Jazz enthusiast and retired educator Jitu K. Weusi has a long history of combining music, social activism and history to make the lives of the people around him better.
The 70-year-old voluntarily serves as chair of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium, a position he’s held for the last 10 years. Weusi is a jazz researcher, writer and collector of jazz memorabilia.
His background is not only in the study of music. He can also be credited for being a driving force during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and pillar in New York City public schools for empowering Black youth by educating them about their history.
Weusi was born in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn where he’s lived all his life. He said living in Brooklyn allows him to enjoy a “semi-country” spirit.
“Brooklynites get to run on the weekends, but from Monday to Sunday, we are grounded,” he said. “We are home early and we go to bed early.”
At age 12, Weusi said he got into jazz music while working at a newsstand on Fulton and Franklin streets across from a record store called Sam the Record Man. There, he was able to become musically enthralled with an audio education from musicians like Charlie Parker and Art Blakely.
“In those days, music wasn’t so segregated,” he said. “Sam would play everything from rhythm and blues to jazz. It was a great experience for me.”
As his love for jazz began to develop, a cousin of his took him to performances of jazz greats like Sarah Vaughn. By age 14, Weusi had his own record player, and while working at the newsstand, he got the chance to meet jazz royalty, including Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, who often gave him copies of their work.
Weusi attended Long Island University, where he earned his degree in history. While in college, he worked as a waiter at the Village Gate. The nightclub was known as a mecca for jazz artists at the time.
“Meeting a lot of these players enhanced my understanding and craving for the music,” he said.
Upon graduation, Weusi became a public school social studies teacher during the whirlwind of the Civil Right Movement of the 1960s. He was heavily involved and active, crediting Malcolm X as a beacon for him.
“He became a very important figure in my life,” he said. “Today, I describe myself as a ‘Malcolmite’ and I believe what he said was on time and immediate.”
With his love for the movement and Black history, Weusi saw a discrepancy in the public school system at the time. Black history was not part of the curriculum and the little that was taught was meager.
In order to educate his students about their history Weusi frequented Harlem’s Michaeux Bookstore and found books on Black history to teach his students. The response from his pupils was highly praised.
He said, “The students came out of their shell and expanded their horizons. I like to believe that I exposed them at the tender ages of their lives to a whole different understanding of who they were and what their people were all about.”
Along with classroom work, Weusi also took his students on cultural field trips, like seeing African drummers and dancers at Cooper Union and to a screening of “Black Orpheus.”
But his teachings did not come without disapproval from white administrators, who had no interest in Blacks learning about their history in public school. Weusi recalls being suspended after taking his students to a memorial for Malcolm X in Harlem.
Parents and community leaders, including Queen Mother Moore, voiced their outrage after a white superintendent tried to remove him from his position. The voice of the community was heard and Weusi was transferred to a school in Brownsville.
While in Brownsville, he, along with the organization East, founded the Uhuru Sasa School for grades K through 12. The name translates to “freedom now” in Swahili. He served as headmaster and chief administrator from 1970 to 1979. In total, Weusi worked in education for 35 years.
In 1979, he began working in politics after meeting the Rev. Herbert Daughtry. The men founded the National Black United Fund, where over the past 30 years he worked on campaigns for Jesse Jackson, David Dinkins and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
In 1995, he earned a master’s degree from Brooklyn College and was asked to head the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium in 1999.
Weusi has been married for 25 years to his wife, Angela Hope-Weusi. They have seven children and nine grandchildren.