By Bryan Epps

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Above: Featured Photographer Rahkim Bryant.  

Instagram enables users to “discover — and tell — stories from around the world”. It has become an integral tool for Newarkers; allowing residents and visitors alike to learn about the various ways life can be experienced within the city.

Rahkim Bryant, creator of Wavegod Photography is on the cutting edge of detailing the Newark experience by using “the gram”. His work artfully communicates the quirky contrasts in the city’s natural environment and between its people.  Photographing and filming for 6 years now he has no plans of putting down the camera anytime soon! Bryant explains “When I first started photography it was hard because I couldn’t afford equipment, so I learned how to use what I had and I mastered a style called “phoneography”… This is using your phone as a professional camera.

Below are some of his interpretive works (all featured on his Instagram account @wavegodphotography).

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“I feel like my work is the eye of Newark. I like to document the good in my city, the small things we don’t look at. This is important because the news always shows the bad of Newark, but yet we have so much art and good people around us.” – Bryant

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Rev. Timothy Levi Jones, the new Pastor-Elect of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, talks with Bryan Epps.

Bryan Epps: What inspires you to do your work?

Jones: So many things! Certainly I’m inspired by my relationship from God and a deep gratitude for how gracious God has been to me. I do not take for granted the salvation I have through Jesus Christ and feel that is incredible motivation to do my work. But I also am inspired by the witness of my family and my people. I feel a deep desire to make the village around me proud. It is so clear that we stand on the shoulders of giants to do the work that we do today, and I do not want history to tell that I have dropped the baton that has been passed on to me.

Epps: How should we define a progressive Church?

Jones: A progressive church in 2016 is one that takes seriously the fight for justice for all people. Not regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, socioeconomic status or any other difference that exists amongst our people but because of the great diversity that exists within the world. All churches should follow the example of Jesus, and build an inclusive community that welcomes all and that seeks equality for all outside of the safety of a church building. It is not good enough to talk a good game within the sanctuary, or even to create great community in a church. To be progressive, a church must be willing to challenge the status quo that exists outside of the church and speak prophetically to world in dire need of life giving, justice filled messages.

Epps: 350 years ago Robert Treat came from New Haven and “founded” New-ark with a grand vision. What dream(s)/vision(s) helped contribute to your decision to come to the city from that same place?

Jones: I dream of community. I dream of pastoring a congregation that loves each other unconditionally and that loves the community that it resides in unconditionally. I dream of being a part of a community that helps change the narrative about a wonderful city like Newark. As I have begun this transition into Newark it has been interesting to listen to people’s reactions around the country as I share the news. Almost universally people say something along the lines of “oh wow, Newark huh? Yea you’ll have a lot of work to do there” or something like that. There is a built in understanding of Newark to be a place where you really don’t want to be unless you have to be. I dream of this no longer being the case. I dream of working with other churches, congregations of other faiths, the government and the people at large to work on the kinds of problems that cause people to say these things and ultimately to change those perceptions. As I have begun to meet the people and learn the history of this great city, I get excited about where we can go.

Epps: Is it possible for people to dream and actualize dreams collectively?

Jones: Not only is it possible but I believe it’s necessary. I do not believe that we can accomplish all that we set out to in a vacuum. Thus we need to realize our dreams as a community. I am reminded of something Dr. King said, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.” There is no dream that we can actualize that is separate from anyone else. Which also suggests to me that we need to dream dreams as a community if there is any hope for them to actually come about. I believe that God gives vision and helps guides our steps but I also believe that God speaks often times through other people. And in some ways, the dreams for me may be initiated or at least confirmed by those around me.

Epps: I read that you studied practical theology at Boston University School of Theology before teaching at Yale. It seems to be very applicable to Newark (if we viewed the entire city as a congregation). What are some of your thoughts on how theologians can help build the dreams of Newarkers?

