Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Malcolm Shabazz's Search for Mecca



By John L. Mitchell and Jack Chang 
Malcolm Shabazz, the 28-year-old grandson of Malcolm X, was killed in Mexico City this past May. All illustrations by Esra Røise.
Malcolm L. Shabazz, the 28-year-old grandson of Malcolm X, crossed the border from California into Tijuana in early May for two reasons. His labor-activist friend, Miguel Suarez, had just been deported from the Bay Area, and Malcolm wanted to offer moral support and eventually get him back to California.
Malcolm was also running from himself. Back in the United States, he had bounced from one arrest to another for various misdeeds like public drunkenness, marijuana possession, and petty larceny. The trip south, he hoped, would provide refuge and anonymity from his troubled history and inspire him to overcome his own doubts about whether he could live up to his legacy as the first male heir to one of the fiercest crusaders for African American rights in US history.
On a two-day bus ride from Tijuana to the country’s capital, Malcolm and Miguel swapped tales, took in the scenery, and sampled street food at the tiny towns along the route. They conjured up a grandiose plan to unite black and brown people across the US and Latin America by connecting Mexico’s African heritage with Malcolm X’s message of self-defense and human rights.
Malcolm and Miguel, in other words, had big dreams. They wanted to climb the Teotihuacan pyramids outside the capital and explore the African Mexican communities of Veracruz state. They had even planned to hop over to Cuba, hang out with fugitive and former Black Panther Assata Shakur, and maybe even pay a visit to Fidel Castro.
But they only made it as far as the Plaza Garibaldi, a hustler’s hunting ground in the center of Mexico City where mariachis tantalize tourists with music and prostitutes scout for johns. On May 8, 2013, the day after their arrival, they followed a couple of beautiful women into a seedy bar called the Palace Club. Something went terribly wrong: Malcolm's near lifeless body was discovered on the sidewalk, and within several hours he was dead.
It was global news, a tragic twist to the Malcolm X story. “Grandson of Malcolm X Said to Have Died in Mexico,” read the New York Times story on May 10. Yet the newspapers—like the police and everyone else—had little idea what exactly had happened in the hours and days before young Malcolm’s death.
In a country where few murders ever result in prison sentences—only 1.8 percent of all homicides in 2012—Mexican police and prosecutors are unusually tight-lipped about murder cases. We decided the only way to even get close to the truth was to travel to the scene and investigate for ourselves.
When we began our reporting, the details of Malcolm’s murder were still murky, but one thing was clear. He and Miguel had fallen victim to one of Mexico City’s most infamous bar scams: pretty ladies lure you into a club, chat you up, convince you to buy them drinks, and dance with you for hours. When the bill arrives—a dozen beers for close to a thousand dollars—you either pay or fight.
But typical bar scams don’t end in murder, and after word of the passing of Malcolm X’s grandson trickled out on social media, blogs, and news outlets, all sorts of theories were floated. Was he thrown off a rooftop or beaten inside the Palace Club and dragged out afterward? Was Miguel, his friend and travel partner, somehow involved? There were even suggestions that Malcolm’s death was part of a sinister government plot—the kind, some believe, that was behind his grandfather’s assassination in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City in February 1965.
1 On April 1, Malcolm L. Shabazz was arrested at a bar in South Bend, Indiana, where he was visiting friends. “America is eating me alive,” he told his imam.
2 He returned to his hometown in the Hudson Valley and flew to Los Angeles to meet his friend Miguel Suarez.
3 Miguel, a 30-year-old undocumented immigrant and labor organizer, was deported from Oakland on April 18. Malcolm met him in Tijuana, hoping a trip south would inspire him to live up to his legacy as Malcolm X’s grandson.
4 Miguel and Malcolm took a two-day bus ride to Mexico City. They dreamed up a plan to unite black and brown people in Mexico and beyond.
5 On May 8, their plans—and Malcolm’s tumultuous life—were cut short after a bar scam they fell for went horribly wrong near the Plaza Garibaldi.
Map by Chris Classens
Before any serious investigation could take place, we had to answer one question: Who was Malcolm Shabazz? He was born in Paris on October 8, 1984, to Malcolm X’s daughter Qubilah Shabazz. He never had a relationship with his father. When Qubilah returned to the US with young Malcolm, they drifted from city to city. They moved to Minneapolis, where, in 1995, Qubilah became ensnared by an FBI informant and implicated in a plot to assassinate the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whom she and some of her family blamed for her father’s death. Under a plea bargain, she took responsibility for her actions and agreed to undergo psychological counseling and treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.
Like many other members of the Malcolm X clan, the defining event in Malcolm’s life was a tragedy. When Malcolm was 12 years old, he was living with his grandmother—Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s widow—in Yonkers, New York. In a misguided cry for attention, he set a fire in the apartment. His grandmother suffered burns on more than 80 percent of her body while trying to rescue young Malcolm, and later died. At Malcolm’s juvenile-court trial for arson, experts described him as psychotic and schizophrenic, but also brilliant. He spent four years in juvenile detention.
