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.”

 

 

Living The Dream

He said his patnas called him “Pops” for short.

He got off the bus in North Oakland. At the drug store on 51st and Telegraph. I was left to think back on the conversation we just had:  the racial makeup of West Virginia,  the land that the United States owns under the Pacific Ocean and how plastic Black and Mild cigar tips will leave you with foul smelling breath—wooden tips don’t do that shit.

He walked onto the bus in some busted brown boots. I was staring at the center plate that connects the two portions of AC Transit’s double busses. Hypnotized– the boots caught my eye as I stared at the ground like it was staring back at me. I broke from my thoughts of graduate school projects, thesis statements on OG’s, the fact that Peter Nicks had just told Spencer Whitney and myself, “HU – YOU KNOW”,  plus the footage of Marlon Brando I had just seen… (“Meeting Marlon Brando” = Great film)

A poster at a cafe in Oakland on Telegraph Ave... A cafe conveniently named Telegraph. (I found it while writing there one day... I took a pic and digitally altered the display.)
A poster I found a while ago at a cafe in Oakland on Telegraph Ave… A cafe conveniently named Telegraph.                                                              (I took a pic and digitally altered that shit.)

 

Mind blowing — this reoocuring dream just manifested, yet again. Another rendition of OG TOLD ME. An OG, just a shooting the breeze about how paying your tax dollars means that you should be able to go to the mountains to escape the madness of the city. While on the back of the bus.

He said he was going home to his lady, and that means he had a good day.

we laughed. I shook his hand. He told me his real name and his nickname.

I committed his nickname to memory… But that was it.

I didn’t take a photo. Didn’t take down a (real) name. Didn’t introduce myself as a journalist– just a young homie named “Pen”.

But I did take mental note… 

OG Told Me: Essay About The Photo Essay.

One time, an OG Told Me: “We’re not getting older, we’re getting better.”

It made me think…

In life, there is beauty in growing old, why would I want to die young?

In America, why are we glorifying young death and degrading becoming an elder?

In Black America, If they don’t have fathers- where are they getting guidance about manhood from?

In manhood … WAIT … how did I get here?

… answer…

The 1st Entry: "My homework ate my dog."- Dick Gregory.
The 1st Entry: "My homework ate my dog."- Dick Gregory.

At 24, I find myself in this strange world called, “manhood”, you might have heard of it… but … not all of my homies made it, some of them never even heard of it.

So, once again I ask: How did I make it to manhood?

As a young man growing up in Oakland, Ca … I followed the OG’s. Religiously.

Their way of talking, thinking, breathing, and blinking… I studied that. Vigorously.

As an 80’s baby, growing up in urban America, surprisingly enough: I wasn’t the only one without a father. Eight of my friends were fatherless too. In turn, we came together as a brotherhood; a fraternal support group. This is sometimes called a gang, a posse, or a clique… na, we were just boys becoming men.

We would pick-up small insight into manhood ( i.e. ideas on approaching women, how to make money double, or even something as essential as: how to fight); we would bring that back to the boys and share the newly acquired knowledge.

From this, I quilted together my concept of manhood.

Through this photo essay, I wanted to recreate that quilt; and show the world my version going from boyhood to manhood.

I call it: OG Told Me.

The project takes the phenomenon that I’ve encountered throughout the process of growing up, and documents it- so now babies of the millennium can find concepts about manhood where they hang out: the internet.

Detroit bus driver Barry Ray told me a story about two gas station owners beefing over gas prices … until one owner killed the other. Over pennies.
Detroit bus driver Barry Ray told me a story about two gas station owners beefing over gas prices … until one owner killed the other. Over pennies.

A basic photo essay: head shots of elder Black men, with the addition of clever-wisdom laced quotes. This photo essay is not just documenting elders, no-it’s bridging the gap between generations. It’s giving young men an idea of what they might look like at a later date, and it’s … giving me insight to the problems that plague the black community.

Unexpectedly so.

I found a number of the issues that plague Black men in society through my OG told Me project:

– Lack of accountability.

– Communication issues.

– Self destruction.

– Hate.

– Total disregard for another man’s dream…

– Lack of critical thinking.

– Stubbornness.

– Idle time.

Through this same project, I also found some of the blessings that are found in Black men in society…

– Creativity.

– Wisdom.

– Eldership.

– Sincerity.

– Love.

– Deep beliefs.

– Kinship.

– A way of life that is unobserved by others- yet seen everyday: the invisible man.

-The natural occurrence of a rights of passage in the Black community.

“Ethiopian proverb: When spider webs unite- they can tie up a lion!” - Joe Brooks, VP Policy Link & An old Black man… Been there. Done that. What’s new?
“Ethiopian proverb: When spider webs unite- they can tie up a lion!” - Joe Brooks, VP Policy Link & An old Black man… Been there. Done that. What’s new?

The biggest conundrum I found myself facing during this year-long project: Finding the purpose of life…

All around the world people are living for two things: to get older and to get smarter.

This is survival. Basic survival.

However, where I grew up, people are living for two things: to get money and … to get money.

In result, our illusionary pursuit of money results not in getting older and getting smarter- no, it results in us dying young and dumb.

This is not survival. This is basic.

The aging process should be appreciated. It’s the beauty of life.

Raymond Bellinger, War vet from New Orleans who sits at the same bus stop all day. When asked about the greatest lessons ever learned, he recited the Lord’s Prayer. word for word.
Raymond Bellinger, War vet from New Orleans who sits at the same bus stop all day. When asked about the greatest lessons ever learned, he recited the Lord’s Prayer. word for word.

I haven’t made it all the way-I’m still growing, learning, aging- or as the OG told me, “getting better.”

And I’m enjoying every step of the way.

… And that is why I created this photo essay.

Now the question remains:

what exactly were those lessons that I was taught as I was growing from a boy to a man?

Book coming soon

Blog.

How ingenious is that? this blog- is called “blog.” and not only that … but the first line of this blog- is about the title! go figure…

now that I’ve got that out of the way….

The motivation behind this train of thought: my new computer.

I’ve worked all Summer to get a machine that I could use to produce my blogs, my photos, my essays … photo-essays! my radio shows, my dreams, my videos,  my movies, my cartoons, my tweets, my facebook statuses, did I mention my dreams?

And now I finally got it!

Well, it’s not exactly the computer of my dreams- but it gets the job done.

Here’s a picture!

Wait, no! wrong one!

( I’m still figuring this fan-dangled-thingy-McBobby out.)

Here is my computer

time to get active.

Coming soon:

– More updated on “OG Told Me” ( photo essay) : http://ogtoldme.tumblr.com/

-More updates to “Penn’s Station podcast”: http://ogpenn.podomatic.com/

– Book coming early 2012.

– check the website: http://ogpenn.com/ 

and remember that Xanax is the coolest palindrome. ever.

Peace.