that other ethnic groups in this country have, doing that has proven virtually impossible for Black America.
That doesn’t mean that achieving this goal is impossible.
As I learned in my excursion throughout downtown and North Philly, there are people who understand that change initially comes from within. After that happens, they can change their communities, and ultimately the world. I stand with Brother June in saying that Black people, and maybe other oppressed melanated groups for that matter, need a political party that resonates with their values and needs. Obviously, that cannot happen overnight. Hillary Clinton supporters who point out that reality in their cajoling of those who don’t want to vote for her are terribly facetious for believing that we’re ignorant of these facts.
If one needs concrete proof that change is happening locally and outside of the political arena, they need look no further than Dominque White, a young mother of two who underwent a metamorphosis of her own less than a year ago. Even as she dwells on her bad decisions and stints on the streets, she remains persistent in changing her life and helping others, saying that forgiveness and unity are the keys to our salvation as a Black nation.
“Unity is the key but people are very prideful. I had to let my pride go but it took me seven years running in circles to understand that,” White,24, told AllEyesOnDC steps away from Black and Nobel where she and her friends gathered on Wednesday afternoon. “These young people don’t want anything other than what they’ve been shown. It’s the same bullshit like who got shot and who’s late on their rent. If more people could show others how to be successful, we could all be successful. I want to see someone helping the next man, sharing their health and resources. That’s the only way to make a change.”
If only the DNC visitors, especially those of African descent, could take some time out of their trip to visit North Philly and other marginalized parts of this city to learn this lesson.
“You can’t have a movement without music!” Isisara Bey, executive producer of the annual March on Washington Film Festival told an audience of more than 100 music aficionados who gathered in the lobby of NPR headquarters in Northwest during the festival’s “Black Radio and Civil Rights” event earlier this week.
What transpired later that Tuesday evening would speak to the spirit of Bey’s words.
After enjoying the musical stylings of Victoria Purcell, Byron Nichols, Robert Ellis, and the NEWorks House Band, guests followed Bey and other March on Washington Film Festival committee members into a theatre where they watched Mavis!, a 2015 documentary about Mavis Staples, renowned R&B and Gospel singer and Civil Rights activist.
As a member of the Staples Singers, led by her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples, and a solo artist, Staples contributed to the soundtrack of the Civil Rights era, bringing contemporary pop hits that had a positive message such as “Long Walk to D.C.,” “When Will We Be Paid?,” and “I’ll Take You There.” Pop’s close relationship with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired this foray into “freedom songs” as the Staples Singers called their brand of music.
In Mavis!, Staples, then 75 and a music legend in her own right, tours the country with her band and reflects on her experiences as a standout member of the Staples Singers. The film, which featured late Civil Rights leader Julian Bond, hip-hop legend Chuck D, and other music stars, focuses on the longevity of Staples’ career and her ability to adjust with the times, as seen when she released two albums in the 1980s under the direction of Prince, and won her first Grammy in 2011 for her album “You Are Not Alone”.
After the film, a panel of music executives, activists, and journalists who knew and interviewed Staples spoke about the current state of the music industry for Black artists.
“I asked Mavis what it was like being artistic and in this community. You had to get people in their childhood talking about contemporary issues,” Sonja Williams, author, broadcast journalist, and a panelist, told audience members that evening while recounting a radio interview she had with Staples. “Once [the Staples family] started singing freedom songs, they knew that one of the ways to reach young people was with a rhythm and something more contemporary along with R&B.”
The panel, moderated by WHUR 96.3 FM’s Jacquie Gales Webb, also included Al Bell, songwriter, producer, and owner of Stax Records to which the Staples Singers were signed, and Jonathan Jackson, an entrepreneur and social justice advocate. For much of the evening, this group touched on the events that led to the dilution of socially conscious news and music.
Jackson noted that many artists didn’t have much incentive, beyond helping their people, to produce socially conscious material. During the panel, he also detailed how corporatization of the media over the last couple of decades had shut out divergent voices and marginalized disc jockeys who had positive, uplifting messages.