At Leake & Watts Children’s Home in Yonkers, Malcolm had a surprising amount of freedom. According to a 2003 New York Times profile, he would sneak out of the compound and travel to Middletown, New York, a small city in the Hudson Valley about an hour north that would become his de facto hometown. In those years, he acquired the nickname Mecca, and the handle captured one of the contradictions of Malcolm’s early life. It’s rumored that his nickname signified a gang allegiance, but Malcolm never acknowledged it meant anything other than a tribute to his family’s legacy of spirituality and activism.
Malcolm was released at age 18, but he spent the next few years in and out of jail for other petty crimes. It wasn’t until 2008—when Malcolm was 24—that he was once again a free man determined to accept his family’s legacy and not recoil from it. “I am the grandson, namesake, and first male heir to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz,” he would tell audiences during political speaking tours that he began giving around this time, referring to Malcolm X’s chosen Islamic name.
But wherever he went, he was often confronted by questions about the fire he set as a troubled 12-year-old. “For anyone to lose a grandmother, that hurts,” he told an audience in Philadelphia. “I lost my grandmother through my own careless and reckless action. It’s something I ask for forgiveness for, and I continue to ask for forgiveness for and always ask for forgiveness for.”
In turn, Malcolm embraced his grandfather’s legacy. He had converted to Shia Islam in prison, and after his release lived in Damascus, Syria, for a year, and traveled throughout much of the Middle East. He visited Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Lebanon. He also visited Saudi Arabia, where he made the hajj, following in the footsteps of his grandfather. The pilgrimage lent his street name—Mecca—a clearer significance that distanced him further from the teenage gang affiliation that he renounced while in prison.
It was in 2011 that Malcolm met Miguel at the Black Dot Café in Oakland, where Malcolm gave a speech about racism in America. Miguel was born in Mexico in 1982, but he’d lived in the Bay Area since he was 17, where he had for years been an undocumented immigrant. He worked as a construction worker and, in his spare time, a labor organizer.
After the speech, the two introduced themselves, and became fast friends. In coming months, Miguel would help organize events for Malcolm whenever his friend was in town, distributing flyers and packing each venue with supporters. Malcolm would promise to raise money among friends in the Middle East to build a mosque, which Miguel had found a site for in Oakland, and at night the two men would hit the clubs. They both had a wild side, but also a politically radical streak—a combination that solidified their bond.
The same year Malcolm got to know Miguel, he joined a delegation led by former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and visited a conference in Libya where he met Muammar al-Gaddafi. By that time, Malcolm’s face was all over the internet—tall and thin with a bright smile—posed in photos based on iconic images of his grandfather, and he appeared in a music video produced in Amsterdam, featuring a Moroccan-born singer.
By the spring of 2013, however, Malcolm’s world was closing in on him. He had gotten engaged, and his fiancée was pregnant; his mother was in the hospital. Malcolm, according to his fiancée, was taking medication for a bleeding ulcer. And to top it all off, at least four arrest warrants had been issued after repeated brushes with the law.
On his personal website in March, Malcolm accused the police in Middletown, where he then shared an apartment with his fiancée, of working with an FBI counterterrorism unit to harass him and his friends. According to Middletown police records, Malcolm was arrested six times from August 2012 through February 2013, on charges ranging from domestic abuse to noise complaints, consuming alcohol in public, failing to use the crosswalk, petty larceny, and attempted assault.
Hashim Ali Alauddeen, Malcolm’s Islamic spiritual advisor in Richmond, California, said he believed the police were likely targeting Malcolm, but the young man was also suffering inner turmoil. That’s when Malcolm began making arrangements to get out of the country. That deep conflict, Iman Alaudeen said, was part of his struggle with his faith.
“It’s not like you become a Muslim, someone throws some water on you, and you are perfect,” Alauddeen said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. It may not happen, but this is the struggle. The greatest jihad is the fight you have within yourself.”
On April 1, police reported that Malcolm was found, reeking of alcohol, trying to open the front door of a South Bend, Indiana, bar at three in the morning. He was in the Midwest visiting Muslim friends. The waitress had kicked Malcolm out after she claimed he refused to leave and made sexual advances at her.
He continued loitering around the restaurant and was arrested on the spot and released later on bail. Malcolm returned to Middletown and, shortly afterward, flew to Los Angeles, around the same time he learned that his old pal Miguel had been deported. Malcolm arranged to meet Miguel in Tijuana, and they traveled down to Mexico City together.
“America is eating me alive,” he told Alauddeen. The iman was making arrangements for Malcolm to fly to a Muslim country when he learned he’d gone to Mexico.
Malcolm Shabazz, at age 12, being led from a juvenile-court hearing in Yonkers, New York, after he set a fire that killed his grandmother. Experts at his trial described him as psychotic and schizophrenic, but also brilliant.
Less than a month after Malcolm’s murder, we retrieved his personal belongings from Miguel and delivered them to Qubilah Shabazz, Malcolm’s mother. She lives in a hamlet tucked in the Catskills of upstate New York. Intensely private, she had refused any and all requests for interviews after her son’s murder, but she agreed to meet us for breakfast at a diner near her house.

