Activist, journalist, Min. J. Kojo Livingston dies
9th September 2013 · 0 Comments
By Fritz Esker
Minister J. Kojo Livingston, an activist with more than 40 years of experience in community organizing, advocacy, and street-level outreach, died of natural causes in Shreveport, La. on Wednesday, September 4. He was 58.Livingston was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1984. He founded Liberation Ministries in New Orleans in 1998 with his wife, Shannon. The ministry remained in New Orleans until their Upper 9th Ward home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. After the storm, they chose to stay in Shreveport near family members. In 2006, they opened Destiny One Ministries in Shreveport, La. Livingston’s ministry preached the benefits of street-level outreach and Livingston worked on many violence prevention programs.
According to the Destiny One Ministries website, Liberation Zone/Destiny One Ministries (LZ/D-1) is a Christian ministry with Black/Afrikan Nationalist politics and culture, meaning that our focus is the uplift of Black people in North America and the world as our first priority in creating a better planet for all.”
On the D-1 website, Shannon and Kojo Livingston list the names of some of the elders who have played pivotal roles in the development and direction of Liberation Zone/Destiny One Ministries, including Sis. Dara Abubakari (aka Virginia Collins), Dr. Morris F.X. Jeff Jr., Mother Estelle James, Mama Alma Watkins, Queen Mother Suma Diarra, Baba Chuck Siler, Baba Harold Batiste, Baba Takuna Tarhaka, Baba Minor Bell, Baba Royal Hill, Mama Rose Ventriss Williams, Mama Eileen St. Julien and the Rev. Dwight Webster.
“We believe the Supreme Purpose of all Christian Ministry is to Promote a Personal Relationship with God, the Creator, through the teachings, example and sacrifice of Jesus Christ,” LZ/D-1 Ministries says in its mission statement. “We also believe that this Relationship, when genuine, results in the fulfillment of one’s Destiny (God’s plan for the life of a person or group) and the eternal salvation of one’s immortal, conscious soul.
“The practical manifestation of The Supreme Purpose is the Specific Mission of this Ministry which is to:
• pursue the complete physical, cultural, political, economic and spiritual Liberation of Black/African people in the United States and the world;
• help Black/Afrikan people fulfill our God-Given Destiny as a strong, prosperous and righteous people who will lend light and leadership to the world in becoming more like the Creator.”
Min. Livingston’s current and past affiliations include Christian Unity Baptist Church (New Orleans), the U.N.I.A., the Republic of New Afrika, Amnesty International, SCLC, the New Orleans Committee Against Apartheid and others.
His affiliation with The Louisiana Weekly dates all the way back to the 1970s, which essentially made him a longtime member of The Weekly family.
On his Facebook page, Livingston described himself as a “truth seeker in (but not limited to) the Christian tradition.” He described his political beliefs as “Black Nationalist/pan-Afrikanist” and was a supporter of the teachings of Marcus Garvey and a member of the Louisiana Garveyites. His wife said his passion was “the liberation of Black people worldwide.”
He was also an accomplished journalist with more than 34 years of experience writing and editing for both local and national publications and was a frequent contributor to The Louisiana Weekly. His impassioned columns discussed topics ranging from education to African-American businesses to the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case to his boycotting of Essence Fest. He was also a frequent guest on WYLD’s ‘Sunday Journal,” hosted by Harold Clark.
Even in social media, Livingston passionately discussed the topics that were important to him. In recent weeks, his Facebook posts covered a broad spectrum of topics from his opposition of the potential war in Syria to his distaste for McDonald’s and processed foods. His list of favorite TV shows also reflected an eclectic taste, as he included the modern geek comedy “The Big Bang Theory” and the short-lived detective show “A Man Called Hawk” from 1989.
Born on April 19, 1955 and raised in Los Angeles, Ca., Livingston graduated from Verbum Dei High School in Watts. He attended Xavier University in New Orleans and Morehouse College in Atlanta. His mother worked as teacher and then with a toy company. She preached the value of education to her son, who honored her in 2011 by creating Grandmother’s House: The Frances Livingston Center in Shreveport. It was designed to address a variety of community needs from literacy to parenting to child advocacy and leadership development.
Even though he moved out of New Orleans after Katrina, the city remained close to his heart. “Even though we live in Shreveport, he still had a significant love of and support of New Orleans,” Shannon Livingston said.
Even before The Louisiana Weekly was officially open for business Thursday morning. community activist W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and host of local cable-access show “OurStory,” had called to talk about Livingston’s passing.
