Shoes, Purses And Cars = A Debt Crisis; But Only For Some!

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The New York Times cover story on Thursday highlighted the growing spending power of the super rich. While average American families struggle to make ends meet, the wealthy are flooding high-end stores to the point where Nordstrom has a waiting list for a Chanel sequined tweed coat for $9,010. But instead of emulating the frivolous spending habits of the select few, perhaps we need to instead spend wisely and save. In the time it took Washington to reach an agreement on raising the debt ceiling, I wonder how many more of us fell into our own financial crisis? If we’ve learned anything out of the debt debacle, it’s that some in Congress are willing to hang the American people out to dry in order to advance personal agendas, and we must therefore handle our business. Time to get our own fiscal houses in order. As perhaps the largest consumers of goods in the country, African Americans continuously purchase products – some we don’t even need – in great numbers. Despite our median income remaining at only 60 percent of the median income for white households (Black Enterprise Magazine), we routinely flood the economy with our hard-earned dollars often as quickly as we receive them. Our buying power is undoubtedly tremendous, but we have to start using it wisely. We cannot spend our entire paycheck on that new pair of shoes or that name brand purse when our bills are due. And we cannot charge our lives away. The problem of spending before we have it isn’t confined to African Americans only; our own federal and state governments are still struggling to balance their books. But if we don’t want to keep racking up debt and run around trying to find ways to raise our own credit limits, we’ve got to start budgeting, cutting our spending and investing. Money clearly is power. And believe me, I include myself when I say that as women, we sometimes forget that economic strength empowers us across the board. I can admit, that I have at times bought a pair of shoes that I didn’t need or grabbed a bag that really wasn’t necessary. But all of us have to begin steps to change our buying habits and avert our own debt crisis in the future.  For the men out there, I haven’t forgotten you. There are many who think they just can’t live without that brand new car, or customize their ride with ridiculous upgrades, and yet they’re still living at home with mama! Some men indulge in high-end watches or clothes as well, but no matter what our ‘thing’ may be, we’ve got to start making sure economic power is our focus. Washington just reached a national debt agreement. It’s time for us to work on personal debt resolution in order to prevent serious consequences in our lives — and instead progress ahead — so that the great income and wealth disparities in this country cease to exist. RELATED: How the movie “The Help” inspires women to do better

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How The Movie “The Help” Inspires All Women To Do Better

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In a week where much attention was focused on maids and domestic workers, I had the unique opportunity of participating in a gathering at the White House that highlighted the ability and possibility of women – even maids in the 1960s – to transform societal norms. At the invitation of First Lady Michelle Obama, I attended a screening for the acclaimed film, ‘The Help,’ on Wednesday at the White House. As the First Lady showcased this movie centered on ideas of unity and progress, I couldn’t help but take pride in the notion that this young Black woman who works tirelessly to overcome her own battles and uplift her generation, was among those blessed to be in attendance. Set in Jackson, Mississippi, ‘The Help’ (based on the best-selling novel) focuses on three distinct women – two Black, one white – and their intertwining lives around the ideas of race, class, gender and power. The film, much like the theme at the White House’s screening, was that despite one’s racial background, we can unite and transform society. Perhaps if I was alive in the ‘60s, I would be able to comment more on what we went through as a people – and specifically as Black women. But as a child of the ‘80s, I found myself watching this film and focusing more on the tremendous accomplishments we have achieved. It is absolutely remarkable that within a few decades since the setting of ‘The Help,’ we were able to gather at the nation’s capital, at the White House for that matter, and sit with the First Lady to analyze and discuss our progress.  At the screening, Mrs. Obama said something that stuck with me: “What if Barack had given up …. What if Nelson Mandela had given up … ?” I even began thinking: “What if I had given up?” We all have our struggles in life, and though we have obviously made gains, we have much work that remains. But what we cannot do is allow our challenges to hold us back from the greater good. I lost someone very close to me to senseless violence years ago, but today I use that tragedy to advocate for methods of eliminating guns from our streets. Out of every calamity comes hope and choices – you can either wallow in the grief or you can do something to prevent others from experiencing it. The women from ‘The Help’ united and risked their lives to change the course of history. All it takes is one good person, no matter the color. And you never know who you may inspire – just as the First Lady once again inspired us all this week. RELATED: Violence doesn’t hesitate and neither should you What if Casey Anthony were Black?