Qubilah, a massage therapist, maintained her isolation by keeping intimate details of her life under wraps. Malcolm X named the second of his six daughters after Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan. At the age of four, she witnessed—and still remembers—her father’s assassination.
Malcolm’s two small backpacks were packed tight with light clothing, toiletries, cell phones, a Qur’an, a Bible, an introduction to Freemasonry, and a small burgundy prayer rug, among other personal items that would seem more fit for a spiritual retreat than a drinking binge in Mexico City.
Inside the restaurant, Qubilah said that she was convinced that Miguel was withholding information about the murder, but she also wondered how her son might have contributed to his own demise.
“My son died because he was spread too thin,” she said softly.
Qubilah objected to Malcolm’s travels overseas and meetings with international figures. She disapproved of the photographs he posed for, replicating the classic images of her father, in a 60s-era suit, holding a rifle before a window.
Malcolm X knew to guard himself against risk—or at least where to draw the line. He never sat with his back to the door, yet he was still snatched away from this earth without warning, gunned down before her eyes.
“You can’t trust everyone,” she told us. “You can’t really be trusting of anyone.”
A year after Malcolm was released from prison, after he had traveled to the Middle East and began his transformation into a political activist, Qubilah asked journalist A. Peter Bailey, a pallbearer at Malcolm X’s funeral, to advise her son about the obstacles he faced.
“Don’t let people use you. Study your grandfather,” Peter recalled telling Malcolm when we reached him by phone. “You need to take six months to a year to learn as much as you can about your grandfather before stepping out on your own.” Malcolm’s grandson had “potential,” but needed time to flourish.
While we were at the diner, Qubilah looked back on her own childhood too, recalling how her godfather, Gordon Parks, the renowned photographer, mistook her lack of outward emotion over her father’s death as an absence of sorrow.
That same outer reserve served as a source of strength when she was called to view her son’s severely beaten corpse before the traditional Muslim bathing by Alauddeen in preparation for the funeral at the Islamic Cultural Center in Oakland. Most of the men in the room broke down and cried when they saw the body.
“Qubilah stood firm,” Alauddeen said. “She was a soldier. She gave us strength.”
Outside the diner, amid an awkward silence, we put her son’s belongings into the trunk of her aging Cadillac—as if somehow the arrival of the two backpacks from Mexico made the reality of Malcolm’s death all the more final, his quest for redemption an ultimately fruitless effort.
At Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, Malcolm’s grave still doesn’t have a marker more than six months after his burial. He is interred not far from his grandfather and grandmother.
Malcolm’s mom, Qubilah Shabazz, lives in upstate New York and rarely speaks publicly about the death of her son or father, Malcolm X.
After Malcolm’s murder, police questioned Miguel, who was one of the first people to discover Malcolm’s body on the sidewalk outside the Palace Club. Miguel told authorities that he hadn’t seen the actual murder. He was simply, like Malcolm, a victim of the scam and had just been lucky to escape with his own life. After he was questioned, he fled Mexico City and went into hiding in his family’s hometown in Veracruz state.
We found Miguel after talking to a taxi driver who drove Miguel around Mexico City that night. He gave us Miguel’s number, since Miguel had borrowed his phone to call his father in Veracruz. We called Miguel and arranged to meet in his father’s town, which he asked us not to name for security reasons. Other news sources had contacted him, he said, but he’d agreed to talk to us because he trusted us. He wanted to air his complete side of the story. We talked to him all day and recovered Malcolm’s backpacks several days later.
On that first visit with Miguel, ten days after Malcolm’s death, we learned that Miguel had received death threats and been accused of complicity in the murder. Some of the messages even urged him to commit suicide.
“If they want to go to war, I’m going to the war,” he told us, referring to those who suspected that he had a hand in Malcolm’s death. “Because this isn’t fair, man. This isn’t fair at all.”
In his version of events, the fateful night had begun with him and Malcolm sharing a cheap bottle of mezcal they’d bought on their bus ride from Tijuana to Mexico City. They arrived at Plaza Garibaldi amid a blur of tourists, mariachis, and street vendors. A family acquaintance of Miguel’s had invited them to dinner there, and arriving early, the two friends waited in the plaza’s only classy spot, the modern, glass-faced Tequila and Mezcal Museum.
Covering a drab half block in the heart of Mexico City, Plaza Garibaldi glowed with neon menace despite the government’s attempts over the years to clean it up. Musicians prowled the pavement looking for tips as disco lights leaked out of crumbling bars widely known as fronts for prostitution. According to Miguel, their night consisted of ordering shots of tequila at the museum and later having beers and dinner at an outdoor restaurant.
By midnight, Malcolm and Miguel were ready to head back to the hotel. An architect friend of Miguel’s was picking them up early the next morning to visit the pyramids, an excursion that had been an impetus for the trip down south; Malcolm, Miguel told us, was eager to re-create the famous picture of his grandfather standing in front of the Giza pyramids in Egypt.
But before they could leave, two blond girls approached them. “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,” Miguel recalled. “Told us they were not from the city and that they were recommended to this nice lounge.”
Outside the Palace Club, where Malcolm and Miguel were given an inflated bar tab, after being lured in by two women they’d met a few hours earlier. Photo by Eunice Adorno
This was the Palace Club, situated on the second floor of a beige, three-story building on the other side of the Eje Central, one of Mexico City’s main boulevards.
“I look at Malcolm,” Miguel said, “and he has this big smile like, ‘Let’s go,’ and I said, ‘OK, let’s go.’ I always told my friends, ‘How can I say no to the grandson of Malcolm X, man?’”
Miguel’s account of what happened runs smoothly up to this point, with no one else we talked to seriously contesting the details. But then, as he and Malcolm followed the women to the bar, the story splits into alternate versions, depending on who’s talking.
According to Miguel, prosecutors, and a witness inside the bar whom we interviewed under the condition of anonymity, the two men followed the women into the Palace Club. Miguel told us they were then asked to present their IDs, which confirmed they were both Americans (though he’d been deported, Miguel still had a California ID). They ordered two buckets of beer, containing six to eight bottles each, requested songs from the DJ, and danced with the women.
At around 3 AM, the bar presented Miguel with the bill, which he said added up to 11,800 pesos, or over $900. According to the witness, each beer they bought for the women cost 400 pesos ($30). Each song requested cost 25 pesos (about $2). The privilege of dancing with the women alone was priced at 4,200 pesos ($320), a fee they didn’t know they were incurring.
Miguel had hoped to take the women back to their hotel near the Virgin of Guadalupe shrine, unaware their companions worked for the bar and were in on the scam. At first, Miguel said, he thought the bill was a joke, but when the long-haired “Spanish-looking” cashier demanded payment, Miguel complained that they were being ripped off. Malcolm was dancing with one of the women by a row of windows overlooking the Eje Central, oblivious to the rising tensions, Miguel said.
