By Dr. Conrad W. Worrill
My long time friend for over forty years and comrade in the struggle for African Liberation worldwide, Jitu Weusi, made his transition into eternity on Wednesday, May 23, 2013 at his home in Brooklyn, New York on Fulton Street. Brother Jitu had been diagnosed with renal (kidney) cancer in January of this year and struggled mightily as this cancer began to spread throughout his body. In vintage Jitu, master teacher style, he penned a composition chronicling his health struggles entitled “Cancer and the Biggest Fight of My Life.” This article was a profound documentation of Jitu and his fight against cancer.
On Monday, May 21st Jitu Weusi’s extended family son from the East; Adeyemi Bandele telephoned me from Brother Jitu’s bedside. The spiritual energy of this call instructed me to say to my dear friend, “I love you.” And I was able to hear Jitu, who had been in an unconscious state to that point, say to me, “I love you too!”
Jitu Weusi was one of the great, unsung activists, organizers, educators, and thinkers that came out of our movement in the 1960s. Upon graduation in 1962 from Long Island University, Jitu earned his bachelor’s degree in history. He pursued his teaching passion and became a social studies teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant at Junior High School (JHS) 35 where he found the white supremacy foundation of the curriculum stymying the growth and development of his African descended students. He felt these students needed an understanding of their heritage and a sense of their place in history and the world.
As it has been written, Jitu “Weusi was not alone in his concerns. Other teachers at JHS 35 included Al Vann, Oliver Patterson, Leroy Lewis, Randy Tobias, Joan Eastman, and Ola Cherry. These were young Black teachers who were new to the public school system and who were speaking about the need for changes in the New York City public school system. They joined with Black teachers in other schools to form the African American Teachers Association.” Further, as Jitu wrote, “the African American Teachers Association joined with the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Alliance around the concept of community control. With the teachers and community members standing side by side the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Movement unfolded. During this period, 1968-1969, Jitu describes this movement as the “most underrepresented yet most impactful era of Brooklyn history.” Jitu went on to explain, “the teachers and the community battled the Board of Education and the predominately-white United Federation of Teachers in a struggle that they hoped would finally create a structure for the empowerment of local communities. The result was the establishment of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Governing Board, a community school board that served central Brooklyn’s Black Community.”
As a result of the controversy surrounding his great contributions in the leadership of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville battle, the white controlled media, the Board of Education, and the United Federation of Teachers attempted to mutilate Jitu’s reputation and his contributions to the movement. As a result, Jitu officially left the New York City Board of Education in April 1969.
The youth involved in the movement working with Jitu and community members began establishing The East “as a self-determining cultural-educational organization for African people in central Brooklyn, New York, and was armed with the theme “Freedom Now!” and the philosophy of self-reliance under the leadership of Jitu K. Weusi and the East Family.”
As noted in Kwasi Konadu’s book, Truth Crushed to the Earth Will Rise Again!, “Jitu was/is a central figure in the design, expansion and governance of The East organization, in both concrete and ideational terms. Conceptually, The East was a counter hegemonic act toward European cultural and political imperialism through its embodiment of African cultural resistance and reconstruction in the American context.” It was during this period that the organizing skills of Jitu emerged nationally and internationally as he participated in the Black Power conferences, the Congress of African People, and the African Liberation Support Committee that led to African Liberation Day (ALD) activities throughout the United States.
It was in 1972 that Jitu provided organizing leadership in establishing the Council of Independent Black Institutions (CIBI). CIBI was made up of other independent African centered educational, cultural, and community based institutions that were emerging, at that time, throughout the United States. Jitu helped shape the Black Liberation Movements organizing around the armed struggles in Mozambique, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Namibia, and South Africa. Jitu and The East family were on the cutting edge of linking these struggles to the Pan African context of our connections as an African people worldwide.
Jitu always used his understanding of culture and the arts in his organizing work in our movement and is best remembered in the East’s early weekly musical performances by well known artists such as Freddie Hubbard, Betty Carter, McCoy Tyner, Max Roach, Sun Ray, Lee Morgan, Dewey Redmond, Roy Ayers, Pharoah Sanders, Rahsaan Roland, Kirk and Leon Thomas. As the Black Power phase of our movement emerged and the evolution of Black consciousness and our reconnection with the struggles of African people worldwide, Jitu Weusi was at the forefront of this movement.
Because of the government, through their counter intelligence programs’ disruption of our movement in the late 1970s, Jitu was able to forge a series of meetings in an effort to evaluate and analyze the period of the 1960s and 70s. Out of these discussions and the rampant cases of police brutality and the increase in deaths of youth at the hands of the New York Metropolitan Police Department, the Metropolitan Black United Front began to emerge under the leadership of Rev. Herbert Daughtry and the organizing genius of Jitu Weusi. The New York Black United Front gave rise to the National Black United Front (NBUF) at its founding convention in Brooklyn, NY at the Old Armory in June 1980 where 1,000 activists from thirty-four states and five foreign countries attended. The organizing work of Jitu Weusi in facilitating the establishment of NBUF was testament to his skill as “Master Organizer.” Thirty-four years and three chairmen later starting with Rev. Daughtry (1980-85), Dr. Conrad Worrill (1985-2009), and Kofi Taharka (2009 to present), NBUF is still standing.
With the closing down of The East in the mid 1980s Jitu returned to the public school system, went back to earn his masters degree and continued his organizing work in numerous electoral campaigns including David Dinkins’ successful effort to become New York City’s first Black Mayor and Jesse Jackson’s two presidential elections bids. Jitu worked closely with all of the major leaders and organizers in this country in the Black Movement including the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
Jitu’s work continued in the 1980s and 90s as a major participant in NBUF. Jitu helped organize the Brooklyn Central Jazz Consortium, which led to the Brooklyn South African Cultural Exchange Project. This project culminated in the formation of the Jazz African Heritage (JAH) Day that was held at Medgar Evers College on August 4, 2006. The result of this exchange led to a delegation of many of the musicians from the African community in the United States attending and participating in the Jazz African Heritage Concert in South Africa in 2007.
The life of Jitu Weusi was so full of the African Spirit that his contributions cannot be summed up in an article of this nature. However, a glimpse of his life demonstrates his profound impact as he leaves his legacy to his wife Angela Weusi, eight children, twelve grandchildren, hundreds of young men and women that he has mentored, and a host of comrades, colleagues, and friends around the world. Jitu K. Weusi has now become a Great African Ancestor whose spirit will live on forever. Jitu Weusi, Maa Kherew (True of Voice)!