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Tuesday: Rallies Everywhere to Save the American Dream

Enough is enough.   Speaker Boehner's decision last week to walk out in the middle of negotiations with President Obama was the last straw.   The time has come -- at long last -- for America's super-majority to stand up against the extreme, hostage-taking tactics of the Tea Party minority in Congress.   Tea Party Republicans would rather shred America's safety net and also risk tanking America's economy than raise taxes one penny on their super-wealthy donors and corporate backers.   This Tuesday at noon, everyday Americans will finally have the chance to be heard, across America, at the local offices of every member of Congress. The American Dream movement -- which includes dozens of organizations and thousands of individuals who are standing up for the middle class and working class families -- is calling for emergency mobilizations across the country tomorrow.   We will thank many of our elected leaders, especially Leader Nancy Pelosi and the more than 70 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) who have stood strong by the middle class, in the face of this madness. We will ask others to step up as champions and support the CPC letter .   And for those who are threatening our whole our economy to win tax breaks for millionaires, we will hold signs and stand outside their offices -- using peaceful pressure to shame them into siding with the vast majority of Americans.   The stakes are clear: millions of people are now facing catastrophic economic harm, unless Americans stand up and force the GOP to relent in its reckless drive to destroy essential middle class programs. The GOP is holding the American Dream itself hostage.   If the Republicans carry out their threats, for the first time in history, the greatest nation on Earth will be in default on our obligations.   Defaulting on our debt would be a disaster for our nation -- and for every single American. The jobs of half a million Americans would almost certainly disappear. Loans for college or homes could be almost impossible to get. We might have to stop sending Social Security and Medicare checks to people who need them. Our men and women in uniform could stop getting paychecks.   Worse: our great nation would lose its perfect credit rating. That would add billions of dollars to our deficit because other countries would charge us more interest on our loans.   This is literally insane. And if you are shocked, appalled and outraged, you are not alone. The vast majority of Americans are opposed to the both the goals and the tactics of the Tea Party minority in Congress.   Ordinary Republicans know that the Tea Party is dead wrong.   That number includes the majority of REPUBLICANS. Even David Stockman, who was one of the chief architects of Reaganomics, has said that America will need tax increases. The Economist magazine agrees with him; so does David Brooks. No surprise there: so do 55 percent of all Republicans. That's right, the majority of all Republicans think the Tea Party minority has gone too far.   The Tea Party position is so crazy and extreme that its caucus literally would have to throw out Ronald Reagan (who raised the debt ceiling 18 times), for being too liberal on the question of taxes.   People that extreme should have no moral or political standing to threaten America; they should attempt to impose their bizarre worldview on the rest of us. But that is exactly what they are doing.   The idea of a working democracy is now at risk.   It is time for DC to listen to the voices of regular people, again. Two-thirds of Americans want a budget deal to include getting rid of special tax breaks for millionaires and big corporations. Two-thirds of us believe Republicans in Congress have acted irresponsibly in pushing us toward a default crisis.   Americans know that no single political party has 100 percent of the power in our country, so no single party can have things 100 percent its way. At a certain point, everyone must put the needs of one's country above the preferences of one's party.   The Tea Party minority is perhaps the first faction in American history to seize complete control of a political party -- and then act with complete and utter disregard for those basic American political traditions.   To get their way, they are willing to hold the American Dream itself hostage -- putting an economic gun to all of our heads and jeopardizing the financial future of 310 million people.   Since the Cold War, no foreign enemy has ever posed this kind of threat to America. No foreign power could possibly do the kind of damage that the Tea Party minority is threatening to inflict on the American people.   Hands off Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare   Leaders like former Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Bernie Sanders have set a fine example in standing up to this nonsense. So have Congressional Progressive Caucus chairs Rep. Keith Ellison and Rep. Raúl Grijalva.   They should not stand alone.   Our democracy has been hijacked by a small group of extremists. The American Dream is in peril. It is time for the super-majority of Americans to be superheroes and rescue our economic future.   I will see you on Tuesday.

