By Gloria Dulan-Wilson
In a send off fit for a king, the Black community of Brooklyn bade farewell to Brother Jitu Weusi a/k/a Les Campbell, on Monday, June 3.
With traditional African and African American drummers and musicians leading the procession in and out of Brown Memorial Church, a capacity crowd gathered to share their expressions of gratitude and awe at the gentle giant who had been and integral part of things Brooklyn and things African American nearly all his adult life.
|JITU WEUSI - BIG BLACK - LES CAMPBELL AT AFRICAN STREET FESTIVAL 2012|
(photo by Gloria Dulan-Wilson)
This was the culmination of a seven-day (7-day) series of ceremonies paying homage to Jitu Weusi, which formally began on Saturday, May 25 (Memorial Day Weekend) at his signature night club, “FOR MY SWEET,” located in Brooklyn on Fulton Street and Claver Place. The club had been established by Jitu two years ago for jazz lovers and aficianados, and was one of the few places left in New York where you could go hear live jazz on a Monday, and still be able to sit in on a jam session.
Earlier that day there had been a parade in his honor, sponsored by the Black Vets, which went from BedStuy Restoration, down Marcy Avenue to the Black Vets Headquarters on Willoughby Avenue. After the parade, the Black soldiers made presentations to his family in honor of Jitu's long years of service and respect to the Black veterans. Jeff King, one of the key members of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium regaled the onlookers with some jazz saxophonic renditions. Other members participating in the parade were from his organization, the Black United Front, the Black Cowboys, and local community based organizations from both New York and New Jersey.
Later that afternoon, hundreds of artists, elected officials - including Assemblywoman, Annette Robinson, Assemblyman Walter Moseley, City Council Reps Albert Vann and Letitia James; Laurie Cumbo, former city council member, Una Clarke, Ebony JoAnn, Barbara Killens-Rivera, Sam Anderson, and hundreds others came to a “sitting” ceremony where the community gathered around the family to sit with them in their time of sorrow. Musicians rendered versions of his favorite songs, while others testified to their experiences with Jitu and the difference he made in their lives, the lives of their families; and in the Brooklyn Community as a whole.
I've already regaled you with how special Jitu was to my family, and to my late husband, Lou Wilson, of Mandrill, so I won't reiterate it here – what I will say, however, is how interesting it is that these two souls, now with the ancestors, have left major voids in their respective communities, each in his own right. It most likely will take ten men and women to cover what Jitu - one person - did in his own entirety. The Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium certainly recognizes that. The diplomacy with which Jitu handled artists, booking agents, audiences, vendors, is really beginning to hit home to them, now that they have to take up the slack.
The hole that has been left in Mandrill as the result of Lou's demise, is a gaping one - he was spokesperson, leader, composer, vocalist, played 16 instruments on his own; educator, personality - it will take at least ten to fill his one place, as well - but that is a story for another article - the point is that these two men were cut from the same cloth, raised in the same village (Bed Stuy) with the same ethos - and they are now no longer with us - we've got a lot to do to not lose the lessons they've taught us.
In speaking of indispensible, consider the food co-op he started which is also beginning to realize that they have to step up to the plate if they want it to continue and succeed. The question of what to do if there are not enough participants has already come up several times, and that has only been a few days after his homegoing ceremony.
And what of his education programs and the fact that he was hands on on most of the programs he initiated? We know that he was a consummate educator, and was passionate about making sure our youth had the finest and most comprehensive education available – and if not, that one was created. While I watched the Uhuru Sasa students give the Harambee salute, I also realized that these people now really have to walk their talk and make this an institutionalized program, or it will be just another in a long line of great things we used to do, back in the day. Even from his hospital bed, Jitu was trying to make sure the legacy was secure. It is up to us, we the living, to carry it forward.
He was not only the co-founder, but attended every International African Street Festival from its inception – (when it was originally at Boys and Girls High School); he will surely be missed at this one, and no doubt it will be dedicated in his honor – if not, it should be. The fact of the matter is that it was designed to be an integral part of the Bed Stuy community – it was designed to bring together African, African American and Caribbean brothers and sisters in a synergistic fashion to share all that they had in common racially, culturally and otherwise, as well as to teach each other about the nuances of their varied culture. And it's been doing that successfully for more than 40 years. And while there needs to be some baton-passing going on, it needs to be into competent hands that will maintain the spirit and the intention of this wonderful event.
