by Gloria Dulan-Wilson
It is with great sadness that I announce the transition of our dear, valiant, courageous, creative, talented, brother Elombe Brath, who made his transition earlier today, May 20, 2014.
|Elombe Brath Champion of Beauty, Justice, Independence for Black People The World Over|
I have nothing but praise and admiration for this wonderful brother and his family, whom I have known since 1966. And yes, I'm crying - but these are as much tears of gratitude as they are of sorrow, because that was such a long, wonderful, beautiful, blessed friendship.
I think, spiritually, Elombe had already moved forward - but has just finally released himself from his physicality - He was always, always so far ahead of us in so many ways. The strokes he had begun to suffer in 2009 necessitated his being in a nursing home where he could receive contiuum of care. During that time, his wife and mother of their seven children, the lovely Nomsa Brath, was likewise facing challenges of her own. She has, however, managed to rally and was a participant at the recently held 2013 tribute to his life and times in Harlem.
|Kwame Brathwaite, Elombe's Brother at 2013 ELOMBE TRIBUTE|
|Nomsa Brath, Elombe's Wife and Lifemate at 2013 ELOMBE TRIBUTE|
My knowledge of, and friendship with, Elombe might not ever have happened had it not been for Sam Anderson, my Lincoln University Classmate, who brought Elombe (then Cecil Brathwaite) and the Grandassa Models to Lincoln, at a time when we were all wallowing in our "negative negroness." Elombe was the first ever to assemble Black female models with natural hair, modeling beautiful rich African colors and designs, and walking to African music. This was at a time when you'd rather be caught dead than to have nappy hair. This was Spring, 1966!! Along with Elombe was his brother, Kwame, then future wife, Nomsa, producer Frank Adu of AJASS (African Jazz and Art Society Studios), and a host of African (American) drummers and dancers under the personage of Gus Dinizulu!
|LINCOLN UNIVERSITY ARCH|
At the time Naturally 66 came to Lincoln University, in spring 1966, there had been a horrible schism between African and African American students on Lincoln's campus. The friction led to arguments, disrespect, and bordered on physical confrontations. This and more were issues that were healed and rectified as a result of that one program! It helped form a bond between Black African and African American that probably had not existed since the mid to late forties. Lincoln University has always had a large African population - but prior to Naturally 66, AJASS and Black power, there had been very little real positive, cohesive interaction between African and African American students.
I have to smile when I think about the fact that there were only 16 coeds at Lincoln U on a campus of 600 males at the time, and all our male classmates were falling all over themselves as they watched those beautiful Black sisters - the Grandassas - (deep dark chocolate as opposed to the almost pass for white variety that had heretofore been the standard), walk - no, undulate - across the stage.
Elombe's words of wisdom that day to this have never been forgotten, and were the catalysts for so many of us who on that very evening were reborn from being "negro" into being Black and Beautiful.
Then, later in the year, Fall, 1966, Stokely Carmichael came and made us Black and Proud as he enunciated the principles of BLACK POWER. As a result of those two catalysts, and the prodding of Sam Anderson, Tony Montiero, and Paul Moore, I and a classmate, Maxine Steward (deceased) became the first two coeds at Lincoln University, to wear naturals. Maxine was subsequently named Homecoming Queen, and was the first Homecoming Queen in the US to have an “Afro.”
|Stokely Carmicahel of SNCC Enunciating the Principles of BLACK POWER|
Of course, subsequent to that time, the majority of coeds on Lincoln's campus wear some form of natural hair style. But back in the days when it was better to be found walking down the street naked, than to have "nappy" hair, it considered was a bold move. One that almost had me exiled from my family. And, proudly, I've never processed (straightened) my hair since.
