DMX, Zimmerman & The Value of Life.

Who killed Abraham Lincoln? John Wilkes Booth. 

Who killed John  Kennedy? Lee Harvey Oswald. 

Who killed Trayvon Martin? George Michael Zimmerman.  

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Why am I mad about George Zimmerman gaining celebrity status? I mean, don’t we celebrate murderers– all the time?

As my portion of the world turned to face the sun this morning, I read the news and felt as if I had been slapped in the face: DMX vs. George Zimmerman in a celebrity boxing match.

“Celebrity”: That’s what the twitter accounts of News Breaker, The Griot (NBC’s effort to appease African-Americans), and CNN (supposedly the standard setting news company… supposedly) called the forthcoming fight.   

I got mad: Mad at the media, mad at social media, mad at America. 

Like, this shit is cool? A guy shoots a kid, gets away with it– and now he’s a celebrity. I mean, come on… It’s Black History Month: we’re supposed to be celebrating our ancestors and forefathers. I don’t celebrate murderers!

Well… Actually, I do. And I’d argue that the majority of Americans do too.

From famed Wild-West gun slingers to renown rappers who claimed Westside– murderers are celebrated in America’s popular culture.

“Yeah, I’ve killed somebody,” said a friend, during a casual conversation not too long ago.

The living room got dead silent. There were only a handful of us in the room– but mannnn, you could hear our collective interest growing. We wanted to know that story. My friend, a former Marine, told a bit of his tale of traveling the world, and spreading Democracy with bullets; the American way.

We didn’t “celebrate” the fact that my friend killed someone (and neither did he). But for that brief moment, while we indulged in his story, he was the coolest dude in the room. Hands down.  

“Murder was the case that they gave me,” once said a young Snoop Dogg. And when Calvin “Snoop Dogg” Broadus beat that murder case, his popularity grew. And continued to grow. Is Snoop Dogg a murderer? Well, he beat the case. I mean– I don’t know if he actually killed anyone. I wasn’t there.

The fact is: a “gang member” (as the LA Times Article initially identified him), a man by the name of Philip Woldemariam is dead… and Snoop Dogg/Lion/Zilla is still making music. And he’s still a celebrity. 

Speaking of celebrity rappers getting out of jail after beating a murder charge: Lil Boosie is set to come home soon! He’s currently serving an 8-year bid on a drug case. But while in the pen, Lil Boosie was facing a 1st degree murder charge. Torrence “Lil Boosie” Hatchet was accused of ordering Michael “Marlo Mike” Louding to be his hired triggerman. Well, Marlo Mike is now sentenced to life in prison without parole. Lil Boosie’s name is gaining a greater celebrity status as I write this … and Terry Boyd, a young Black man, is dead. But, #FreeBoosie tho.   

I’m not saying Boosie or Snoop shouldn’t be stars for their talents– I just think it’s ILL that killing someone can earn you respect. 

On the other side of the “famous because I killed” coin, are people like this guy named Watani Stiner.

I think Stiner has an awesome story. It’s a tale of the struggle for freedom, a shooting on UCLA’s campus and a father’s sacrifice for his family. I’ve interviewed Stiner before; I was only allowed to bring in paper and pencil. I’d love to interview Stiner on film/ audio/ oh hell, if I had a nice photo of him it’d be worth a thousand words. I think the world would love to hear about how he is serving a life sentence for the murder of two former Black Panther leaders, how he escaped prison, and then turned himself back in– for his family. But, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation prohibits the media from conducting interviews with specific inmates, out of fear that the interview will cast that incarcerated individual into a world of stardom.

First name: Eye. Last name: Ronic. (Ironic).    

The amount of money the prisons are making off of Black men is astounding– but that’s a totally different story.

The crux of this story: “Tell me what’s a Black life worth?”- Tupac.

Look man, even if World Star Hip Hop gets exclusive broadcast rights, TMZ photographers catch first-row photos of the carnage, and they attach a GoPro to DMX’s forehead– so we can see a 1st person perspective of what some people might call justice. I wouldn’t watch it. I just don’t want to see that shit. 

On the other hand, I don’t want to see a petition signed to end this fight— I’d rather see people valuing life.

That’s what we’re fighting against. As young Black men, we’re fighting to show the world that our lives are valuable.  

… But first we have to value our own lives. 

Side note:  …  I wouldn’t mind seeing George Zimmerman fight Johannes-Mehserle

Oh, and here is a top ten list of celebrities who’ve killed someone. (Don King is on there, who knew?) 

Peace.

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Sarah Tramble’s Story

After being born in the early 1900’s, and raised in Louisiana, Sarah Tramble has both lived and documented American History.

