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.”

 

 

Vision: Mean Mugging, Unblinking Eyes, and Ancient Egyptian Beliefs.

Like the great Kings, Queens, and Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, I too look to the animal kingdom for vision, clarity, and spiritual guidance.

The symbol of the Egyptian Cobra, or the Uraeus, is a symbol for the Goddess Wadjet. This figure can be found many places- most notably, adorning the mask of King Tutankhamun‘s mummy.

King Tut.
King Tut.

The unblinking eye of the Egyptian Cobra is symbol for omniscience- all knowing. For one to be all knowing, one must be all seeing.

… When I was initially told of the unblinking eye of the Egyptian Cobra I was in Senegal (West Africa), where I was documenting scientists working on rain fall levels and hurricane formation in the sub-sahara desert region. They had a lot to do. My one assignment: take pictures. Naturally, my eyes started tearing up; overwhelmingly so. To the point I couldn’t see where I was walking, let alone take pics. I purchased some glasses and a bigger hat. It took a day or two to adjust to the West Afriacn sun- but once I did… awwwww mannn I was taking pics everywhere!

I eventually went to an R&B show, where a well known singer (who I choose not to name) was performing. He saw that I was taking photos and video. He stopped his entire show. Took my camera. And continued to play. He eventually gave my camera back at the end of the show ( around 3 or 4 am), but during the time he had my camera… oh mannn… I mean mugged him for every single second. I wanted my camera back. My determination wouldn’t allow me to blink. All I remember thinking: the Egyptian Cobra doesn’t blink.

With that said, when it comes to vision- I often think how our African ancestors ( and personal past experiences), and how they have lead me to look toward the animal kingdom for vision.

Be it the lions in Washington DC’s zoo- and how they look toward the sun in the afternoon. Or the pelicans by Lake Merritt in Oakland, Ca- and how they scope their prey while yards away, only to swan-dive into the water in pursuit of a meal…

OH… another GREAT animal to mention in relation to vision/ spiritual guidance: the gecko.

The gecko can grow it’s tail back ( it covers it’s own ass)

The gecko has toes that can stick to most surfaces (it doesn’t slip)

The gecko cleans it’s eyes by licking them. ( Never be thirsty. Never be blinded. )

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

… sneak peak at this book I’ve been writing…

1 page out of one of my 31 notebooks...

I will write this book.

It’s a story of a lost young man, growing-up and looking to his elders for guidance… well, he actually looked to women, cars, and money- but, it just so happened that his elders had the women, the cars, and the money; plus wisdom of how to obtain these things.

The elders would drop wisdom rapped in words so profound that the young man couldn’t help but to write them down…And as a young rapper growing up in inner-city America, he’d quote these elders in his lyrics. But he’d soon find that this process of taking the wisdom from the elders and applying it to his life was more profound than any rap song. Deeper than poetry. and too big for newspaper headlines.

It’s not just about this one young man in America. It’s a universal concept:

Learn from elders. Teach the youth.

It is culture. It is religion. It is the way of life…

It is human nature to want to grow old and gain wisdom as you do so.

Only thing is… out here… We don’t all get to grow old.. and even fewer of us value wisdom…and on top of that…we don’t call them elders… we call them OG’s.

I will write this book.

Afterall, it’s my story.