Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Marvin X Book Party at Sonia’s House

Sonia Sanchez had long promised Marvin X a book party at her house in Philly. On Sunday, May 3, 2009, it happened. Ironically, Marvin X had only two copies of the book he read from at the party, which was a sacred gathering of the most powerful revolutionary scholars, artists and activists in the history of America: in the living room surrounded by African statues, masks and the paintings of revolutionary artist Elizabeth Catlett Mora. Marvin X read from his just completed memoir of Eldridge Cleaver: My Friend the Devil, written on the road from Houston, Texas to Beaufort, South Carolina in the short span of twenty days, initiated by a conversation with his oldest daughter Nefertiti in Houston. Seated in the living room were Mother Mabel Williams, widow of the great revolutionary Robert F. Williams of Negroes With Guns fame. Mother Mabel had addressed the Temple University conference the previous night Black Studies Forty Years Later, presented by the African Studies Department and organized by Muhammad Ahmed, better known as Max Stanford of the infamous RAM organization of the 60s, RAM stands for Revolutionary Action Movement, whose provisional president was Robert F. Williams. Muhammad's wife Khadijah was seated next to Muhammad. There was Amina and Amiri Baraka, the architect of the Black Arts Movement and social activist. Askia Muhammad Toure, another co-founder of the Black Arts Movement was present. Also a Sonia student Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, along with one of her gifted students, Ariana, an up and coming playwright who will have a play at Philly’s Freedom Theatre later in the year. The air was so charged with revolutionary energy it’s a wonder the house didn’t explode. Marvin X chose to read the Afterword to his book on Cleaver, one of the most controversial men in American history. As his keyboard player, Elliott Bey said, the crowd sat attentively as if Marvin X was God Almighty, listening intently to every word, although some had read parts of the manuscript online. Amiri Baraka had said immediately upon seeing the printed copy of the manuscript that his agent could sell it to a publisher within thirty days. He bet Marvin X one hundred dollars—for a commission as well. Also in the room was legendary historian John Bracey of University of Mass, Amherst, who told Marvin later that he was certain Baraka’s agent would be able to sell the book. Baraka had told Marvin to look for a movie contract to follow.
Now who might play the role of Eldridge Cleaver? Marvin said Terrence Howard, although he’s a little short. And of course Sonia was in the room, the hostess with the mostess, who provided organic food, not much of the tofu Baraka abhors in favor of steak, Marvin as well. Do these men have a white supremacy diet? There was little liquor present as well, except for a bottle of Merlo Sonia found somewhere in her house to accommodate Amina Baraka.

At the end of his reading the erudite and critical audience of my esteemed comrades had few comments, except to question my statement that Cleaver came from exile fleeing dictatorial regimes in Communist and Socialist countries. They told the poet freedom is a relative term. Marvin noted that his esteemed mentor/ancestor Sun Ra had taught him to stop teaching his actors freedom because they were born free, they needed discipline! Maybe with a little more discipline the freedom movement would be free by now!

The party had come at the conclusion of a weekend conference at Temple University to critique forty years of Black Studies and the first one hundred days of the Obama administration. But this was not the typical gathering of black studies scholars and students. This was the gathering of the radical scholars and activists, in contrast to the National Association of Black Studies that had met earlier this year in Atlanta, headed by the Afro-centric division of black scholars, under the de facto leadership of Maulana Ron Karenga, founder of Kwanza. No, these were the radical scholars, many of whom had been run out of academia to placate capitalism and imperialism in academia, since it was some of these men and women who had shaken academia to the core when they founded the black student unions that lead to black studies on campuses throughout America.
In the words of Dr. Cornell West, they were the maladjusted against injustice, not the typical careerists who bowed down to Western academia for a lifetime job, dismissing the original mission of black studies to connect with the community and become an integral part of it with little distinction between the two, in the tradition of the original black scholar, W.E.B. DuBois (The Suppression of the African Slave Trade, Black Reconstruction, Souls of Black Folk, the World and Africa, The Philadelphia Negro, et al.).

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