On FLEA Days, Tupac Shakur, Baltimore, Kwanzaa, women-comrades and the revolutionary experience of Black August
by Emilia A. Ottoo
Kasim O. Gero is currently housed as an inmate at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Maryland. The unedited answers to these questions are his added consent to this interview and dissemination of information in alignment with the mission of George Jackson University.
Emilia Ottoo: Please state your full name and the date of your responses.
Kasim Gero: My name is Kasim Gameli Oringo Gero, and this is the 7th of August 2015.
Emilia Ottoo: What is your focus going into this, your first Black August?
Kasim Gero: Right now the focus is, and should always be, the raising of our collective consciousness in prison. Especially being in the month we call Black August (or Agosti Weusi), it is the duty of any and all militants who commemorate our fallen comrades to focus on the liberation of the minds of our fellow convicts.
So it is through this focus that I have resolved to organize think-tanks around the Organization Days of Agosti Weusi covering topics from manhood and sisterhood to Black-on-Black violence and the need for us to be honest and responsible in our environments and communities.
These topics being among the most relevant because of our vantage point to society. Baltimore, Maryland, ground-zero for the anti-police brutality uprising of our youth who out-flanked and outmaneuvered the BPD, is now witnessing a spike in violence not seen in 43 years in the city. Now approaching 200 murders, 80 of which happening in the span of 60-70 days, Baltimore is experiencing a crisis. D.C. is approaching 100 murders.
Living in this time of international upheaval and the growing mobility and influence of our Black Lives Matter Movement, those of us in prison who are conscious of our social position are realizing (if no one had realized it from the 30,000 hunger strikers in California in 2013) that there is a place for us in all social struggles.
It’s invigorating to be alive right now. But in realizing what is to be done from my vantage point is very sobering.
Emilia Ottoo: What was your introduction to Black August?
Kasim Gero: I came to know Agosti Weusi much like everyone else who I’ve spoken to lately, through word of mouth. My ‘word of mouth Black August’ introduction, I must admit, did the true Agosti Weusi no justice at all.
It was presented to me as a commemoration of all Black revolutionary militants. To their credit, those who masquerade as Black August Memorialists pass on the word of focusing on the recognition of our revolutionary fighters of the past who gave of their lives for our struggle for freedom and liberation.
But still this hollowed presentation was insufficient in detailing the program of Black August, which is its very heart and soul. So my initial introduction to Black August was nothing more than a recognition of its existence.
Emilia Ottoo: Do you feel any responsibility in commemorating Black August?
Kasim Gero: Of course there is a responsibility in me in my commemoration of Agosti Weusi. The very moment I began to understand exactly what Agosti Weusi meant in the big picture of Amerikkka’s Black revolutionary legacy and its remembrance, I knew I had a place in it – that place being one of activist, educator, promoter.
It’s almost like, once I saw that what I knew and understood about Agosti Weusi was not known by anyone in this institution (of those I’ve engaged with), it was my duty to not only be an example and the visual embodiment of Agosti Weusi, I had to teach all those who were worthy of an honest introduction to Agosti Weusi.
So my responsibility to the commemoration of Agosti Weusi can be summed up in one word: action.
Emilia Ottoo: We’ve spoken on the difference in your experience at the institution since you’ve engaged in revolutionary activities. Has the change in reaction been startling?
Kasim Gero: Startling is not even the word. I actually find it quite unintelligent for our captors to attempt to control, monitor, disrupt, attack or otherwise hamper the attempts of militant men who only seek to reform, encourage, educate, and give purpose and perspective to our fellow prisoners.
The attention paid to those who make sure that our captors remain honest in their dealings with our populations in every way reveals the intentions of those charged with our supervision.
Yea, when I was dealing with the street organization known commonly as Damu, I was able to do things almost with impunity. My mail, coming from various institutions, with no purpose other than to strengthen the gangsta criminal mentality and aid in the continued mentacide and genocide of my people was allowed unfettered to reach me. Codes that were used, those that we know administration is well aware of, are let in prisons to facilitate the growing violence between lumpen criminal groupings.
