Observations on Carrying Forward the Black Radical Tradition After Philly

by Sis. Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture

Organizers of the very successful Jan 7-10 Philadelphia conference on Reclaiming the Black Radical Tradition have pointed to “a pattern of disruption” by pursued there political elements who sought to undermine the conference's legitimacy and unity. Why? Who were these people and what are their politics? A friend who lives in Philly and attended the conference offers this useful picture, along with cogent observations and suggestions.

The Black Radical Tradition, Suggestion on Going Forward

by Sis. Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture

Revolutionary and Pan-African Greetings to everyone who reads or hears this.

I am very grateful to have attended the January 8-10 Black Radical Tradition conference here in Philadelphia where I now live.

It was a brilliant, courageous, very informative and powerful conference. It featured local and nationally known organizers/activists, radical public intellectuals, LGBTQ folks, people of faith, etc. It brought together veterans and younger people from various social justice campaigns. It included such prominent people as Dr. Angela Davis, poet Sonia Sanchez, Dr. Cornel West, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Dr. Robin Kelly , Vijay Prashad and many others. The BRT Organizing Collective is a multiracial, multigenerational collective that did a great job of putting together such a conference in a mere four months and did not charge participants a registration fee. Now more than ever, such a conference is not only necessary, but vital for our Movement, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the soon to be post-Obama era. Of course, as with any great effort, there were challenges along the way, yet it was an overwhelming success with over 1,000 people in attendance.

I wish to make a contribution to future conversations about this conference and make some suggestions on how to help this process go forward.

Respectfully, but emphatically, I was very disappointed and dismayed by the mini-protest some folks, mostly youth, did on Sunday, this last day of the conference. While the grievances I heard were legitimate, having such a protest, a disruption with signs, chants, talking over such beloved veterans of our Movement such as Pam Africa, etc., was counter-productive, arrogant, politically immature, reactionary and dangerous. I was especially saddened to see folks in the Washington, DC delegation involved, including some members of Black Lives Matter DVM, a youth group called Melanin Rising, etc. These are folks I have the utmost respect for and have worked with when I lived in Washington, DC. I can only wonder if those that participated in this protest really thought this out carefully and I wonder why did the chaperones allow, encourage and/or participate in such an unwarranted disruption.

Painful lessons in our Movement history have taught us that such political disagreements should never lead to public antagonistic displays. For example, past similar incidents such as this led to the 1969 UCLA shoot out between member of the Black Panther Party and members of Ron Karenga’s US (United Slaves) where BPP members John Huggins and Bunchy Carter were shot and killed; the 1983 overthrow of the revolutionary government of Grenada and the murder of New Jewel Movement leader Maurice Bishop and several others, etc. So to the WDC delegation that participated in this mini protest, yes you are courageous and bold in shutting down Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and her pro-police policies, you are a force to be reckoned with in protesting WDC Police Chief Cathy Lanier and her policies, etc., and that’s the way it should be – they are the enemy of our people, of our Movement. But to do such a protest at this conference, among our beloved Movement Family and principled allies, you in essence declared war on our Movement Family; even if it was not your intent, you acted like you were sent. This must be understood as unacceptable and must not ever happen again. Surely we can all find better ways to discuss and resolve political differences.

For the grievances I am aware of – some people were upset about respectability politics and how sex workers are treated by our people. I can’t speak to all of this because I did not hear or see anything of this nature, but one sister was upset about some words used by one of Lesbian sisters, a reverend. Sister reverend simply stated that the words she used back in the day, she wanted to know why such words were now offensive or triggering. She repeatedly apologized and explained she was seeking a better understanding. She admitted her ignorance about how the meaning of such words has changed and she sought more information.

Another grievance I heard was about seating. On Saturday, the main auditorium where the panels were held was often filled, almost to capacity. I distinctly heard someone say they thought all the White people should give up their seats to the Black people present, especially to the youth. I sat next to someone from WDC who said something to this effect; why would this be necessary, is this a power trip? Perhaps it would have been better to ask one of the conference organizers to make an announcement, “this space is very crowded and we have young people who need a seat. Please remove your coats and bags from the seat next to you, please move down to make more seats available and for those that don’t mind, can you please give your seat to a young person?” There’s always a right way and wrong way to do things and calling out privilege and holding people accountable does not require being cruel and oppressive to others.

There was also the issue of the BRT conference being a Black-only conference. And some people in the WDC delegation actually thought that was going to be the case and I heard some WDC folks say that and words to that effect were on one of the protest signs. As members of the BRT organizing collective said on Sunday, this conference was never advertised as such and anyone who thought so misunderstood the conference information on the website. The sister from Pittsburgh who boasted, “Did you attend the Black Lives Matter conference in July? It was an all-Black space, it was great, you should have been there!” Someone should tell her that the money that paid for that conference did not all come from Black people.

For me, this was the most distressing part of the mini protest and the tense conversation that followed. As I said on Sunday, the Black Radical Tradition has inspired non-African, justice-loving people around the world and such people have also been allies and comrades with us in this long, proud tradition. Respectfully, the political ignorance on this point was staggering and shows that throughout our Movement, there will always be a critical need for constant political education and training. This is how we build the Movement and nurture future leaders.

Now I agree, there should have been a workshop session or panel set aside as a “people of African descent only” space and I hope that is done next time. But on principle, I would never agree to a Black Radical Tradition conference being Black/African people only; that would be absurd and ahistorical. And we can’t help but notice this mini protest was held on Sunday, the last day of the conference when most people and most of the more prominent people had left.

So as I said on Sunday, if the conference had been a Black/African people only space, are you saying the great Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh would not have been welcome? He was inspired by the powerful Harlem speeches of Marcus Garvey in the 1920s and then some 40 years later he (HCM) inspired Kwame Ture and other students of SNCC when they visited him in Vietnam in violation of the then U.S. ban on travel to that country. Did you forget how Malcolm X spoke highly of Ho Chi Minh? Did you forget his (HCM) writings about lynchings and Jim Crow racism?

Would Japanese-American freedom fighter and comrade friend of Malcolm X, Yuri Kochiyama not be welcome? Even though she witnessed his death that fateful day in the Audubon Ballroom?

Would Fidel Castro of Cuba not be welcome, someone who Malcolm X also admired and met at the Hotel Theresa in New York City in 1960?

Would Cesar Chavez not be welcome given the mutual admiration and respect he and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had for each other as expressed in telegrams? And Coretta Scott King’s public appearances with him in support of the United Farm Workers’ campaigns?

Would Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yassir Arafat not be welcome?

In closing, this has been a most interesting learning experience for all. Thus, I am willing to make myself available for any future conversations, meetings, etc., to assist this process of going forward in the most fair, productive way possible. I would like to make the following suggestions, knowing other people may have more or better suggestions to make:

► The folks that staged the mini protest make a sincere, public apology to the BROC Organizing Collective,

► Have a series of more private conversations between the protesters, the BROC Organizing Collective and any neutral parties to address concerns and come up with possible short term and long term solutions,

► Reflect on some possible political education materials/activities, and more specifically, come up with ways to handle political disagreements in a calm, non-antagonistic way,

► Think of possible future opportunities to build trust, mutual respect and revolutionary love and camaraderie with others,

I sincerely wish each and everyone the very best in all our endeavors to take our Movement forward. I am especially proud and inspired by all the youth that attended and/or participated; our future is truly in good hands. Thanks to you all!

In the words of my big brother, Kwame Ture,
Sis. Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture can be reached via email at [email protected]

The statement of BROC, the conference organizers, on the pattern of disruptions can be found here.