“They got pissed off when I told them it was extortion and that I was really sad about what my country has become,” Miguel told us. Suddenly, according to Miguel, a short, muscular man appeared with a small gun.
“Here,” he said, seemingly referring to Mexico, “you pay us!” Miguel recalled him saying, while another man with gelled hair twisted his arm behind his back. Miguel said he hadn’t seen the two men before. They forced him into a cramped dressing room near the front door, the gun pressed to Miguel’s forehead.
This is where the various accounts of the story diverge. The witness we interviewed said only the short man confronted Miguel and never held a gun—instead, he simply pushed Miguel into the dressing room.
Marco Enrique Reyes Peña, the main prosecutor on the investigation, told us that based on witness accounts, two waiters—Daniel Hernández Cruz and Manuel Alejandro Pérez de Jesús—were later arrested in connection with the murder. He also told us that his office was looking for an additional two men who are believed to be connected to the murder; he hinted that they were the men Miguel alleges forced him into the dressing room.
Miguel Suarez, who was in Mexico City with Malcolm, went into hiding after the murder.
While Miguel said he couldn’t see what was going on in the bar once he was in the dressing room, the witness who spoke to us said the short man stripped off his shirt and confronted Malcolm, who the witness said appeared to be high or drunk. Malcolm knew only a few words of Spanish; the witness didn’t hear the short man speak any English.
Tests later put Malcolm’s blood alcohol level at the time of his death at 267.82 milligrams, which is enough to severely inhibit the motor skills of an average adult. Still, the witness said, Malcolm somehow managed to run across the dance floor to the emergency exit, with the short man in pursuit.
The bar’s employees later told investigators that Malcolm had climbed two flights of stairs to the building’s roof and either fell off or was pushed three floors down onto the sidewalk. The employees weren’t on the roof and had no way of knowing what transpired up there. When we visited the building months after the incident, we noticed that if Malcolm had dashed out of the emergency exit, he would have come out right where the stairs climbed up to the third floor and then to the roof. His only other option would have been to make it to another set of stairs down to the street. But that option would have meant first running the length of the hallway and passing the Palace’s main entrance, where his assailants could have been waiting. Either way, he would have been cut off.
What happened to Malcolm while Miguel was trapped in the dressing room is perhaps the biggest split in the narrative and the crux of the mystery. According to Miguel, he was there for about ten minutes, with a gun pressed against his head. He, like the bar’s employees, didn’t see what happened.
According to the prosecutor, the autopsy revealed that Malcolm died from injuries to the ribs, jaw, and in particular, the back of the skull—wounds consistent with receiving a fierce beating with a blunt object rather than a fall off a three-story roof.
The prosecutor added that based on the detained waiters’ testimony, the attack went down inside the bar, and Malcolm’s body was later carried downstairs and left on the sidewalk in front of a gay club next door. Adding to the confusion, the prosecutor said at least one of the waiters had first testified after his arrest that Malcolm jumped off the roof, contradicting the account of the other waiter who said the beating had happened inside the bar. Prosecutors ultimately concluded that the first account was false.
During the confrontation the patrons of the Palace Club evacuated and people rushed into the dressing room, where Miguel was being held, to gather their belongings. Miguel said he managed to escape in the fracas and that he didn’t hear the sounds of any beating or yelling. As the bar cleared out, he searched for Malcolm, but the only thing he found was Malcolm’s passport, left on the couch where they had been sitting near the front door.
Once out on the street, Miguel said he considered the possibility that Malcolm had left the bar and was wandering the neighborhood. He crossed Eje Central to grab a taxi, and the driver told him Malcolm was lying outside the bar, Miguel said. He found his friend still conscious, moaning for Miguel to “take me out of here, bro.”
“I grab him, and I put him on my knee,” Miguel recalled to us. “I’m rubbing his chest, cleaning his blood, and telling him everything’s going to be fine. And I start yelling, ‘What happened? Who did this to my friend? Come on, didn’t anybody see anything?’”
The prosecutor said investigators couldn’t find anyone who could account for how Malcolm made it to the sidewalk, but everyone agrees that’s where he ended up. How he got there no one will say. We talked to mariachis, parking-garage attendants, and street vendors near the bar. Everyone said they hadn’t seen a thing.
An ambulance ultimately arrived and took Malcolm to the Hospital General Balbuena, about four miles from Plaza Garibaldi. Although several hospitals were much closer to the Palace, Malcolm ended up at Balbuena, near Mexico City’s international airport, because its ambulance got to the scene first. The hospital refused to comment on the case and directed us to Mexico City’s health secretary, who also didn’t comment
According to Miguel, a nurse at the hospital told him Malcolm’s condition was stable. There was nowhere for him to wait inside the hospital, so Miguel took a taxi back to the hotel to collect their belongings. When he returned a few hours later, Malcolm was dead.
Malcolm Shabazz’s unmarked grave in Ferncliff, New York. His grandfather and grandmother are buried in the same cemetery. Photos by Christian Storm
In the five months since Malcolm’s death, prosecutors say they’ve interviewed approximately 20 people about the case and inspected the bar more than four times. The Palace was closed following the incident and was still shuttered as of press time.
Still, the authorities haven’t arrested the Palace Club’s owner, and prosecutors say the bar’s security-camera recordings, which would go a long way to clearing up this mystery, were themselves mysteriously removed before police secured the scene.
Meanwhile, the arrested waiters are awaiting trial in Mexico City’s eastern prison. Their government-appointed attorney refused to comment on the case.
Miguel said he hasn’t spoken to the authorities since the day of the murder and hasn’t been called to identify anyone in a lineup. Miguel’s hometown is a few hundred miles from Mexico City and the prosecutor said investigators were sent to Miguel’s home once but were unable to locate him. He said Miguel’s testimony, taken just hours after the crime, in addition to testimony from witnesses from the scene of the crime were enough to charge the waiters.
As we prepared to leave Veracruz and said goodbye to Miguel, he insisted a final time that he had nothing to do with the murder. Why would he have set up his pal? After all, he and Malcolm were dear friends and comrades.
As evidence, Miguel recalled one emotional night in California, back when he and Malcolm were still kicking around the dreams of opening up a mosque and uniting blacks and Latinos. After a night of partying in Oakland, Malcolm had pulled out an iPod and portable speakers and cranked up a rare recording of his grandfather’s assassination, while tearfully confessing his frustrations with living up to his familiy’s legacy. As the voices and shots rang out, Malcolm told Miguel not to look at him.

