There is much to celebrate in Harlem this month.
On the very day his friends and comrades were celebrating the birthday of Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El Shabazz), Elombe Brath was joining his fellow revolutionary on the other side of our struggle. Brath, 77, made his transition on Monday, May 19 at the Amsterdam Nursing Home, according to his son, Cinque.
Brath had been at the nursing home for several years after a series of strokes limited his ability to function in the capacity that had made him a legendary freedom fighter of international acclaim.
While our struggle for total liberation could have continued to use his wise counsel and unwavering commitment to civil and human rights, his legacy was established years ago. His Pan-African and Black Nationalist credentials were impeccable, and his devotion to African liberation was sealed with the founding of the Patrice Lumumba Coalition, over which he presided with eloquence and peerless determination.
Last May, a tribute to Brath in Harlem recounted his impressive resume of activism; a proclamation touched on a few of the accomplishments of his extraordinarily productive life. It highlighted his outspoken and courageous voice for the world’s oppressed communities and his intelligent grasp of the ideas and philosophies of Marcus Garvey and Carlos Cooks.
He was cited for his empowering message of Black consciousness and the creation, with his brother, Kwame and others, of AJASS (African Jazz-Arts Society and Studios) and the Grandassa Models, which popularized the concept “Black is beautiful.”
Many remember when Nelson Mandela appeared in Harlem in 1990 and how significantly involved Brath was in that historic moment. There was no better image than that of him standing on the podium, side by side with Madiba.
Born Sept. 30, 1936, in Brooklyn, Brath came of age in Harlem and in Hunt’s Point, on Kelly Street. He spent some of his early years in the Bronx and attended Morris High School, where Colin Powell was among his classmates. From the various ethnic groups, newsreels and family discussions he observed, he began the journey of world discovery, and from his father he inherited invaluable artistic gifts, some of which were visually displayed during his tenure with ABC’s “Like It Is.”
From out of a cauldron of racism, cultural enlightenment and, particularly, the music of such jazz greats as John Coltrane and Miles Davis and the literary genius of Amiri Baraka and others, Brath shaped his own social and political matrix that would take him directly back to his African roots. He was still a teenager when he began to develop a comprehensive understanding of oppression and white supremacy and some strategies and tactics to minimize their deleterious effects on his people.
“We were a group of jazz lovers, artists and activists who began producing jazz concerts featuring some of the greats of jazz who happened to be passing through town,” his brother, Kwame Brathwaite, recalled. “This was back in 1956, and with Elombe at the forefront, we were influenced by Carlos Cooks and the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement. And we were deeply indebted to Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, who inspired us with their art and political commitment.”