November 15, 2013, will be 15 years since Kwame Ture (formally Stokely Carmichael) made his physical transition while lying in bed at home in Guinea-Conakry, West Africa. His life is significant to me because in many ways, he is very much responsible for me becoming the person I am today. I remember being in high school and somehow becoming aware of this man "Stokely Carmichael." I can't recall what I knew about him or how I came upon that information, but one thing I knew is I had great pride thinking about him back then at a time in my young life where very little that I encountered gave me any hope about anything. At some point during that high school period, I became motivated enough to locate and read "Black Power" the book Kwame co-wrote with Dr. Charles Hamilton in response to the call for Black Power he made along with Mukassa (Willie) Ricks, and other Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee organizers in Mississippi during the March against Fear in June of 1966. After reading that book, I wanted to know as much about Kwame as I possibly could so you can just imagine my excitement when I heard he was speaking at a college campus close by in Southern California. I think I skipped a class to go over and hear him. I know I wasn't alone. I had a car full of young African men with me. All of us curious. All of us looking for that dose of dignity and self esteem that so routinely eluded us in our daily lives in racist, capitalist amerikkka.
In truth, I was somewhat disappointed after hearing Kwame that day. I couldn't understand why he had changed his name. I didn't comprehend why he needed to talk about Africa and these strange men from Africa that he admired so much e.g. Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Ture. I didn't care about them. I wanted him to criticize white people and tell me I was right. Instead, he told me that I needed to join an organization, something I had no intention of doing. Still, for some reason, Kwame stayed on my conscious brain and by the time I was 20, there he was again, speaking at Sacramento State University where I attended college. By that time I was a member of the Pan-Afirican Student Union that helped bring him there along with organizers for the All African People's Revolutionary Party, that organization he apparently belonged to. His message that day was that we are Africans...Not Americans....Not African-Americans, but Africans - period! We belong to the African nation and until Africa is free "no African on the planet will be free." I followed that Kwame Nkrumah was his teacher. I even asked a question about the selective service draft that I had refused to cooperate with and although that event was 31 years ago, I remember Kwame's response as clear as if it was yesterday. He told me that any African has no business fighting in the U.S. imperialist military and that I should follow his example and burn the selective service form as he burned his draft card in 1967. He told us that the only army I should volunteer for is the All African People's Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) and the All African People's Revolutionary Army. I left that lecture understanding much more than I had two years previously. The name Kwame Ture was a tribute to Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Ture and I needed to understand that ideology directs action and ideology comes from my African culture. I somehow got my hands on Nkrumah's "Africa Must Unite" and by the time I read "Neo-Colonialism" I was ready to graduate and join the A-APRP.
Two years later I was a party organizer and the next time Kwame came to Sacramento I was picking him up to take him to the campus engagement. I remember when I first encountered his lanky six foot five (or so) frame. He smiled brightly. He was engaged in a phone conversation with Minister Louis Farrakhan and this 22 year old was impressed. I listened intently as he implored Farrakhan to not let ego get in the way of developing an African United Front. A few short years later, I was firmly entrenched and committed as an A-APRP organizer and I began to coordinate Kwame's tours to the area, organizing his security and spending time with him when he came around once every year. This relationship continued in many places for several years, but there are two stories that stand out the most for me. One was in 1992 when we were traveling from Sacramento to Sonoma State University. That drive takes you through the twists turns of Napa Valley and we were late. I was driving at the required 30 to 35 mile an hour speed on the numerous curves, but that wasn't going to get us to the Sonoma campus on time. Kwame calmly asked if he could drive so I quickly pulled over to permit him to take over. He proceeded to get us there on time by taking the curves at 60 miles per hour. Once we arrived and placed our hearts back in our stomachs, myself and the other brothers asked him how he learned to drive like that. As we walked to the lecture hall, he explained that when the SNCC workers arrived in Mississippi and Alabama to do voter registration work, the local Africans would immediately show them how to drive that way so they could outrun the constant KKK terrorists that pursued them on those dark dangerous roads. The second story is one of the last times I saw Kwame in the states. I think it was San Francisco. We were driving and talking about what time it was when he suddenly pulled out a watch and started shaking it because it wasn't working. He cursed the watch and when I took a look at it, it was the type of low cost digital watch that one would expect to find in a box of crack jacks. I remember being shocked at the fact this man who slept on our couches, ate the food we young poor people had, and who never complained about anything, had such a valueless watch when his political colleagues, like Marion Berry, John Lewis, Julian Bond, etc., were well off and in highly comfortable positions.
The point to all of this is the true story of Kwame Ture has yet to be told. I know his autobiography - "Ready for the Revolution" is out and sells well, but I feel that much of what he accomplished and contributed is still untold. If you Google him, go on youtube, or research books, his name and efforts are everywhere, but much of that information talks mostly about his work during the 1960s. This is exactly the problem. You see, Kwame spent approximately seven years in SNCC, and maybe two years, give or take, in the Black Panther Party. He spent 30 years in the A-APRP living and building that organization in Guinea-Conakry and in spite of the focus on the Black Power days, it's his work in Africa that provides his greatest legacy. In fact, he said it best himself when he asked about it some years ago. His response, in typical witty Kwame fashion, when asked why he moved away from calling for Black Power and towards calling for Pan-Africanism was "during the sixties we defined our struggle as a struggle against racism. So calling for Black Power was a response to that, but the people's struggle doesn't stand still, it moves...As we developed, we realized the struggle wasn't just against racism. Its a struggle for power and power means land and our land is Africa. Thus, our struggle is a struggle for Africa's freedom and liberation!"
I'm not worried about Kwame' legacy being correctly articulated because he worked for 30 years to create revolutionary Pan-African cadre to carry on his work after he was gone. He has made his physical transition, but we are still here and we are everywhere in every corner of the world today. We're still building the A-APRP and we will continue to struggle for Pan-Africanism until we achieve it. Thank you Kwame. You made your contribution. Now it's time for us to make ours.