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.

OG Told Me: a Write-up in my old High School’s Magazine

Athenian, my old high school, published an article on me and my OG Told Me project!!

New Guard Meets Old Guard, Pendarvis Harshaw ’05

An elderly man leans on a rail at a track meet, left hand on his hip, gazing at the sky. His expression says he has experience and he knows what’s up. He is Tommie Smith who gave a black-leathered glove fisted salute from the winner’s circle at the 1968 Olympics. “If you keep living, you have to keep changing with times, ” he says.

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Another Man, in graying dreadlocks, smiles as he looks down at a photograph from the 60s. He points to a young, lanky kid in the photo and says, that’s me.” He is Ronald Freeman and was once a member of the Black Panther Party. “Just look around,” he says. “Figure out how to impact the situation and make it better.”

Two men sit on a sidewalk and crack jokes over a game of chess. Their bare, muscled arms are poised over the game pieces as they concentrate on their next move. They are “David Ruffin” and “Philly Fred”, fixtures on the street in Washington, DC’s Uptown. David says, “Follow your heart. Stay close to your mother.”

all of these remarkable photos and words of wisdom are featured on a photo-journalistic website called OG Told Me ( ogtoldme.com ), created by Pendarvis Harshaw ’05. “It’s an ode to the elder men in the community who gave me tidbits of wisdom as I moved through society as a child,” he says. “They taught me what to do and what not to do. Sometimes It’d be a neighborhood big shot standing in front of his car. Sometimes it’d be a homeless person at a bus stop.”

The OG project is a replica of what Pendarvis did growing up, now told with a camera and a blog site instead of a pen and notebook. ( OG is a term for elders and means original gangster, but now has multiple meanings: old guy, old guard, original griot (storyteller). He travels around Oakland, asking elders the question: given your life experience, if you had the chance to talk to (young*) people, what would you say? “In a world where so many die young, you have to be doing something right in order to live that long,” he explains.

Pendarvis is currently a gradate student at UC Berkeley studying documentary filmmaking, and is also a free-lance journalist. “I’m drawn to journalism and the art of storytelling because poetry is the basis for all good writing,” he remarks. ” I

choose to focus on the overlap of education and violence/ justice because that’s where I think I can make an immediate impact.”

When asked what Athenian experience has influenced his life the most, he says,” Mannnnnn … that trip to Death Valley! I think about that so often! Greatest lesson ever learned has to be the lesson of the Hero’s Journey. Experience it through hiking across the hottest place in the Western Hemisphere, only to return home– a complete Hero’s journey.”

And his words of wisdom to others? “Pack light,” he says. “That’s all I tell myself.”

 

 

UC Berkeley Essay: Reporting on Oscar Grant.

UCB ID.
UCB ID.

Damn! It’s already the second month of the second semester… The 1st semester flew by. I mean, I made friends. I wrote. A lot. And of course: I partied… a little bit.

Ok, 1st semester highlights:

1. I learned.

2. I produced.

( My favorite pieces:

A story on Bay Area journalist and mentor of mines, Kevin Weston, and his bout with Lukemia : http://oaklandnorth.net/2012/11/30/bay-area-journalist-kevin-westons-fight-against-rare-cancer/

A story about a teacher named martel Price and his battle with disciplining his students … and himself.: http://oaklandnorth.net/2013/01/10/one-oakland-teachers-lesson-on-discipline/

And the rest of my pieces:

http://oaklandnorth.net/author/pendarvis-harshaw/

3. I got the best grades ever ( do grades matter in grad school?)

I wanted to write about the racial interactions on campus in comparison to Howard. I wanted to talk about the way the administration handles their business in comparison to Howard. But all I spent too much time reflecting on it…

A moment (or hour) of reflection before I start producing stories for my 2nd semester caused me to dig up the big idea that got me here in the first place… Here is that idea in words.

