The following is a repost of an interview with Kalonji Changa, author of the new book, “How to Build a People’s Army” about Black August. I met him a few months ago at a Feed the People gathering. In addition to founding the Feed the People Movement, he is also the East Coast Committee Organizer for Happily Natural Day, which takes place annually in Richmond, VA and Atlanta, GA and in its 32 year.
It is my pleasure to share this information with all my readers. I hope it will enlighten you as it did me.
Why is there such a thing as a Black August celebration? Where did this tradition come from? When did it start and how was it celebrated originally?
The first thing we would like to state is that we commemorate Black August, not celebrate it. We don’t want people to think that it is a party or just an event. Black August is about resistance. The concept of Black August developed inside the California prisons, under the leadership of men like George Jackson, W.L. Nolan, and Khatari Gaulden, who were all murdered in California prisons. As taught to us by the OG’s (Original Guerrillas), Black August was a response to the need of Afrikan prisoners to form a principled and effective political unity to combat the racism and genocide against Afrikan people behind the walls. Black August began in 1979, one year after the murder of Khatari Gaulden. As part of Black August brothers fasted the days of the assassinations of the comrades (24-hour fast). On the other days, they fasted until sundown. Physical training and education was increased. As part of our observation and commemoration of Black August we continue that tradition til this very day. We encourage others who want to observe Black August to work out an exercise routine for each day either individually or in groups and to not use any drugs or alcoholic beverages during the entire month.
When and how did this commemoration cross the borders of the prison system to go in the black communities around the country?
In 1979, Black August Organizing Committee members who were former prisoners formed it outside to commemorate the assassination of soldiers behind the wall and to make the outside community aware of the terror going on inside. They staged the first Black August demonstration outside of San Quentin.
What of the original concept is still relevant? How relevant is the principle of unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical training and resistance for the contemporary generation?
Indeed the entire original concept is still relevant. It’s still relevant because the conditions have not changed (for the better), the conditions have gotten worse. For the contemporary generation, future generations, and anyone serious about the liberation struggle we must be principled, disciplined, loyal, respectful, consistent and committed. Everything you mentioned is relevant in order for us to grow and develop into a solid movement. We must build a sustainable foundation that will allow us to weather the storm and to be steadfast in our fight against tyranny and oppression.
Who are the peeps that have taken in their hands such a tradition and want to carry it on?
Well first off mentioning Black August and not acknowledging the Original Black August Organizing Committee is almost like a person saying that they were born at a certain place, at a certain time and not acknowledging the fact that their mother labored and gave birth to them. From its formation, The BAOC has been dedicated to freedom fighters that have been kidnapped, held and tortured in the cold concentration camps of these so-called United States. Comrades like Black August Organizing Committee OG’s Shaka At-Thinnin, and Kumasi, along with countless others behind the walls and outside of the walls, have labored to turn the Black August spark into an inferno of resistance. The BAOC has continuously shined light on the Brothers and Sisters who are being held behind enemy lines as prisoners of war and political prisoners. Brothers and Sisters who put us on their backs, risked their freedom and some who have literally given their very lives. Comrades like Imam Jamil Al-Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown), Hugo “Yogi” Pinnell, Sekou Odinga, San Francisco 8, Marshal Eddie Conway, The Move 9 and others currently held captive. Many who are being tortured and abused to this very day, not in Guantanamo Bay, but in Pelican Bay, not in Angola Africa, but in Angola, Louisiana, and not on some foreign island but on Rikers Island, Colorado Supermax and many other modern day institutionalized slave dungeons. On February 15, 2009, The BAOC and The FTP Movement formed an official union and our goal is to collectively keep the tradition of Black August and to make sure it is properly defined for generations to come.
What can we do to help reduce the generational gap? What strategies can be used to refocus the younger generation on such issues?
As far as helping to reduce the generational gap, there has to be a mutual respect between the Elders and the youth. The Youth have to respect the Elders and on the same token the Elders have to respect the Youth. The Youth have to respect the Elders for their wisdom and insight and for the battles they have fought and the victories achieved. The Elders have to respect the Youth for coming into existence and preparing to fight for the survival of our people. The Elders have to be ready to pass the torch and the Youth have to be ready to receive the torch. In many cases Elders don’t know when or just refuse to pass the torch and in some cases the Youth are not prepared nor are they preparing to receive it. I think a lot of us are slaves to our own egos. We don’t want to be told anything, we don’t want constructive criticism, we want liberalism and liberalism serves as one of the quickest ways to kill a movement. That goes for the young as well as the old. As far as getting the youth involved in issues that affect us, we have to make it plain. Organizing has to be hip. We have to make it cool to be involved in enjoining what’s righteous and forbidding what’s evil. We must modernize our methods to organize more effectively and be able to change with the times.
Inside the prison system where Blacks and the poor in general are over represented, is there a chance of another strong prison movement created by prisoners?
Absolutely. It is a fact that for every 100,000 black males in the United States there are at least 10,000 incarcerated. That means at least 10% of the black male population is being held captive somewhere in the good ol’ USA. Compare that to a little less than 1,000 white males out of every 100,000 that are incarcerated. Somewhere around 1%, which means that black males here in America are locked up or serving time 10 times the rate of white males. According to a 2009 report by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), “African Americans make up 13% of the general US population, yet they constitute 28% of all arrests, 40% of all inmates held in prisons and jails, and 42% of the population on death row. In contrast, Whites make up 67% of the total US population and 70% of all arrests, yet only 40% of all inmates held in state prisons or local jails and 56% of the population on death row. Hispanics and Native Americans are also alarmingly over represented in the criminal justice system”. So in a nutshell, until this ruthless machine is busted up and it ceases to crush and destroy the bodies of oppressed people and until this criminal prison system is abolished and eradicated, there will always be a chance of a strong prison movement. Blessed are those who struggle.
Since the Commemoration of Black August, who are some of the artists that have been down to spread the voice and remembrance of Freedom Fighters?
Thru out the years a number of Artists and Activists have participated in the Commemoration of Black August. Artists such as War Club, dead prez, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Boots Riley, Common, Dave Chappelle, Erykah Badu, Black Thought & Many Others. Also, a number of Powerful Freedom Fighters such as Pam Africa, Yuri Kochiyama, Theophile Obenga, Warrior Woman, Ernie Longwalker, members of the San Quentin 6, Richard Aoki (Rest in Uhuru) and many others.
The line-up for Black August Commemoration weekend in Richmond and Atlanta consists of performances, panels, and workshops with over 30 different poets, activists, performers and presenters from across the U.S. The 9th Annual Happily Natural Festival consists of workshops and performances. Workshops topics include Political Prisoners, Afrikan Martial Arts, Vegetarian Cooking/Healthy living and more. A concert in the evening includes a host of artists. The full line-up is available from the Happily Natural Day website, and events will be simulcast so that participants in Atlanta can see the Richmond festivities and vice versa.