Aug. 12, 1958, around 10 a.m., 57 of the greatest musicians on earth gathered at 17 East 126th St., in front of a Harlem brownstone in New York City for a photograph. Among those assembled: Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Horace Silver, Lester “Prez” Young, Maxine Sullivan, Count Basie, Art Blakey, Coleman Hawkins, Mary Lou Williams, Gene Krupa, “Colossus” Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Art Farmer and Milton Hinton.

About a dozen children from the neighborhood sat along the curb at the feet of these jazz titans (along with Basie who had grown weary of standing) on that hot summer day in Harlem in 1958, to complete an iconic image that endures as a symbol of Black American excellence. Photographer Art Kane took the picture, which became known as “A Great Day in Harlem.”

Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)

When I arrived in Philadelphia, after riding the “Soul Bus” with about 50 of Baltimore’s most dynamic, young leaders (At 52, I was one of the elders assembled), I couldn’t get the image of those magnificent brothers and sisters who had come together at that moment in American history in 1958, out of my head. It was the early days of the modern American Civil Rights Movement and despite their ascendancy as jazz gods, all of those Black men and women had experienced playing their music in the Jim Crow South, reduced to second class citizens. To be bold, Black and brilliant in America in 1958 was a perilous pursuit.

In 2017, it still is.

Nevertheless, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS), the grassroots think tank focused on Black liberation, convened the LBS 2017 Policy Summit Retreat in Philadelphia. When asked why LBS decided to have the meeting in Philly, Adam Jackson, CEO of the group, essentially said he didn’t want anybody that wasn’t supposed to be there sticking their head in the room trying to find out what was going on, “signifying” as the old folks use to say. He was only halfway joking.

To be clear, nobody from LBS leadership, or anybody else assembled for that transcendent weekend said I should not write about what transpired. But, I’m not going to. I’m not going to write about who was there (outside of the LBS gang, of course), I’m not going to write about what we said and I’m not going to write about what we did. Because, I’m a COINTELPRO baby, who came of age in the era of Public Enemy; can’t trust it.

What I will say is, every single one of those magnificent brothers and sisters who came together in Philly last weekend could go anywhere in this world — from Birmingham, Al., to Birmingham, U.K. — and be a leader in the liberation movement. But, thank God all of them are committed to Baltimore, because we are up against it.

The man occupying the White House, profoundly unfit to serve as president, perhaps a clear and present danger (for the first time in 40 years, a Senate committee reviewed the president’s singular authority to launch nuclear weapons), may be the most overtly anti-Black U.S. president since Woodrow Wilson.

But, in Baltimore the threat to Black people and poor people is more imminent. For the third year in a row, the city has eclipsed 300 homicides, the vast majority of those murdered being young Black males. Yet, only last week did the current mayor declare, “crime is out of control,” after a string of attacks against White residents in the more affluent sections of the city (one man, Alexander Wrobleski was gunned down after resisting a robbery near Key Highway Nov. 14).

Lack of affordable housing, pervasive poverty, lack of jobs, lead in the water in Baltimore City Public Schools, “savage inequalities” (to borrow a phrase) in public school education, non-profit industrial complex marauders determined to choke off money from the grassroots and most members of a Democratic political infrastructure only concerned with maintaining the status quo. This is the plight of mostly Black, mostly poor Baltimore.

The work of dismantling structural racism in Baltimore is always daunting and often maddening. But, there is a small army of Black people, people of color, men and women, LGBTQ and straight, Millennial to Gen X and beyond, who are fighting ferociously and strategically for liberation in Baltimore and beyond. Black people, poor and disenfranchised people, all people concerned about justice and racial equity in our beloved city and around the globe should be encouraged by their existence.

It was a great weekend in Philly.

Sean Yoes is Baltimore editor of the AFRO and host and executive producer of the AFRO First Edition video podcast on the AFRO’s Facebook page.

 

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor