OG Told Me...

A photo essay.
By Pendarvis Harshaw.

http://ogpenn.com/

"My name is OK," an older gentleman told me, as I walked through Oakland’s Mosswood Park with a camera in my hand.

After asking If I could take his photo, OG told me: "Oh baby, don’t get it twisted: I’m not Hollywood. I’m Holly-hood.

And then he proceeded to take a number of photos, with different poses.  

"Culture is a weapon."- Emory Douglas
…
Emory Douglas is an artist, illustrator and the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. He’s a published author, as copies of his book “Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas" can still be found online. 
His art is evocative. I dare you to look at his images and not feel them.   
“Whether the people like it or not, you’ve got to bring it to their attention,” Emory Douglas told a room full of students and faculty during a presentation at Merritt College’s Student Lounge on February 18th, 2014.
His art is social commentary.  
“I wonder if Nixon is bothering us now,” Douglas said as he showed an image of the former President in a menacing manner. He clicked to the next slide and said, “I wonder if Obama is spying on us now”. As the image of Obama replaced the image of Nixon, someone in the crowd let out an “Ohhhh!”
"We’re talking about the real deal!" exclaimed Douglas.
His point: the same thing he saw back then, he sees going on today. And it’s his job to show that connection to the world.
His presentation was full of words like: Freedom, Slave ships, Obama, Nixon, Panthers, Sickle-cell, Oakland, Atlanta, Vietnam, Terrorism, Media, Government, Police, Pigs, Politics and Power. 
He talked a lot about politics. And power. 
…
When the question/ answer portion of his presentation came about, I asked Mr. Douglas: if he had the chance to give the youth a piece of advice, based on his experience, what words of wisdom would he give them?
OG Told Me: 
"Stay inspired. Stay focused. Have fun, at the same time, be focused on what you need to do. Study, learn your craft or whatever you do," Emory Douglas told me (and a room of people).
He concluded with saying,”be able to work with a group of people.”
….
After answering my question, he recited a poem.
(The following is the final segment of his poem.)
"…It is our duty as the makers of the art of resistance to always recognize the oppression of others. The goal should be, to make the message clear— so that even a child can understand it. Don’t be fooled by deception. Know the rules before you break them. Don’t lose sight of what the goal is. All power to the people.” 

"Culture is a weapon."- Emory Douglas

Emory Douglas is an artist, illustrator and the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. He’s a published author, as copies of his book “Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas" can still be found online. 

His art is evocative. I dare you to look at his images and not feel them.   

Whether the people like it or not, you’ve got to bring it to their attention,” Emory Douglas told a room full of students and faculty during a presentation at Merritt College’s Student Lounge on February 18th, 2014.

His art is social commentary.  

I wonder if Nixon is bothering us now,” Douglas said as he showed an image of the former President in a menacing manner. He clicked to the next slide and said, “I wonder if Obama is spying on us now”. As the image of Obama replaced the image of Nixon, someone in the crowd let out an “Ohhhh!”

"We’re talking about the real deal!" exclaimed Douglas.

His point: the same thing he saw back then, he sees going on today. And it’s his job to show that connection to the world.

His presentation was full of words like: Freedom, Slave ships, Obama, Nixon, Panthers, Sickle-cell, Oakland, Atlanta, Vietnam, Terrorism, Media, Government, Police, Pigs, Politics and Power. 

He talked a lot about politics. And power. 

When the question/ answer portion of his presentation came about, I asked Mr. Douglas: if he had the chance to give the youth a piece of advice, based on his experience, what words of wisdom would he give them?

OG Told Me: 

"Stay inspired. Stay focused. Have fun, at the same time, be focused on what you need to do. Study, learn your craft or whatever you do," Emory Douglas told me (and a room of people).

He concluded with saying,”be able to work with a group of people.”

….

After answering my question, he recited a poem.

(The following is the final segment of his poem.)

"…It is our duty as the makers of the art of resistance to always recognize the oppression of others. The goal should be, to make the message clear— so that even a child can understand it. Don’t be fooled by deception. Know the rules before you break them. Don’t lose sight of what the goal is. All power to the people.” 

OG Told Me: A Love Story

Felix and Hazel Wright met in a church in Arkansas circa 1934.
He was 19. She was 15.
Well, she was actually 13 at the time, but he soon found out. And 80 years later, they’ve learned a lot about each other— including how to love one and other. 
The couple lived in Arkansas, where Mr. Wright worked multiple jobs, including picking cotton for a sharecropper.
"300 pounds. That’s the most I ever did in one day," said Mr. Wright, as he spoke about his experience sharecropping. His work resume is American history— it speaks of the occupations African-Americans held during the early 1900’s.
 
