The New Jersey Nation of Islam Vanguard Drill Team—serious-looking young sisters marching in paper-cut precision right in front of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and the masses who had gathered for the State of the Black World IV Conference—looked like something out of an old book on Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey.
The self-proclaimed “provisional president” of Africa had mass black conventions in New York City in the 1920s, almost a hundred years ago, that continue to inspire black activists today. The NOI is an outgrowth—actually, a child—of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. So there was a sense of continuity, a sense of history being in sync with the present, the ever noticeable black time loop.
What kind of gathering was the State of the Black World IV Conference?
It was the kind of meeting where, in front of you, you could see the middle-aged daughter of revolutionary theorist Frantz Fanon, Mirielle Fanon-Mendez-France, sharing private moments with Ester Ogulari, a young scholar-activist studying and participating in the Afro-Colombian movement.
It was the kind of meeting where Yvette Modestin, a black Panamanian, explained that she lives the same “African reality” in Latin America as she does in the United States.
It was the kind of meeting where Danny Glover, known to most as an actor, talked about his world travels as an activist and an honorary leader of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, the group that sponsored the five-day confab.
The SOBW was held Nov. 16-20 in Newark, N.J., the site of the first black power conference in 1967, back when the IBW attendees were young black power advocates. The city is now run by Mayor Ras Baraka, the son of the late artist-activist Amiri Baraka, who was a founder of the Black Arts Movement and one of the conveners of the National Black Political Convention of 1972.
So it was go black or go home.
The talks were either very abstract or very practical. Maulana Karenga, the controversial black-studies scholar who made Kwanzaa—a “first-fruits” celebration in Tanzania and elsewhere on the African continent—into a black American holiday 50 years ago, was present. And he emphasized that the struggle was internal and external, based first on self-healing: a “radical reconstruction of self, society and the world.”
Minister Farrakhan, 83, who closed the conference Sunday to a packed hotel ballroom of about 1,000 very black people, was introduced by New Jersey activist Fredricka Bey as “the last man standing.” He talked about a divine wind that had blown through America, one that clearly and deliberately shattered the expectations of Hillary Clinton and her many supporters.
Trump’s unlikely-voter base came alive because “we are rising and they [whites] are falling,” Farrakhan said. “[He] is peeling back the onion of civility.”
The NOI leader called for a return to the concept of a black America—but this one should have a president; a secretary of state; and a ministry of information, one of culture and one of justice. That way, we collectively control how our communities function, he said.
Yes, history’s weight was ever present.
Jesus “Chucho” Garcia, the consul-general of Venezuela, started roll/role-calling the black intellectual martyrs and their anti-imperialist ideas. He insisted that black people must never forget the names and works of leaders such as Pan-Africanist historian Walter Rodney; Maurice Bishop, the socialist leader of Grenada; and Thomas Sankara, the Marxist former president of Burkina Faso.
There was no debate over the United States’ role, then and now, as an empire. At the postelection town hall meeting, Mayor Baraka called for “a united front” against the United States’ brand of fascism.
“Lincoln facilitated the instantiation of empire,” explained Dowoti Desir, chair of the New York-based NGO Committee for the Elimination of Racism, Afrophobia & Colorism. “Obama was holding up the empire, and Trump is simply going to name himself the emperor.”
The revolutionary spirit that coursed through the convention spoke loudly: The empire must fall. To that end, tomorrow and the day after may be filled with new rages against Trump Tower and its new twin, the White House.