Jones: The basic tenet of practical theology is the sense that our lived theology is based on an observation of our actual religious practices, an analysis of those practices based on history and theory, and then a redoing of those practices in light of what you’ve just researched. Practical theology attempts to mine what people actually think about God and God’s things by examining what we actually do. Applying practical theology to Newark might mean examining the practices of the people of Newark. What do people in this city do? What is important to them? Why is it important to them? What customs and traditions have become irreplaceable parts of the city and why? Doing this kind of analysis of the practices of the people of Newark would help determine what the city collectively wants to do. This may be a way for us to dream together, by looking at what we already do and figuring out why and what we need to continue to do.

Epps: So, let’s play a game of rapid fire?! Give me your first thoughts/responses on the following:

Portuguese or Italian food? 

Jones: Can I say neither? Give me soul food any day but for the sake of the game I’ll go Italian.

Busy avenue or a quiet Street? 

Jones: Busy avenue

Favorite color?

Jones: Krimson and Kreme

Favorite book in the bible (author)? 

Jones: I’ll resist the urge to say my namesake Timothy and say Ephesian (Paul….maybe)

Favorite “secular” book (author)? 

Jones: Jesus and the Disinherited (Thurman)

Top 5 rappers?

Jones: In no particular order: Jay Z, Biggie, Pac, Lil Wayne, Eminem, with major apologies to Nas, Kendrick, Andre 3000 and Kanye.

Favorite sport? 

Jones: Basketball

Finally, can an intellectual find any joy in ratchet television aka reality TV?

Jones: Absolutely, if you can find a show that lets you escape reality without feeling too guilty I say go ahead and enjoy it.

Epps: Thanks so much!

More on Reverend Timothy L. Jones: 

A native of Richmond, VA, Rev. Jones has served previously at St. John’s Congregational Church (Springfield, MA), First Central Baptist Church (Chicopee, MA), and as the Senior Pastor of Community Baptist Church in New Haven, CT. A scholar, Rev. Jones earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Amherst College, a Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology, and is a current candidate for the Doctorate of Philosophy in Practical Theology at Boston University. Rev. Jones serves his alma mata Amherst College as the Graduate Fellow for the Hermenia T. Gardner Christian Worship Series and is an Adjunct Professor at Yale Divinity School. A member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc, Rev. Jones is a former college basketball player who also enjoys comic books, movies, and working out. He is the proud father of three beautiful children, Sofia Esperanza, Ezekiel Levi, and Isabella Oleta. Visit Bethany’s site: http://www.bethany-newark.org/
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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During 2015 women’s history month Bryan Epps, Executive Director of the Shabazz Center interviewed Noelle Lorraine Williams. Williams is a conceptual artist living and working in Newark. (Above Photo Credit: Colleen Gutwein for The Newark Arts Photo Documentary Project)

Epps: What/who is most important to you?

Williams: Imagination is most important to me.

I live so our world community feels strong, imaginative and believes that all are contributors to the development of humanity, through utilizing our imagination and individual/collective power. My work deeply lies in the spiritual, not necessarily connected to religion.

I believe in the retelling of history to highlight interventions and acts of power and the sharing and claiming of public space for all people. I believe this is our contemporary popular spirituality

I particularly focus my work and interests on the United States, though my understanding always is as a part of a global community and diaspora.

I believe that culture: folk, fine and popular has the power to facilitate that. I also believe that community organizing can too. That is why so often my work is concentrated on community gatherings and events in public spaces like museums, parks, galleries and other “public” spaces.

The most important thing to me is the truth and the opportunity for all humans to live without fear of being hurt or murdered. My interests are with the most threatened communities African American women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I also have interests in redlining, gentrification, abuse, immigration rights and sexual trafficking – how people are destabilized and made outsiders in different spaces.

Epps: How do the people and things that you believe are important manifest themselves in your work?

Williams: It manifests itself in my work as a multimedia artist (my website is rebornhome.com) and volunteer by working to provide opportunities for people to learn about historical counter narratives to oppression, and also by sharing opportunities to create and be a part of community.

Epps: Can we define your art? Or is it undefinable?