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Violence Doesn’t Hesitate — And Neither Should You

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When I was growing up, there were always stories of random acts of violence here and there, or a tragic shooting that would periodically capture the headlines. But what was once a rarity has sadly transformed into some sort of normalized disturbing behavior. Just within the last week, a Florida teen was accused of bludgeoning his parents to death and partying afterwards; while in Brooklyn, NY, an eight-year-old boy was kidnapped, killed and cut into pieces after he asked a stranger for directions. And in between all of this madness, there were countless shootings, stabbings and other incidents across the country. The culture of violence is out of control and it is colorless, ageless and doesn’t discriminate in choosing its victims. Last week, staffers at the National Action Network (NAN) and I sat down with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as we held an urgent meeting on the staggering rise in violence. Discussing everything from removing guns off of our streets to educating young people — to providing increased recreational activities and employment — we not only touched on the root causes of this dilemma, but also what decisive action we can all take. And earlier in the month, Rev. Sharpton and I held a similar meeting during the Essence Music Festival with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who has young folks dying daily in his city. When we speak of violence, often times, people resort to stereotypes or dismiss the idea all together believing that it doesn’t impact them. The truth is, innocent victims sadly come in all shapes, colors, sizes, ages, income brackets and religions. The horrific incidents of the past week are validation in that alone. In Florida, you had a seemingly normal, suburban white teenage boy who is now accused of killing his own parents; and then hosting a party while their bodies lay in an upstairs bedroom. And in the Brooklyn Hasidic Jewish community, a young boy’s dismembered body was discovered and the culprit was allegedly a member of the same faith. This is a national epidemic and it’s time we stop pretending it only takes place “over there.” As NAN continues its push to bring this issue to the forefront, we urge everyone to do the same. Call your local elected officials, organize a rally and ask why more isn’t being done to resolve this ever-growing catastrophe. Just as labor unions organize and convene around ideas of collective bargaining, so too must we organize around the issue of our lives. We at NAN are consistently seeking new methods of combating violence, and though we may not always have the answer, we never falter in our resolve. On August 27 th , NAN will hold our annual march on Washington, D.C. honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (whose statue will also be unveiled that weekend). We call on everyone to join us as we seek new solutions to combating our most pressing challenges. If you cannot join us in Washington, commit to doing something somewhere in your community. The time for turning a blind eye is over; we must take decisive action now. How can we sleep at night knowing our 16-year-old babies have guns in the next apartment, in the adjacent building, or hell even upstairs?! How can you call yourself a man or woman of the cloth, an educator, a Christian, a counselor, a parent or even a good person and not do anything? What has happened to us? RELATED: What if Casey Anthony were Black? Reality TV and its damaging effect on Black women

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What If Casey Anthony Were Black?

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This weekend, Casey Anthony will leave Orange County Jail in Orlando, Florida amid controversy. Her release from prison will continue a debate that many in the Black community are currently having. Casey, who was acquitted of murdering her daughter Caylee, has become a household name, just as most of the Anthony family has. But following the daily courtroom drama and intense media frenzy surrounding this tragic case, we have to ask ourselves, what if Casey or Caylee were Black? Chances are, we’d have no idea who they were. It’s no secret that our press is unfortunately biased at times in the way in which they cover – and don’t cover – news items. We often see people of color stereotyped or misrepresented in both our local and national news platforms. But when a story involves a missing child or a missing woman, how could this same unbalance take place? When someone’s life literally hangs in the balance, who makes the judgment call to overly indulge in one story and not focus at all on another? The unfortunate reality is that if a police department doesn’t feel a missing person’s case is important, it won’t garner the attention it deserves. If law enforcement fails to put in the resources and manpower to look for a child, teenager, mother or loved one, others won’t either. From the onset, countless strangers came to Casey Anthony’s side and helped search for her “missing” child. And it’s no secret that a large part of this had to do with the amount of coverage this case received at every step of the turn. If young Caylee Anthony had in fact been missing, this sort of community involvement could have saved her life – just as it could save others who have been abducted or disappeared. As newsrooms continually struggle to diversify, the consequences simply multiply. In 2009 alone, more than 30% of those reported in the National Crime Information Center’s missing person file’s were Black. And yet how many of the most recent missing person’s cases that we know of involve people of color? The notion of race and coverage disparity also applies to Casey Anthony herself. Would she have been so easily acquitted if she were a Black woman? With reports that she may have even received donations from sympathizers while behind bars, Casey has transcended into some sort of innocent victim herself. As people continue to debate whether or not she was involved in the death of her own daughter, we cannot escape the fact that if she or Caylee were Black, you can bet we would currently be having an entirely different discussion here. It’s time we start actively pushing for balanced coverage across the board – our children’s lives may very well depend on it. RELATED: Reality TV and its damaging effect on Black women Failure to ban video games for kids makes parents jobs harder