Now my mail is scrutinized, arrives late – if at all. My captors actually leave me with no choice but to challenge their ways of governance. The entire paradigm of my incarcerated life has changed. And I honestly believe that I couldn’t turn back, even if I wanted to.
Emilia Ottoo: George Jackson says in “Soledad Brother” that if we do not act, the “slaves of the future will curse us as we sometimes curse those of yesterday.” What does this mean to you and have you ever cursed a “slave of the past?”
Kasim Gero: I admit at various points in my education I cursed the slaves of the past. However, this “cursing” was in the form of youthful ignorance. I hadn’t understood that people were products of their environment.
I hadn’t understood that as far back as our first encounters with those who sought to capture Black skins, there was almost no idea of what was to become of the men, women and children raped from The Continent or what was to become of The Continent itself. I had cursed those who sold us to our to-be slave traders and slave masters.
I had cursed those who had not slit the throat of their brutal slave masters and those of his family. I had cursed those who thought our freedom could be bought or brokered from or through the two headed Amerikkkan beast called the Democrats and Republicans.
I had cursed all those I could think of who failed us. It was not until Karl Marx pulled me to the side and calmly reminded me (calmly being out of his character) that as people being products of their environment is true, so also is it true that these very people create environments and circumstances. It’s through the study of various Marxists that I became aware that the value of the long view of history is in the understanding. To critique is to find fault and to offer ways to compensate or correct that fault.
[Aug. 9, 2015] If I continue to curse anyone, it is in the context of this quote by Maurice Maeterlinck, “On every crossway on the road that leads to the future, each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the post.”
For all those men and women who are former this and that, sons and daughters of him and hers who continue to pull the reigns on young militants based upon antiquated positions of the past – I condemn them, I curse them.”
Kasim Gero: From a very young age I imagined that prison would be a part of my life. One of the irrational thoughts of a young man who could not have told you why he had such a thought. But the conditions that would be awaiting me in the new world of chattel slavery, I could never have imagined.
I grew up with a lot of insecurities that I can say contributed to the kind of glory I felt gang bangin’ could bring my life. And my 20-20 hindsight tells me that the glory was so poisonous to my life that I didn’t have to foresee prison for it to have been a reality for me.
However, me now being 30 years old and two years removed from gang bangin’, I can see that the trajectory of my life has been in the direction of my radicalization into Black revolutionary activism. I had never really seen, realistically, anything great for my life – although I imagined myself in the place of others’ greatness. The “if I were Malcolm X,” “if I were Comrade George,” “if I were L.D. Barkley.”
It’s actually about a year and a half – two years ago that an elder of mine spoke at a Nation of Islam service. His message to us was to postulate that if we were around when so and so was around, we would’ve been and done thus and so.
He made it clear to us that these men were who they were because they slayed their fear and sought to conquer the beast that lay before them the prospect of a half-butchered life. That if we patiently await their reincarnation so that we can make good on our false postulations, we will have acquiesced to the oppressors. We will have offered up our flames of freedom to the cold nature of the beast.
It was after hearing this that I became and began my travel to that which I had not foreseen but had accepted nonetheless. I am who I am now. Ten years ago I would have not been able to see past my own death for the set. Now, I look forward to a life of militant representation, sacrifice, love and dedication for my class, people, nation and comrades.
Emilia Ottoo: What does the term “man-child” mean to you?
Kasim Gero: “Man-child.” The term I came to know through Comrade George’s designation of our revolutionary martyr (shahidi wa mpinduzi) Jonathan Jackson, martyred Agosti ya saba 1970. I have forgotten what Comrade George said about the term.
But what it means to me is the beginning of a new child rearing. The man-child is educated in the modus operandi of society.
The man-child, the child of an oppressed people, is made to be a man under the weight of a society that denies him a truly unfettered existence as citizens of a free society. To be a man-child is to be a young militant with a man’s understanding.
Jonathan Jackson is the best example of a man-child – a child (a teenager) who concerned himself with the affairs of men and women of his nation. And we will live on, for we remember his sacrifices as the birth of an existence in our country of revolutionary action known as the August 7th Movement (Tapo la Agosti ya Saba).
