JR Valrey’s “Operation Small Axe” Documentary screens in D.C.

Bob Marley once sang, “So If  you are the Big tree, then we are the small axe “; and the environment that was Oakland, California during the filming of JR

Operation Small Axe

Valrey’s “Operation Small Axe” embodied Marley’s lyrical analogy.

JR Valrey screened his “Operation Small Axe” documentary at Sankofa cafe in Washington D.C. October 14th 2010.

The documentary highlighted incidents of police brutality, namely the Oscar Grant and the Lovelle Mixon cases. Valrey, like many others who are familiar with both Grant’s and Mixon’s cases, held them in comparison. The fact that these incidents of violence between citizens and police happened in the same city, just blocks apart; and in the same year, just months apart makes for an automatic connection.

The documentary delved much further than the surface connection between Mixon and Grant, and touched on the history of police brutality, as well as the history of community activism, and even shed light on what Oakland was doing as a community in the wake of these turbulent times.

JR then spoke about the making of the documentary, his work with the prisoners of conscious committee (POCC), as well as his job as what I would call a “trench journalist”. He is. He is in the battle fields, on the front line, and shaking things up. Maybe not in the most conventional manner, but it will take some unconventional methods to get out us out of this convenient position of fearing police that serve our neighborhoods.

While in DC, he was accompanied by Malcolm Shabazz, grandson of Malcolm X. After Valrey closed his speech about “Operation Small Axe”, Shabazz spoke to the crowd about his life since being released from prison for the arson of his grandmother’s house. He spoke of his current interest and actions; noting that he is sincerely dedicated to learning, and has recently returned from a trip to the Middle East.

JR Valrey and Malcolm Shabazz

The standing room only sized crowd in Sankofa’s book store portion of the quaint cafe received both Valrey and Shabazz with opened arms and and raised hands, as many people (mostly college students) were inspired to get involved after the presenters concluded.

A lingering thought in my mind was the connection between Malcolm Shabazz speaking, and JR connecting Oscar Grant and Lovelle Mixon incidents as a case of “the chickens coming home to roost”, as Malcolm X once said.

JR Valrey is continuing to travel the United States, screening his documentary, and starting up moving conversations along the way. For more information, visit his website http://blockreportradio.com/

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Ring Leaders

She looked dead in the camera and asked, “if these guys are going around the country talking about manhood…why aren’t any of them married?”

I was in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. It was muggy June night. June 14th, the day before Tupac’s birthday, and father’s day… I wonder which one is more readily celebrated in the Black community?…but, I digress…

I was in New York; a trip sponsored by the 21st Century Foundation’s initiative to alter the image of Black men in the media, “The 2025 campaign for Black Men and Boys“. We sat in conferences and workshops, we networked and cracked jokes, and above all…I documented the entire experience.

The conference was full of males: elder men with stories longer than their grey locks,young boys cut from a cloth that was newer than their suites, and I was there with a camera.

I met Kevin Powell. He was the figurehead, leader, and prime speaker for the conference. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a small dinner party with him and a handful of others. During the dinner party- I got antsy and decided to go outside. While outside, I good piece of advice from my mentor Cheo Tyehimba Taylor kicked in: this conference is all male- why not get some female perspective on manhood?

I saw this group of ladies. funny enough, when I initially accosted them, they brushed me completely. They thought I was trying to “holler” at them. But once they saw my approach was genuinely for journalism reasons, the conversation rolled…

And after all of the insightful input, they still inquired about attending the dinner party- trying to meet Kevin Powell…

But, the points made were thought provoking…how can you speak on the topic of manhood when you are not fully experienced in all manhood has to offer?

I think about this when I look at male leaders- namely politicians, business men, and members of the religious realm.

I almost always notice if a man has a ring on his left hand or not. Maybe a judgement on my part, but I cant help but thinking there is a correlation between a man who can uphold a solid union between he and his female counterpart, and a man upholding his position in society. After all, the family is the microcosm of society. family is the first society. If you cannot govern a family, how will you govern a people?

I bring this all to a forefront today, February 21st, 2010…45 years after the assassination of Malcolm X. The man.

In “man-hood circles”, Malcolm’s constant growth and development signified a man who was forever becoming greater. forever growing.They say manhood is a journey, and Malcolm X’s trials and tribulations symbolize that journey to a tee.

But a part that is often overlooked, and the part that inspires me to write this piece, was his relationship with his wife, the late Mrs. Betty Shabazz.

