Friday, December 26, 2008

Plato's Last Class

"Marvin X is Plato teaching on the streets of Oakland."
--Ishmael Reed, author, novelist, McArthur Genius Award winner

After three years teaching on the streets of Oakland, Plato (Marvin X) was recently told by the Oakland Police that he can no longer vend his books or teach at 14th and Broadway, the crossroads of Oakland, no matter that the youth and adults of Oakland have had the pleasure of a leading writer and intellectual freely at their disposal, someone with whom they could engage on any topic, personal or political, religious or spiritual, matters of black consciousness and history.

In New York recently to see a production of his play Salaam, Huey Newton, Salaam, at Woody King's New Federal Theatre, Marvin returned to his open air classroom but was soon approached by a police officer who informed him the area was off limits to vending (after three years with no hassle, with police present on the block daily)--although vending was merely a front for Marvin X to engage the people, discussing their needs. The poet had set up a micro-credit bank on his table from which anyone could borrow money to satisfy their hunger, need for transportation or whatever critical need they had. People who borrowed from the micro credit bank (basket) would come by to repay their loan.

Intellectuals and politicos such as OCCUR's David Glover, entrepreneur Geoffrey Pete, attorney Walter Riley, actor Michael Lange, photographer Gene Hazzard, educators Ptah Allah El and math teacher Ramal Lamar often gathered to discuss current events, especially happenings at Mayor Ron Dellums' City Hall across the street, or the Obama Drama Plato wrote about in the Oakland Post newspaper whose office is located down the block at 14th and Franklin Streets.

Is it possible the OPD moved on Plato because of his series of articles on OPD connection to the murder of Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey? (See the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, San Francisco Bay view Newspaper; also the Cross and the Lynching Tree and Who Killed Chauncey Bailey, Oakland Post.)

Before the OPD arrived to close his classroom/clinic down, Plato had to deal with a potential suicide. A brother came to him saying he wanted to kill himself because he and his woman had gotten into it the night before. She had a restraining order on him but called his hotel room begging him to come over, so he did and soon they were arguing. He left assuming she would call the OPD. He told Plato he loved her, even though she was ball headed, had a hump in her back and walked with a limp. He said she told him she would search for him to the ends of the earth because she loved him too. Plato told him to get a grip on himself, but the young man said he wanted to kill himself. He was on the way to cash his check and turn himself in to the OPD since he presumed his woman had called them. He wanted to cash his check so he would have money on the books in jail. He said he had a good job with the City of San Francisco but didn't go to work that day because he was so upset. Plato saw tears coming from the eyes of this tall warrior who stood before him, humbled as a midget. Plato begged him not to commit suicide. He told him things have a way of working themselves out even when it appears all hope is lost. The brother left to cash his check so he would have money on the books.

A short time later several young black males gathered in front of Plato's table with Obama T shirts and Plato's books. The young brothers began shouting, "Obama, Obama, the first Black President." Plato joined them, but added to their chant, "Obama, Obama, the first Black President--now pull your pants up for the first Black President. Pull your pants up for the first Black President!" The brothers pulled up their pants, then asked for a free Obama button which Plato gave them. But then here comes an OG Negro who intervened, saying, "Leave them children alone, if they want to sag let them sag." Plato told the OG Negro to shut up and get out of his mix. He saw that maybe the source of youth ignorance is parental or elder ignorance. When the blind lead the blind they both fall into the ditch together, as the Bible tells us.

And then came the pig telling Plato to close it down, saying he was only doing his job to feed his family. Plato, being his arrogant self, took his time packing, especially since he had no fear of the OBP-- after all, his Black Panther friends Huey, Bobby and Eldridge used to shoot the OPD.

But on the spiritual plane one door closes and another opens. Down the block is De Lauer's Newsstand and bookstore which sells Plato's books. The century old business was recently bought by Ethiopians. Plato asked the owner Solomon if he knew what a writer in resident is? Solomon said yes. Plato said what is a writer in residence? Solomon said you! And so it is. Plato's new classroom will likely be at De Lauer's. Stay tuned.

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