Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A short history of the Bay Area Black Arts Movement

Negro es bello/Black is beautiful by Elizabeth Catlett Mora

Many of the Black Arts Movement’s leading artists, including Ed Bullins, Nikki Giovanni, Woodie King, Haki Madhubuti, Sonia Sanchez, Askia Touré, Marvin X and Val Gray Ward, remain artistically productive today. Its influence can also be seen in the work of later artists, from the writers Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman, and August Wilson to actors Avery Brooks, Danny Glover, and Samuel L. Jackson, to hip-hop artists Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Chuck D.

Kaluma ya Salaam on the Black Arts Movement

Both inherently and overtly political in content, the Black Arts movement was the only American literary movement to advance "social engagement" as a sine qua non of its aesthetic. The movement broke from the immediate past of protest and petition (civil rights) literature and dashed forward toward an alternative that initially seemed unthinkable and unobtainable: Black Power.
In a 1968 essay, "The Black Arts Movement," Larry Neal proclaimed Black Arts the "aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept." As a political phrase, Black Power had earlier been used by Richard Wright to describe the mid-1950s emergence of independent African nations. The 1960s' use of the term originated in 1966 with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee civil rights workers Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks. Quickly adopted in the North, Black Power was associated with a militant advocacy of armed self-defense, separation from "racist American domination," and pride in and assertion of the goodness and beauty of Blackness.

 Ishmael Reed, poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, publisher, professor

Although often criticized as sexist, homophobic, and racially exclusive (i.e., reverse racist), Black Arts was much broader than any of its limitations. Ishmael Reed, who is considered neither a movement apologist nor advocate ("I wasn't invited to participate because I was considered an integrationist"), notes in a 1995 interview,
I think what Black Arts did was inspire a whole lot of Black people to write. Moreover, there would be no multiculturalism movement without Black Arts. Latinos, Asian Americans, and others all say they began writing as a result of the example of the 1960s. Blacks gave the example that you don't have to assimilate. You could do your own thing, get into your own background, your own history, your own tradition and your own culture. I think the challenge is for cultural sovereignty and Black Arts struck a blow for that.

 Ishmael Reed, poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, publisher, professor

The Harlem Renaissance was inspired by the Black consciousness teachings of Marcus Garvey, likewise, The Black Arts Movement was inspired by the Nation of Islam and especially Malcolm X. BAM is considered the genesis of Muslim American literature. BAM is in the long tradition of Black radical writing, especially from the 1829 writings of David Walker. His Appeal is as relevant today as it was in 1829.

Umar bin Hassan and Abiodun of the Last Poets

Amiri Baraka
art by James Gayles
History and Context. The Black Arts movement, usually referred to as a "sixties" movement, coalesced in 1965 and broke apart around 1975/1976. In March 1965 following the 21 February assassination of Malcolm X, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) moved from Manhattan's Lower East Side (he had already moved away from Greenwich Village) uptown to Harlem, an exodus considered the symbolic birth of the Black Arts movement. Jones was a highly visible publisher (Yugen and Floating Bear magazines, Totem Press), a celebrated poet (Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note, 1961, and The Dead Lecturer, 1964), a major music critic (Blues People, 1963), and an Obie Award-winning playwright (Dutchman, 1964) who, up until that fateful split, had functioned in an integrated world. Other than James Baldwin, who at that time had been closely associated with the civil rights movement, Jones was the most respected and most widely published Black writer of his generation.
While Jones's 1965 move uptown to found the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS) is the formal beginning (it was Jones who came up with the name "Black Arts"), Black Arts, as a literary movement, had its roots in groups such as the Umbra Workshop. Umbra (1962) was a collective of young Black writers based in Manhattan's Lower East Side; major members were writers Steve Cannon, Tom Dent, Al Haynes, David Henderson, Calvin C. Hernton, Joe Johnson, Norman Pritchard, Lenox Raphael, Ishmael Reed, Lorenzo Thomas, James Thompson, Askia M. Touré (Roland Snellings; also a visual artist), Brenda Walcott, and musician-writer Archie Shepp. Touré, a major shaper of "cultural nationalism," directly influenced Jones. Along with Umbra writer Charles Patterson and Charles's brother, William Patterson, Touré joined Jones, Steve Young, and others at BARTS.
Umbra, which produced Umbra Magazine, was the first post-civil rights Black literary group to make an impact as radical in the sense of establishing their own voice distinct from, and sometimes at odds with, the prevailing white literary establishment. The attempt to merge a Black-oriented activist thrust with a primarily artistic orientation produced a classic split in Umbra between those who wanted to be activists and those who thought of themselves as primarily writers, though to some extent all members shared both views. Black writers have always had to face the issue of whether their work was primarily political or aesthetic. Moreover, Umbra itself had evolved out of similar circumstances: In 1960 a Black nationalist literary organization, On Guard for Freedom, had been founded on the Lower East Side by Calvin Hicks. Its members included Nannie and Walter Bowe, Harold Cruse (who was then working on Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, 1967), Tom Dent, Rosa Guy, Joe Johnson, LeRoi Jones, and Sarah Wright, among others. On Guard was active in a famous protest at the United Nations of the American-sponsored Bay of Pigs Cuban invasion and was active in support of the Congolese liberation leader Patrice Lumumba. From On Guard, Dent, Johnson, and Walcott along with Hernton, Henderson, and Touré established Umbra.

