Comrade Will Reese—A Celebration and Commemoration, May 14, 2016

Noche, member of the Revolution Club NYC

May 23, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |


My heart was broken and still is at the loss of Will. He is someone I really deeply loved. He was a mentor to me and role model, he was like my brother, taught me a lot, he was a comrade, we fought together on the line... and he was also my closest friend.

This may sound a little conceited, because I recognize that even though he touched every part of my life, he touched a lot of people’s lives.

I met Will about eight or nine years ago, when he came to New York to lead an important part of the Party’s work. At the time I met him, I was someone who had been drawn to the revolution because of Bob Avakian and the work he was doing, but I was in and out of the movement at the time because I was put off by what characterized a lot of the work the movement was caught up in at the time, and I was also real weighed down by just trying to get by and survive in this world, especially after I dropped out of high school and went to work to try to help keep myself and my family above water. I didn’t understand all of why or what was going on at the time, but when Will came through, things were different. We weren’t just trying to figure out what to protest next—although we definitely did that [laughs]—we were trying to figure out how to bring revolution to people. Me and him started working closely together doing this here in Harlem, especially around a major screening of Bob Avakian’s talk, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About  at the Schomburg Center, which is not far from here, just up the block from the new Revolution Books. Will was fighting to model and to lead us in seeing to it that we didn’t treat revolution and communism—which is actually overthrowing this oppressive system and emancipating ourselves and all humanity—as just “our thing” or just something for people to get into once they’ve spent forever trying to race down every dead end path. We worked to bring this to the places, and to the people, who needed it the most.

Will Reese, October 2010Will stirs the crowd with an impassioned fundraising pitch at the dialogue between Carl Dix and Cornel West titled "In the Age of Obama, Part II... Police Terror, Incarceration, No Jobs, Mis-education: What Future For Our Youth?" Photo: Revolution/

I learned a lot working closely with Will. I learned about revolutionary theory, about history, about different parts of the world I didn’t know about, about music and culture... I was learning how to live a different way, while learning how to fight for a different world. See, when I started off, I had a lot of hatred for oppression—my oppression and the oppression of people like me. And I was eager to learn all about oppression of all the people everywhere and how to end it. He struggled with me because I used to see this just politically and to be somewhat narrow. You know, “Back then.”

He tried to get me into jazz [laughter in audience], but I could be hard-headed sometimes, “back then.” I’d tell him, “No man, I don’t get this, it’s not my thing, man. I’m just not really a music person.” We would talk about the history of jazz, how it came out of the oppression of Black people. And I could appreciate that historically, but he really insisted with me, “No, man. You really gotta listen.” He’d sit me down and play some for me. He showed me a documentary which had a lot of live recordings of John Coltrane, and for his birthday one time we went out to Saint Nick’s Pub, which is up the street from here, or at least used to be—it’s probably gone now—and listened to some live jazz for his birthday

Similarly, I remember he showed me a version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by the Hawaiian singer Iz. “Oh, man... I don’t know if I can get into some corny Wizard of Oz shit.” “No, no, no, man. You got to listen.” He was right. No matter how many times I’d heard that tune before, I’d never really listened to it. And plus there was a somberness to Iz’s version that still sits with me today. I didn’t get it all into what he was doing right away, but I remember thinking of Will, and I still do, when I catch myself in the shower humming out loud the tune to Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” and thinking to myself “somewhere over the rainbow, there’s a wonderful world... “

Me and him got real close even though we came up a little different. He was raised in a Black family in the South, in Virginia, under Jim Crow, and I was a Puerto Rican kid coming up in the South Bronx under the New Jim Crow. He was one of those ’60s people who came alive when people were challenging injustice all over the world. And his life, how he lived it, was a testament that not everybody gives up, not everybody sells out, and NO, the point is not to just “hold the fort” hoping against hope. This brother was restless—he didn’t just hold onto the ’60s as some romantic past, he drew lessons from it and he shared those lessons so that this time around we’d go further. This was something that we both loved about BA, Bob Avakian, and we’d wrestle with the work Avakian was doing to draw the deepest lessons of all oppressed people fighting to get free, and how to advance the revolution to total emancipation.

I remember some time ago when the Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, released some letters that had gone back and forth between the Party here and the party in Nepal. There had been an inspiring revolutionary struggle being waged there, but just as it seemed to be approaching the possibility of victory, it was betrayed. This was heartbreaking for both of us, but it was no accident. People there, communists, just “holding on” to the best of what was known maybe 40 years ago, couldn’t solve the problems of the revolution today, and when new challenges emerged they threw out even what was learned so long ago. I remember when me and Will stayed up all night when those letters came out, talking about what was in these letters, trying to break down what had happened, how was the world revolution going to advance in today’s conditions. All night, talking about Nepal, a little country most people hadn’t heard of, which on one level seemed to have nothing to do with what we were doing out here in Harlem. But in a deeper way it had everything to do with what we were doing out here in Harlem.

One of the things Will understood very clearly was that those who are most oppressed under this system, those who are cast off and locked out of working with ideas, those who are beaten down, warped and scarred by living under this system, CAN take up the science of communism, they CAN learn to understand why they’re in the situation they’re in, and what to do about it. He knew it would take struggle, and leadership, but no one could tell Will that oppressed people couldn’t be conscious fighters to end all oppression. And he demanded this of people [applause], including myself. He fought for me to lift up my head every time this world dragged me down. And even when I would disappear, he’d go out to the Bronx looking for me. He never gave up on me. I remember one time when shit was really falling apart, he came and found me in the street sitting against a light pole with my head in my hands just shaking my head. He came up to me and said “Hey, man. What’s going on?” I told him how everything was fucked up in my life. He said to me, “Oh, that’s why you’re sitting there like this. I understand... slavery’s a motherfucker. Give me a call when you’re done here, I’ll be around.”


A Life Lived for Revolution:
Comrade Will Reese—
A Celebration and Commemoration



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