She was in his corner. She was his inspiration to move forward, comfortably; for he knew she would have his back. While Malcolm toured the Nation speaking and leading, and later toured the world reading and thinking, she did much of the rearing of the children.Malcolm and Betty...and 2 of three children

All day, my mind has been with Malcolm X; I have been watching youtube clips of Malcolm X, I have been posting quotes from Malcolm X on twitter, I have been reading random excerpts from his Autobiography… Today is Malcolm X day.

And even with all of my research, the most profound quote from, about, or having anything to do with Malcolm X is this….

“I loved him, he loved his people” – Betty Shabazz.

Rest in Peace Malcolm X

Rest in Peace Betty Shabazz

…this is just my train of thought…

Peace.

Memories of More Martyrs than Martin and Malcolm.

There are more  martyrs than just Martin and Malcolm.Read about: Patrice Lumumba- who fought for his people in the Congo , Assata Shakur- who fought for her people in America and is now in exile in Cuba,  George Jackson and Jonathan Jackson -the court case that inspired the last verse to Easy-E’s lyrics to Boyz in the hood!

It is Black History month- but any time of the year you should read about: Amilcar Cabral, Emmett Till,  Kwame Ture,  Geronimo Pratt… and this young man named “little Bobby Hutton”- a founding member of the Black Panther party who was killed by the Oakland Police…

This post is partially inspired by a fellow Howard Bison and talented writer from New York who’s latest posting on her “Mother’s Chronicles” WordPress page, asks the readers to “learn your Black History“. After reading her feelings about the tunnel vision that is Black History month in popular culture,  the powers that be- and a text message from a good friend lead me to a presentation on the legacy of Chairman Fred Hampton Sr.

The presentation was organized by Howard University’s History Graduate Students Association, and was titled “The Assassination of Fred Hampton, The Black Panther Party, and Black Power in the Diaspora”. The keynote speakers were former member of the Black Panther Party Lynn C. French Esq., Attorney and author Jeff Haas, and author Quito Swan.

The portion of the presentation I chose to focus on was author Jeff Haas’ new book titled ” The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther”.

For those unfamiliar with the story of  Fred Hampton’s death, in brief: Chairman Fred Hampton Sr.  was an acclaimed organizer in Chicago, Il. His position within the Black Panther Party caused the local and federal law enforcement to take note of his momentum in terms of what he was doing to empower his community. This caused Hampton to be the subject of a document later discovered, called “COINTELPRO“, which was a signed government document to put an end to the perspective of “the rise of a Black Messiah” within many revolutionary circles, including those who fought for civil rights.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were also named targets on this document. But the distinguishing aspect of Chariman Fred Hampton’s death is the amount of evidence. Below pictured are the actual blueprints of Chairman Fred Hampton’s apartment as with held by the US government.

FBI Floor Plans of Fred Hampton’s House

The author of the recent book depicting Chairman Hampton’s story, Jefferey  Haas,  spoke from the perspective of the late Hampton’s attorney; and as the attorney Haas was privy to first hand interviews with Hampton’s widow who was 8 months pregnant at the time of the raid and subsequent execution style murder of Hampton.

Chairman Fred Hampton- dead.

Although Haas’ story is interesting, and any information on a topic such as this one needs to be published to the American People, I couldn’t help but looking at this white man as an intruder. A man who happened to be at the right place at the right time. A man that happened upon this story, and is now capitalizing off of it as he goes on tours and sells Chairman Fred Hampton’s story in order for personal profit.  In Haas’ speech, he told the crowd that the Black Panther Party of Chicago initially hired Haas as a public defender to represent them in a case concerning being evicted from their apartment.  This was just months prior to the night of December 4, 1969- Chairman Fred Hampton’s last night. Now Haas tells this story as if he was “with the movement”.

Amazing,  Carter G. Woodsoon’s concept of Black History week has grown to a month of Black history- complete with corporate commercials shining light on “this moment in Black History”, and other forms of Black History tied into capitalism. Its wild- not only will the concept of American capitalism make sure to make money off of anything done in America’s name- they do it all, and turn our history into his-story.

Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. and company in Chicago's Little Black Pearl Cafe
Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. Myself and company.

The greatest story ever told is your own story. This Black History month- tell your own story…

I’ll start… here is a picture of me and Chairman Fred Hampton Jr.

Much respect to him and the Prisoners of Conscious Committee  (P.O.C.C) …yea, read about that too!

much respect to the memory of Chairman Ferd Hampton Sr. and all of my ancestors mentioned in this post. peace.

Photo Essay: A Walk Down MLK Ave. in South East D.C. on MLK Day 2010

He fought for Love. He fought for peace. He fought to uplifting Christ. And he fought to take down racism… But in the end Dr. King knew it was all about the allotment of resources in America.

