ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes

   

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Once I saw him get almost everyone on the train to chant “More hugging, less mugging!”

This was his signature slogan. I started spotting it on window decals and bumper stickers

all over the city. Richard, who had once been a police officer, had discovered that

he preferred preventing crime with creativity and love to fighting crime with might.

 

 

Remembering a Harlem Street Poet

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A Light in the Tunnel
Portrait of a Subway Swami

By Scott Kalechstein

 

The first time I met Richard, commonly known as the ‘D’ Train Poet, I was riding a Manhattan subway. I noticed him right away. Big, black, and beautiful, he was busy breaking the unwritten but widely adhered to laws of the city’s underground: Mind your own business. Bury your face in a newspaper. And, above all, don’t talk to strangers. He approached me with a twinkle in his eye and an irresistible question: “Would you like to see a picture of the next savior of humanity?”

I had no idea what he was up to, but immediately I trusted the playful warmth he was radiating. “I’d love to!” I said with a smile.  He took out a mirror and held it up to my face. “Surprise, you’re it!”

"Not it!" I was twenty years old, out on my own for the first time and struggling to make ends meet, hoping to find a little self-esteem in the process. I was hawking laundry bags on the streets to pay the rent. I felt light years away from being a savior.

Every few months I would run into Richard here and there. For a while I kept my distance. His courageous self-expression held up an uncomfortable mirror and showed me how much I was hiding.

One night I was strolling through Greenwich Village smoking pot. I stumbled upon Richard connecting with a collection of teenagers who were sitting on a stoop, captivated by his charisma. As I got closer I heard enough to realize he was using his gifts of poetry and humor to inspire them to stay away from smoking. Just as I started to turn around and walk the other way, he spotted me. I froze.

He called me over and gave me a big bear hug as I inconspicuously dropped the joint to the sidewalk and braced myself for his reaction to the pungent cloud of smoke around me. But either his nose or his heart chose not to register the aroma, and he immediately engaged me in the sort of conversation one does one's best to avoid when one is stoned.

He asked me what I did for a living. I told him about peddling laundry bags, but also that I was in training to become a rebirther. He became animated and excited. “I’ve been wanting to find out about rebirthing!” he exclaimed. Before I had time to guess what was coming next he had taken a pocket tape recorder out of his briefcase, pressed the record button, and said, “Scott Kalechstein, professional rebirther, on rebirthing.” He put the mike up to my mouth, and I managed to sputter out a few sentences on the simple breathing process that had changed my life.

Although he had strong feelings about living a drug-free life, Richard never mentioned the marijuana. He had even stronger feelings about loving and accepting people as they were, and seeing the beauty in them even when they weren’t yet seeing it in themselves.

We kept running into each other in odd places, and through it all a friendship emerged. I nicknamed him Swami Subwaynanda, and he liked it. Richard’s subway ministry was a big part of his life, and the name fit him.

A spiritual teacher I was studying with at the time warned her students to avoid the subways. She said the vibrations down there were too dense and could be very draining to souls seeking to serve humanity. I was glad that Richard hadn’t studied with her.

Anyone who doubts Jesus’ prophecy that we would one day do greater works has never seen Richard raise a crowd of people in a subway car from the dead. Once I saw him get almost everyone on the train to chant “More hugging, less mugging!” This was his signature slogan. I started spotting it on window decals and bumper stickers all over the city. Richard, who had once been a police officer, had discovered that he preferred preventing crime with creativity and love to fighting crime with might.

Besides being a blazing light in the tunnels of the city, Richard was also an activist, a gospel singer, a rapper, a minister, a gifted and moving poet, and a great improviser of songs. We shared wonderful times together making up songs in the moment, and he was a big fan of my newly emerging musical career. It was thrilling to have a man twenty years my senior believe in me so enthusiastically.

One tune of mine, "Follow Your Heart," was his clear favorite. “That song’s meant to be BIG, Scott! The whole world needs to know about that song!”  A hopelessly white folksinger, I wrote and sung it as a ballad. Richard thought it was more suited for gospel. He performed and recorded it at his church. When he shared the tape with me, it was so full of his heart and soul I could hardly recognize my own song!