Another formation of Black writers at that time was the Harlem Writers Guild, led by John O. Killens, which included Maya Angelou, Jean Carey Bond, Rosa Guy, and Sarah Wright among others. But the Harlem Writers Guild focused on prose, primarily fiction, which did not have the mass appeal of poetry performed in the dynamic vernacular of the time. Poems could be built around anthems, chants, and political slogans, and thereby used in organizing work, which was not generally the case with novels and short stories. Moreover, the poets could and did publish themselves, whereas greater resources were needed to publish fiction. That Umbra was primarily poetry- and performance-oriented established a significant and classic characteristic of the movement's aesthetics.
When Umbra split up, some members, led by Askia Touré and Al Haynes, moved to Harlem in late 1964 and formed the nationalist-oriented "Uptown Writers Movement," which included poets Yusef Rahman, Keorapetse "Willie" Kgositsile from South Africa, and Larry Neal. Accompanied by young "New Music" musicians, they performed poetry all over Harlem. Members of this group joined LeRoi Jones in founding BARTS.

Jones's move to Harlem was short-lived. In December 1965 he returned to his home, Newark (N.J.), and left BARTS in serious disarray. BARTS failed but the Black Arts center concept was irrepressible mainly because the Black Arts movement was so closely aligned with the then-burgeoning Black Power movement.
The mid- to late 1960s was a period of intense revolutionary ferment. Beginning in 1964, rebellions in Harlem and Rochester, New York, initiated four years of long hot summers. Watts, Detroit, Newark, Cleveland, and many other cities went up in flames, culminating in nationwide explosions of resentment and anger following Martin Luther King, Jr.'s April 1968 assassination.
In his seminal 1965 poem "Black Art," which quickly became the major poetic manifesto of the Black Arts literary movement, Jones declaimed "we want poems that kill." He was not simply speaking metaphorically. During that period armed self-defense and slogans such as "Arm yourself or harm yourself' established a social climate that promoted confrontation with the white power structure, especially the police (e.g., "Off the pigs"). Indeed, Amiri Baraka (Jones changed his name in 1967) had been arrested and convicted (later overturned on appeal) on a gun possession charge during the 1967 Newark rebellion. Additionally, armed struggle was widely viewed as not only a legitimate, but often as the only effective means of liberation. Black Arts' dynamism, impact, and effectiveness are a direct result of its partisan nature and advocacy of artistic and political freedom "by any means necessary." America had never experienced such a militant artistic movement.
Nathan Hare, the author of The Black Anglo-Saxons (1965), was the founder of 1960s Black Studies. Expelled from Howard University, Hare moved to San Francisco State University where the battle to establish a Black Studies department was waged during a five-month strike during the 1968-1969 school year. As with the establishment of Black Arts, which included a range of forces, there was broad activity in the Bay Area around Black Studies, including efforts led by poet and professor Sarah Webster Fabio at Merrit College.

