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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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Cadbury Incident Shows Corporate Ignorance

Anyone reading this understands the power of words.  Words allow us to share vital information, create new ideas and perhaps most strikingly, influence our thought process.  Words after all have consequences.  So when the folks at Cadbury decided to compare super model Naomi Campbell to a chocolate bar in their latest ad, what exactly were they saying?  And is the supermodel right to be offended?  You be the judge. As a woman of color, I’m very cognizant about the way in which we address ourselves, the way African Americans refer to each other and of course the way others refer to us.  Naomi Campbell is rightfully troubled by the perplexing actions of Cadbury even implying – let alone openly stating – that she is “chocolate” anything.  It’s yet another example of corporate insensitivity towards minorities and proof that advertising rooms are still largely devoid of diversity. The conversation surrounding race and terminology didn’t of course begin with Naomi Campbell and Cadbury.  A few years back, National Action Network, under the leadership of Rev. Al Sharpton, created the Decency Initiative aimed at combating the rampant usage of inflammatory language.  But even as many continue to regularly use words like “ho,” “bitch” and “ni@#a” to address one another, when has it ever been okay for someone else to call us by such names? Let’s even take it back to childhood.  Growing up, many of us had nicknames and pet names given to us by our mothers, but would we ever let a non-family member call us by such a name?  On the hit MTV show, “Jersey Shore,” we often see cast members call each other “guidos” or even “guidettes,” but would any of them ever tolerate a non-Italian referring to them as such?  I think not. As we continue to sort out the indecency of Cadbury’s not-so-subtle reference to Naomi Campbell, will we as African Americans continue to call each other “chocolate?”  Will we denounce the use of the word “ni@#a” or will we just make sure no one else uses it?  Will advertising execs start to think of the imagery that their words create and the impact of their actions?  Or will we continue to live in a world where we are so removed from those different from us that we don’t even know what’s appropriate to say? Let’s hope it’s not the latter. RELATED: Naomi Campbell Sues Cadbury Over “Racist” Chocolate Ads Can Naomi Campbell Fight Cadbury And Become A Model Warrior

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Sharpton’s NAN Opens DC Office To Influence Legislation

Everyone at National Action Network’s first-ever women’s power luncheon was elated when our guest, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, said her department was issuing educational scholarships to African Americans from low-income communities who are seeking careers in the health care field. With presentations by Sebelius and Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama, our women’s power luncheon stressed the importance of recognizing health issues specifically impacting women of color; preventative care; and methods of eliminating the disparity in access to treatment. But perhaps most importantly, our luncheon — like all other NAN events during the 20th anniversary convention — focused on taking decisive action . Over the past few weeks, many of us watched and listened to a national budget “debate” that somehow transitioned into an attack on women, Planned Parenthood and our health needs. But what this mainly male-dominated conversation left out was the slew of vital services, such as cancer screenings and regular gynecological exams that Planned Parenthood provides to so many disenfranchised women who would otherwise be forgotten. Although we can rejoice that Planned Parenthood is off of the negotiating table for now, it will come up for a vote again in the future — as will other gender and equity issues. This time, we must be prepared. We at NAN recently formed our own women’s council designed to monitor gender and race relations across the board, ensure equality on the hill in D.C., and urge other young women to actively engage in the process. The day after our national convention closed, we opened an office on Capitol Hill to stay engaged in important dialogue about women’s issues. We cannot simply hear about legislation; we must read it and study it. We cannot think of governmental policy as something happening over there; we need to understand how and why it directly impacts everyone. As Supreme Court cases based on gender and equity issues arise, we must comprehend what’s at stake and what the outcomes are. NAN’s women’s council will relentlessly work to level the playing field so that every female is strengthened, educated and empowered to shatter whatever glass ceiling she desires. We will lobby and impress upon the government that that African American women are still suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, AIDS and many other diseases at higher rates than other women and therefore we need resources that will break down this disparity. RELATED: What Is A Strong Black Woman ? The Art World’s Most Influential Black Women CNN Asks “Are Black Women Poorly Portrayed On TV?”