Williams: I am labeled as an artist. However, I am better defined as a spirit worker, meaning I use artwork and writing as opportunities for reflection and discussion about spirituality, identity, innovation and community. My practice includes creating events, discussions, lectures, workshops sculpture, photography and installation. I use African American women’s narratives as a lens to understand and engage the world.

The way I work towards building a sense of ownership and freedom is by: 1) Presenting liberatory and historically referenced narratives in my art work; 2) Having a dynamic, and organic art practice (aligning my spirit with my work) 2) Working with groups and using my vision to place innovation and community building at the center such as my volunteer work with Newark Gay Pride and arts initiatives in Newark.

Epps: How does the idea of place/community influence your passion?

Williams: Place is important, public places and private places – mainly because it is the measurement of how people feel that they can maneuver in this world, where they may walk and build that is a barometer to assess the level of freedom they experience.

Epps: Who is Dr. Betty Shabazz to you? How has she influenced you?

Williams: Dr. Betty Shabazz was a social and cultural worker with a relentless spirit and bold actions. Her work has always influenced me in that she challenges us to think of how we can take radical action and make bold moves even within an institutional context – whether it was by being a member of NOI or as an administrator and at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. Though it is a challenging road to work within existing institutions that so often possess classist (exploitative of poor people) and sexist/misogynistic values – she continued to translate those difficult opportunities in to acts of change.

Epps: Which other people have influenced your desire to shape history?

Williams: Oh my, so many! My mother who has always allowed me to think and grow independently and without the constraints of doing things just to be safe. Friends like our family friend Sylvia and my uncle Charles who told the most fantastic stories to me as a child and really engendered my need to tell and share stories. Artists, like Ntozake Shange and Alice Walker who continue to use art, spirituality and community interactions to create new imaginative spaces of the world. To community organizers like Ella Baker and Joo-Hyun Kang when she was at the Audre Lorde Project who both impressed the need to cultivate and support each individual so that they have a tailored relationship with organizations.

Epps: Where do you hope your work will take us?

Williams: I hope my work continues to excite people who engage it and foster dialogue whether it is through creating objects, events/experiences and/or fostering community. I hope that it will take us all to a space of affirming our unique imaginations, boldest thoughts and responsive actions about what it means to be a part of local, national and global communities.

Epps: Thank you! 

See more from Noelle Lorraine Williams below:

Aunsha Hall, Program Manager, Project WOW, NJCRI

Epps: When did you first realize you were a leader in Newark?

Hall: In June 2009 at the Newark-Essex Pride Parade. To take on the role of coordinating a parade and having individuals participate in the parade was the moment that I knew I had what it takes to rally folks together.

Epps: Tell us about your love relationship with the city…including joy, pain, etc?

Hall:  Well I love the Newark.  To be around such passionate people who are living out their dreams is wonderful.  The love that I have here has challenged me to look at life differently.  It has challenged me to have a bigger hunger for life and take what it is that may come my way.

On top of that, to be in an area that has an appreciation for the arts, is amazing.  I am a lover of house music; I have gained so much respect for the house ball community; I am in love with the storytelling of photography and spoken word, as well as me being around fashionistas.  All of this was created or transformed in the NYC/NJ metropolis.

Epps: How has your work at NJCRI informed your opinions about the city and its progress?

Hall: I cannot lie, my family and friends were nervous about me leaving Kentucky to come to Newark; they are VERY protective of me.  But it was not until I helped a 19 year transgender female who was attacked by a group of guys that I realized that I cannot be someone who sits around and complain about how unsafe Newark is.  As I began to advocate for many LGBTQ folks in Newark, I realized that Newark is a city made up of some of the most amazing people ever.  To be around people who take pride in their city and appreciate all of Newark makes me love Newark so much more.  As a frequent runner, I feel overwhelmed with so much from Newark when running from the Ironboud through Downtown and to the Central Ward and people are cheering me on.  That feels hella good!  It shows that this city is moving in the right direction, all they want is to be recognized and seen as valuable resources in giving Newark this rebirth.

Epps: If you had one wish for Newark what would it be?

