The deaths of Chokwe Lumumba, Amiri Baraka, Jitu Weusi and most recently, Elombe Brath raises critical issues and questions on the status, direction and future of Pan African and Black Nationalist movements inside the United States.
The modern-day drum, now known as the text message, continued for hours May 19, announcing the passing of Mr. Brath, described by Empress Phile Chionesu, convener of the historic 1997 Million Woman’s March, as “a true champion of African liberation, who lives his Blackness — walks and talks his Blackness like a robe of honor.”
Pam Africa, the Minister of Confrontation for the Philadelphia-based MOVE organization and coordinator of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu Jamal said drummers and chanters outside of Harlem’s famed Abyssinian Baptist Church set the tone for Mr. Brath’s home going memorial. “But, the most important thing was the young people who were out there chanting “Elombe, Elombe,” she said, adding, “That shows us that the spirit of his work continues,” said Ms. Africa.
Born out of love, concern and recognition for the need of unity among Blacks throughout the Diaspora, Pan African and Black Nationalist grassroots organizations have birthed and influenced many and their continued significance is needed, say activists and analysts.
“Though these were different men — and [Amiri] Baraka was clear to define himself as a Communist–their general direction was one of communal people’s intellectualism, art and radical organization for the purposes of mass movement building,” said Dr. Jared Ball, associate professor of Communications Studies at Morgan State Univ. in an email to The Final Call.
“They were dedicated to developing autonomous space where Black/Afrikan people could engage, exchange and build those movements. We have absolutely no reason at all to deviate,” he added.
Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of African Studies at California State University, Long Beach said the critical question is; What can the Black community extract and implement from the lessons and examples from these great revolutionaries that are admired and honored?
“Those lessons and examples are ancient, ongoing and endless. So the need is to study seriously our history, learn its lessons, absorb its spirit of possibility, extract its models of human excellence and achievement, and practice the morality of remembrance in honor of those who left a legacy which we try to live by as best we can,” said Dr. Karenga.
Longtime activist, Dr. Conrad Worrill, director of the Jacob Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois Univ. and past national chair of the National Black United Front (NBUF) told The Final Call the legacy of these movements has a 175-year history in America.
These movements can never be wiped out because they are deeply embedded in the spirit of Black people, he said.
“Self-determination, self-help; efforts to dismantle White supremacy–all associated with Black Nationalism– deeply connected with Pan African ideals. It won’t go away!” he argued.
Pan African and Black Nationalist seeds have been planted and young people in the NBUF and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement are examples, “of the next generation taking up the struggle,” Dr. Worrill pointed out.
Dr. Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and an avowed Black Nationalist / Pan Africanist told The Final Call there is a tremendous need for an intergenerational dialogue. He agrees the question must be raised on who takes up the torch in terms of the next generation.
“Here there is a need also to not cater to youth, but to cherish and challenge them; to listen, but also to offer guidance where appropriate based on accumulated wisdom and experience,” added Dr. Karenga.
Author and activist Bill Fletcher Jr. said he also favors intergenerational dialogue, but adds, what is missing the struggles of the 1950s, 60s and 70s that developed young Blacks to go forward in that generation.
“Having to ride in the back of the bus is an experience that cannot be replicated. We need to build Pan African and Black Nationalist organizations around struggle,” argues Mr. Fletcher. He said there is also a need to redefine Pan Africanism and Black Nationalism.
Ms. Chionesu agreed with arguing that Pan African and Black National movements have been “co-opted by the academic intelligentsia”. But, she said grassroots groups have had to hold the line over the years which has been complicated. “So, now with the elders returning to the ancestors; and they did incredible work, but we need to redefine their legacy,” she said.
“Pan Africanist and Black Nationalist wanted to build a system to stand up to the White system; and for years Dr. Francis Cress Welsing has been warning us that we are still on the White side of the problem,” argues Dr. Leonard Jeffries, retired professor of Africana Studies at City College in NYC and co-founder of the World African Diaspora Union (WADU) told The Final Call. Dr. Welsing a lecturer, writer and psychiatrist is author of the critically acclaimed book The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors.
“What she was trying to tell us was we are suffering from a ‘shattered consciousness and a fractured identity’, said Dr. Jeffries, a longtime Pan Africanist scholar.
What must take place in the current discussion is “a system’s analysis,” he told The Final Call.
“Chokwe, his direction, his mission is still going–we can tap into his idea–even though there may need to be adjustments. However, his son does not have the 30 to 40 years in the movement,” he explained.
Dr. Worrill said Amiri Baraka was a beneficiary of the early path set forth by those Black Nationalists that went before him.
“Hopefully the next generation would be capable of building new movements in the next 20, 30, 40 years,” added Dr. Jeffries.
Dhoruba al-Mujahid bin-Wahad, writer and activist, former Black Panther, U.S. political prisoner and co-founder of the Black Liberation Army told The Final Call “we are in a perfect storm for change”.
“We must change the institutions that work against our people, not reform them. The radical traditions that formed the basis for the Pan African/Black Nationalist movements,” said Mr. bin Wahad.
“Our first struggle now is not against the enemy, but against the people of color who are in power — who have completely separated themselves from the masses, especially the youth.”