Thursday, May 23, 2013


 Jitu Weusi

Our greatest THANK YOU to Brother Jitu Weusi is to continue battle on in the Struggle for Democracy and Neighborhood Control for our public schools that he had dedicated more than 50 years of his life to see come to victory.

Brother Jitu, you will be missed on the frontlines. But, your relentless and principled Fighting Spirit is within us who continue to try and uphold your Education Warrior Legacy!

Jitu Weusi-- Presente!

Sam Anderson


A Praise Poem for Brother Jitu From Sister Jaribu Hill

Brother Jitu was our Master Teacher. I am so saddened by his passing, but am comforted by the many lives he touched and the many lessons we all learned from him. As a cultural artist, I recall performing with Ngoma at the African Street Festival and at the East Cultural Center in Brooklyn.

Wow, what a serious solar sun shout heard all around when Big Black crossed over!!! I wrote this for him and to inspire us to walk in his light and make him proud!!!

Big Black! Big Black!!! We miss you already!!!

For Jitu Weusi
by Jaribu Hill

It’s after the end of the world. Don’t you know that yet?*
Over at Claver Place on the East side facing the Sun
We jammed to sounds swelling all up and down the block!
Sunday rhythms, sweet smells harambee feasts
Colors of indigo, batiks, mud cloth wraps
A convergence of “new Africans”
reclaiming space and destiny
You walked the halls
And with each stride gave us back
Pieces of our soul-selves
We hear you now--Your voice laughing, teaching
Loving Black shades—eyes facing the East
Surrounded by children
Surrounded by the Creator’s love
Surrounded by the Creator’s love
Now, you stand—made your way home
Now you stand—tall in the spirit world
No regrets
Big Black, Big Black
No regrets
You were ready when the roll was called
You were ready to face the East and meet the
Sun’s rays, warming you, taking away the pain
Hold our place as we recall the lessons and
Carry on. Rest in Peace Brother Jitu
No regrets

Remember when: **The lines: “It’s after the end of the world. Don’t you know that yet?” were sung by Sun Ra in concert at the East Cultural Center on Claver Street in Brooklyn. Jitu Weusi (Big Black) was the visionary that Transformed that corner into an oasis—mecca of Afro-Sounds, stomps and chants!

 Jaribu Hill is an activist singer-lawyer now living, organizing and fighting  in Mississippi.
A Bit About Brother Jitu
 by Olufunmilayo Gittens

Brother Jitu, in center, at NYC City Hall in August 2009 AntiMayoral Control Rally.

Activist and educator Jitu Weusi has worked to uplift and develop the cultural and social awareness of the African American community of Central Brooklyn...

Students at Junior High School 258 in Bedford-Stuyvesant know this tall, bearded, gray-haired man as their Assistant Principal, but Jitu Weusi’s impact on Bedford-Stuyvesant extends beyond the classroom. Weusi has worked in the forefront of progressive educational programs in Brooklyn and beyond, serving as one of the founding members of the former cultural and educational center, The East, and as co-founder of The East’s Uhuru Sasa school, one of the first Black independent schools with a Pan-African philosophy. In the 1960’s, Weusi worked tirelessly as a vocal participant in the struggle for community control of public schools; he later served as part of the National Black United Front, and in the political campaigns of Rev. Jesse Jackson and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins.

In addition to his educational and political service, Weusi has made a profound cultural impact on Brooklyn as a co-founder of the International African Arts Festival and more recently as co-founder of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival. Interestingly, Weusi avoids allowing his extensive service and notoriety to draw attention to himself as an individual. Instead, he frames his contributions as part of a larger, collective movement of people, always looking at the broader picture of his “pride and joy” Bedford-Stuyvesant, and at the progress of people of African descent worldwide.

Bed-Stuy youngster

Born Leslie Robert Campbell, Jitu Weusi grew up as a typical youngster in Bedford Stuyvesant in the late 1940’s. His family attended Siloam Presbyterian Church on Jefferson Avenue. They were poor but worked very hard, and his mother was the main parental figure in the home.


When Weusi was 12 years old, his parents sent him to work at the newsstand of his cousin Charles Morris. It was that summer, and the two summers following it, that would have a profound impact on Weusi’s life. Though the newsstand was located in his community, it represented a whole new world to a young Weusi.
As a child, Weusi loved to read, and so the newsstand turned out to be the perfect place for him to work. Magazines like Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, and even the nudist magazine Sun Bathing constantly fed the curiosity of the young adolescent, who was now being exposed to a whole new world of images and ideas.