The initial thrust of Black Arts ideological development came from the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), a national organization with a strong presence in New York City. Both Touré and Neal were members of RAM. After RAM, the major ideological force shaping the Black Arts movement was the US (as opposed to "them') organization led by Maulana Karenga. Also ideologically important was Elijah Muhammad's Chicago-based Nation of Islam.
These three formations provided both style and ideological direction for Black Arts artists, including those who were not members of these or any other political organization. Although the Black Arts movement is often considered a New York-based movement, two of its three major forces were located outside New York City.

As the movement matured, the two major locations of Black Arts' ideological leadership, particularly for literary work, were California's Bay Area because of Black Dialogue magazine, the Journal of Black Poetry and the Black Scholar, and the Chicago-Detroit axis because of Negro Digest/Black World and Third World Press in Chicago, and Broadside Press and Naomi Long Madgett's Lotus Press in Detroit. The only major Black Arts literary publications to come out of New York were the short-lived (six issues between 1969 and 1972) Black Theatre magazine published by the New Lafayette Theatre and Black Dialogue, which had actually started in San Francisco (1964-1968) and relocated to New York (1969-1972).

In 1967 LeRoi Jones visited Karenga in Los Angeles and became an advocate of Karenga's philosophy of Kawaida. Kawaida, which produced the "Nguzo Saba" (seven principles), Kwanzaa, and an emphasis on African names, was a multifaceted, categorized activist philosophy. Jones also met Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver and worked with a number of the founding members of the Black Panthers. Additionally, Askia Touré was a visiting professor at San Francisco State and was to become a leading (and long lasting) poet as well as, arguably, the most influential poet-professor in the Black Arts movement. Playwright Ed Bullins and poet Marvin X had established Black Arts West, and Dingane Joe Goncalves had founded the Journal of Black Poetry (1966). This grouping of Ed Bullins, Dingane Joe Goncalves, LeRoi Jones, Sonia Sanchez, Askia M. Touré, and Marvin X became a major nucleus of Black Arts leadership.


Theory and Practice. The two hallmarks of Black Arts activity were the development of Black theater groups and Black poetry performances and journals, and both had close ties to community organizations and issues. Black theaters served as the focus of poetry, dance, and music performances in addition to formal and ritual drama. Black theaters were also venues for community meetings, lectures, study groups, and film screenings. The summer of 1968 issue of Drama Review, a special on Black theater edited by Ed Bullins, literally became a Black Arts textbook that featured essays and plays by most of the major movers: Larry Neal, Ben Caldwell, LeRoi Jones, Jimmy Garrett, John O'Neal, Sonia Sanchez, Marvin X, Ron Milner, Woodie King, Jr., Bill Gunn, Ed Bullins, and Adam David Miller. Black Arts theater proudly emphasized its activist roots and orientations in distinct, and often antagonistic, contradiction to traditional theaters, both Black and white, which were either commercial or strictly artistic in focus.

By 1970 Black Arts theaters and cultural centers were active throughout America. The New Lafayette Theatre (Bob Macbeth, executive director, and Ed Bullins, writer in residence) and Barbara Ann Teer's National Black Theatre led the way in New York, Baraka's Spirit House Movers held forth in Newark and traveled up and down the East Coast. The Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC) and Val Grey Ward's Kuumba Theatre Company were leading forces in Chicago, from where emerged a host of writers, artists, and musicians including the OBAC visual artist collective whose "Wall of Respect" inspired the national community-based public murals movement and led to the formation of Afri-Cobra (the African Commune of Bad, Revolutionary Artists). There was David Rambeau's Concept East and Ron Milner and Woodie King’s Black Arts Midwest, both based in Detroit. Ron Milner became the Black Arts movement's most enduring playwright and Woodie King became its leading theater impresario when he moved to New York City. In Los Angeles there was the Ebony Showcase, Inner City Repertory Company, and the Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles (PALSA) led by Vantile Whitfield. In San Francisco was the aforementioned Black Arts West and Black House.

BLKARTSOUTH (led by Tom Dent and Kalamu ya Salaam) was an outgrowth of the Free Southern Theatre in New Orleans and was instrumental in encouraging Black theater development across the south from the Theatre of Afro Arts in Miami, Florida, to Sudan Arts Southwest in Houston, Texas, through an organization called the Southern Black Cultural Alliance. In addition to formal Black theater repertory companies in numerous other cities, there were literally hundreds of Black Arts community and campus theater groups.