The pride Elombe engendered among my fellow classmates, was replicated world wide as his Grandassa Models became the new standard for Black beauty. And as we began to embrace and appreciate our African heritage, it opened up the flood gates for contemporary studies on all that had been held away from us for hundreds of years about our ancestry. Elombe spawned such an outpouring of self love and unity, that magazine covers of Ebony, Jet, Tan and other Black publications began to be reflective of the teachings. It spawned beauty and hair care products especially designed for natural hair, as well as a fashion industry trying to outdo one another in the design of then popular African clothing styles. Black studies flourished in the classrooms and churches; Black people began to greet each other as "brother" and "sister" - something that I continue to do til this day. Ajass, Grandassas, and Naturally 66 (67, 68, 69, etc., became the standard bearer of things Black and Beautiful).
This was all thanks to the vision of Elombe Brath, who dared to break a tradition founded on the brainwashing Blacks had suffered as a result of enslavement and hostile self destructive messages.
Throughout the decades following, Elombe has been friend, educator, activist, creator. A graphic artist by trade, he was the light behind brother Gil Noble, who had been tagged by ABC-TV in NYC, to do a lightweight TV show geared to us then emerging Black revolutionaries. The show later emerged to become LIKE IT IS, and was the greatest source of Black information and issues ever. Elombe not only served as the graphic artist, he was the behind the scenes conduit for those great interviews that Noble was able to bring to the forefront. I used to run into Elombe, and he would give me an earful of how ABC had been trying to control, and/or eliminate him from the show. They had had no intention of LIKE IT IS becoming such a seminal success, and when they found that Elombe had been the conduit for many of the guests, as well as many of the on location programs, they first sought to curtail it by removing him from the show and putting him in another department. When that didn't work, they eventually found a way to terminate him completely.
|The Late, Great Gil Noble of Like It Is|
When I asked him what he was going to do, he just said "What I always do, my sister. I needed the job, but they can't stop me from spreading the truth. Gil and I will be alright." It was following that that Elombe formed the Patrice Lumumba Coalition and began holding forums at the Harriet Tubman School in Harlem. And, while he never looked back, and never went after ABC for wrongful termination, his relationship with Gil Noble remained as strong as ever.
Always in the background, but ever at his side, was his brother/partner, Kwame Brathwaite - photographer and quiet activist in his own right. It was Kwame who quietly chronicled all that happened via his ever ready camera, preserving history for posterity.
Kwame Brathwaite, in a tribute to his brother that appeared in the Black Star News, 11-16-09, writes:
"Elombe was one of the founders, and the lifetime president of the African Jazz-Arts Society & Studios, (AJASS) a cultural group which had been founded during the summer of 1956 in the South Bronx but moved to Harlem in 1961. The group was a collective of Black artists, photographers, performers, and students (including Kwame Brathwaite, Robert Gumbs, Chris Acemendeces Hall, Frank Adu, Jimmy Abu and others) who gathered to promote Black Arts and Culture. This was the beginning of what became “The Black Arts Movement” which many believe started in 1965, nine years later.Last year, in May of 2013, New York State Senator, Bill Perkins hosted a statewide tribute to Elombe Brath at the Harriet Tubman School. There were so many who came to honor him, that even the driving rain and high winds could not deter them. The program was filled with so many tributes, including the now late Amiri Baraka, Congressman Charles Rangel, and so many others, it literally ran two hours over the alotted time. So much outpouring of love for Elombe and his wife and family, the auditorium was literally standing room only.
"Influenced by the ANPMs Garvey Day celebration and their “Miss Natural Standard of Beauty” contests formed to install pride and confidence in Black women, who at the time were looked upon as less than beautiful by the mass media, the fashion world and by Black people themselves. After the 1961 contest, AJASS formed the nucleus of a group of models to explicitly promote the African standard of beauty, The Grandassa Models under the direction of Elombe. The image of darker women had been long overlooked by such magazines as Ebony, Jet, Tan, contradicting their very names.
