op-ed: black history from my lens—lessons that i was blessed to listen to

February 11, 2016

As a Black Man:
My Black History: It goes back my years as a teenager, Black Baltimore days in the 1990’s, when an elder that I respected rolled up on me while I was standing on the corner of Madison & Wolfe Streets in East Baltimore. Alone on a summer night. He whips out a Black Panther newspaper (that may have been older than me) & hands it over to me; it was unspoken that he wanted me to read something. I opened it up, & then he elaborates in a rapid tone, details about the Movement, safe-houses, breakfast programs, Mutulu Shakur to Eddie Conway, Black Panthers presence on Jefferson Street in East Baltimore. All of these mentions were his consistency layering into his own balancing beam that were confidently linked to his dedication expanding into always being Black & Proud. From there, he expounded on how Baltimore used to be about Black businesses being within reach to the Black community, & consumer, from East to West, how we looked out for our Brothers, Sisters & respected our elders—the pride of going to Morgan State or Coppin were academically healthy for the Black mind to grow into powerful thinkers.

As a grown man, 18 years later, up in Harlem, New York, I got into an argument with an ex. She had her point, I had mine. I decided to go for a walk during the night time. Standing on the corner of Malcolm X Boulevard & 1-2-7, again & out of nowhere, a Brother who I did not know, walks by & says to me, (I am the only one standing on this particular corner) “Some original Black Panthers are throwing a film festival with food & music across the street.” I find this to be intriguing. I cross the street to see what was going on in front of Maysles Cinema on Lenox Avenue. As soon as I walk over—I stop in my tracks in front of a storefront, an original Black Panther is out there with newspapers along with other literature neatly placed out on top of a table with their history, photographs, articles. All of this information, portions of Black History was right there in front of my brown eyes.

By Shaun La*, AFROPUNK contributor

Dr. Cornel West. Riverside Church in Harlem, 2010.

I would travel to Chicago the next summer after meeting that original Black Panther in Harlem.

An original Black Panther, Brother Shep, who does outstanding things for the communities in Harlem & the Bronx, 2011.

While on the Southside of Chicago, I found myself in a conversation with someone who was telling me about how when he was a teenager, hanging out with the Black Panthers & Fred Hampton was a powerful memory that won’t ever go away. As I tie these stories into a trajectory of history. I can shut my eyes & remember the time I was in Harlem, & an elder who I met, explained to me how he was with Malcolm X during the times when Black pride was divided into a dangerous philosophy that could put you & your family as well as your Black community into some thickness that could result in oppression coming down on you, your job, your business & your life. The aura that he vehemently shared with me about Malcolm can still be heard inside of my mind, as he retorted these words to me, “Brother Malcolm was calm, intelligent, & serious.”

A wise man, 2010.

Richard Green, holds up the front page of the Black-owned Amsterdam Newspaper. He was one of the key figures in bringing forth peace to the Crown Heights Riots in 1991 (August 19th-21).

Our first of two meetings had me in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, meeting Richard Green. He is a community leader who waited for me patiently, as I learned how to become lost in Brooklyn, before making it to his community center. It is a warm place where he has tidy & framed photographs up on the wall of him with many political leaders to artists & the great, legendary photographer, Gordon Parks. Many years of how what he witnessed in Crown Heights could be heard in the tone of his voice, at times, you can see in his face, the stories that are a part of his wisdom, & they were dished out with pride in fighting for his community & people. His wise tone continued as he spoke about his photography days in Vietnam as a former Marine & how he was determined with other community leaders & residents to bring some form of peace to Crown Heights during & after the Riots of 1991. All of this is from a Baltimore native, who is 38 years old & who continues to learn about New York. I refuse to forget about those who were active during the 20th Century. We may live on a stage, where trending topics is what has our attention, but in my heart, Black History started before I was born, it started with my family finding a way to raise me, so that I can see & hear the path of so many Blacks that built a 21st Century for me today. Happy Black History Month, right now & to a Bright Black Future—may successful happiness & accomplishments justify itself by becoming greatness for our Black communities on a worldly level.

A lady expresses her point of view against protesters in Harlem. 2011.

Protesters outside of ABC Network television Studio in Manhattan–protesting the lack of diversity on major network television.

A little girl thinking, while at a rally in Harlem.

Words and photography by Shaun La.
*Shaun La is a writer & photographer. More of his work can be viewed here: www.shaunarts.com