F.W.A.—Straight Outta Harlem

AUTODIDACT 17 | 1/29/2016, 2:05 p.m.
With stalwarts Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan, a.k.a. Dr. Ben, and Mother Kefa becoming ancestors in 2015, they joined the First World ...

With stalwarts Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan, a.k.a. Dr. Ben, and Mother Kefa becoming ancestors in 2015, they joined the First World Alliance’s other founders who preceded them, Brother Bill Jones (2010) and Dr. John Henrik Clarke (1998). As a significant chapter in Harlem’s Re-renaissance era concludes, some reflect on the groundbreaking institutions’ illustrious legacy.

“The FWA brought ancient African information and understanding to people all over the world,” said United Afrikan Movement’s founder, Minister Clemson Brown. “They’re also responsible for us advancing our consciousness and knowledge of self, which has prepared us for the future.”

In 1977, Jones and wife Kefa approached Dr. Ben after observing him on Gil Noble’s “Like It Is” television program. He invited them to study at his home, along with Dr. Clarke, and they eventually began sharing the empowering information with the public.

“Bill was very sensitive to the working class … the man on the street could get a college education just by coming weekly and listening to the best the world had to offer,” said educator, Dr. Rosalind Jeffries. She explained their name’s origin. “It was Bill’s idea … he used to say that the majority of the world’s population were of color.”

Each Saturday, at Mt. Zion Lutheran Church (421 W. 145th St.), various African scholar-warriors conducted thoroughly researched secular presentations that previously were only held at costly institutions of higher learning. Capacity crowds were exposed to various fields relevant to original people. They later moved to 629 St. Nicholas Ave., and then to the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge (454 W. 155th St.), before ceasing operations in 2009.

“We wouldn’t know all these scholars if it weren’t for FWA,” said street scholar, Brother Sekou. “You would get an education, and they’d recommend books.”

Vendors outside carried the literature suggested inside. The word quickly spread as speakers recommended their colleagues.

“What a magnificent institution FWA has been,” commented Professor Ellen Jacobs of the College of New Rochelle Brooklyn Campus, recalling taking her three young children during the mid-1980s. “I didn’t realize they were learning so much until later, when I heard them speaking about their experiences and how much they had absorbed about our history and heritage.”

Other cities soon followed. FWA contributed immensely to the psychological recovery of Africans throughout the Diaspora.

“They were extremely important to the growth and development of African people worldwide,” explained Jeffries. “When FWA said ‘renewing you mind,’ that indeed was what was happening. They brought in viable psychiatrists, namely Richard King, Francis Cress-Welsing.”

Sekou agreed. “Scholars went from FWA, all over the U.S. and other places, to lecture,” he said. “They provided a great service to the community, as far as helping us knowing, and feeling good about, ourselves, and having people doing good for themselves … go to school and also study. They gave us good images of us as Africans.”

Brown concluded, “We give thanks and glory to them for having opened a platform for some of our greatest minds, who have brought us information about ourselves, our past and our history … So we can never thank them enough for opening the doors for our further growth and development in this struggle that we’re in.”