The Acklyn Model Not Sufficient

The Acklyn Model Not Sufficient


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



 Fortunately, my Tom Dent and Lance Jeffers manuscripts and letters were not damaged

nor were some business documents. I did not have time to visit Dillard, because

removing carpeting and trying to rescue items from the mold consumed a lot of time



  Books by Huey P. Newton

 Revolutionary Suicide  /  War Against the Panthers  / Huey P. Newton Reader / To Die for the People / The Genius of Huey P. Newton

In Search of Common Ground  / Insights and Poems / Essays from the Minister of Defense

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The Acklyn Model Not Sufficient

Or Struggling for Our Best Interests

Conversations with Herbert, Jeannette, Jerry, Brisbane


A Post-Katrina Political Discussion

Brisbane: Miriam, Thank you for including me in the discussion.  It is interesting learning about your history.  I like the model that Acklyn has established.  It accomplishes many of the goals I think are inherent in engaging our youth since it encourages discussion, engagement, and community cohesion. You are right on about integration’s effect on our sense of and actual community. Beyond the discussions in classrooms, our daily interactions within our communities were fractured and in some instances erased.  Now we have to seek out folk who use to live next door.  Our barbershop opportunities are often lost because many of us choose to use the shop in our new community.  

But even where and when we congregate a solitary unit, there is so much diversity in how we see ourselves and our place in the world.  Some of us believe that only by ignoring our past can we move forward.  This has left many of our children ignorant of what it took to get to live in communities where the garbage is picked up regularly and where there are a variety of stores on each block and not just bars and liquor stores. We need to reconnect in the context of post integration and the all-consuming need for material wealth.  The discussions have to change to include the real fears our youth have about employment of any kind, war mongering, and survival in a country that is committed to fascism.  Katrina may have opening an opportunity for discussion and community support that will enable everyone to get involved. I hope that Acklyn’s model will be considered by all of us as a great point of departure because it emphasizes the beauty of who we are while it allows the hard questions to be looked at in a universal setting.  Of course, the good food helps.  After all, we are Africans.

Rudy: Brisbane, to summarize your previous comments: your political activism did not have the desired impact you would have liked on all your children, now young adults, that more or less their sentiments are lethargic with regard to strong convictions and commitments to economical and political changes with regard to the poor at home and abroad, that they are very much a part of the acquisitive, now generation.

I am not surprised, though I am as disappointed as you. Much of the blame I must lay at the feet of our generation. As the old folks used to say, no need to cry over spilled milk.

We must go forward. Of course, we should avoid the mistakes of the past, if we are really able to identify them. It still might not be too late to move the agenda forward, to correct, to revive the desired activism. You think now the Acklyn Model as one place to begin. Acklyn should indeed do what he does. It is worthwhile activity and it pays dividends.

I am partially the product of such activity. I suspect it has something to do with Caribbean or European educational models rather than American ones. Like the British or French tutor model, actually it is an aristocratic model. But it is indeed very middle-class, classical education, one with breadth and depth—music, the arts, theater, museum; history, literature, philosophy—a true liberal arts education, now rare.

My Acklyn was from Haiti. His name was Max Wilson. He studied at Yale and later at the University of Berlin. His wife was German. And he spoke four or five languages. I met him first as an undergraduate at Morgan. Later he sat in Locke’s chair at Howard.

Between those periods, we worked together, one-on-one, through a program at Morgan called University Without Walls. Wilson wanted me to have a classical education, with breadth and depth—opera, ballet, the symphony, museums; Russian, French, Spanish literatures and philosophies. It was not just an academic relationship. The formality of the program fell away. We became friends. Max Wilson. became what we now call a “mentor.” I was invited to his house, numerous times, ate at his table. I was almost a member of his family. Many subtle attitudes and views and approaches to life were picked up.