The couple decided to move to California in 1945. 
"I came here looking for money," said Felix Wright, as he sat at the foot of his bed in North Oakland.
His recollection of driving to California in “a Chrysler, Cadillac, Ford- na it was probably a Chrysler” in 1945, not only speaks of the great African-American migration from the South to the industrialized urban areas of American; it also highlights how popular American-made automobiles once were.
His work resume and recollection of automobiles pale in comparison to the photos on his walls.
"I was with the greatest!" Mr. Wright exclaimed, when asked about his experience in meeting Muhammad Ali.
Keeping with his trend of taking photos with royalty, Mr. Wright has a photo of himself standing aside BB King. “Look! And he’s holding Lucille,” Mr. Wright seemingly forgot he was 100 years old as became animated, pointing to the King’s guitar. The King was dressed sharp. So was Mr. Wright. Not to mention Mrs. Wright’s uncanny sense of fashion, as she stood next to Felix in the photo.
In a number of pictures, the Mr. and Mrs. Wright have coordinated outfits: his tie went with her dress. Her glasses complimented his blazer.
Not matching. Coordinating… They had swag. 
Aside from a family photo, there’s one other photo on the Wright’s bedroom walls: a photo of Barack and Michele Obama. I guess you could call that a family photo as well. I mean, the Obamas are familiar with the Wrights. 
On November 15th 2011, the First Lady and President of the United States of America signed their names on a document dedicated to acknowledging the Wright’s 75th wedding anniversary. 
Mr. Wright, passively proud of the letter from the President of the United States, spoke greater lengths about his wife’s angelic singing and her incredible ability to cook chitlins. 
When asked about strategies on making love last, OG Told Me:
"I just know we tried to make it last from death, ‘til we part, or something like that." - Felix Wright said with ease. 
Note: Aïdah Rasheed, who was present during the interview, is the granddaughter of “Grandma Hazel and Daddy Wright,” as she calls them. Rasheed is a filmmaker and lover of good stories; she told me about this couple and how they’ve been married for over 75 years. She wanted to make sure to document the story of an underaged couple from the South, and how they grew to a beautiful elder age, together. And now, as their memories fade they still remember to hold hands as the fall asleep, every night… I’m thankful for being a part of this documentation process. 
 

"I learned how to take my lil butt, sit in that chair and hit them books in that school."- Tall Paul

I was cruising down the backstreet when I saw the golden spokes on his parked bikes; I instantly hit my brakes. I had to compliment him.

He was kneeling, woking on another bike near a mobile home.

I introduced myself and he did the same, proclaiming that “Tall Paul” is his name

I told him I liked his bikes. He told me he liked my vibe, and asked me to hold on…

He went in his mobile home, and came back out with another golden wheeled Scraper Bike. He was followed by his “better half”, a woman by the name of Antoinette, who was holding yet another decorated bicycle.

He said he fixes bicycles for young people who earn more than 3 A’s on a given report card. Of course, the young people have to bring the report card and their bikes to his shop, which is West Oakland’s on Peralta st. 

He has no problem fixing bikes, in fact, he’s been doing it since he was kid. I asked him, if he had the chance to talk to young people, what message would he tell them? OG Told Me…

"It starts in the books."- Tall Paul  

Walter Turner is one half of the R&B duo Robert Winters and Fall.

The group had a big hit int he early 80’s, by the name of “Magic Man" … He has those words tattooed on the side of his neck. 

Now, Turner works as a record industry consultant and a Juvenile Justice Commissioner at the Juvenile Hall in San Francisco. 

I met Mr. Turner while he was working a third gig: the chauffeur for Mr. and Mrs. Tanner’s late December wedding in West Oakland. 

Turner showed up in a Rolls-Royce: his hat and suit were as sharp as the spikes on his shoes.

After attending the wedding, Mr. Turner drove the bride and groom from the church to their photo shoot; and then Mr. Tuner and I had a chance to talk. We discussed the record industry, juvenile justice and the power of hope.

"Before Robert passed," Mr. Turner said in reference to his former co-singer. "We wanted to make sure that artists and other kids coming up got a fair break. Record companies don’t pay artists, they pay managers. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to these kids.”

He says he uses his position at the Juvenile Justice Center to reach young people who aspire to be artists. He doesn’t do the work alone, “I always see that their parents stay involved. Let their parents be a co-manager,” said Mr. Turner. “It’s not just about the kid it’s about the business.” 

When asked what he would tell young people to help them on their path,
OG Told Me: 
"What they need to do is: stick to it. Follow what you believe in.
By then, the camera was rolling— and so was he.