“Civil Rights didn’t equate with all musicians. You never really heard freedom songs on the radio. A lot of African-American artists were getting frozen out,” Jackson, national spokesperson for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, told the audience.
“[Today], the media consolidation has taken away the responsibility of making community news in the African-American markets. In these urban markets, it’s all comedy. All the conscious personalities have been curtailed. More programmers have their hands tied. They won’t let news and information get through the urban formats. Local ownership needs to get back into place,” Jackson added.
Bell, writer of the Staples Singers’ hit 1972 hit “I’ll Take You There,” gave an even more detailed picture of how music unified Black people, regaling guests with the story of how he organized the Wattstax benefit concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the wake of the 1965 riots. That event, which featured the Staples Singers and Stax Records artists, attracted more than 100,000 people and didn’t result in any incidences of violence.
“They tried to put us in a category where we were shiftless and not good thinkers but we were strategic business people,” Bell told the audience as he provided examples of musicians, radio personalities, and Civil Rights leaders collectively organizing across the country.
“The Black disc jockeys were like the mayors of their cities. When Dr. King would go to Philly, he would meet with Georgie Woods because he knew everyone,” Bell added. “That helped Dr. King but it was dangerous to have that kind of power. That’s why they thought it was time to mass merchandise music. They acquired the independent companies to monopolize and cut off the independent entrepreneurs and sell and market music to Black people,” said Bell.
The July 19th “Black Radio and Civil Rights” event counted among a slew of gatherings during the annual March on Washington Film Festival, founded by the Raben Group three years ago in commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington. The 2016 installment, which goes on until Saturday, kicked off on July 13th with an event at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Northwest. Other programs have focused on the Green Book, a guide that helped Black tourists travel safely through the segregated South in the early to mid-20th century, Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, and other storied figures.
“Events like this expose you to what Black people have done culturally. It’s about the people who contributed to the Civil Rights movement,” said Maiyah Mayhan, a Howard University student who attended the Mavis! film screening. “These days, it’s hard to get people to play good music. That’s why it’s so important to be in spaces like this. The radio has shaped how sound is perceived. I appreciate Mavis Staples and other singers who were able to evolve with the sound,” added Mayhan, a junior from Los Angeles studying journalism.
PHOTO: Critically acclaimed author and native Washingtonian Jason Reynolds is scheduled to present the winners of the “A Book that Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest at the 16th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival at the Washington Convention Center in Northwest./ Courtesy
With the advent of an annual writing contest, parents and educators living along the East Coast can lay to rest their fears that their young ones won’t have many opportunities to read and write now the school year has ended.
For the fifth consecutive year, the U.S. Library of Congress, in conjunction with a bevy of public and school libraries in the Mid-Atlantic region, is hosting a summer essay writing contest that allows rising fifth and sixth graders to reflect on books that made an impact in their lives.
“I’ve been fascinated by the diversity and imagination in these stories. I want to see how young people are stretching their minds,” said Jason Reynolds, a critically acclaimed author and native Washingtonian who’s scheduled to present the winners of this competition, touted as “A Book that Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest, at the 16th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival at the Washington Convention Center in Northwest on September 24th. The submission deadline passed earlier this week.
Since its 2012 inception, the “A Book that Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest has attracted more than 1,000 entries from students in the D.C. metropolitan area, West Virginia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Each year, a panel consisting of members of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) selects 30 finalists. From there, a group of educators and children’s book authors choose three overall grand prize winners.
Reynolds, who has served as a judge in years past, explained the qualities he seeks in an ideal entry, stressing that students must be committed to doing their best, even if they don’t win a prize.
“I’m looking for excellence. The barometer is subjective but I need to know that students put in that work. Anyone who takes time to work on their essay should take pride in completing this one thing. Hopefully that will push them to complete other things,” said Reynolds, a Northeast resident.
