Blackman Move On, Ya Gotta Move On Blackman, Move On
The two epigraphs to Journal #13—my first Journal after the completion of college course work—reflected where my head was at the time. The first epigraph was the lyrics (which are the title of this entry) from the Five Percenter rap group called “Brand Nubian.”1 The second epigraph was from fellow Amherst College graduate, Stephen Mitchell, in his translation of the Tao Te Ching, the foundational book of Chinese Taoist philosophy:
Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
From the Five Percenters, like the group called Poor Righteous Teachers, and Rakim, and Brand Nubian, I gained a sense of a grand vision for my people. As Brand Nubian said, “We could live much better than this.” We would, however, have to get united and embrace a life of discipline and a higher code of conduct so we could attain our potential. We would have to heal ourselves from the pain, confusion, and frustration of our 400 year sentence in the “wilderness of North America.” We would have to transcend self-hate. We would have to be compassionate with ourselves… we would have to love ourselves.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself.” Through Stephen Mitchell’s book, I was trying to mend my fragmented self. I was trying to find peace. I knew I could only do but so much to change the world around me. Within, however, I could transform myself, if I were willing to do the necessary healing. Praise Allah, it wasn’t contending with some life altering traumatic experiences–but instead, I had to struggle with a lifetime accumulation of improper living, improper thinking, and improper being. I was going to have to get right with God. I saw no other option.
I felt that the Brothers of the Association I had encountered had a “fire and brimstone” approach to teaching Islam. This does not mean that the Creator of the Universe does not deserve to be feared. But I was, and think this holds true for many people out there who are searching for the Truth, looking to know God, so I could love God. When God is properly known, when a person knows the One Who deserves our ultimate state of subjugation and surrender—deserves our worship–one comes to love himself (or herself) for he understands what is the epitome of his purpose.
Although the Five Percenters, gave me a sense of vision and a sense of a mission, when all was said and done, I was not the Eternal Creator of the Universe. Whatever potentialities that might unfold in the black mind liberated from white supremacy, no human being could rightfully be called “Allah.” From Mitchell’s book, I garnered an abiding sense that there was a prevailing order to the world. This was an inescapable realization given the many summertime hours I had spent immersed in the beauty of Amherst and the surrounding area. Nature had become my mind’s pasture, and it was in that pasture of beauty, I realized this life has a momentous purpose. But again from Mitchell’s book, and other works of Eastern philosophy, I still knew not who was the Creator of this wondrous world. The natural order, as sublime as it is, still does not deserve to be worshiped. The ultimate degree of subjugation and surrender belongs to the Creator of Nature and not to anyone or anything else.
My Journals now take on a different purpose in my life. For one, I would begin to write almost daily for the next year. My goal was to fill up an eighty to one hundred page college ruled notebook each month, and for the most part with that, maa-shaa’ Allah, I was successful. Not only would I write daily, I would write almost anywhere and everywhere. Having graduated, I felt that the intellectual shackles of Academia could be shuffled off, and I could now pursue my own interests as I saw fit.
The Journal became, so to speak, a great “reconciler.” I wrote in the first entry of this Journal: “I want to write, I want to write. I shouldn’t forget that writing is what I wanted to do when I first came to Amherst.” I did intend to go to graduate school, but the first thing I needed to do was to explore and work out the ideas I had in my head. I needed to trust my intellectual-academic hunches. Also, typically in graduate school one tends to narrow his area of study. I wasn’t ready to narrow my studies; I was trying to broaden them in order to put things (in this case, with history, metaphysics, and religion) in their proper perspective. With my Journal, I could write without having to footnote, end note, and otherwise reference with primary sources for the critical eyes of my professors. I could write for me.
Journaling would enable me to slow down my thoughts and delve into the cranium and into the treasure chest of memories. I was pretty much alone at this point, and writing was a source of company and therapy. It was during this time that I would go to the Jones Library (the Amherst town library) and read. I don’t remember now off the top of my head the title, but I read a book of essays by Alice Walker, which further committed me to writing. I could see myself doing this for a living.
