Although I didn't know those details, I wasn't surprised. I first saw Mawina in 1985 at the All African Women's Revolutionary Union's conference in Harlem, New York. That conference served as my very first time leaving California. After ending up in a car in Bensonhurst by accident, I was pretty overwhelmed by the time we got to City College New York where the meeting was being held. My first assignment was child care, or YPI as we called it after the Young Pioneer Institute of the Convention People's Party in Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah. The child care shift was me and one other organizer I didn't know who was from another part of the country. We had about eight children to watch, but to my 22 year old inexperienced self, it could have been 30 children. I did my best. We did our best. When the praise/criticism session took place at the end of the day, my child care shift was harshly criticized for "drinking all of the milk" before all the children were able to have any. This was already a couple of years after I had stopped drinking milk so I knew I hadn't done it and I hadn't seen my co-comrade drinking any milk either, but it didn't seem like any of that was going to matter to the over hundred African women who were then demanding to know who were the organizers on shift. Before that exchange got any more out of hand, Mawina stood up and begged for calm. She logically explained that who was on shift was ill relevant because whomever it was, they certainly wouldn't have intended to drink up the children's milk. She spoke of the need for humanism and patience. Soon, the agenda moved on.
I was extremely grateful to Sister Mawina that night. Although I didn't actually meet her at all during the conference, her intervention during the milk discussion had a significant impact on me. Although this is certainly not an issue anymore, and hasn't been for years, in those days, I was painfully shy. Although, I knew I hadn't drank any milk and I hadn't seen anyone else except children drink any, if that discussion turned to focus on us who were on duty, I know I wouldn't have known how to speak up and defend myself. Although she surely had no idea, I was enamored with Mawina that night for standing up for me.
When I returned to Sacramento from the conference, I read as many A-APRP memos and talked to as many older cadre as I could to find out whatever about Sister Mawina. I knew she was the coordinator of the women's wing and she was also on our Central Committee which in those days was a who's who of the African liberation movement. We had the late David Brothers who was the legendary co-founder of the Brooklyn Black Panther Party chapter. We had Bob Brown who was an original co-founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party (before Fred Hampton was recruited into that chapter). And, of course, there was Kwame Ture e.g. Stokely Carmichael. Those men were outstanding, but what I remember of that old Central Committee were sisters Moremi and Mawina. I learned that Mawina was a fearless tenant rights activist in Harlem during the 60s and 70s. It was also rumored that when Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) trained and equipped criminal Jonas Savimbi (equipped to serve imperialism's interests in Angola) came to Harlem, that Mawina stepped out in front and slapped him. I don't know if that actually happened, but from what I was learning about Mawina, if it was ture, it wouldn't have surprised me.
I finally met Mawina when we brought her to California State University, Sacramento, to speak for Women's History Month in March of 1986. It was my first major event serving as M/C for the A-APRP. Today, I can say I've served in that role hundreds of times, but on that day, I was overwhelmed with nervousness. I wore a white shirt and tie, clothes you couldn't pay me to wear to a party event, or other type of event, today. I rehearsed my words several times the days leading up to the event, but I was sure I would flub them. I certainly remember babbling through meeting Sister Mawina, but I'll never forget her reassuring words to me; "you are here to serve our people young brother. The ancestors are proud of you!" It was a much needed confidence boost for a youngster who had been significantly beaten down by this system. I needed people to believe in me and that day, and many times afterward in my political and spiritual development, Mawina played a major role in providing personal inspiration.
Over the next several years I had a number of times to work with Mawina on various projects, including ones that happened overseas. What I learned about her is she was personally a major artery for the A-APRP. Her New York apartment was our communications center at best. If one was to spend any time there, you would see Africans from any number of countries coming through. One more than one occasion, Mawina was dispatched to our California chapter to referee disputes among the cadre leadership out here. And, she served that role all over the Party. In one of her many courageous acts, Sister Mawina served as the A-APRP's representative in planning and carrying out the first Million Man March organized by Minister Louis Farrakhan in Washington D.C. in 1995. The A-APRP has always done its work two ways. We work under the radar and we push political consciousness. And, we are good enough at doing it that you may not necessarily know who we are, but you will know our message. In the case of the march, we consciously wanted to have a woman represent us because with all due respect to the Nation of Islam, we know it is our people, not just our men, who are under attack by this vicious system. So, it may not seem like a lot to you now, but for Mawina to serve on that planning committee 23 years ago with strong willed men like Minister Farrakhan, Maulana Karanga, and the others, was quite an accomplishment for a woman. And knowing Mawina like we do, you will never convince me that the vast participation of women in the march program like Mawina, Dr. Betty Shabazz (Malcolm X's widow), Rosa Parks, and Maya Angelou, wasn't heavily pushed for by her in her capacity as a member of the planning committee. That's what has always separated the A-APRP from other organizations to me. While others would spend all their time debating about the Minister or whatever, we get involved and influence the politics. Organizing 101. I listened and learned well. Especially to Sister Mawina.
I'm still shook by Mawina's death in 2001. It was sudden and although Kwame Ture made his physical transition three years earlier, I'd argue that the A-APRP has struggled to recover from Mawina's loss as much as Kwame's, David Brothers (2007) and anyone elses. She was an institution in this organization and throughout the African liberation movement. Like most women, her contributions are overlooked and underappreciated, but I thank that AIM comrade for reminding me just how important she is to our collective struggle. To my individual struggle to grow and mature in this work.