Revolution #52, June 25, 2006

In the Heart of Watts

Celebration and Reading of Bob Avakian’s Memoir

Saturday afternoon, June 17, 103rd Street and Compton Avenue—the Alma Reaves Woods Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library right smack in the heart of Watts. People line up for cold fruit drinks and sno cones from a local vendor positioned just in front of the library. Inside the Multi-purpose room of the library a standing-room-only crowd snapped their fingers in rhythm as a young man walked his mack like he’d been doing it all his life. He slid down the side of the room, straight to the front. He stopped, looked at the crowd and announced, “He Walks in the Classroom, Cool and Slow…” And it was on! A celebration and reading of Bob Avakian’s memoir From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist. Folks came from South Central, Watts, East LA and Long Beach. They were students, teachers, janitors, ex-prisoners, artists, activists, librarians, revolutionaries and grandmothers. They came to meet and learn about Bob Avakian through the pages of his memoir, and they weren’t disappointed.

The man walking the mack was poet and psychiatric social worker Ben Valentin. He opened up the program and was joined later by Luciente Zamora, a writer for Revolution newspaper, Clyde Young of the Revolutionary Communist Tour and poet/playwright/director Reg e. Gaines. Ben chose three stories to read aloud at the program: “the Mack” story, the baseball hat story, and the umpire story. Between stories Ben told the crowd how each story deeply affected him. He talked about reading the stories to his patients at an adult day care center and then discussing the themes of the stories with his patients. Ben told how each story he read helped paint a picture of a man full of compassion, fairness and the courage to hold and stand by his principles. Luciente Zamora read the Cornbread story and Street Corner Symphonies in Spanish. The audience loved the cornbread story, holding their breath in Luciente’s pause as she read “…he had not one, but two piece of cornbread!” and laughing knowingly as she read how he snatched one of them right off the plate.

Clyde Young introduced the sections he chose to read by telling the audience how he came into political life, the books on Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party he read while he was in prison. He told how the Panthers introduced him to Mao and then how he discovered Bob Avakian. And, Clyde talked about how much Bob Avakian, in all that he does and is, has been greatly influenced by the masses of people. He read the section of the memoir called “Learning from the Proletariat—Deep Bonds.” Many in the audience felt their own hearts break along with Chairman Avakian’s as he told of a young proletarian he had met in Richmond, California, coming into the revolutionary movement and then broken by drugs and the struggle to survive. Clyde went on to talk about how the world doesn’t have to be like this and how Chairman Avakian has developed Marxism and re-envisioned socialism and communism—reading the “Dictatorship, Democracy, Communism—Dissent” section of the memoir to give people a sense of this.

Reg e. Gaines closed out the readings and began by talking about how he viewed the memoir first and foremost as great art and he talked about the powerful impact such art has on people’s hearts and minds. He spoke of how this book, like all great art, transports the readers to places they’ve never been as well as to some places they never want to go to again. And most of all, Reg revealed that to him, this book is great art because like all great art, “it allows us the freedom to imagine.” Introducing his reading of the section on Malcolm X and weaving it into his own memories of Malcolm and the way people reacted to him, Reg talked about the book taking him on a journey but never confining him; that it always gave him the chance to “step off the journey and sightsee, to visualize and dream, then get back on the train and keep on going.”

The readings were followed by a free-wheeling discussion among the panelists where they each spoke about the different ways the book has impacted them personally, what they loved, what surprised them and what they will keep with them forever. Reg talked about being so proud to see how the lives of Black people influenced and helped to shape a man like Bob Avakian. And in turn, he talked about the things he had learned from Avakian, especially the importance of understanding contradiction and the beauty you can find in it. He talked about the deep connection he felt with Bob Avakian around sports and the way he learned things from the memoir that he never knew about the history of Black people. Ben told how moved he was to see how “Avakian is able to interact with so many different kinds of people without getting hung up on their complexion or their gender or what neighborhood they’re from or what junior high they are from. His willingness to have a different perspective or another spin on things and his willingness to always self-reflect about what he is doing…he doesn’t get hung up on saying ‘I’m right’ and here’s the dogma. He challenges his own beliefs. He is creative and scientific in his approach to life and enjoying life to the fullest, not being afraid to defend his beliefs.”

Many folks who came to the event told of how surprised—and happy—they were to get to know a revolutionary communist leader up close and personal the way the memoir let them do that—to see the sensitivity, creativity, compassion, passion and humor concentrated in Avakian and how important that all is in shaping the kind of leader he is. A young proletarian from Long Beach told how much he loved reading the memoir and then revealed that this was the first book he had ever finished reading in his life. A young man who had been encouraged to come to the event by his sister talked about how much he enjoyed what he heard during the readings and mentioned that he had first been introduced to Bob Avakian and his writings in prison through the pages of the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution newspaper). An immigrant who works as a community activist talked about how much he appreciates Bob Avakian and also about the need to prevent this revolutionary leader from being taken from us.

By the end of the program there was a strong sense of hope and joy pulsing throughout the room. People had gone on that journey Reg e. Gaines spoke about and emerged different.

Ben Valentin closed the program by reading from the very last section of the memoir, the part where Chairman Avakian talks about the challenges and joys of being in the movement to bring into being a new world and his dedication and determination to do exactly that. As Ben read Bob Avakian’s words, there were many in the room whose faces lit up, fired up by the revolutionary leader they are getting to know.

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What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond