By Adam C. Williams, III
It’s hard to deny and not be captivated by the spirit that encircles both Amari Sekou and Samori Camara when they come together. Their soulful and energetic teaching styles supplement their consciousness and love for people of African ascent throughout their many projects. Meeting during the Fall of 2007 at the formerly known Center for African and African American Studies at the University of Texas, Austin, the two PhD students have formed a dynamic duo ever since. Amari, the North Jersey native, is working on his PhD in the Anthropology of the African Diaspora program, which is the only of its type in the world, while the New Orleans born Samori is finishing up his PhD in African History. Influenced by Afrikan greats such as: Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Amos Wilson, Ayi Kwei Armah, Chancellor Williams, Mwalimu Baruti, Bob Marley, and Peter Tosh the two brothas have produced and currently manage a Black popular internet podcasting show, a multilayered African-centered website, and a school for Black Youth in New Orleans.
Like any other story of progress, their early collaborative efforts developed out of struggle. In homage to Baba (Father) Malcolm X, they teamed up to choreograph a weekly program on a local Austin radio station. Referring to themselves as the ‘Sons of Malcolm’ they sought to bring forth to the people and have discussions on, various issues impacting our people. However, their program which was titled ‘Make It Plain: The People’s Talk Thang’ came to an abrupt end after only a single aired episode. Brotha Samori mentioned that they didn’t let that small setback deter them though, as they set out to find another way to speak to the people and utilized the internet in order to do so. Keeping the same title from their previous program, they constructed spaces to disseminate their messages on internet platforms such as YouTube, WordPress, and Facebook. Here the two scholar-warriors were able to gain a following that spans local, national, as well as global users throughout the African Diaspora.
“And that’s actually overwhelming, you know cause we joke. But it is really something when you’re walking down the streets of New York, or Samori where were you, Baton Rouge, or you know I was in Philly and people be like ‘Yo, I watched the show’. Folks checkin’ us out from South Africa. From Europe, a lot of folks from London, Germany. We got some people in the Caribbean as well. Toronto, also real big, as we went out there last summer and met with some people. So folks is from all over” (Brotha Amari).
Both take great pride in their ability to clearly communicate and package their messages to their people so that it is easily comprehended. Their show uses a combination of interviews (taken from Black people on-location throughout the US during their numerous road-trips), and rhythmic and ‘edutaining’ commentary which includes African proverbs, personal viewpoints and experiences, as well as comedic relief.
“You know, not giving you all the fluff, not giving you all the rhetoric, but making it so plain and breaking it down so that it can forever and consistently be broke. So you can walk away from a Make it Plain show, and know what’s going on, and what’s going on in your hood, and know what’s going on in the African Diaspora, and that’s what we’re talking about” (Brotha Samori).
With the production of over 40 episodes of Make It Plain, which spans across 4 seasons in a 2 year period, the program has touched on a variety of current-event topics that impact Afrikan people in an attempt to move the conversations forward. Brotha Amari comments that they don’t “focus on what Beyonce is wearing for example, so much as to how what Beyonce is wearing is speaking to the larger African community… so we want to provide a progressive slant to the conversation”. In the past, some of these topics have centered on: African centered consciousness, the Black family, beauty and Black identity, spirituality, Black genocide and contemporary slavery, Black business and consumption, the Somalia “Pirates”, independent Afrikan education, US President Obama, police brutality & the injustice system, Kwanzaa, and even the “wisdom” of popular culture.
Through the success of their syndicated show, ‘the Sons of Malcolm’ decided to enhance their reach and effectiveness by creating a website that provides Black people with another alternative and that combats the mainstream media’s powerful influences on Black culture. They decided to build this website (called Black Power Media) in the spirit of Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, who challenged media propaganda throughout his life, as well as the Kwanzaa principle of Kujichagulia (Self-Determination). Through an attractive combination of audio, video, and text, they provide their viewers with a multimedia platform that informs Afrikan people of their collective past and present, as well a collective vision of freedom, which surrounds various elements of arts, culture, and politics. Focusing on what they consider to be basic elements of cultural, economic, and institutional empowerment they along with other Afrikans from across the globe contribute articles and/or their stories. Represented on the website, you will find: news and current event articles on Africa and its Diaspora, arts and culture, holistic health (including recipes, diets, and lifestyles), mind stimulation (book and movie reviews), the Black family, and of course Make it Plain shows. The website even has a feature to translate as they attempt to further expand their international presence.
As Brotha Amari reminds us, media is the plural of medium; the means through which ‘culture’ is disseminated. Believing that the mainstream media has and continues to be a destructive force on Afrikan people, the two young brothas utilize Black Power Media in order to cultivate and transmit cultural power. They invoke cultural power as a key component towards liberating Black people from their perpetual exploitation and oppression. Brotha Samori explains that the ability to control the regimes of images and messages that enter our minds is culturally powerful, and our inability to manufacture our own and/or filter out these invading forces has as Amos Wilson would say, makes it easy for others to manipulate and limit our possibilities and channel our destinies.