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Reality TV And Its Damaging Effect On Black Women

By Tamika Mallory If you didn’t know a thing about Black folks, what would you think if you turned on your TV? Whether it’s “Basketball Wives,” “Love & Hip-Hop,” “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” series, or “Single Ladies” (although not a reality show, it’s along the same lines), chances are, you would leave those shows with a negative view of Black women. In this world of fiction portrayed as reality, what is the message being sent to those in the community and the rest of the world? As a Black woman working diligently to empower and embolden other women, I can unequivocally say that I’m downright frustrated. On a daily basis, we are bombarded with images of women of color dancing half-naked in music videos, or prancing around fighting each other on one of these TV shows. If reality TV is purported to depict real lives, what does that say about us and what others think of us? What sorts of examples are we setting for young, impressionable women out there? These days, it’s very difficult for me to pinpoint a single reality program that showcases positive, accurate images of Black women and our role in society. As doctors, lawyers, educators, mothers, care takers, political activists and more, we are responsible for calling out networks that don’t correctly portray who we are as women and as a people. But, is the ugly truth that there are more women conducting themselves in the manner we see on reality shows than those doing actual, constructive things in real life? The reality in all of this is that we must decide ourselves who we are and what we’d like to represent us on a national and global scale. For it isn’t just Americans that tune in to popular programming; there are countless others around the planet that may never come across a Black woman in his/her entire life and the image on TV is all they have to go by. Even though there may be extensive money in reality TV, have we decided that it’s worth the cost of selling our souls and misleading our children? RELATED: Failure to ban violent video games makes job harder for parents

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Failure To Ban Violent Video Games Makes Job Harder For Parents

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As a mother of a teenage son, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve walked into a room and turned off a video game or TV program that I felt was inappropriate for a still developing child. But despite how often I pull the plug or refuse to let him buy certain products, the reality is that our Supreme Court just made my job and the job of other parents that much more difficult. Ruling on Monday that violent and dangerous video games could not be banned to minors, the Supreme Court in essence said to all of us: you’re on your own. Raising a child in today’s culture of aggression, accessibility to negative influences and overall instability is a challenge for any mother out there. Once upon a time, there used to be a concept of the community. Regardless of how much our mothers and fathers were working, we knew that a neighbor or elder could and would keep an eye on us. We knew that we couldn’t engage in certain behaviors because it would without fail get back to our parents. There was a real sense of looking out for each other, and a profound sense of looking out for future generations. But today, the ‘unity’ in community is lost and the ones to suffer the most are the kids. As a busy, working mother, how can I physically be everywhere my son is? The reality is, no parent can be with his or her child 24/7. And while we may restrict gruesome video games in our homes, who will protect the kids when they set foot into the outside world? Knowing that my son wasn’t running around in the streets, I took comfort in the notion that video games at least provided an alternative, safe form of recreation for young people. But what are we teaching them if these games are inundated with nothing but guns, shooting and graphic violence? How different is that from what’s tragically out on the streets? And what kind of subliminal impact are we having on these kids if we flood them with these messages? The Supreme Court has failed to protect us in the most fundamental manner. Who will prevent our children from the devastating material designed to pollute and tarnish their minds, body and soul? In order to raise a strong, educated and focused generation, it takes a village – including all levels of government. It’s unfortunate that ours just let us down. RELATED: The Her In HIV

