Author and community organizer Ahjamu Umi is building a new chapter of the international All African People's Revolutionary Party in Portland, starting with Pan-African Film/Discussion Nights on the last Wednesday of every month. Their first event is, "From Black Power, Forward to Pan-Africanism! A Tribute to the Life and Contributions of Kwame Ture (formally Stokely Carmichael),” on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 6 to 9 p.m. at the Smith Memorial Student Center at Portland State University, Room #329.
Umi is well-known to readers of The Skanner News for his work in support of elderly homeowners facing foreclosure and also his writing, which includes a novel about race and racism in rural Oregon, “Find the Flower That Blooms.”
Kwame Ture was born in Trinidad and at the age of 10, moved with his family to New York City. While attending HowardUniversity he joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, enduring dozens of beatings in the 1960s while organizing in Mississippi and Alabama. In 1966 he was elected SNCC's national chairperson and soon afterward he became internationally known for his articulation of "Black Power."
The Skanner News spoke with Umi last week on the life and legacy of Ture (1941-1998) and why the respected Civil Rights figure’s work resonates today.
TSN: I bet a lot of young people today have never heard of Kwame Ture. What made you decide to celebrate him?
Umi: The important thing about Kwame’s life is that he was always dedicated to organized struggle. He understood, and he constantly preached the message, that change comes about through mass participation. So if a law is passed that represents forward progress – if something gets done -- there’s always a movement behind that. Kwame was in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, when he left that one he was in the Black Panther Party, when he left that -- when he moved to Africa -- he was a member for the rest of his life of the All African Peoples’ Revolutionary Party, so he constantly promoted that.
The other thing that’s important about Kwame’s life is he was totally committed to integrity and principal. Here’s a man who was internationally renowned for his participation in the Civil Rights Movement. He could have become a mayor of any big city, he could have become a chancellor of any large university like the political contemporaries that he had at the time – people like John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, etc – but instead he chose to move to Guinea, which is one of the poorest countries in the world, no electricity, no running water. He chose to live the last 30 years of his life dedicated to the revolutionary principals in organizing work that he was committed to.
TSN: There’s another piece that comes into play, and that is the African and African American divide. Can you talk about that?
Umi: I think that’s at the core of what Kwame’s life represents – that African people are the same no matter where we are in the world. He often quoted Kwame Nkrumah, who he took part of his name from. Nkrumah was a great Pan-Africanist who was the first president of Ghana, actually, and Nkrumah went to school here in the United States, he went to TempleUniversity in Philadelphia. Nkrumah, who was a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, returned to Ghana and led the independence movement there and became president of that country. Nkrumah talked all the time about how we have differences wherever we’re born, but our similarities outweigh our differences.
The reason that makes sense is because, if you look at it, the reality of why African people are scattered all over the world – there are political reasons for that. It’s not as if we were all in the same place and decided individually that we wanted to live here and we wanted to live there. It’s colonialism and slavery that for the most part are responsible for the fact that we live today in 113 countries around the world.
And it’s also a major reason why we have such distrust among each other, because of the colonial system that trained us to be distrustful of each other and to have a lack of appreciation for who we are, where we’re from and what we’ve contributed to the world. Even understanding that we’ve contributed anything.
So this is the message in the work that Kwame was involved in, eradicating those negatives and bringing out the positive that no matter where we are we are still part of the same nation and our future is tied to one another.
TSN: For people who are motivated by these issues, is there a group or an effort that they can plug into to participate and learn more?
Umi: Yes absolutely. Like I said earlier, Kwame was a member of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party, an organization that I belong to that I am initiating a chapter here in Oregon. It’s a pan-African, independent, revolutionary political party that’s based in Africa, our base is in Guinea Bissau. We are an organization that has chapters all over the world, we’re working for this pan Africanism that I’m talking about. We also work and support other peoples’ struggles, that are not of African descent who are also struggling for justice.
So it’s something that everybody needs to get involved in. People can learn more about us, they can contact us at [email protected].