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The Rhythm People Coalition Takes over Dallas

Not even torrential downpour in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metro area could snuff out the drumbeat that connects people of African descent across the globe. Nor could it deter a small, but powerful, group of artists and activists from fulfilling their vision of enlightening others about the power of said drumbeat in uniting the African Diaspora.

Last weekend, a bevy of melanated people from across the United States and around the world converged on the grounds of a large ranch, located just south of Dallas, for a weekend of dance, song, and discussion during the fifth annual DFW Africa Festival. This African-centered event served as the first stop on the NOMAD Tour, an effort to promote and preserve art, tribe, trade and culture of people of African descent.

“This tour goes around the Diaspora to promote that rhythm spirt and remind us of our ancient ancestors and what they left on their nomadic journey around the world,” Kim Poole, leader of the Rhythm People Coalition, the group that hosted the NOMAD tour, told an audience shortly before a panel discussion about education and wealth-building in Black community Saturday evening. “We must be aligned with who we are and with our destiny,” Poole, a globally renowned singer from Baltimore, said to the multigenerational audience of artists, educators, and entrepreneurs.

The panel discussion, themed “What It Means to be Black” counted among several activities that took place at the Cedar Canyon Dude Ranch in Lancaster, Texas on June 3rd and 4th. From University Hills Boulevard, passersby could see a multitude of flags, including those representing Kenya, Nigeria, Jamaica, and Pan-African unity, flailing in the wind along the outskirts of the property.

What took place at the festival however, proved nothing short of mystical.

After parking, picking up a NOMAD Tour packet, and walking into the ranch’s pavilion, guests had a number of vendors and food choices through which they could peruse. On the main stage, Sista Bey, a member of the Dallas area’s Pan-African community, kept an upbeat vibe going through much of the day, acknowledging audience members who travelled far and near and encouraging guests to buy Black and follow in the footsteps of those who are homeschooling their children. Later, Bey poured libations and called the ancestors into the space. Underneath Bey were Kente clothes of various colors and patterns along with bamboo trees.

Other activities on Saturday evening included self-defense workshops and a gun demonstration, during which experienced brothers dissembled an AR-15 and touted gun ownerships and safety to onlookers. Children safely frolicked around the space in their multi-colored dashikis and people of the Diaspora, including Queen Diambi of the Luba tribe in the Congo, relished in the moment, forging new connections.

“I go around trying to meet people of African descent wherever they are. This is the calling of the ancestors to connect with another experience. We have to reconcile our experiences and put them together,” Diambi told AllEyesOnDC during an interview in the ranch’s pavilion. That weekend, Diambi, crowned by her village elders in 2011, met with other African-centered groups and people as part of her mission.

“We need Africans in the West to be well versed in the culture and resources. We also need you to help us realize the value of what we have. They don’t know the riches. You can be a wonderful mirror to recognize the wealth we have in your traditional systems to elevate our consciousness,” Queen Diambi added.

Other stops on the NOMAD Tour include Paris, Portland, Jamaica, and Los Angeles, all of which will most likely include participation from those who came into contact with the Rhythm People’s Coalition in Dallas.

“I felt very good about the festival,” George Omoth, key organizer of the DFWAfrica Festival, and affiliate of the Rhythm People Coalition, told AllEyesOnDC. “It was a very big improvement and the theme of the festival is important. My goal is to share the African cultural tradition in the Diaspora,” said Omoth, a Dallas resident of more than a decade and Kenyan immigrant who has lived in the United States for 35 years.

AllEyesOnDC: The “No Culture without Agriculture” Edition

No saying speaks more to Black people’s need to get back our indigenous ways than “There’s no culture without agriculture.” In the spirit of Earth Day, AllEyesOnDC wanted to focus on Our lost connection to the Earth and usher a call for getting back to our roots.

At Sankofa Video Books & Café on the night of April 21st, people in attendance, including this host, saw parallels between agriculture, genealogy, health and fitness, metaphysics, economics, and politics during a two-hour program that included interviews with Sherice, Sr., master urban farmer and leader of the Hippee Chic urban gardening/sustainability movement and Xavier Brown of Soilful City.

