By Mary Alice Miller
NBUF held its 28th Annual Convention July 12th- 15th at the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center in Houston, Texas. This year’s theme, Resurrecting the Black Family: Revolutionary Tools to Build the African Family, Community and Nation, attracted an energized crowd from chapters across the country.
Save our Youth, Inc., a group of young brothers, the youngest being about 6, opened this year’s convention with a spirit-filled drumming that prompted audience members to shower them with dollars, followed by a proud, disciplined female honor guard.
Sister Tabilah Worrill, Conrad’s wife, poured libation to the ancestors in meditation.
Brother Kofi Tahaka, chair of Houston’s NBUF, gave a masterful introduction of Conrad Worill, national chair of NBUF. Worrill led a shout out to all chapters in attendance: New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Seattle, Detroit, Mississippi, Florida, S. Carolina, Bay area and Oakland, and host city Houston. Worill introduced Brother Minister Robert Muhammad from Mosque #45 and Southwest Regional representative of the Honorable Louis Farrakhan. Min. Muhammad explained why the Nation of Islam has a close relationship with NBUF.
The Thursday opening session sizzled with a community forum on the Value of Black Male and Female Relationships. Featuring Dr. Denise Lovett, Pres., Houston Black Psychologists Assoc., the forum presented three African-American marriages representing the spectrum of family longevity. Imhotep Hunter and Akua Fayette moderated the forum. (Sister Fayette hosts and Brother Hunter co-hosts and produces a radio program on Houston’s KPFT 90.1-FM called Self Determination on Sunday night at 9pm. Podcasts of the show can be obtained at www.kpft.org.) Clarence and Jean Dember represented an African marriage of more than 57 years. JaMaymon and Teidra Bandele, (married 3 years) and their 5 1/2-month-old son represented a beginning marriage.
The audience listened with rapt attention as each couple gave their remarks on the condition and promise of African-American marriage.
On Friday morning, National Chairman Worrill gave a history of the National Black United Front since its inception, both domestic and international. Explaining why the focus on Black families, Worrill said, “If we do not have strong families, our people will be wiped out.” Worrill also confronted the contradictions among us and how we too often use guns against one another. Worrill explained the Black family is not just our immediate family, but also the international African family. With that knowledge, we would not treat each other the way we sometimes do.
Several presentations were given under the theme: African Family Tools For Success. Min. Robert Muhammad (S. W. Regional Rep., Nation of Islam) spoke about Spirituality and Religion. Min. Muhammad challenged the hopelessness of the survival of Black families illustrated by common statistics of fatherlessness and crime. He went on to explain that religion is the instrument, spirituality is our nature. According to Muhammad, we focus so much on religion we forget the spirituality in looking for a spiritual mate.
Muhammad continued, “We have not taken care of business sometimes at home. Muhammad said it was Farrakhan who told him, ‘First God, then family, then Nation’. A strong family is a strong nation. There is nothing wrong with loyalty and fidelity to family. Courtship is the process gathering evidence; we must be patient with one another.” Muhammad concluded with imploring us to go back to the ways of our ancestors who built pyramids and civilization. Muhammad said, “There is nothing more revolutionary than going to the movies with your woman- no cell phones, no distractions. Stand by your man, stand by your woman. The children will benefit.”
Saturday afternoon’s session focused on Critical Issues Facing the Black Family. Presentations included Single Parent/ Kinship Care Homes, the Criminal Injustice System and Drug Abuse and Distribution. All testimony was reminiscent of situations in New York. Change the names, the situations were the same. Police brutality, drugs and body-snatching child ‘protective’ services are all common in Houston. Grandmother Virginia Howard is a kinship care provider for her grandson, Franklin. Howard gave a riveting account of a white lawyer who decided he wanted to own/ adopt young Franklin. Howard engaged in a successful protracted effort to gain custody of her grandson, who is now a thriving teen in her home.
Special concurrent workshops were held focusing on Technology/ Media in Your Home, Starting a Rites of Passage Program, Operation: We Are Family, Electoral Politics and International Affairs.
