By Angela Weusi
Last Saturday the Putnam Triangle was renamed Jitu Weusi Plaza.
It was such an honor “For My Sweet” to have community, friends, and family come together to honor the work that he did over the course of the last 60 years. The occasion joyfully filled with cautious hugs and heartfelt greetings. It was more like a family reunion with us all geared up to give love and get love after the 2020 Covid shutdown.
I can see him smiling and sooo in his element surrounded by the people he loved and for whom his lifelong work was to see thrive.
The renaming of the Putnam Triangle together with re renaming of Grand & Fulton Street in honor of Sam Pinn promises to landmark the triangle as a destination for performing artists and their audiences to gather. Jazz in the Jitu Weusi Triangle…here we come.
The EAST Family and Jitu’s children led the charge for the Co-Naming of Claver Place to Jitu Weusi Way. That single block of Claver Place shines as such a powerful historical marker for independent black education. African centered culture and performing arts took root on that block and 50 years later morphed from a one block African Street Festival event into the biggest black arts festival in New York. The International African Arts Festival. From Claver Place, with guidance from Jitu, examples of black entrepreneurism emerged that embraced the “do for self” philosophy sweeping through black communities in the 1960s. Affordability and access was the key. Reasonably priced access to live jazz, healthy food, clothing, self-help services and a broad range of community-based organizations emerged from the energy of individuals and families who gathered on Claver Place at the EAST. Footprints left on Claver Place came from political activists; civil rights and black power activists; children and parents seeking African centered education and black people from the four boroughs and beyond to immerse themselves in blackness. A luta continua for co-naming Claver Place.
It was spontaneous combustion. No one really planned it. It was a manifestation of Blackness as a sense of place that just had to happen. The 60s birthed circumstances in the communities across the nation that lead to shouts of “Black is Beautiful” and examples sprouted everywhere across this country. Claver Place was Brooklyn’s beautiful Blackness.
Long before Nike’s “Just Do It” became popular, hundreds of people developed expertise that lead to careers and businesses because of assignments delegated to them by Jitu. Throughout his life among his numerous claims to fame was his uncanny capacity to get people to rise out of their comfort zone to get things done. Things that they had never done before, things they did not know how to do. But, they did’em. He was rarely thwarted by obstacles. Most times he could find a work-around or through complications by calling someone in his iconic (never to be duplicated) phone book or old school rolodex.
I wasn’t around in those days. I was on the West Coast, just coming into an understanding of the Black struggle and living in San Francisco. At 16 I met a handsome brother selling Black Panther Party Newspapers and the next thing I knew I joined the Black Panther Party, sold newspapers, and worked on the Breakfast for Children program. My first apartment was around the corner from the Malcolm X Unity House developed and nurtured by Oba T’Shaka and my dear sister friend Anasa. There I got my first exposure to Black nationalist philosophy and learned the details of struggles in Africa for independence from colonialism. Which leads me to want to share this story with you.
In ‘82 I was invited by my college roommate to work in her family’s business in Manhattan. When that job finished, I moved to Brooklyn to Anne Sette’s house. In the spirit of Blackness I put my money in Freedom Bank on Nostrand Avenue. Twice Freedom messed with my meager funds, and I had to go sit with the customer service rep. On this second occasion while talking to customer service I noticed in the bank a man exuding a magnetic energy that I couldn’t ignore. New to town, I was eager to meet my next great love. Only able to see this man from the back with his bulky winter coat and the iconic Jitu green army hat with the ear flaps flipped up, I said mmmmm that would do. But, I was just daydreaming and wishful thinking so back to customer service. I glanced around the bank and saw what I thought to be a familiar face. But surely that was not possible. Oba T’Shaka my Black nationalist mentor from San Francisco could not possibly be standing in Freedom Bank. But, he was. So, when I finished with customer service, we greeted each other, and I found out he was in town on a speaking engagement for a Malcolm X program. After a while Jitu joins us. Apparently, Jitu was there at the bank to get the honorarium to cover the fee for the speaking engagement.
I was strong… but it was truly one of those Diana Ross/Billy Dee William moments. Our introduction led to a dinner date. That dinner at Glorias West Indian Restaurant lasted until the restaurant closed. It led to dinner after dinner and on to a loving friendship that lasted for the next 30 years. I soon abandoned my permed head, miniskirts, and make up for a more natural Afrocentric look. I went crazy trying to remember all the new people who came into my life. There was nothing that I did not like about my new life with My Sweet. I always felt like I was floating a couple of inches above the ground in a Jitu bubble. May 22, 2013 when I could no longer see and touch My Sweet I still remained and remain in that Jitu bubble, floating still in his energy, his teachings and values. Encompassed, still in his aura, wanting to see his dreams for his people realized.
Many thanks to everyone who made possible this monument to a great lover of humanity and advocate for equity for the 99%. Asante Sana