Baba Tarik Oduno, a fixture in the D.C. community and pioneer of “There’s no culture without agriculture,” broke down the meaning of that saying, reminding audience members that we must always honor our mothers and fathers and understand our history. After all, Baba Oduno said, “genius is in our genealogy.” Note that this segment was less of an interview, and more of a lecture, all to the audience’s benefit.

Wrapping up the evening was a demonstration by Christina Cook, a Teaching Artist Institute fellow, of how rhythm could boost communication for people on the spectrum (autism, ADHD, etc.). During this segment, five audience members, including Baba Oduno, beat on drums and learned how to create the perfect combination of rhythms – all without speaking a word to one another.

Check out this video and get a great look at what community and self-determination, as it relates to food production, looks like in the District of Columbia.

Black Liberals, Their Use of “Hotep” and “Ankh-Right,” and a Denial of Nation Building’s Merits

PHOTO: A necklace of the ankh, a Kemetic hieroglyph meaning eternal life. The word ankh has recently become a new tool in insults levied against Black people seeking African consciousness./ Courtesy 

Earlier this week, the third day of Kwanzaa, named for the principle of Ujima, a Kiswahili word meaning collective work and responsibility in the African community, turned into somewhat of a nightmare – and ultimately a re-awakening for this author – when Dr. Umar Johnson, an electrifying, yet polarizing figure in the Pan-African community, released a 45-minute video diatribe aimed at his rival General Sera Suten Seti, a Detroit-based speaker with whom he has had problems for some time.

Johnson’s curse word-laden tirade, filmed in a Florida hotel room, caused quite a stir on social media throughout much of Wednesday and Thursday, especially among Black liberal academics and social commentators who spoke of a “Hotep Civil War.” While most in the “conscious community” chose not to give the squabble much credence, several self-proclaimed Pan-Africanists and leftist Blacks quickly condemned the actions of the self-proclaimed “Prince of Pan-Africanism,” saying he made a fool of himself.

For a few seconds, it appeared that the ilk of Black people in whom the good doctor had found fans and liberal Blacks, many of whom have used “Hotep” and more recently “ankh-right” in their descriptions of folks with Pan-African leanings, could agree on at least one thing — the cult of leadership that inflated Dr. Umar Johnson and General Seti’s egos – and has often led to the impotency of several local and national Black movements in recent decades – definitely impedes our fight for liberation.

Unfortunately, this is the furthest the relationship between those with Pan African leanings and liberal Blacks will ever go if the latter continues to tarnishes Hotep – the Kemetic greeting for peace – and the ankh, the Kemetic hieroglyphic that signifies eternal life, in their dismissive statements about Black people yearning to get in touch with their African roots.

Such a choice of words shows a disregard for an ancient history taken away from African people. Yes, even continental Africans lost modern-day Egypt when the U.S. Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan and other Western leaders created the “Middle East” in the early 20th century. Thousands of years earlier, the Romans and Greeks ransacked Kemet and took many of her possessions. Today, Hollywood warps history, whitening the ancient Black people responsible for mathematics, science, and medicine.

Of course, those of us who consider ourselves somewhat conscious know that we don’t have a direct lineage to Egypt. We also know that American slavery is not the non-melanated people’s first time murdering and stealing from melanated people. Linking the institution of slavery to colonialism on the African continent and Kemet’s fall, helps us find a common oppressor while aiding in the spiritual journey that’s Knowledge of Self.

Many of us who study Egypt, even if for a second, develop an intellectual understanding of the Abrahamic religions that I would respectfully argue goes well beyond that of a good number of Afrikan pastors. Additionally, they are often more accepting of other spiritual systems, including the Yoruba, Akan, Dogon, Voudon, and others.

It’s my hope that Black liberals, and any other group of Black people that has disdain for proponents of African-centered culture, get to embrace their African heritage. Knowledge of Self is a personal process that opens the door to more spiritually fulfilling professional opportunities and connectivity to African people that every Black person should have, even if they don’t feel like attending every study circle or healing circle in the world. In many cases, it also makes one more independently minded.

To the credit of those who critique Pan-Africanism, globalization doesn’t quite afford Black people the privilege of separating from the rest of the world, especially because we don’t control any major resources. In the United States, the racial and ethnic make-up of U.S. residents, particularly those of African descent, has drastically changed since the wave of African independence in the 1950s and 60s. Today, African and Caribbean immigrants and their children count among a significant segment of the Black population in the U.S. Their ties to their home nation and its distinctive culture might not make Pan-Africanism, a call for the collective to unite under one banner, alluring.