That model and association was continued with the Meijers, a Jewish family, originally from the Netherlands, who escaped the Nazis and came to America in the 50s. They eventually settled in that upper 16th Street area called “The Gold Coast.” When they first moved in, whites were moving out and prospering blacks were moving in. They sent their kids to school with black kids. They did not have the fears of the American whites and so they got a good buy like many who took advantage of white flight. They lived on one of the flower-named streets, not too far from where Acklyn invites his students

The summer of 78, Dr. Wilson made a request on my behalf. I was short a French class and unable to receive my undergraduate degree in English, at College Park. I was living in Baltimore, no resources. Though an older student, about 30, the Meijers took me in. I stayed past the summer course, and the receipt of my degree. It was wonderful. I did not want to leave and I stayed on into my fall semester of graduate school. They finally nudged me out. It was a very rewarding experience.

Indeed, the Meijers must be applauded for their caring and generosity, as we must applaud Acklyn with regard to his students. They deserve deep appreciation. All that is very comforting and supporting. And young people need that—and our understanding. And if we who know and are blessed don’t do that who will?

All this desirable and valuable support of youth certainly had nothing to do with political indoctrination, nor anything that resembled a political education geared to the liberation of the poor and thus ourselves (or we self). If everything is political, well, we learned to appreciate petty bourgeois taste and manners. Maybe, I overstate the case. There were indeed a few political discussions I remember.

Wilson was a refugee. He could not go home to Haiti for fear of Papa Doc and his voodoo henchmen. He warned me about the intellectual ravages of norisme, “blackness.” Mme Meijer, professor of French at UMCP, also brought up several political topics. I felt somewhat on the spot. Before the Hymie-incident, she asked me about Jesse Jackson, a black leader I’ve never cared for, though impressed by his linguistic skills. At that time Jesse was soliciting money for his education campaign in which blacks were blamed for their shortcomings. I told her I thought he was a scoundrel. Whether she wasted her money on his campaign, I cannot say.

While driving on Georgia Avenue, one day, Mme. Meijer asked me why blacks burned Jewish stores after King’s assassination.. It made me uneasy. I don’t recall how I slid out of that one. Maybe it was an answer like, they were accessible. The more moving political tale was about her flight from Hitler, her parents’ death, and her rejection of the several thousands of dollars of reparation money offered her by the German government. I was impressed by this act of tossing blood money back at the feet of the oppressor.

But all that was a hit and miss kind of political education. The Acklyn Model is not sufficient.

Miriam: Rudy, it was so instructive learning about your intellectual formation by the three people—one Haitian, two Jewish—who mentored you.  I, too, was blessed by parents, caring teachers, and an extended family—blessing that too few of our young people in bullet-marked tenements where drive-by shootings are a daily occurrence, have.  I grant you that the Acklyn Model may be a middle-class, elitist response to some of the problems, but you can’t argue with the results. 

He has nurtured a generation of politically active students.  Did you know that Stephanie, the singer, spent a year in Jamaica working with the poor in Trench Town or that Susie, who helped served the food, has started a shelter for homeless women and children?  What would you suggest instead?  I think and work concretely, pragmatically, and I think with my guts, so I’m going to do what I can with that model at least until something better comes along. . . . And look how good you turned out!  You could have still been down in Virginia country (smile).

Jerry: Rudy, I went to my home in New Orleans for the first time since August 28 on Wednesday.  I must confess I was very, very lucky.  The roof is intact and not leaking; none of the 24 windows had any damage (and they were not boarded up).  There was about 3-4 inches of water in the house, so all the flooring and rugs must be replaced along with the refrigerator; other furnishings can be restored, but some of my books and papers got soaked beyond rescue.  Fortunately, my Tom Dent and Lance Jeffers manuscripts and letters were not damaged nor were some business documents. I did not have time to visit Dillard, because removing carpeting and trying to rescue items from the mold consumed a lot of time. Workers  are clearing debris on campus.

I suspect we might discover interesting parallels between Nero’s infamous burning and rebuilding of Rome and what some “leader(s)” will do by way of reconstructing New Orleans.  As you’ve said it is a delicate and troubling problem.  When Nagin dismisses 3000 workers who will staff agencies, pick up and dispose of trash and garbage, and keep the infrastructure of the city running?  I suspect the city was near-broke when Nagin took office. Now it has zero revenue.  Those of us who really want to live in New Orleans can’t wait for government doles and construction teams that may never appear. 