Johnson said Friday morning that while he too mourns the passing of Kojo Livingston, he is encouraged and buoyed by the shining example Livingston set and his enduring legacy as an activist.
“I am able to find strength in the knowledge that Brother Kojo was and will continue to remain a warrior for the Liberation of Black People,” Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “It is with these thoughts I am able to continue the struggles during this difficult time. I too share the loss of The Louisiana Weekly and the country, but I am comforted by the inspiration of Brother Kojo’s work and the knowledge that Kojo’s contributions will live on for generations to come.”
The Rev. Dwight Webster, pastor of Christian Unity Baptist Church, told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday that he and Kojo Livingston had been friends for almost as long as he can remember. “We’ve been connected church-wise for decades,” Webster said. “He’s been with us for a very long time and our families have been close for a long time.”
While some might not understand how Kojo and others could embrace both the Christian faith and African-centered values, Webster says it’s not as complicated an issue as some make it out to be. “The common denominator is unconditional love for self and others,” Webster told The Louisiana Weekly. “People can’t really do well with others if they don’t have a love for themselves — and generally those who don’t have a love for themselves don’t have much esteem.”
Webster said that Kojo Livingston lacked neither love nor courage as he worked for the liberation of Black people.
“Here’s the irony for me: Kojo was a Warrior,” Webster said. “He was a true radical revolutionary — by that, I don’t mean people who just talk militant or are loud. I’m talking about one who knew how to go to the root of a problem. He knew that the root of our problem was a lack of love. He was radical in his insistence that we be responsible and loving, that we love our people and not just ourselves.”
Rev. Webster says that the last time he saw Kojo Livingston was during a recent visit by the activist to the city. In his Louisiana Weekly column, Livingston talked about coming to New Orleans during Essence Fest to support Community Book Center, which had been essentially kicked out of the Essence Marketplace at the Morial Convention Center. It was likely during that visit that Livingston dropped by Christian Unity Baptist Church to deliver a sermon.
Webster says that Kojo Livingston’s skills as a minister in the pulpit were impressive and reflected his ability to think outside of the box about solutions to problems plaguing the community and his passion for the work he was doing.
“Kojo was an awesome preacher — one of the best I’ve heard,” Webster told The Louisiana Weekly. “He was not your national megachurch preacher because you had to do too much ear-tickling for that. He was a prophetic preacher…He was awesome, that good a preacher.”
Webster said that even before Livingston’s passing, he had missed not being able to see him as often as he did before Hurricane Katrina. “I had already missed him being in Shreveport but this adds a kind of finality to it that I wasn’t expecting,” he told The Louisiana Weekly. “I’m going to miss my brother.”
“I think a lot of people didn’t know that Kojo had a great sense of humor, “ Shannon Livingston told The Weekly when asked what she will miss most about her husband. “He had a real humorous side to him — I don’t know if everybody knows that. I think that those who are part of his inner circle do.
“I think what I will miss most about Kojo is that he was solid,” she continued. “He would fight lions, tigers, bears and the devil and everybody else for his family, in terms of protecting us. He was solid in protecting his family.
“I’ll miss the humor, but also the intelligence, his brilliance, his ability to go into He’s one of the few people that could maintain a cool, rational, intellectual head when everybody else is falling apart. He would ask the right questions, take the right steps and do whatever needed to be done….He was calm and cool in the middle of a crisis. He made it seem so effortless and he gave intelligent, practical solutions to problems.”
Kojo Livingston is survived by his wife of 27 years, Shannon; two daughters, Malaika and Shaddai; a son, Jamaal; a grandson, Isaiah; and a host of friends, colleague, fellow activists and loved ones. Memorial services are being planned in Shreveport. There will also be a Homegoing Celebration for Kojo Livingston in Shreveport, La. on Wednesday, September 11, at 11:00 a.m. at Evergreen Baptist Church, 804 Allen Avenue. The family is also putting together a tribute at Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans but those plans had not been finalized at press time.
“I want New Orleans to know that something will be done to honor the memory and legacy of Kojo in New Orleans,” Shannon Livingston told The Louisiana Weekly Friday. “I realized that some people are going to make it to Shreveport for the service, but there are quite a few that won’t be able to come. Because he had such an impact on New Orleans — that was our home — and had such strong connections and ties to the city and its people, we have to do something there.
“The same thing Kojo was doing in New Orleans he was doing in Shreveport,” Shannon Livingston added. “He was still very passionate about the liberation of Black people — that never changed. As he said, all he wanted was his people to be free — that’s all he wanted.”
*Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.
This article originally published in the September 9, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.