The “A Book that Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest comes amid a technological shift that has changed the way children absorb information and posed new opportunities to engage tomorrow’s leaders. More than half of pre-teens in the U.S. have accessed social media sites meant for adult use, according to information collected by Statista, a domestic statistics company. Studies have also shown that when used strategically, the internet can become a valuable research tool for young people.
Many public and school libraries across the country have caught on, creating spaces focusing on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics). Some of the librarians involved in the essay writing contest acknowledged these changes, saying they’re embracing the new while adhering to tradition.
“Today’s librarians are needed more than ever. They are leaders in the area of digital literacy,” said Audrey Church, AASL president. “There’s more information that people need to figure out and students need to develop critical thinking skills as they reflect on the importance of their book. This contest provides a wonderful opportunity for every child participating to think more fully about a book that he or she read. I hope that they reflect on experiences that are meaningful for them,” said Church, also associate professor and graduate school coordinator at Longwood University in Farmville, Va.
Myla Agyin, a 2012 finalist and student at BASIS Charter School in Northwest, said she can attest to value of introspection as it relates to the writing contest. Myla’s prize- winning essay centered on how Ben Carson’s “Gifted Hands” inspired her to pursue a career in the medical field. Since that pivotal moment, has excelled in her studies and become more vocal in conversations about current events.
“That contest was a great opportunity to express how I felt and showing how reading this book impacted me,” Myla, an aspiring pathologist, said. “These days I feel like my views get taken seriously. I’ve become more open. I feel like I can express myself. People need to see the truth ad get a better understanding of the world. I have future plans to write a book. I’m not sure what it will be about but it will be something that I find interesting,” added Myla, now 14.
PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) in Kenya with President Uhuru Kenyetta this week.
This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his first visit to the Motherland as part of an effort to strengthen ties with African leaders and discuss investment opportunities throughout the continent.
During his first stop in Uganda on Monday, he commemorated the 40th anniversary of a hostage rescue mission in which his brother died. Netanyahu also explored the possibility of Israel imparting its knowledge about security and technology on the African state. Other stops on what has been called an historic excursion include Kenya and Ethiopia. In Kenya, Netanyahu confidently exclaimed that “Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel,” perhaps alluding to the relationship his state had with a number of African nations in the aftermath of their liberation from colonial rule.
On the surface, such a trip could provide an opportunity for Africa to further develop and participate in the global economy, especially when the Israeli government’s $12.9 billion plan to strengthen economic ties with Africa is taken into consideration. In examining this event through a Pan-African lens however, it become apparent that Netanyahu’s outreach to African leaders is a desperate attempt to muster international support for Israel’s violent actions against Palestinians.
This move comes amid an ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over the former’s occupation of the latter’s land and the subsequent torture of Palestinian people. In peace-keeping discussions, Netanyahu has made it clear that he doesn’t support the idea of a two-nation state, demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a state and cut down its military forces. With the United States’ financial support, Israeli military forces have trekked throughout Palestinian settlements in the West Bank. The United Nations recently condemned these actions, urging Israeli leaders to halt this assault and wait until a peace deal is in place.
These developments show signs of growing impatience among world leaders for what amounts to war crimes on Israel’s part.
In forging ties with African nations, Israel wants to ensure that their newfound allies won’t side with Arab nations in their resolutions against the Jewish state.
Netanyahu, a student of history, has valid reasons for those fears. In the late 1970s, the then- Organization of African Unity, facing pressure from Arab states, passed a resolution recommending that member states sever ties with Israel in the midst of the Yon Kippur War. Decades later under the leadership of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, Israel lost its observer status in the African Union, completely removing it from the table. During his stop in Kenya, Netanyahu made public his wish to get Israel reinstated. These power moves allow him to build a coalition that will ease his nation’s ability to take over the entire West Bank.
As always is the case, African leaders dealing with other heads of state and power brokers must stay true to their predecessors’ commitment to remain socially and economically independent. In an increasingly globalized society, making that vision come to fruition has been very difficult, in part because many of the African countries rely on their so-called allies for aid and assistance. As seen with the Europeans during Colonization and with the Chinese today, that comes with a heavy price.
