Saturday, April 26, 2014

An Open Letter To Chokwe Antar Lumumba

I know we're not connected in any personal sense, Mr. Lumumba, but writers sometimes feel compelled to wax eloquent or even intimate to and about humans they probably will never meet. I make no apology for butting into your business. I love you from a distance and I'm going to tell you why.

I moved to a small town in Louisiana a couple of hours south of Jackson seven years ago and I cut through a corner of the city five or six times a year when I drive up to visit Angola 3 member Albert Woodfox in a prison up near Shreveport. I accidentally met and bonded with a legislative staff member from Jackson a few years ago. And back in the day, while still a teenager, I even visited one of my aunts in Jackson with my family and swam in an all-White "neighborhood" pool only a matter of weeks after Ann Moody, Joanne Trumpauer, and Hunter Gray (called John Salter then) were brutalized for holding a sit-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter.

But Jackson didn't really hit the map for me until your father, Chokwe Lumumba, stepped into the international limelight in one of the most glorious moments of his most impressive life and led a group of visionaries to commit to and work to establish a bright new world of possibility unapologetically intended to represent and serve all people all the time. I was breathless with the excitement of it. And I wasn't the only one.

Your father's long term commitment to and love of justice made him a hero long before he helped to found the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and even longer before he took on the role of a candidate for mayor of Jackson. And when I first saw that he was running, I responded with a level of hope I didn't realize I could still muster.

"Do you think he can actually do it?" I wanted to run around asking people. But I don't live in Jackson. Hell, we're still trying to desegregate the public schools in the parish where I live. I followed the campaign religiously on Facebook -- reading, commenting, encouraging, and even praying (not something I'm routinely given to doing related to matters political).

As time passed and he made the run-off and was then elected, I went from mesmerized to ecstatic. The world was watching. But not all people were watching for the same reason. The Jackson Plan that electrified some people in the world horrified others. The idea that there is, in fact, a "common good" and that the zero-sum game is not the only game in town was new to lots of United Statians.

"You mean everybody can benefit..?" ordinary people gasped. "You mean it's not natural for a tiny few to wind up with billions while the vast majority go without the basics? Businesses can make money without leaving workers for dead? Who knew?"

But the excitement was short lived. Nine months after he was elected, your father, a man who will go down in history as a man of the people, died. If there was any warning, the public didn't hear about it. And since his "heart failure" came seemingly out of nowhere, there are many yet that doubt the veracity of the attributed cause of death. He was only sixty-six. It seems unlikely that such an analytical strategist and committed family man would take on a high pressure political campaign and highly demanding position if he had any reason to believe it would threaten his health.

The aftermath was like the silence after a big gun goes off. Rather than outraged, the bulk of your father's supporters became hushed. Devastated and suspicious, supporters not only of the man, but of his ideas, became so quiet, the Universe itself seemed to go numb. And then, within three days, you stepped into the breach created by your father's absence and hit the ground running. Forty days later, you were facing a runoff election and Tuesday night, it was over -- for now -- and you can get some uninterrupted sleep.

I've never run for public office, but politics is in my genes. I come from a long line of lawyers, some of whom were elected to positions as high as U.S. Senator or even Governor over the past century and a half. When I was sent to Girls' State at sixteen, I garnered nearly 400 of 500 votes in only three days of campaigning among 499 girls I had never seen before that week. I was paid to write a political speech for an incumbent when I was still on welfare in my thirties. And I very nearly got a young man elected to a school board who had done time for mugging an elderly woman (not one of my finest hours, but still...). The point is I know how it's done. And it's clear that you do, too. But your father was trying to introduce a whole new game plan to the political arena in this country and that's why you ran.

You didn't run because you wanted to be Mayor, though you would have made a fine mayor. You ran because, however it came to be, your father couldn't realize his dream and you were determined to carry his banner into the future with or without him.

I don't want to take anything away from Tony Yarber. I'm sure he's a decent enough guy. He talks about God a lot and that impresses some people, although my concern with that particular practice is that almost all politicians in the U.S. these days are given to talking a lot about God, so that hardly sets him apart. Worse, many God talkers don't live up to their principles and even those that do often find they are irrelevant because the rest of the politicians worship money. Still, he may do a good job and I hope for Jackson's sake he does.

But he's not going to do what your father -- or you -- would have done. And he's not going to accomplish what your father -- or you -- would have accomplished. The Jackson Plan introduced by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement is politics taken in a whole new direction in this country and anything short of that is, I'm afraid, just business as usual.

What am I getting at? It's time for you to get some rest. This is not a sprint; it's a marathon. Your father, you, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement activists, the people around the world that followed the last year's historical unfolding in Jackson with bated breath, and I all know it.

You entered the race to win, but you needed to sit with the pain of the loss of your father for a while first. You needed to find your feet after having the rug pulled out from under them. You needed to hold your father's memory in your arms until what he rooted in your heart could absorb this newest experience in order to sustain you over the long haul. Not every loss is a failure. You demonstrated your love for your father, for his vision of the future, and for those in Jackson and elsewhere who need so badly for that vision to become a reality.

You are the manifestation of your father's on-going presence on this earth. Take your time. We'll be here when you stand up again to take the next step -- whatever that is. And we'll be right behind you when that day comes.

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