Frequenting the newsstand was a circle of young bachelors in their twenties that included Jimmy Gittens, Weusi’s cousin Leroy “Lefty” Morris, Willie Jones, Scoby Stroman, and Freddy Brathwaite. This circle of friends were socially-conscious, sports-minded young World War II veterans who debated issues and have intense discussions around culture, politics, sports (particularly basketball) and life’s other matters.

When a young Weusi read something new or had a question, he would ask one of these men. “They were [honest] with me. They told me the truth and let me make up my mind about things.” Gittens, described by Weusi as a “tall, dark-skinned man with gleaming black skin and a most infectious smile,” had an intellectual outlook that Weusi admired. He would ask Weusi to contemplate questions that were five to ten years beyond the youngster’s chronological age. A term used at the time was “scoping”; it referred to an older person taking an interest in a young person and acting as a mentor, or guide, to them.

The young men at Charles Morris’ newsstand “really shaped me during this period”, he says. “The deep respect I have for the arts, the love for cultural things, these all came from the scoping I got from them at that time.”

High school years

The high school years were difficult for Weusi. Because of his academic skills, he was accepted into the prestigious Brooklyn Tech High School. In 1952, Brooklyn Tech was still all-male, all-white, and run “like a military boot camp,” according to Weusi. Out of a population of 6,000, only 19 students were Black, and Weusi would often go for days without seeing another Black face at school. The racial isolation he felt was compounded by financial isolation - there were frequent requirements to purchase new supplies and give money to different school causes.

These made constant drains on Weusi, whose family had difficulty meeting the financial demands.

After two and a half years at Brooklyn Tech, Weusi was unhappy enough to drop out of high school altogether. Fortunately, however, he was able to convince his mother to allow him to attend Franklin K. Lane High School, where he could be around people from his community. (There were a number of Bedford-Stuyvesant students at Lane, located in the predominately white section of Cypress Hills, due to a racial desegregation order in the 1930’s.) A sad fact of American life is that for Europeans, the process of becoming American includes taking on the idea of the African as the despised racial “other”.
A young Jitu Weusi
The white students at Franklin K. Lane were mostly recent European immigrants who were in this very position. The hostility they expressed towards Blacks was overt, and white students at Lane made their disdain even more apparent in the annual spring race riots. Fortunately, a larger (and co-ed) Black population at Lane helped to buffer Weusi socially, and he graduated on the honor roll with a Varsity letter in basketball.

Passion to Learn

Weusi’s experience at Brooklyn Tech would repeat itself when he attended Long Island University. Out of a population of 5,000 fulltime day students, only 17 were African American. This time, however, the Black students formed a cohesive unit that helped Weusi and other new students navigate the storm. Sitting together in the school cafeteria, the Black students at LIU offered one another advice on the best classes to take and which professors would give a fair grade to Black students. One such professor proved more than fair. Albert Fein, a white American who had been active in the Civil Rights movement in the south, invoked in Weusi a deep passion for learning, studying, and analyzing history. Inspired by Fein’s character – a beautiful person, Weusi recalls – and by a newly cultivated desire to truly look at history, Weusi would major in the subject, obtaining his BA in history with a minor in education.

“What shall I tell my students…?”

The year was 1962. Armed with a BA in history, and the now-important minor in education, a twenty-two year old Weusi returned to Bedford-Stuyvesant to work as a social studies teacher at Junior High School 35. “What shall I tell my students who are black?” thought Weusi. The famous question, posed by artist/essayist/poet Margaret Burroughs, would be difficult to answer. In a school system that had only a handful of African American teachers and which promoted the idea of history as being the exclusive domain of Europeans, Weusi found himself restricted from giving his Black students what they deserved: an understanding of their heritage and a sense of their place in history and in the world.

Weusi was not alone in his concerns. Other teachers at JHS 35 included Al Vann, Oliver Patterson, Leroy Lewis, Randy Tobias, Joan Eastman, and Ola Cherry. These were young, Black teachers who were new to the public school system and who were speaking out about the need for changes in the New York City pubic school system. They joined with Black teachers in other schools to form the African American Teachers Association.