His famous, “I Have a Dream” Speech, could have easily went down in history as the “Bounced Check ” speech. He spoke of America’s failure to include African-American’s into the greater society post-slavery. He acknowledged African-American’s role in the disenfranchisement, as many passively accepted what was given.

And now, 42 years after Dr. King’s assassination we have been given a National holiday in celebration of his birthday, and a Martin Luther King Jr. Ave in every major US city.

Every Martin Luther King Jr. Ave I have ever been fortunate enough to bare witness to runs through the most economically downtrodden part of the city.

I decided to take a walk down Martin Luther King Jr. Ave in the Nation’s Capitol, and this is what I saw…

Dr. King's Ave. in South East Washington DC

Martin Luther King Jr. Ave in South East Washington D.C. is a main artery through a predominantly African-American community. The area is in the transitional phase; the dilapidated structures of yesteryear still loom as a reminder of the 1968 riots after King’s death, the influence of crack cocaine in the 1980’s, and the economic turmoil that has plagued many Black communities since their creation- and through the current recession America is facing.

vacant housebuilding frame.Historically Black Community: For Sale

And like Every Black community in America, there were check cashing stores, liquor stores, heaps of trash in the street and graffiti on the walls

check cashing storeLiquor store. Good Hope.trash heapStanton Crew

But right next to the graffiti was something that started to open my eyes to the depth of the spirit present in the Anacostia community….

Islam on the riseSheik

Islam was far from the only religion present, in fact the number of Baptist churches was comparable to the amount of corner stores…Baptist church signUnion Temple

Fittingly enough, while attempting to take a shot of the church, another dominant force in the community conveniently intervened in my photo…

Cops and God.

But the governing bodies are also taking initiatives to aid the community…

A Government Savior?the plan...

dept. of Housing.

I don’t doubt the necessity for government aid in the Black community, but nothing trumps knowledge of self and knowledge of the land in which you reside. And in the community of South East Washington, D.C. there are numerous reminders of how fertile those grounds are, and how deep Black roots run through here said grounds.

Malcolm X centerFrederick Douglass' houseClara Muhammad schoolThurgood MarshallBlack owned Fish spotPeaceBlack familyBig Chair

And most of all… the words and image of Dr. King himself

MLK mural

On January 15th 2010 Dr. King would have been 81 years of age. To his memory, I give my respect.

Sam Cooke vs. Tupac Shakur…John Coltrane wins.

I need to change.

There are things in my life I need to correct, what they are-we’ll get to that when the time is right, but for now, I question: What is change?

I’ve always asked myself: who was right? Sam Cooke or Tupac Shakur?

Both died at a young age. Both were amazing musicians. And both were Black men with a message about change.

Sam Cooke’s “A Change is gonna come” has resonated off the walls of every Southern Baptist church in the bible belt of America, and beyond.

While Tupac’s “Changes” has influenced the world over, and recently made the Roman Catholicism headlines as it was added to the Pope’s playlist.

Both speak on the topic of change, but Cooke’s spiritual optimism versus Tupac’s reality check have always left me asking…change? WHAT’S THAT?

In my eyes, people change one of two ways: they change by choice…or they change by force.

When I think about Change, I initially think of the juxtaposition between Sam Cooke’s spiritual optimism versus Tupac’s reality check. Wondering to myself if Change is possible?

And then I look to stories that exemplify change: The story of Moses in the Bible- a murderer turned leader, the story of Malcolm X- a street hustler turned community vanguard, and most of all…I think of the story of John Coltrane.

Mr. Coltrane was one of the greatest jazz musicians to ever live, but he wouldn’t have dawned that title if it wasn’t for his DECISION to change.

Coltrane, a young acclaimed musician, known for playing jazz that was “ahead of his time”, became engulfed in the heroin epidemic of inner city America circa the mid 1900’s. His addiction deteriorated relationships with both his wife and his business partners (Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie and others), and caused Coltrane to make that change…

the story goes that Coltrane locked himself in a room in Philadelphia, Pa. He fed himself nothing but bread and water. His rehab process eventually crossed paths with the process of spiritual enlightenment. Even if by choice, change is far from an easy process. Coltrane periodically kicked his habit, but it was his moments of clarity that brought about some of the most transcendental jazz music the word has ever known. Coltrane’s effort to reinvent himself showed through production of many classics, but my favorite, “A Love Supreme”, has been my motivation to kick some the habitual actions that have been keeping me from reaching my highest potential.

With this said, I’ll leave this post with two Coltrane qutoes:

“You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.”- John Coltrane.

I just think thats clever… And the next one, well it’s all about change.

“I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.”- John Coltrane.