For the so-called African American, the United States has somewhat of a misleading position as a stable and developed country. Albeit the signs that all that might be coming to an end within a generation, many descendants of the enslaved Africans who toiled this land feel like they’ve earned a place here. While somewhat noble, this mindset has in part conflicted with the gains that African-centered institutions made in the post-Civil Rights era to create an African identity in the U.S. that combats the poisonous caricature of Black man and womanhood inflicted on our children daily.

Our reverence for our ancestors’ sacrifices on American soil shouldn’t negate our need to connect and organize with our brothers and sisters across the globe. Just as young people are fighting police forces in the U.S., young men and women across the Diaspora are going toe to toe with their elected officials, some of whom have U.S. backing. I’m not afraid, nor have I ever been afraid, to admit that Dr. Umar made me privy to these connections somewhat.

However, that doesn’t mean that he, the men, and sometimes women, who Black liberals, including the authors of the widely popular Very Smart Brothas blog, call “Hoteps” aren’t without fault. Their need to boast about their “wokeness” speaks to this.

However, they don’t represent the entire African-centered community. In the interest of preventing the cult of leadership mentioned earlier, people who consider themselves conscious must hold the usual suspects – misogynists, the historically inaccurate, and the often hypocritical – responsible for their actions.

As far as African-centered organizing and nation building in the 21st century is concerned, many of us shouldn’t be close minded to some of what the present day offers. We should also understand, and embrace, nuance in our scholarship so that we don’t create a narrow-minded definition of a truly African-centered lifestyle. Many an organization have crumbled by turning off well-meaning Black people trying to find themselves in this twisted society.

No fellow Africans, I’m not asking us to hide who we are as a people. I’m not telling our people to put down to the RBG flag, to cease all mention of our ancestors or practice of African spiritual activity. I’m arguing that the dearth of intellectual gymnastics among members of the Youtube generation and a disregard for fresh discussions about various aspects of this liberation movement will hinder us.

If we’re to ever realize Nguzo Saba and become a global African nation, organization must be scientific and inclusive of all all aspects – including financial, agricultural, health, and education. It’s time to move beyond the smoke and mirror of social media conscious stardom. Doing so requires using the confidence that comes with that knowledge to launch long-term projects that move us closer to self-determination. It also requires us to be good representatives of the so-called conscious community in the way we spread our message. Not everyone will like us but they should never have to say that we’re disrespectful.

These days, the stakes are higher for African people in the United States, especially now that even some Blacks with Pan-African leanings have, jokingly, used “hotep” and “ankh right” to deride Johnson and others. This proves dangerous at a time when Pan-Africanism is under attack, not only from outside forces, but from those who consider themselves Black.

Shortly after Donald J. Trump’s ascent to the White House, a couple Black thought leaders spouted messages with xenophobic undertones like that in the president-elect’s campaign speeches. For example, Yvette Carnell of Breaking Brown remixed a conservative talking point about immigrants taking low-paying jobs, telling African Americans that to succeed as a group, they need to ignore a bloc that includes continental Africans, Carribbean people, Afro-Latinos, and other Black immigrants. In a later Facebook post, she mocked Pan-Africanism as a relic of the past that has no significance today.

But how can that be the case when Africans across the globe suffer just as badly, if not worse in some cases, as our ancestors in our interactions with the oppressor? Just like we share a common lineage, we have a common enemy in racism, capitalism, neocolonialism, war, and any other tool used to keep our people under siege globally. Kujichagulia, the Kiswahili word for self-determination and second principle of Kwanzaa, speaks to African people breaking free of those chains and controlling their own economies, governments, and schools without any exploitative influence from outside actors.

Personally, I don’t take most critiques of Pan-Africanism or Black Nationalism negatively these days. Rather, maybe because of a fervently curious mind that has taken me many places, I take those opportunities to develop my craft as a journalist and educator so that the concept of Pan-Africanism becomes clearer for my people and works even more wonders in my life and organizing work. That’s all AllEyesOnDC has been: a tour of my ever-evolving millennial mind.