Great School Wars

While the teachers were expressing their concerns, the Reverend Milton Galamison – a dynamic, socially-conscious young pastor at Weusi’s home church Siloam - was continuing a tradition at the church of combining religious life with social awareness and activism. Weusi recalls that as early as the 1950’s, Galamison had spoken of such important global matters as South African apartheid and recognition of Communist China. Now, Galamison was mobilizing Bedford-Stuyvesant families around the need for school desegregation and equal education for all students.

The needs of community, the concerns of the parents, and the education of African American children were at stake. It wasn’t long before the African American Teachers Association would team up with Rev. Galamison and the families in what would later be known as the Great School Wars era. During this period, from 1958 to 1969, Weusi and other community members participated in boycotts and walkouts in protest of the New York City Board of Education’s policies.

Struggle and Victory

John Lindsay was elected Mayor of New York City in 1965. Like that of the highly popular Depression-era Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Lindsay’s administration would come to represent a progressive, reform-oriented Republican mayorship in the overwhelmingly Democratic city of New York. It would help to usher in an era of progress for New York City, and for Blacks in particular. But this progress would not come without the unified struggle of the Black community itself.

As the in-school component of Galamison’s street advocacy movement, the African American Teachers Association had their first great struggle, centered at Intermediate School 201. In what Weusi described as a “testing” of the Black community’s strength in effecting change in Board of Education policies, the pressure that the community put on the Board of Education led to the addition of the fifth Black school principal in the City. This was a major victory at a time when there were only a handful of Black educators in the New York City public school system. For Weusi, the victory meant that “if unified and strong, you can win.” It also marked a change in the attitude of local communities: they were “no longer fearful” in pushing for change in the Board of Education’s policies and hiring practices.

Over the next two years, there was a series of similar maneuvers, many of which were effective. Yet it was not until 1968 that the struggle would go to the next level. It was in ’68 that the African American Teachers Association joined with the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Alliance around the concept of community control. With teachers and the community members standing side by side (and Galamison now part of the Board of Education) the Ocean Hill-Brownsville struggle took place. From 1968 to 1969, in what Weusi describes as the “most underrepresented yet most impactful era of Brooklyn history”, the teachers and the community battled the Board of Education and the predominately-white United Federation of Teachers in a struggle that they hoped would finally create a structure for the empowerment of local communities. The result was the establishment of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Governing Board, a community school board that served central Brooklyn’s Black community.

A New York State Legislature bill was passed in January 1969, creating 32 school boards with the right to hire and fire key personnel. For the first time, schools boards had the right to include people of color in the local schools. Families would now have a say in their children’s education. People from the community would finally be heard – and not dismissed - by school administrations. At the time, these were the promises held by community schools boards. Despite the difficulty of the struggle, and despite differences with the Board during his time as a young teacher (at one point Weusi was penalized for taking his students to a memorial for slain leader Malcolm X), Jitu Weusi would look back at the community’s educational victories in the 1960’s as his “shining moment” as a resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Activity Explosion

“Something cried out in you,” says Weusi of what he describes as the “explosion of Black activity” that hit the world between 1968 and 1969. Locally, Black Panthers in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem and other Black communities were serving breakfast to school children and advancing their political cause. Nationally, African Americans were shifting their focus from civil rights to Black Power and racial consciousness. Internationally, anti-apartheid and anti-colonial independence movements were taking place throughout Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. “Everyday something was going on,” says Weusi. “It was awesome, inspiring, motivational.” It was in this climate that Weusi become the adult advisor to an organization of progressive Black youth called the African American Students Association. In 1969, the ASA and its supporters founded and staffed The East, a cultural and educational center in Bedford-Stuyvesant/Fort Greene that would have a profound and lasting impact on the educational and cultural life of Brooklyn’s Black community.

Look to The East

It is difficult to provide a simple descriptive summary of the work of The East and the extent to which its legacy lives on in Brooklyn’s cultural life. Scholarly works, newspaper and magazine articles have been written on the cultural institution, and it could easily provide rich subject matter for at least one or two full-scale documentaries.

In many ways, The East was born out of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville struggle. The level to which community members organized to express their desire to have a real say in their children’s education led some to believe this goal could only be truly achieved by forming an educational/cultural institution that was entirely independent and community-run. Weusi himself left the public school system to co-found The East, a service-oriented independent Black cultural institution with a Pan-African philosophy. His long-held desire to teach African American youngsters about their history finally came to fruition in the Uhuru Sasa Shule (Swahili for “Freedom Now School”), the educational component of The East, described by Weusi as the organization’s “crown jewel”.