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The “Her” In HIV

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Recently, I was asked to promote National HIV Testing Day (June 27th) and came across the startling statistics regarding Black women. So of course, I got to thinking: Why are our numbers continuously rising when the overall numbers of those infected have remained somewhat steady, if not declining? And despite what most people would have you to believe, Black women don’t face the greatest risk  just from ‘down-low brothers;’ the biggest danger of all is “US.” Sex is one of the most basic, natural functions for human beings. And of course, the force by which we continue to reproduce. But the reality is, most of us are afraid to even discuss our true feelings or desires on the subject. Sadly, many times we think that in order to get a man or keep a man, you have to have sex – which couldn’t be further from the truth. We often give in when we really don’t want to, and tragically, even get convinced to partake in unprotected sex because we believe it will make our partner happy – and oh yeah, “it feels better.” Let’s be brutally honest here, how many of us just don’t enjoy sex at all? If you think that’s a stretch, keep this in mind: earlier this year, Fitness Magazine surveyed 2,400 women to see how many would give up sex for a full year in order to be skinny, and the answer was a remarkable 51 percent. When it comes to pleasure and what works for us, Black women (and women in general for that matter) often keep quiet. Instead of discussing what pleases us, we tolerate unsatisfactory sexual experiences, which can eventually lead to dangerous outcomes.  If we don’t speak up, we may look for pleasure elsewhere, thus putting our partner and the partner of the person we are cheating with at risk for all sorts of STDs. Miscommunication – or lack of communication – not only leads to bad relationships, but it can also lead to risky behavior. And finally, in an era when women do virtually everything men do, it should come as no surprise that we have begun to behave in a manner that’s in line with what we believe is traditional male thinking. Whether we are too busy to maintain a relationship, or simply enjoy the idea of having multiple partners and options, many of us are behaving in the same fashion that we claim men have for decades. But because we are still more likely to compromise, we aren’t protecting ourselves the way men do, and thus are on the losing end of the stick more than our male counterparts. Every 35 minutes, a woman tests positive for HIV in this country, and Black women account for some 66% of all of these new cases. Those are some down right scary stats. If we want to play with the big boys, it’s time we as strong, intelligent, independent women start speaking up, share our likes and dislikes, stop blaming down-low brothers, begin protecting ourselves each and every time, remain honest to ourselves and our partners, and know that it’s ok to just say ‘no thanks’.  That is, after all, the only way we can truly stop this deadly disease and save ourselves – and the next generation. P.S. – the down-low brothers (AND sisters) are not off the hook … I’ll address that at a later time … RELATED: Social Media’s Revenge: The Perils Of Sharing Too Much Online Are These BP Artists Good Enough to Get Signed? Lil’ Kim & Nicki Minaj To Perform Together At BET Awards? Sean Kingston Released From The Hospital! DMX “I Don’t Like Drake”

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Social Media’s Revenge: The Perils Of Sharing Too Much Online

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Most of us can’t even begin to imagine what life would be like without communicating in some form or fashion with our friends, co-workers and potential associates online. The free exchange of ideas that’s possible through social media and the web itself has transformed the way we get information, debate issues and stay connected – after all, it’s how we’re here today, linked on Newsone. But along with advanced communication comes advanced responsibility: if you don’t want the world to know your personal business, don’t put it out there. For years, my Pastor, the Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, has been pushing one simple rule – technology is not your friend. It took me some time to fully understand what exactly he meant, but after fully grasping the idea, I feel compelled to share it with everyone. Yes, technology has advanced us and opened doors we never dreamed of, but we must remember that it is and forever will be a public forum, not our confidant. Almost every time I speak to young people, I address the idea of social accountability that comes with social media. Yes, your employers will look at your Facebook and Twitter pages before hiring you; if you don’t want someone to know everything you’ve done, don’t put it out there. If you’ve missed class for some reason, don’t tweet about it. It’s a very simple concept, but as we so clearly witnessed this past week and a half, even the most intelligent and powerful can fall victim to the perils of sharing just a bit too much. So it begs the question, why do people share private info to begin with? Or why do they engage in behavior that they know is unacceptable? Is it loneliness? Is it just attention seeking? Or maybe an easy way to cheat without getting caught? We may never know the true motives behind Rep. Weiner’s now admitted online escapades, but perhaps the lesson for us all goes back to my Pastor’s motto: if you don’t want people to be all up in your business, keep your mouth shut and – more importantly – don’t post it for the world to see. Did You Know Nicki Minaj Plays The Clarinet? See The Video Here! BLACK MUSIC MOMENT #62: Ludacris Debuts As Radio Personality “Chris Lova Lova” NEW MUSIC: Beyonce Ft. Andre 3000 “Party”

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Remembering Geronimo Pratt [Interview]