A major reason for the widespread dissemination and adoption of Black Arts was the development of nationally distributed magazines that printed manifestos and critiques in addition to offering publishing opportunities for a proliferation of young writers. Whether establishment or independent, Black or white, most literary publications rejected Black Arts writers. The movement's first literary expressions in the early 1960s came through two New York-based, nationally distributed magazines, Freedomways and Liberator. Freedomways, "a journal of the Freedom Movement," backed by leftists, was receptive to young Black writers. The more important magazine was Dan Watts's Liberator, which openly aligned itself with both domestic and international revolutionary movements. Many of the early writings of critical Black Arts voices are found in Liberator. Neither of these were primarily literary journals.


The Black Dialogue Magazine brothers, L to R: Aubrey LaBrie, Marvin X, Abdul Sabrey, Al Young,
Arthur Sheridan (founding editor) and Duke Williams

The first major Black Arts literary publication was the California-based Black Dialogue (1964), edited by Arthur A. Sheridan, Abdul Karim, Edward Spriggs, Aubrey Labrie, and Marvin Jackmon (Marvin X). Black Dialogue was paralleled by Soulbook (1964), edited by Mamadou Lumumba (Kenn Freeman) and Bobb Hamilton. Oakland-based Soulbook was mainly political but included poetry in a section ironically titled "Reject Notes."

Dingane Joe Goncalves became Black Dialogue's poetry editor and, as more and more poetry poured in, he conceived of starting the Journal of Black Poetry. Founded in San Francisco, the first issue was a small magazine with mimeographed pages and a lithographed cover. Up through the summer of 1975, the Journal published nineteen issues and grew to over one hundred pages. Publishing a broad range of more than five hundred poets, its editorial policy was eclectic. Special issues were given to guest editors who included Ahmed Alhamisi, Don L. Lee (Haki R. Madhubuti), Clarence Major, Larry Neal, Dudley Randall, Ed Spriggs, Marvin X and Askia Touré. In addition to African Americans, African, Caribbean, Asian, and other international revolutionary poets were presented.

 Dr. Nathan Hare, founding Publisher of the Black Scholar Magazine; first chair of Black Studies at San Francisco State University--considered the Father of Ethnic Studies; sociologist, clinical psychologist, publisher of Black Male/Female Relations. Widely published in BAM journals as well as Jet, Ebony, Sepia, Muhammad Speaks, Final Call.

Founded in 1969 by Nathan Hare and Robert Chrisman, the Black Scholar, "the first journal of black studies and research in this country," was theoretically critical. Major African-disasporan and African theorists were represented in its pages. In a 1995 interview Chrisman attributed much of what exists today to the groundwork laid by the Black Arts movement:
If we had not had a Black Arts movement in the sixties we certainly wouldn't have had national Black literary figures like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alice Walker, or Toni Morrison because much more so than the Harlem Renaissance, in which Black artists were always on the leash of white patrons and publishing houses, the Black Arts movement did it for itself. What you had was Black people going out nationally, in mass, saying that we are an independent Black people and this is what we produce.
Godfather of the Black Arts Movement, poet, playwright, essayist, musicologist, organizer, historian
Amiri Baraka, aka LeRoi Jones

Marvin X and the Black Arts Movement Poets Choir & Arkestra will conduct the gala opening of the Bay Area Black Arts Movement 50th Anniversary Celebration at Laney College Art Gallery, Oakland CA, February 7, 2014. There will be an exhibit of inmate art from San Quentin. The exhibit is part of the BAM Isaiah 61 Project, in partnership with the Post News Group.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Black Bird Press News & Review: The Black Arts Movement (BAM)--the Most Radical Artistic and Literary Movement in American History

Black Bird Press News & Review: The Black Arts Movement (BAM)--the Most Radical Artistic and Literary Movement in American History:

Seven years ago, in a Time magazine issue devoted to contemporary African-American culture, Henry Louis Gates declared the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s the shortest and least successful African-American literary renaissance. Gates's comments are unfortunate and ironic; the formation of Black Studies programs, changes in curricula, and the affirmative hiring of African-American faculty in humanities departments across the US during the late 1970s and 1980s were due, in significant part, to the militance of Black Arts artists, writers, performers, and critics and the conceptual power of the "Black Aesthetic."

