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.