Kwame Shakur: Letter to the People

Donate and sign the petition to return the Hyte Center to the New Afrikan Black people! The Hyte Center, now with the name Booker T. Washington, once belonged to Kwame Shakur’s family and is now run by a Euro-American person who is not representative of the community who once used and thrived on its bounty of offerings. The current organization running the center has become unresponsive to Kwame’s and his family. Support the movement for collective liberation!

Sign: https://www.change.org/p/city-of-terre-haute-return-the-hyte-center-to-the-community?recruiter=890080600&recruited_by_id=103c03e0-8d0d-11e8-91ce-35539dd82049&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=psf_combo_share_initial

by Kwame ‘Lil Beans’ Shakur

One of the very first obligations of a revolutionary is to go among the people – the community, the masses of poor wage slaves, the oppressed nation – and learn from them. Meaning, as we attempt to educate them, transforming the colonial mentality into a revolutionary mentality, before we can bring forth programs for decolonization. 

We have to learn what the people of that particular area see as the core issues that affect their day-to-day lives. As servants of the people, our formations and the programs we intend to implement must be geared toward meeting the immediate needs of the community we serve. I organized the first annual Rebuild: New Afrikan Peoples’ Assembly in my city of Terre Haute, Ind., in 2019. 

As we promoted the assembly for seven months, brothers and sisters in their early 20s to elders in their 80s all raised a common issue – the gentrification and denial of access to our community center, the Hyte Center, now known as the Booker T. Washington Community Center.

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, this is an issue that I take personally, not only because my grandpa was the architect and vice chairman on the original board of its founding members. Like so many others from multiple generations, I grew up in that building. I know why it was created, the purpose it served and what it means to the New Afrikan community. 

For many people in Terre Haute, the Peoples’ Assembly was their first introduction to the New Afrikan Liberation Collective (NALC) and our mission to instill self-determination into minds and homes within the community. 

We refused to allow people from outside of our community to capitalize off the free community work that we do in the community center they took from the people! 

I spoke to the people in attendance and told them that our first task in Terre Haute would be to regain access and control of the center, explaining that it would take the community to take back the community center, and through this work the oppressive forces working against us as well as the people would recognize the power of a community and nation when we educate, organize and mobilize together for our common goals.

Following the assembly, we reached out to the occupants of the center and described ourselves as a community-based organization. We explained that NALC intended to utilize the classrooms in order to hold nation building courses, i.e., political education classes that would bring forth community reconstruction and social development programs. 

They told us that we would have to pay a $25 per hour fee and a deposit each time. We refused to allow people from outside of our community to capitalize off the free community work that we do in the community center they took from the people! 

We began organizing the second annual New Afrikan Peoples’ Assembly for July 2020, one of the main focus points being to gain signatures for a community petition that demanded free access to the gymnasium, classrooms and soup kitchen. We had movement veterans from around the nation travel to Terre Haute in order to help raise the consciousness of the people and link with other community formations that have also been vocal about the need to regain control of the Hyte Center. 

The following day before leaving Terre Haute, six of our comrades attended service at a local church to discuss the need for the people getting behind NALC’s initiative to hold classes. The pastor of the church has access to the gym several nights a week already and also has an organization that calls for community control and ownership of the Hyte Center. 

The community meetings fell apart due to individuals and organizations all operating on neoliberal colonial concepts and refusing to develop any kind of concept for self-determination or a concrete class analysis based on the dialectics of our national oppression as New Afrikan Black people. 

Several days after attending the service, our comrade in Chicago, Khaleed London of The Re:Build Collective, received a phone call from this pastor saying that NALC would have free access to the classrooms and that I would need to draw up the programs. 

Around this same time, a weekly meeting was put together for community organizers, including my mom, dad and a comrade from IDOC Watch who traveled from out of town to discuss ideas and strategy surrounding the Hyte Center. We presented the group with the five initial programs for decolonization on behalf of NALC and FROLINAN.

A second meeting was set for the following week, where it was mentioned that the basis of that date would be meeting with members of law enforcement to discuss body cams and other issues with police. My family refused to attend this meeting, seeing absolutely no reason for members of our community to have a sitdown with the colonial occupying forces and as extremely problematic, bringing into question the politics and class mentality of these other individuals. 

I personally kept in contact with the pastor via weekly phone calls to work toward the two of our organizations doing grassroots work and uniting with several newer activists in Terre Haute who had emerged that summer in the wake of the George Floyd uprisings. 

However, the community meetings fell apart due to these individuals and organizations all operating on neoliberal colonial concepts and refusing to develop any kind of concept for self-determination or a concrete class analysis based on the dialectics of our national oppression as New Afrikan Black people. 

While fighting to establish the right to control our own destiny, the way to change and overcome centuries of genocide and colonialism is never going to be through settling for what the U.S. government or city officials give us or approve of. 

After numerous positive phone calls with the pastor that were very assuring and revolutionary in nature, he disclosed that he couldn’t publicly work with NALC in fear of what the people “downtown” would think, adding that any unified front of organizations in Terre Haute to fight for the center would have to be led by his organization as the face because he and his organization weren’t following nobody. 