Oakland Mayor Elect Libby Schaaf endorses the Black Arts Movement 50th Anniversary Projects

Black Arts Movement 27 City National Tour


The mission of the Black Arts Movement’s 27 City Tour is to continue the cultural revolution we initiated during the 1960s. This cultural revolution is still needed for a variety of reasons.  The Black Arts Movement(BAM) was aborted due to the radical nature of our task which was the liberation of our people in harmony with the political movement. Today, the need to address the political condition is critical. But more importantly is the cultural condition, the reactionary values in hip hop and adult culture.

Through art therapy we will address the lack of mental and physical wellness in our communities. As per physical wellness, Wellness trainer Geoffery Grier says, "The most revolutionary thing a Black man (and woman) can do is lose 30 pounds."

In terms of mental wellness, the 50% or more drop out (and push out) rate of students in our schools is partly the result of our dire mental health condition.

Not only is there a critical need for a positive curriculum and teachers with an undying love for our children, but the mental health condition of our children requires counselors with radical values of wellness based on a holistic approach to solving our myriad psychosocial and economic issues, especially trauma, unresolved grief and perennial joblessness, compounded with the pervasive lack of desire to do something for self. A team of artists, educators, mental and physical wellness trainers must be a part of this project so we can more effectively deal with our wellness in a holistic manner.

Art can and must address critical issues through performance and community dialogue, including peer group sessions. It is of critical importance that the people speak and socalled leaders listen and learn!

The BAM Isaiah 61 project will make books available monthly to the incarcerated.  This project is in partnership with The Post Newspaper Group. We especially call upon the spiritual community to make conscious books available to the incarcerated brothers and sisters.
Since many of the Black Arts Movement workers are elders, the timeline would be at least two years to complete this project, including planning and production. Sonia Sanchez said, "The idea of a 27 city tour, makes me tired."

While we will have a core group of participants in the 27 city tour, additionally we will involve local BAM workers who will be recruited to participate and establish a BAM center in their city, no matter if it is a 50 seat theater as Amiri Baraka suggested.

We shall begin the BAM 27 city tour with performances in the following Bay Area cities: Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, San Francisco, Palo Alto and San Jose. The Opening gala will be at Oakland's Laney College, February 7th, 2015.  Marvin X and the BAM Poets Choir and Arkestra will perform. The BAM Isaiah 61 project will exhibit the artwork of inmates from San Quentin prison.

From Laney college, Marvin X and the BAM Poets Choir & Askestra (with special guests) will perform at venues in Oakland's Black Arts Movement  District, from 14th and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way to 14th and Alice Streets,  including the Afro-American Museum/ Library, Frank Ogawa Plaza, Academy of da Corner, Geoffrey's Inner Circle, Joyce Gordon Gallery, and the Malonga Center.
We estimate the overall budget for this project will be 2.7 million dollars at $100,000 per city, including artist fees, promotion, advertisement, rental of venues, insurance, security, lodging, food, transportation, book purchases and documentation.

Marvin X. Jackmon,M.A.
Project Director, Black Arts Movement 27 City Tour

Mayor Elect Libby Schaaf endorses The Black Arts Movement

  BAM Executive Board Member Conway Jones with Mayor Elect Libby Schaaf.
“Oakland is lucky to have an incredibly talented and diverse art community. The African American Arts Movement is a vital, historically significant part of the Oakland Arts Community.  With its focus on justice, equality, and self-realization, the message of black artists is crucial to support.  From rage to celebration, art allows expression, and expression is essential to a community as varied as Oakland.  The recent 1% for Public Art that I authored ensures that new art will be a priority in Oakland in the future. I agree with Post Publisher Paul Cobb that BAM 50th Anniversary celebration should encompass all cultural genres: visual, literary, and performance.  Age-appropriate books for African American students about the Black Arts Movement will literally bring the lesson home for families to share and aspire to.”

Council Woman Desley Brooks Backs the BAM 50th Celebration:

"The depth and breadth of the contributions of African Americans to this community are enormous in the areas of music, education, politics, the arts, sports, civic engagement, social justice and so much more." 
–Desley Brooks

  The Black Arts Movement Poets Choir and Arkestra at the BAM conference, University of California, Merced, 2014.