Before graduation day, I went to Springfield to visit family. At this point I was in a quandary about what I was going to do in my immediate post-College life. The plan at that point was to perhaps return to Springfield for a few weeks before I would start working at the “Upper Bound” program at the University of Massachusetts. Upper Bound was a program (which I believe is now defunct) for mostly inner city high school youth from Massachusetts to gain some academic skills and experience college life. I had the job lined up with help from the Mentor, but there was about a month before the program began.
My trip to Springfield told me that I could not return. During my three years up in the Valley, I had undergone numerous changes–I had grown in ways I could not have previously fathomed. Amherst opened up new worlds—new universes—to me. Of Springfield, I would write that it gives me a sense of claustrophobia. Although I did feel a responsibility to go back to my home city and help counter the black brain drain (many of the educated or at least moderately functional black folk I knew in high school tended to leave Springfield—as the number of my African-American high school classmates now living in the Atlanta area testifies), I knew that ultimately I could be of little good guiding others if I was still confused about the Truth. And chances were, that I would be less likely to find the Truth in Springfield than I would, perhaps in a major East Coast city.
Having come to that realization—that Springfield was a non-option for the summer or anytime soon thereafter–I decided to stick around on the Amherst campus until the Upper Bound gig started. I considered there were worse places to be than in Amherst, and there were worse things I could do than gaze off from Memorial Hill and meld my mind into the broccoli-crowned greenery of the Holyoke Mountain range. Amherst would be home for yet another summer.
I worked as a research assistant for the while I was living on campus. [After not seeing him for more than 20 years, I had a chance to reunite with this professor last year, when he came to Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) last year for a lecture.] I would be poring through volumes of the WPA Slave Narratives (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_Narrative_Collection) taking notes and helping the prof with a book he was writing about Booker T. Washington. My memory of the things I read is sketchy, but the narratives did drive home to me at the time how deep the legacy of the slave experience was embedded into black culture and the black psyche. Although that was the case, I was convinced that if black folks wanted to liberate themselves, they would have to look beyond slavery and the shores of America to gain a sense of historical orientation. That is one of the reasons why the ancient civilizations of the Nile Valley, Afrocentricity, and Islam appealed to me so much at the time.
I would stay at Tyler Dorm again for the summer. My schedule was flexible. I worked for the Mentor at his shop, and I would go to the library to do research. In the mornings I would steal off to the campus bird sanctuary. There was an underutilized garden at the end of the service road, where I would do yoga postures and meditate. I had returned to meditating in an effort to try to attain the level of internal tranquility and clarity that I had lost during the semester. Again, I had a lot going on in my head, and I had no one I felt I could turn to get the answers to my questions. I simply did what I considered was the best I could do: namely, look within and seek to know at least myself, if nothing else.
As I said, the Journal was also therapeutic. I had read a book by Natalie Goldberg entitled, Writing Down the Bones. One of the chapters was entitled, “Going Home,” in which she discussed the importance of being comfortable with where one is from. Unlike anytime before—or after, for that matter—i was striving to come to grips with the notion of “Home”—not merely in the geographical sense, but also in the sense of my past.
Many childhood memories that would have otherwise escaped me are recorded in those post-Amherst-Amherst Journals. As I sought greater self-understanding by taking trips through the head and excavating memories, I wrote them down, and have them preserved by a mind that is more than twenty years closer to the memories of childhood. It was in those Journals that the then current quest for Truth was merged with the past which had molded my personality, and with that came greater self-understanding and greater self-reconciliation.
1The Five Percent Nation, or the so-called “Nation of Gods and Earths” was a splinter faction from the so-called “Nation of Islam.” Both factions teach that the (black male) human being is “Allah.” Ascribing a bodily or spatial characteristic to the Creator is itself blasphemy; hence all the more it is blasphemy to claim that the Creator of the universe is composed of flesh, blood, and entrails.