Hall: For it to be the premiere city that I hear it used to be.  I love downtown Newark and the history of Newark.  Newark should be “the other” city that attracts folks for arts, nice dining, partying, or whatever else.

Epps: Any advice for future leaders of the city?

Hall: You cannot do it alone.  We all have a vision for Newark moving forward, but it takes collaboration.  It means reaching out to people who are from Newark, those who want to be voice but do not know how.  It is about empowering one another because in return we are empowering ourselves to do much more.

Epps: Tell us about your opinions on the following

Favorite restaurant…

Hall: This is a good one, but I love Iberia in the Ironbound of Newark,

Favorite neighborhood…

Hall: I have to go with the Ironbound

Most treasured moment…

Hall: Going out for the first time, I went to Krash and it was so surreal, as if I was reliving a movie I used to watch as a kid.  To see people showing their appreciation for music and representing a borough or Jersey was AMAZING!

Biggest Difference between Newark and Kentucky…

Hall: Well in Kentucky, I can take my time and smile.  In North Jersey, you have to move at a pace because you have other people who are just as hungry as you.  Also, in Kentucky, everything is very black and white, but up here, it is one colorful portrait.  I love both places because they have helped me grow into the Aunsha I am today.  I do have to say though, that it feels good to have found true love in Jersey!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:  Perris Straughter, Chair

Name:  Newark LGBTQ Concerns Advisory Commission

Phone:  949-350-5437

Email:  perrisandpublicpolicy@gmail.com  

Newark’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Concerns Advisory Commission Reflects on the One-Year Anniversary of the Tragic Death of DeFarra Ivan Gaymon

NEWARK, N.J., July 20, 2011– Two weeks ago, the Essex County Grand Jury declined to bring any charges against Essex County Sheriff’s Officer Edward Esposito in connection with the July 16, 2010 shooting death of DeFarra Ivan Gaymon in Branch Brook Park. The grand jury’s decision has brought that fateful day back into the minds and hearts of many within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. While the Newark Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Concerns Advisory Commission respects the integrity of the judicial process which found that no crime was committed, we recognize that this ruling is not a comforting closure for those most affected by the painful loss of Gaymon.  All of the Commissioners empathize with the Gaymon family and friends and the pain they have endured.

Amid such pain and loss, positive steps have been taken that the Newark LGBTQ Commission hopes will cast a hopeful light on the Gaymon tragedy. The Commission applauds Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, State Senator Theresa Ruiz, and others within the County government for the recent formation of the Essex County LGBTQ Commission. The formation of this Commission is a direct result of the dialogue and negotiations between County officials and LGBTQ leaders from Essex County during the aftermath of the Gaymon tragedy. The LGBTQ Commission provides Essex County LGBTQ residents with an official voice, influence, and access to policymakers and officials in Essex County government.

“The Newark LGBTQ Commission is forging an alliance with the County’s LGBTQ Commission.  We hope that as we work to empower LGBTQ residents in Newark and improve policies and relations within Newark’s City government, we can work in tandem with the County’s LGBTQ Commission to make all of Essex County a safe and affirming place for all people,” adds Perris Straughter, Chair, Newark LGBTQ Concerns Advisory Commission. “We strive to have ongoing and direct dialogue with police and safety officials before crises arise, not after.”

The Newark LGBTQ Commission is committed to work collaboratively with the County LGBTQ Commission and both City and County officials to ensure LGBTQ persons are treated with equal dignity by law enforcement and to improve the flow of information between law enforcement and the LGBTQ community when a crisis occurs. The Newark LGBTQ Commission strongly encourages the County LGBTQ Commission and County officials to review the various policies, procedures and operations that adversely impact the LGBTQ community such as the undercover enforcement operation in the Gaymon case.  We believe that while such policies, procedures, and operations are intended to foster a safer County, each must not unfairly target or disproportionately impact LGBTQ persons.

The Commission again gives condolences to the family and friends of DeFarra Ivan Gaymon and hopes that the world remembers the man who was a father, husband and business leader. After such a tragedy, we look toward a hopeful future because of the newly established power and voice that the LGBTQ community has in Essex County. Gaymon’s legacy is one that will empower others and help to keep others safe for years to come.