We have to do as much as we can for ourselves. Self-help and helping one’s neighbors throughout the city ought to be the grassroots theme for this year and 2006.  And if we are wise, we will ask the impossible: that any person running for office in 2006 provide documented proof that she or he can deliver something substantive rather than hot air dreams that belong in coffins. It will be better for the underprivileged to struggle in their own best interests and make errors that are instructive than to blindly accept another slate of corrupt people with vague ideas and little skill in analyzing problems and promoting pragmatic strategies.

Rudy: It’s wonderful there’s possibility for recovery. Of course, your losses are sad. I hope you have insurance that will help you in the recovery. I suppose there will be no check from Dillard until the January semester begins at Tulane. I hope that some FEMA or government funds will be available for citizen restoration.

In any event, it is encouraging and a good sign that you and your neighbors are committed to remaining in New Orleans, only such attitudes promise a new and more humane city for all citizens. If consciousness has not been raised sufficiently by the horrors, the loss, the absence of the lives of those lost, those most capable and knowledgeable should be about doing so. 

Politics as usual can no longer be tolerated. I’ve heard that the brother running a clinic in Algiers is doing good work, from the ground up. And Curtis Muhammad of CLU and other connected groups are doing political work and speaking across the country to  inform and gain support from folks around the country, that is, to make recovery in New Orleans a national issue. Isolation, I agree, must be avoided. Eric Mann’s outline also seems to be a helpful document.

Of course, honesty and a full commitment to the people are necessary to move forward intelligently. Being fully informed what the wise guys are planning and plotting, that too will be a necessity. So it is indeed a good sign there is a Strategy Central. But organizing on a neighborhood, small group, or guild level will also be necessary to put our own wise guys in check. A communication network and strategy will also be required, and not just by Strategy Center.

I do not think in this new world we can leave it to others to care for things political for us. There will always be mountebanks, scoundrels, and demagogues whenever there’s money involved. Cronyism, the old racial discriminatory methods, the good buddy system were not washed away by the flood. They held on, waiting for this very lucrative opportunity.

In any event, this is a new frontier, with new possibilities and opportunities for all. What will be key to power (a subject in which we should clear our heads) is, what I now dub The JW Maxim, Better for the underprivileged to struggle in their own best interests. Without this approach, matters political will be politics as usual. Black folks and their allies need a new politics to remake New Orleans an opportunity for all, to prevent misery and another human tragedy.

There is a need to organize outside the traditional party structure of Democrat and Republican. There is a need for a party that will commit itself first and foremost to the “underprivileged.” That must be its MO, to liberate the poor. Every decision and action will flow from this mindset. Though it is a black party, it will be open to all races, to all who are willing to accept that the black poor is our most vulnerable population and their safety and prosperity assure the prosperity and safety of us all.

Now, I admit I am not a professional politician. I have no degree in this field of study. I am however able to think outside the sweatbox in which we find ourselves. I am able to think beyond that 4 x 6 room Huey calls the soul breaker, its blue walls, its red rubber floor, that white hole in the floor. I think that we can, as Huey (the Nietzschean) in Revolutionary Suicide points out, will ourselves to power, will ourselves free. 

That white power should rule and always win is not that which is inherent in existence. In the absence of expertness in politics and the politics of liberation, I think we are intelligent enough to induce what is required to develop an independent black political party, locally, regionally, nationally.

Electoral politics can no longer be first and foremost on our agenda. The only candidates we can afford to support in that aspect of the struggle are ones outside the Democrat and Republican parties. They must be independent candidates ready to sign onto the defense of the black poor, and do so in the open public, assertively. No half-stepping can be allowed in this new political awakening. 