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How The Murder Of My Son’s Father Inspired Me To Fight

A few months prior to the horrific tragedy of 9/11, my personal life was already shattered into a million pieces. In a matter of minutes, an issue that too often impacts the lives of African Americans hit directly home. My two-year-old son’s father was shot and killed; our lives left hanging in the balance. But it was precisely during this tumultuous point in my life, that I made a conscious decision to transform the pain and anguish into constructive behavior that could hopefully prevent another family from experiencing a similar calamity. It was at that moment, that I decided to take action. Growing up with parents that were so heavily involved in the fight for civil rights, I was practically raised in the National Action Network (NAN) . Keenly observing and admiring the unyielding work of our tireless leader, the Rev. Al Sharpton , I witnessed first-hand the impact that a demand for equality had on people’s lives. But it was following my own personal loss, that I reaffirmed my commitment to NAN’s cause of seeking education reform, an end to police brutality, impartiality in the workplace, access to health care, fair housing, civil liberty for all and of course an end to rampant gun usage and violence. In NAN’s headquarters of NYC, the NYPD recently released a startling statistic:  in 2010, the murder rate involving African American victims increased by 31%. And sadly, this rise in violence isn’t confined to the big apple. All across the country, in cities and towns in every state, we are experiencing a dangerous elevation that has a detrimental effect not only on the victim, but on all those left behind. When my son’s father was viciously murdered 10 years ago, education, health care and other real-life challenges took on new meaning. In essence, I became a double mom – a mother and a father.  But out of catastrophe, comes hope. We as a community must heal ourselves; it must begin from within. As NAN continues its fight for social justice, we call on everyone to take a stand, and get involved in their community. We call on everyone to mentor a young person, to volunteer at a soup kitchen, to read to the elderly, to help eliminate guns on our streets and to further the importance of education. We call everyone to action. Tamika Mallory is the National Executive Director of National Action Network (NAN) , one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations founded by Reverend Al Sharpton . She is a nationally recognized progressive leader and a fierce advocate for social justice and civil rights. RELATED: NAN Convention stamps Sharpton as premier civil rights leader

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Was Bin Laden’s Assassination Illegal?

NewsOne’s Bakari Kitwana interviews Vijay Prashad about the implications of the recent killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Ladan. Kitwana and Prashad discuss the American public’s euphoria surrounding this news and what this death means for the war in Afghanistan, and the future of America’s enemies—from Al Qaeda to the Taliban. They also talk about the meaning of Bin Laden’s demise to the 2012 presidential race. Says Prashad, “Forget Obama. Forget 2012. What are the long-term implications for American power and authority in a world where others are trying to build up international law as a counter to cowboy-ism?” Prashad also shares insight on the way he sees the death of Bin Laden already playing out in civil rights and human rights circles: “In 1981 Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12333, which disallows the US from pursuing targeted assassinations. Likewise, international law forbids this type of action. I’m very disturbed that there is no qualified discussion about the legality of this type of action. People on the liberal to progressive side seem to have lost their bearings and are no longer able to be serious when it comes to the question of utilizing armed force overseas.” Vijay Prashad is professor and director of International Studies at Trinity College. He is the author eleven books, including his most recent The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World. Bakari Kitwana is CEO of Rap Sessions, Editor at Large of Newsone.com and author of the forthcoming Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama Era. (Third World Press, 2011) RELATED: Osama Bin Laden dead

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Was Bin Laden’s Assassination Illegal?