By Bakari Kitwana Political activists around the country are still absorbing the news of Geronimo ji Jaga’s death. For those of us who came of age in the 80s and 90s, the struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s were in many ways a gateway for our examination of the history of Black political resistance in the US. Geronimo ji Jaga (formerly Geronimo Pratt) and his personal struggle, as well as his contributions to the fight for social justice were impossible to ignore. His commitment, humility, clear thinking as well as his sense of both the longevity and continuity of the Black Freedom Movement in the US all stood out to those who knew him. I interviewed him for The Source magazine in early September 1997 about three months after he was released from prison, having served 27 years of a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit. Three things stood out from the interview, all of which have been missed by recent commentary celebrating his life and impact. First that famed attorney Johnnie Cochran was not only his lawyer when ji Jaga gained his freedom, but also represented him in his original trial. They were from the same hometown and, according to ji Jaga, Cochran’s conscious over the years was dogged by the injustice of the US criminal system that resulted in the 1970 sentence. Second, according to ji Jaga, he never formally joined the Black Panther Party. As he remembered it, he worked with several Black activist organizations and was captured by the police while working with the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. And finally, his analysis of the UCLA 1969 shoot-out between Black Panthers and US Organization members that led to the death of his best friend Bunchy Carter and John Huggins is not a simple tale of Black in-fighting. Now is a good time to revisit all three. Misinformation is so much part of our current political moment, particularly as the 24-hour news cycle converges with the ascendance of Fox News. In this climate, the conservative analysis of race has been normalized in mainstream discourse. This understanding of racial politics, along with the election of Barack Obama and a first term marked by little for Blacks to celebrate, makes it a particularly challenging time to be politically Black in the United States. Ask Jeremiah Wright, Shirley Sherrod, and Van Jones—all three serious advocates for the rights and humanity of everyday people whose critiques of politics and race made them far too easily demonized as anti-American. If we have entered the era where the range of Black political thought beyond the mainstream liberal-conservative purview is delegitimized, Geronimo ji Jaga’s life and death is a reminder of our need to resist it. EXCERPTS FROM THE 1997 INTERVIEW: How did you get involved with the Black Panther Party? Technically I never joined the Black Panther Party. After Martin Luther King’s death, an elder of mine who was related to Bunchy Carter’s elder and Johnnie Cochran’s elder requested that those of us in the South that had military training render some sort of discipline to brothers in urban areas who were running amuck getting shot right and left, running down the street shooting guns with bullets half filled which they were buying at the local hardware store. When I arrived at UCLA, Bunchy was just getting out of prison and needed college to help with his parole. We stayed together in the dorm room on campus. But we were mainly working to build the infrastructure of the Party. You ended up as the Deputy Minister of Defense. How did that come about? They did not have a Ministry of Defense when I came on the scene. There was one office in Oakland and a half an office in San Francisco. I helped build the San Francisco branch and all of the chapters throughout the South—New Orleans, Dallas, Atlanta, Memphis, Winston-Salem, North Carolina and other places. We did it under the banner of the Panthers because that’s what was feasible at the time. Because of shoot-outs and all that stuff, the work I did with the Panthers, overshadowed the stuff that I did with the Republic of New Afrika, the Mau Mau, the Black Liberation Army, the Brown Berets, the Black Berets, even the Fruit of Islam—but I saw my work with the Panthers as temporary. When Bunchy was killed, the Panthers wanted me to fill his position [as leader of the Southern California chapter]. I didn’t want to do it because I was already overloaded with other stuff. But it was just so hard to find someone who could handle LA given the problems with the police. So I ended up doing it, reluctantly. And this is how I ended up on the central committee of the Black Panther Party. I never took an oath and never joined the Party. What was your role as Deputy Minister of Defense? The Ministry of Defense was largely based on infrastructure: cell systems in the cities; creating an underground for situations when you need to get individuals out of the city or country. When you get shot by the police, you can’t be taken to no hospital. You gotta have medical underground as well. That’s where the preachers, bible school teachers and a lot of others behind the scenes got involved. When Huey got out of prison in 1970, this stuff blew his mind. What were the strengths and weaknesses of the Party? The main strength was the discipline which allowed for a brother or sister to feed children early in the morning, go to school and P.E. classes during the day, go to work and selling papers in the afternoon, and patrol the police at night. The weak points were our naiveté, our youth, and the lack of experience. But even at that I really salute the resistance of the generation! I have a problem saying it was just the Panthers `cause that’s not right. When you do that you x-out so much. There was more collective work going on than the popular written history of the period suggests. And when you talk