Emilia Ottoo: Do you think Black August could grow to the proportions of Black History Month and Kwanzaa? Would you want it to?
Kasim Gero: Yes and no. Under certain conditions, it could be allowed to grow to the proportions of Black History Month. The issue will always stand that to allow the state (U.S. government) to place its hands on Black August will be, to all the militants who built it, a defeat.
You were right; Black History Month (BMH) is state sanctioned. And it has gutted all of the militancy and revolutionism from our leaders and our historical record in this country.
As all other institutions, parties, groups or celebrations that Black (New Afrikan) people have created or artistically expressed, our oppressor has taken advantage of the reality that we do not seek to control our expressions etc.
The critical thought being, should we have to exact complete control over those things we cherish? It is very important to call attention to the fact that at every juncture in our Amerikan history, when we resolved to hold something close to our breast, we’ve been saddled with the unfounded slander and attack of being racists (practicing “reverse racism”) or outright petty.
There is nothing that can truly be said to “belong” to or be culturally specific to Black people except high incarceration rates and single parent homes. I know I’m exaggerating. But the truth remains, there’s a void in our will and desire to exert our influence on the things we initiate, create or inspire.
So if the precondition of Black August Memorial growing to the proportions of a Black History Month rests upon the idea that Black August Memorial must be relinquished by the Black August Memorial Commemoration Committees or Black August Organizing Committees, then our position must be that of protectionism. The growth of Black August Memorial will never be handed over to a racist, capitalist institution such as the U.S. government or any of its subsidiary institutions or bodies.
This leads me to the shell of the cultural expression that is Kwanzaa. And I must say that Kwanzaa is a much needed foundation to the self-determined pursuit toward cultural independence. I cannot take away from Kwanzaa.
To the question of whether Black August Memorial could become as big as Kwanzaa, I would offer the thought that there should be an orderly retreat of Kwanzaa. By orderly retreat I mean there should be a rescheduling of its practice.
No longer should its days coincide with a time that is synonymous with Christmas or the economically beneficial consumer rush for Christmas and New Year’s. The degrading tendency of capitalistic institutions dug its clutches into Kwanzaa and moved it away from its original intentions. And one of the only ways to reclaim its original vision in Amerika is to erect a committee that will guide its essence and maintain its integrity.
The need for Black (New Afrikan) control over Black institutions, cultural expressions, holidays, commemorations etc. is an Amerikan need. How many times have we heard it said by some who have no idea of social economics, “We need Black control over Black money”?
Overlooking the fact that Black control over Black money presupposes Black (New Afrikan) statehood, how can the proponents of this idea not apply it likewise to our political, cultural and spiritual expressions before the pursuit of revolutionary means to statehood? By this is not meant separatism but self-determination, which are two very different points of departure for Black people in Amerika’s context.
But should Black August Memorial grow? Yes! Should the loss of control be an affordable price for this growth? No! So the growth and spread of Black August as an ideal and expression of Black militant action and commemoration cannot mirror the growth of Kwanzaa.
How can its growth be beneficial and its integrity remain intact? Through the growth of respect, admiration, knowledge and longevity in the existence of committees that control Black August, without which Black August would occupy the graveyard of so many of the appropriated expressions of Blackness.
I wish and will all the best for our Black August Memorial expressions and desire for it to grow nationally and internationally. But if its integrity is encroached upon along with this growth, I respond with the words of the Russian Bolshevik revolutionary V.I. Lenin, “Better fewer, but better.”
Kasim Gero: I have to say that heading into Black August this year in itself was transformative. After fasting for the Islamic month of Ramadan, I was a little hesitant at the thought of fasting again.
It was through my conversations with Black August Memorial Commemoration Committee member Rafiki Jemel and co-chair Akili Mwalimu Shakur that I came into the realization that not enough people knew of Black August’s meaning and the established practice for its commemoration. Not only that, no one knew of the committees that were charged with its maintenance and furtherance.
In line with this feeling of transformation and the need to grab the Black August torch and become a teacher of its spirit and meaning to us, especially prisoners, I also felt the duty to prepare myself for the active participation in its fasting and workout regimen and the organizing of its think tanks on organization days.