NewsOne’s Bakari Kitwana interviews Vijay Prashad about the implications of the recent killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Ladan. Kitwana and Prashad discuss the American public’s euphoria surrounding this news and what this death means for the war in Afghanistan, and the future of America’s enemies—from Al Qaeda to the Taliban. They also talk about the meaning of Bin Laden’s demise to the 2012 presidential race. Says Prashad, “Forget Obama. Forget 2012. What are the long-term implications for American power and authority in a world where others are trying to build up international law as a counter to cowboy-ism?” Prashad also shares insight on the way he sees the death of Bin Laden already playing out in civil rights and human rights circles: “In 1981 Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12333, which disallows the US from pursuing targeted assassinations. Likewise, international law forbids this type of action. I’m very disturbed that there is no qualified discussion about the legality of this type of action. People on the liberal to progressive side seem to have lost their bearings and are no longer able to be serious when it comes to the question of utilizing armed force overseas.” Vijay Prashad is professor and director of International Studies at Trinity College. He is the author eleven books, including his most recent The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World. Bakari Kitwana is CEO of Rap Sessions, Editor at Large of Newsone.com and author of the forthcoming Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama Era. (Third World Press, 2011) RELATED: Osama Bin Laden dead

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Was Bin Laden’s Assassination Illegal?

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NewsOne’s Bakari Kitwana interviews Vijay Prashad about the implications of the recent killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Ladan. Kitwana and Prashad discuss the American public’s euphoria surrounding this news and what this death means for the war in Afghanistan, and the future of America’s enemies—from Al Qaeda to the Taliban. They also talk about the meaning of Bin Laden’s demise to the 2012 presidential race. Says Prashad, “Forget Obama. Forget 2012. What are the long-term implications for American power and authority in a world where others are trying to build up international law as a counter to cowboy-ism?” Prashad also shares insight on the way he sees the death of Bin Laden already playing out in civil rights and human rights circles: “In 1981 Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12333, which disallows the US from pursuing targeted assassinations. Likewise, international law forbids this type of action. I’m very disturbed that there is no qualified discussion about the legality of this type of action. People on the liberal to progressive side seem to have lost their bearings and are no longer able to be serious when it comes to the question of utilizing armed force overseas.” Vijay Prashad is professor and director of International Studies at Trinity College. He is the author eleven books, including his most recent The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World. Bakari Kitwana is CEO of Rap Sessions, Editor at Large of Newsone.com and author of the forthcoming Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama Era. (Third World Press, 2011) RELATED: Osama Bin Laden dead

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Was Bin Laden’s Assassination Illegal?

NewsOne’s Bakari Kitwana interviews Vijay Prashad about the implications of the recent killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Ladan. Kitwana and Prashad discuss the American public’s euphoria surrounding this news and what this death means for the war in Afghanistan, and the future of America’s enemies—from Al Qaeda to the Taliban. They also talk about the meaning of Bin Laden’s demise to the 2012 presidential race. Says Prashad, “Forget Obama. Forget 2012. What are the long-term implications for American power and authority in a world where others are trying to build up international law as a counter to cowboy-ism?” Prashad also shares insight on the way he sees the death of Bin Laden already playing out in civil rights and human rights circles: “In 1981 Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12333, which disallows the US from pursuing targeted assassinations. Likewise, international law forbids this type of action. I’m very disturbed that there is no qualified discussion about the legality of this type of action. People on the liberal to progressive side seem to have lost their bearings and are no longer able to be serious when it comes to the question of utilizing armed force overseas.” Vijay Prashad is professor and director of International Studies at Trinity College. He is the author eleven books, including his most recent The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World. Bakari Kitwana is CEO of Rap Sessions, Editor at Large of Newsone.com and author of the forthcoming Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama Era. (Third World Press, 2011) RELATED: Osama Bin Laden dead

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The Top 15 Civil Rights Leaders Of The 21st Century