National Advisory Board Members

Mrs. Amina Baraka
Ras Baraka
Amiri Baraka, Jr.
Sonia Sanchez
Danny Glover
The Last Poets
Askia Toure
Haki Madhubuti
Dr. Natan Hare
Dr. Cornell West
Dr. Angela Davis
Dr. Tony Montiero
Dr. Mohammed Ahmad
Mae Jackson
Nikki Giovanni
Rudolph Lewis
Maurice Henderson
Emory Douglas
Elena Seranno
Greg Morozumi
Woody King
Kim McMillan
Ayodele Nzinga
Geoffery Grier
Nefertiti Jackmon
Muhammida El Muhajir
Paul Cobb
Walter Riley
Conway Jones
John Burris
James Sweeney
Fahizah Alim
Nisa Ra
Aries Jordan

Elizabeth Catlett, “Negro Es Bello II,” 1969
Elizabeth Catlett’s lithograph…juxtaposes two masklike faces with a grid of decals bearing the Black Panther logo and the words “Black is beautiful.” In both word and image, the work proclaims its resistance to a century and a half of white-identified popular culture designed to keep African Americans in their place by insisting that they are not beautiful.

Marvin X with the Black Arts Movement Poets Choir and Arkestra at the Malcolm X Jazz/Arts Festival, May 17, 2014, Oakland, California. Festival produced by Eastside Arts Allicance.
photo Gene Hazzard

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Response from Educators for Mumia Abu Jamal to Dialogue between Bob Avakian and Dr. Cornel West

EMAJ Statement on the Riverside Church Cornel West/Bob Avakian “Dialogue”


Perfect Mumia AngelaA Response from Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal (EMAJ) to the Riverside Church Dialogue between Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party-USA and Professor Cornel West of Union Theological Seminary, NYC.

On November 15, 2014, at the Riverside Church, the White left Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Bob Avakian, entered into dialogue with Black public left, intellectual, professor of philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary, Cornel West. The theme was: “Revolution and Religion: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion.”

This statement is a critique of the event’s singular focus on one predominating voice, of its disrespect for black radical leadership and all leaders of color, and of its failure to uphold the radical democratic values needed in revolutionary movements.

EMAJ supported the event beforehand, and celebrates the fact that the dialogue took place. In fact one of its coordinators served on its Host Committee and brought the program’s opening greetings to an overflow audience, upwards of 1900 who came to hear both Avakian and West. Both of the EMAJ Coordinators were in attendance. We were impressed with Avakian’s organic approach to the presentation of socialist arguments and use of vivid examples to paint a picture of what’s politically possible. He was well received by the audience, often deservedly applauded. We stress this positive affirmation, in spite of the more critical point we feel compelled to make with this statement.

The EMAJ Coordinators, along with many of its members, share a commitment to a revolutionary socialist future, as embodied in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s and Angela Y. Davis’s recent co-writing on “Alternatives to Capitalist Injustice.” They presented their view of a socialist future with the idea of “abolition democracy,” a concept used by W. E. B. Du Bois in his Black Reconstruction. Davis and Abu-Jamal define it as,

       “. . . the abolition of institutions that advance the dominance of any one group over any other. It is the democracy that is possible if we continue the legacy of the great abolition movements in American history, those that opposed slavery, lynching, and segregation.”

Abolitionist democracy demands a comprehensive refusal of domination by any group, especially when facing the imperial and class wars of today, white racism against any of the nonwhite communities, police violence, and gender and sexual domination of anyone.

Abolition democracy’s comprehensive refusal of domination also requires a revolutionary way of deliberating and strategizing on the ground in our emerging movements. As Abu-Jamal and Davis stress, “what we decide to do will be open to the decisions of popular, democratic groupings in the future to seek greater humanistic and socialistic expressions.” Abu-Jamal and Davis modeled this future not only by writing as co-authors, but also by drawing from Black, indigenous and other traditions.

From this perspective, we are compelled to say that the best of revolutionary socialist futures was not on display at the Riverside dialogue. We place primary responsibility for this not on Professor West but on Chairman Avakian and program planners.

