Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Excerpts from Oronde Ash's book James, Mos Def, my brotha & Me: Reflections on The Fire This Time

Dear James,

My brother is fourteen now, about the age when you and I began interacting on life with the best and worst of our thoughts. When I go home I see in his eyes, the challenge of becoming human in this new century. I was fortunate to have you as a comrade then and read in your works, especially The Fire Next Time, an excerpt to the story my inner actions were writing. Your Fire lit me and shined a path on how to fight whatever fever or chill will exist in my time…

 … I cannot imagine my whole Avenue conspiring to hold me back. I have never experienced that force. In the language of your father, I would have been destroying myself for believing in and setting out to prove my human capital at twelve, thirteen or fourteen. Now, my brother is the same age and facing the same choice. He and I were both discovered to be above-average students around the fifth grade. Basically, we are both very good at standardized tests, observing and finding patterns in texts, equations and human thought. Like you, he is not just an above average student, he has the potential to be one of the relatively few, conscious human beings. No one has had cause to hold him back, James, said, “No” to his dreams, nor had cause to make him feel less than worthy in any way. He's never --like most black boys, thankfully-- heard the word nigger uttered with contempt from some unconscious soul whose family knows no better than to teach trash to their progeny. You've heard the word. I've been pierce by it.

in 4th grade after scoring one for the spirit of '76
i was tripped by him and fell in the mud
he blotted the sun that day and
from my stained seat i heard NIGGER!
i was 4'8"
he was no bigger

Nigger? me? simply 'cause i borrowed the ball during the give and take of the game we had both agreed to play
Nigger? me? for trying harder, running faster, playing smarter than him that was all for Nigger
what assured loser he was

as the final whistle blew that Sunday
the Spirit of '76 won I walked off the pitch, proud, on high my yellow jersey muddy and black his uniform was still clean no mud,                                        
no black just pure white walking off the pitch
me, a winner
he, sure looking like a NIGGER!

 … Your genius is that you got over life's darkness and turned the light on whiteness, showing how bland, soulless and hypocritical their society was, how little many of them knew about it and even less about their place in it. You never talked with bitterness or hatred. I always felt you spoke the clear and present facts of the time, with clarity, honesty and truth. And it wasn't just you. I've read Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Eldridge Cleaver, Alex Haley, W.E.B. DuBois, Frederick Douglas, William Wells Brown, Leslie Alexander Lacy, Ezekiel Mphelele, Mark Mathabane, Chinua Achebe, Nathan McCall, Michael Eric Dyson, Clarence Page, James Weldon Johnson, George Jackson, even Ice-T. I love to read autobiographies or nonfiction and prose written by black men. Their black boy stories remain the same over time. I used to think that was boring until I realized it simply meant America had not changed in its treatment of the black boy. In my favorite biographies, whiteness was defined against blackness --as soft can only be defined against hard, weak against strong. The black boy believed what lies the white world told him, questioned those lies somewhere around adolescence then set out to create his own truths. He became himself in the presence of an existing --a necessary-- racial discourse. There had to be meaningful discourse and the opportunity to act on it. There had to be family, friends, communities, a nation talking about race, nuclear war, peace, sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, poverty, class struggle; talking about something. He needed that force to shape him, to war against...

… Class struggle, poverty, power, access, the war on labor unions, worker solidarity, the poor and defenseless of America were the impetus for the Civil Rights Movement as well as the independence movements, student movements, feminist movements of the mid-to-late twentieth century. But those movements are dead, right? They have been killed under fifty years of government orchestrated, business propaganda. However, the moment we accept that race, class, power, access, independence or feminist concerns do not still exist, and, furthermore, refuse to at least consider an inner dialogue about them --or any of civil society‟s democratic wants and needs-- that will be the moment we implement the design of our final destruction. In the interim, we should endeavor to do something. A people cannot suddenly get rid of the thing which has defined them --struggle in the search for a better societal design. History doesn't work well like that. There will be chaos in an indefinite society and no one will recognize why because the very thing they have thrown away --the means of arriving at the problems-- is the thing that is to save them. Even poor, white racists still believed they were superior and justified in their inequity towards blacks. As they got lower on the socioeconomic ladder they never threw away their whiteness or their willingness to defend it. Poor, white racists still knew what being white meant, even though the perception of whiteness in based on money and possession they didn't have. Why then, should black folks who have gained access, money and possession moving up the socioeconomic ladder throw away the continual search for betterment --such an integral part of our un-American identity?

Folks need to attempt dialogue again, engage in meaningful societal discourse. And I don't mean just black and white. The dialogue is especially necessary between black and black, white and white, American and American because this country still is what it is. Black folks and other conscious Americans need to ask each other if we still think about race --still see a need for a better societal design? What, if anything, do we want to do about it? How do we start our mission? Who will be the leaders, if any? Who will be the niggerati, intellects, the foot soldiers? How will we recruit members? What will be the criteria for membership in the new movement? And most important of all, is the whole damn thing necessary?... 