Amiri Baraka - Dope

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Marvn X says, "I don't know what you came to do, but I came to praise His name."

 I don't know what you came to do, but I came to praise His name. We plan to rock the Malcolm X Jazz Festival--Marvin X

Aries Jordan is a Black Arts Movement baby 2.0. Marvin X is her mentor. She has published two books under his watch. 

Trumpet master Earl Davis performed with Marvin X at the Black Arts West Theatre, 1966.
Earl will join Marvin at the Malcolm X Jazz Festival

 Toreada Mikil, Mechelle LaChaux, Ayodele Nzinga and Tarika Lewis are members of Marvin X's BAM 27 City Tour. They will perform at the Malcolm X Jazz Festival, May 17, Oakland

Mechelle LaChaux will sing and perform Marvin X's Parable of the Woman on Cell Phone

Marvin X and poet Paradise Jah Love. Paradise will perform with BAM at the Malcolm X Jazz Festival

Troy Johnson's eNewsletter from

This month’s eNewsletter is sponsored by

Jacqueline E. Luckett

Passing Love is the story of two women from two different worlds, both dealing with lost love, secrets and betrayal in the magical city of Paris. People Magazine described Luckett’s sophomore novel, Passing Love as “beautifully written and filled with vibrant scenes of Paris in its Jazz Age and today.”
Essence Magazine’s selected Searching for Tina Turner as the January 2010 book-of-the-month selection. The novel follows a divorced woman’s journey to self by way of France. What comes through for the main character is the inspiration of Tina Turner’s personal story: everything we need to move forward in our lives is already within us. Read more about Ms. Luckett.
The Power List, the quarterly compilation of best-selling books written or read by African Americans, released its Spring 2014 list today. The Power List is a joint project of, and, three Web sites which have promoted African-American literature for more than 15 years. Read more about the spring bestsellers list.

Book Reviews


Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs by Pearl Cleage

Beginning in 1970, Pearl kept a detailed diary of her intimate insights about her day-to-day life. And like a lot of sisters, she had her concerns about the patriarchal attitudes of leaders which left females feeling marginalized.
For example, on March 27, 1970, she mused, “What a revolution. Stokely [Carmichael] said the place of the woman in the revolution should be prone.” So, it is no surprise that Pearl, would eventually tire of such sexist subjugation, and reject being relegated to second-class status in favor of a path of self-fulfillment. Her ensuing transformation into a feminist writer juggling marriage and motherhood is the subject of Things I Should Have Told My Daughter.

Kabu Kabu By Nnedi Okorafor

American-Nigerian author Nnedi Okorakor’s first short fiction collection, Kabu Kabu, takes the reader by surprise, with its heady mix of fantasy, science fiction elements, and regional folklore and myths. One thing the author does is to keep the culture, history and traditions of Nigeria up front, while stressing the challenges and obstacles faced by women and her people worldwide. For those who only know the classics written by the master Nigerian scribe Chinua Achebe, there is a wealth of writers from the area, such as Elechi Amadi, Sefi Atta, and two of my favorites, Buchi Emecheta and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Add Nnedi Okorafor to this esteemed group.

Gift of Truth By Robert Fleming

There are literary craftsmen who spend a lifetime writing in one particular genre, and there are others who possess a creative and literary zeal, which allows them to expand their interests and their writing styles. Robert Fleming is an author who is an esteem member of the latter group. The author has written two books, Gift of Faith, and its sequel, Gift of Truth, both Christian novels.
Any reader would do well to read Gift of Faith first, before launching into the second book in the series, Gift of Truth. In the debut novel, it explores the growing faith development of a young pastor after the traumatic loss of his wife and two children. Repeatedly, Rev. Clint Winwood’s faith is shaken as he questions God’s love and purpose for him. As the pastor offers his guidance to others overwhelmed in their own spiritual crises, readers bear witness to his stunning spiritual transformation.

Tales of a Jailhouse Librarian: Challenging the Juvenile Justice System One Book at a Time by Marybeth Zeman

Part memoir, part social commentary, Zeman addresses pertinent social issues affecting African-Americans and young people of color through their stories, which she tells in short vignettes. Like Diquan, 17, who needs comfort and direction after he learns that his 16-year-old brother was shot and killed. “The only reason Diquan had outlived him—he was in jail.”
Riveting and well written; Tales of a Jailhouse Librarian is compelling, engaging and insightful. Zeman wisely makes her point by simply telling the stories of the boys she counsels and reminding us that part of being young is making mistakes. In so doing, she makes a good argument about education instead of incarceration. “Jail isn’t always the best solution. One million dollars invested in incarceration reduces 350 crimes; one million dollars invested in education reduces 600 crimes.”

The Myth of Race/The Reality of Racism: Critical Essays by Mahmoud El-Kati

Defining racism as “prejudice plus power,” the author sees it as “largely an institutional phenomenon” based on “aggression, domination and greed.” However, he warns that it can also be observed on the individual level in a variety of everyday social “habits, nuances and traits,” like in a condescending look or a halfhearted handshake.
Nevertheless determined to eradicate the false notion of “race,” Professor El-Kati assails it as a superstition no less ridiculous than the belief in witches that once led to innocent women being burned at the stake. For, he would argue that it is patently farcical to associate a host of negative stereotypes with black skin ranging from criminality to laziness.