In closing, I say to those brothers and sisters who continue to use “hotep” and “ankh-right” in their talks about African-centered Black people, understand that yes, we hear you, but you’re still losing out on an opportunity to deepen your community work and advocacy on behalf of Black people. Please learn to see those men you call “hotep” as just flawed people, not representatives of an entire movement. Shoot, just gain some international context for what’s going on in the U.S. and I guarantee you’ll see Knowledge of Self much differently.

At least I hope so.

How an Understanding of Race as a Social Construct Strengthens the Call for Black Liberation

A depiction of Bacon’s Rebellion, the 1676 event believed to usher the start of the racial caste system that legitimized the enslavement of African people in the United States./ http://www.history.com 

In most of the mature conversations about race I’ve participated in, both sides have acknowledged the U.S. racial caste system to be a farce, designed to keep the multi-ethnic, disenfranchised majority from uniting against the One Percent. At that point in the discussion, the party who’s determined to organize solely with Black people, myself in many cases, must answer the question of whether this fact changes how they fight for Black liberation.

After engaging in many discussions and deliberating in my private time, I would say no and yes.

Knowing that the Elites created the concept of race in the U.S. doesn’t discourage me from solely organizing with Black people on several fronts. The global Black race’s survival depends on our ability to do for self, whether that’s in Liberia against impeding foreign investors or in D.C. amid mass gentrification. As a reporter, if I want my people to survive, I must do my part by writing about and reporting on issues concerning Black people in D.C., the U.S., and abroad. As an educator, I must teach Black, and Latino, children about our common African heritage.

This mission for Black self-determination equally applies in the home. My beau is a Black woman. I will eventually become the head of a Black family. My life is beautifully Black, more so because of my passion for combating the all-out assault on Black people in this country and abroad.

This begs the question of whether, by overtly celebrating and protecting my Blackness, I’m becoming a prisoner of the very box that I’m trying to escape. By solely organizing with Black people, am I participating in the race war that the Elites are creating from afar? By echoing my warrior ancestors’ call for a united African nation, am I just as evil as the white people who want to exterminate my race? These are real questions that often come from friends, colleagues, strangers, and whoever else asks about what some would consider my obsession with living Black.

To them, I say that by affirming my African heritage in this pseudo-racial caste system, I redefine Blackness. Coming to terms with my precarious status as a so-called first-generation Black American helped me realize this. As a teenager in what was once called Chocolate City, I often felt that I had to choose between being a Liberian and being a Black American. At the George Washington University, I saw similar schisms between continental and diasporic Africans. Such experiences further compelled me to live an honestly Black live in this country and reject any temptation to let go of Mama Africa.

While not directly affected by the U.S.’ slave-holding history, by being born and raised in the United States, I’m subject to the laws, standards, and Eurocentric thinking created to impede African American progress. In my adolescent years, I had to decide between adhering to the cultural norms that my parents taught me, or following the way of life prescribed to my peers through BET videos and misinformation from malignant media sources and traumatized people. To be totally fair, the young African-American men I grew up with, many of whom came from loving homes despite what the media tried to tell my Liberian-born parents, had to make the same decisions despite their upbringing.

Making that connection between me and my friends showed me that as a young African man in the Babylon system, your home life didn’t matter to an extent if it wasn’t centered in an African cultural identity or a yearning for such. If the definition of Black as given by America has no positive semblance of Africa, both continental and diasporic Africans struggling to find their way will suffer in the end by strictly adhering to those values.

By stepping outside of the ethnocentric box that America created for Black people, we can tap into our African heritage and learn about a history beyond slavery that confirms our humanity and divinity. Our ancestors who walked this land during the rise of the American empire had similar goals, despite the Babylon system’s efforts to wipe away memories of those movements.

In recent years, I’ve gained a more globalized perspective, working alongside like-minded Black youth and learning about the African heritage I share with them and other Africans around the world – particularly the Caribbean and the African continent. Upon learning about some of our ancient history and struggle against the European minority, however I found more than enough reason to organize solely with Black people, despite knowing what I’ve come to find out in discussions — that this racial caste system thrives from division of non-wealthy white and Black people.

At a time when, as an aggregate, Black people in the United States are behind in many facets of living, I, nor other Black people, don’t have much time to convince white people of our humanity or to educate them about the fallacy of the racial caste system that continues to benefit them. Additionally, the very people who benefit from white supremacy are descendants of the Europeans that have committed numerous atrocities against African people and other melanated groups long before Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, an event that marked the beginning of chattel slavery by inheritance. Though the American Elite created “white” and “black” to destroy any possibility that impoverished people would unite against them, the “white” people who enjoyed the benefits of the system were already well on their way to controlling the melanated people’s way of life.

