Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Eulogy of a black man's dream

The film Mumia - Long Distance Revolutionary will be shown at the Hayti Heritage Center on Thursday, June 27 at 5:30 pm.  The short film The Manfacturing of Guilt will be shown at 7:45 pm.  Join The Rev-elution, Rachel Wolkenstein (a member of Mumia's defense team and legal consultant for The Manufacturing of Guilt), Jamal Hart (Mumia's son), Keith Cook (Mumia's brother) and local activist for a discusion following both films.

A donation of $5 will go toward supporting the work at the Hayti Heritage Center.

This essay reflects on the underlying emotions associated with the incarceration of Mumia Abu-Jamal

I stepped on the bus draped in black.  I was wearing my death clothes.

Three deaths in one week – two men who mentored me into manhood and a cousin who was more like a sister.  My head remained bowed to hide the tears as bus 9B left the downtown terminal.  The sense of doom filled the air as I struggled to find room for my legs in a seat intended for someone much shorter.

My black Perry Ellis suit, black English Landry shirt and black Kenneth Cole shoes stood in contrast of the attire of the others on the bus.  Hidden beneath my garments was the soul of a hurting man.  The cloud over my head served as a warning that a thunderstorm of tears could come at any moment – like a flashflood.

The bus turned right onto Pettigrew Street. 400 yards later we stopped at that intersection – the one that exposes the best of Durham and the worst of Durham. I gazed at the Durham Performing Arts Center.  Thoughts of past dates flickered in my mind like a movie trailer. I remembered dancing with the group Brick and feeling something deep when Chaka Khan took off her shoes.

A quick moment away from the pending inner rain was shaken by the building across the street.  It reminded me of dismay.  It forced me to contemplate the deep misery begging to break free. The image of black faces hardened by disappointment took center stage.

The county jail.

Thoughts of mentors now dead.  Thoughts of close calls avoided for reasons I will never understand. Thoughts of old games played while pretending to be tough.  Thoughts of black men playing games in a world consumed with making the jail their home.

Could have been me.

Deeper thoughts now.  I wonder how many don’t belong there.  How may didn’t commit the crimes? How many are assumed guilty until proven innocent?

Welcome to the black man’s world.

The jail is the abode for those presumed guilty despite the evidence. The proof of guilt is race.  All of them are that way.  All of them.  Put him away.

The sound of steel bars slamming in my face.  Guilty.  Guilty of being a black man in America.

No, that can’t be true.  What about the American Dream?  What about the lessons I learned from my mentors?  Was it for nothing?  What happens when a black man fights for freedom in a way that counters the interest of the protectors of the white American Dream?

Are you discounted for sharing frustration?  Are you censured for refusing to walk the line of mainline suitability? What happens to those who decry injustice and demand to be heard? What profit is there for those pleading for space in a room controlled by a divergent view?

What happens when you scream for justice?

Do they lock you up? Do they deny you work until you assimilate within a larger culture that defines merit by class?

What happens if you scream?

My mentors taught me to survive based on the assumption that education would level the playing field. They weren’t prepared for this.  They underestimated the hostility among some that keeps a foot on black men’s necks. Too many can’t feel the rage that traps black men in a cycle leading to escalating dysfunction.

They say black men are making excuses. It’s their fault.

I call it death.  What else could it be? Black men watch as others pass them by. They watch as others reap benefits denied them for reasons hard to understand.  They fight to be seen and heard.  They play the game until they discover a set of different rules.

Go to jail.  That’s where you belong.

Madness everywhere you look. Don’t speak. Fit in. Pretend you are just like me. Don’t complain. It’s your fault.  No one is to blame but you.

Pray more. Go to church.  Strip yourself of all that pride.  Get over the truth of a racist history.  Others have made it.  Why can’t you?

The bus turns left onto Roxboro Street. Glasses in my hand in wait of the tears. 

“Mumia Abu-Jamal, they locked you up for telling the truth,” whispers. “They fight against your freedom to deny efforts to keep us back.”

Eyes closed harder now. Head hurting to fight the pain.

“Release us from the pain associated with proving we belong,” more whispers. “Create a place that grants us the freedom to be.”

The jail is behind me now.  We turned right onto Dowd Street, one of Durham’s inner city havens of blues.  Black men crammed the bus headed to the recycling of pain.  Another day of disappointment.  No plan of escape.


We lay to rest the lives of those who believed in better days. They leave behind countless failures.  Their work is left to those who made it to the river.

They’re still waiting for the parting of the river to pave way for the crossing to the other side.

Rest in peace dreams.

Welcome to the nightmare.

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