Related Articles


Only 54 Black Owned Bookstores Remain in America

This is a follow up to an article Death of the Black Owned, Independent, Bookstore, we originally published in March of 2012. The article highlighted the fact the we had lost 66% of our Black owned bookstores over the previous decade. Two years later almost half of the stores still open in 2012 have closed.
If you believe in the importance of bookstores, which are dedicated to books by or about people of African descent, go out of your way to support one. Do we want to see an America where the ONLY place Black books can be purchased is from Amazon? Do we really want Amazon to have that responsibility—all by themselves?

New York Publishing’s Black Pack

The Black Pack Party is an annual gathering of publishing industry professionals, and it is held during Book Expo America. This year's party will be on May 29, 2014, in New York City.
Carol Smith-Passariello described the first Black Pack Party in an article originally published inBlack Issues Book Review magazine in 2001.

The Decline of Conscious Hip-Hop is a Myth

Hip-Hop has been co-opted (SeeMacklemore) and the emcee who speaks truth to power are basically muzzled (Lupe, Talib, Pharoah Monche, Jean Grae). Speaking of Jean Grae the removal of the female voice coincided with the removal of the conscious emcees. In the late 80s early 90s, Queen Latifah dropped Unity, Ms Melody was a part of BDP and MC Lyte made strong songs that were lyrically incredible. On the West Coast Yo Yo started the IBWC movement and empowered young girls. Since then, we have Trina and Nikki Minaj. No one even knows who Jean Grae is. It’s sad and unfortunate that we allowed mainstream to do this to the music by continuing to tune in instead of tuning out and forcing change.

Videos & Interviews


BookTV’s coverage of the National Black Writers Conference's Panel Discussions

Watch writers, Jeffery Renard Allen, Ayana Mathis, Leonard Pitts, Jr., Steve Cannon, David Henderson, Ishmael Reed, Askia Toure, Raquel Cepeda, Zakes Mda, Emily Raboteau, Gillian Royes, W. Paul Coates, Troy Johnson, Ayesha Pande, Latoya Smith, Dianne Glave, Tracye Lynn McQuirter, Lauret Savoy, William Jelani Cobb, Obery Hendricks, Marc Lamont Hill, and Michele Wallace discuss a variety of issues important to Black writers. Subscribe to's YouTube Channel.

Taraji P. Henson The “From the Rough” Interview

On the big screen, she starred in the #1 box office hit Think Like a Man, as well as in its upcoming sequel, Think Like a Man, Too. And in September, she’ll be starring opposite Idris Elba in No Good Deed.
Here, she talks about her new film, From the Rough (Open Apr 25, 2014), an inspirational biopic where she portrays Catana Starks, the African-American trailblazer who became the first female to coach an NCAA Division-1 men’s team when she accepted the reins of the golf squad at Tennessee State.

Literary Living Video 2006 African American Pavilion at BEA

This video shows highlights of the African American Pavilion at Book Expo America (BEA) from 2006. BEA is the country’s largest trade show for the publishing industry.
The African American Pavilion at BookExpo America was founded in 2004 by Tony Rose, Niani Colom, and Adrienne Ingrum. Sadly, the African American Pavilion is no longer part of BEA.

Film Reviews


Belle (4 stars out of 4)

Born in the West Indies in 1761, Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was the product of the taboo union of Mary Belle, an African slave, and John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), a British ship captain. Upon Mary’s death, the concerned father brought his 8 year-old daughter to England to see whether his well-heeled aunt and uncle might be willing to take her in.
Directed by Amma Assante, the riveting historical drama continues the recent cinematic trend of reexamining race from the black perspective, ala Django Unchained, The Retrieval and Oscar-winner 12 Years a Slave (In Theaters: May 2, 2014 Limited).

From the Rough (2.5 stars out of 4)

Catana Starks (Taraji P. Henson) was serving as the female swim coach at Tennessee State University (TSU), when she learned that the school’s Athletic Director, Kendrick Paulsen, Jr. (Henry Simmons), was planning to form a golf team. Since golf had always been her first love, she approached him about becoming the new squad’s head coach.
Her first hurdle, however, was convincing him that despite being female, she’d be able to field and manage an all-male squad. Second, she’d have to fill the roster with some promising prospects (In Theaters: Apr 25, 2014 Wide).

Tanzania: A Journey Within (4 stars out of 4)

After finishing high school, Venance Ndibalema made the most of an opportunity to leave Tanzania to study physics and philosophy at the University of Miami. Now, he’s ready to visit his homeland for the first time in years, a trip likely to prove traumatic, given the changes both he and the country have undergone during the interim.
Accompanying him on the eventful return to Dar es Salaam is Kristen Kenney, a fellow Miami alumnus who’s never been to Africa. A child of privilege, she must brace herself for the culture shock involved in adjusting to modest accommodations sans most of the modern conveniences she’s always taken for granted (In Theaters: Apr 25, 2014 Limited Release).

A Haunted House 2 (1 star out of 4)

A Haunted House, an irreverent spoof of Paranormal Activity, co-starred Marlon Wayans and Essence Atkins as Malcolm and Kisha, a couple whose home was invaded by demonic forces. Along the way, Kisha, became possessed by the devil and turned on exasperated Malcolm, despite an exorcism performed by a priest (Cedric the Entertainer).
All of the above are back for A Haunted House 2, a jaw-dropping sequel which ups the ante in terms of gratuitous gore, sexuality, nudity, profanity and use of the N-word. Nevertheless, the review-proof teensploitation flick is apt to appeal to the same folks who made the original such a runaway hit (In Theaters: Apr 18, 2014).

