Past and Present African-Centered African American Scholar Activists in the African American Community: An Introductory Biographical Resume.

Author:Zulu, Itibari M.

We must bring the community to the campus and the campus to the community. Because education belongs to the people and the idea is to give it back to them. ----Nathan Hare "War on Black Colleges" in The Black Scholar, vol. 9, May/June 1979, p.18. Introduction

Part of the original mission of Black Studies was to engage the Black community in cultural-political empowerment and public policy formation. Some units have made the mission a reality, while others have engaged themselves in other activities in higher education usually focused on disciplinary construction within academe, often at the expense of the Black community. Yet, some members of the faculty at particular institutions decided to take Black Studies into the community by creating independent/non-profit community-based public organizations. This exercise is a review of the latter, considering that it has been suggested that the discipline has slowly diminished its relationship with the broader Black community (Jones 2010: 55; Davidson 2010: 96-97).

Historically, Nathan Hare (founding publisher of The Black Scholar), the first director of a university Black Studies Department in the U.S. via San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University) in 1968 proposed a dual mission for Black Studies academics and involvement in the Black community. He writes (as shown above) that "We must bring the community to the campus and the campus to the community. Because education belongs to the people and the idea is to give it back to them", a perplexing set of challenges when he wrote it, and even today. Hence, a communiversity conceptualization involving a liaison between a college or university and the community where it is located, a program now popular at several universities like Clark Atlanta University, a comprehensive, private, urban, coeducational institution of higher education with a predominately African-American heritage that connects with its neighboring community and university center to offer community-focused learning opportunities that enrich the lives of individuals, strengthen the workforce, and enhance the community ( In the same context, this survey argues (as many have before) that Africology (the Afrocentric study/research of the life, culture and history of Africa and African people everywhere, a name proposed as the new name for Black Studies at a symposium held April 24, 1987 at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee) must be involved in the African American community as a developmental partner to enhance the community, and therefore, the college or university (Asante 1990: 197). Thus, in this configuration, there is hopefully a mutual respect for each unit (community and university), and a possibility for an opportunity to build an African-centered (cultural-social ideas and ideals based on the history and culture of Africa) relational application of the moral ideal and ethics of Maat (the seven cardinal virtues) via the ancient Kemet (Egypt) concern for truth, justice, propriety, harmony, balance, reciprocity and order (Karenga 2010:197).

In this commentary, the concern is essentially with African-centered scholar activist leaders (particularly in the U.S.) who have or had direct links in their local communities via their establishment of independent educational-cultural organizations, and scholarly associations. And indeed, within this scope is the progressive lived experiences of other scholars within other philosophical areas not opposed to African agency in a multicultural world community, and thus, they are acknowledged and welcomed in this discussion, upon further reflection, research, synthesis and analysis.

Thus, within this understanding, the scholar activist is defined as a person who has done advanced study in a special field or a learned person who advocates or practices activism by being involved in or in support of actions (e.g., public protest) that are in opposition to one side of a particular (often controversial) issue. And interestingly, Keatts (2011) argues that Martin Luther King meet all of the requirements for inclusion in the scholar activist paradigm, and therefore his writings should be considered for inclusion into discussions concerning 'Africana Studies' and scholar activist theoretical constructions.

Hence, the overall intent here is to profile Afrocentric scholar activists in hope that their work will assist others willing to engage social activism into their academic lives, and thereby energize the body of principles, perspectives and practices instituted by scholars in Africology to progressively allow for a greater appreciation, duplication of context and knowledge in the contours and options of the activist-intellectual that can demonstrate that they are "... dedicated to community service and development rather than vulgar careerism", hence, a cadre that can cultivate and maintain a "... continuous expansion of a mutually beneficial relationship between the campus and the community (Karenga 2010:18)." And consequently, this presentation will: (1) review relevant literature; survey the experiences (rites of passage) of the author in relation to the topic, and (3) present a biography and commentary on Walter Rodney in reference to his Pan African scholar-activism; (4) highlight the commendable activism of Maulana Karenga, Haki R. Madhubuti, John Henrik Clarke, Yosef ben-Jochannan, Molefi Kete Asante, and Melina Abdullah; (5) discuss African-centered scholar activists in relationship to five national African-centered organizations; (6) provide biographical content on scholar activists in four regions of the U.S.; (7) review and provide suggestions on how one can become an effective scholar activist, and (8) conclude with suggestions and recommendations for further study.

