I'm sure most of you understand already that much of this, whether that's its intent or not, distracts people from maintaining a vision of core issues that are directly impacting our lives. Still, I already suffer from so many people transferring their insecurities onto me e.g. they might be pretty one dimensional so they want to categorize me as a one sided militant firebrand. Not true. I'm a complete person. So, I'm going to do what I do and take the what concerts have you seen theme a little farther, a bit higher, by talking about what well known people I've encountered in the course of doing liberation work. Tthat way, I can make a point while having fun, something some people want to believe is impossible for me to do.
I can tell you that I've introduced Tupac Shakur, before I honestly knew who he was, in 1991 at our African Liberation Day rally in Sacramento (see the youtube video of such with me standing behind the stage - 26 years younger). That performance almost didn't happen as myself and the rally coordination team that day were talking about closing the rally down because of a previous rapper who had irritated the crowd with hood set inspired lyrics. I was talking to a few of the organizers behind the stage about shutting it down when Tupac approached me and informed he had been invited by his friend to perform with him after his friend had been invited by a Bay Area party organizer. He told me in a very polite, yet confident manner, that if he were permitted to perform, he would bring the crowd back around in a positive direction. We decided to let him perform and it was one of the best presentations I've ever seen. He was true to his word and that was my Tupac experience. Then there were the times I coordinated security for double lectures involving rapper KRS-1 and the venerable Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). I organized security for Kwame's speaking tours often and these double lectures intensified the excitement by combining the celebrity atmosphere that encompassed KRS-1 with the very real and sometimes potentially violent political opposition that sought to silence the principled voice of Kwame Ture. These occasions required an intense presence, a strong plan, and a constant willingness to place my body on the line, which I and others sometimes had to do. I always enjoyed the dinner time afterward where we would have a collective Eritrean, West African, or soul food meal. Everyone always ate, no matter how much money you did or didn't have. That was family.
I'll always cherish getting the chance to meet Harry "Pombo" Villegas and Assata Shakur (see youtube video) in Cuba. Pombo was the bodyguard for Che Guevara. He joined the Cuban revolutionary war at age 17. He fought in that war and then traveled with Che to the Congo to fight imperialism there. Then he accompanied Che to Bolivia and after Che was assassinated there, Pombo was one of only three combatants to escape Bolivia alive at the urging of Salvador Allende from Chile (who of course would also be assassinated a few short years later). Yet, Pombo wasn't finished. He went on to carry the legacy of Che's work in Africa by fighting courageously in Angola. By the time I met him he was telling me he would fight imperialism again if they let him. A true warrior that no Hollywood movie could begin to depict.
Assata was equally as exciting to meet. Having known about her since I was in high school. She was an icon to me, but after spending a few hours with her, I've honestly never met anyone who could make me laugh harder. Her ability to play the dozens is legendary and I'm proud today to say that I'm one of the few people in the U.S. who has sat and ate dinner with one of this government's most hated living persons. We will always love and protect you Sister Assata!
I once bodyguarded for Angela Davis. I have sat on panels with Leonard Jeffries, Maulana Karenga, and Nation of Islam Western Regional Minister Tony Muhammad. I also served as security for Dr. Betty Shabazz, the widow Malcolm X. I had the chance to tell her how much her husband influenced my life and she was impressed enough with my knowledge of him to affirm that he was my ideological father as I had claimed to her. I served the same function for her daughter Atallah a few years before and relayed the same story to her.
And, in the course of doing this work I've had the opportunity to work with Mutabaraka, Boots and the Coup, Dead Prez, Public Enemy, Paris, and many others. I got to eat lunch with Geronimo Ji Jaga (Pratt), and in 2015 after African Liberation Day, I ate dinner in the residence of the family of Thomas Sankara in Washington D.C. In spite of my insistence otherwise, his brother was determined to pay for the meal. Recently, I've had Colin Kaepernick comment on articles I've posted about him on this very blog while he reposts them on his social media sites.
Without trying, I've been fortunate to have all of these opportunities with all of these amazing people. There are more that won't be mentioned for various reasons, but I've met them not because I paid to see them, but because I was involved. Since I've been involved, I've learned how to think - critically. My point to all of this is we should be always thinking about how we can take what social media gives us and bring it back to the struggle for justice. We should challenge the urge to be influenced by forces that don't have our best interest at heart. Everything we are thinking about has been prepared for us to think it and we have to fight back against that in everything that we do. Our experiences are not defined by what we have seen from others. We are defined solely by what we do. Especially what we do to make a difference. And, with all the creative souls out here, we can produce messaging that is fun, fresh, and exciting. So, just think of that next time you are asked to do something on social media because if we don't start crafting our own messages then we are destined to fulfill Martin Luther King's age old axiom. "Those who don't believe in anything are doomed to fall for everything."