Saturday, August 10, 2013

Reflections of a "Human Earthquake" Victim

Reflections of a 

"Human Earthquake" Victim

Meet Marvin X

Marvin X in Harlem, NY, 1968
photo Doug Harris

   I’m sure we all have those teachers from our past who have impacted our lives. Some have encouraged us to dig deep within and unleash untapped potential. Some have inspired us to think beyond our little world and reach new heights. I can’t remember, though, very many teachers who have shocked me into a dizzying stupor, made me laugh, then ultimately made me love them for their unbridled “Hootspa” (or as we were fond of saying in my hometown….“Huevos”)

Meet Marvin X

   I believe it was the fall semester of 1982 when I walked into the first day of my English class. I was attending Kings River Community College in the small, heavily Mennonite town of Reedley, CA. Our quaint little town was your typical white-bread, very conservative, farming community. So when we all took our seats and noticed that our instructor was not your typical white, middle-aged teacher with patches on his jacket sleeves, but was in fact an african american man, staring us down, we were all a bit off of our game.
   “Hello, welcome to my English class. My name is Marvin X. My legal name is Marvin Jackmon, but I don’t use that name because that was given to me by some white slave owner”! The classroom did a collective head scratching, while some more disturbed students got up and walked into the wall several times, then returned to their seats and joined the head scratching asking panically “Um…your just a sub, right??”
   Everyday in Marvin X’s class was like a field trip though a box of Cracker Jacks. There was always some prize waiting for our small town J.C. minds to grapple with. Mr. X always encouraged lively conversation and I took full advantage of that, because we all know that asking a thousand questions equals a passionate interest in the subject which equals a passing grade!!!!
   The thing I love most about him was that he loved…no, he fed on tossing little “shock and awe” bombshells our way. Which was always followed by that jubilant grin and sparkle in his eye’s. He kept taunting us that some day he would share some of his poetry with us. But he warned us, “My poetry is really “street” …so I’m not sure your ready for it”.
   Several more weeks passed, full of lively conversations, debate and complete pandemonium swirling through our young impressionable little minds. Finally, one day he came to class and announced that we were now officially ready for one of his poems. Once again, he reiterated that his poetry was pretty “street” and not for the faint of heart. We did a collective gulp and nodded our heads.
This poem is called…
(wait for it)

Confession of a Rapist”

(Oh dear Lord!!….um…uh…OK,, I can handle this! I can be street…or at least avenue)
He looked up with that sly grin and glimmer in his eyes, then proceeded with the opening line…
I took the P***Y”
(we’re not talking about sweet little kittens here, folks.)
   He just piloted his Enola Gay B-29 and dropped a bomb (a “P” bomb at that) amongst us citizens of Hiroshima Junior College!
   Visualize those old black & white films of Atomic bomb testing somewhere in the deserts of Nevada. The “Shock Wave” was so insanely intense, our faces were wobbling and contorting to the massive G-forces, that I’m pretty positive not one person heard another line from that poem. Outside, after class, we quickly and hastily put together an emergency Triage unit to asses the damages and re-attach any limbs or brain matter that may have needed attending to.
   Some fellow Christian students from the class were discussing the possibility of assembling a mob with torches and pitch forks, the likes of your typical Frankenstein movie. We soon realized that we were all fine. A little shaken, but fine.

   Oddly enough, there was maybe one complaint in class from a student, and he very patiently and lovingly discussed it with us. In the end, we all came through it like old trench buddies. Mr. X helped lift, perhaps rather firmly, us out of our little comfort zones.

   In the last few remaining weeks of class, we had several more great conversations and debates. One sunny day he even held class outside under a tree and we studied the book of Job from the Bible. I believe he said he loved it because it read like a screenplay. He had lots of great insight and challenged us daily.

   There are only a handful of teachers from my two and a half years of college (and no degree to show for it) that I have maybe a millisecond of memory of them. Mr. X, however, made such an impact on me that his memory is burned into the synapses of my brain. Was he shocking? Yes! However, even more, he loved reaching through to us. He made us think….really think!

Before I began writing this, I Googled him. Sure enough, there he was…

with that sly grin and glimmer in his eyes!
Thank you, Mr. X!

Comment Marvin X:

Let me thank all those beautiful students who attended my English class at Kings River College, 1982. I had the time of my life, but my academic career ended there, even though I received a 97% retention rate. I simply no longer desired to teach again. It is indeed ironic that my career ended not far from where my life began in Fowler, Ca., a few miles down the road from Reedley. My mother was also born in Fowler but never went to Reedley because the town was too racist. 

But during my brief tenure at Reedley, the students treated me royally, bringing me gifts of fruits, vegetables and herbs from their farms. Two of my greatest poems were written during this time, i.e., For the Women and Black History is World History. My students, nearly all White and/or Chicano, did research papers on Black History is World History. One of my Black students was from an Alabama town that hanged  his friend from a light post during the semester. Yes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. But I am humbled by the reflections of my student from Reedley Community College, aka Kings River College.

Save the Date!

In March, 2014, Marvin X will give the keynote address at the Black Arts Movement Conference at University of California, Merced, produced by Kim Macmillan, PhD candidate. Marvin X is the senior consultant for the conference, featuring Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and others. The conference will highlight the works of Central Valley writer Sherley A. Williams, critic, novelist, playwright and professor at the Fresno State University and University of California, San Diego. Marvin X and Sherley were lovers and budding writers at Edison High School, both member of the Drama Club and Life Members in CSF or the Honors Society. Sherley's critical work Give Birth to Brightness is an examination of the Black Arts Movement and how the Blues influenced the radical BAM tradition.

Marvin X turned away from academia to teach on the street corners of America, although he still speaks to university stude

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