In short, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, and Ethiopia’s Mulatu Tashome, along with their other African presidential colleagues must look at Israel’s outreach soberly. In addition, they must adopt a Pan-African, anti-imperialistic mindset that will embolden them to stand up against Israel’s assault on Palestinians. In doing so, they make it known that Africa won’t be used as a pawn in Netanyahu’s games.
By the end of his life, Kwame Ture cemented a legacy as a master organizer and staunch Pan-Africanist. As a leader of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP), he helped internationalize the Black freedom struggle and inspired countless young people in the process.
On what would’ve been his 75th birthday, a cadre of former colleagues and mentees gathered at Sankofa Video Books & Cafe on Georgia Avenue in Northwest to remember Ture and ensure that today’s grassroots activists keep his memory alive in the ongoing fight for African liberation.
“Kwame had been a catalyst and game changer in my life. It was great being involved in political work and organizing African people for a common movement and action,” said Jendayi Exum, an educator and lifelong D.C. resident who attended the Wednesday, June 29th event.
In 1976, Exum, then a student at American University in Northwest, met Ture during his visit to the campus. Within a year, she joined A-APRP and accompanied Ture on trips around the country.
“He wanted us to have a united Black front so he pushed for organizations to come together. He gave us an international perspective and helped us understand that all oppressed people must come into the struggle,” said Exum, also an organizer of African Liberation Day, an annual event A-APRP hosted in Malcolm X Park throughout the 1970s.
“Around that time, that’s when I first read ‘Destruction of Black Civilization’ and ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ and saw how much I didn’t know,” she added.
Ture, born Stokely Carmichael, made his start as an organizer in the Civil Rights movement as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) where he brought the mantra “Black Power” to the national spotlight. After stepping down from the helm of SNCC in 1967, he traveled the world as the Black Panther Party’s Honorary Prime Minister, outlining his vision for Black Power before audiences in Guinea, North Vietnam, China, Cuba and other countries.
During the last 30 years of his life, a period largely overlooked by the mainstream media, Ture organized globally and spread his message of Pan-African unification and anti-imperialism. Inspired by his mentors Sekou Toure, Guinean political leader, and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, whose names he took on in his new moniker, Ture helped strengthened ties between Black and African liberation groups as a central committee member of A-APRP.
As with other leaders of his caliber, Ture became an enemy of the state, unable to return to the U.S. or his native home of Trinidad. In 1998, he died in Guinea of prostate cancer, an ailment he said was brought on by the U.S. government.
“Kwame Ture was the epitome of the new thinking and it had been a departure from what had been the call. The boldness attracted me,” said Hasinatu Camara, a key organizer of the event and someone who knew Ture closely.
On that Wednesday evening, Camara passed around a microphone and allowed guests to reflect on his legacy. Later, she told personal stories, including one in which Ture got her a custom-made birthday cake during their group’s stay in Guinea.
“He had philosophy we could use. We grew as comrades in our commitment to African people,” Camara, a former educator at the shuttered Booker T. Washington Institute said. “We would organize for African Liberation Day. We would propagandize. We led anti-Zionist campaigns. I want the young people to be vigilant and uphold their principles using the principles the ancestors left us as a guide.”
Camara’s words didn’t fall on deaf ears.
Rasheed Van Putten, a local organizer and self-proclaimed student of Kwame Ture, said the birthday celebration reaffirmed the importance of educating young people about a man who was able to bridge divides and unite people under a common goal.
“It’s the job of the conscious to make the unconscious conscious,” Van Putten, producer of Real Black & Gifted Live, a weekly radio show on Howard University’s Glasshouse Radio, said. “Kwame Ture often talked about serving the people and how he didn’t like the first person singular. Very seldom did he say ‘I.’ He always said ‘we.’ When people introduce him, he said ‘we thank you.’ His perspective was very forward thinking.”