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By Bakari Kitwana and Hakim Hasan The overwhelming social transformation rendered in the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement is a milestone in American history of such magnitude that it assumes a mythological quality, almost willing us to define the future in its image. But our own post-civil rights movement era requires us to reframe what “civil rights” actually means. Changes in the way many Americans have come to think of the role of government, the overwhelming influence of corporate media, the disproportionate influence of America’s super rich, and today’s activists’ focus on human rights and social justice rather than simply civil rights make the question of civil rights leaders almost passé. Old standards of measures of civil rights success—mass movements and legislation for example—no longer apply. Given the new reality the more accurate question is this: What individuals and organizations were essential in helping move the needle on the most important civil rights issues of this, the 21st century? 15. Majora Carter is the 2005 MacArthur genius who in 2001 started Sustainable South Bronx, an organization dedicated to environmentalism and the creation of Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training, a highly successful green jobs training and placement program. In 2008 she formed the Majora Carter Group [Facebook Page] , LLC and serves as its president. In her current capacity, aside from being a highly sought speaker, she now advises companies, cities, and universities on environmental and business issues. 14. Van Jones [Facebook Page] —who cut his teeth as a grassroots activist using hip-hop as a tool to engage youth in social change around issues like police brutality, education, and incarceration via his organization, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights—turned his attention to green jobs as a way of alleviating dual issues of America’s environmental neglect and chronic joblessness in urban America and beyond. In 2008 he authored The Green Collar Economy . As White House Advisor on green jobs, he brought to America a plan for job creation at a time when business and political leaders have been otherwise stumped on how to do so. Within months of his appointment, conservative attacks led to his resignation and his return to the front lines of grassroots green jobs activism. 13. George Soros and Bill & Melinda Gates. Bill and Melinda Gates [Facebook Page] have raised the clarion call about disparities in health policy and provisions in developing countries. Likewise, George Soros [Facebook Page] , founder of the Open Society Foundations , according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy gave $332 million to his Open Society Institute in 2010, an organization that promotes education and democracy initiatives around the world. 12. Rosa Clemente. Hip-Hop political action groups have served as a catalyst of youth political involvement in electoral politics culminating in expanding the 18-29 youth vote from 40 percent participation in 2000 to 52 percent in 2008.  By 2008, when Cynthia McKinney became the Green Party’s presidential candidate, such was the influence of hip-hop organizing that McKinney chose hip-hop activist Rosa Clemente [Facebook Page] as her running mate. Clemente emerged in 2003 among a number of young activists who took the model of local hip-hop political activism to the national level and made political participation, as well as good old fashion grassroots activism, made sexy for a new generation. Organizations like The League of Young Voters, Hip-Hop Congress, the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and The National Hip-Hop Political Convention were a catalyst for youth around the country. In June 2004, over 4000 young people from 30 states attend The National Hip-Hop Political Convention (which Clemente co-founded) in Newark, New Jersey, to create and endorse a political agenda for the hip-hop generation. Hip-Hop Caucus, headed by Reverend Lennox Yearwood, would follow with a grassroots appeal to youth poor and working class youth in 2008. RELATED: Top 20 Black Radio Jocks Of All-Time RELATED: 10 Greatest HBCU Basketball Players Of All-Time 11. Black Public Intellectuals . Public intellectualism has been seen as a gift and a curse. They are the talking heads that weigh in as experts reading the tea leaves of Black America for national media. From Ivy League-branded Cornel West , Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Michael Eric Dyson to activist-authors Alice Walker and many others in between, such as Boyce Watkins , Melissa Harris-Perry , and Tricia Rose , these are the voices of sanity that provide a counter-balance to the near white-out of Black hosts on network and cable news shows. They may not always consult us, but given the dearth of Black-controlled television media outlets, more often than not they provide voice to human rights and social justice issues of our time. 10. James Rucker. ColorofChange.com is a web-based advocacy group that James Rucker co-founded with Van Jones in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Rucker   had previously held several positions with the grassroots advocacy group MoveOn.org. COC has used social networking to address important issues from the Jena Six to lobbying companies not to advertise on Glenn Beck’s Fox News show because of his unsubstantiated remarks that President Obama “hates whites.” 9. Farhana Khera , founder of  Muslim Advocates . Muslim Advocates came into existence after 9-11 and the now infamous Patriot Act, which instantaneously curtailed many of the freedoms we take for granted. Focused on religious and racial profiling, the work of Muslim Advocates in many ways signals the expansion of the traditional civil rights movement – the broadening of issues and responses to them beyond the black/white divide. Muslim Advocates and the NAACP recently joined forces and sent a letter to Eric Holder, the Attorney General, requesting a full investigation of a FBI raid that resulted in the shooting death of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah in Michigan. Like Muslim Advocates, The ACLU has been at the forefront of fighting these issues. Over the decade, the ACLU has issued reports that document this work like last year’s “Sanctioned: Racial Profiling Since 9/11.” The ACLU was also part of a coalition that filed a class action suit that challenged SB 1070, Arizona’s notorious racial profiling law in 2010. 