The Power That Woke Us

10/04/2016 01:27 pm ET Updated Oct 17, 2016

The New Iteration of Civil Rights and the Harlem Renaissance -

We Woke Now

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Nate Howard says of his ancestors, "I never got a chance to meet you Langston--But your spirit lives in me. Maya Angelou---I had a chance to hug you and your spirit came to me. Dr. West-- I'm blessed to know you. May your spirit rise in me."
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We say that a lot now- woke. Not sure when it came into the popular lexicon but it is here now. Willow and Jadyn Smith, they woke. Solange Knowles, she woke too with a whole lotta’ style that is not of this world, not of this zip code. That album she has coming out, A Seat at the Table, that’s woke too, especially that joint with Q-Tip ‘Borderline (An Ode to to Self Care)’. That new book, Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Man’s Black Education by scribe Mychal Denzel Smith, that's woke too. Colin Kaepernick taking that knee- woke! Zulaikha Patel, the 13 year old South African girl with the wild afro, the one who woke up the world to her power and clenched her fist around a baton pass from Angela Davis - she way woke too.

The catch word ‘woke’ is at such a zenith, it is in the TV entertainment/ gossip show, Extra. It was even in Time Magazine and the New York Times- that's how you know it's mainstream, that's the certification there (R.I.P. ancestor Gil Scott Heron), right?

Those that have come before us as Dr. Cornel West have challenged these notions of success which are really a prison to keep us away from individual greatness. It’s a mental thing, a mental prison and we have to free our spirits right now.

‘Woke’ - Nate Howard, founder of Movement BE, has been on a tour around the country and world, awakening hundreds of students from Accra, Ghana to Loyola University in New Orleans, to DePauw University in Indiana to schools in his native San Diego. Nate says being ‘woke’, means “being awakened to ourselves. Being woke is being awakened to who we really are. Tell your own story - don’t let anybody except you tell your story. You are conditioned all of your life by society to be ‘successful’. But I have learned to talk about greatness- true greatness that comes from living one’s purpose and leaving a legacy for those that come after us. This is my purpose. Those that have come before us as Dr. Cornel West have challenged these notions of success which are really a prison to keep us away from individual greatness. It’s a mental thing, a mental prison and we have to free our spirits right now.”

“When we understand what Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou have done with their work, we will know who we are. Their poetry really changed society. It’s more than entertainment. It’s how we change the world.”

Movement BE was founded in 2013 and earlier this year Nate Howard was selected by NBC as on of the top 28 black leaders along with Olympian Simone Biles and Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry . He was also featured on the Today Show as one of the "Best and Brightest: Game Changers Making History. But, he woke so he doesn’t dote on himself, “We have to forget what we are being told about “success”. We have to hold onto our ancestors and what they have fought for. When we understand what Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou have done with their work, we will know who we are. Their poetry really changed society. It’s how we change the world.”  

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Nate Howard speaks Achimota School in Accra, Ghana in August
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In a trailer of the forthcoming August Wilson play, Fences, Denzel Washington’s character, Troy, is chided by his son Cory, played by newcomer Jovan Adepo into answering the question, “Hey Pop, can I ask you a question? How come you ain’t never liked me?” Denzel’s grizzled character, an 18 year veteran of the garbage disposal industry responds,“Like you? What law is there say that I got to like you?... I ain’t got to like you. Now, I done give you everything I got. I give you your life!.... Now don’t you go through life worrying about whether somebody like you are not. You best be making sure that they doing right by you. You understand what I’m saying?” This is August Wilson’s dramatization for the purposes of real woke.

Materially, ‘woke’ is the Mothers of the Movement of slain Sandra Blanmd, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Mike Brown, Hadiya Pendleton, Dontré Hamilton appearing hand in hand at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, speaking to a generation, galvanizing and saying with their mere presence, ‘This is how we do it- we do it.’ We don’t dare back down at the specter of seeming inevitable odds, impossible realities. We embrace the struggle. That’s Africa. That’s the black equation for survival and excellence in America.

For all of us "woke" spirits walking the planet now, there are the architects that made the woke folk, and they are made of pure strength, uncut wisdom. I call them Power Griots but nothing about them is PG, although I suppose there is guidance involved. Before us Woke Beauties, it was the Power Griots and they laid it down, did all the heavy lifting... no problem. All of us, every single one of us, wholly woke or nodding off into nap, even those of us sleep walking in a coma, have the Power Griots to thank for our beautiful selves. They are now silver haired, and the glint has dulled just a tad (but when they see us, their Woke Beauties, who needs the sun), are a little less with appearances but no matter, when they stand we see institutions rising, we hear time vanishing. We know what they can do because they did it all for us.

Poetry is the voice of the unacknowledged world. The acknowledged world is the whole universe of individuals who continue to be voiceless. We don’t speak that English with all of it’s rules, restrictions and regulations. We speak from a place of vulnerability, our pain, and it allows us to say, “This is who I am”

Nate concludes, “Poetry is the voice of the unacknowledged world. The acknowledged world is the whole universe of individuals who continue to be voiceless. We speak from a place of vulnerability, our pain, and beauty. It allows us to say, “This is who I am”, not just who the world says you are or who you are suppose to be. When I was in Ghana, there was this whole idea of language and who we are and have been. Spoken word, poetry, expressing the unexpressed - this who I am. And it’s not entertainment.” Yes, yes, yes - as Nate has spoken during his keynotes, “Find your story. Tell your story. Be your story.”

It’s gritty reality, beautiful magic and awakening- Woke. Be who we be - Movement Be.

Yes, that’s the power that woke us. From kingdoms, kings, queens and chieftains of the ancient empire Ghana to woke citizens of a new future power world, woke is awakened to our cosmic possibility and walking in that truth.

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