… The essay that got me in to school …

8 Days on Oscar in Oakland

by Pendarvis Harshaw

When the news of Oscar Grant’s death broke I was rushing to leave Oakland, literally. I was sitting passenger seat in my aunt’s car en route to an early morning cross-country flight. From the moment I landed in the Nation’s Capitol, I watched the Oscar Grant related events closely through news sites, social media, and phone calls.

18 months after the morning that left Oscar Grant dead, I was back in the Bay, home from school for summer vacation and just in time for Grant’s case to be heard in a Los Angeles County courtroom. It just so happened that the trial for Oscar Grant’s case was scheduled in the middle of my coming of age experience; June 30th to July 8th, 2010 is an eight-day stretch that I mark as an early apex in my career.

I worked as one of Youth Radio’s lead reporters on their body of coverage on this issue. On June 30th National Public Radio aired a piece I produced titled, “Oakland Awaits Verdict In Subway Shooting Trial”, an audio montage of Oakland residents speaking about the impending verdict in the trial of Johannes Mehserle. Two days later, on the morning of July 2nd 2010, I was granted a rare candid interview with the Mayor of Oakland, Ron Dellums. We discussed Oscar Grant’s killing, resident’s feelings towards law enforcement agents, and the future for Oakland. I asked the Mayor about the possibility of renaming the Fruitvale Bart Station after Oscar Grant; this would lead to an audio project I co-produced by the name of  “The Grant Station Project”. On the evening of July 2nd I documented downtown businesses boarding up in preparation for Oakland’s reaction to the verdict. The entire next week I worked with Youth Radio as a correspondent on the trial deliberations.

On July 8th at 4pm the verdict of involuntary manslaughter was released. As I stood in the center of the city, 14th and Broadway, through my headphones I could hear whispers of the words “involuntary manslaughter”, and then the phrase was repeated in question form, “involuntary manslaughter?”. And the question was answered in an emphatic statement, “Involuntary Manslaughter!”

I spotted a girl I attended elementary school with standing about 15 feet adjacent to major gathering where I was standing. She was in tears as she expressed her disgust with the situation; her image would be on the cover of a major Bay Area newspaper the following day.

As the afternoon turned to evening, the helicopters swarmed and the news cameras rolled. In the large sea of people, I recognized faces from all walks of life: teachers, teammates, and Oakland’s top talent, like musician Dwayne Wiggins and actor/comedian Mark Curry. The community was out in force.

That night, I left before the vandalism and uprisings. I grew up in Oakland; I had been in similar situations and knew what was to be expected at nightfall.

On the morning of Friday of July 9th I recall walking through downtown Oakland; the town was wounded but still breathing. Storefronts had been vandalized. Trash was in the street and graffiti was on the walls. But at 9am there were people going to work. I was one of those people; as I headed to Youth Radio’s headquarters at 17th and Broadway, I remember being extremely excited about going to work: We were scheduled to have cake! We were celebrating making it through the prior eight days… as well as my 23rd birthday, which was July 6th. I hadn’t had time to properly celebrate. I was too busy growing.

In the aftermath of July 8th, I was overcome with a feeling of fulfillment I had never experienced. The feeling of doing something meaningful, in a place that is meaningful to me, is nothing short of amazing.

I’m sure the actual videos, photographs, and my twitter records document this time period far more dramatically than I can, especially now that I am so far removed from that time

I am passionate about reporting, documenting, and telling stories. I love traveling; I’ve spent a week or more reporting on issues in Senegal, Ireland, and Denver during the Democratic National Convention of 2008, which was a world unto itself.

These experiences were all remarkable and formative, but it turns out my richest experience was at home in Oakland. There is nowhere I would rather pursue my passion for and master the many facets of telling meaningful stories than at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Through this tremendous opportunity to be exposed to journalism at a higher level, I hope to grow just as I did the week of my 23rd birthday, both professionally and personally.

Happy belated birthday Oscar Grant, here is my latest article: http://oaklandnorth.net/2013/02/12/oscar-grant-family-reaches-out-to-mother-of-kenneth-harding/

Game Time. Class Time. Time Invested.

I had a shitty academic week, so I took it out on the hoop court on Friday night.