8. Trail of Dreams. In Jan 2010 four undocumented former students at Miami Dade University (Gaby Pacheco, Juan Rodriguez, Felipe Matos and Carlos Roa), led a 1500 mile march entitled “ Trail of Dreams ” from Miami to DC, inspiring similar students across the country. Immigration reform is still a major legislation issue in the U.S. that impacts the lives of approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the nation. The Dream Act, a legislative proposal that has been a political football since 2001, would grant permanent citizenship rights to eligible undocumented students. On March 21, 2010, thousands of immigrants and their allies marched in Washington, D.C. in a show of solidarity to raise awareness about the plight of illegal immigrants as part of the Dream activist movement. Similar demonstrations were held in cities throughout the nation. 7. Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 , and over the years has increasingly questioned America’s role as a superpower and foreign policy initiatives. His frank talk about the critical issue of Israel as it relates to the Palestinian question is exemplified in his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Carter has also been at the forefront of the need for election oversight in any democracy, including the U.S. and beyond, via his Atlanta-based The Carter Center. 6.  Randall Robinson is the founder of TransAfrica Forum. He has been one of the singular voices and critiques of American foreign policy at the height of apartheid in South Africa, the overthrow of Jean Bertrand-Aristide in Haiti, and the economic policies that thwarted the growth of economies in the Caribbean. Robinson’ s 2001 book The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks brought the question of reparations to African Americans for slavery to the fore of national discussion. 5. Cynthia McKinney is a former six-term member of Congress from Georgia. She was the 2008 presidential candidate for the Green Party. McKinney garnered national attention as a legislator for her outspoken views on the war in Iraq, 9/11, military appropriations and the Bush administration’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina, which left thousands of people homeless. Likewise, as legislators more and more seem focused on issues beyond traditional civil rights concerns, Maxine Waters, (who voted against the Iraq War Resolution), former Senator Russ Feingold (the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act). John Conyers  (who recently proposed legislation against religious intolerance against Muslims) and Ohio’s Dennis Kucinich and former Representative from Florida Alan Grayson are a handful of national lawmakers who remain on the right side of the issues. 4. Craig Watkins/ Innocence Project /Human Rights Watch. One of the major issues civil rights issues of our time is the incarceration of disproportionate numbers of Black and Latino men (over 1 million of the current 2 million plus populating America’s prisons). The Innocence  Project , co-founded by Attorney Peter Neufeld and Attorney Barry Scheck of “Trial of the Century Fame,” has been at the forefront of demanding DNA evidence be used to exonerate those wrongfully imprisoned. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, the only African American DA in the state of Texas was elected in 2007. Since then he’s partnered with the Innocence Project to overturn over 20 wrongful convictions. Alongside The Innocence Project, Human Rights Watch has brought necessary attention to U.S. policy regarding disproportionate targeting of Black men for long prison sentences. Its 2008 report, “Targeting Blacks,” documents racial disparities among drug offenders sent to prison. 3. Jena Six. For those nostalgic about the civil rights era mass mobilizations, the community wave of resistance to the Jena Six trial in Jena, Louisiana was notable.  In 2007, famed civil rights leaders, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, led an estimated 50,000 people who came from all over the nation to protest inequality in the criminal system in Louisiana. Six black teenagers called the “Jena Six” were charged with attempted second-degree murder for beating a white classmate at Jena High School in 2006. The charge highlighted the acute racism in the justice system.  Days before the protest march in Jena, the charges against the teenagers were dropped. 2. Rev. Al Sharpton , founder of the National Action Network , has evolved into sharing a role once dominated solely by Jesse Jackson, that of national civil rights spokesperson. In 2004, he borrowed from Jesse Jackson’s playbook of 1984 and 1988, when he ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic for president. Has been outspoken on issue of police brutality, and in 2008 led a series of protests in New York City in response to the acquittal of officers in the police shooting death of Sean Bell. In 2010 his National Action Network teamed up with the NAACP to lead the Reclaim the Dream March on the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington. In 2001 he was jailed for his participation in protests of US military bombing exercises on Puerto Rican island of Vieques. In 2000 he organized the Redeem the Dream March on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington to protest police brutality, drawing an estimated crowd of 100,000. 1. Barack Obama. The election of Barack Obama represents in some ways the culmination of the civil rights dream, described by Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington “I Have a Dream” speech. Can Black people be embraced for the content of their character rather than the color of their skin? Obama’s success at securing the highest office in the land signaled a significant if not a definitive “yes,” an idea embraced by both the left (Rep. James Clyburn) and the right (Bill Bennett). Forty-three percent of white Americans voted for Obama (not quite a majority). As president, Obama’s positions on jobs, healthcare, women’s rights, education, etc., all lean into a civil rights agenda. But his tendency to cave in to a moneyed elite concerns leaves his critics unconvinced. RELATED: Civil Rights Leader Benjamin Hooks to be buried in Memphis Black leaders are furious over Glenn Beck’s MLK rally Check out our galle ry …

