Part 30: My Friend the Devil or Hell on Ice
A few months after organizing the Melvin Black Forum on Human Rights, my elder and mentor, John Douimbia came to me with an idea he'd been carrying around with him for over twenty years, the Black Men's Conference which would become a secular organization of black men to deal with our myriad issues absent religiosity and across political and class lines, a healing project that would allow us to take control of our community as men, with a women's component but with men taking authority of all issues relating to our survival and thrival. John had presented his plan to many brothers in the Bay but many of them ran from it or stole from it. He first suggested it to the brothers at Mosque #26 in San Francisco but they were swimming in religiosity and weren't evolved enough to think out of the box. One might say John saw what his old friend from his hustling days in Harlem saw once he departed the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, that we needed a spiritual organization, i.e., Muslim Mosque, Inc., and a secular organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Sadly, Malcolm was cut down before either of these organizations became functional. But John saw the need as Malcolm did--of course Malcolm had run into his old friend from Harlem when he was released from prison and began organizing Mosques for the NOI. He asked John to help invigorate the San Francisco temple and John agreed to do so when he returned from his job in the merchant marines. But John yet dreamed of the secular project but got nowhere until he ran into me and I told him let's go for it. So we began planning and organizing the Black Men's Conference which eventually took place, November, 1980, at the Oakland Auditorium, attended by a thousand black men, including a session organized by women.
But during the planning and organizing, John gave me lessons in man-hood training during the many one on one meetings we held to discuss how to put the conference together and what were the objectives. One objective what the Elders Council, the seat of community power and conflict resolution, whether street or domestic violence, police violence or whatever. Male/female relations was a topic, but most importantly, male to male relations: how do we respect each other as men? How do we train the boys into manhood. What rituals do they need to signal their maturation since we can no longer send them into the jungle for initiation by confronting the lions and tigers. The tragedy is that in the absence of this grouping of men, the gangs have taken over. Even in his madness, Eldridge Cleaver used to say, "Where the boy scouts end, the gangs begin." Imagine, murder is the initiation rite for gang membership. Instead of hunting the lion we hunt each other.
John taught me to always have a balance when promoting the conference, a balance of male and female energy. He demanded when I promoted the conference on the media to always have a female with me to speak. Indeed, the women became the most energetic promoters of the conference, mainly because she wanted her man, father, and sons to evolve from the patriarchal domination of females into a more balanced symbiosis.
As an example of male interpersonal relations and conflict resolution, John wanted Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton to reconcile with each other, despite all the pain and suffering, all the blood and bones, these two brothers had subjected the brotherhood and sisterhood coast to coast. He recognized them both for the good they did in advancing black liberation, he recognized their failings. But in the spirit of black unity and especially in terms of black male unity, he wanted them to come together. The response came from Huey's brother Melvin Newton, who told us Huey said, "There was too much blood on the path between him and Eldridge, that with respect to those comrades who had lost loved ones in the internecine warfare, he could not reconcile with Eldridge, even though on the personal level he wanted to do so."
I should add that Dr. Nathan Hare wanted the two brothers to come together as well. Hare was one of the principle supporters of the Black Men's Conference and he too felt it would have gone a long way toward black unity if they had resolved their differences. And example of what we wanted occurred when Geronimo Pratt was released from prison after twenty seven years: we understand that he forgave Ron Karenga of the US organization that had violent and death dealing encounters with the Panthers in Los Angeles, including the death of Bunchy Carter and John Huggins in the BSU meeting room on the campus of UCLA. We understand when Ron Karenga came to prison for torturing black women he suspected of being agents, Geronimo saved Karenga from retaliation. He ordered the brothers not to kill Karenga. This is the type of spirit we wanted the Black Men's Conference to emulate, agape or unconditional love and forgiveness. But it didn't happen and opinion in the Bay was so negative against Eldridge that we ultimately had to ask him to drop from participation in the conference. I know this hurt him and it hurt me to tell him he could not be a part of the brotherhood we were organizing, but there was a consensus of opinion that he was bad news. And this lack of ability to reconcile has implications for the present strife and violence in our communities coast to coast. We call ourselves conscious black men and women, but we harbor petty hatreds long after it is time to let them go. It it a sign of political and spiritual immaturity that we must overcome. We see white men and women in the congress who hate each others guts, yet they unite for the common good. This is what we wanted to achieve with the Black Men's Conference. The concept was taken up fifteen years later by Minister Farrakhan with the Million Man March. Yet, just as the Black Men's Conference failed to morph into a secular organization, the MMM has apparently gone nowhere, caught between religiosity and the secular dream, unable to resolve the contradiction.