Book & Film Recommendations


All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu

Mengestu, is a recipient of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 award, The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 award, and a 2012 MacArthur Foundation genius grant.
All Our Names is the story of two young men who come of age during an African revolution, drawn from the safe confines of the university campus into the intensifying clamor of the streets outside. But as the line between idealism and violence becomes increasingly blurred, the friends are driven apart—one into the deepest peril, as the movement gathers inexorable force, and the other into the safety of exile in the American Midwest. There, pretending to be an exchange student, he falls in love with a social worker and settles into small-town life. Yet this idyll is inescapably darkened by the secrets of his past: the acts he committed and the work he left unfinished. Most of all, he is haunted by the beloved friend he left behind, the charismatic leader who first guided him to revolution and then sacrificed everything to ensure his freedom (Knopf, March 4, 2014).

'Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma

A glorious and moving multi-generational, multicultural saga that begins in the 1940s and sweeps through the 1960’s in Trinidad and the United States
Lauren Francis-Sharma's 'Til the Well Runs Dry opens in a seaside village in the north of Trinidad where young Marcia Garcia, a gifted and smart-mouthed 16-year-old seamstress, lives alone, raising two small boys and guarding a family secret. When she meets Farouk Karam, an ambitious young policeman (so taken with Marcia that he elicits the help of a tea-brewing obeah woman to guarantee her ardor), the risks and rewards in Marcia’s life amplify forever (Henry Holt and Co., April 22, 2014)

Team Seven: A Novel by Marcus Burke

Team Seven is an autobiographically tinged coming-of-age family drama with an undeniably authentic feel for place, language, and character.
As Andre Battel, a native of Milton, a town south of Boston, ages from age eight through his teenage years, he grows away from his Jamaican family, discovers genuine prowess on the basketball court, and eventually falls into dealing drugs for the local street gang, Team Seven. But when Andre and his crew fall behind on payments, dire and violent consequences await. The story is told primarily through Andre's voice, but we also see the point of view of his mother, Ruby, a hardworking medical secretary; his older sister, Nina; his mostly-not-there and typically drunk-and-high father, Eddy, a halfhearted reggae musician; and Reggie and Smoke, the kingpin of competing drug crews (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, April 8, 2014).

Willow by Tonya Cherie Hegamin

In 1848, an educated slave girl faces an inconceivable choice — between bondage and freedom, family and love.
On one side of the Mason-Dixon Line lives fifteen-year-old Willow, her master’s favorite servant. She’s been taught to read and has learned to write. She believes her master is good to her and fears the rebel slave runaways. On the other side of the line is seventeen-year-old Cato, a black man, free born. It’s his personal mission to sneak as many fugitive slaves to freedom as he can. Willow’s and Cato’s lives are about to intersect, with life-changing consequences for both of them. Tonya Cherie Hegamin’s moving coming-of-age story is a poignant meditation on the many ways a person can be enslaved, and the force of will needed to be truly emancipated (Candlewick Press, February 11, 2014).

The Jones Men by Vern E. Smith (40th Anniversary Edition)

Detroit, 1974 to become the King, you have to take the crown. It won't be given up lightly. Heroin kingpin, Willis McDaniel, has been wearing that particular piece of jewelry for far too long, and youngblood, Lennie Jack, thinks it would really good on his head. When a junkie tells Jack about a big delivery, the young Vietnam vet makes his move. Feeling his empire crumble, McDaniel puts the word out to find whoever's responsible. The hunt is on, the battle is engaged, and the streets of Detroit run red with blood.
In 1974 Vern E. Smith debut novel, The Jones Men, was heralded as "a large accomplishment in the art of fiction" by the New York Times, The Jones Men went on to be nominated for an Edgar Award and became a New York Times Notable Book (Rosarium Publishing, May 5, 2014).

The Prodigal Son by Kimberla Lawson Roby

The latest book in the Reverend Curtis Black series. After dropping out of Harvard to be with his girlfriend Racquel and their new baby, Matthew Black discovers that fatherhood isn't what he expected. His relationship with Racquel has become strained, and while he wants to be a good husband, he soon finds himself attracted to another woman.
Meanwhile, Curtis and Charlotte are having their own problems. Curtis's long-lost-son Dillon has settled into their household and Charlotte feels he's trying to take Matthew's place in Curtis's heart. She is determined to get Dillon out of the house, but doing so won't be as easy as she thinks. Dillon quickly figures out what Charlotte is up to and launches his own plan to turn Curtis against her (Grand Central Publishing, May 13, 2014).

A Wanted Woman by Eric Jerome Dickey

The twenty-first novel from New York Times bestselling author Eric Jerome Dickey, a steamy thriller set in tropical Barbados
She is a woman of a thousand faces, an assassin who could be anyone, anywhere. The Trinidad contract was supposed to be simple: to make a living man become a dead man. When the job goes bad under the watchful eye of a bank security camera, there is nowhere for agent MX-401, known as Reaper, to hide from the fearsome local warlords, the Laventille Killers (Dutton Adult, April 15, 2014).