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The Top 15 Civil Rights Leaders Of The 21st Century

By Bakari Kitwana and Hakim Hasan The overwhelming social transformation rendered in the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement is a milestone in American history of such magnitude that it assumes a mythological quality, almost willing us to define the future in its image. But our own post-civil rights movement era requires us to reframe what “civil rights” actually means. Changes in the way many Americans have come to think of the role of government, the overwhelming influence of corporate media, the disproportionate influence of America’s super rich, and today’s activists’ focus on human rights and social justice rather than simply civil rights make the question of civil rights leaders almost passé. Old standards of measures of civil rights success—mass movements and legislation for example—no longer apply. Given the new reality the more accurate question is this: What individuals and organizations were essential in helping move the needle on the most important civil rights issues of this, the 21st century? 15. Majora Carter is the 2005 MacArthur genius who in 2001 started Sustainable South Bronx, an organization dedicated to environmentalism and the creation of Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training, a highly successful green jobs training and placement program. In 2008 she formed the Majora Carter Group [Facebook Page] , LLC and serves as its president. In her current capacity, aside from being a highly sought speaker, she now advises companies, cities, and universities on environmental and business issues. 14. Van Jones [Facebook Page] —who cut his teeth as a grassroots activist using hip-hop as a tool to engage youth in social change around issues like police brutality, education, and incarceration via his organization, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights—turned his attention to green jobs as a way of alleviating dual issues of America’s environmental neglect and chronic joblessness in urban America and beyond. In 2008 he authored The Green Collar Economy . As White House Advisor on green jobs, he brought to America a plan for job creation at a time when business and political leaders have been otherwise stumped on how to do so. Within months of his appointment, conservative attacks led to his resignation and his return to the front lines of grassroots green jobs activism. 13. George Soros and Bill & Melinda Gates. Bill and Melinda Gates [Facebook Page] have raised the clarion call about disparities in health policy and provisions in developing countries. Likewise, George Soros [Facebook Page] , founder of the Open Society Foundations , according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy gave $332 million to his Open Society Institute in 2010, an organization that promotes education and democracy initiatives around the world. 12. Rosa Clemente. Hip-Hop political action groups have served as a catalyst of youth political involvement in electoral politics culminating in expanding the 18-29 youth vote from 40 percent participation in 2000 to 52 percent in 2008.  By 2008, when Cynthia McKinney became the Green Party’s presidential candidate, such was the influence of hip-hop organizing that McKinney chose hip-hop activist Rosa Clemente [Facebook Page] as her running mate. Clemente emerged in 2003 among a number of young activists who took the model of local hip-hop political activism to the national level and made political participation, as well as good old fashion grassroots activism, made sexy for a new generation. Organizations like The League of Young Voters, Hip-Hop Congress, the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and The National Hip-Hop Political Convention were a catalyst for youth around the country. In June 2004, over 4000 young people from 30 states attend The National Hip-Hop Political Convention (which Clemente co-founded) in Newark, New Jersey, to create and endorse a political agenda for the hip-hop generation. Hip-Hop Caucus, headed by Reverend Lennox Yearwood, would follow with a grassroots appeal to youth poor and working class youth in 2008. RELATED: Top 20 Black Radio Jocks Of All-Time RELATED: 10 Greatest HBCU Basketball Players Of All-Time 