Friday’s event concluded with presentations on Youth and Political Prisoners from Dhoruba Bin Wahad (former Black Panther and political prisoner), Min. Quanell X (New Black Panther Nation) and a youth spoken-word speak-out.
On Saturday morning, convention attendees were treated to a tour of Freedmen’s Town, Houston’s oldest Black community located in what is now downtown Houston. Black people began to settle the area in the 1840’s and established Trinity United Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1850’s. Historic sites in Freedmen’s Town included “The Hanging Tree” (through oral tradition of the elders, it is believed this tree was used to hang African [Black] people) and The Crossroads (an intersection of Andrews and Wilson Sts. with bricks laid in symbolic designs and motifs believed to contain submerged messages and information about the Underground Railroad which went south into Mexico as well as north).
Freedmen’s Town has experienced varying forms of gentrification since its establishment. Black businesses, homes and churches became displaced to make way for Houston’s City Hall, the Albert Thomas Convention Center, the Music Hall and Coliseum, and the Gulf Freeway, which cuts nearly through Freedmen’s Town. Housing discrimination, municipal neglect and waves of construction led Black Houston to form the Freedmen’s Town Association (est. in 1981), which led efforts to preserve, restore and develop the historical area. As a result of these efforts, Freedmen’s Town is the largest historic district in the U.S. and is registered with the U.S. Dept. of the Interior and National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Saturday’s luncheon featured a powerful program: Understanding the Demand for Reparations. Chairman Worrill, Attorney Chokwe Lumunba (New African People’s Organization) and Helene Reese (N’COBRA Secretary) spoke about the Reparations Movement and its relationship to African families. Lumumba announced the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to be held in New Orleans August 29th – Sept. 2nd. This tribunal charges the U.S. with Katrina- Rita- related violations of international law.
A special tribute was given to Houston’s Black community for welcoming Katrina survivors. All Katina survivors with job skills and a willingness to work have been absorbed into Houston society. There are opportunities all over Houston. Everywhere you look there is construction of homes, businesses and shopping areas. Houston is growing and has the 4th -largest Black community in the nation. Although there are ongoing challenges, Katrina survivors are part of the economic growth of Houston.
For those who question the longevity of the quest for reparations, Worrill read a letter from former slave Jourdon Anderson to former slave owner Colonel P. H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tenn. This letter was originally published in The Freedmen’s Book by abolitionist Lydia Maria Child in 1865, and republished in Should America Pay? by Dr. Ray Winbush. In this letter, Jourdon responds to his former master who asked him to return to work after the Civil War. Jourdon requests payment for 32 years of his unpaid labor and 20 years of his wife Mandy’s work minus clothing and 3 doctor visits at a total cost of $11,680 plus interest before he would consider returning to work for the colonel. Jourdon states in his letter, “If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future.” Incidentally, Jourdon also asks “if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane”, Jourdon’s daughters. He goes on: “You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die, if it came to that, than to have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters.”
Saturday afternoon’s session focused on World African-Centered Education. Several presenters expounded on the value of raising our children with an African-Centered Education Curriculum, After-School Programs, Independent Schools, etc.
Operation: We Are Family is a new national NBUF initiative focusing on grassroots organizing, block by block. Stay tuned for more information.
NYC’s Dr. Leonard Jeffries gave the keynote address at the Saturday night banquet. His topic was “The African World Family: Where Do We Stand?” Jeffries began with a critical analysis of the current Black leadership in Bush’s White House and Supreme Court and how they are being used against the interests of African people. Jeffries then went on to declare, “We are in the middle of the Great Awakening of African people.” Jeffries defines the years between 1945 and 1995 as a 50-year period of the development of Pan-Africanism, a great revolutionary period for our people. Jeffries said the 3 elements of a system necessary for African family empowerment, not entertainment, are economics, politics and culture. He continued, “The African tradition is first to describe, next analyze, then prescribe solutions. Survival got us this far, but only analysis and development will take us further. All of us have to find our role in the development of African society.”
