I came up in what would be called, in today’s common parlance, an upper-middle class White neighborhood. In my late teens the Black Liberation Movement became the catalytic agent for a drastic life change for me. First, from the campus of Boston University, where I was in my 3rd year of undergraduate “work,” then later when I left the campus to live in Roxbury, MA (at that time the center of Boston’s African America), I was part of a group of literally tens of thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands of students, who left their campuses to participate in community-based activism.

We were studying the great leaders and teachers of the revolution from Marx, Lenin and Mao, to Fanon, Cabral and Che. These teachers were adjuring us students to “Go to the Class!” And they didn’t mean the classroom; they meant the working class. For me this meant going to Boston’s African America.

There I first joined the African Liberation Support Committee (ALSC; see Introduction, pp4–5), in which I got a tremendous education. Studying the revolutionary national wars that were raging all over the continent of Africa, organizing community events in support of these liberation struggles, meeting with representatives of the leading organizations of these movements, was all revelatory for me. For example, the Eritrean student community was quite large in Boston at that time, and as a mass group represented the understandings of the EPLF (Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front), which was busy defeating both U.S. and Soviet imperialism at the same time. These students influenced me greatly.

My entrance into the Black Liberation Movement (BLM) took place in 1973–74, during what in hindsight was a time beyond the apex of that movement’s life. Therefore, while the ALSC was a mass organization, which may have been still rising, the actual decline and demise of the BLM was in full swing and accelerating. In this atmosphere, the exhilaration associated with the Black Panther Party, the Detroit Revolutionary Union Movement, the Young Lords Party (north-eastern cities), La Raza and the Brown Berets (Chicanos in the South West), and I Wor Kuen and the Red Guard (Chinese/Asians of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and California respectively), organizations with a socialist orientation — and therefore, with an allegiance to class analysis, and to the working class inside their respective nationalities — was being replaced first by the terror associated with COINTELpro (see pp64,175), and then with disillusionment and mass defections.

There was also, for those of us entering and or committed to stay at that time, much squabbling over who was “most correct” in formulating “the way forward.”

I came in with what was termed major “class baggage.” On a personal level I brought into the community, from the conditions of upper middle class White America, a know-it-all-ism, and a sense of competition that matched that of the culture in the movement at this time of its decline — 1973–1980.

I experienced many of the people in the organizations in which I participated to be jockeying for positions, seeing how they could turn their participation in the BLM into some kind of career, into some kind of upwardly mobile situation for themselves personally. This spirit from many of my “compatriots” combined with my middle class self-centeredness to make my social life quite sparse — depressingly so.

I was isolated by the social climbers — they made fun of my accent, my clothes were a subject of ridicule, my vocabulary was “different,” and my relatively light skin color was sited as an issue more than I had been used to in the ‘burbs. Ultimately, I became a member of the “Harriet Tubman/Nat Turner Collective, Marxist-Leninist,” which had more words in the name than people in the group! The “leaders” of the group (which have long-since left the community and the cause of the working class) devised a command system among the seven of us which they said was modeled after FRELIMO’s martial command system (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) — FRELIMO had considerably more than seven folks in their group, and was at that time completing their military victory over the murderous Portuguese colonialist army, and was assuming the role of the government of a free and independent Mozambique.)

The command system of the “HTNTCM-L” consisted of numbering each of us from “1st responsible” and “2nd responsible,” on down to “7th responsible,” which was me.

Shortly after being named “7th responsible,” low man on the totem pole, I was summarily jettisoned from the group for the crime of not being revolutionary enough.

On a personal level, this may be one of the greatest lucky breaks of my life.

Shortly thereafter I got a job as a counselor in a day-care center in one of the most dilapidated and oppressed neighborhoods in Boston’s Black community, Bromley-Heath Housing Projects. I had secured a job as a Boston Public School (BPS) teacher during the first year of forced bussing, but Lenin told me that my charges (the students in the classroom) were a captive audience, and in order for me to learn how to be a people’s leader I would need to engage folks on an even playing field. I left BPS to work in Bromley-Heath Infant Day Care at the wage of $1.65/hour. Soon after that, I was able to get an apartment in this housing project, and the progression of the process, which at that time was called “committing class suicide,” was in full swing for me. (Writing now 35 years later, it has been clear for some time that I may have over-done the suicide — my police record [called a CORI in Massachusetts], my FBI file, the Patriot Act, my job history, and the extreme stratification caused by the 40 years of decline of this economic system, taken together preclude any possibility of my return to the class status of my first 17 years on the planet, even if I was completely devoted to such a project.)

