Monday, November 19, 2007

Marvin X and the Hot 8 Brass Band

Marvin X has finally joined the ranks of those infected by the energy and flavor of the New Orleans music tradition. On Friday night he caught the Hot 8 Brass Band at the Black New World in West Oakland , the land of his childhood. The normally still poet was forced to sway his body and shuffle his feet to the brass band from New Orleans that rocked Marcel Diallo’s venue on Pine Street, the bottom of West Oakland, just before one hits the bay and crosses into San Francisco. But if he was infected on Friday, on Saturday his infection was full blown when the band called him to perform with them at Harry Belafonte’s Gathering for Justice at the Oakland Marriott. Harry called a national conference of youth to gather in Oakland to address their pressing issues and spark their consciousness to continue the work of his generation and those before him on the train of justice. Youth flooded into the Marriot from Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Washington, DC, Brooklyn, Boston, Chicago and Detroit, as well as California, although youth from Oakland and the Bay Area did not seem to be well represented, for some strange reason. Nevertheless, the multi-cultural crowd was treated to the likes of Belafonte, Danny Glover, Barbara Lee, Ron Dellums, Walter Mosley, Sean Penn, Santana, Davey D and yes, Marvin X, who was vending his books when the Hot 8 called him to the stage to join them in electrifying the crowd. Poet Ptah Allah El best described how the old man of the Black Arts Movement ran to the stage: “I have never seen Marvin run before. When the Hot 8 called him, he ran through the crowd like OJ in those old airport commercials. I didn’t know he could jog like that.” Once on stage, the band signaled him to hold tight, then they lowered the volume so he could be heard, giving him a solid, soft background rhythm upon which he laid his poem What If, with the mantra of No God But God. The young men from New Orleans accompanied him to perfection and the crowd loved his poetic message that God is in all things and everywhere. The poem is Sufistic and pantheistic:

All is God
God is all
God is the people
God is the cow
God is the horse
God is the tree
God is the river
God is the fish
God is the child
God is the youth
God is the old people
God is the poor
God is the rich
God is the hungry
God is the sick
God is the dope fiend
God is the alcoholic
God is the sinner….
What if God is the captive you won’t liberate
The child you won’t love
The mama you hate
The daddy you hate….
What if God is the fear
You won’t release
God is the pain you won’t release
God is the love you won’t release
God is the tears you won’t cry….

Harry was so moved by the poem that he had to stop to congratulate the poet as the old Civil Rights warrior departed the auditorium. Consider Marvin X a citizen of New Orleans and expect to see him with the Hot 8 again soon. The performance was filmed for an upcoming movie on the band.

I’m Wild About Harry

We cannot praise and honor Harry Belafonte enough for his years in our liberation struggle. Yes, he is in the tradition of our great ancestor Paul Robeson, who defined himself as the artistic freedom fighter. At 81 years old, Harry is showing us that there is no retirement in the battle for justice in America or the world. Just as the forces of white supremacy are relentless, we must be also and never give up until the last breath. In his keynote address delivered at 9am on Saturday morning, he talked about the suffering his mentor Paul Robeson experienced as the artistic freedom fighter, but Harry said he is inspired to see Robeson’s spirit alive in actor Danny Glover. Even though he supported and marched with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harry was hypercritical of the black church today, calling it the kidnappers of justice, along with a few more choice words. DJ Davey D urged me to write a poem using Harry’s metaphor. Harry criticized the reactionary rappers as well, calling them sellouts to cultural imperialism. But his main message is that we can over come the forces of white supremacy by organizing and non-violently opposing evil. A mass movement of conscious youth can be a critical factor in moving the Movement forward out of the lethargy and passivity of the last few years. Because of its revolutionary tradition, Oakland was chosen for the first in a series of national meetings of the Gathering for Justice movement. Youth and adults in attendance included Native Americans, Latinos, Whites, Pacific Islanders, Asians and African Americans.

We don’t quite understand why more Oakland people were not present, especially with such high profile personalities on the agenda. Did organizers do outreach locally, or did they purposely limit information on the event since Oakland is currently suffering so much violence—of course violence is nationwide—someone, maybe Harry, mentioned 16,000 persons were murdered in America last year, yes, far more than have died in Iraq. Violence has closed Oakland clubs such as 17, Jimmie’s and Mingles. Maybe conference organizers feared Oaklanders mixing with youth from outside the city. At the post-conference march to city hall to address local issues, security had to intervene with an Oakland young man who approached me in a provocative manner. The man was mentally ill or appeared to be so, since when I saw him in the hood he scattered from me. But someone has to be mentally ill to put their hands in your face these days.

The Gathering for Justice must present a long-term strategy to confront the myriad problems facing youth, including violence, mis-education, lack of jobs—in lieu of jobs we suggest entrepreneurship and micro credit. Since there are few black teachers, we offer peer teaching and independent study. And the prison population should be reduced with a general amnesty. The problem of the church or faith community can be addressed by noting the liberation theology of Jesus and Muhammad, and perhaps moving beyond religion toward spirituality as the Native Americans spoke about so eloquently and at great length.

If Harry Belafonte, at 81, can involve himself with the Gathering for Justice, surely I can do the same at 63, and so I call upon my generation to become a part of this movement to save our children. Remember that James Brown tune, “Get Involved”?

Last week I found myself in Sacramento attending the State Superintendent of Education’s conference on bridging the racial divide, performing at the Afro-Asian fund raiser for Merv Dymally’s run for state senate—Merv is 80 years old and the godfather of California’s black politicians—yes, he’s even Willie Brown’s senior, although Willie may have wielded more power. Host James W. Sweeney announced that I will write Dymally’s biography.

Back in the Bay, I shared with Black Student Union members at Berkeley City College and participated in a reunion of the original members of the Black Student Union at San Francisco State University who are raising funds for their 40th anniversary next year, including the publication of a book on the history of our struggle with the forces of white supremacy.

The weekend ended attending Harry’s Gathering for Justice and again, the highlight for me was seeing the new generation of youth embracing each other and us elders—the Creator is telling me every little thing is gonna be all ite. Of course it was a blessing hearing and performing with that great group of young people from New Orleans, the Hot 8 Brass Band. “Get Involved!”

--Dr. M/Marvin X

His latest book is How To Recover From the Addiction to White Supremacy, a Pan African 12 Step Model for a Mental Health Peer Group, foreward by Dr. Nathan Hare, afterword by Ptah Allah El, Black Bird Press, POB 1317, Paradise CA 95967, $19.95.,

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