Prolific Poet, Author & An Early Leader Of The Black Arts Movement
An Encounter with Amiri Baraka, Circa 1967 at a Black Writers Conference @ Fisk University:
I was a student activist at TSU and attended the above conference with great anticipation. Gwendolyn Brooks was one of the speakers and also one of my favorite authors. Amiri Baraka was scheduled to appear and I was quite intrigued with the 'Black Arts Movement' that he spearheaded. I sat in the audience in all my Afrocentric glory in rapt attention as Ms. Brooks discussed her journey to authorship. There was a rustle emanating from the back of the room and as folks began to turn around; there was this man of short stature looking quite fierce and brilliant walking down mid aisle. The rustle morph into a electrical charge of some sort and Ms. Brooks stopped in the middle of her talk to observe this phenomenon approaching her. By the way, I must address the backdrop of this encounter. We were in Jubilee Hall which has this huge portrait of The Fisk Jubilee Singers. The latter is stunning and one can imagine that when the lights are out and the room is empty; they emerge from the painting. The contrast of how far we'd come from our forebearers having to sing all over Europe to raise funds to build this hall and to keep the university solvent to an age when black intellectuals are addressing empowerment for black people was rather mesmerizing. It was no longer an issue of freedom but equality and the struggle continues today.
What intrigued me more than anything was observing Ms. Brooks' body language as she sat on the end of her chair and observed Amiri Baraka and the other black intelligentsia with periodic glances at the audience as they responded to his fiery oratory. Later, I would read in one of her autobiographical books about this encounter and how transformative it was for her. She spoke of her transition from a "Negro' to a 'Black Woman' and her subsequent work and activism were politically and culturally progressive and remained so until her death in the year 2000.
I didn't always agree with some of Amiri Baraka's viewpoints especially as it pertained to women , however, I've been out of touch with his most recent writings. I understand he's far more developed in ways that we attribute to the griots. No apologies for being black and fearless in how he celebrated our strengths as well as our shortcomings. He was a necessary force and will not be forgotten by many.
The lyric "Everyone I know goes away in the end" comes to mind as I mourned the recent death of a dear friend I've known since we were adolescents, Dr. Roderick Bush, a lifetime revolutionary, professor and author who died on December 5th., the same day that Nelson Mandela transitioned. I imagine he would have a lot of questions for Mr. Mandela and now that Amiri Baraka has joined them; it must be a full blown debate with laughter, bantering and serious discussion on their contributions and what needs to happen on this side. They belong to the ages. Bountiful blessings to them.
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