11. Black Public Intellectuals . Public intellectualism has been seen as a gift and a curse. They are the talking heads that weigh in as experts reading the tea leaves of Black America for national media. From Ivy League-branded Cornel West , Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Michael Eric Dyson to activist-authors Alice Walker and many others in between, such as Boyce Watkins , Melissa Harris-Perry , and Tricia Rose , these are the voices of sanity that provide a counter-balance to the near white-out of Black hosts on network and cable news shows. They may not always consult us, but given the dearth of Black-controlled television media outlets, more often than not they provide voice to human rights and social justice issues of our time. 10. James Rucker. ColorofChange.com is a web-based advocacy group that James Rucker co-founded with Van Jones in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Rucker   had previously held several positions with the grassroots advocacy group MoveOn.org. COC has used social networking to address important issues from the Jena Six to lobbying companies not to advertise on Glenn Beck’s Fox News show because of his unsubstantiated remarks that President Obama “hates whites.” 9. Farhana Khera , founder of  Muslim Advocates . Muslim Advocates came into existence after 9-11 and the now infamous Patriot Act, which instantaneously curtailed many of the freedoms we take for granted. Focused on religious and racial profiling, the work of Muslim Advocates in many ways signals the expansion of the traditional civil rights movement – the broadening of issues and responses to them beyond the black/white divide. Muslim Advocates and the NAACP recently joined forces and sent a letter to Eric Holder, the Attorney General, requesting a full investigation of a FBI raid that resulted in the shooting death of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah in Michigan. Like Muslim Advocates, The ACLU has been at the forefront of fighting these issues. Over the decade, the ACLU has issued reports that document this work like last year’s “Sanctioned: Racial Profiling Since 9/11.” The ACLU was also part of a coalition that filed a class action suit that challenged SB 1070, Arizona’s notorious racial profiling law in 2010. 8. Trail of Dreams. In Jan 2010 four undocumented former students at Miami Dade University (Gaby Pacheco, Juan Rodriguez, Felipe Matos and Carlos Roa), led a 1500 mile march entitled “ Trail of Dreams ” from Miami to DC, inspiring similar students across the country. Immigration reform is still a major legislation issue in the U.S. that impacts the lives of approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the nation. The Dream Act, a legislative proposal that has been a political football since 2001, would grant permanent citizenship rights to eligible undocumented students. On March 21, 2010, thousands of immigrants and their allies marched in Washington, D.C. in a show of solidarity to raise awareness about the plight of illegal immigrants as part of the Dream activist movement. Similar demonstrations were held in cities throughout the nation. 7. Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 , and over the years has increasingly questioned America’s role as a superpower and foreign policy initiatives. His frank talk about the critical issue of Israel as it relates to the Palestinian question is exemplified in his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Carter has also been at the forefront of the need for election oversight in any democracy, including the U.S. and beyond, via his Atlanta-based The Carter Center. 6.  Randall Robinson is the founder of TransAfrica Forum. He has been one of the singular voices and critiques of American foreign policy at the height of apartheid in South Africa, the overthrow of Jean Bertrand-Aristide in Haiti, and the economic policies that thwarted the growth of economies in the Caribbean. Robinson’ s 2001 book The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks brought the question of reparations to African Americans for slavery to the fore of national discussion. 