And then I wrote about it.

(I showered first.)

….

It’s the tempo of basketball:

the freestyle-the jazz-the avante garde method of thinking-acting-and-reacting.

That’s what I love about the game.

Wanna be a baller, shot caller... (Photo by Spencer Whitney).
Wanna be a baller, shot caller… (Photo by Spencer Whitney).

I’m 5’5 and to be honest- that doesn’t really work to my advantage on the hoop court. But I’m quick, I have good vision, and above all: I think really well on my toes. I adapt.

In the classroom- during discussions- I’m usually in the middle of the discussion- throwing out my insight. Another example of thinking on my toes. But when it comes to reading a 20-page affidavit in one sitting, writing an 800 word article in ninety minutes, or sifting through the shit-loads of emails we get sent daily… it takes a totally different method of thinking:

Thinking on your heels- (if you will).

It takes time. And seeing growth from time invested is a wonderful thing.

Through my experience thus far in the classrooms of Cal Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, I’ve grown.

Multitudes.

Clarification: I’ve grown = I’ve made mistakes… but those mistakes have been my lessons. My ability to spell, write, and take notes have hit a j-curve. My comprehension of English has grown to the point that I’m now understanding Spanish better, un poco. My eye for details in the world has increased my ability to dress…

(I got a compliment on my fashion from a cute girl the other day- go figure?)

…  And this is only the first month.

Yeah, there’s nothing like growth through time invested.

I bought a basketball a little less than 3 months ago- I play quite regularly.

I mean, I suck. But I’m getting better.

I like to hoop by myself with my headphones on- early in the morning, it gets the blood flowing. I also hoop with my homies- I hoop with random homies…

Last weekend, I hooped with my ten year-old niece… she made more consecutive shots than I did.

(She was in the key, I was shooting from 3) … (That’s an attempt to cover my own ass).

She shoots. She scores.
She shoots. She scores. (Photo by Spencer Whitney).

When my niece made a couple of shots- I saw her face light-up. And that’s why I like to hoop… There are few greater joys in life than seeing that damn ball drop into the net: swishhhhhhhhh….

He shoots. He ...hits backboard. (Photo by Spencer Whitney).
He shoots. He …hits backboard. (Photo by Spencer Whitney).

It’s an instant confidence builder. It’s a manifestation of one’s desperate attempt to calculate the trajectory of a leather-wrapped inflated object, through air, and into a metal cylinder… A cylinder that is only twice its size in circumference.

It’s all that intelligent shit… and it’s also Jim Jones’, slightly less intellectually-stimulating-statement of: “Baaaaaaaaallllllllllin,” which is a reference to financial success- and is shown through a hand gesture which originates from the follow through of a made jump shot.

Yeah: made shots- writing- my niece- the hoop court- the classroom…financial success.

Gotta make my shots.

"On the playground is where I spent most of my days. Chillin' out, maxin', relaxin' all cool. And shootin' some B-ball outside of the school ..." (Photo by Spencer Whitney).
“On the playground is where I spent most of my days. Chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool. And shootin’ some B-ball outside of the school …” (Photo by Spencer Whitney).

Alright… that was a good post game press conference, I’ll leave ya’ll on this note.

Check out this video of this 5’4 homie getting stooooopid on the hoop court:

And on the topic of evolution/ hoops/ and making media: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-OZI0-LhuQ&feature=related

Pop-Up Magazine & Pendarvis!

On March 17th, 2011 I got the opportunity to participate in Pop-Up Magazine’s event, held in collaboration with San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

The event was an evening dedicated to wine, corresponding with the SF MOMA’s ongoing wine exhibit. The event went from 6pm to 10pm, with performances beginning at 9pm. Performance is a term I use lightly, due to the English language’s lack of a term that would properly identify what exactly Pop-Up Magazine does…

Imagine: the same magazine you get delivered to your doorstep ( The New Yorker, Men’s Health Digest, Jet, ect…) and then imagine those articles on those pages getting up and walking around your house, the moment you bring that periodical into your domicile.