Tramble’s education was cut short after her 7th grade year. Her 8th grade school house was too far to travel, so the young Tramble began working as a janitor at a dentist’s office. While she cleaned toilets and scrubbed floors, she took note on the office’s daily operations. One day, she was asked to step in for a dental assistant that had called in sick. Tramble, who had never been formally trained, took advantage of this opportunity and performed well in her new role. The next week she landed a job as the new assistant, which payed double what she was making as a janitor.

Education proved to be Tramble’s calling, as she then grew to teach herself how to sew. And although she is big on self-education, Tramble did attend the American college and Laney College where she became a licensed nurse.

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Tramble now lives in West Oakland’s Lower Bottoms neighborhood. But when she first moved out here, she bought a house on Parker in East Oakland in 1961, and stayed until ’75. She then moved to her West Oakland Victorian house, which was built in 1885 by a man named Mr. Black who worked at SP Railroad Company. She learned this fun fact from a discussion with some neighbors when she first moved in—she told me that she got word of this and took notes, similar to the way a journalist takes notes.

Tramble’s story of self-education is not a new tale at all, especially for African Americans coming up from the south. But it is Tramble’s story of self-documentation that is rare.
“I’m black- my momma look like she was white,” Tramble said as she pointed to a photo of her mother.

Her great grandmother came here as a slave- her great grand mother raised her mother, after her grandmother died as a child. At 96 years of age, Tramble has no problem recalling her family history.

As an African American woman who will not let you forget her age (96), Tramble’s personal notes show an angle of American history that not many see. She covers everything: from the history of West Oakland and the Pullman Porters, to the personal photos and notes of enslaved relatives … and even the images of the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga.

Tramble, a strong-speaker who constantly moves until coming to a momentary pause to drive her message home with a deep stare from her blue eyes said, “I talk to all young people, whoever will listen, but young people don’t listen- they don’t want to listen.”

On a cold winter’s Saturday afternoon in West Oakland, Sarah Tramble warmly opened her doors to me, and we cracked books and jokes, as I took notes from her notes.

MLK Way in Oakland on MLK Day.

MLK Way. MLK Day. Photo Essay in O.A.K

MLK mural. MLK Way and Grand Ave. Oakland, Ca

Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland, Ca can speak … it speaks in sign language.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s name adorns street signs all throughout this nation; it’s a common sight to see streets named after the honorable Dr. King run through the heart of a community known for violence and criminal activity. The city of Oakland’s MLK Way follows suite, however Oakland’s street named in the civil rights leader’s honor also speaks to the injustice in the community.

The first street sign baring Dr. King’s name within the city’s limits is located on the corner of 61st and MLK. I focused my camera in the midst of the mist and the low fog, I captured the image of the sign, and then I noticed something more on the light pole…

The gang injunction post introduced me to a neighborhood where I would find burned houses and memorials for homicide victims…

I was three blocks into Oakland, and the three sights that I had seen thus far caused me to wonder what lay ahead of me on this track. The silence of my placid wondering was shattered as a three car Bart train whistled past.

Senior Center

I noticed a senior center …I wonder how many of the occupants of the senior center remember Dr. King alive, marching, and speaking his word?

I continued my march down MLK Way…

I took note of the words posted on the street poles, every image tagged on private property, and every piece of art mounted on the earthquake retrofitted concrete pillars which hold the Bart tracks suspended above the traffic.

The remnants of fliers for rallies spoke loudly on the topic of the city’s issues with the local police force.

The path of artistically articulated words and antiquated advertisements lead me out of North Oakland and to the front door step of West Oakland’s Marcus Garvey Bookstore.

As I marched on through West Oakland’s Ghost town neighborhood, the California sun began to break through the Bay’s foggy skies, and Oakland’s true color began to show…

I marched into Jack London Square and took this picture of the fog, the shipping crane looming in the distance, and the last Martin Luther King Jr. Way sign in Oakland.

The end of the line made for an anticlimactic ending, but the lack of climax was the calm before the sign of all signs…

I was running late for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day screening of the documentary, “Strange Fruit” put on by Oakland’s African-American library. Upon arrival I noticed a sign on a bus bench that made my entire trip come full circle;  it spoke to the state of Oakland, it spoke about Martin Luther King Jr, it spoke about the manifestation of “Strange Fruit” in our modern world … most importantly: the sign spoke…

"Police are modern slave catchers"

“Not everybody can be famous. But everybody can be great, because greatness is
determined by service. – Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

4 Hip-Hop tracks 4 the 4 weeks of Black History Month.

As the month of February comes to a close…. I thought it would be fitting to have four tracks for the 4 weeks that are Black History month…I could have chosen a number of tracks…but these are the 4 tracks that have influenced me the most this month.

Cee-Lo “White Boy’s Plan”

Nas “Can’t Stop Us Now”

Nas and Damien Marley “As We Enter”

and as we march into the month of March…. this is the message we need to hear: ” they said my future was dark…look at me now….I’m beaming…”-Lupe

Lupe Fiasco “I’m Beaming”

…this is just my train of thought….

peace.

Pen