Part Seven: My Friend the Devil
And so in 1967 I found myself exiled in Toronto, Canada, actually I was in Hamilton, a suburb. I was given refuge by Ted Watkins, a pro-football player in the Canadian league. Ted was my cousin by marriage, actually his wife Natalie was related to me through my uncle Adam who lived in Modesto. There was a time in the recent history of Modesto when most of the blacks were related by blood or marriage. The late jazz pianist Monte Waters of Modesto was also related by marriage. But my favorite cousin Carol Lee of Modesto, daughter of my mother's brother Adam, connected me with Ted and Natalie who gave me the green light to come to Canada. They greeted me with open arms when I finally connected with them after arriving in Toronto. It wasn't long before I had converted Ted to Islam. He changed his name to Shahid. Another conversion was Canada's angriest Negro, Austin Clarke, a writer who changed his name to Ali Kamal. The great Pan Africanist Jan Carew was steeped in too much ideology to be converted, but Austin, Jan and I came together often for dialogue on events around the world.
My cousin Ted funded a publishing project Al Kitab Sudan which released my first collection of poetry Sudan Rajuli Samia or Black Man Listen. Eventually I moved from Hamilton to Toronto, renting a room from singer Salome Bey and her husband, Howard. I was soon joined by another draftee from San Francisco State College, Oswald, a poet who had published in Black Dialogue. Another brother in exile was from Los Angeles, Norman Rockland, who is still in Toronto today.
Exile is the worse of all possible things, for there is nothing worse than being cut off from ones people, especially when they are struggling to overcome oppression but you cannot be there with them to share their daily round, their pain and suffering. Internationalism is fine but ones national liberation is always ones priority, even though we know oppression is worldwide and thus the fight is everywhere.
So we got down in Canada, organizing and spreading propaganda. Of course the Toronto Star newspaper claimed twenty thousand black Muslims had invaded from the South (USA). There were about three of us brothers, and I was soon joined by Sister Ethna (Hurriyah) who fled an abusive relationship with her husband in Philadelphia. She had left me soon after we returned to San Francisco from Fresno and hooked up with a brother she thought she really loved. Ethna didn't stay long in Toronto because my money was real funny. Surely you know how women are when a man's money is funny. After several weeks of committing adultery, she departed for her hometown of Chicago. I was heart broken but stayed the course, a least for a few months.
I furthered my Islamic training after meeting brothers from the Middle East at Juma prayer service at the University of Toronto. One of those who mentored me was Hussein Shahistani. Hussein was a Shia who taught me my prayers in Arabic and also told me about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who were persecuted for years under successive governments, including the regime of the great Arab nationalist Gamal Abdul Nasser. The Brotherhood teachings are the ideological and spirtual foundation of Hamas which recently fought a battle in Gaza against the Zionists. Hussein told me not to worry too much about events in the Middle East since they have been going on for thousands of years. He was president of the Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada and told me of his desire for a Nation of Islam similar to the notion of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Hussein became a nuclear scientist and returned to his native Iraq. He was persecuted by Saddam Hussein and imprisoned because he refused to work on Hussein's nuclear weapons program. Somehow he survived persecution and today is the Minister of Oil and a close associate of the Grand Ayotollah Sistani.
Meanwhile back in the States, events in the Black Panther Party happened rapidly. The first Panther attack was focused on the Richmond police who killed Denzill Dowell, a young black man. The killing of Dowell made headlines in the first issue of the BPP newspaper, edited by Elridge (Minister of Information) and layed out by Emory (Minister of Culture). Eventually Samuel Napier would become Minister of Distribution. And then there was the invasion of the State Capital with Panthers displaying unloaded weapons which was legal at the time, i.e., until the Panthers. The devil always changes the rules when you master the game. And then there was the shootout between Huey Newton and Officer Fry of the OPD in which the officer was killed and Huey wounded. Reading of events in exile made me happy to be in Toronto, although I wanted to be home to partake in the struggle. Eldridge would tell me years later, "Yeah, Huey shot the pig. We took the gun and threw it into the Bay."