He asked me, “Have you ever seen anything with two or three heads? It’d be ugly and scary, right?” This is another obligation of the revolutionary: to expose the people and the unconscious masses to these “class contradictions” that exist even within the Black community and to raise awareness of “class struggle,” clash of views, aspirations, ideology and theory between members of the same oppressed nation. 

In these early stages of struggle and a “new” movement developing, the people may find it hard to see the difference between the two because we both look like them, and both come across as “being for the people.”

However, this class struggle that takes place in the mind of the oppressed individual is part of the colonial mentality in which these individuals have yet to break the psychological chains of slavery that prevent them from taking a path to liberation and freedom that doesn’t include the master-oppressor’s permission, not using his rules and guidelines to go about obtaining social change. 

Most of these individuals have good intentions and do truly believe that they are acting in the best interest of the people. I can assure you that as a people suffering on an educational, economic, political, social and cultural level, we are being kept in that caste through the colonial security forces of police, military, courts, jails and prisons. 

While fighting to establish the right to control our own destiny, the way to change and overcome centuries of genocide and colonialism is never going to be through settling for what the U.S. government or city officials give us or approve of. 

This community center is being leased out from the city to a Euro-American (white) individual from outside of our community for his own after-school youth program that is supported by public school funding.

Unless the New Afrikan community in Terre Haute comes together and demands what it is that we as a people believe we need in order to rebuild our community, then we will continue to depend on our oppressors and their rigged system for our every need. 

The Booker T. Washington Community Center, a community liberation center greets you with a wall-to-wall painted mural when you walk in, of Malcolm X, Jamil Al Amin (H. Rap Brown), Marcus Garvey and Frederick Douglass among others, shown breaking chains that read “slavery.” The mural also shows a young New Afrikan child with a shirt on that says, “It’s Nation Building Time.” 

This community center is being leased out from the city to a Euro-American (white) individual from outside of our community for his own after-school youth program that is supported by public school funding. All that may be somewhat feasible if the city and its occupants recognized their privilege of having access to all the land, property and resources available in Terre Haute for their offices and programs. 

The center is the only institution that we have in order to build and rebuild upon and allow people to bring back open gym and night league, the Feed the People Program and designated office or classroom space for community-based organizations. There are countless athletic mentors and individuals, especially during a resurgence of social awareness and community activism, who have something to offer the people, but we have no institutions to place the programs and do the work. 

In February 2021 We were finally able to have an in-person meeting with the director and COO of the center. My mom and dad were there to represent NALC and our family’s historical connection to the building as well as the non-profit organization “The Social and Cultural Development Fund” that I recently founded with the help of my family and comrades. 

We presented the director with articles and pictures from the two Peoples’ Assemblies, the five suggested programs and requested access to the classrooms starting Feb. 7 to host a group study for Jalil Muntaqim’s “We Are Our Own Liberators” Zoom classes. He expressed his only concern being some of the language used in my previous articles about regaining ownership and worried that, once in the door, we would force him out and replace him with the aforementioned pastor. 

We explained that we had already purchased land last year and are in the process of raising the funding to open our own building and that we only wanted access to the Hyte Center now to engage with the people and get the doors opened again for the community. We were told that they would have to move some things around with their schedule in order to accommodate our use of the classrooms and that he wanted to have another meeting in a week with us and the president of the Terre Haute NAACP, among others. 

Since then, he hasn’t responded to any messages or emails from us. As we move forward and launch the “Land Fund” on the NALC website to raise the initial $30,000 needed to get the building put up for the New Afrikan Peoples Center and The Social and Cultural Development Office, we must still come together as a community and act in the collective interest of not only ourselves but the younger generations that are coming up. 

We do this by implementing a community-based steering committee geared toward a strategy in relation to the Hyte Center and other land in the community. We will also be posting the Community Petition for Free Use of the Hyte Center on the New Afrikan Liberation Collective, https://www.newafrikanliberation.org/, Prison Lives Matter, https://www.supportprisonlives.org/, and IDOC Watch, https://www.idocwatch.org/, sites. 

You do not have to be from Terre Haute to sign your name to the petition. The gentrification and denied access to our institutions are a form of social and cultural genocide. This is a systematic issue that reaches far beyond the city of Terre Haute. Freedom and independence are never just handed over to the people fighting for them from those who have stolen them from us. 

One of the fundamental reasons we as a people still remain three fifths of a human being, in a fabricated state of existence and identity based on “paper citizenship” that was forced upon us – and the colonizer has remained a global empire – is because we still refuse to collectively wake up from a Willie Lynch-induced coma and realize that we have the power on so many levels to be in control of our own destiny and direction if we stand up and move in solidarity. 

With that being said, we encourage people from all over to support both endeavors – to regain access to the Hyte Center and raise funds for the New Afrikan Peoples Center. We are one community and one nation! But most importantly, remember: WE ARE OUR OWN LIBERATORS!

Send our brother some love and light: Michael Joyner, 149677, WVCF, P.O. Box 1111, Carlisle IN 46391.