Richard was a Christian, and loved Jesus in a big way. He was filled with a sense of purpose, and considered himself a missionary of sorts. But he didn’t share his church or his religion; he shared his Spirit. And I had never before met a traditional Christian who so honored everyone else’s spiritual and religious points of view. His missionary position was that everybody belonged on top.

When I moved to California in 1990 I didn’t keep in touch with Richard. Early this year he found me, through the grace of the Internet. I called him and we had a wonderful conversation, catching each other up on the too many years we had been out of touch. Feeling like the prodigal son returning, I apologized for how long I had been out of contact. He welcomed me with open arms, and expressed a strong desire to hear the music that had come out of me since leaving N.Y.C. I sent him my CD’s- eight discs and thirteen years of material he had not heard before.

Richard’s wife recently phoned to tell me that he had just had a heart attack on a bus and didn’t make it. I fought back tears and shock as I listened to what she had to say. She wanted me to know that he had spoken of me often over the years and had loved me deeply, and also that he had been thoroughly enjoying the music I had sent. I told her how much he had meant to me, that he had infused me with his Spirit in such a way that my life had been forever touched and blessed.

Re-connecting just before he made his passing was such a gift for both of us.

Richard, I will always be grateful for your example of fearless living and loving, as well as the interest you took in me, my talents, and my life. I will always remember you holding that mirror to my face the first time we met. Then I thought you were delightfully crazy, and now I’ve spent the rest of my life aspiring to your level of insanity. You passed your torch on to me and countless others. Help us hold it high, dear brother, and continue to support us in being the light that we are, the light that you showed me in the mirror, the light in the tunnel. I love you and thank you for your precious gifts to me and to this planet.

“So forget about race, religion, color or creed. More huggin less muggin's what everybody need!”
- Richard Bartee, 1943-2003

The scoop on Scott Kalechstein and his music can be found at: http://www.scottsongs.com He can be emailed at scott@scottsongs.com. You can also listen to and order Scott’s CD’s  over a secure server by visiting http://www.cdbaby.com/group/scottsongs

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America.

This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today.

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Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin

By John D'Emilio

Bayard Rustin is one of the most important figures in the history of the American civil rights movement. Before Martin Luther King, before Malcolm X, Bayard Rustin was working to bring the cause to the forefront of America's consciousness. A teacher to King, an international apostle of peace, and the organizer of the famous 1963 March on Washington, he brought Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence to America and helped launch the civil rights movement. Nonetheless, Rustin has been largely erased by history, in part because he was an African American homosexual. Acclaimed historian John D'Emilio tells the full and remarkable story of Rustin's intertwined lives: his pioneering and public person and his oblique and stigmatized private self.

It was in the tumultuous 1930s that Bayard Rustin came of age, getting his first lessons in politics through the Communist Party and the unrest of the Great Depression.

A Quaker and a radical pacifist, he went to prison for refusing to serve in World War II, only to suffer a sexual scandal. His mentor, the great pacifist A. J. Muste, wrote to him, "You were capable of making the 'mistake' of thinking that you could be the leader in a revolution...at the same time that you were a weakling in an extreme degree and engaged in practices for which there was no justification."

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Laying Down the Sword

Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses

By Philip Jenkins

Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religions—all are in the Bible, and all occur with a far greater frequency than in the Qur’an. But fanaticism is no more hard-wired in Christianity than it is in Islam. In Laying Down the Sword, “one of America’s best scholars of religion” (The Economist) explores how religions grow past their bloody origins, and delivers a fearless examination of the most violent verses of the Bible and an urgent call to read them anew in pursuit of a richer, more genuine faith. Christians cannot engage with neighbors and critics of other traditions—nor enjoy the deepest, most mature embodiment of their own faith—until they confront the texts of terror in their heritage. Philip Jenkins identifies the “holy amnesia” that, while allowing scriptural religions to grow and adapt, has demanded a nearly wholesale suppression of the Bible’s most aggressive passages, leaving them dangerously dormant for extremists to revive in times of conflict.

Jenkins lays bare the whole Bible, without compromise or apology, and equips us with tools for reading even the most unsettling texts, from the slaughter of the Canaanites to the alarming rhetoric of the book of Revelation. Teaching Genocide

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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Enjoy!

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 18 June 2012

 

 

 

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