It’s magic: the author of the article goes on stage, and recites their piece live…and the article gains a heartbeat. And then they strategically interweave videos, audio, and photography into each authors performance to create a multi-media performance unlike any other.

That’s pop-up magazine: In your face and walking around your domicile.

The performances were about everything wine related: interviews with German scientists about the chemical compounds found in wine, homemade versions of the now discontinued “Four Loko” energy drink that resulted in Yoo-Hoo based wine, and even a story about a man turning his wife’s placenta into a 3-course meal… served best with a white wine.

A lot of the pieces were comical; laughter oozed from the large audience, which aided the flow of wine at the museum’s bar … or vise-versa.

My piece served as the anchor; although I started my prose with a joke… My piece proved to be no laughing matter… It was about Oscar Grant.

 

OAKLAND’S PASSOVER.

Pendarvis Harshaw
Pop-Up Magazine

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I initially learned the story of Passover from the Nickelodeon cartoon, “the Rugrats.” The episode was called, Let Me Babies Go.

In due time, I researched the story for myself, and I read about the Pharaoh and how he enslaved the Israelites. I learned about the ten plagues, and how God had brought them upon the Egyptians to force the Pharaoh to free the Jewish people. I learned the significance of the last and worst plague, “the plague of the first-born”; until the slaves were freed, the first-born son in every Egyptian family would die. The Israelites marked their doors with lambs’ blood to save their sons from that fate.

……

On the morning of January 1st 2009, America was on the verge of inaugurating its “first black President.” But this new era came with an all-too-familiar sight: a black man gunned down in Oakland by an officer of the law.

Using camera phones, passengers recorded transit officer Johannes Mehserle firing his pistol into the back of Oscar Grant. And the video spread like mad that New Years morning.

People were outraged. And I was one of those people.

I was raised in Oakland, but I watched the entire saga unfold from my college campus in Washington DC: the shooting, the riots, all the way until the trial.

That began last June. I was back in Oakland for summer break and working for Youth Radio as an intern. The trial had been moved to Los Angeles, so I headed out to see what was happening in the streets of Oakland, and how local business owners were preparing for the verdict…..

(CUE VIDEO)

NARRATION FROM VIDEO: “So once the word got out, that we were putting up these posters and displaying our support for Oscar, a lot of businesses in downtown started to come by, they saw us on the news. They were asking for posters. They wanted to put up posters of their own so their property wouldn’t get damaged. So that they could show their support. We’ve probably had over 100 businesses come by in the past week buying posters.”

The sight of my city boarding up was frightening: was this verdict going to push the citizens of Oakland to rise up in violence?

Back in Youth Radio’s newsroom, our conversation turned to the L.A. riots, back in 1992, when Korean store owners boarded up their buildings and wrote the words “Black Owned” on their storefronts.

And then we made another connection: the story of Passover.  Like the lamb’s blood on the  door frame, business owners in downtown Oakland were plastering their store windows with images of Oscar Grant, hoping this mark would spare them from the wrath of Oakland’s enraged citizens

Oscar Grant’s killer got involuntary manslaughter—the conviction carried a modest two-year penalty, with a deduction for time served. Later that night, people broke some windows and stole some stuff, but most of the people arrested came from outside of Oakland.

I can’t help but feel like all of this will happen again.

In the modern Jewish celebration of Passover, during Seder, it’s customary to recite the ten plagues in order. With each one, you dip your pinky into a wine glass and spill a drop of wine onto your plate. The wine symbolizes joy diminished because of the Egyptians’ suffering. But there’s a newer version of the ritual, where you drop the wine on the palm of your hand instead. It’s a reminder that as long as people aren’t free, everyone has blood on their hands…

 

 

I came off of the stage to a thunderous applause. A number of good conversations sprouted as people came up to me, introduced themselves, and told me that the piece had resonated with them.

It was a great experience all around.

Thanks to: The Oscar Grant Foundation, Youth Radio, Pop-Up Magazine, and the San Francisco MOMA.

Peace.