“When an old person dies, a library burns” … so goes the African proverb. March 19, Harlem’s wa’ret was incinerated. As the disheartening news spread that legendary African historian Dr. Yosef A.A. ben-Jochannan, aka Dr. Ben, had joined the ancestors early that Thursday morning, a few comrades reminisced on his glorious life and immeasurable influences.
At his father’s urging, he began studying Kemet’s (Egypt’s) past as a young man, and after many years of tenacious research, he uncovered artifacts and manuscripts revealing that Black people established Kemet thousands of years before the creation of Judaism.
“Dr. Ben’s major contribution was to take Kemet/Egypt away from the [Caucasian] intellectuals and handing it back to the Black world … backing it up with 44 books to prove what he meant,” confided colleague, professor James Small, who has worked alongside Jochannan since 1967. “He did that pretty much single-handedly. [Europeans] had completely whitewashed Black people out of the Egyptian/Kemetic civilization.”
Aleim Supreme Allah was Jochannan’s student at Harlem Preparatory Academy in 1968 through 1969, and along with Dumar and Umallah, was one of the several Five Percenters who attended his classes. “I took what I learned from him, even to UMass, and was able to speak and teach [it to others] while at our school,” he reflected. “Some young brothers became Black history professors with jewels we had gotten from Doc.”
Abiodun Oyewole, founding member of the legendary Last Poets, recalled meeting the African scholar warrior in 1969, also at Harlem Prep, during his once-a-week workshops when Oyewole was a teenaged creative writing instructor: “His voice was big and he had some information about some stuff many of us just had no idea about. I had never heard anybody speak so strongly and clearly about how great African people were and how much we contributed to the world.”
Oyewole added, “The information was like a big 1,000-watt lightbulb that illuminated your mind. He helped set the record straight about who we really were. He knew the gifts that we brought to the world. He was more interested in bringing back the regalness, royalness, grandeurs of us.”
Much mention was also made of Jochannan’s annual fact-finding tours to Kemet, which he conducted for decades, and many have said altered their lives forever.
“Dr. Ben has been going steady to Egypt … Tamary, or Tawi … and taking people there, giving them the truth about it being an African country and the people there are Africans, too,” noted street scholar Brother Sekou. “He took a bunch of people, who did not know anything about themselves, on that great and mighty walk to get the understanding of who they are and what they did, so that they can feel good [about themselves].”
He added,“Just about every [tour to Kemet] is by someone he taught. They came behind him. He’s the one who put Egypt back in Africa, in our time. He made it easy for people to say, ‘Yes, they are African!’ He’s lived a full life teaching us to know ourselves, our culture and what made us great once before, so we can become great once again.”
It’s on record that Jochannan has faced the best scholars the Western world had to offer. “He’s never lost a debate regarding Kemet … that’s a helluva thing to say,” insisted Sekou. “He used to go up into synagogues and debate people by himself.”
Minister Clemson Brown, founder of TAP Video, mentioned meeting Jochannan in 1978 and said he’s editing a documentary about him.
“He took more than 30,000 African-Americans to Egypt, back to our ancestral homeland to see, feel and touch the truth for themselves,” said Brown. “That truth is so critical that it gives us a mirror for us to see ourselves. It’s so profound that it completely revolutionizes our thinking and raises our consciousness to the point that we again know who we are through the historical artifacts, temples, pyramids that we built thousands of years ago.”
Jochannan often emphasized the indigenous Africans who populated the land before the Arab and European invasions, as well as other great African civilizations that preceded them. He revealed that the motherland’s pre-colonial name is “Alkebulan,” and also uncovered the original names of many cities that had been replaced with Asiatic or Greco-Roman ones.
“We’re indebted to Dr. Ben because he has given us the gift that keeps on given,” contends Dr. Leonard Jeffries. “And we are blessed to have been in his life and by his side. He’s been an extraordinary inspiration for all of us. He developed his sacred mission to deliver Nile Valley civilization and culture to Black people.”
Nana Camille Yarbrough remembered meeting Jochannan while she was a co-host with Gary Byrd at WLIB, when it broadcasted from the Apollo Theater during the early 1980s.
“Dr. Ben was a gift to us from our ancestors and the creator,” Yarbrough said. “He let us know our greatness … not beginning as enslaved people, but beginning as creators of thought. That changed our viewpoint, the energy of our people. He took us way back and said, ‘No, let’s go back to our origin, the beginning. He talked about our great achievements, the creativity coming out of Ethiopia, Kemet, the Sudan … all of that which we had created … the concepts of religion, sciences.”
Small spoke about the psychological effects Jochannan’s works have had globally.
“He gave us one of the biggest pieces of the pie,” suggested Small. “By restoring Kemet back to the African consciousness, the African mind, he has restored the foundation of African civilizations and world civilizations, back in the hands of Black people. He’s our Imhotep. He was a Black man deserving of the greatest honor the Black community can give.”
“Religion is the enemy of Black people!” Jochannan once asserted. His legacy will eternally be tied to Kemet and dispelling Western religions. He has defeated some of Western civilizations’ top intellectuals, as witnessed on Gil Noble’s “Like It Is,” and in DVDs such as “Who Are the Chosen People?”
Oyewole concluded, “We all appreciate him for what he was, what he offered and the contribution he gave us. I am just grateful that the man was here for 97 years and did major, major work, and consequently Dr. Ben will last as long as the pyramids that he talked about.”
Services are scheduled for Thursday, April 9, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday, April 10, 9 a.m. to noon, both at Abyssinian Baptist Church, 132 W. 138th St.