Not too far from where Bacon’s Rebellion happened, the English unleashed physical and germ warfare against Indigenous Americans upon landing on their shores decades earlier. Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer whose legacy the Babylon system celebrates every year, and his goons dealt a similar fate to the “Indians” they encountered in the 15th century. Columbus’ contribution to the cause kicked off a long period of Western imperialism and the Transatlantic slave trade, also known as Maafa, which means the African Holocaust.

Centuries earlier, the Greeks and then the Romans took over ancient Kemet after acquiring the vast wealth of knowledge that the Egyptians had. The Portuguese and other European groups took the system of wartime indentured servitude developed by Africans (the one often mentioned by white people in discussions about race) and turned it into an inter-generational marker of poverty and economic exploitation. The Industrial Revolution, a period of great economic growth for Western nation-states, paralleled the rape and plunder of the African continent and people. All the while across the Atlantic Ocean, the U.S. government ran Indigenous Americans off their land.

Despite coming from various pre-New World nations, we melanated people share a common oppressor, but more so a common spiritual energy. Long before the European left the caves and embarked on its centuries-long campaign of destruction, people of African descent laid the foundation for many of the technological advancements we see today. The land mass that was Pangea serves as a testament to this common heritage. Over the decades, several African scholars, including Runoko Rashidi, have been able to find elements of African cultural influence in paintings, sculptures, and writings from all over the world.

Racial classifications – Black, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, etc. – do nothing to highlight the complexity of our ethnic, tribal, and cultural origins. Those markers signify economic fortune and reinforce limited, poisonous ideas about melanated people that the oppressor developed. In the spectrum of race, Black and white fall on opposite sides. As Walter Rodney eloquently explained in Groundings with My Brothers, people all around the world, based on their current economic and social situation, have some latitude in choosing where they land on that scale. In many modern societies, the melanated people who attain all an institution offers don’t challenge persistent ideas of whiteness. By design, its melanated people who uphold the racial caste system by not challenging whiteness.

The Babylon system has gone above and beyond to maintain whiteness, a concept that always faces extinction, in other forms.  Irish and Italian immigrants, Ashkenazi Jews, Catholics, and other white outcasts have been absorbed into so-called white American family as melanated groups continuously broke institutional barriers throughout the years. In exchange, those groups would hold down melanated groups.

These days, white “Hispanics” are becoming the next group to enter the white race. Many of these “Hispanics” may have enjoyed similar privileges as the lighter members of their home nations. Anywhere in the world, it doesn’t gain anyone profit to go against the oppressor. To act as though that’s the case makes the assumption that the oppressor got everything in its possession through hard work rather than theft and trickery of the truly enlightened majority.

When looking at the creation of America’s racial caste system through that lens, the original intent to continue the global oppression of melanated people has become clearer to me, even if it has kept some poor whites at the bottom. If the oppressed melanated people who bring up this racial caste system in race discussions truly understood the true nature of the Western beast, they would combat it by self-classifying as Black in a manner that reveres their connection to the Most High and respects the struggles of Africans abroad.

From what I’ve seen and heard, not many of my sisters and brothers have done that, choosing instead to not connect with Africa. Unlike other oppressed groups, we have no direct connection to Mama Africa, due mainly to enslavement, but because many of us don’t want to know about it in the Age of Information. Sadly, we’ve been conditioned to not follow our predecessors in organizing with Africans abroad; we see our issues as separate from theirs.

In closing, for us to truly break out of this pseudo-racial system that critics of Pan-African ideology bring up time and time again in arguing against race consciousness, Black America must end its love affair with the white force that has oppressed its people globally long before Bacon’s Rebellion.

Unifying with the oppressor’s henchmen (middle and lower-class whites) with the hope that they will tear down Babylon with us is not the answer. The only unity this journalist and educator will unequivocally endorse is that among melanated people – including Africans, Indigenous Americans, and all those in between. In no way does this conflict with the call for Black unity as for this plan to truly come to fruition, Black unity must be examined through a global prism, where those who fight for Black self-determination in America think of themselves as Africans.