About Newark LGBTQ Concerns Advisory Commission

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Advisory Commission was founded by Mayor Cory A. Booker and the Municipal Council in June 2009 and its initial seven members were appointed in July 2009. The LGBTQ Commission seeks to improve conditions affecting the cultural, social, economic, political, educational, general health and well-being of LGBTQ individuals and their families, by studying and developing- through partnering with various groups and multiple levels of government – policies, programs and practices to recommend to the Mayor and Municipal Council. In carrying out its mission, the Commission meets monthly on the second Thursday of each month at 6pm in City Hall. All Commission meetings are free and open to the public.

The Commission’s website is: http://www.ci.newark.nj.us/government/mayor_booker/the_mayors_lgbtq_commission.php

 

The Commission’s Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000766137649

 

The Commission can be reached by email at newarklgbtqcommission@gmail.com or by phone at 973-353-9030.

 

Newark: life and death

Posted: July 14, 2011 by IVNamez in Uncategorized

Recognizing life and death

Should be everyone’s pledge

Collectively both past and present

Meant for innovative systems and basic serenity

 

Presently living quietly

Currently dying out loud

Fruitless elders lead

Murdered offspring leave

 

Evolving establishment essential

Just as progressives realize their mortality

Riots recognized through ritual while development emerges

Atmosphere full of pong and perfume: perfection

 

Let us memorialize and hope

Together see the dark and the light

Always value and expand

Live with life and death

 

© 2011 by Bryan Epps

I am ecstatic to see the most recent “Special Section” of the Star Ledger Magazine, dated May 31, 2011, dedicated, solely, to the purposes of making visible queer New Jerseyeans (and, apparently the “community’s” buying power as evidenced by the many consumer ads placed throughout), but I am troubled by the issue’s utter failure to irradiate all of the diverse “textures” and “colors” that its picturesque, rainbow-colored title page ostensibly seeks to reveal. 
 
Inside Jersey: Living Gay in the Garden State offers readers a disturbingly myopic frame of a “gay” Jersey that is, literally, monochromatic and insular in its lack of representation of non-white, non-suburban and non-middle class queer New Jerseyeans. What could have been a nuanced and commemorative segment ends up being nothing more than a seemingly under-researched piece that is certain to offend anyone who hoped, like me, to browse the segment and see a semblance of racial, ethnic, economic, neighborhood, and cultural diversity on any of the pages. But, maybe I am misreading the articles and images in failing to see the diversity that the editors intended to present beyond that of sexual identity.
 
This Special Section highlights a few exceptional locales where queer persons and families exist; however, queer New Jerseyeans also reside contentedly in urban spaces like Camden, Paterson, Trenton, Jersey City, Elizabeth, and Newark, as well. While we tend to turn to suburban, middle-class municipalities and townships like Collingswood (I grew up in neighboring Camden) and Maplewood (I went to undergrad in neighboring South Orange) as progressive, forward-thinking communities where queers can live comfortably, it is vitally important to consider the lives of queers who live outside of those spaces.
 
For example, I’ve lived (until recently) and am active in the city of Newark and have experienced the strongest sense of community and welcome as a queer man of color than any other spaces, including suburban locales like Laurel Springs and Princeton to name a few. To be sure, Newark (while it has its share of issues) was the first city in New Jersey to establish an official government instrumentality that advises the Mayor’s office on LGBTQ concerns. In fact, it was a coalition of mostly Newark-based advocates and not Maplewood or Montclair residents—along with a few representatives from Garden State Equality including Steve Goldstein, who worked with the county of Essex to establish a similar county-wide body this past year. Newark has been home to one of the state’s—and region’s—most celebrated pride week’s, namely, Newark-Essex Pride Week, for several years bringing Newarkers and non-Newarkers into communal celebration. Newark is home to the Hetrick-Martin Institute’s HMI-to-Go program, an initiative of the oldest and largest LGBTQ youth-serving organization in the world, which provides academic and mental health supports to Newark youth. Newark, under the auspices of the office of Mayor Cory A. Booker, was the host location for a brunch sponsored by the New York Chapter of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association in 2009. And, there’s so much more to say about Newark, which is only one of the few urban spaces where queers exist, which has been left out of the writers’ narratives describing queer Jersey.
 