Upon accepting the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award, Williams, a Black actor who rarely minces words in his analyses of domestic racial affairs, called out the United States for the litany of crimes it commits against Black people. A multi-ethnic audience of his wealthy and famous peers, and much of Black America, listened as he eloquently condemned state-sanctioned violence, cultural appropriation, capitalistic exploitation of Black people, and white disdain for Black expressions of pain.
In one speech, Williams placed a morally bankrupt media network on a road to redemption and galvanized people who had grown tired of seeing officers escape responsibility for their deadly use of force against Black men, women, and children. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media outlets lit up with commentary and memes of Williams and his fiercest quotes in what’s sure to be an historic speech. For the first time, those who followed the “woke” movement from afar gained new interest.
While I appreciated Williams’ numerous zingers, many of which I saw plastered all over my timeline, there’s an often overlooked line that truly resonated with me: the one in which he acknowledges the grassroots organizers across the country working to dismantle white supremacy. For those confused as to what I’m talking about, he said it before getting into the real juicy stuff. Still confused? I copied it into this commentary for your reading pleasure.
“Now, this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.
Every day in this naturally hypocritical country of ours, there are countless numbers of Black people in various communities who’re organizing, raising the consciousness of the masses, feeding the poor and homeless, forging coalitions, and pressuring elected officials to support their efforts – all in the name of Black Power. Many of them do this while speaking out against the white supremacist Babylon system publicly and on social media without hesitation.
Just as Williams has done repeatedly in the last few years, our outspoken grassroots warriors examine the issues of the day with a critical eye, forming a unique conclusion and demanding America atones for its centuries-long crime against Africans. However unlike Black America’s favorite woke actor and humanitarian, these brothers and sisters are often scolded for their viewpoints, with both family members and friends labeling them as “radical,” begging that they provide an analysis that’s more inclusive, softer, and endearing to the status quo, even if it doesn’t benefit Black people.
I myself have been on the receiving end of this kind of treatment.
Since coming into my African consciousness and adding an activist flair to my journalism, I’ve had college friends, cousins, aunties, uncles, and the like mockingly refer to me as Malcolm X, suggesting that I marginalize myself by candidly expressing my Black Nationalist beliefs. Some even try to convince me to “forget about the past.” In recent months, I’ve grown more confident in standing by what I say. In the process, I’ve built relationships with African organizers, young and old, and taken my message to the next level.
As often is the case, the work never stops, in part because there’s a significant segment of the diasporic African population hasn’t taken off their white mask to confront a world that hates everything about them.
Even worse, they vilify those of us who want to break out of the Matrix and take back the humanity stolen from us during Maafa, chattel slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow, all the way up to the present day via the prison industrial complex. When we question and speak out against the perpetrators of our suffering, our Black peers call us angry. When we revere our African history, our Black peers call us “Hotep” in a derogatory manner. When we demand justice without apology, we’re lampooned and labeled as militant.
In the same breath, these cocky critics praise Williams for his brave comments, even as he openly lambastes them for thinking that their money, material possessions, and social status will protect them from the wrath of institutional racism. To this day, many of them haven’t done much beyond writing “Black Lives Matter” in their status messages and fawning over the latest celebrity musing about current racial events. Whether they will step away from the sideline and tangibly contribute to the movement remains to be seen.
From what I understand, many folks in most nationalist circles write off our well-to-do, somewhat cowardly brothers and sisters, advising us to forget about them and leave them behind when Babylon falls. I tend to think differently, maintaining my faith in their eventual radicalization by remembering Harry Belafonte, Paul Robeson, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and countless others who put their reputations and revenues on the line for the greater good.
Today, Jesse Williams and his contemporaries – including Jay Z and Beyoncé, Janelle Monae, and Zendaya – carry the torch in taking the conversation about the Black struggle to the mainstream and financially assisting grassroots organizers.
It’s time that the members of the Black young urban professional class, a group often known as Buppies, take notes and follow suit. They have to connect with the grassroots actors in their community and use their expertise, brain power, and resources to make our Nation more self-determined and economically independent. Very often, many of our elites take their talents to corporations, garner huge salaries, gentrify Black neighborhoods, and act violently toward their low-income counterparts. In essence, they’re perpetuating white supremacy – the very system Jesse Williams indicted.
