"He's Plato teaching on the streets of Oakland."
--Ishmael Reed, author
When Marvin X is in Oakland at his 14th and Broadway outdoor classroom, before long a crowd of men and often women gather around to discuss a variety of topics, sometimes local politics since City Hall is across the street and many passer bys are associated with the Ron Dellums administration, such as OCURR's David Glover, and members of the Oakland Post newspaper stop by, including publisher Paul Cobb and photographer Gene Hazzard. There are passing artists such as dramatist Michael Lange, musician Agustus Hawkins,
rapper Ise Lyfe, singer Jeremiah and assorted youth and the many sick on their way inside Walgreen's Drug store for medication. Someone said there are those with little medication, too much medication and no medication who pass through. Recently a Black woman slapped a white man and called him bitch while black men stood watching. And a young man purchased a book while downing an energy drink. A sister said to him, "Brother, look like you need something to come down, not more energy." The brother was fired up.
But mostly the people are poor and mentally ill who frequent the area, although it is the crossroads of Oakland, so sooner or later everybody comes through. One businessman told Marvin he was taking advantage of the poor by selling his books to them.
Not so, most of the time he gives them away or for a 50% discount. One elderly lady got two $19.95 books recently for $5.00 after pleading poverty and illness to Plato. She was in a walker, but Plato sensed a little greed when she insisted on a book for her daughter.
He gave two books to a college student to calm her down after he told her she wasn't as dumb as she looked, when she informed him she had read Sonia Sanchez, Toni Morrison and others. She broke down because even though she is a 4.0 at USC, people have said she looked dumb all her life. Plato hugged her and tried to convince her he was only joking. You young people are too so sensitive, he said to her.
The Teacher is often visited by an Angel who wishes to remain anonymous. When the poor say they would like a book but have no money, the Angel pays full price for them. He often pays full price to send the Teacher’s books around the country and the world, especially to friends in Africa. A woman from China has stopped to inquire if he would like his books in China for the Chinese audience. Or would he like to get his books printed in China for the English speaking audience. The poet knows it is the thing to do since the major and minor publishers are getting books printed in China, even Black publishers.
And there is the poet sister who survived breast cancer, who always needs two dollars for a hamburger. And the brother who needs a dollar but will pass out leaflets for the teacher. He was hurt when he saw his teacher in white face demonstrating the addiction to white supremacy. On the recent international AIDS day, Plato gave out condoms. He also contacted his friends in the California legislature to see what they can do about condoms being contraband in jails and prisons, thus adding to the HIV/AIDS crisis in our community.
They told him they have been working on this but are being obstructed by the Correctional Officers Union and the reactionary, fake Christian Republicans. Yes, they are fake unless they are willing to do as theologian James Cone told Bill Moyers, "Come to terms with the cross and the lynching tree."
Now there are those better heeled Blacks who spend forty dollars for Dr. M’s five book collection, after seeing his books at De Lauer’s News down the block and wondering who the hell is Marvin X? In De Lauer's the five books would cost $100.00. By the way, Marcus Books doesn't do Marvin X! Is he too Black, too white, what? Too black for a black book store?
Few whites stop to chat with Plato, except a few who have heard him on KPFA and KPOO radio through the years, or have heard him read at anti-war rallies in San Francisco. But most of the whites keep their distance from his table of books, especially since they can see from afar his latest title HOW TO RECOVER FROM THE ADDICTION TO WHITE SUPREMACY. Few have purchased the book, only a mentally ill white man (at least he had enough sanity to want to recover from white supremacy) and an European from Ireland. One white came to the table, saw the book and told the poet, “That’s a bad word, white supremacy, a bad bad word.”
Now Ishmael Reed has observed the poet selling and says, “If you want to learn about motivation and inspiration, don’t spend all that money going to seminars and workshops, just go stand at 14th and Broadway and observe Marvin X in his classroom.”
Over the past 40 years, in academia and on the streets, Marvin X has mentored and inspired many outstanding students. Osby Davis, his student from Fresno State University, recently became the first black mayor of Vallejo, winning by two votes. Timothy Simon, appointed by the Governor to the Public Utilities Commission, gained black consciousness while in high school after seeing Marvin X’s myth-ritual dance drama Resurrection of the Dead (1972) at the poet’s Black Educational Theatre in San Francisco’s Fillmore, where actor Danny Glover also received training at Black Arts West Theatre, founded by Ed Bullins and Marvin X (1966).
And there is Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, who received black consciousness after performing in Marvin’s second play Come Next Summer (1965).