He told the story of an incarcerated individual, who rose to the level of a ranked police officer. He told the story of his friend who makes cool sweatshirts, and how he wants one.
He then closed his two minute monologue by saying, “I’m a hope dealer.”
Eason Ramson, former San Francisco 49ers Tight End and member of their first Superbowl team. 
OG Told Me: “I wore number 80 before Jerry Rice.”
He asked for food with a silent hand gesture, mimicking someone eating soup. I biked past him, saying: “sorry bru”, as I moved. Then I stopped, and doubled back. I had a shit-load of apples in my backpack. I gave him one and introduced myself. His name is Ross. It’s hard to understand his speech, but his smile is clear communication.
I was interviewing a source over croissants & coffee, you know: doing journalism. That’s when this guy walked into the cafe, sat down and started eating… Eating the leftovers from the plates of a duo that had just dined, paid their bill and left. I was already paying for my source’s breakfast, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to buy this guy a croissant. His name is Charles.

OG Told Me: “Stay in school, try to get married either before or after they start school” (the video cut off, he concluded with saying), “and they should stay in school for as long as they can, and stay married for as long as they can.”- Charles.

"… After you get a certain age, you know what it’s called? it’s called WISDOM!"- Cody Red

Outside of the sports bar in downtown Oakland, Cody Red’s voice dominated the airwaves as I held an impromptu interview; he was so animated— I had to ask him.

"It’s called what?"

OG Told me: IT’S CALLED WISDOM!

He was referring to the lesson he’d pass on to the younger generation if given the chance. He touched on topics of walking away during conflict, observing your surroundings, and trusting in God.

But, the first words he said when I asked what he would tell young people if given the opportunity…

OG Told Me: ”To lean the right way.” 

“Sometimes we devalue ourselves; we don’t really look at ourselves in the whole picture. Sometimes it’s good to take a minute to look in the mirror and assess yourself— and really realize how powerful, how talented, and how important you are.”- Masai Minters

The images on the walls of Masai Minters’ office in Campbell Hall on UCLA’s campus symbolize power.

A stoic Miles Davis, A couple Black Panthers, and this one photo of a young man with an afro holding a gun.

All of that is interspersed with powder blue UCLA logos and photos of students in caps and gowns.

The educated African American men and women who appear in the photos are Minters’ sons and daughters. He has five of them. All of them are college educated.

The UCLA logos are a bi-product of his occupation: Associate Director of the Academic Advancement Program on UCLA’s campus.

He says that the program assists over 5,600 students with academics, job placement, scholarships, and peer mentoring. The program is the new version of a program Minters was once a part of— The High Potential Program.

When Minters was a teenager, he had the opportunity to travel all the way from his residence near Sentinel High School in Compton to participate in the High Potential program, which was housed on the UCLA campus. A lot of students came from the underserved communities of Los Angeles County and joined the High Potential Program as a way to transfer into UCLA.

Bunchy Carter and John Huggins, former leaders of the LA Chapter of the Black Panther Party, were involved with the program as well.

Their photos are now in the back of Minters’ office—on a wall not too far from the photo of the gun and the guy with the afro.

Bunchy Carter and John Huggins were shot and killed on the campus of UCLA in January of 1969.

Minters wasn’t on campus at the time of the incident, but he knows all about it.

Minters not only has their images on his wall, their photos are also in the main corridor of Campbell Hall; which is where the shooting occurred.

Minters says that it was this shooting that eventually caused him to graduate from California State University Northridge instead of UCLA.

While at Northridge, he focused on Psychology and Pan African Studies; he also joined the Black Panther Party For Self Defense and trained in marksmanship. Somehow, he also found time to do some photography: The photo of the gun and the guy in the afro is a self-portrait that he took. 

Years removed from that period in his life, Minters is the head of the counseling department of a program that assists disadvantage students, and he’s a proud father.       

Given his life experiences, when asked what he would tell young people if given the opportunity, OG Told Me:

“I would encourage young brothers, like yourself, to really take an honest assessment of yourself— because you are a talented brother,” Minters said as he sat at his desk.

"You know the data, you know the challenges, we are under attack, we’re under siege!" Minters looked me dead in my eyes, and continued:

"I would encourage brothers such as yourself to do a real close self assessment. You have more talent than you imagine. Take a minute and do your own personal resume: Many of us have trained ourselves in so many different areas because we didn’t have the support we needed; we kind of made due.”

He said if he made a resume of the “renaissance” things he could do, it’d be 4 or 5 pages long; And didn’t smirk nor leave room for a suspicion of exaggeration.

I imagine his resume would include his ability to aim both a camera and a gun.