Category Archives: Melissa Shipps

Remembering a Griot

By Edmund W. Lewis, Editor
August 20, 2007

In 1987, I traveled to Atlanta, GA to participate in a conference for black students attending predominantly white universities. It was great to meet and interact with other campus leaders who were committed to raising the consciousness of their peers and expanding their understanding of the problems people of color faced on college campuses. What I didn’t know was that one of the presentations at the conference would forever change the way I looked at myself and my historical place in the world.

That presentation was given by Dr. Asa Hilliard III, a scholar at Georgia State University who used a slide show and many years of historical research to provide us with evidence of the presence of black Africans in ancient Egypt (Kemet). While I had read about some of the facts he presented before coming to Atlanta, no one had ever so masterfully broken down African history with the skill and ease Asa Hilliard possessed. Simply put, I was blown away.

That was my introduction to Asa Hilliard III, an unrelenting scholar, educator, griot and freedom fighter who infused his teachings with passion, humor, boundless enthusiasm and old-fashioned common sense. He was loved, admired and respected by people of all races, cultures, creeds and economic backgrounds. Twenty years later, I’m reflecting on the passing of Asa Hilliard III, who died in Cairo, Egypt on Monday, August 13.

I don’t know if there has ever been anyone in the history of the freedom struggle of African people who more clearly defined and articulated the challenges and issues Africans face in the world today. While some scholars have espoused narrow views of what it means to be free, Asa Hilliard always placed the current state of African America and Africans everywhere in a historic context.

Consider the following observation he made in 1985:

“Our first mistake was that we thought of freedom as a place, rather than as a continuation of a struggle…Tyranny never sleeps.

“Our second mistake was that we thought of freedom as a goal, rather than as a launching pad from which to reach our goals – without purposes, freedom hardly matters.

“Our third mistake was that we thought that freedom made us free. That, however, is license – not freedom at all.

“Freedom is being shackled to identity, purpose and direction and being in constant pursuit.”

An intellectual warrior, Asa Hilliard neither flinched nor minced his words when describing the conditions under which Africans have been living for centuries as a result of global white supremacy. In a presentation titled “The State of African Education” that he appropriately delivered in New Orleans for the American Educational Research Association in 2000, he makes the following observations about how education has and is being used as a tool for white oppression: “Above all, we must understand that the structure of society and the embedded structure of education/socialization systems in hegemonic societies are designed to maintain hegemony. It is the structure, including especially its ideological foundation that controls possibilities for African education/socialization, even today. Hegemonic structures and ideologies cannot acknowledge or respect our traditions in education/socialization, profound though they are. Moreover they shape the beliefs and the behaviors that guide mis-education, while blaming victims. No matter how much progress we appear to have made, more degrees and higher paying jobs for a few of us, there has been no shift in the power structure at all, anywhere in the African world. Even ‘liberated’ and ‘independent’ African nations, lack control over real economic and military power. Few even have more than minimal control over their education institutions. These institutions still mimic those of former colonial masters in most cases. Some still have governance of education in the hands of former colonial masters.”

Often Asa Hilliard delivered some bitter, medicinal truths to us that we needed to hear despite how uncomfortable they made us. He underscored the importance of Africans gaining our own identity, self-determination and sense of purpose and direction in the following passage: “We do not know who we are, cannot explain how we got here, and have no sense of our destiny beyond mere survival,” Asa G. Hilliard once wrote. “Most of us hope to hitch a ride on someone else’s wagon with no thought whatsoever as to where that wagon may be going. We have no destination of our own. Ask our leadership, ask our women, men or children on the street what our agenda is. Ask them what plans Africans have and what we want to build for ourselves within the next five, 10, 25, 75 or 100 years. We are so used to having others make long-term plans for us that the idea of our own five-year plan is petrifying to us.”