… I have a new ritual. I listen to a Mos Def CD every day. He un-raps the best of my current black spirit in rhythm and rhyme. I'm feeling liberated these days and want to act on freedom's instincts and reach people the way Mos‟ lyrics and his buzz have infected me. His story and mine have similarities. Two black boys from Brooklyn, roughly the same age, moved by thought, inspired to share what gifts God has blessed them with. Who knows, maybe he and I were on the same train one day, avoiding each other‟s gaze, deep in contemplation about our black boy realities. He could have been the cat free-styling near MSG that afternoon when I stopped, 'cause I was moved by words. James, if you were alive today and got to be twenty-seven again, you would be Mos Def. His truth and honesty remind me there are still folks out there who are willing and able to think through our mess and assess all that the process can lead to. Like Mos, we are all MCs, teachers, cultivators of the earth. I try to get my brother to listen to Mos, Pharoahe Monch, Talib Kweli, The Roots, Common, Dead Prez, Outkast, Goodie Mob, Lauryn Hill or Spook's single, “The Things I've Seen”. These artists seem to be the new leaders keeping alive our struggle for black liberation. My brother may be too young to see the struggle. He listens to Lil Wayne and the Hot Boys, relates more to the Bling! Bling! than to Black Thought. I don't have a problem with a boy working hard, sacrificing, learning the game and making the thousands Lil Wayne has. More power to Cash Money. I bounce to their sound. I like anything that diversifies the black experience in America. I like the fact that more music puts no limits on what my brother will be moved by. I bounce to that whoadee thang in Juvenile's Ha --one of the most conscious singles to hit it big in the gloss and booty-shaking MTV defines as rap music. The song is our living, black boy consciousness, laughing at the desolation of our impoverished communities because there is little to do but find some joy in the inner-city wastelands. I never knew whoadees in N'Orlans felt my Brooklyn black boy thang. Now I know and I'm better for choosing to hear it.

My brother does listen to WuTang, Meth and Redman though --acts cryptic enough to straddle the line (I don't know how, but that is their genius) between information and wacky entertainment. There's genius between the cultural and religious subversion in the lyrics that separate and bind Wu's knowledge. It makes Shoalin kung-fu, Fifth Dimension, Atliens, that New World Water nonsense at least seem interesting to the white kids who buy 70% of rap music's CDs...

 ...There are goggles of gigabytes of interesting information out there for my brother to feed on. He's supposed to eat it all up right now. He has been fed so much information that it is only a matter of time before their emerges a set of people from his generation who will question what they have eaten and try to understand what it is supposed to do to them. That's why the Barons and their Government Infotainment Complex have to work ten times as hard to keep my brother busy, sitting on his backside. But there have been folks on the backside of progress that saw what was really going on. I want to be one of those people. I pray to God my brother sees those people, joins up with them and does something to become the great men and women history is preparing his generation to be. If he keeps vibin‟ to the wei in the Wu, I know there's hope alive in him. On some level, he vibes because he connects to something powerfully black, unmistakably human. The fact that he listens, means he can still hear his humanity calling through the buzz, buzz, buzzing of our time. And if he hears only the 5% he's supposed to, that would be more than enough…

Saturday, December 05, 2009

UBUNTU RADIO with Oronde Ash --Laye Traore Interview

Laye Traore Interview

At age seven, Laye Traore walked for a year to escape civil war in Liberia. He eventually made it to a refugee cam in Guinea and onto the United States. In this interview he talks about that year walking for survival.


Saturday, October 17, 2009


Saturday, October 03, 2009


Wednesday, August 12, 2009


My debut novel, 17 to Life: A Black Boy Memoir (On Becoming A Human... Being in America)
has been published and is available for purchase at

Friday, July 17, 2009

CNN's Black In America 2-- July 22, 23

From health to education, CNN’s “Black in America 2” continues to investigate some of the most significant and challenging issues facing African-Americans. Airing on July 22 & 23 at 8PM (ET), host Soledad O'Brien focuses on emerging leaders, innovative community programs and business ventures that are addressing the most persistent and pressing issues and disparities facing African-Americans. Here is the trailer and some brand new clips, as well as the episode summaries for both nights.

On July 22, Black in America 2: Today’s Pioneers will examine the programs and progress of people working in ways large and small to make a difference. This is the story of community organizers across the country and the progress and improvements that they are creating locally.

On July 23, Black in America 2: Tomorrow’s Leaders will look at solutions aimed to developing leaders of tomorrow. We meet those that have already achieved heights of power, education and influence. And, we learn how others are reaching out to the next generation to ensure their success and achievement.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


songs for worship
songs for worship