PHILADELPHIA– What many are saying was one of the most powerful intellectual conferences ever held on the impact of the Black Power movement worldwide took place in Philadelphia at Temple University and other locations. It was titled “Reclaiming Our Future: The Black Radical Tradition in Our Time.”
The conference attracted a majority youthful audience that seemed to soak up the information like sponges.
Participants included young and elder activists, including the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Angela Y. Davis, and jailed political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal as well as youth activists Charlene Carruthers, Kashara White, umi selah and Meghndra Chandra. The conference was organized by activist and Temple University professor Anthony Monteiro, the Black Radical Organizing Collective and the Church of the Advocate.
A wide range of topics relevant to the current Black Lives Matter movement and freedom struggles throughout the world was discussed Jan. 8-10.
Rev. Wright opened the symposium with an event at historic Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia founded by Rev. Richard Allen. The topic was “The Black Prophetic Voice in a Morally Broken World.” More than 1,200 people attended. Rev. Wright provided a very critical voice in assessing some of the challenges and the historical development of the Black church. He pointed out that some things about the church are rooted in and influenced by the Church of England.
“Talk about the miseducation of the Negro,” the religious leader said.
Out of this English influence came a very straitlaced church that was embarrassed by its Southern counterpart, he added. It preferred Handel’s Messiah over Negro spirituals dubbed low class debauchery, Rev. Wright noted.
“The Black church has always had problems with maintaining respectability in the eyes of White people,” Reverend Wright said.
As a result, the church has often failed to deal with concepts and ideas, such as socialism, which could greatly benefit Black people but was rejected out of fear of White censure and Christ and capitalism has become synonymous, said a presenter.
“Since Constantine hijacked the religion out of Africa it has had nothing to do with Christ,” Rev. Wright said.
Dr. West joined participated with Dr. Monteiro in a panel discussion titled “The Moral Bankruptcy of Capitalism: The Black Radical Tradition as a Socialist Alternative.” Their argument was the Black radical tradition was and continues to be at the vanguard of the struggle for true democracy, justice and peace. They traced its roots back to the anti-slavery struggle. The first Black national convention was held in Philadelphia in 1830 at Mother Bethel AME Church.
Dr. West told his audience that these are catastrophic times. “We have been at it a long time,” he said. “Courage comes from one who gives service to the least. It is remarkable given the extent of terror we have suffered in America our capacity to love.”
The Black radical tradition could not be discussed without talking about the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the love he demonstrated to a common criminal, who embraced his teaching and became Malcolm X, and raising him up to be a shinning light for the community to see.
Dr. West added that the Black Radical Conference Continued from page 6 “Capitalist Empire of the USA” is in spiritual decay, suffers from moral constipation and badly needs a moral laxative.
There was particular interest in a presentation given by Dr. Angela Y. Davis, a former leader of the Black Panther Party, fighter for Black liberation and political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, who is also a former Black Panther, and Chicago youth leader Charlene Carruthers called “Police, Prisons and the Neoliberal State.”
Mr. Abu Jamal shared his views via telephone from his jail cell in Pennsylvania, where he has been incarcerated after a controversial conviction for killing a Philadelphia police officer. He reminded the audience of the federal government’s Cointelpro program of the 1960s and 1970s used to destabilize progressive Black leadership and organizations. “It’s in full effect today,” Mr. Abu Jamal said. “It’s OK to beat and bomb people to death. We must not forget the origin of the police was founded as a slave protocol named the Patty Rollers. Their job was to catch runaway slaves.”
Mr. Abu Jamal noted that Black Panther founder Huey P. Newton in 1980 called for replacing current policing with a citizens’ police department grounded in public service.
Ms. Carruthers called for a world without police. She also noted the narrative of the Black Radical Tradition was sometimes fraught with contradictions. “Until all of us are included none of us will be free. We strive for a world without prison and police,” said the activist.
Dr. Davis, an author, lecturer and a professor who teaches at the University of California-Santa Cruz, observed that Philadelphia was the site of the first jail, the Walnut Street jail. There are 120,000 Black men missing from everyday life in America, some 30,000 alone in Philadelphia, she said. She talked about the negative effect that incarceration has on Black women.
“Reform will not work the whole system must be deconstructed. There must be new forms of justice and an end to the police,” she said.
Dr. Davis explained how key elements of neoliberalism are prisons, poor education, and poor health care with everything grounded in profits.
“The third largest corporation in the world is G4S, which is in the prison business worldwide,” she said.
Aminaca Sandra Calhoun was energized by her conference experience. “It has been informative, enlightening and if you internalize the information you are forced to ask yourself what must I start to do to move forward in the Black Radical Tradition,” she said.
She marveled at the youth participation. “This has been a mass turn out of youth that we have not seen or had at other types of events. These young folks are up in the house.”
Dr. Monteiro told The Final Call one of the conference purposes was to bring ideological and political clarity to the emerging movements against the police state and to say wherever Black Studies programs are, they must embrace and teach the Black Radical Tradition from Ida B. Well to W.E.B. DuBois.
“We are here to fight for the basic demands of the Black community, education, poverty, gentrification and mass incarceration of our brothers and sisters,” he said. “We have also gone to great lengths to include young people in the conference as presenters as well as participants. We wanted to join together younger and seasoned thinkers and activists.”