For years the leaders of the Harambee Afrikan Cultural Organization (“HACO”) knew that one of the keys to combatting—and perhaps reversing the damage of—imperialism and the racism, sexism, capitalist fundamentalism, and those aspects of American culture associated with it, was to grapple with the mass media. This included keen awareness, of course, of the need to liberate the mind when their bodies daily withstood the deprivations and indignities of Nebraska correctional system.
Hence the birth of the Harambee newsletter, published by African-American men of HACO imprisoned in Tecumseh and Lincoln, Nebraska. Theirs was not a new battle, for the principal eighteenth and nineteenth-century genres of anti-slavery agitation—abolitionist newsletters, African-American-controlled newsletters like Freedom’s Journal, and fugitive slave autobiographies—were efforts to spread the word against the propaganda machinery of the industrial slavery complex and agrarian capitalism. The aim, of course, was multiplicitous: To enlighten those like Frederick Douglass who awoke to new possibilities and understanding of the depth of his own physical and mental imprisonment after his chance encounter with the Columbian Orator (a collection of essays used in American classrooms); to document the atrocities and shape public and elected officials’ opinions; and, to win over those nonpartisans who knew too little of how slavery fit into a larger cultural scheme of control that regulated and monopolized their own lives.
Consequently, when the Harambee newsletter returned as the Harambee Flame, its editor stating, “It has been quite sometime since you’ve seen the Harambee newsletter” (sic), it was joining a long and distinguished tradition. Written by David Rice, the editor/publisher and former Omaha Black Panther Party co-leader who would soon change his name to Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, the Flame entered a new phase even as it kept true to its original purpose. Rice, a poet, dramaturge, sculptor, organizer/activist, and fierce educator, tapped into his abilities to introduce the Flame as a means of recovering African culture as a corrective.
Why rename it the Flame? That is best left in the words of Mondo, whose cause (along with Ed Poindexter) was championed by locals and international human rights leaders—e.g., Danny Glover, Kathleen Cleaver, Jimmy Carter. Warehoused as a political prisoner, like many other Black Panther Party members, Mondo, as I and other people of good will who have had the privilege of knowing him can attest, was never one at a loss for words. He was an articulate, sardonically humorous Elder statesman, and is now an Ancestor (he passed in March 2016) who epitomized the concept of the flame, which I am happy to let him describe for you:
Flame is what enables us to find our way through darkness. And there is little question that much darkness surrounds us here in the U.S., darkness thick like fog, which pours out at us when we turn on our televisions and radios, when we turn the pages of the newspapers, when we open the doors to enter ‘our’ schools and ‘our’ government buildings. We grope & bump against things because the lies and illusions impede our vision. It is the purpose of the HARAMBEE FLAME to shed some light, if it isn’t but a flicker, on who we are as displaced Afrikans in the U.S. and to provide some insight as to the sum and substance of the conditions in which we find ourselves.
Our symbol (seen at the top of this page) is the key-and-spear. Keys unlock and spears kill. We see knowledge/cultural awareness as being the key to liberation and a weapon against continued enslavement. And it is toward this end that FLAME is directed. We will present news articles, reports, essays, poetry, short stories, anything that has the capacity for bringing enlightenment. And we call upon you, our Brothers and Sisters, to contribute your knowledge and talents to the pages of forthcoming issues of FLAME.
If you have enjoyed the simple, yet elegant, lyricism of this introduction, whose prophetic tones are painfully a propos to our own times, I am sure you will find your own “flame” and “key-and-spear” in the rich, liberating content of the Flame, and Mondo’s everlasting spirit.
—Gregory E. Rutledge
Associate Professor of African-American Literature
Harambee Volunteer, 2006 to Present