about SNCC you are talking about a whole broader light than the Panther struggle. So you have to talk about that separate—that’s a bigger thing. They gave rise to the intelligence of a whole bunch of Panthers. What was Bunchy Carter like? He was a giant, a shining prince. He had been the head of the Slausons gang. He was transforming the gangbangers in Los Angeles into that revolutionary arm. He was my mentor. Such a warm and lovable, brainy brother. At the same time he was such a fierce brother. He was very dynamic—he was an ex-boxer, and he was even on The Little Rascals probably back in the fifties. His main claim to fame was what he did with the gangs in the city. And that was a monumental thing. All that was before Bunchy became a Panther. Because of the death of Bunchy Carter as a result of the Panthers’ clash with Maulana Karenga’s US organization, even today rumors persists that Dr. Karenga was an informant. . . Not true. Definitely not true. What was the Panther clash with US all about? We considered Karenga’s US organization to be a cultural-nationalist organization. We were considered revolutionary nationalist. So, we have a common denominator. We both are nationalist. We never had antagonistic contradictions, just ideological contradictions. The pig manipulated those contradictions to the extent that warfare jumped off. Truth is the first casualty in war. It began to be said that Karenga was rat, but that wasn’t true. The death of Bunchy and John Huggins on UCLA campus was caused by an agent creating a disturbance which caused a Panther to pull out a gun and which subsequently caused US members to pull out their guns to defend themselves. In the ensuing gun battle Bunchy Carter and John Huggins lay dead. What’s your worst memory of the 27 years you spent in prison? I accepted the fact that when I joined the movement I was gonna be killed. When we were sent off to these urban areas we were actually told, “Look, you’re either gonna get killed, put in prison, or if you’re lucky we can get you out the country before they do that. Those are the three options. To survive is only a dream.” So when I was captured, I began to disconnect. So it’s hard to say good or bad moments because this is a whole different reality that had a life of its own. Many people would say that during those twenty-seven years that you lost something. How would you describe it? I considered myself chopped off the game plan when I was arrested. But it was incumbent upon me to free myself and continue to struggle again. You can’t look back twenty-seven years and say it was a lost. I’m still living. I run about five miles every morning, and I can still bench press 300 pounds ten times. I can give you ten reps (laughter). Also I hope I’m a little more intelligent and I’m not crazy. It’s a hell of a gain that I survived. What music most influenced you during that time? In 1975 I heard some music on a prison radio. I hadn’t seen a television in six years until about 1976, and it was at the end of the tier. I couldn’t see it unless I stood up sideways against the bars. When I really got to see a television again was in 1977. So, I was basically without music and television for the first eight years when I was in the hole. When I was able to get on the main line and listen to music and see T.V., of course the things I wanted to hear were the things I heard when I was on the street. But by then those songs had to be at least nine years old. So, I would listen to oldies. And the new music it was hard to get into, but I slowly began to get into that. But when hip-hop began to come around, it caught on like wildfire. It reminds me how the Panthers and other groups started to catch on like wildfire. It reminded me of Gil Scott-Heron. He would spit that knowledge so clearly and that was the first thing that came to mind when I heard Grandmaster Flash, KRS-One, Paris, Public Enemy and Sista Soldier—the militancy. What type of books were you reading? We maintained study groups throughout when I was on main line. Much of the focus was on Cheik Anta Diop—He was considered by us to be the last Pharaoh. We also read the works compiled by Ivan Van Sertima. Of course, there were others. In terms of a spiritual center, what helped you to get through? Well the ancestors guided me back to the oldest religion known to man—Maat. We also studied those meditations that were developed by all of our ancestors—the Natives, the Hispanics, the Irish—not just the ones that were strictly African. The youngest of seven children, Ji Jaga was born Elmer Pratt, in Morgan City, a port city in southwestern Louisiana, two hours south of New Orleans, on September 13 1947. 120 years earlier marked the death of Jean Lafitte, the so-called “gentleman’s pirate” of French ancestry who settled in Haiti in the early 1800s until he was run out with most other Europeans during the Haitian revolution. Lafitte’s claim to fame was smuggling enslaved Africans from the Caribbean to Louisiana during the Spanish embargo of the late 17th & early 18th centuries, often taking refuge in the same bayous that were Pratt’s childhood home. Pratt was dubbed Geronimo by Bunchy Carter and assumed the name ji Jaga in 1968. The Jaga were a West African clan of Angolan warriors who Geronimo says he descends from. Many of the Jaga came to Brazil with the Portuguese as free men and women and some were later found among maroon societies in Brazil. How Jaga descendants could have ended up in Louisiana is open to historical interpretation, as most Angolans who ended up in Louisiana and Mississippi and neighboring states entered the US via South Carolina. Some Jaga were possibly among the maroon communities in the Louisiana swamplands as well. According to the Pratt, the Jaga refused to accept slavery—hence his strong identification with the name. What were some of your earliest early childhood