by Self-Savior (Hon. Shawn Livernoche)
Peace! My name is Self-Savior, and I have spent my life being a student and citizen of the great Five Percent Nation, also known as the Nation of Gods and Earths.
Although lesser known on the West Coast, our Nation has since the 1960s stood as a prominent positive culture around the world. The Nation is God-centered and oriented around knowledge of self, self reliance and youth outreach. Our history of community building and inspiring all members of the human family is well established, commemorated with the renaming of a public square in Harlem and continued through a network of street academies working hard to positively influence the youth.
Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., then-New York City Mayor John Lindsay looked in part to our Founder Allah to help protect and heal the Harlem community. This being my background, I looked to learn more about the origins of the Black Panther Party and the lengthy history that the Nation of Islam has in Oakland and surrounding areas when considering a move from my native New Jersey.
I was positive that I was relocating to an area where Black-originated culture was deeply rooted and that there would be at least some presence of our Nation, our allies and our sympathizers.
I arrived in the Bay Area in late 2012 after spending many years as a youth advocate and academic public school teacher in inner-city Trenton, N.J, where I also built my own business, High Scores Arcade, with my wife. Although I began obtaining Knowledge very young, it was during these years I walked and talked with my teacher Born Understanding to become fit to spread our culture. My wife eventually was offered a great career opportunity that demanded a move to the West Coast, so I paused my tenured teaching career and moved 3,100 miles. We brought our business and massive collection of restored classic ‘80s and ‘90s arcade games to Alameda, where our business has enjoyed success and popularity ever since.
The first thing I noticed about living in the Bay Area was the unusually large population of European Americans who had a laundry list of special interests for which they rallied against each other on the Internet and in person.
I watched as they would awkwardly weaponize concepts such as white supremacy against each other, often in the same conversations as unrelated concerns such as gender politics. Growing up among a Black community my whole life, it was odd to see upper middle-class white Europeans posting Black Lives Matter signs right next to the security warnings on their lawn.
There was also an extensive vocabulary list of buzzwords I had to learn the meaning of; I was no longer a man, I was a cis-het man. The way that I lived my life connecting to my community didn’t matter unless I was using the latest social justice terms. I couldn’t reconcile virtue signaling and cashing out a social reward for allegedly supporting Black and Brown from a population that seemingly did not have any genuine or organic connection to the Black community.
While generalizations don’t work for everyone, by and large I felt people were chasing credit for supporting the Black community without wanting to actually know the Black community – and they wanted to do it on their terms, shoehorning with it other extreme and unrelated interests. Making a Black man feel comfortable dressing and acting like a woman seemed much higher on the priority list than showing genuine support for Black businesses, an awareness of Black history or truly supporting Black-originating efforts.
Over the first few years I strived to familiarize myself with the local Black community. While I uncovered rich, organic community resources like Oakland’s inimitable Marcus Book Store, I also found that much of the retelling of the proud history I’d read about had been hijacked and essentially taken over by activists whose goals didn’t seem congruent with the Black community I knew. More so, I found my personal history with the Five Percent Nation entirely unrepresented.
It wasn’t until a Bay View newspaper article from 2019, courtesy of Tio MacDonald, that I found Knowledge Born God Allah, who after 30 years remains on death row in San Quentin State Prison. After seven years of being alone, I had finally found one of my brothers!
For many years, he has been working on securing the right for the Five Percent Nation to practice our culture equally in the prison system. This precedent has been set in many other states; that it should be so difficult to achieve in a state that so often touts equality had me incredulous.
So while the budget swelled, and dozens of other religions and cultures not of Black origin had a place in the system, one of the only genuine cultures of Black origin did not. I joined him immediately in an effort to change this.
Unfortunately, our momentum would be paused as the whole state shut down for the pandemic. While we remained steadfast, the rules for visitation within the prison, as well as the staffing, remained in flux. Even still, Knowledge Born was ultimately awarded a judgment with the state stipulating his right to practice as a Five Percenter in the form of cultural study and physical fellowship. This agreement was put in place in June of 2021; as of this writing in 2023, it has yet to be truly honored.
Naïvely, I thought it would be relatively easy to enter into the prison as a volunteer so that the state’s side of Knowledge Born’s agreement to practice could finally be met. I was a certified K-12 educator with a history at both retrieval and traditional schools, have no criminal record, and have been a small business owner here in the Bay for a decade.
Working with the Community Resources Manager at the prison, I formally applied several times as instructed. I was provided a continually rotating list of contact points within San Quentin, with months of correspondence and effort lost each time I was passed to someone new. I was met with resistance or indifference at the start of each new relationship.
Finally, in an effort to force forward movement, I resorted to making my frustration apparent, copying agencies outside of the prison to bring awareness to the lack of urgency or even basic timeliness. Seeing this approach as threatening, the staff at San Quentin responded by banning me from volunteering within the prison.
As a result, although I am one of the only individuals in the geographical region of San Quentin who is qualified and supported by the Office of Cultural Management in New York to come and volunteer in the prison, I am no longer an option. I’ve appealed to prison officials to reconsider their rash judgment, asking them to contextualize that calling louder attention to the situation was the only thing that brought a response in any form.
Regardless of the rationale, resistance to allowing the Nation to properly establish in this area has been the order of the day. Further, Knowledge Born feels prison staff he interacts with are growing in their indifference and unwillingness to respect our culture.
I grew up in the same areas as iconic rap groups like Poor Righteous Teachers, King Sun, YZ, Lakim Shabazz and many others who have responsibly used our culture and our teachings to inspire the youth toward self knowledge, education and learning a trade. To see our powerful culture and its curriculum – rooted in Black history and self-empowerment – be denied in places where it is arguably needed the most is an affront in this otherwise activist driven environment.
It’s disheartening to watch some Bay Area activists inflate their own esteem by claiming to support “POC or people of color” without realizing that one of the first lessons we are taught is that the white man is the man who has been colored from his original state and not vice versa; that the Asiatic-Black man is, in fact, the original man.
We are encouraged to do all that we have and all in our power to make a return to who we once were as humans and not sink further into who we have become. At the cornerstone of our culture is the structure of man, woman and child, a concept that is sometimes strangely at odds with the current trends here.
We are here to build a Nation on the outside and in the interior cipher. We welcome all positive, curious, studious individuals to join us on our journey of knowledge of self. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com or contact Knowledge Born at 415-324-6552; leave a voicemail for a call back. He can also be reached by mail at: Darren Cornelius Stanley, P.O. Box D09338, 5EY57, San Quentin, CA 94974.
With sincerity and humility we welcome you to our cipher. Peace to ALL!