Queers in New Jersey are diverse (i.e. non-white, Latino/Hispanic, working and jobless poor, non-married/non-partnered families, rural and urban, and/or non-LGBTQ identified) beyond the ways they are typified within this Special Section. The fact that the editors failed to illumine this fact leaves no other choice but for one to wonder about the absence. If it’s the case that the section seeks to drive a consumerist market towards the purchase of everything from cabaret show tickets to condominiums or that writers traced the usual trail of news stories (or lack thereof) located in media outlets focused on queer Jersey, then it is clear why the issue proves problematic. Whatever the case, I failed to see my queer, black, urban reflection in the rainbow-esque offering, and I am afraid that others might fail to see reflections of themselves, as well.

 

Celebrating Sakia Gunn…2011

Posted: May 26, 2011 by dnnewark in Uncategorized

Sakia Gunn would have celebrated 23 years of life today. We are left, however, with the task of honoring Sakia-a young daughter of Newark-whose days were shortened by way of a physical weapon (a knife) and ideological artillery (heterosexism/sexism). But, Sakia’s spirit remains among us: waking us from our social (un)consciousness and enlivening us to do the work of justice in Newark, NJ and elsewhere. In fact, hate may seek to destroy but it doesn’t kill. Here are 10 reasons why:

1. After Sakia’s murder, her family and friends stood up for justice. Young Newarkers, like Dawn James and Valencia Bailey, galvanized others to stand in solidarity with Sakia’s family, pushed city leaders and politicians to act and organized peaceful memorials.

2. The Newark Pride Alliance (NPA) was formed under the leadership of LaQuetta Nelson and James Credle in response to Sakia’s death. NPA began its advocacy work armed with the mission to ensure that safe spaces are created and maintained in the city of Newark.

3. Cory A. Booker, who was a councilperson at the time of Sakia’s murder, turned his attention to the case, in particular, but would vow to make LGBTQ issues a priority.

4. Filmmaker, Charles “Chas” Brack, directs and produces “Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Story,” and, along with Sakia’s family members, begin to carry her name from Newark to other spaces around the world.

5. June Dowell-Burton introduces the City of Newark to LGBTQ pride when she founded Newark-Essex Pride Coalition and Newark-Essex Pride Week. Pride moved queer celebrations from meeting rooms and other social spaces to the streets of Newark.

6. The City of Newark, with the Newark-Essex Pride Coalition, under the auspices of Mayor Booker, councilperson Dana Rone and June Dowell-Burton, raises the rainbow flag at the entrance to Newark City Hall.

7. Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship (LITUFC) forms the Social Justice Center as an extension of its faith ministry to address issues of injustice in the community. True Colors, a queer youth initiative, was subsequently developed to provide avenues of expression for queer youth.

8. New Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) develops and implements Project WOW, a drop-in center for queer youth who are engaged or disengaged from the school system.

9. NPA, in partnership with the City of Newark, Hetrick-Martin Institute and Rutgers-Newark, chaired 3 free full-day conferences on religion, education and health, hosted a series of trainings for Newark Public Schools, advocated on behalf of queer students and provided trainings to NPS students…the City of Newark now has an official instrumentality, thanks to Dana Rone and Ronald Rice, Jr., that advises the Mayor on LGBTQ concerns and the county of Essex, following the city’s lead, has just organized its own body to do the same…the city of Newark and Newark Public Schools is now home to the HMI-to-Go afterschool program for queer youth….Rutgers-Newark LGBTQ groups now hold annual events on campus…New Jersey Performing Arts Center hosts its “Newark is Burning” event…African American Office of Gay Concerns, with the assistance of FemWorks and MedinaCiti, launches its “Status is Everything” Campaign….

