do not enter
While out shooting a book video for publishers 2 Leaf Press in Harlem, for the iconic Last Poet Abiodun Oyewole’s upcoming collection of poetry Branches Of The Tree Of Life, word of Nelson Mandela’s death reached us. We were on 125th Street in front of the Apollo theater. Abiodun was reciting his infamous poem Reign Of Terror a justifiably rage filled epic poem about American terrorism past and present. It was that very same poem that years earlier Def Poetry Jam refused to air because it might offend the delicate sensibilities of an American audience. But as the saying goes ‘the truth is an offense but not a sin’…
In between takes i was able to confirm that Nelson Mandela had indeed passed away. i told Abiodun and he immediately remembered when Mandela came to Harlem and when he had the opportunity meet Mandela and shake the man’s hand. Within five minutes of the news breaking the Apollo theater put up a message of remembrance on their marquee. Harlemites walking past the Apollo who hadn’t yet heard the news were being informed of it by the Apollo’s marquee and stopped to ask others on the street if it was true that Mandela has passed away. News trucks were parked all around the Apollo and camera crews were setting up to ask Harlemites how they felt about the death of Nelson Mandela.
We continued shooting this time Abiodun was doing his poem My People and while he did it Abiodun caught the eye of the ABC News crew. The reporter asked if the scarf Abiodun was wearing were the colors of the South African flag. Abiodun explained very gently that the red, the black and the green were the colors of Black Nationalism. Abiodun told his story about meeting Nelson Mandela when he came to Harlem on camera and they wound up using his interview.
After we wrapped the shoot and we were starting to head back home we ran into the famous Harlemite artist Franco who made a name for himself painting the storefront gates of 125th street. He brought candles to a storefront gate that he had painted and that included a portrait of Mandela. Harlemites stopped to take photos of him as he posed before the portrait with his candles. It was a fitting way to end the evening.
“History is written by the victors.”
- common saying mostly attributed to Winston Chuchill
“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
- Moises Santos (my grandfather)
With the physical passing of Nelson Mandela many will remember him as the man who brought freedom, democracy and reconciliation to South Africa. In this remembrance it’s important to note that this is being made possible because South Africans won their prolonged decades long battle with the Apartheid state. When the old adage ‘history is written by the victors’ is trotted out it’s usually in reference to the untold story of injustice that gets trampled beneath the victors parade. The losers always seem to lose more than the battle, they lose the ability to have their story told. They lose the ability to control the historical narrative. The history of the struggle against the apartheid state in South Africa and it’s victory inverted this. The victory in South Africa was not an effort to exclude a history but a means of including one that had been kept silenced.
In the case of Nelson Mandela if the South Africans hadn’t won their battle against the apartheid state then Nelson Mandela might have never been freed and his death in a prison cell would merely have been a new rallying cry to end apartheid in South Africa. The thing that allows political prisoners to become presidents is victory. My grandfather used to say – ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ and there is a heavy unspoken truth there. The unspoken truth is that in order to go from terrorist to freedom fighter you first need to win and winning means controlling the historical narrative.
This idea of controlling the historical narrative is important. In the 1980′s Ronald Reagan had the ANC (African National Congress) labeled as terrorist group and since Nelson Mandela was a member of the ANC he was a terrorist. Los Macheteros a clandestine armed organization fighting to free Puerto Rico from US colonial rule is today listed as a terrorist group and in 2005 the assassination of freedom fighter Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios who was the founder of Los Macheteros was labeled a terrorist. It was that label that allowed the FBI to assassinate him. Comandante Filiberto believed that armed struggle was a right afforded to Puerto Ricans towards the end of freeing Puerto Rico from US colonial rule. Not unlike Nelson Mandela who before he was arrested by the apartheid state of South Africa and sentenced to life in prison felt that violence was the only response left to the brutality Black South Africans faced.
Before Comandante Filiberto was assassinated he was a fugitive who went into clandestinity in 1990. Shortly after he went into clandestinity he did a television interview with a journalist in an effort to explain his thought process and his actions. It was the most watched television program in the history of Puerto Rico. This holds a strange parallel to an interview Nelson Mandela gave in 1960 to a journalist shortly after he went into clandestinity. In both interviews both Filiberto and Mandela speak about the brutality of their oppressors and the right for their people to defend themselves by any means against that brutality.
The widely accepted historical narrative written by the US is that Comandante Filiberto is a terrorist. When he was assassinated by the FBI he was labeled a terrorist because Puerto Ricans have not yet won their freedom from US colonialism and because they haven’t yet won their freedom the don’t control the historical narrative. The US controlled historical narrative dictates that Puerto Rican freedom fighting group like Los Machetero or the FALN be labeled as terrorists. In much the same way that the ANC was labeled a terrorist by the US government. That very same historical narrative also dictates that Filiberto is a terrorist in the same way that Nelson Mandela was at one time considered to be a terrorist by the US government.
i think that the life of Nelson Mandela is posing a question to the US, that the US is doing it’s best to ignore. Who are the freedom fighters in the US that are being labeled as terrorists? Who are the “terrorists” today that are languishing in prison right now who, but for having victory, would be freedom fighters? In the struggle to free Puerto Rico from over 115 years of US colonial rule there’s Oscar Lopez Rivera who’s been held in US prisons charged with the very same charge Nelson Mandela was charged with, seditious conspiracy. Oscar’s been in prison for 32 years, 5 years longer and counting, than the 27 years Mandela served.