5. Cynthia McKinney is a former six-term member of Congress from Georgia. She was the 2008 presidential candidate for the Green Party. McKinney garnered national attention as a legislator for her outspoken views on the war in Iraq, 9/11, military appropriations and the Bush administration’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina, which left thousands of people homeless. Likewise, as legislators more and more seem focused on issues beyond traditional civil rights concerns, Maxine Waters, (who voted against the Iraq War Resolution), former Senator Russ Feingold (the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act). John Conyers  (who recently proposed legislation against religious intolerance against Muslims) and Ohio’s Dennis Kucinich and former Representative from Florida Alan Grayson are a handful of national lawmakers who remain on the right side of the issues. 4. Craig Watkins/ Innocence Project /Human Rights Watch. One of the major issues civil rights issues of our time is the incarceration of disproportionate numbers of Black and Latino men (over 1 million of the current 2 million plus populating America’s prisons). The Innocence  Project , co-founded by Attorney Peter Neufeld and Attorney Barry Scheck of “Trial of the Century Fame,” has been at the forefront of demanding DNA evidence be used to exonerate those wrongfully imprisoned. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, the only African American DA in the state of Texas was elected in 2007. Since then he’s partnered with the Innocence Project to overturn over 20 wrongful convictions. Alongside The Innocence Project, Human Rights Watch has brought necessary attention to U.S. policy regarding disproportionate targeting of Black men for long prison sentences. Its 2008 report, “Targeting Blacks,” documents racial disparities among drug offenders sent to prison. 3. Jena Six. For those nostalgic about the civil rights era mass mobilizations, the community wave of resistance to the Jena Six trial in Jena, Louisiana was notable.  In 2007, famed civil rights leaders, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, led an estimated 50,000 people who came from all over the nation to protest inequality in the criminal system in Louisiana. Six black teenagers called the “Jena Six” were charged with attempted second-degree murder for beating a white classmate at Jena High School in 2006. The charge highlighted the acute racism in the justice system.  Days before the protest march in Jena, the charges against the teenagers were dropped. 2. Rev. Al Sharpton , founder of the National Action Network , has evolved into sharing a role once dominated solely by Jesse Jackson, that of national civil rights spokesperson. In 2004, he borrowed from Jesse Jackson’s playbook of 1984 and 1988, when he ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic for president. Has been outspoken on issue of police brutality, and in 2008 led a series of protests in New York City in response to the acquittal of officers in the police shooting death of Sean Bell. In 2010 his National Action Network teamed up with the NAACP to lead the Reclaim the Dream March on the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington. In 2001 he was jailed for his participation in protests of US military bombing exercises on Puerto Rican island of Vieques. In 2000 he organized the Redeem the Dream March on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington to protest police brutality, drawing an estimated crowd of 100,000. 1. Barack Obama. The election of Barack Obama represents in some ways the culmination of the civil rights dream, described by Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington “I Have a Dream” speech. Can Black people be embraced for the content of their character rather than the color of their skin? Obama’s success at securing the highest office in the land signaled a significant if not a definitive “yes,” an idea embraced by both the left (Rep. James Clyburn) and the right (Bill Bennett). Forty-three percent of white Americans voted for Obama (not quite a majority). As president, Obama’s positions on jobs, healthcare, women’s rights, education, etc., all lean into a civil rights agenda. But his tendency to cave in to a moneyed elite concerns leaves his critics unconvinced. RELATED: Civil Rights Leader Benjamin Hooks to be buried in Memphis Black leaders are furious over Glenn Beck’s MLK rally Check out our galle ry …

Read More »