“He is standing in the window watching us,” Ruth Johannes said of her father as she regaled the crowd with her memories of him. “He was a warrior and freedom fighter.”
Speaker after speaker, during that afternoon spent under threatening skies, released a torrent of accolades for Dr. Yosef Alfredo Antonio Ben-Jochannan, the esteemed Egyptologist (Kemetic historian) who joined the ancestors March 19, 2015, as they gathered at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building for a street renaming ceremony in honor of a man globally known as “Dr. Ben.”
After a rousing rendition of the Black national anthem by Sonia Simmons—and she returned later to sing as the street sign was revealed—master of ceremonies Dr. James Small turned the podium over to Dr. Mario Beatty, president of the Association for the Study of African Civilizations. He began his appreciation by calling Dr. Ben a king. “I give thanks to what he did for us as an African People,” he said. “He showed us a way to ourselves.”
Minister Abdul Hafeez Muhammad of the Nation of Islam recited his opening remarks in Arabic and English and remembered Dr. Ben as “a man of the universe and that the sign is just a symbol of what he meant to us. Get his books and read, read, read.” Small who moderated Dr. Ben’s funeral services at Abyssinian Baptist Church in 2015 introduced members of the Amen-Ra class and each delivered moving testimonies, which paved the way for Harlem councilmember Bill Perkins who asked that those in attendance continue to work together for peace and harmony.
He brought a street sign—which replicated State Sen. Brian Benjamin’s proclamation—and asked all of Dr. Ben’s family members to join him in a group photo. And this was followed by Shatic Mitchell, district manager of Community Board No. 10, who noted that the location was appropriate because it was at the State Office Building within a stone’s throw of Dr. Ben’s office and near the Theresa Hotel where Malcolm X once had his office. The spot was also where Lewis Michaux had his Memorial Bookstore, a point made by Dr. Leonard Jeffries.
Jeffries, known for his “African five minutes” of comments, had to follow Dr. Ben’s daughters, Wanda and Dawn, who had stirred the crowd with their demands to applaud and let their father hear the hosannas, which echoed along 125th Street, stopping a gaggle of passersby. They were even more elevated when Ralph Carter, the renowned performer, sang his “I Am a Fighter” song, asking for a call and response. “Let no one steal your joy,” he said upon departing.
That joy was too large and thunderous to steal, particularly after Umar Johnson delivered his impassioned speech. He said he was “spellbound” after hearing Dr. Ben speak in 1992 at his college. “I wanted to get every book he wrote,” which in and of itself is an enormous task. “He made me unapologetically African.”
The Rev. Conrad Tillard, who recounted Dr. Ben’s prolific career as a teacher and scholar, underscored those words. “But he was more than this. He was a psychologist because after hearing him speak you felt good,” he said.
Dr. Anthony Browder has not only followed in Dr. Ben’s gigantic footsteps, but has carved out his own remarkable reputation conducting archeological digs in Egypt.
“We honor Dr. Ben with the street sign and let us hope that when our young people pass by they will feel his spirit and learn of the sacrifices he made for us,” he concluded.
Kudos galore to Queenasira and Cyril “Bullwhip” Innis, Jr. for their tireless efforts in coordinating the celebration.
It was good to see Mark Thompson, Kenya, Trust Graham, Chester Higgins, Sylvia Alston, Cinque Brath, Dr. Georgina Falu, and especially Paul Coates who brought a busload of folks from Baltimore. And we salute him even more for reprinting Dr. Ben’s books under the aegis of the Black Classic Press. Those reprints, along with the street renaming for Dr. Ben, are testaments to the almost “mythical figure” he has become, said Mitchell