We can’t be playing around with so much at stake—our very lives. I’m not about any kind of preconceived ideology, philosophy, or structure. I’m afraid this will be a political movement that will have to be figured out in its particulars as we go. What primarily is required is commitment and a clear-headed agenda.

Necessity has set forth other parameters. Those from the middle classes (the learned, the skilled, the specialists, etc.) must organize this black party on behalf of the black poor. They must provide this party with the necessary resources and commitment in order for it to survive and move forward. This commitment, of course, will be a betrayal to some of one’s class self-interests.

For instance, if it is a question of emphasis, a black party must come down first and foremost for higher wages for the poor than another piece of legislation for black entrepreneurs. Or if it’s a question of Affirmative Action and health care for the poor; your kid will have to go to a black school. People are not poor inherently; they are poor because they do not have access to sufficient resources, cut off by the powerful, by force and deceit. All must move first toward improving the material conditions of the poor.

Such a national movement would get a great boost in consciousness raising and activity if there were a Belafonte-Glover presidential race, on the ticket of a black independent national political party. Their issues would be those I’ve sketched out above. They, of course, must make a sacred commitment not to sell out to the Democrats and Republicans. This national activity would further accelerate black political activity on local levels and among the black poor. Only if this approach is adopted will I have full hope of black liberation in America.

Herbert: Rudy, our conversation of last night has sparked me to read Revolutionary Suicide.  Its not a bad read so far, but far from what I would consider a seminal text.  By the way, do you know anything about who assisted Huey in writing this text?  Also, do you know who edited this work?  It might surprise you.  I’ll have more to say when I finished the reading.  I am working a few hours today in Afram so I hope to read as much as possible. One of the things I like about you Rudy, you do make me think. Oh, this text has been informed by Huey’s life experiences, without question
Rudy: Okay, so we move forward. That’s all that I ask. I’m sure we will be both better for it. The reading will be like a cold shower or like getting over fever. The man is not the monster some would make him be. They will always create bogeymen and ghosts to provoke fear. That is par for course. I say that the book has a social utility that is valuable for us today, for our thinking, and for our survival. I know that might sound like high praise. What will be important in Revolutionary Suicide is not so much fiery literary skills or even original thinking, all though that is there too.

It is what Huey brings to our attention, namely, modern ways in which to look at our slavery, and the consideration of ways to loosen the controls on ourselves but also to place controls on those who oppress us. That he introduces personal matters into this “political manifesto” is of little matter. It is there to provide substance, to show how he arrived at a certain political sentiment toward how we as black people should go about our liberation.

I think that it is a book worthy for study in philosophy, in sociology, in linguistics, in social history, in literature (slave narrative tradition), and more. My point here is that it has been pushed out of the “canon” for no other reason that prejudice and middle-class indictment. People like Skip Gates and other neo-Negro liberals who run the afro-studies industry within the powerful academic centers of America should be branded the traitors that they are. I will leave it up to the people, whom they consider the mad mob, to decide their fate. But we will have what is just for us. Banishment, of course, would be merciful.

Jeannette: Herbert,  I’m reading Revolutionary Suicide too for the first time. I’ve been a clinical social worker most of my life, so it will be interesting to see how the book affects my thinking.  I’m a very slow reader and I process very slowly. (I’m still thinking about a question I asked Rudy (from page 4) and his answer.) Maybe this is one reason why it takes me so long to finish a book. I get sidetracked from the text with questions and answers and my own thoughts. Anyway, I’d love to read your thoughts on what you learn if you are willing to share.

Yes, I love the fact that Rudy makes us think.  I see what he is doing with ChickenBones as being a “Holy Mission.”  I think the part that Rudy and  ChickenBones played in bringing the cyberspace community together during Katrina proves Rudy is on a “Holy Mission.”

posted 6 October 2005

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DVDs — A Huey P. Newton Story 2001  / What We Want, What We Believe The Black Panther Party Library 

The Spook Who Sat By the Door  / Passin’ It On; The Black Panthers’ Search for Justice /

The Katrina Papers, by Jerry W. Ward, Jr. $18.95  The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)

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1 January 2012




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