One of the greatest things about Asa Hilliard III was the fact that he was so affable and approachable. Unlike some scholars who lose their touch with everyday people, Asa was warm and unassuming. While he was passionate about his work, he always took the time and effort to share his knowledge and wisdom with others, whether they were college professors themselves or folks who had very little knowledge of the historical greatness of Africa and Africans. Everything about him suggested that he saw knowledge and truth as things he and all thinkers and visionaries committed to liberating the minds of African people were compelled to share with everyone they met.

He was the living, breathing embodiment of African genius. He talked about the historical greatness, cultural achievements and contributions of Africans with the ease and confidence of someone fully immersed in the boundless wisdom and insight that is Africa’s legacy.

Even in death, he stands as a glowing, towering example of the best minds Africa has ever produced. Keeping in mind’s Africa’s irrefutable past as the cradle of humanity and civilization, that’s high praise.

I encourage everyone who has never been blessed to meet or hear Asa Hilliard speak to run out and buy everything he has ever written. All of the answers to all of the problems and challenges facing African people in the United States and elsewhere can be found in his lectures, articles and books.

While it’s tempting to be saddened by his passing, it’s important to remember that Asa Hilliard III left us all an amazing blueprint for living the African way. He fulfilled his divine mission, paved the way for future generations of African children and made the ancestors proud.

Right now, I’m visualizing Asa in the land of the ancestors visiting with, laughing with, sharing stories with and embracing some of the great men and women who reached those shores before him. I am comforted by the idea of imagining him on the other side communing with ancestors like Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Queen Mother Moore, Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells, Martin Delaney, W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Toure, Steve Biko, Fannie Lou Hamer, Joel Augustus Rogers, Langston Hughes, Ann Nzinga Mbande, Gordon Parks and George Washington Williams.

Asa Hilliard III made his transition to the afterlife on ancient, sacred land with his warrior-queen at his side, a homegoing befitting the courageous, visionary Kemetic prince he was. I will forever be grateful to Mama Patsy Jo Hilliard and the couple’s four children – Asa G. Hilliard IV, Robi Hilliard Herron, Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn and Michael Hakim Hilliard – for graciously sharing Asa Hilliard III with the world.

Those friends, colleagues, and well-wishers who wish to share their thoughts, memories and expressions about the life and works of Asa Hilliard III have been invited to do so at

Dr. Molefi Kete Asante summed up how many of those who knew and loved Asa Hilliard III feel when he wrote, “The ancestral world is richer, we are more protected than ever, but our earthly loss is great.”

While his passing is mourned and his physical presence will be missed, Asa Hilliard III will always be with us. For that, and the many lessons he shared about the history and culture of Africa, I am eternally grateful. Hotep.

Edmund W. Lewis is a 2007 winner of the A. Philip Randolph Messenger Award for Editorial Writing from the National Newspaper Publishers Association. He can be reached by email at

from Louisiana Weekly

From Sniper To War Resister: My Journey

by Army National Guard Spc. Eleonai “Eli” Israel

Two months ago, I took a stand that changed my life forever. As a Soldier, a JVB Protective Service Agent, and a Sniper with the Army who had been in Iraq for a year (running over 250 combat missions), I refused to continue to be a part of the occupation. I regret nothing. This is my story. Currently, as I write this I am sitting in Kuwait, on “stand-by” to return to the States sometime hopefully this week. After getting out of the brig last week, I’m now scheduled to be discharged from the Army within the month. I’m looking forward to joining forces with anti-Iraq-War movements, such as Courage to Resist and Iraq Veterans Against the War.

What led me to this place in my life?
Joining up, the first time

I joined the U.S. Marine Corps in the spring of 1999, the month of my 18th birthday.

I grew up in the custody of the state of Kentucky with little contact with my biological parents since I was 13. I had no family support system and ended up on the streets, doing what street kids do.

By 16, I had eased into hard drugs. I had not been to school since the first part of 9th grade, and I was short on about everything but street smarts, an untapped sense of ambition, and a tough guy attitude.

When I walked into the recruiting station I learned that in order to join the Corps, I would need either a high school diploma or a GED with a waiver-unless I also had certain college credits. When I told them that I was 16 and had only completed 8th grade, they quickly dismissed me, not expecting to see me again.