Literature Review

Interestingly enough, there is a tiny amount of discourse on the contemporary scholar activist via an African-centered focus in relationship to Africology. However, there are texts like Banks (1996) Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life that begin with the arrival of the African enslaved, "... when medicine men and conjurers held ancient wisdom..." that quickly moves to discussing prominent figures like Alexander Crummell, Frederick Douglass, and Anna Cooper to drift to intellectuals like W.E.B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, E. Franklin Frazier, Toni Morrison, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., but with no solid examination of the African scholar-activist tradition, except by default, should one connect them to ancient African history. And in 1997 (Carruthers) the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations produced African World History Project: "The Preliminary Challenge", a work designed to provoke African-centered scholars to develop a basic tool for the liberation of the African mind arguing that most African historians trained in foreign universities have been shackled with non-African theoretical frameworks, historiographies, and methodologies, and that African-centered scholars should avail themselves of any methods that would benefit the 'liberation of the African mind' by first seeking African ways of thinking and searching before embracing foreign epistemes, which may not be needed and which may defeat the objectives of the project. Thus, Carruthers argues that the volume sets a precedent of letting the African conversation unfold as there is an attempt to forge a consensus on methodology for African-centered intellectual endeavor. The contributors to the volume included a national host of African-centered scholar-activists in the African American community, hence: Jacob H. Carruthers (Jedi Shemsu Jehewty), Anderson Thompson, Theophile Obenga, Vulindlela I. Wobogo, Rekhety Wimby Jones, Asa G. Hillard, Leonard Jefferies, Jr., Adisa A. Ajamu, Mario H. Beatty, Valethia Watkins, Greg Kimathi Carr, and Nzinga Rathibisha Heru (In Memory of Queen Nzinga Ratibisha Heru: 2011). Then, in 2000 Marable (2000) in Dispatches from the Ebony Tower: Intellectuals Confront the African American Experience holds an interesting debate with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on the role of activism in Black Studies; however, the book ignores African-centered scholars-activists like Maulana Karenga, Amiri Baraka, or Molefi Kete Asante. But all is not lost; Marable, although not African-centered, argues in the interview with Gates that Black Studies must be prescriptive, and thus:

It must be in the forefront of providing solutions to real problems that Black people have in their daily lives. If Black Studies does not go into the prisons, where over a million Black men and women are, what good is it? If Black Studies is not going to the community to focus on voter education and registration and mobilize people around issues such as police brutality, or environmental racism, or of the devastating absence of public healthcare, then what good is it? Here Marable (a self-described 'public intellectual') moves discussion beyond the ivory tower to the lived experiences of Black people, but not by excluding others, but in recognition of the special meaning and purpose of Black Studies in what it has for Black people that goes to the heart of culture, tradition, and heritage, a reality than cannot be denied (Davidson 2010: 97).

However, there is no mention of the scholar activist tradition by Marable. But in juxtaposition, in 2003 Kershaw (2003:36) wrote about "The Black Studies Paradigm: The Making of Scholar-Activists" in Afrocentricitty and the Academy: Essays on Theory and Practice to help in articulating a clear role of the Black Studies scholar when he wrote that he/she must be centered, critical, empowering and a scholar activist, an argument he also presented in "Scholarship and the Emerging Scholar-Activist Paradigm in Black Studies" in the International Journal of Africana Studies in 2008. In this vain, Kershaw (1952-2015) of the University of...

To continue reading