My guides at this time of my life were two: first, George Jackson — the preeminent revolutionary leader of the country-wide prisoners rights movement from inside Soledad State Penitentiary in California, and unofficial leader of the military wing of the Black Panther Party — who was assassinated two years before I met him (through his writings) by Ronald Reagan (sic; see pp235–237); and, second, Lolita Lebron, my Godmother, who was serving out a natural life sentence for leading a group of Puerto Rican Independentistas into Congress and shooting five Congressmen. Before this period in my life I had not spoken with Lolita, but as the saying goes, when the student is ready the teacher will arrive. Her guidance came in the form of a letter exchange that was an anchor for my identity formation in those early years of my political development. (See pp232–235)

My next guides became the people of Bromley-Heath projects. This was (and remains today) one of the most poverty-ridden housing projects in Boston. (At the wage of $1.65/hour I was part of the “middle class” of the projects merely by dint of being employed.) The tenants were from “the Deep South,” Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee. Instead of getting on me about my accent or the shade of my skin, these folks said, “I’m from Alabama, you’re from New York. We’ve got experience and resources. You’ve got skills that we need. Together we can accomplish a lot.” And we did. These people adopted me. One of the things that I accomplished: I learned about class from these people.

I had never experienced community or family like this before. These were the most unassuming, humble and uncomplicated people I had ever met. For four years, up until one year before I arrived here, Bromley-Heath was the Boston home base of the Black Panther Party. Bromley Hall was home to the largest Free Breakfast for Children program in New England, serving up to 300 kids a day. COINTELpro, in accordance with its mission throughout the United States, militarily wiped out the Boston chapter and its Bromley Heath stronghold one year before I arrived. Of these tenants who adopted me, some of them lived through that period of repression, and together we began the most militant and productive tenant movement in the history of Boston public housing.

Mothers from the infant day dare, a couple of budding communist revolutionaries, as we retained our revolutionary zeal beyond the mass exodus from the BLM characteristic of this time, some members of the maintenance crew — the shop steward was a Panamanian socialist — and some of the mothers who served breakfast at the Panther breakfast program: together these formed the leadership of Bromley-Heath Tenants Organization (BHTO).

The City government replaced the Panthers with an “experimental” Tenant Management Corporation, the “administration” of which was hand-picked from those tenants who were willing to sell-out the cause of the Panthers, and from other criminals.

Down the road a-half-mile was Mission Hill Housing Projects, equally as dilapidated and depressed as Bromley-Heath. (A few years after this organizing, this housing project became internationally famous as the scene of the Charles Stewart murder of his wife and baby, his blaming the latter on “a Black man,” and the subsequent occupation of the Projects and the brutalization of its residents by the Boston Police Department and the National Guard.) There was born at this time the squatter tenant organization known as the Liberators of Mission Hill. Together with the Liberators, BHTO waged a campaign for tenant’s rights and improved living conditions. And I learned about social class from these people. The story of the rent strike which we undertook in collaboration with poor White tenants from East Boston and South Boston was told in Chapter Two of the present work [reference to the manuscript, The Community Teacher’s guide to Liberation Pedagogy].

The inclusion of us communist revolutionaries in the leadership of this tenants organization was not as a result of the shape of our noses, it was not because of our accents, it was not because the tenants thought we were social climbers, nor was it in spite of any of the above. Our leadership group put into practice the guidance of the great teachers of Popular Education, Mao, Cabral, Winnie Mandela, and others, and we conducted People’s Research. We researched tenant law; we aligned ourselves with the radical White tenant organization City Life outside of the projects. And, bottom line, we asked the tenants what they needed, what were their principal concerns. The tenants from Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, they taught us how to be in community, how to be in collective leadership, how to be family. I learned about the African American working class from these people.

When Lenin told us college students to “go to the class,” i.e. the working class, he was speaking of a working class in the era of imperialism, and therefore inside the imperialist country there is more than one working class — there is that of “the oppressor nationality” (Lenin, “the Right of Nations to Self Determination,” 1916), half of whose members are bribed, and the working classes of the oppressed nationalities. Lenin said that we should go to “the real majority,” to “the lowest mass.” He said, “…[I]t is therefore our duty, if we wish to remain socialists to go down lower and deeper, to the real masses” of the people, the most oppressed. (Lenin, Imperialism and the Split in Socialism, 1916). It is in this lowest mass that we find the revolutionary working class.

After being fired from the day-care for union organizing (I got fired a lot in those days because I had not yet learned how to union organize without getting fired) I got a job in a factory in South Boston — this is in the tempest years of forced bussing. (I had not yet learned that I could not go to South Boston — I still haven’t learned this). I immediately became the union organizer for these poor White Irish Southy workers and their compatriots, African Americans, and illegal immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. These latter folks taught me how to speak “shop talk” Spanish and Creole to facilitate my organizing. The closest I came to a racial incident was the commitment of the White workers to walk me to lunch at 3am (third shift) to McDonald’s to make certain that there was no “racial incident.” And when I was fired for union organizing, it was these White Southy boys who led a work stoppage in protest.

I learned about social class from these people.