Having that common consciousness can lead us out of ignorance and into a situation where we can respect our common heritage with other Spirit Beings, eventually letting go of the Eurocentric ideas that perpetually destroy our souls. How’s that for destroying a racial caste system?

Film Screening, Panel Focus on Music and Activism of Mavis Staples

Photo: Mavis Staples (Courtesy) 

“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.

How Jesse Williams Praised Our Grassroots Organizers More than We Do

PHOTO: Actor and award-winning humanitarian Jesse Williams/ Courtesy 

By now, most, if not all of the African world has watched or heard about Jesse Williams’ five-minute oratorical masterpiece at the BET Awards earlier this week.

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.

If you have a genuine interest in pushing the dial forward in the fight for our liberation and don’t know where to start, join us during what’s toured as the 2016 Message to the Grassroots, a part of the A Night of News & Music series at Sankofa Video, Books & Café in Washington, D.C., on the night of Friday, July 15th.

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.

I guarantee we’ll go further as a people for it.

Upcoming Film Captures Life, Music in Brazil

PHOTO: Through all the hurdles, Elisete de Jesus Silva, a Brazilian percussionist better known as Elem, remains committed to her music and band members, many of whom are children she took under her wing. An upcoming film, “Maestrina de Favela,” chronicles her journey. / Photo courtesy of Dee Dwyer

While few ever get the chance to visit Brazil, many will soon come to know Elisete de Jesus Silva, one of its rising stars and the subject of an upcoming documentary about her life, music, and community work in one of its roughest neighborhoods.

The film, titled “Maestrina de Favela” (Portuguese for “Master of the Slum”), follows the percussionist better known as Elem in the years after her mother’s death as she navigates life in the Pelourinho, a historic district located in the heart of Salvador de Bahia. Despite her band’s rise in prominence, the young musician struggles to stave off misogynists bent on sabotaging her career and engage youth when a community center shutters.  Lack of funds and a recurring brain aneurysm have also stalled her long-term goals.

Through it all, Elem remains committed to her music and band members, many of whom are children she took under her wing, speaking to what Falani Spivey, a close friend and producer of the film, calls the significance of samba reggae in Afro-Brazilian culture.

“Samba reggae is similar to go-go. Heavily driven with rhythms of Africa,” Spivey, a native Washingtonian, told AllEyesOnDC as she drew parallels between art forms created by people of African descent.  “It’s music with a message for the person that instills Black pride. It’s a form of resistance that started when Blacks couldn’t be a part of Carnival.”

During a fundraiser in Adams Morgan earlier this month, dozens of people from around the D.C. metropolitan area caught a glimpse of what to expect from  “Maestrina de Favela” while walking through a photo exhibit and auction that showcased a vast selection of colorful still shots Spivey’s friend Dee Dwyer took of Brazil’s people, foliage, and architecture. That evening, Spivey spoke at length about her affinity for Afro-Brazilian culture and the friendship that’s strengthened her connection to the country.

In the spring of 2007, Spivey and Elem, then 13, crossed paths shortly before the former wrapped up a semester-long study abroad program in Brazil. For nearly a decade, the two talked on the phone; wrote letters, and chatted on social media. Videos and photos from those correspondences along with footage taken during a trip earlier this year will be in “Maestrina de Favela.”  Later this year, Spivey will launch a Kickstarter crowd funding campaign to ensure plans come to fruition.

“We’re about 80 percent done with the film; now I need funding to edit the project. I’ve been collecting footage for nine years,” Spivey said. “The band still exists and it’s a celebration of Afro-Brazilian culture. [The music] showed me that we’re one of the same.”

Despite its reputation as a quickly developing tourist attraction, the Pelourinho has become synonymous with extreme poverty, drug abuse, and hunger.  Such is the case amid rising unemployment and the makings of what economists have called the worst recession in 25 years.

Nationally, the youngest fare the worst in these dismal conditions. Anywhere between 800,000 and 2 million homeless children live on streets throughout Brazil, the Borgen Project estimates.

Since starting her band Children of the Rocinha in the Pelourinho, at the age of 8, Elem has been able to hold her own in her neighborhood. As her skills on milk cartons-turned-drums improved and her profile rose in the community, she brought along more local children who wanted to perform in well-populated public spaces.  Unlike leaders of other bands, Elem adequately paid members and made sure they didn’t drink alcohol or take drugs.