They were wrong.

Not only did I earn my GED, I also did a semester at the local college. A year and a half later the month I turned 18, March 1999, I walked back into the same recruiting station, spoke to the same recruiter, showed him my GED and my college transcripts and felt my first real sense of pride.

Thirteen weeks after arriving at Parris Island, I was changed forever. I graduated as the leader of a platoon squad with a meritorious promotion, and was now well on my way to a shining career as a Marine.

Then came September 11, 2001.
Re-enlisting for my country

Like many after September 11th I wanted to serve, again. I felt I owed something more to my country after my years of training. I trusted my president and my leadership to tell me the truth. I also trusted my own integrity. I knew that I would never willingly do anything that I knew to be immoral or wrong.

I re-enlisted in 2004-this time in the Army National Guard.

At the time I believed that those serving in the ‘global war on terror’ were doing so because they believed in what they were doing-not because they were under compulsion by a contract or retained by stop-loss. After having seen the situation on the ground, I now believe I was wrong. In 2006, I shipped out to Iraq.

In Iraq I was as a JVB Agent-the JVB (Joint Visitors Bureau) served as the protective service for “three star generals and above” and their “civilian equivalents”. This included the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, their equivalents in a number of our “allied nations”, and others. I trained for my job as part of this “special unit” prior to deployment, and I spent the majority of my tour in the company of the most powerful people connected to the “global war on terror”.

Even as a JVB agent, my primary job was still infantry. On days when we didn’t have any JVB missions, we would be called on for “search and cordon” operations and other infantry assignments. So, although I worked at the JVB, I was still on the roster of a sniper platoon tasked with various missions “outside the wire”-either as “sniper overwatch” or house raids.

I reasoned that my actions during these missions were justified in the name of “self-defense.” However, I came to realize my perception was wrong. I was in a country that I had no right to be in, violating the lives of people, and doing so without regard to the same standards of dignity and respect that we as Americans hold our own homes and our own lives to.
Destroying lives

I have taken and/or destroyed the lives of people who were defending their families from being the “collateral damage” of the day. Iraqi boys are joining groups like “Al Qaeda” for the same reason street kids in the U.S. join the “Cribs” and the “Bloods”. It’s about self protection, a sense of dignity, and making a stand.

The young man whose father and cousin we “accidentally” killed, and whose mother and siblings cry every time the tank rolls through the neighborhood, doesn’t care who Osama Bin Laden is. The “militants” we attacked were usually no different than an armed neighborhood watch group who didn’t trust their government. We didn’t trust the government either, and we put them in power!

Our own sacrifices, as tragic as they are (and they are tragic), are dwarfed in comparison to the carnage that has been brought on the Iraqi people.

“Success” in Iraq is not a matter of the number of coalition deaths “declining”. Success would be an end of the catastrophe we have inflicted on a entire society, and restoration of dignity and sovereignty.

Iraqis continue to die at a rate 10 to 20 times that of the coalition forces. In Baghdad alone, five years and $950 billion later, the population suffers power and water outages that last for weeks at a time. Meanwhile, we often impose martial law so that no one can leave. The day I saw myself in the hateful eyes of a young Iraqi boy who stared at me was the day I realized I could no longer justify my role in the occupation.

I envy the soldier who is able to see the injustice of this war from afar, and has the courage and conviction to take the stand against it. There will be those who criticize soldiers for being willing to weigh moral convictions against political ambition. What matters is making the stand. Whether you chose not to join the military in the first place, or you realized after joining that it fell short of the requisite levels of integrity, the moment you realize the truth is the moment to take a stand. My moment came with only three weeks of combat missions remaining during my one year in Iraq. Moral conviction has no timing.
Taking a stand

I informed my chain of command of my beliefs. I could tell from that first conversation that things were not going to go well. I told them that I believed our presence in Iraq was unlawful. I explained that I no longer believed in a policy of war and that I would file as a conscientious objector. Simply put, I could no longer in good conscience participate in a combat role against the Iraqi people.

