Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

The Hard Truth… Death of a Warrior

10th December 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Min. J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Writer

Early on the morning of Tuesday, December 4, the Warrior, Baruti Ajanaku passed from this life into the next after a two-year long battle with pancreatic cancer. When the family called me I still couldn’t believe it, even knowing his condition for nearly a full year. When I got to his apartment he looked more at peace that I had ever seen him in the seven years of our acquaintance.

You see, Baruti had kept his condition a secret for God knows how long. Only a small circle of people knew it and I was not a part of that circle. When he was ready to tell the public he gave me the exclusive. After the report appeared in The Shreveport Sun, all the other media jumped in and did a tremendous job of informing the public about his condition. What followed was an immediate outpouring of support, prayer and sympathy for the man who spent a lifetime fighting for truth and justice for Black people and the poor.

After nearly five decades of marching, protesting, fighting and speaking out when others were silent, he was finally recognized with awards from both the Shreveport City Council, the Caddo Parish Commission and the NAACP. “My first reaction was ‘better late than never,’” he said. “It’s been 44 years.”

Late this year the cancer began to spread. Finally he could not walk and his two nieces took turns taking care of him. He fought to the very end. His years of battling for justice prepared him to face his final battle with courage, dignity and humor. He was ready. He even wrote out his own funeral program earlier this year and had his niece type it up.

But who was Baruti Ajanaku that folks would make such a fuss about him?

The story of Baruti the activist and community hero goes back to the mid-1960s when a feisty 12-year-old known by another name joined the NAACP Youth Council under the leadership of Larry “Boogaloo” Cooper. The issue at the time was Black studies in schools. “No Black History, No Black School.” Baruti asked to speak at the rally and was hooked, “Once I jumped down from that wall, that was it! I was in the Movement from that moment on.” Cooper took Baruti under his wing and they had a lifelong friendship.

They won that issue. Caddo Parish Schools agreed to start Black Studies, but 44 years later the system has yet to implement a comprehensive Black Studies curriculum. Baruti went on to fight other battles for civil rights and justice.

One of his proudest victories was in the area of housing for the poor. “The housing renovation brought at least $600 million into the city coffers. We saved many Black contractors’ businesses. It was the largest program for the poor that was not from a sitting official; it was a spiritual thing,” he said in an interview.

He never stopped calling for Black people to unite. He never stopped challenging Black elected officials about being accountable to the Black community and not to white people with money. He never stopped calling on Black people to embrace our Blackness and return to our own ways and culture. “It’s time to be Black again!” he would say, “Being white has not worked.”

The man was absolutely fearless and despised compromise, regardless the cost.
When a warrior falls, then what?

Three big things bother me about the Death of Baruti Ajanaku and other modern Black heroes. The little ones we’ll skip, for now.

First, we are losing Freedom Fighters nearly every week, many to diseases that could have been prevented or cured. Baruti is such a case. His condition could have been prevented or cured with early detection. The same stubbornness that made him an effective advocate and a terror to sellout negroes is the same stubbornness that worked against his own health. However, in many cases it’s not just the diseases but the cost of health care that is a concern. Then there is the question of stress as a contributing factor to activists and advocates. Anyone of any stripe who commits to promoting truth and justice in this society has declared war on the most powerful system on earth. They can make it hard for you, believe me, I know.

The second is that we are not training new leaders, so there’s no one stepping up to fill the void. At a time when we need more warriors on the field, it really does seem that we are losing more troops than we are gaining. Some of this is due to a lack of foresight and organization. Another reason is the egos of existing leaders. Most of how we function is influenced by our church experience, and you know how bad a sitting pastor hates to see an up-and-coming young preacher strut his stuff. Most of our pastors discourage leadership development. That’s one reason there is so much confusion and strife when they die. Same goes with the Movement, a lot of older leaders want to die in their positions so new blood does not get developed. No, they don’t care how this hurts the movement.

The third thing that bothers me is that we are pretty lousy at preserving the memories and legacies of our fighters. This may be due, in part, to the fact that the powers-that-be don’t want a bunch of Baruti running around raising hell and exposing the truth. The story of a Baruti or a Malcolm or a Garvey might just inspire someone else to follow that path. But this should not stop us from using our nickels and dimes to do something to continue the work and spread the stories of our Great Ones in whatever fashion we can.

Next time we’ll talk about what can be done to address these three concerns.

Until then we need more people to step up and become an active part of the process of Black Liberation. The work is plentiful. Almost anything you can do or like to do needs to be done: teaching, researching, gardening, media, cultural activities, business ventures, protesting, building, etc.

So, Whatchagonna DO?

This article was originally published in the December 10, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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