Leading up to Black August, I was excited to be a man who was to be a standard bearer of Black August manhood and action for a commemoration that was made for our fallen comrades in struggle.
What I want out of Agosti Weusi is for those in my environment to see my personal example throughout Agosti Weusi, as well as throughout the year, and follow that example. I learned that those who I introduced the concept, reality and practice of Black August to were not so willing to actualize the principles of Agosti Weusi. So I had to be the archetype.
I want more than anything for those who have thought that Black August was something that they could create things for and about that were not authentic or demanding enough to embody the true expression of organization (head nod to the cultural Pan-Afrikans of the Pan Afrikan Uhuru Cadre, CIBI), to see the living example of Aug. 7, of Sept. 13.
But personally, I want to know that my will for self-discipline, self-sacrifice, movement, dedication and the carrying of the torch of those I claim to represent is strong.
Emilia Ottoo: Humor me. If Tupac Shakur were alive today and in his prime, and at the same time George Jackson was alive and in his prime, do you see the “Thug Life” movement and the revolutionary aims of George Jackson combining? Could hoods across the nation one day all be fasting for Black August?
Kasim Gero: [Aug. 14, 2015] Haha! Wow! If Tupac and Comrade George were still alive, together, not overlooking the fact that Tupac was born the same year Comrade George was assassinated (two months prior), his Thug Life movement can rightfully be seen as a rapper-activist’s attempt to further the vision of George Jackson’s position of shifting the criminal mentality toward a more conscious militancy (much like Fred Hampton’s Chicago activities).
I mean, looking at the reality of the inception of Pac’s Thug Life movement, the fact that the Comrade Elder Mutulu Shakur aided in the formulation of the principles for T.L., it would not be a stretch to say that Pac would surely have gone to seek the council of Comrade George. Because the vision is there. The mission is there.
Understanding that the movement of Comrade George, W.L. Nolan, Khatari Gaulden et al. was principally a revolutionary prison movement and that ndugu Tupac’s movement sought to unite the hoods of Amerikkka, the grassroots (concrete-roots) effect that their coordinated activity would’ve had in the U.S. surely would be a thorn in the side of anti-Black ideologues against our independent political awakening.
I imagine that Comrade George and Tupac’s relationship would be something like Mumia’s and Immortal Technique’s, or Chairman Omali Yeshitela and Dead Prez – these relationships being the coming together of revolutionaries and artists with radical movements and Hip Hop. The national social impact, the impact on our collective consciousness could or would be so great.
The ability to connect revolutionary ideas and radical perspectives to popular music and culture is very important. The recent lyrics of yourself in remembrance of our fallen Black Dragon, Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, is a great example of this. How many of our youth do not know about the struggle of the San Quentin Six? Can we imagine the impact that Tupac could have had in service to the Movement of August 7th internationally?
I believe that to the question of Organization Days being practiced in the form of fasting throughout the hoods of Amerikkka, we would also have to see a larger political movement existing around this country that could rally them to support Black August fasting.
Honestly, I do not believe that Pac would have been able to engage in the education that is necessary to get that level of dedication to the political perspective of New Afrikan Revolutionism, the perspective of the August 7th Movement. The hoods of Amerikkka would have to be engaged by a professionally revolutionary party or movement, in connection with the message of Comrade George and the influential Hip Hop of Tupac.
I believe a great example of this is your song, “Mosh,” and your connection to the old guard of the Panther Party.
Kasim Gero: I can only answer this question with saying Life, Love and Loyalty. I walk with these three Ls every day, in all their manifestations.
Emilia Ottoo: How would you spend Black August if you were not in prison?
Kasim Gero: I would love to spend Black August with all those militants who have dedicated their lives, energies and beings to the fight to free political prisoners. I value conversation, and I would love to have a conversation among anyone who is a comrade of mine, from Abdul O. Shakur, Mutulu Shakur, Sitawa N. Jamaa and Kijana T. Askari to Angela Davis, Assata and others.