Anybody’s Daughter by Pamela Samuels Young

Anybody’s Daughter, won the 2014 NAACP Image Award for Fiction.
Thirteen-year-old Brianna Walker is ecstatic. She's about to sneak off to meet her first real boyfriend--a boyfriend she met on Facebook. But Brianna is in for a horrifying surprise because her boyfriend doesn't exist. Instead, she's hurled her into the shocking world of human sex trafficking. Brianna's Uncle Dre, a man with his own criminal past, is not content to rely on police to bring his niece home. He scours the dark corners of Los Angeles determined to end this nightmare. The woman he loves, attorney Angela Evans, knows the dangers faced by sexually exploited children because she represents them. Angela lends both her moral support and professional resources, but Dre ultimately comes up with a daring plan that puts many lives in danger, including his own. But will he find Brianna before it's too late? Goldman House Publishing (October 27, 2013)

Sankofa (1993) - A film by Haile Gerima

Sanfoka is a 1993 film by Haile Gerima that was a best-selling DVD on for 2013.
Sanfoka tells the story of Mona, a contemporary model, who is possessed by spirits lingering in the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana and travels to the past, where, as a house servant called Shola she is constantly abused by the slave master. Nunu, an African-born field hand, and Shango, Sholas West Indian Lover, continuously rebel against the slave system. For Nunu this means direct conflict with her son, a mulatto who benefits from the system as a head slave. Inspired by Nunu and Shangos determination to defy the system, Shola finally takes her fate into her own hands.

Twelve Years a Slave Solomon Northup’s Odyssey (1984)

It is fascinating, though not surprising, with all the talk about Steve McQueen’s adaptation Solomon Northup’s memoir, there was virtually no mention of Gordon Parks 1984 adaption.
Park’s made for TV version originally aired on PBS in 1984. His version was made with a completely different sensibility. Rather than a stark display of sheer brutality, seen in McQueen’s film. Park’s version, thought less true to the book was was really about the power of love, and in many was was a superior adaptation. If you have seen the 2013 version of Twelve Years a Slave but have not seen the 1984 version, or read the book, I strong recommend you do both.

Up Coming Events


Dayton Book Festival - Saturday, May 3, 2014, Dayton, OH

For the fifth consecutive year, hundreds of book lovers will convene at the Dayton Book Expo. The all-day event includes panel discussions for aspiring authors, activities for children in the Kidz Zone and book signings!
The Featured Author is William Fredrick Cooper
The event is free and open to public.
Authors Charlotte L. Brown, LaTonya Branham and Valerie J. Lewis Coleman founded the Dayton Book Expo in 2009 to connect avid book lovers with local and national bestselling authors.
The First Annual Sacramento Black Book Festival takes place June 6 - 8, 2014 at the Historic Center of Oak Park. The featured authors include Dr. Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa; Victoria Rowell, actress on The Young and the Restless; Professor Eugene B. Redmond, author/editor of 25 volumes of poetry, Denise Nicholas, primarily know for starring in the TV sitcom,Room 222; Paul Carter Harrison, Obie award-winning playwright; Carlos Moore, biographer of Fela Kuti; and William Strickland founder of the Institute of the Black world a Black think tank. There will be over 80 other authors participating as well. Visit for more information.

The 2014 Calabash International Literary Festival - May 30 to Jun 1 2014

The mission of the Calabash International Literary Festival Trust is to transform the literary arts in the Caribbean by being the region's best-managed producer of workshops, seminars and performances. We will achieve these goals by focusing on our audiences, managing our budget, creating a community of supporters in the media, government, business, the performing arts, philanthropic organizations and publishing, and by becoming the festival of choice for the world's most gifted authors.

The Blogger Week UnConference - May 3, 2014 10 am-4 pm, Silver Spring, MD

Blogger Week™ 2014 is a multicultural festival of bloggers, journalists and social media mavens hosted by Black Bloggers Connect. Coming April 28th – May 3rd, Blogger Week™ features four days of online festivities and two days of in-person events including: Twitter parties, Google Hangouts, workshops, panels, and networking events. The Blogger Week UnConference will feature hot-topic discussions and breakout sessions to promote innovation, creativity and success for bloggers and social media mavens.
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Book Expo America - May 29 to 31, 2014, New York, NY

Check out the Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books? panel which will be held, Saturday, May 31, 10:00 am - 11:00 am.
Join Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, founder of The African American Children’s Book Project, who will lead a conversation where industry professional’s will share their insight and knowledge of The State of African American Children’s Books its past, and present and solutions to its future. Join in this deep dive with: Patrik Henry Bass, author & Book Editor Essence Magazine; Tonya Bolden, author of many books, including, Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America; Regina Brooks, author, and Literary Agent, at Serendipity Literary Agency; Bernette Ford, author and CEO of Color-Bridge, LLC; Wade Hudson, President, Just Us Books; Troy Johnson, Founder of AALBC.Com; and Harlyn Pacheco, CEo of Qlovi

Edit 1st — Manuscript Editing Services


How a Book Goes from Writer to Reader in Traditional Publishing?

▪ The writer writes a novel or a nonfiction book proposal.
▪ The writer queries a literary agent with a query letter about his novel or his nonfiction book.
▪ The agent expresses interest and asks to see the entire novel or the completed nonfiction book proposal.
▪ The agent likes the work and agrees to represent the writer.
▪ The agent pitches the work to several book editors.
▪ Visit Edit 1st to read the remaining steps in the process.

Contact Edit 1st for all your manuscript editing needs.

Power to the Author - Your Book Cover on the Homepage and Other Popular Pages

Place your book cover on the homepage and many other popular webpages for only $125 for 31 full days.
This type of placement will include your name, book title, and acknowledgement of sponsorship.
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If not you, then who? Who will support and uplift the platforms whose mission is to promote Black literature? We are continually losing bookstores, websites, and coverage in magazines and newspapers. is one of a few remaining platforms dedicated to celebrating Black literature.
In order to continue our work, and to improve our offerings, we need your support. Please consider purchasing or renewing your subscription to monthly eNewsletter—less than a dollar an issue.
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If you are interested in providing more substantial support through website sponsorship please contact Troy Johnson.
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