Brooklyn’s poet laureate Louis Reyes Rivera was memorialized this week as a huge gathering of family, friends and comrades filled the Bell Funeral Home to celebrate his life. Rivera passed on Friday, March 2 after a brief illness. On Sunday at his viewing, the microphone was open and many of his students, fellow artists, brothers and sisters stepped forward to pay homage to the cultural warrior and master teacher.
Veteran poet and political activist Amiri Baraka delivered a remarkable eulogy at the funeral service on Monday. “Louis’ life and work was about struggle,” he began. “Frederick Douglass described it best in 1845 when he said, ‘Without struggle, there is no progress. There are those who want the crops without plowing the field, and the rain without the thunder and lightning.’
“Louis’ commitment and love for our people demanded that he push himself and those around him to be conscious and actively participate in issues that affect our people.”
Baraka spoke about Rivera’s 50 years as a poet, cultural activist, historian, teacher, political activist, comrade and brother.
Omowale Clay of the December 12th Movement also paid tribute. “Culture is a weapon, and we have lost one of our greatest cultural soldiers. Louis advocated the intrinsic connection between the African and Latino communities and our collective struggle for liberation. He used to say, ‘Speaking English doesn’t make you English and speaking Spanish doesn’t make you Spanish. Both are the languages of the oppressors.’ Louis was on a mission, and we must complete the mission no matter how long it takes. Our liberation must be on the front burner.”
Born on May 19, 1945, Rivera grew up in the Marcy Projects in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He began studying writing in 1960 and founded the student newspaper the Paper at City College of New York, which is still published today. He became a professor of creative writing, Pan-African literature, African culture and history and Caribbean history at State University of New York-Stony Brook, Hunter College, College of New Rochelle, LaGuardia College and Pratt Institute, among others.
For the past 15 years, he led the writer’s workshop at Sistas’ Place, which became a Brooklyn institution. He also hosted a radio talk and cultural program, “Perspectives,” on New York radio station WBAI 99.5 FM.