The fact that Avakian spoke for upwards of 2 hours and 10 minutes made his speech didactic in the end. Above all, his utter usurpation of the time allotted for the presentations was disrespectful of Dr. West and his views. It also meant that neither real debate nor illuminating dialogue were finally possible. The absence of a democratic culture and conscientious ethic on that stage is a deal breaker for us –their absence will destroy our movements for a socialist future. Their absence also speaks of the sense of entitlement and lack of critical self-awareness of the American Left.

We also sensed an opportunism in the meeting’s proceedings during which an audience that was anxious to listen to Dr. West, one of the most important black public figures on the left, was held hostage to Mr. Avakian’s interminable speech. In their totality, these actions speak to an implicit racism and disrespect for an important Christian revolutionary, and by extension of everyone in the audience. The manner in which the voice of a stalwart fighter for black folk was diminished at the event bespeaks an arrogance – even a white privilege and white supremacy – that should not reside in the American Left. In the end, West displayed grace and patience beyond words, more so than might be expected of anyone else.

Those of us associated with EMAJ can hardly claim the “revolutionarily correct” posture. Placed as we are in US colleges and universities, we recognize that the marginalization of communities of color and the entrenchment of white elite hierarchies in higher education often subvert our own principles of abolitionist democracy. As part of our struggle, though, we know that none of us on the left dare stand forth to present what we witnessed at Riverside: one white revolutionary lecturing for more than two hours while a Black revolutionary sat on the stage. This is not what revolution looks like in the U.S.

 It is no wonder that as the 2-hour mark neared in Avakian’s lecture, segments of the audience clamored for Dr. West to speak. The people’s clamor was truth spoken, and unfortunately truth unheeded.

We look to a future built of many voices and revolutionary collectives. We especially foreground our emergent/insurgent leaders of color, young and old, male, female, lgbtq, Black, Latino/a, Asian- and Arab-American and more, with revolutionary whites as part of a collective leadership. The legacy of class exploitation rooted in racial oppression in the US – with a history characterized by indigenous genocide, slavery and immigrant repression – means that radical collectives today cannot compromise the central role of leaders of color. This is more what revolution in the U.S. looks like. This is certainly the way to best catalyze “abolition democracy.” We must lift our lament: the Riverside event undermined that kind of future. We hope to go forward, along another path of deliberation, debate and dialogue, as part of our collective planning of the people’s socialist future.

Drafted by:
Johanna Fernandez, Baruch College, CUNY
Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton Theological Seminary

Supported by:

Heidi Boghosian, Law and Disorder Radio
Peter Bohmer, Evergreen State College
Akili Buchanan, Newark Teachers Union
Frederica Clare, CAMPHEAL, South Africa
James H. Cone, Union Theological Seminary
Alfred Duckett, Jackson State University
Farah Jasmine Griffin, Columbia University
Joy A. James, Williams College
Anthony Monteiro, Temple University
David Roediger, University of Illinois/Champagne-Urbana
Michael M. Schiffmann, University of Heidelberg
Johnny Eric Williams, Trinity College

All institutions listed for identification purposes only.

(to add your name to this list, please email )

BAM Babies 3.0 with Master Poet Marvin X at his Academy of da Corner, Berkeley

 Marvin X and BAM Babies 3.0
photo Ustadi

Nisa Ra and Marvin X with their BAM Baby 2.0, Muhammida El Muhajir. Muhammida works in Ghana, West Africa.

In conversation with Nisa Ra, one of the members of the BAM National Advisory Board, Marvin X was told to be sure to include the children in the Bay Area BAM celebration. Marvin X assured her the children will be included in the 50th Anniversary celebration which begins with a gala opening at Laney College Art Gallery on February 7, 2015, including a performance by the BAM Poets Choir & Arkestra. The BAM Isaiah 61 Project will feature the art work of prisoners at San Quentin. BAM is partnering with The Post News Group on this phase of the BAM celebration. The Isaiah 61 Project will make books available to inmates on a monthly basis and disseminate their writings in the Post Newspapers. "We know reaching our children with literature will help deter them from being  victims of the criminal justice system." Although Marvin has written material for children such as his 1968 classic fable The Black Bird, he feels we must reach the parents as well. "I was horrified when teachers at a local middle school informed me a parent told her son,'Don't bring nothin' home from dat school'." We look forward to working with, Karen Monroe,  the new superintendent of the Alameda County Schools who is aware of the Bay Area BAM celebration.