memories? Well, joyous times mostly. Morgan City was a very rural setting and very nationalistic, self-reliant, and self-determining. It was a very close-knit community. Until I was a ripe old age, I thought that I belonged to a nation that was run by Blacks. And across the street was another nation, a white nation. Segregation across the tracks. We had our own national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” our own police, and everything. We didn’t call on the man across the street for nothing and it was very good that I grew up that way. The worst memories were those of when the Klan would ride. During one of those rides, I lost a close friend at an early age named Clayborne Brown who was hit in the head by the Klan and drowned. They found his body three days later in the Chaparral River. And, we all went to the River and saw them pull him in. Clayborne was real dark-skinned and when they pulled him out of the river, his body was like translucent blue. Then a few years later, one Halloween night, the Klan jumped on my brother. So there are bad memories like that. Does your mother still live there? She’s gone off into senility, but she’s still living—94 years old this year. [ She died in 2003 at 98 years-old ] And every time I’ve left home, when I come back the first person I go to see is my mama. So, that’s what I did when I got out of prison. Mama has always stood by me. And, I understood why. She was a very brainy person. Our foreparents, her mother was the first to bring education into that part of the swampland and set up the first school. When I was growing up, Mama used to rock us in her chair on the front porch. We grew up in a shack and we were all born in that house, about what you would call a block from the Chaparral River. She would recite Shakespeare and Longfellow to us. All kind of stuff like that at an early age we were hearing from Mama—this Gumbo Creole woman (laughs). And she was very beautiful. Kept us in church, instilled all kinds of interests in us, morals and respect for the elders, respect for the young. What about your father? My father was very hard working. He wouldn’t work for no white man so he was what you could call a junk man. On the way home from school in Daddy’s old pick-up truck we would have to go to the dump and get all the metal that we could find as well as rope, rags, anything. When we got home, we unloaded the truck and separated the brass, copper, the aluminum, so we could sell it separate. That’s how he raised an entire family of seven and he did a damn good job. But he worked himself to death. He died from a stroke in 1956. With an upbringing so nationalistic, what made you join the US military? I considered myself a hell of an athlete. We had just started a Black football league. A few years earlier, Grambling came through and checked one of the guys out. So initially my ambition was to go to Grambling or Southern University and play ball. Because of the way the community was organized, the elders called the shots over a lot of the youngsters. They had a network that went all the way back to Marcus Garvey and the days when the United Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.) was organizing throughout the South in the 1920s. My uncle was a member of the legionnaires, the military arm of the U.N.I.A. Of the seventeen people in my graduating class, six of us were selected by the elders to go into the armed forces, the United States Air Force. The older generation was getting older and was concerned about who would protect the community. Many of the brothers that went to Vietnam have never gotten past it. You seemed to have made a progressive transition. How have you done that? I’ve never suffered the illusion that I was aligned to anything other than my elders. And my going to Vietnam was out on a sense of duty to them. When I learned how to deal with explosives, I’m listening at that training in terms of defending my community. Most of the brothers that I ran into in the service really bought into being Americans and “pow” when they were hit with the reality of all the racism and disrespect, they just couldn’t handle it. What was it like to be a Black soldier in the US military in 1965? This was my first experience with integration. But I was never was a victim of any racial attack or anything. During the whole first time I was in Vietnam—throughout 1966—I never heard the “N” word. And all of my officers were white. When I went back in 1968 that’s when you would see more manifestations of racial hatred, especially racial skirmishes between the soldiers. But first off there were so many battles and we were getting ambushed so much. Partners were dying. We were getting over run. I mean it was just madness. If you were shooting in the same direction, cool. You were very successful in the military. Why did you get out? On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. I was due to terminate my service a month later. I wasn’t gonna do it. I was gonna re-up ‘cause I had made Sergeant at a very early age, in two tours of combat, so I could have been sitting pretty for the rest of my life in the military. I was loyal and patriotic to the African nation I grew up in who sent me into the service. And after Martin Luther King was killed, my elders ordered me to come on out of the service. King was the eldest Messiah. Malcolm was our generation’s Messiah. And now that their King was dead, it was like there’s no hope. So they actually unleashed us to do what we did. This is why when Newsweek took their survey in 1969, it was over 92% of the Black people in this country supported the Black Panther Party as their legitimate political arm. It blew the United States’ mind. RELATED: Honoring A Panther: Five Reasons Geronimo Pratt Matters Today Black Panther Leader Geronimo Pratt Dies In Tanzania

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