Sometimes, efforts to protect the young ones from the perils of life in the slums fell short, especially after the passing of her mother. Three bandmates died in separate incidences of violence. Increasing responsibilities at an old house she shares with her aunt demanded the young musician’s attention, bringing her life to a standstill.

“This environment is kind of cut throat. Elem’s doing the real work,” Spivey said as she talked about Elem’s dilapidated, mildew-drenched abode that doubles as a rec center and classroom. For years, she maintained contact with Elem, sending money, educational materials, and a refrigerator in the hopes of keeping up her friend’s spirits during those trying times.

“Elem goes above and beyond to make sure the kids don’t drink or do drugs, like a social worker,” Spivey added. “She leads by example, gaining respect as a Maestrina, but she doesn’t exploit them. She pays the kids what they deserve and puts the rest of the money back into the instruments. Personally, she doesn’t ask for much; just drums and materials.”

In February, Spivey, along Dwyer and D.C. filmmaker Briana Monet, visited Elem’s house during a two-week excursion to Brazil. On that trip, Elem, sporting neon pink boots and a smile, parlayed with her Black American friends into the wee hours of the morning during Carnival. The trio’s guided trek around the Pelourinho birthed new footage and the photos of churches, houses, drug addicts, police officers, food, people dancing and other elements of Brazilian life.

Conversations with natives also provided ample opportunity to learn more about the Afro-Brazilian history of resistance and visit an island inhabited by descendants of Africans who escaped slavery. There, natives and their foreign visitors united under the trance of Yoruba-influenced sounds and beats, as to say they realized their common link to the Motherland.

“Everyone was so sure of themselves. They knew their history,” Dwyer, told AllEyesOnDC. For nearly two years, she assisted in the production of “Maestrina de Favela.”  Though she heard Spivey’s stories about Elem for years, Dwyer said things came full circle upon meeting the star percussionist in person and capturing her life with her Canon t2i.

“We struggle, but Elem’s struggle is much deeper and harsher,” Dwyer said while reflecting on how culture could help one overcome hurdles. “[But] she’s always in high spirits, even with all that’s going on. Newborn babies had on costumes and had their culture instilled in them. I wish we had more of that African culture built into the Black community in America.”

The mission to build that connection continues on the evening of June 25 during another fundraiser and exhibition at the Brookland Artspace Lofts Apartments in Northeast.

Soon, audiences may be exposed to the Afro-Brazilian sounds through more than one means. In thinking beyond the movie, Spivey expressed plans of eventually flying the members of Children of the Rocinha in the Pelourinho to the District to take part in a samba reggae-go-go mash up. For her, the cultural exchange must continue between children of the Diaspora.

Briana Monet, Spivey’s other partner on the film project, echoed those sentiments, noticing a positive change in her colleague’s disposition as she got more support and resources to take this passion project by the horns.

“You just have to give it to the world. That’s the reward,” Monet told AllEyesOnDC. “Art isn’t always about money or fame. It’s about being free and true. The reward isn’t a pay day. It’s more about honesty, being human and becoming immortal through the eyes of those you helped those along the way. Everything is true and raw. Any human can connect to that, more so than fabricated stories.”

For more information about “Maestrina de Favala” or to contribute, like the Facebook page or email mdfdocumentary@gmail.com.

Local Black History Celebration Kicks Off

Ninety years after journalist and historian Carter G. Woodson created what’s now known as Black History Month, the yearning to celebrate a storied past and secure a prosperous future looms larger than ever among people of African descent living in Western society.

The reverence for black triumph against oppressive forces continued last week when nearly 100 community members kicked off citywide Black History Month festivities at the African American Civil War Museum in Northwest. During the two-hour program, an array of local artists, public officials, educators, and activists conjured the spirit of black liberation while decrying monuments of white supremacy.

“This hallowed ground reminds me of things that are painful, like driving down Robert Lee and Jefferson Davis Highways,” said Dr. Frank Smith, head of the African-American Civil War Memorial, referring to major roads in Virginia named for well-known Confederate figures during his remarks on the evening of Feb. 2. “Some of these things have to come down. Let me just say that only black people don’t have a role. I’m challenging white people to help clean up the pollution. I care so they have to care too. These hallowed grounds matter because they remind us of a time when black people didn’t have power,” Smith added.