But I must say that most of all I want to have the Blackest, most revolutionary, righteous, most militant sex with another woman who is also commemorating our fallen warriors.
Emilia Ottoo: What’s the hardest and most fulfilling part of Black August to you?
Kasim Gero: [Aug. 21, 2015] The hardest part of Black August for me is the attempt to even get those who claim that they are offspring of Comrade George to participate in the expressions of Black August, such as the Organization Day fasting of 24 hours. There seems to be a mind of the “business as usual” approach, which has been born out of the other Black commemorations that demand nothing of or from our people.
If we continue to have our people believe that all we must do is nod our head toward the Martin Luther King Jr. statue at the National Mall or stop by the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Center to remember Malcolm and Martin, then we are sending the message to our youth that empty expressions and commitments are OK so long as you acknowledge. Commemoration is an act, not a thought.
The most fulfilling part of Black August is the thought, the recognition, the realization that there are comrades around the country that are also commemorating the radical Black militants that rose as Black prison-class revolutionists. The fulfillment coming from the feeling of knowing my place in a social act of 10 fasting with the deeds of those I’m commemorating being displayed in my walk, in and out of Black August.”
Emilia Ottoo: Has Black August Resistance changed you?
Kasim Gero: Yes, I’ve been changed by Black August Resistance. As I’ve said and will continue to say, Black August Resistance will change anyone who understands the real life implications of Black August.
We have to always be aware that this memorial we look to in remembrance was born out of our people’s will for freedom, resistance and liberation. It is changing me because I can’t believe there has been a time in my life where my movements, intents, spiritual existence and thoughts were so very present in the memorialization of revolutionaries within the prison movement.
If the saying is true that something done for 28 days will become a habit, it would be fair to say that I have a long and interesting life among the dragons.
Emilia Ottoo: Bonus question: What are your thoughts on adding the commemoration of revolutionary women to Black August? Is the absence of the salute to female leaders, soldiers and comrades something you feel needs to be addressed?
“Absolutely! I have not been able to express my disappointment about that, but I will soon.
The noticeable absence of Black women-comrades from the Organization Day commemorations is glaring. Although we can be honest with Black August, women definitely have a place in the memorial and resistance components and expressions of Black August. However, the Organization Days are solely owned by men comrades of the prison movement.
Now, if we can become aware of the militant, revolutionist women who have given their life for and in the struggle for dignity in prison, we will be in a better position to move in the direction to broaden the commemoration within the confines of Black August.
You already know that me and you are at one on this question of women’s involvement. And I believe that if Black August remains solely a man commemoration (in context of the Organization Days), it cannot enjoy an existence that will be embraced by the larger movement for women’s liberation.
I mean, let’s look at the sister named Sandra Bland. A movement woman under Black Lives Matter. Murdered – assassinated – clearly in police custody. Although she is the only name I can think of being killed in custody, the fact that not one woman-comrade has a place in Organization Day commemorations is sad and most certainly inaccurate on our part. At the same time I must say that I do not hope that we find some new candidates for a women’s Organization Day.
I think that I have an idea of how we can satisfy this void in Black August organization. If it be desirable to the Black August Memorial Commemoration Committee, we could establish an entire week of Black Women’s Commemoration. Maybe the period between the 21st and 28th. It’s just a thought – something we haven’t done enough of in consideration of a deliberate celebration and commemoration of our women in particular.
I very much appreciate that question, because living in Amerika it is easy to lose sight of our women – who are in many ways the center of our fight for liberation, spiritual and educational development and support.
Thank you for the honor and privilege of taking part in this interview. I pray that those who have not participated in Black August or supported its events will seriously take a look at its meaning, its origin and its future with more participation and dedication to its vision.
Rest in peace to Hugo “Yogi” Pinell and O’Donnell “Soul/O.D.” Johnson.”
Send our brother some love and light: Kasim O. Gero, 343142, 2410253, P.O. Box 700, Jessup MO 20794.
Emilia Otoo is a Harlem-based artist and artivist, political science grad, Hip Hop head and New Yorker. Visit and contact her at www.ottoobrandartivism.org and emiliaottoo.contently.com. This interview first appeared HERE.