10. The Sakia Gunn High School for Civic Engagement, an initiative spearheaded by the Hetrick-Martin Institute and the Newark Public Schools and supported fully by Sakia’s mother and family, will open its doors in the city of Newark in the Fall of 2012….and sooooooooo much more! Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Matthias Pressley are right in warning us against the need to lift up Sakia as a victim and martyr only. Instead, they encourage us to celebrate Sakia, the young, vibrant, human being, from Newark. Today, on her birthday, we celebrate her spirit that continues to drive Newarkers to serve toward the end of creating safer spaces.

Add to the list your celebratory comment or event that you would like to name in honor of Sakia…

in love and community…darnell and june

It was a sunny afternoon in “Pollock Town” and the bells signaling the end of my school day at Camden High had rang a few hours before. I was home. I decided, as I typically did, to leave my grandmother’s house—which happened to be my house (and at various points in time, every family member’s house)—on Vanhook Street (as it was named then) to my Aunt Arlene’s house directly around the corner. We lived in a neighborhood where youth played outside often, where homes were literal camping grounds for neighborhood children, where fights broke out and brought everyone to their porches, where “posses” were family and formed because of boredom, and where one might receive love as easily as s/he did bullying. Drugs, like other urban spaces, had a stronghold on our neighborhood. I assume that’s the reason that our police took to our neighborhood as if it were a war zone where civilians figured in their skewed imaginations as either the drug user or pusher. Most forgot, I assume, that they too had family in our small city who just as easily matched their stereotypes given that most of the presumed “shining shields” were from the same hood that they had begun to terrorize. I digress….but, not really.

I walked elatedly as I turned the corner of the street where my Aunt’s house was located—adorning my fresh kicks, rocking trendy gear, and flaunting my flashy herringbone necklace with matching bracelet. I’ve always had a penchant for nice clothes and sneakers even if I could not really afford them. So, I would clean my sneakers with a toothbrush and iron my clothes as if I worked at a professional dry cleaning service. I understood, honestly, the lure that pulled other young brothers into a fast-paced life of drugs and money: even while I witnessed the lives of those that I love being wrecked by drugs, I desired to live the “Rap City” life (at least wear the clothes that rappers were wearing in the videos) every day. But, I was lured by my dreams of something better and books instead; though, I managed to live into “street” fantasies every now and then. But, my black male body—adorning fresh kicks, rocking trendy gear, flaunting flashy herringbones—remained a point of surveillance because of its seeming displacement from the “set” (read, drug corners). I assume.

A city of Camden cop car turned the opposite corner as I walked passing young and not-so-young black males on the corner. The car increasingly picked up speed as it moved down the street in the direction I walked. I walked to my aunt’s house often, practically lived there, and had my share of eyewitness accounts of police happenings on the block. So, I expected there to be nothing new but the mundane emergency response to some neighbor’s call. The car moved quickly unto the sidewalk. I was surprised considering that there wasn’t anyone walking on that part of the block but me. The black cop jumped out of the car and screamed words that I still don’t remember to this day–lthough, he mentioned something about “look out boys”–because I was in shock as my arm (the same arm that I would typically use to write essays in my advanced English courses, the same arm that I would use to place money in the hands of bus drivers when traveling downtown to take college-level classes at Camden County even while a high schooler, the same arm that I used to make silkscreen t-shirts as part of my summer youth employment job) was violently placed behind my back as if the black cop wanted to break my arm as well as my spirit. I could see my aunt’s boyfriend, Big Sam, running down the street and feared that the black cop would turn from me and beat the black man coming his way. But, he didn’t. He threw me in the back of the car and was unaware that I was a student in Camden High’s IPLE (Institute for Political and Legal Education) where Coach Hanson had taught us about Miranda rights and what happens when our law enforcement officers break the law by failing to recite them. I am certain he was unaware of this fact, because I matched his image of the public enemy: black, male, and hood. So, he drove away without reading my rights. He angrily asked, as he drove, my name to which I gave him none….my birthdate to which I responded by asking him for his ID number…my purpose for walking the street to which I asserted “walking to my aunt’s house.” Shoulder hurting and spirit broken, I sat in the back terrified for my life, and, for a second, the life of every black male in an America that still images us as terrorist..an America where black men see each other as enemies.

