Sunday, February 16, 2014

Unconscious and Black

In the Spring of 1970, my older cousin Andre’ Deshong who was also going through the Caldwell school system began taking more of an interest in my life and in particular the extent to which I was lacking in an important sense of black consciousness.

Andre had recently become involved with a Black Men’s organization (the Congress of African People (a nationalist organization) located in East Orange, New Jersey that was inspired by the dramatist, novelist and poet, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) from Newark, New Jersey then one of the most respected and widely published African-American writers.  The leader of this east orange group, Balozi Zayd Muhammad was also the head of the Pan African Organization (a united organization of groups from the United States, the West Indies, and the continents of South America and of Africa and of which the Committee for a United Newark and B.C.D. were members) an official NGO affiliated with the United Nations. 

Upon my first meeting with the organizations leader; Balozi, I was asked a number of rather direct questions not recognizing right in that moment that an elaborate and systematic process of social indoctrination had begun over the dangers of being overwhelmingly influenced by Western European Culture and “white people” in general.  I had never heard any one speak in the manner that he did that day about the negative influences of western civilization and so I was rather intimidated yet intrigued at the same time. He spoke with the authority of a father figure explaining to his son some of the cold and hard facts of life.

Eventually, I would come to see Balozi as a very charismatic, articulate, authority on African and Black American history with seemingly sincere prophetic aspirations. At that time, there were ten men living in his home. All of them had become strongly committed to black activism, entrepreneurialism, and as they would often say, ‘nation building.’ The home did not as yet have a local area youth actively being groomed to become a community organizer and local leader in either one of the two existing high schools in the town of East Orange. In a rather short period of time, I would become the first of their many student recruits. 

Balozi went on to inform me that my cousin Andre had spoken with him about the prospect of my becoming more exposed to someone with his professional stature, knowledge, interest and experience in serving as a mentor to black youth. Moreover, he discussed with me the advantages that existed in gaining ongoing exposure to several black male role models being right there in the same household who were attending colleges in the area, not to overlook the broad range of programming that they had already begun sponsoring in the surrounding community through their partnering relationship with Amiri Baraka’s Kawaida, a Black Muslim organization which focused on African and Black American history, Swahili language, the mother tongue of the Swahili people, adherence with the teachings of Islam, African culture and wearing traditional dress and the teaching of high level Martial Arts training in Chinese Kung Fu

Surely you can imagine how overwhelming this must have all been to a fatherless fifteen year old black kid still completely wet behind the ears. Right there, on that day, Balozi offered me a seat at his table and he expressed to me that he would be willing to become my legal guardian and to mentor me like his very own son.

Subsequently, to mark what he felt was our providential meeting and my anticipated acceptance of his offer, Balozi gave me a new name: Akili. The meaning of the name Akili he explained is ‘Wisdom, intellect, sense’ in Swahili. With my head swimming, I left his house that day wondering what had just taken place? 

The most significant take away from all of this for me was that I no longer had to concern myself with miraculously changing into being white, republican or Christian to be a person of worth or to gain economic, intellectual, political, social or spiritual acceptance and stature in America.  It was an absolutely myth defying day.