President Obama says he was inspired by Nelson Mandela. He said that his first political action was working with the anti-apartheid movement. He says he was inspired by the ability of Nelson Mandela to reconcile the transgressions of the past with truth. And yet there’s this disconnect between former political prisoner Nelson Mandela turned global heroic icon and and current US held political prisoners Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu Jamal, Ruchell Cinque Magee, Eddie Conway, Sekou Odinga, Russell Maroon Shoatz, Jalil Muntaqim and David Gilbert to name but a few that are currently being held in US prisons. Most of them, if not all of them held in prison longer than Nelson Mandela.
It’s good that Nelson Mandela is being remembered for the freedom fighter that he is. He should be remembered for that. History should exonerate him for ever labeling him a terrorist. The US only took Mandela off their list of terrorists in 2008. But this collective historical exoneration of his “terrorist” past is selective. There are others who are struggling right now, languishing in prisons right now, for believing the very same things Mandela believed, for having the same politic as Mandela. What happens to them? How do you honor the former political prisoner Nelson Mandela and refuse to recognize the political prisoners currently being held by the US government? What will it take for the US government to recognize the their “terrorist” political prisoners are our freedom fighters… and in strange sense theirs too…?
Last Of The Po’Ricans Y Otros Afro-artifacts is a book of poetry composed both of words and graphics. The words come from Not4Prophet and the graphics come from me but in a way the graphics also come from Not4Prophet, as these graphics are rooted in his words, rooted in his poetry. As it’s said in the Holy Bible ‘In the beginning was the word…’ and with this book it was no different… There are very few people in the world as talented as Not4Prophet. He has a gift for the word and he lays it down as well as it can be laid down. Lean and muscular writing without fat or excess, packing the punch of a thinking man’s pugilist landing verbal blows where they do the most damage, have the greatest effect.
The first priority in creating the graphics for Last Of The Po’Ricans Y Otros Afro-artifacts, is simply to find a way to live up to the word. If you can do that then you’re half way there and i did the best i could. i’ll leave the verdict of my convictions up to you. The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words but with Not4Prophet’s poetry the inverse is equally true. His words build images and he doesn’t need a thousand words to tell his story. My second priority was to enhance the storytelling of his poetry. As a storyteller myself i particularly enjoyed this part of the process. There are 25 graphics that were created to accompany 25 poems in this volume. i’m proud that Not4prophet trusted me with his poems (not an easy thing to do for any artist) and i’m proud to have had the opportunity to create this work. Here’s a small sample of what’s inside…
Last Of The Po’Ricans Y Otros Afro-artifacts is published by 2 Leaf Press and is part of the Nuyorican World Series which is a selection of books on the Nuyorican experience. The early word from some of the heaviest hitters from poetry to academia is that Not4Prophet’s Last Of The Po’Ricans Y Otros Afro-artifacts is something you should definitely get your hands on… The book is available now at Amazon…
“Like a cool glass of water on a hot summer day…no…more like an oasis not a mirage on this desert we call earth… not4Prophetcomes to bring relief…to let you…me…all thinking people know…we are not alone. I can feel that breeze. I welcome it. There must be a sail cloth somewhere which we will hoist and ride until we find…no create…a new world.”
- Nikki Giovanni, Poet • Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, and author of some 30 books for adults and children
“In Last of the Po’Ricans, not4Prophet delivers “The Daily News” of poetry in a hip-hop beat entangled in blues/plena/ rock ‘n roll/punk/fusion/folk jazz mixed with explosive emotions crafted into each outburst. He delivers rapid fire political, polemical, patriotic, treasonous, nationalistic, anti-capitalistic, take it or leave it, fuck it, in your face poetry that excites and incites.” - Jesús Papoleto Meléndez • Original Nuyorican Poet & Author of Hey Yo! Yo Soy!
“Not4Prophet’s Last of The Po’ Ricans is a BeBop ballistic cultural collage of seditious images that saturate the mind with mental mines scratched straight from off the Spanish Harlem streets. This rican rebels radical rhymes and Puerto punk rock Hip Hop political poems and sub-verses take you on a trip through the hoods history and deep into this original El Barrio word warriors raging heart.” - Abiodun Oyewole • Of the original Last Poets and author of the upcoming collection of poems from 2 Leaf Press Branches Of The Tree Of Life
“The poet’s nu, yo, and he’s rican as ri can. He claims to be po’rican, and that po is for the poEMS you know, bro, as the rican is rich as the tribal-terror-wristic slangwhiches that he slings here in. It’s all write hear, twixt pages and ear. La tradición! Can’t beat it off the mean streets because it’s coming through so clear that it’s all you need to hear. The air is now forever tattooed with prison ink on tribal papyrus. Gracias Not4, a Prophet for our time.”