Jitu was lauded in the church by actor/activist Ralph Carter, former star of Norman Lear's “Good Times,” where he portrayed Michael, the militant young son. He revealed that he had been counseled and mentored by Jitu during the time that he appeared on the show, giving texture to his character, and inculcating Black pride to a generation of TV viewers who might have otherwise just viewed it as a sit com (situation comedy). He also revealed that, upon returning to Brooklyn, after the show was canceled, he continued to work with him on programs and projects in Brooklyn.
If there is not a move to rename Claver Place in honor of Jitu Weusi, there definitely should be. He's been part of that community and that corner for decades. He's given it the dignity it probably would not otherwise have had.
Jitu's 12 year old grandson read the obituary – a little personality in his own right – and started off by saying “This isn't as easy as it looks” and proceeded to read the document with expression and elocution befitting one who had attended college with a major in English and acting. So well did he read, that at the end, the entire church gave him a standing ovation.
The father of seven loved children dearly; and spent as much time taking care of his as well as those in the community. No neglect stories here. Long before the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” had become an American idiom, he had been raised in the village of Bed Stuy among loving parents, with great friends and peers, in an atmosphere that was disciplined and determined to ensure that he, and the rest of the youth in that community succeeded in life. And they did a great job – from the accomplishments on his part and the part of his peers, they had the right formulation. It was that formulation that was the inspiration for the schools, the discipline for the community based programs, and other innovations – it was because they had dissipated and their absence was conspicuous – that he set out to re-inculcate those programs in Brooklyn.
He was blessed with a loving wife, Angela, a social diva in her own right, as his help mate, soul mate, life partner, friend and was with him through the good and bad times. They were a striking couple – and frequently attended events together. Again, my congratulations and condolences to her. Congratulations for having had such a wonderful life mate; condolences on your “loss” of him physically – because he's not gone from you spiritually.
I know that there are many appropriate politically correct things that I could say at this moment, but I can't think of one of them. My biggest concern is that we don't let Jitu's legacy die. And I know how easy it is to pay lip service to it, and how much more difficult it will be to actually make it happen – especially in a city that has absolutely no interest or investment in progressing the Black agenda. New York has made it clear – at least under the current administration – that the sooner gone, the better. Though Jitu didn't rely on political influence or assistance to have any weight on what he did or didn't do, the unfortunate truth is that there are many among us who now cop to being politically correct, and are afraid to take a stand because of repercussions or reputations.
Jitu Weusi – BIG BLACK – left us a legacy. It's wonderful well and good to have a 7- day celebration for this wonderful brother – but in the days and weeks and months and YEARS to come, who has the heart, nerves, guts and dedication to carry it forward into the future – who will make it happen – who will pick up the mantle, follow those footsteps and preserve his/OUR heritage for the future?
One major message came through from this homegoing ceremony: Jitu Never Hated Anything or Anyone: He loved Black people, and got along well with most people. He was more likely to take a humane approach to a problem, but was not afraid to put up a fight if necessary. Through it all, he loved his people deeply and continuously - so much so that nothing was too good for Black people His problem was getting Black people to accept that and to stand for themselves. Hopefully we've gotten the message.
Luv4U Brother Jitu - from Glo-Du
NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?
STAY BLESSED &
A partial list of the Black Dignitaries who came to pay him homage included: Amiri and Amina Baracka, Stanley Banks, Pharoah Saunders, Rome Neal, Eric Frazier, Sir Charles (Pulliam), Jerry East, Black Rose (who danced divinely), Steve Cromity, Randy Weston, Rev. Conrad Tillard, Jeff King, State Senator Bill Perkins, Brother Kojo Ade, Rev. Herbert Daughtry (who also hosted a royal service at House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn), Nana Camille Yarborough, Eric Tait, Assemblyman Karim Camara, Conrad Worrell, Lauryn Jackson, Michael Howard, Michael Hooper, Bro. Job Mashariki, Charles and Inez Barron, members of the Black United Front, to name a few - and I truly hope my brothers and sisters in the music industry will forgive me if I didn't mention you - your energy and spirit were definitely in the house; it was just such a long, blessed and overwhelming day/week. SB&EB/GDW
I would say Rest in Peace Jitu and Lou but I know those two guys are kicking back, listening to Jazz and Jamming and reminiscing over old times!!! Stay Blessed - GDW