Black Agenda Report Book Forum editor Roberto Sirvent interviews community organizer Kalonji Changa.
Roberto Sirvent: Can you please share a little bit about your background, including how you became involved in community organizing?
Kalonji Jama Changa: I was born and raised in Bridgeport, CT., and I can say that fighting tyranny and oppression literally flows through the blood in my veins, beginning with my Great Great Grandfather, Sam Pace, a Seminole who defended his brother Aaron against an attempted kidnapping which resulted in the fatal wounding of seven US Marshals. I officially made a conscious effort to immerse myself into organizing after I saw a flyer for a Mumia Abu-Jamal rally that was scheduled to take place in New York in 1987.
What are some of the struggles that the Siafu Movement are currently involved in?
Besides police terrorism, working around political prisoners and education, we are working on obtaining and developing land. We unite with what Malcolm X was saying regarding land being the basis of power. It is the foundation for growth. One of our main endeavors centers around land and housing through a program specifically aimed at the preservation and sustaining of our movement elders. Liberation Housing serves as transitional & wellness habitations for veteran freedom fighters. These transitional houses are designed to provide temporary shelter and promote wellness and independence by providing supportive residential and outreach programs with a mission to help the veteran organizers to retain valuable and meaningful roles in the community by supplying them with much needed essentials and dire assistance.
Why are survival preparedness and communal self-defense such key priorities in your organizing work?
We have been victims and targets of the very violent system of capitalism/global white supremacy, primary and secondary predators (state sanctioned and social pariahs) along with man-made and natural disasters. Knowing the climate and conditions that are the root causes of the suffering and destruction, we feel it is nonsensical to continually position ourselves as ill prepared reactionaries. It is imperative that liberation organizations establish survival mechanisms which include training immediate responders, agricultural programs (community farms and coops), as well as programs geared towards community control of public safety. Through the FTP Movement (Siafu Movement) we have organizations such as the Urban Survival and Preparedness Institute (USPI) and Steel Standing, both of which offer extensive training from master level instructors on survival, preparedness, medical and trauma. One of our instructors Doc Peggins is a 25 year combat medic, the USPI co-chair Balogun Ojetade is a special forces vet and has just celebrated 50 years in Afrikan Martial Arts. Along with these brothers, we have numerous seasoned freedom fighters with various skill sets who have our people’s liberation and best interests at heart.
You’ve had some very perceptive critiques of celebrity activists, professors, and other “social justice workers”. Why is it so important for Black communities to continually call out these elite people, spaces, and institutions that claim to serve them?
I appreciate this question because so many people get it twisted and lazily chalk up our brand of direct confrontation as “hating”. I am a hater. A hater of bullsh*t. We don’t have the luxury of performance politics, fashionable militancy, empty rhetoric and sidetracking the masses. The fact that that we have “celebrity activists” is a testament to the very backwards nature of this society. The world sits back and watch these celebrity activists brag about their Grammy appearances, BET Awards, Netflix deals, Cadillac commercials etc., with no mention of any justice for the families of the victims of police terrorism and other forms of white supremacy. The families continue to suffer as these characters benefit and feast off of the dead bodies of the victims like vultures. I call them “grave robbers”. Many of these so-called celebrity activists and others mentioned are strategically positioned, carefully inserted and sprinkled within our peoples liberation movement. We believe that in many cases it is by design to derail, water down and co-opt any authentic efforts from legitimate forces and liberation fronts. We deem it necessary to confront and address these contradictions before they linger, fester, confuse and destroy the movement. I would like to also point out that there are liberal forces amongst us who as the Public Enemy song would say, “Would rather switch than fight the power”. Liberalism is counter-revolutionary and aids in tarnishing the movement. Combatting liberalism is the elixir to eliminate and remove the tarnish and rust from revolution.
How does this force us to re-think our idea of who truly is (and is not) an “expert” on Black liberation?
Well, it leaves us to ask the question the Hip Hop group Little Brother posed in one of their songs, “Do you really wanna win or do you wanna look good losing”? We have been looking good for at least a century as the best dressed and most arrogant slaves on the planet. The Black Liberation “experts” have to be measured by intent and purpose along with theory and practice. Would they do the work if there was no grants, social media or acknowledgments?
Relatedly, you’ve long been consistent in your critique of “Black faces in high places.” Can you share why this ideology is so seductive and dangerous today?
Black faces in high places are dangerous because the masses get caught up in symbolism and style over substance. They become confused and fall for perceived power over real power. An example would be Plantation Manager Joe Biden. He has appointed close to two dozen African Americans (mostly women with European husbands and wives) to his cabinet and senior advisors—more than any other President (including the one he served under), and there has been no significant changes in the conditions we live under. Yet, because there is a Black Woman Vice President, a Black Woman Supreme Court Justice and Black Woman Press Secretary, many Black people, including activists, somehow equate that to “Black Girl Magic”. When it comes to this imperialist regime, it’s not “Black Girl Magic,” its Black Girl Tragic. It looks good in theory, but in practice its lethal.
How can BAR readers support your work?
First, I’d like to thank you Roberto for the interview. I truly appreciate the very necessary work you, Margaret Kimberley, and others are doing over at BAR. We have several projects that we are working on where we rely on the support of the people. Our websites include: Thepeoplesarmy.org, Organizingisthenewcool.com and Blackpowermedia.org. Supporters can also follow me on twitter: @KalonjiChanga.
Kalonji Jama Changa is a seasoned organizer/activist and founder of the FTP Movement. He is author of the bestselling book, “How to Build a People’s Army” and co-producer of the documentary “Organizing is the New Cool”. Kalonji Jama Changa currently serves as co-chair of the Urban Survival and Preparedness Institute and is co-founder of Black Power Media.
Roberto Sirvent is editor of the Black Agenda Report Book Forum.