Sam finally caught up with us on Atlantic Avenue, which is about seven minutes away-by car-from where I was initially picked up. I am certain that the black cop would have rather me walk back home (or worse, limp) if he had his choice. Sam commenced his appeal: he’s a good kid, an “A” student, don’t mess with anybody, ain’t never sold drugs, going places. I sat in the back of the locked police car pissed as hell and sad to the point of tears. He eventually let me go, but his hands are still felt on my arm and the pain is still very real in my shoulder. Even as I write this I feel the need to cry: for the brother who couldn’t see me…or himself in me and for those who are innocent victims of police brutality whether they are guilty of committing crimes or not.

This is for Jordan Miles! And, while my tears might have been the result of a broken spirit then, I cry tears of righteous indignation in solidarity with those who stand against the machinations of a police state today.

http://justiceforjordanmiles.com/

Manning’s Invention, or, Malcolm’s Reinvention?

Manning Marable’s “Malcolm X” is an adroit craftsperson: an artisan who is skilled at undergoing perpetual “reinventions.” Marable’s thesis, in his now widely discussed and contested Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, is grounded in the proposition that “self-invention was an effective way for [Malcolm] to reach the most marginalized sectors of the black community giving justification to their hopes.” According to Marable, Malcolm’s travels (between his pasts and futures) and travails (to define his self and his politics) in a raced, classed, irreligious (read, anti-Islamic) and imperialist American (and, later, international) context were driven largely by his desire to engage in the process of relentless reinvention: a process of continual, purposeful becomings, not necessarily for himself, but for the “black community” that would eventually claim him as its “Prince.”

Marable’s biography, flowing from this idea, recreates the sometimes tragic, and, mostly gallant, life and death of a martyr who dies for a cause—for others—but also a radical (and complicated) freedom fighter who dies also to his “self” and volition. Malcolm, via Marable, is caricatured as a “social being”—only imagined within the context of his beingness-in-relation-to the larger societal context where there exists a need for a salvific protagonist of the burgeoning black radical tradition and villainous antithesis to the very ideas of the presumed democratic tradition of white racist (and liberalist) America. But, as Baldwin illumines when writing about Richard Wright’s Native Son in his essay “Many Thousand Gone”: “the reality of a man as a social being is not his only reality and that artist is strangled who is forced to deal with human beings solely in social terms” (emphasis added). Marable, who was committed to the task of a historian as opposed to fiction writer, develops a narrative that refuses to allow space for Malcolm X the “human being” who exists without the ostensible proclivity towards “self-reinventions” that benefit others while only tangentially benefiting the human actor himself.

One must, then, interrogate the argument that is weaved into the narrative arc that directs Marable’s historical analysis of Malcolm X the “social being.” If the argument goes that Malcolm’s life “narrative is a brilliant series of reinventions,” as Marable suggests, then it would follow that Malcolm Little/Detroit Red/Big Red/Malcolm X/Malik Shabazz/El-Hajj Malik Shabazz were merely iterations along a continuum of perpetual and purposeful becomings, which were driven by external forces only, rather than the living-into, or, rather, states of beings that emerge and re-emerge as a result of the contextual life spaces and experiences that propel any human being toward self-motivated (and sometimes unmethodical) change. The former is a sign of a tragic life while the latter opens up the possibility for life’s complex beauty.

So, was the life of Malcolm X one defined by reinventions (for the sake of everyone but himself) or was Malcolm X delimited by Marable’s drive to invent a Malcolm X whose propensity manifested towards such desires? And, did such a desire impact the Malcolm X that the reader is left to grapple with? Even if one is not sure of that answer, s/he should read Marable’s work with that question in mind or otherwise s/he might find him/herself guilty of submitting to a politicized historiography of a sociopolitical Malcolm X that fails to fully capture the human being who just happened to be, like all of us, social and political.