I was never moved by the singing of the national anthem until July 1 when Alana Smith, a very young woman, blasted into the mike outside Newark’s Performing Arts Center during the inauguration of Ras J. Baraka as the city’s new mayor.
Yes, I was moved to tears but tears of joy at the child and the swearing in of a young man I’ve known since he was a child, Ras J. Baraka, son of my recently departed friend of 47 years, poet Amiri Baraka and his beautiful wife, Amina.
After Ras was administered the oath of office, he proceeded with the inaugural address.
After giving the eulogy at his father’s funeral in January, we knew his speech would be powerful, for he is a poet in his own right, although he revealed he is as much a preacher as poet with his call and response cadences.
He began with the mantra of his campaign, “WE ARE MAYOR,” and went on to delineate the social economic issues facing the city of his birth.
Hetalked about economic disparity, educational inequities, violence and incarceration as issues he must address. Mayor Baraka repeatedly called upon God to help him and the people of Newark, but declared he was a fearless radical who will call a spade a spade.
He told how he was in his mother’s womb when Martin Luther King Jr. dropped by their house. He was three years old when the Newark rebellion took place. His father was beaten bloody and mother terrorized.
This was his socialization, his rites of passage into the political world of Newark – and America. His mother, poet Amina Baraka, grandmother and three daughters sat behind him on stage, along with former elected officials, including Gov. Richard J. Codey, New York Mayor David Dinkins and Newark Mayor Sharp James.
Radicals present included poets Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti, Marvin X, Dr. Tony Montiero of Temple University, Philadelphia, Pam Africa of the Committee to Save Mumia Abu Jamal, New York senior Black producer Woody King and Baba Zayid of the New Black Panther Party.
The following notes from the mayor were printed in the official inaugural program:
“Today, we take our oaths of office and our greatest duty will be to serve each and every one of you with professionalism, efficiency and effectiveness. We are committed to listening and leading, to answering and acting and to be compassionate and caring.
“We seek a Newark of safe streets, strong schools, a clean environment and abundant prosperity. We are proud of how our city stands at the center of our regional economy, a focus for development and increasingly, a destination for entertainment and the arts.
“We have families to support, children to teach, homes to build, neighborhoods to strengthen and jobs to create. Together we will do so.”
So, on a hot day in Newark, the child of radical parents took the reins of power. In an act of political self-diminishment and people’s empowerment, he said repeatedly, “We are the Mayor!”