Professor Le Februe was not at all liked by the rowdy 8th grade middle school Social Studies class. He was mild-mannered, in his mid-forties and would be teased by the bully’s in the class he taught. There were at least thirty students in each of his classes. Mine was no different.
One day he brought in a movie to class to compliment the readings we were doing on slavery in America. It was a series of films following the fictionalized account of a slave, Kunta Kinte, and his family from the time he was kidnapped in Africa to the time forty acres and a mule were given as a token of freedom to his descendants generations later.
Kunta Kinte entered my life with each whiplash he received and his constant goal-directed persistence to be free at last. His heart was untamable. His spirit would not break, bend as it did. For me, watching the series of movies called, ‘Roots,’ brought my eyes and mind to see first hand the cruelty of enslaving humanity for profit and how this sin ravaged and tore apart America, a nascent republic with great hopes and dreams. In his writings, former President John Adams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of the two major forces that ushered in the dawn of a new nation of immigrants saw the issue of slavery as a sin that cast a pallor over the affairs of the U.S.A. His wife, Abigail, a ‘stateswoman,’ saw it as a dark cloud over the country. Neither ever owned slaves.
Kunta Kinte’s life was one of tragedy, endurance, patience and fortitude as he continued on pursuing liberty. His offspring was sold off at times, raped, subjugated and treated worse than dogs. His masters would have no qualms in treating him and other men, women and children as commodities with lackluster intelligence or feelings. Viewing the entire series of films positively disrupted my ideas and perspective on the struggle for freedom by people who were robbed from their families, chained to each other on slave ships and forced to immigrate into America. I recall that these human beings were not allowed to go to a bathroom, but were left to pee and defecate upon each other as they were tied down in the ship’s cargo hold. Many would die from the inhumane conditions imposed upon them and were tossed overboard leaving a trail of death in the wake of the ship’s trajectory to the ‘new world.’ There was no one to complain to and none of the enslaved humans spoke the language of their slave drivers.
My life was positively disrupted. My outlook on this shared humanity we have was lifted off its hinges and shifted a few feet away giving me a better understanding of how America was formed, and how the enslavement of one people by another is an evil that does not go unpunished. The issues of slavery still continue to this day in our land as the black man and the black women continue to see firmer ground in the land of opportunity. Surely, we have come a long way since the Civil Rights era of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, but we have a long way to go at our current pace.
We still live as if in a Charles Dickens novel were there are two cities in one. In Norwalk, Connecticut, for example, the people of the South Norwalk ghetto are predominantly black. They face a wave of gentrified redevelopment that threatens to push the majority of them out of town and into Bridgeport, Ct.
The mayor of the city stands with the keys in his hands as his administration pays homage to the gods of modernism. The human beings who live in the plantation-row style housing behind the South Norwalk Community Center do not have access to the center. There are no sports programs for their children. There is no organized little league baseball team. There are no chess, basketball coaches. There are no dance instructors. What there is is a constant flow of money in the hundreds of thousands of dollars from City Hall to the current administration of the community center being run by a man called Warren Pena. All this money has gone to fix cabinets and interior decoration over the course of two years now, yet, when you enter the building, the lights are usually off and there is no front desk. There is no fitness center, or way to sign up to anything.
As I place flyers calling for the revitalization of the South Norwalk Community Center I befriend the people who hang out at the park. Teenagers, young adult males and middle-aged folk speak with me.
A poem: The Heart of Man Flows Red
I am not a black man, but Kunta Kinte flows in my blood.
I am not a black man, but I bleed red like him.
I am not a black man, but I will fight apathy because I am filled with gratitude.
I am blessed with education and enjoy tremendous advantage.
It is time to give back to my brother.
It is time to place myself at his feet until we shine and rise together.
For me, this is simply a continuation of my own inner development. My focus is on aligning my will more and more with God Almighty and amongst other things, this means I put others first before myself. Professor Le Februe was not respected in class but his powerful action in having us view the story of the story of the black man and woman in America forever changed me from the inside out.
Now I stand shoulder to shoulder with other community leaders. My shoulder IS to the plow. The field I till is the hearts of men, women and children. Next to me is a growing cadre of fellow brothers
and sisters with tenacity towards the pursuit of liberty. Enough apathy. Enough indifference. Let apathy call for money to pave streets with red brick and extricate the character of a neighborhood. It shall find me and my friends already there being my brothers keeper.