Monday, June 17, 2013
After laying to rest one of the most significant Black men in the last 100 years of the Black Liberation Struggle, my mentor Baba Jitu Kasisi Weusi, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of our many conversations and experiences. It’s truly a blessing to say that I have known him personally for over 1/3 of my life, and even more of a blessing to say that I have known and benefited from his work for even longer. Most of our conversations centered on the three L’s: Love, Life and Leadership.
I remember specifically one afternoon, I was telling him how I was having so much trouble with trying to get a chapter of the organization to function at a higher level and asked him how did they have so success early on when building the organization. He stated to me that they had the momentum of the 60’s & 70’s to build upon, whereas now we have to find another sense of urgency. He continued to say pick small battles that you can win, this will help build peoples’ confidence up and give them greater hope of winning bigger battles.
I saw this come into manifestation with establishing the National Black United Front’s (NBUF) Washington DC Chapter. We wanted to take a vanload of children to the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum and bring in African Scholar Dr. Conrad Worrill to speak to them. It was a battle on several fronts. First we had zero dollars and $1,200 in expenses. Second, it’s hard enough to get one Black person to go five miles from Southeast DC to Northwest DC, let alone a passenger van of folks to another city 45 minutes away. Third, we were a new group that NO ONE in Southeast DC new about. With getting out in the streets fundraising, doing outreach and having some imani (faith) we took nearly 40people to the museum and fed them all. This instilled some confidence in us as a group, and our ability to get something done. Then only a month later the world was hit with the murder of Trayvon Martin and we found ourselves right in the middle of it all.
As a collective group we had yet to move with a collective sense of purpose, but when it came time to move around this particular action, we all sacrificed time from work, we stayed up late at night making signs, we were up early on conference calls and sacrificed money to fund this project ourselves!
Something else that I learned from observation of Baba Jitu, is that regardless of political affiliation, religious background, educational or economic status we are all Black people with some similar issues and that we should use those similar issues to unite our people around. However, what may be even more significant, is organizing people around our most precious commodity and that’s our children. When children are involved, everyone is touched by it because everyone can sympathize with the care of our children. Therefore the first action we conducted was an interfaith prayer vigil that HUNDREDS of people attended from all religious, political, organizational and social backgrounds to honor a murdered Black Child.
In addition to the prayer vigil, we decided to go down to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) pleading our case for the arrest of George Zimmerman. To some extent we had some nerve thinking that we could demand anything from the US Department of Justice and expect them to meet our demands, let alone pay any attention to us. We were not battled tested, we had no budget, we had no paid staff, shoot we hadn’t even been around for five months as a group, but you can never underestimate the power of Black people united.
Other groups in DC had activities, but most of them were either on days in which government workers were off or places that were not confrontational at all, however that’s not how NBUF rolls. We researched and discovered that Eric Holder, the head of the DOJ had is offices in an offsite location and that’s where we were going on a Monday afternoon.
To our surprise we got just a little more than some attention from the DOJ, we got a call from the Commander of the Federal Protective Services at 1am in the morning a day before the demonstration, requesting us to call him on his cell phone if we could not reach him in his office. We were planning to deliver over 500,000 petitions for the arrest of George Zimmerman and the Commander made sure that they had a representative there to receive the petitions. When we got there they met us with horses, soldiers in bulletproof vests, helmets, guns and full riot gear.
In conjunction with the petitions, we wrote letters to the governor and the state attorney general of Florida, as well as the Chief of Police and Mayor of Stanford, FL calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman. As a result of the collective pressure of NBUF and other elements across the country, the chief of police stepped down and George Zimmerman was eventually arrested. Now George Zimmerman is standing trial.
I think back daily upon the words of wisdom of Baba Jitu, telling me that we have to develop a sense of urgency, start with small battles to build up confidence, concentrate on issues that can unite us as a people as oppose to things that divide us and incorporate children and family into what we are doing.
I believe that winning that small battle of trying to organize some people around the black history month trip helped build up that confidence we needed to take on the challenge of contributing to the arrest of George Zimmerman. We found a sense of urgency and were able to unite our people around an issue that we all could identify with, the safety and security of Black children.
Just as the murder of teenager Randolph Evans in the late 1970’s gave birth to the Metropolitan Black United Front (the precursor to the National Black United Front) the death of Trayvon Martin was and still is the defining moment of the Washington DC Chapter of the National Black United, over 35 years later.
I can truly bear witness to this wisdom and history, and say that I have seen everything Baba Jitu spoke about come full circle. Sister Purfett, a child from the Southeast DC community, initially came into contact with NBUF at the Trayvon Martin Prayer Vigil. She is now a student in NBUF’s family based, N’Joya Weusi Saturday School learning how to create electricity from potatoes and lemons. Had we not heeded to the wisdom of the elders, this would not have been.
In the words of Hip Hop artist Drake, the Washington DC Chapter of the National Black United Front, started from the bottom and now we here. Asante sana Big Chief, we love you, we live you and appreciate your leadership.