Though speakers reflected on the tragic events of the past year, including the massacre of nine churchgoers in South Carolina, much of the discussion on that brisk Tuesday night focused on buildings, events, and symbols that document black achievement in the United States. The theme for the 2016 Black History Month program, “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African-American Memories” spoke to that goal, as reiterated by representatives of the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, an organization Woodson founded in 1915.

Other guests included D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), Ruhama Hayle, Miss Ethiopia 2015 and finalist for Miss Africa USA Pageant, Dr. Ben Chavis and Denise Rolark Barnes of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), and representatives of the D.C. statehood movement. Each speaker brought good news to the podium, touching on their efforts to extend summer employment opportunities for young adults in the District, secure statehood, and usher the black press into the technological age.

In his comments, Chavis, NNPA president and CEO and well-regarded figure of the Civil Rights era, called on his contemporaries to pass on the baton to younger activists, a group he said was better equipped to address contemporary challenges facing people of African descent in the U.S.

“It’s our obligation to raise a new generation of freedom fighters and intellectual giants. We can’t afford a cultural and generational gap,” Chavis said. “This is about whether this democracy will be inclusive or exclusive. Our history has shown us that every benefit black people have gotten has benefited everyone else. Everyone should be celebrating our struggle. Long live the spirit of our people and our history.”

Retired District government employee Taji Anderson echoed Chavis’ sentiments, telling AllEyesOnDC that she often shares black history facts with her children and grandchildren at home and through social media. For her, doing so is a matter of saving the black race. During her interview, Anderson said the issues young people currently face come from a lack of understanding of sacrifices their ancestors made.

“Youth wouldn’t be shooting each other if they knew of their ancestors and had a sense of pride about how they died to get them here today,” Anderson, a relative of Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, said, noting that her grandson’s thirst for knowledge increased after watching “Selma” in theaters in 2014.

“We keep the study of black history going in our family. We always bring it up for the young folks coming behind us. Parents and schools haven’t taught our young people about their heritage and history. We have to instill education and respect for one another in these children,” said Anderson, a former employee of the District Department of Transportation who lives in Northeast.

While Millennial Ariel Alford agrees, she said that elders must commit to engaging young people and including them in Black History Month festivities. Alford, who attended the kickoff celebration with her friend, counted among a handful of youth in the room that evening.

“This was a missed opportunity to include young people. We can’t learn how to do these things if we’re not involved,” said Alford, a middle school teacher. “A high school class could have aided in this project to make it more intergenerational. It’s important for us as African people to have spaces like this where we can convene and have an honest discussion about the empire we’re living in.”

Blacology & the Study of African Evolution (VIDEO)

“We are the custodians of the cultures of our mothers, fathers, elders, scholars, and ancestors. We are the perpetuators of the culture for our children. We have no right to leave behind a culture that’s less fertile than the ones our parents left us.” – Professor William Cross, co-founder of the Blacology Research and Development Institute

The study of people of African descent as many know it has long focused on the ethnic group’s oppression and the atrocities committed against them. Since the 1970s, Professor William Cross and Dr. Amos M.D. Sirleaf have countered such thinking, looking at the story of African people as that of justice and redemption.

They’ve coined this brand of Afrocentric scholarship as Blacology.

Through the Blacology Research and Development Institute, based in Fort Washington, Maryland, Cross and Sirleaf scientifically chronicle and analyze the worldwide black freedom struggle. In the spirit of self-determination, they disseminate what they consider an accurate portrayal of African history and culture.

While history often highlights enslavement and colonialization of Africans, the Cross and Sirleaf explore the totality of the African experience after the Black Holocaust, focusing on the Haitian Revolution and subsequent events that helped black people redevelop their culture and secure some semblance of justice. In spreading this knowledge, Cross and Sirleaf hope to help Africans across the world follow the example of their ancestors in everything they do.

In this AllEyesOnDC video, Cross and Sirleaf, now a professor at Cuttington University in Bong County, Liberia, talk about Blacology and the hurdles they’ve faced in their efforts to reverse centuries of European brainwashing. This interview counts among one of the best in the AllEyesOnDC catalogue considering that the mission of the Blacology Research and Development Institute mirrors that of AllEyesOnDC.

Check it out and weigh in!

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