To Return Home: A Tribute to Amiri Baraka (1934-2014), maa kheru

If we were Blues people, he was our Blues man. Like Charley Patton, Like Robert Johnson. Amiri Baraka, born as Everett Leroy Jones, before becoming LeRoi Jones, was one of the many Africans in the twentieth century that decided to come Home. A poet, playwright, essayist, activist—a thinker. What we might in our traditions, call a sesh, Baraka embodied those qualities that made the search for Home, a necessity. A calling to be one’s true self, to as Cedric Robinson says, “preserve an ontological totality.”

We might think of Baraka’s journey or evolution in much the same way that we think of Sinuhe: the protagonist in the Kemetic story of return. For it was Baraka, born in the greyness of Newark, New Jersey, but raised and nourished in the Black-Blue social contexts of bebop and the Negro Leagues, and then like Sinuhe, pushed through the alter-worlds of first Yellow Howard University, then the Air Force (error farce), and finally the White Village, only to come “Home to Harlem” and then to a New Ark.

Why the journey? It is clear that Baraka was in search of a place, of a peace, of a way of being in the world that could only be found in the Black-Blue world he left. In his art, in his activism, we see Baraka engaged a struggle to be—a struggle for Black people, for Africans, to exist as themselves. But this struggle was linked very intimately to a struggle to “know thy self.” And a struggle to remove one’s self, ourselves, from the ideas that reduce that self to nothingness, an appendage to other selves. For it was the work of Baraka and others in this movement that suggested, like Edward Wilmot Blyden, Marcus Garvey, and others before them, that one’s political consciousness must be rooted in the ways in which the folk—the Blues people—make sense of the world. This acknowledgement, this idea that music represented life, that we should “let the world be a Black poem” was of course, also a call for “Nation time”, for revolution. Theory and practice? A binary that need not exist. Baraka taught us, and will continue to teach us that “art” too—by being connected, by connecting one’s self to those who came before, and knowing that our work will affect those who will come, “the beautyful ones that are not yet born”—will ensure our freedom, our liberation.

The Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations honors the life and legacy of Amiri Baraka, one who embodied medew nefer, good speech. A sesh, a djeli, our Blues man. And In honoring our newest ancestor, we vow to continue the work of returning, the journey of Sinuhe. Indeed. We stay diggin’ because this “world is a prison for Black people.” By diggin’ for the ways of “Black folks here and there,” we access ways for entering a new world, one that will truly be Home, one that will, as Jacob Carruthers would put it, “get us out of this mess that we’re in.” To you Baba Amiri Baraka, we say maa kheru, for it was in coming Home, to the land of the Blacks, that your voice became true. Asé.

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