Everett Leroy Jones, born in 1934 in Newark, New Jersey, became LeRoi Jones, who became Amiri Baraka. Imamu Amiri Baraka returned to the ancestors during the polar vortex of January 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. He was the last Poet Laureate of New Jersey. The position was retired after Baraka’s tenure, which ended when he proffered his poem, “Somebody Blew Up America,” which also oddly ended the MFA career of the only male in my all-white MFA Program.

A giant in the literary field, Baraka wrote over 40 books, he was a definer of aesthetic, a re-definer of form, the essence of beat, and the fertile foundation of avant-garde. He was a master of intelligent insider art, and he dripped funk. He was elegant in performance, humming, his fingers drumming the podium in communication with higher vibrations. He would name the tune, and unleash the gun that was his tongue.

He was a public man, an icon, once described as the man most likely to move to the front of Black leadership in America. Beloved and set upon, he belonged to the Black world he helped to define and sustain. These observations confer on him immortality; he will live forever to be discovered by children not yet born.

Baraka, founder of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) in Harlem, was mentor, teacher, and colleague to my mentor Marvin X, the Founder of Black House and a progenitor of BAM on the West Coast. When Marvin introduced me to Baraka, although Baraka was older than X, he informed me with a twinkle in his eye and his enigmatic grin that Marvin was his grandfather. So it came to be that Grand Baba Baraka and my Baba Marvin X are twin grandfathers to my practice in the Black Arts. Baraka has returned to the ancestors and my mentor has taken his name. Marvin X is now Marvin Baraka X. I create in a tradition with a lineage; I am a branch on a tree with deep roots. I am because they are.

I am thankful to my mentor for his introduction to Baraka and other BAM contributors. I am also grateful for the quiet places out of the hungry pubic eye to which he made sure that I was invited and afforded the great pleasure of interacting with some of the most progressive creative minds of any time. I treasure my memories of Amiri from these quiet spaces where intellectual discourse and poetic banter slid effortlessly between detailed stories of times, places, and the people that carved the path I walk on. I adore the Amiri of these quiet places where, over wine and a meal, he was an itinerant prophet, teacher, preacher, sewing a gospel out of his living, art making, and his ever-evolving knowing. He was the stripe of scholar that we refer to when we speak of an “intellect.” Such encounters are priceless to learners and essential in the development of scholars. For a creative who creates in the lineage, Baraka helped to craft; there can be no better education, higher privilege, or finer inheritance than to be left with firsthand stories to share.

Baraka will be honored along with other Black Arts luminaries in “A Tribute to The Greats of Black Arts,” on February 17 at the EastSide Arts Alliance. Gil Scott Heron’s Amnesia Band, AmEvolution, WordSlanger, and the legendary Marvin X will light the way in a night of remembrance.  Mr. Baraka will also be center stage as a revered honoree in the upcoming Fifty Years On: The Black Arts Movement and its Influences Conference at the University of California at Merced on March 1, 2014. To register or for more information about the conference, email Kim McMillon at kmcmillon@ucmerced.edu. Press inquiries should be directed to Scott Hernandez-Jason, shernandez-jason@ucmerced.edu.

Contact: Ayodele Nzinga, MFA, Ph.D. at wordslanger@gmail.com.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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