- Bob Holman • Poet, father of slam poetry and author of Sing This one Back to Me
“The poems in this book are intensely lyrical, rhythmic, heart wrenching, raw, painful and hopeful. Simultaneously furious and tender, they echo the song lyrics not4Prophet wrote as lead singer for Puerto Punk cult band Ricanstruction. Alliterating his way into our hearts/minds, not4Prophet weaves together anything-but-linear poetic narratives with unpredictable twists and turns that are rich in historical and cultural detail. These details are in fact so rich (and often also surprising and rare) that I could only marvel at the ingeniousness of what I was catching while also wondering about everything that was flying over my head. While often relying on dystopian themes and imagery, Last of the Po’ Ricans y Otros Afro-Artifacts is at its core deeply committed to freedom, health and wholeness. It represents a strangely fitting way to be utopian in our times.” - Raquel Z. Rivera • Author of New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone
“In these times of neoliberal barrios and their nuyo-literal MCs, not4Prophet ups the anti (sic) on us all. There’s virtuoso flow here (“cutting umbilical cords / with a subliminal sword”) but there’s also a restless intelligence attuned to an inclusive Boricua affect that brings together everyone from de Burgos and Basquiat to Lolita Lebrón and Sylvia Rivera in a “puerto punk rock”- and- krylon mixtape. In the spirit of the Nuyorican tradition, this is a poet of the political imagination who is unafraid of keepin’ it surreal, leading us beyond the trendy real estate and into the mind-reel of the city as lived. The flow here is anarcho-global (“between the front lines of fanon and magón”), yet these agit-prophecies are less about preaching to the choir than about an improvised explosive verbal energy as boundless as it is shareable—“ad-liberation theologies,” the poet calls them. Although it is a first take, Last of the Po’ Ricans y otros afro-artifacts is already a keeper, its gut-rhymes poised skillfully between revolú and revolution.” - Urayoán Noel • Author of BoringKen
“Beware those who enter here: this poetry is on fire. It burns and it hurts when it burns, yet it is agonizingly beautiful. This is the kind of poetry, squarely in the Nuyorican tradition, that speaks not just for but TO the voiceless, with urgency and clarity, and in so doing reflects a reality that many of us live and endure but rarely see in print, let alone in poetry. Stark, lyrical, and bold, this vol- ume bears witness to the rhythm, rhyme, and passionate reason of Boricua real- ity in New York City. not4Prophet’s voice is unique. An unsettling joy to read and a phenomenal first collection of verse. A must-read for all fans of socially committed literature.” - Lisa Sánchez González • Author of Boricua Literature: A Literary History of the Puerto Rican Diaspora and The Stories I Read to the Children, The Life and Writing of Pure Belpré
“What words can be offered a wordsmith who in saying that his words are “grenade pins getting under the thin skins of uncle psalm’s cabin” has already said it all. After that there can only be words of encouragement, especially when his words have already encouraged a very necessary common rebellion.” - Dr. Jared Ball • Associate of Communication Studies, Morgan State University and author of I Mix What I Like: A Hip Hop Manifesto
“Not4Prophet digs deep to unearth a time capsule of sacred and subversive texts delivering poetic justice that transcends boundaries and crosses the intersections of identity, collective belonging and trans-Atlantic dispossession. These lyrical excavations of truth raging and loving and dying against the machine are more valid than any epidemiological surveillance of the health and dis-ease of the Afro-Boriqua diaspora in Nueva York.I am filled with gratitude that this Griot of the garden has committed his canon of verses to the page to be properly savored and digested as what should be required reading for all.” - Lynn Roberts • Reproductive Justice Activist/Assistant Professor, CUNY School of Public Health
Check out some of the book videos that were done… The first one is an excerpt of the poem Love + Revolution… The second one also includes the same excerpt but includes a short interview with Not4Prophet talking about how the poems in this book came to be…
5 Pointz End Of An Era, a set on Flickr.
Candlelight vigil for 5 Pointz after it was whitewashed by landlords…
Not4prophet lead vocalist and lyricist of RICANSTRUCTION, MC of the hip-hop duo X-VANDALS and star of the six-time award-winning film MACHETERO has a new book of poetry coming out from 2 Leaf Press. It’s called Last Of the Po’Ricans Y Otros Afro-artifacts and it features an introduction by poet Tony Medina and graphic art by none other than myself. Afro-Art-I-Facts Of A Last Po’Rican is a short film i did about Not4Prophet and this new book of poetry… You can get a copy of Last Of The Po’Ricans Y Otros Afro-artifacts on November 25th.