Jeffries’ presentation was so powerful attendees got up from their seats and began to gather around the podium while he was talking, as if drawn to a magnet. His conclusion generated a long standing ovation.
Houston has a vibrant black community, illustrated by their attitudes, cultural institutions and independent media.
Houston’s NBUF has its own building, and hosts weekly community meetings and the headquarters has many amenities available for chapter members. Even with its large meeting space, the headquarters was not large enough to host this year’s national convention. That is where S.H.A.P.E. (Self-Help for African People through Education) stepped in.
S.H.A.P.E. is an African-American private, nonprofit organization that was founded in 1969. Its first public service in 1971 was a free breakfast program for schoolchildren (before public schools offered free morning meals). It went on to offer education, employment, economic development and crime/ juvenile delinquency prevention programs for the entire community. S.H.A.P.E. is partially funded through payroll deductions.
S.H.A.P.E. has 2 locations. Location #1 is the Family Center where most of S.H.A.P.E.’s programs take place. The Family Center houses after-school and summer-enrichment programs, parent support group programs and parenting workshops, a fruit and vegetable cooperative (there is a large vegetarian community in Houston), and a legal assistance clinic. Location #2 houses the administrative offices and community center events such as the Wholistic Health Day Conference and a monthly community mentoring group called the Council of Elders. The annual Pan-African Cultural Festival and Kwanzaa are celebrated at both locations. S.H.A.P.E. also conducts an annual Freedom Tour, taking 50 children to the Edmund Petus Bridge in Selma, Alabama; Little Rock, Arkansas; Dexter Ave. Baptist Church in Atlanta; Tuskeegee Inst.; the Lorraine Motel and Fannie Lou Hamer’s birth place in Mississippi 2007 is the 20th year of the Freedom Tour.
It was not easy for S.H.A.P.E. to build all of this. Brother Deloyd Parker has been S.H.A.P.E.’s executive director for over 30 years. According to Parker, securing their space meant confronting 2 forces. The 1st challenge was the police and local politics. The 2nd challenge was internal contradictions. The neighborhood was overrun with pimps, prostitutes, junkies and drug dealers. S.H.A.P.E. “liberated the land by placing red, black and green flags at either corner and planted flowers” declaring the area a safe haven. They put a video camera on the building and took license plate pictures of the drug and sex sales. They then called the wives of the purchasers, who Parker says were usually whites. Once the calls were made, they did not come back. Parker says control of the politics of your community is just as important as control of property. Ownership is wasted if you don’t control your community politics.
Houston easily has a dozen independent black newspapers. The oldest are The Informer and Texas Freeman (‘Serving since 1893’), and The Houston Sun (‘Serving Without Fear or Favor Since 1983’). The KPFT Voice is the official publication of 90.1-FM KPFT, a Pacifica affiliate. Although they offer subscriptions, most of the local papers are complimentary; several boast their fee as “$PRICELESS”. All of Houston’s independent press is supported by local individuals, businesses and organizations- large and small – that readily place advertisements. What the businesses and community at large get are a loyal readership, conscious consumers and news stories tailored to the interests of the Black community.
The Shrine of the Black Madonna Book Store is a strong cultural institution in Houston, located on the grounds of the Shrine of the Black Madonna Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church. It was founded by Pastor Jaramoei Abbe Ageyman, who had close ties to Malcolm X in Detroit. The bookstore is a community center that houses 3 galleries: the African Holocaust Museum Exhibit, an extensive Black Inventors display, and a general Art Gallery. The African Holocaust Museum is particularly compelling, with exhibits that include actual slave era hand irons, a reproduction of a lynched Black man, and a bloody African crouched in a 4-sq.-ft. wooden crate. The bookstore has approximately 600 art pieces in its collection and hosts book club meetings and book-signings, as well as other community events.
Houston has it going on. It was the perfect city to host NBUF’s 28th National Convention.