If we are to truly see freedom across the board, ALL hands must be on deck, and not just on the computer screen. Just as Williams and others have done, those of us in positions of power must build with grassroots organizers and help keep the fight going on various fronts. We’re connected by virtue of our African heritage and common history of oppression. There’s no reason to stop at admiring what one man did. We can be the change we want to see. It’s just a matter of thinking outside of the box that America has created for us.
That evening, I’ll provide a critical analysis of current events, including Brexit and the closing of the Kendrick Johnson case in Atlanta, through a Pan-African millennial lens. Later, a number of neighborhood figures, each of whom is part of a grassroots movement for African liberation, will grace the stage and talk about their latest project.
Come through and build with your African brothers and sisters who’re in the trenches daily. If you can’t make that event, visit Sankofa and check out the extensive catalog of books that’s sure to make you question your “wokeness.” In anything you do, make sure you acknowledge and celebrate the work of our grassroots organizers just as Williams did in his viral speech.
PHOTO: Markus Batchelor, lifelong Ward 8 resident, community staple, and candidate for the Ward 8 seat on the D.C. State Board of Education./ Photo courtesy of Jamal Holtz
At the age of 23, Markus Batchelor is far from a political novice. Since taking on the mantle of leadership in his adolescence, he has risen in prominence as president of the Ward 8 Democrats, ANC Commissioner for Single Member District 8C04, and most recently Ward 8 liaison in the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs (MOCA).
As he gears up to challenge Tierra Jolly for the Ward 8 representative seat on the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE), Batchelor reflects heavily on the experiences, elders and community programs that have enriched his short but fruitful life, pledging to do his part in creating a similar environment for thousands of youth if elected in November.
“Making sure children are successful is a community effort,” Batchelor, now the family and community liaison at the Far Southeast Collaborative, told AllEyesOnDC.
“My mother read to me at night and made sure to be involved at school. But she didn’t do it on her own. I had a neighbor who gave me chapter books to read. I had a deacon who took kids to vacation bible school for four weeks and that’s how he enriched the community. There was always someone on every block who looked out for me,” added Batchelor, a lifelong resident of Congress Heights in Southeast and an alumnus of the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute (MBYLI).
Earlier this year, Batchelor declared his candidacy for the Ward 8 State Board of Education seat, resigning from MOCA nearly 13 months into D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s term. Since then, it has been business as usual for the young politico who’s often found out and about at community gatherings, including ANC meetings and graduations.
During the D.C. Democratic primaries, he, along with members of his small campaign team, combed the main corridors, side streets, meeting spaces, and polling stations of Ward 8 with large blue, yellow and white signs in hand. Along the way, Batchelor cleared up any confusion about him running against D.C. Council member LaRuby May (D) and Trayon White for the Ward 8 Council seat. He also listened as parents and students vented about unresponsive administrators, culturally incompetent teachers, and unengaging school curricula.
For Batchelor, all aforementioned problems speak to what he described as the sitting Ward 8 representative’s lack of visibility and engagement with constituents.
This week, Batchelor started collecting signatures needed to place his name on the November general election ballot, affirming his commitment to challenging the status quo and getting parents more involved in shaping school policy. Plans if elected include restoring confidence in Ward 8 D.C. public schools, spurring parental grassroots organizing, pushing for allocation of additional resources, and the transformation of schools to centers that provide wrap-around services for families.
“I want to push for more PTAs and parent involvement. We need to empower both students and parents to advocate for themselves,” Batchelor said. “The State Board of Education members have to play that role as advocates for students and parents and galvanize them. No one is engaging our community. Our school board members have to get back to the basics and be community organizers, showing people that they have power. The schools don’t belong to the system or government. They belong to the community,” he added.
