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Baba John Watusi Branch passes on to the ancestors

Salim Adofo | 1/9/2014, 12:41 p.m.
Family and friends gathered for three days to celebrate the life of John Watusi Branch.
John Watusi Branch (Salim Adofo photo)

Family and friends gathered for three days to celebrate the life of John Watusi Branch. Branch, founder of the Afrikan Poetry Theatre, died on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, as a result of a heart attack he had suffered five days earlier. Born in Charleston, S.C., on April 27, 1943, he was a self-educated man who earned respect as an elder in the New York City nationalist and Pan-African community and throughout the Diaspora.

Mama Shadidi Beatrice Kinsey, co-chair of the New York City Chapter of the National Association of Kawaida Organization (NAKO), said, “He helped to establish many of the first Kwanzaa programs in Queens. He was the epitome of the principle of Ujima and the epitome of African manhood.”

Branch was a founding member of the New York City chapter of NAKO. He was also a founding member of the National Black United Front and the World African Diaspora Union and a member of the East Cultural Center and Uhuru Sasa Shule.

In 1977, he co-founded—along with the late Yusef Waliyaya—the internationally known Afrikan Poetry Theatre in Queens, N.Y. Through the Afrikan Poetry Theatre, he was able to provide many people with the opportunity to learn about African art, history, heritage and culture. Under his direction, the Afrikan Poetry Theatre has taken many children on tours across the African continent and has also provided hundreds of youths with jobs through its Summer Youth Employment Program.

In 1999, Branch published “Journey to the Motherland,” which covers his various trips throughout Africa. He also published “A Story of Kwanzaa: Black/Afrikan Holy Days” in 1977.

He has received many awards and accolades, including the 2013 African Diaspora World Tourism Award, Living Legend Award, Grandville T. Woods Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Kwanzaa Collective’s Keeper of the Flame Award. The Afrikan Poetry Theatre also received a proclamation by the Queens borough president.

Branch leaves behind five children, Imani, Djenaba, Tamu, Jamila and Sekou; 12 grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; his sisters, Yvette Remice-Thomas and Ruth Harbin; and his brother, Lewis Branch.