Bobby recently told the poet he wanted a scene in his upcoming movie on his life about his role in Come Next Summer and how the play elevated his consciousness. Now Marvin was mentored by Bobby, Huey Newton and others when he attended Oakland’s Merritt College straight out of high school, 1962. In his play One Day in the Life includes a scene of his last meeting with Huey Newton, the two men acknowledge they taught each other.
And then there’s Eldridge Cleaver, without a doubt his most controversial student, that he first met on a visit to Soledad Prison as part of the Black Dialogue magazine crew who were invited to address the Black Culture Club, chaired by Eldridge and his lieutenant Bunchy Carter. Upon his release from prison, Marvin had Eldridge use his royalties from Soul on Ice to finance Black House, a political/cultural center in San Francisco, 1967. When Eldridge persisted in talking about armed struggle (he had Black House members reading Negroes with Guns by Robert F. Williams), Marvin took Eldridge to meet Bobby Seale and soon after he became minister of information of the Black Panther Party. When Eldridge returned from exile, he called upon Marvin to organize his Christian ministry. Tired of exile and after learning the left would not aide his return to the US, Eldridge claimed he saw Jesus in the moon and convinced right wing Christians to support him. Marvin became his brains, his body guard, secretary, driver, photographer and editor of his newsletter. After Black Christians feared working with the Eldridge Cleaver Crusades because white people might get them, Marvin hired a staff of fearless Black Muslims to operate his ministry. He traveled across the US and into Canada as Eldridge’s chief aide.
When they were on Crack and out of money, Marvin told Eldridge to sell the books in his extensive library, which he did until every book was gone, and then, at Marvin’s suggestion, he sold the book cases to Hurriyah.
His co-worker, revolutionary lover, Hurriyah Asar (Ethna X. Wyatt), introduced him to Victor Willis, a young singer, who starred in Marvin’s Resurrection of the Dead, then went on to become the lyricist and lead singer of the Village People. Victor said it was the spiritual energy from Resurrection that gave him the ability to tackle New York. A dancer from Resurrection, Jamilah Hunter, went on to dance with Shirley McClain and Alvin Ailey.
Nadar Ali (Bobby Jones) was recruited by Marvin for the Nation of Islam. Nadar became director of the University of Islam and later director of imports for the NOI, administering the Whiting fish project. He traveled the world for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. He said he was on the balcony of his hotel in Chile when democratically elected president Allende was overthrown by the US imperialists.
Ayodele Nzinga, his student since he taught drama at Laney College, 1981, is presently working on her PhD, and yes, her thesis is on her teacher, with whom she has seen go through a myriad changes, from women to spirituality (are they the same, the poet asks?).
Ayo directed his play In the Name of Love at Laney and performed and co-directed ONE DAY IN THE LIFE, the longest running African American drama in Northern California.
It is a docudrama of Marvin addiction to drugs and recovery. Ayo stole the show with her performance as the Crack Ho. Along with Geoffrey Grier (son of Dr. William H. Grier ,co-author of Black Rage, the 60s classic on black psychopathology) and brother of comedian David Allen Grier, Plato counts among his students actor Geoffrey and J.B. Saunders. JB is considered an F student who is really an A student, but he can’t help but shot himself in the foot—in short, he lacks discipline to realize his greatness, thus he languishes in San Francisco’s Tenderloin.
And there is Fahizah Alim, recently retired writer at the Sacramento Bee. He mentored and inspired her to enter journalism. She is one of the most powerful women in Sacramento politics because as a journalist the Blacks utilized her pen to lobby for their causes in Sacramento, the state capitol.
And so it is. We suggest you stop at his classroom and seek his opinion. He was recently interviewed there by a graduate student from the University of California’s school of journalism, who is doing his thesis on the murder of Marvin’s friend, journalist Chauncey Bailey (see The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, www.San Francisco Bayview newspaper.com).
And the downtown youth are not oblivious to him. One older youth grabbed a youngster and made him ask Plato a question on any subject. You are invited to do the same.
On Saturday, December 15, 4pm, Plato will facilitate his Pan African Mental Health Peer Group at the Black Repertory Group Theatre, 3201 Adeline Street, Berkeley, one block south of the Ashby BART station.
Ishmael is wrong as usual. You seem more like a Mother Teresa, to me. Plato would not have such patience with the dregs of society -- Rudy
Marvin X replies:
Maybe yr right, Rudy, but it's taking a while for me not to insult people. As I said in How to Recover....I apologize for my rude and insulting behavior on the street--described by my actor JB Saunders as "theatre of assault." One brother said, "Nigguh you talked about me so bad when I passed by that I had to come back to buy your book. How much is the damn book?" The City of San Francisco passed a law to control me and a few others during my hustling days--it's an anti aggressive panhandling ordinance to stop the shakedown of tourists. m