"Thus the “Naturally” series of “cultural extravaganzas designed to restore our racial pride and standards” was born, beginning with the production of “Naturally ‘62” on January, of that year."
|New York State Senator Bill Perkins at the 2013 ELOMBE BRATH TRIBUTE|
|RandyWeston performing in honor of Elombe at the 2013 ELOMBE BRATH TRIBUTE|
ANOTHER SAD NOTE: Dear Friends: I originally started writing this article on May 20, the day after Malcolm X's Birthday, after having learned about the transition of Elombe to the realm of Ancestor/Angel. In the midst of my writing this article, I received the news that my friend Sam Greenlee, author of THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR, had also passed. I was/am in a complete state of shock that I could possibly lose two friends practically on the same day! It's taken me a while to process it and get back to paying homage to my friend, Elombe - which will be followed by an homage to Sam Greenlee as well.
Though I am a journalist, losing friends that I've known nearly a lifetime, such as Elombe, is a terrible personal blow. Notice, I did not say loss – because I have too many things to be grateful for during our long friendship to feel as I could count it as a loss. So I am expressing what is I am sure a heartfelt thank you from all the Black community – Nationally and Internationally – for the long life of love and service we've received as a result of the heart, hand, and love of Elombe. He has gone on to take his place along with the pantheon of other Black ancestor/angels who constantly, continuously and consistently watch over and guide us.
Contemporaries such as the late Amiri Baraka and his wife, Amina performed at the ceremony in tribute to Elombe in May 2013 as well. Now these two great warriors are among our ancestors and are fondly looking down on us as we try to cope, recoup, regroup, and begin to see our way forward.
|The Late Poet Laureat Activist Amiri Baraka Performing at ELOMBE BRATH TRIBUTE 2013|
|Poet, Writer, Entertainer, Amina Baraka Singing at ELOMBE BRATH TRIBUTE 2013|
|Journalists Bernard White (L) and Herb Boyd (R) at ELOMBE BRATH TRIBUTE 2013|
|Producer Woodie King, Jr., and Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce Lloyd Williams at ELOMBE BRATH TRIBUTE 2013|
I have nothing but high praise and congratulations to us all, amidst the sorrow for having been blessed with having Elombe among us for a wonderful, positive, empowering, creative, productive 77 years.
As you can see, I'm doing this blog in real time. I just received such a wonderful from brother Dawad Philip - former managing editor of the Daily Challenge (the only Black Daily Newspaper in the US) on my FaceBook page, and I wanted to include it in this blog in tribute to Brother Elombe:
"Gloria, It is with deep sadness that I receive the news of Brother Elombe Brath's transition. A soldier and revolutionary of the highest order, educator, scholar, writer, Pan Africanist and friend, his was a life of full service. We Africans the world over owe much to Elombe in ways that we may not collectively or fairly measure, from Harlem to Bed-Stuy, the Spanish and French Caribbean, from Cuba to Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, to Grenada and South Africa, this son of Barbadian heritage personified the creed: Serve the People! I cannot help but smile as I picture him stepping into The Daily Challenge to deliver his regular columns and engaging all with the latest victory from the Front, of Fidel Castro snubbing the luxuries of Midtown choosing instead to stay in Harlem, or Brother Maurice Bishop and his NJM executive visiting the United Nations and Elombe ensuring that Fordham University had a full house to receive Maurice, to Nelson and Winnie Mandela visiting Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant, to his weekly revolution behind the cameras of Gil Noble's Like It Is, to Kwame Ture and at the end the African community's celebration of Ture's life with a Harlem send-off. He was our man with his ear to the global African drum. Elombe Brath walked among giants and led the struggle from the front so that generations today and onward may walk proud. I have just come back from Cuba and I have seen the vision that Elombe articulated for African youth, in music, in science, in the arts. Your dream is Alive, Elombe. Walk Good!" - Dawad Philip May 23, 2014
Homegoing Services for Elombe will held at Abyssinian Baptist Church on Saturday, May 31, 2014
Stay Blessed &