Seconds after the words left my mouth, my life changed. Inside I had more peace than I had felt in over a year. I knew immediately that I had done the right thing. However, I was aggressively disarmed, confined, and shut off from contacting anyone, including family or an attorney.

I was illegally confined to a cot in an operations room, placed under 24 hour guard, and escorted to the bathroom before I was formally charged with refusal to follow an order two weeks later. I remained confined until I pled guilty (with little choice) less than a week after that. I was immediately sent to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait to serve 30 days in a military prison. I was just released from the brig the other day and I’m now in the process of being “kicked out” with an “Other Than Honorable” discharge. I regret nothing.

After I told my command my beliefs, and once they realized they couldn’t intimidate me and that I was serious, they decided that it was going to become an “information war”.

I had many anti-war friends from MySpace and other online networks that got wind that I was being mistreated and it circulated around the world, literally overnight. Before I knew it, I was dragged into the First Sergeant’s office and they began yelling and screaming about how their names were “all over the internet”. They didn’t try to deny what was being said about them-that I was being treated unfairly and that they refused to acknowledge my claim as a conscientious objector-they were simply mad about the exposure.
Military strikes back

The next day I was told that I had been “flagged” as an OPSEC (operational security) “concern”. No reason given. They were hostile and consumed with the task of making “an example” out of me, and they were looking for ways to ruin my reputation and credibility.

They spent days typing up pages of fabricated “counseling statements” to retroactively discredit my military record. The fact that there were no prior record of statements made these accusations obviously fake, and they knew it. They “needed more”.

They demanded repeatedly all of my Internet user names and pass words-MySpace, personal email, everything. All under the threat that “more charges” would be brought against me if I refused.

They wanted to read my emails, all my blogs, everything, in an attempt to find something. Anything they could use to make it look like I had been giving out classified information. They wanted to charge me and ruin my credibility as much as possible, and they desperately needed to be able to justify my illegal confinement.

Two weeks later, when they finally realized that they were not going to be able to charge me with “divulging intel”, they finally charged me with a series of “not following orders”. Not only did these include my refusal to continue combat missions, but ridiculous stuff like “not standing at parade rest” and “being late for work”. You get the picture.

My command eventually offered to “chapter me out” if I would immediately plead guilty to everything and accept a summary court martial. My options were clear. I could play ball, spend 30 days in a brig, and get my life back. Or I could let them put me back on a fully confined restriction for the next two months, while they took every opportunity to make an example of me-to show everyone in the battalion, “this is what happens if you oppose the war.”

I’ll let them think they won, for now.

The truth will come out, and there is nothing they can do to hide it. The occupation is a disaster. I’m convinced that every day it continues that it makes America, and the Iraqis less safe.

Objecting to the war and standing up to the military was without question, one of the best decisions I have ever made. I made a stand that was the right one, and I have my freedom back as a bonus. Maybe ten years from now those of us resisting from within the military today will be seen as some of the first few to speak the truth and to follow up with action. Even now I have many to remind me that I’m not alone in my thinking, even a majority of Americans who know that all the pieces of this conflict simply don’t add up.

Seek the truth. Make the stand.

Courage to Resist
Iraq Veterans Against the War

Originally published on Sunday, August 12, 2007 by

None So Blind As The Colorblind

by Sean Gonsalves

Several years ago, I went to visit my grandfather at Mass General Hospital in Boston after he had bypass surgery. Thanks to my younger brother (a batboy for the Oakland A’s at the time) I had some primo tickets for the A’s-Red Sox game that evening and was trying to flag down a cab to take me to Fenway.

After no less than a half-dozen cabbies shooed me away from their empty taxis, I said to myself: Oh, OK. Now, I’ve got my own black-man-can’t-get-a-cab story. And that’s when I saw this white guy, coming out of a nearby coffee shop, wearing a Red Sox t-shirt.