“Do you see Afrikan people winning on the television shows that you watch? Do you see Afrikan people outside of athletics and music and being a damn buffoon? Do you see a Black person fighting for Black people on the television screen or even the computer screens as well? You don’t see those things very often, and those things are very disruptive” (Samori).
Furthermore, they explain that these media driven forces are particularly damaging towards the development of our Black youth. From the movies that they watch on television, the music that they are listening to on I-pod’s or other devices, the books that they are reading, or even the websites that they expose themselves to, normally tell only a single story which doesn’t reflect their reality or aspirations. Their identity (how/what they identify with that informs them of who they are) is particularly impacted because these media instruments continually send them misinformation about themselves and their culture.
“You can’t tell me that Justin Bieber wasn’t a cultural thing. Before him it was Hannah Montana and Brittany Spears. Little Black children, ya dig, this is all they’re getting. And then they’re wondering why they don’t have the little hair that swooshes in the front or blond. It’s a small thing, but really these are big things because these are the images that they’re receiving about themselves” (Brotha Amari).
However, even though they believe building and managing our own independent media entities is critical for our children’s well being and future, they also believe it equally important that we take the time out to “actually raise our children”. With this same philosophy and zealous commitment to our youth, the Sons of Malcolm embarked on their biggest challenge yet, their own school. Based in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Kamali Academy is an African centered home based school that is dedicated to producing both servants and leaders for our communities by “cultivating a passion and capacity for life-long learning”. Servicing elementary, middle, and high school aged students, Kamali currently consists of 16 students, both male and female (10 girls, 6 boys), ranging from 4 to 16 years of age.
Samori (who is the Founder of Kamali Academy) makes it very clear that this isn’t just a school, but an institution within a community that is equipped with self-love, self-awareness, and a commitment to the resolution of our collective problems. Samori explains that Kamali comes from the Shona people of Zimbabwe and it means ‘the spirit that protects the youth’. Through a dedicated faculty of educators, artists, and community members, they attempt to provide their students with the protection required to survive and the tools needed to thrive as Afrikans in this world. “To actually raise our children with a firm sense of self. So all this stuff will get to them yes, but, they’ll be much more prepared to combat it. Cause we can’t protect them at ‘all’ times” (Brotha Samori). The Kamali instructors not only teach courses in your so-called core studies of English, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, History or ‘Ourstory’ as they call it, but they also structure their curriculum around various subjects that are generally absent from classrooms that Black children normally find themselves in.
“We also have African language as we’re learning Twi. We also have a garden. And on Fridays we teach some life skills. We teach you how to shop, we teach you how to be a man, what it is to be a woman. Teaching you how to cook if you don’t know how to already, teaching you to be that Afrikan Warrior Scholar that we need you to be, your ancestors need you to be, those yet unborn need you to be if you want them to live in a better world. We try to get the students to understand that’s who we are answering to” (Samori).
“We can’t depend on our enemies for our livelihood, and education is one of our livelihoods” (Brotha Samori). They mention that the “cowardice” of our people to not step-up and take control of their obligations and observations, have sent mixed messages to our children. Refusing to sit idly on the sidelines while others mis-educate Black children in New Orleans (where the two currently reside), they made the observation that enough pieces were in place for them to begin this school. They mentioned that they started the school by not delaying any further and literally “getting started”. Samori says that instead of talking so much, and asking “what should we do?, how should we do it?” they instead just put their ideas and plans into action.
I think someone said long ago that ‘once you make an observation, then you have an obligation’. A lot of people make the observation that the schools aren’t doing anything for us, but what are we saying to the children when we say those kinds of things, in front of them, and then continue to send them to those very same places we know have nothing good for them. So its really just about taking a chance, stepping out and doing what we know is right…So we said, ‘we got a house, we got a living room, we got a kitchen, an extra bedroom, lets get some chairs and invite some people over’. ‘We got some PhD’s, we got some education, you know we got some knowledge, go on ahead and do it. What you waitin’ for? (Brotha Samori).
The two scholar-warriors see the school expanding over the next few years with more students and committed community, but still would like to maintain that “small family atmosphere”. They even hope to build other institutions off of the Kamali model, including businesses and cultural centers where Kamali students “can work, and can have a livelihood”. The two would like to thank formally all the folks who’ve supported the Sons of Malcolm, Make it Plain, Black Power Media, and Kamali Academy over these couple of years. They especially appreciate the tremendous support from the parents of the Kamali students as they’ve bestowed onto them the privileges of helping them raise their children.
“And parents have been coming along who have, man, really entrusted us enough to educate their children. And man, that’s really a blessing, cause I’m still really blown away by that, and I’m taking it in everyday, and that’s a lot of responsibility” (Brotha Samori).
These two young brothas need to be commended for their work, leadership, and fortitude towards our children, and it is ‘our responsibility’ to support them. If you would like to send donations and/or supplies to the Kamali Academy, Please send to: 1216 Merrill St., New Orleans, LA 70114.
For more info on the Kamali Academy visit: http://kamaliacademy.wordpress.com/
For more info on Black Power Media and/or ‘Make It Plain’ shows visit: http://blackpowermedia.com/