It is a late, brisk Boston morning and a ringing phone rouses the resting activist. Not the least coy, he awakens ready and mentally charged to speak to Downtime. Don't be too impressed. This can only be expected when one is young, gifted and a Black Panther. The entrepreneur, author and community leader takes hold of the receiver ready to ask and answer questions for the Downtime readers.
Two days away from his 33rd birthday, Jamarhl Crawford is a man with a mission in action. His tall, slender frame and easy nature does not imply his weight, nor does his scattered education imply his intelligence. Still, Crawford is an unabashedly aware heavyweight on the social structures and political mechanisms of Boston's black community. He knows what he believes and he is apt to persuade one that it is time for black folk to hold fast to a stricter belief. In fact, he does not reveal a favorite book; rather he offers a book list. He is a leader and a sometime prophet in a community oft deserted of black leadership. "If these black politicians wanted to affect change, they would have already done so," he charges. (He is the man who uncovered the sale of crack pipes in a Roxbury gas station that prompted a local news station to break the story and force the police to intervene.) Mostly, he is as is he everyday: a black man making a difference.
Since May 2002, Crawford has been a member of the New Black Panther Party (NBPP), which was founded by Aaron Michaels and David Foreman in 1989. The Party, currently under the leadership of National Chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz, is governed under the platform of freedom, self-determination, employment, and military exemption for blacks, as well as the liberation of black freedom fighters. Similar only in name to the Black Panther Party of the 1960s and 1970s, NBPP discards the Marxist and socialist models for an Afro-centric and anti-white approach to racial equality for blacks. "It is about black liberation, about black folk getting into a place of self-sufficiency. A place where they are free of white supremacy and white superiority, both being myths," explains Crawford.
When Crawford got involved, he was already making moves in his community. "I was doing this stuff because I live here." And by stuff he is referring to his 1997 book PROPHECY: Reflections on Life & Love from a Black Perspective (that garnered the praise of writer/activist Askia Toure), talking to the kids on the corner, editing Blackstonian (a community newspaper), and taking on responsibilities that few others are bold enough to assume. He says, "The question is, what makes others not get involved? What makes people say Boston is bad? That's acting cowardly. How can you not get involved? I am out here talking to young brothers with guns and drugs, telling them to be better."
He is now chair of the Boston chapter of NBPP, a group with silent supporters and few members. Through NBPP, he continues his vision of liberation for black people in Boston while acting as organizer and a spokesman for the organization's national campaigns. Also important to his agenda is calling more blacks to membership. "We are not talking about robbing a bank," says Crawford, "I want to inspire and motivate the black masses, while challenging and engaging the black bourgeoisie." He notes that while NAACP says a lot without pulling through, churches serve only their membership with limited benefits, and professional organizations promote career development and individualism, NBPP is looking for a profound universal empowerment for the oppressed black community.
But do black people need to be part of an organization with openly anti-white and homophobic messages? (Crawford freely denounces black leaders for "collaborating with crackers and homosexuals" rather than taking the struggles of the black community head on.) In fact, many members of the original Black Panther Party denounce the NBPP. Crawford dismisses any critique of the NBPP and points to the faults of the Black Panther Party, more matter-of-factly than with disrespect. He claims that, unlike its predecessor, the NBPP is not plagued with the same white infiltration, sexism, drug use and other weaknesses of the Black Panthers. He says this not looking down on the group for which he does hold esteem, but rather as a student of the extensive memoirs published by the former party's membership and as a man looking for modern methodology for a racial problem as old as America. "The panther belongs to the people," he states.
"I have much respect for the Black Panthers. A lot of [my] family friends were Panthers and a lot of them have gone on to positions of community leadership. But you also have to know about the other groups: the BLA [Black Liberation Army], the RAM [Revolutionary Action Movement]…the Mau-Mau," says Crawford, "They were all here doing things in Boston."
Crawford pushes the conversation back to the present. For him, the greatest societal impairment that black people face in Boston is whites. "The white people must know we [blacks] are not scared. Imagine what could happen if just 100 black men dressed in all black and all silent stood in front of City Hall for just fifteen minutes, as a statement. Whites are already scared of us, so let's put on the mass chump move and chump these fools. Lets run this. Blacks are too attached to comfort, scared to be fired. Get fired, and then sue. Don't have the Escalade with rims and live with mom."
Crawford continues, "No black schools in Boston with all these black Patriots and Celtics. We need our own black businesses employing black folk. We are not benefiting us. We are benefiting Kangol and Adidas-white companies. Why join in with whites when we can make our own. We need to link with Latinos and Cape Verdeans. We'll have variety and mass support. We could make the white folk broke."
Jamarhl Crawford has got the passion, the knowledge and the track record to prove himself. With limited income and streetwise strategy he sustains several businesses and his NBPP mission. What does he want? For more to act alongside him. Not willing to be visibly linked to the NBPP? He says to pass funding to him. He's got a bank account, an under-funded paper and his name that he's ready for you to invest in.
If the reader would like to donate, visit the newspaper website at www.blackstonian.com or contact Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org.