“You going to Fenway?” I ask.


I told him I had been trying to hail a taxi for the past 15 minutes. Without even mentioning race, he says: “I’m from New York. I know what you’re talkin’ about. C’mon. You can ride with me.”

He walks out to the curb and – I swear on everything I own – a taxi immediately pulled up. On the way to Fenway, I offered him one of my behind-home-plate tickets. We had one helluva good time, just the two of us, drinking beer, eating peanuts, enjoying the great American passtime.

One of several problems with using a catch-all word like “racism” is that many white brothers and sisters see it in terms of individual bigotry and hatred. Unless there’s KKK or Nazi insignia involved, there’s no racism. That’s focusing on intent – what’s in an individual’s heart.

But for those on the receiving end it’s all about effect. (Actually, focusing on intentions while ignoring effect is one of this great nation’s most glaring moral shortcomings, blinding millions to seeing, for example, why it’s absurd to think Iraqis, or any proud people, would be grateful for being “liberated” by a foreign invader and occupier. If you‘re family were “collateral damage” in a war of “liberation,” I doubt lofty rhetoric about good intentions and democracy would salve your wounds. But I digress).

Race is a social phenomenon that’s bigger than the individual. It operates on a group-think level.

What if my baseball buddy hadn’t shared that cab with me? That wouldn’t make him a racist but it would mean he was cashing-in on white-skin privilege – the privilege of not having to pay a racial tax for the criminal behavior of a few who happen to share the same skin color.

This racial tax can be seen at work in the national “liberal” media just about every time there’s a report of some spectacular crime or news of a celebrity’s moral lapse. As conservative cultural critic (and jazz scholar) Stanley Crouch astutely observed, when a black person commits a crime, it’s a comment on race. When a white person commits a crime it’s a comment on society or that one individual alone.

No matter how many times a disturbed white male shoots up a school, church or workplace, bombs an abortion clinic or is arrested for being a serial killer, nobody raises questions like: is something wrong with white suburban culture? The response is either: that’s one sick individual, or it just goes to show you how bad society is getting.

Too many Allen Iverson “types” in the NBA? Let’s institute a dress code to send a message to “black thugs.” White NHL players fight all the time but that’s just hockey, part of the game, you know. Michael Vick is indicted for his alleged involvement in dog-fighting and next thing you know we’re talking about “thugs,” “hip hop,” the “breakdown of the black family” and all manner of Bill Cosby moralizing.

Quarterback Tom Brady knocks a girl up, then starts dating some other chick while the first girl is pregnant. And the water-cooler talk is: Tom is such a stud. Why did he leave the first girl? She’s so pretty…But if it’s not Tom Brady, but Antoine Brady in the spotlight there’s a whole different conversation, variations on the what’s-wrong-with-those-people theme.

These are just a few obvious examples on the cultural front. When it comes to things that really matter, like economic opportunity, economist Dr. Melvin Oliver has shown that the value of lost income to black Americans because of discrimination between 1929 and 1969 alone comes to about $1.6 trillion. (Note the years 1929 to 1969; not 1869, which should stand out to any one who talks about how their family immigrated to America after slavery and the Civil War etc. and therefore are not implicated in the perpetuation of white-skin privilege).

What affect does this kind of maldistribution of wealth have on present day economic conditions?

Oliver began his research when he noticed how many of his white colleagues were able to buy a house because of a transfer of assets before the death of their parents. This down payment on their homes was a benefit available to few blacks because of bank red-lining and other such policies. Oliver also notes the central role Uncle Sam played in creating a strong white middle class with the GI Bill and federal subsidies of mortgages, inaccessible to most blacks at the time.

And that’s why it completely misses the point when “color blind conservatives” talk about “playing the race card,” or making whites feel guilty. It’s not about making anyone feel guilty, or making excuses for the morally questionable behavior of individuals who happen to be black. It’s about being honest about cultural dynamics and majority power in a race-conscious society whose Founders talked about protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority. As Rabbi Heschel said: we are not all guilty but we are all responsible.