With the highest concentration of people under the age of 18, improving the quality of education in Ward 8 could cause a ripple effect for other facets of life for thousands of residents. The effects of high unemployment, a dearth of full-service grocery stores and amenities, drug abuse, mental illness, spikes in violent crime often follow youth into school, impeding learning and making parents feel powerless. Even worse, punitive measures taken against students maintain the school-to-prison pipeline.
Overall, D.C. Public Schools have a graduation rate of 58 percent, with the rates of Anacostia and Ballou High Schools, the only two of their kind in Ward 8, falling below 50 percent. Such conditions have compelled Ward 8 parents to look outside of the D.C. public school system, a trend that keeps Anacostia and Ballou underenrolled. Additionally, charter schools and private institutions outnumber public schools in Ward 8, a tell-tale sign of a national school privatization movement that has gained traction in recent years.
While some education experts have extolled these changes, some Ward 8 parents said they’re getting locked out of important conversations about their children’s education. For instance, Latiya Loring, a mother of two, said administrators at the D.C. Prep Benning Elementary Campus, formerly D.C. public school, don’t take her concerns about the Common Core standards and draconian disciplinary rules seriously.
“There are folks [in these schools] who are teaching just to pay their student loans. They go into poverty-stricken neighborhoods not knowing what these kids go through,” Loring told AllEyesOnDC, citing examples of when teachers punished her daughters for absences related to her bodily changes. “The kids get suspended for small things that could’ve gotten handled differently. It’s hard enough getting them through the door and we can’t keep discouraging them.”
Loring, an MBYLI alumna, said while she has never spoken to Batchelor extensively, she feels confident that he could bring a fresh perspective in the SBOE and ensure that administrators understand the complexities of life in Ward 8. “I’ve had a chance to see [Markus] in action and be that voice that gives us insight on the conversations young people are having. He sees what’s going on out there and he has access to certain areas because of his age.”
Jamal Holtz, a student who considers Batchelor his mentor, said he can attest to the young community leader’s ability to connect with residents and put his life on the line for D.C. youngsters. Since meeting Batchelor in MBYLI, Holtz has followed him around the city, learning the tricks of the trade and growing in his love for public service.
“I think Markus would make a great representative. He has been in the community his entire life,” said Holtz, a Bellevue resident and recent graduate of Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School in Northeast.
“Long before he launched this campaign, he had visibility, going to graduations and talking to parents. He goes out in front of schools after hours. I know he’ll be very connected to parents and getting them involved. My entire family knows Markus. They look at him as a son and my mother [considers him] her son,” said Holtz, who’ll attend the University of Rochester on the POSSE Scholarship.
In late April, Batchelor took his outreach a step further when he accompanied a group of D.C. students to Flint, Michigan on their mission to supply those affected by the lead crisis with fresh bottles of water and connect with community leaders. The trip, organized by Black Millennials 4 Flint, a grassroots environmental justice movement, allowed the youngsters to better understand the effects of lead poisoning – and see Batchelor’s leadership firsthand.
“We didn’t have a lot of men present and the work we did was pretty tedious, requiring a lot of brawn to get things accomplished so we were grateful to have him,” Tricey Adams, founder of Black Millennials 4 Flint, told AllEyesOnDC. “He really encouraged some of the students on trip to be an intern for his campaign. It was powerful that all of the kids on the trip were from Ward 8. He inspired one of the young ladies on the trip to apply. That’s a testament to his commitment to the community and youth.”
Batchelor, who said he’s eager to revive elements of the Ward 8 community-oriented culture he knew as a child, admits that demographic changes and adult adverseness to interacting with rowdy youth impede that goal. However, he remains confident that he can do his part in helping parents and students to take charge of their school and communities.
For him, that’s the first of many steps in turning around a community that receives a bad rap for circumstances out of the control of those affected.
“We need someone on the school board who’s focused on quality of education and quality of life,” Batchelor said. “If they aren’t willing to talk about how poverty affects community and trauma and how home environment affects youth’s academic success, we’re doing them a disservice. Once young people get a better education, it’ll be easier for them to stand up for themselves. They can believe they can change things in their society,” he added.