If America is ever going to have a meaningful inter-racial conversation about the legacy of white supremacy and its impact on present day political and economic conditions, then we’ve got to have mental dexterity to keep track of some important distinctions.

That’s a tall order in these times when you can be accused of being a “black racist bigot” for simply daring to question the new PC – “color blindness.”

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times assistant news editor and a syndicated columnist. E-mail him at
Common Dreams

EDSTATS you can use SPECIAL: Black PHD Index 2007

Note: Many folks have asked me to see if I could pull together some data on the state of Black PhDs in the US today. Well, below is an index that quickly shows the crisis (or crises) that we – as a people – face in the realm of US higher education: a growing dearth in Black PhDs in every field except education… and especially in the mathematical, science and engineering fields. These latter fields are the areas where the very survival of Planet Earth is dependent upon… and we are the most distant people from them… and we are the people who – over five centuries – have been the deepest affected by all the negative aspects of the capitalist sciences and medicine.

We have no choice but to encourage our present 8 and 10 year olds to develop an interest in any of the vast scientific, mathematical, medical and engineering fields… because that is just about all the time (10-15 years) we have before the window of opportunity shuts for us in the US. Another obvious but still devastating reality is the fact of the disappearing Black Male Graduate Student. Over the next 10-15 years, we have to find ways to bring tens of thousands more Brothers into higher education WITHOUT diminishing the rising number of Sisters in higher education.

Only through a strong national Black education organization that’s grounded in self-determination and the powerful tradition of “Education for Liberation” can we build a force powerful enough to reverse this downward education spiral and accelerate a new cadre of Black intellectuals dedicated to the liberation of People and the Earth from a world-system hellbent on death and destruction for the sake of profit maximization for a few.

In Struggle,

S. E.Anderson

Black PhD Index 2007
(a la Harper’s Index- based on 2005 stats)

Number of Black PhD Grads in 1987: 787
Number of Black PhD Grads in 2004: 1869
Number of Black PhD Grads in 2005: 1688
Percentage of US Population that is Black: 13
Percentage of new PhD Grads that is Black: 6.4
Percentage of new PhD Grads in 1977 that were Black women: 38.7
Percentage of new PhD Grads in 2005 that were Black women: 64.9
Percentage of all new Black PhDs that are in Education: 39.2
Percentage of all new white PhDs that are in Education: 18.8
Percentage of all new Black PhDs that are in the Sciences: 5.0
Percentage of all new white PhDs that are in the Sciences: 12.0
Percentage of new Black PhDs that are in Engineering: 1.3
Number of PhDs awarded in Mathematics in 2005: 1231
Number of Black PhDs awarded in Mathematics in 2005: 16
Number of PhDs awarded in Astronomy in 2005: 72
Number of Black PhDs awarded in Astronomy in 2005: 0
Number of PhDs awarded in Physics in 2005: 1300+
Number of Black PhDs awarded in Physics in 2005: 10
Number of PhDs awarded in the Earth Sciences in 2005: 379
Number of Black PhDs awarded in the Earth Sciences in 2005: 2
Number of PhDs awarded in Ocean & Marine Sciences in 2005: 190
Number of Black PhDs awarded in Ocean & Marine Sciences in 2005: 1
Number of PhDs awarded in Biological Sciences in 2005: 6455
Number of Black PhDs awarded in Biological Sciences in 2005: 142
Number of PhDs awarded in 53 other scientific fields: 2275
Number of Black PhDs awarded in 53 other scientific fields: 0
The average age of a Black Ph.D. recipient in 2005: 36.7
The average age of a white Ph.D. recipient in 2005: 33.8
Culled from National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago

Peace Tax Return

If a thousand people were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the state to commit violence and shed innocent blood.
Henry David Thoreau
“On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”

Only for the brave

The Peace Form is for people who want to register a protest to paying taxes for war, or people who choose to refuse to pay some or all of their federal taxes because they are spent on war.