It is important to note that while serving the community, The East would not have been possible without the support of the community. Brooklyn clergy, including Galamison, provided space and fundraising skills. Eight volunteer teachers taught the high school-aged students subjects ranging from the traditional (math, science, literature) to the alternative (creative writing, Black history, physical self-defense). The families whose children attended Uhuru Sasa Shule actually helped to run the school and The East’s other components. Clothes and food drives enabled The East to send caravans of assistance to local and national causes. Fundraisers, musical events, lectures, poetry readings, art exhibitions and workshops, drama and dance performances breathed life into The East’s Black Nationalist philosophy.

Events held at The East were no small matters. The East was widely known for drawing crowds of thousands to hear lectures by H. Rap Brown, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) and Sundiata Acoli, among others. Weekly music performances included local artists like Scoby Stroman (known to Weusi since the days of Charles Morris’ newsstand) and Donna Cumberbatch, as well as internationally-recognized jazz greats including Max Roach, Randy Weston and Betty Carter.

The East continued from 1969 to 1985, but its legacy will last indefinitely in the lives of those in Brooklyn and beyond. North America’s largest African street fair, the International African Arts Festival held annually at Boys and Girls High School, began as an African-themed community block party held by The East. Churches, mosques, schools, day camps, social programs, and a variety of collectives have successfully incorporated the model of collective work and economics exemplified by The East. Cultural calendars; greater awareness and celebration of Black Solidarity Day, Kwanzaa and Black history month; widespread acceptance of African hairstyles and clothing, are all attributable to individual, national, and local initiatives of which The East was a major innovator. Overall, the community’s social consciousness was raised exponentially by The East and similar institutions.

Cut Backs and Set Backs

The mid-1970’s marked an ideological backlash in America that came with it an era of funding cutbacks of arts and cultural programs across the country. According to Weusi, a shift in values occurred in which African Americans began to favor individual, rather than collective, growth. The decline of the economy, inflation, and Bedford-Stuyvesant’s own loss of billions of dollars in federal and state aid between the mid-1970’s and mid-1980’s were all factors that led to the unfortunate demise of The East in 1985.

With the closing of The East, Weusi returned to teach for the Board of Education in 1986. His return was not exactly a happy one, as it occurred amidst the “worst mud-slinging and defamation of character” the city had ever known, acted out in public life and in the news media. For Weusi, accusations in the press against school boards, community leaders, civic leaders and community people were “calculated.” They were part of the nation-wide backlash against progressive movements and community empowerment, and school boards – the formalization of community power and input – were a prime target.

Weusi left the public school system again in 1988, but he returned again in 1991 and has continued to work for the Board of Education to the present day. He has served as a Math Cluster Head for District 17; Staff Developer for District 23, and currently as Assistant Principal in District 13.

Anchor in the storm

By 2002, Jitu Weusi will have served as an educator in Central Brooklyn for 40 years. In an era of social and educational decline, many are looking for someone or something to blame for the failure of many of the city’s public schools. At the policy level, there is widespread discussion of federally-imposed “standards”; privatization of public schools; increasing corporate involvement, and a shifting of power back to top echelons and away from local communities.

It is in times like these when progressive Black educators like Weusi serve as anchors for our troubled schools, providing a continuum, a sense of history, and a view of the larger picture of the ongoing struggle for the education and futures of African American children. One of the most positive aspects of his work, says Weusi, is the fact that he often works with students whose very parents, and even grandparents, he has taught. Weusi shares a special bond with these families, one that can only come with working with people over the years, watching them grow and have children of their own, and knowing that you have played as important part in their development as they have in yours. This is just how Weusi sees his community as a whole. An educator of thousands of students, a social activist and cultural leader, and now co-founder of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival, Jitu Weusi has worked to uplift and develop the cultural and social awareness of the African American community of Central Brooklyn just as much as the community has shaped him over the years. It is a relationship for which he is very grateful.

Related keywords:
“The East Legacy” by Jitu Weusi, at Kitabu: An online Webzine
National Black United Front
International African Arts Festival

Note: Written 


  1. Thanks for being here - thanks for the difference you make. ~Kwasi

  2. Truly Baba Jitu will be missed. We must remember the legacy and what he was trying exemplify to us all. Being on the frontline of anything is high stake and he certainly was there and remained. It is our responsibility to pick up the mantle and receive the double portion that we need to go forth. Education truly is a human right, so let's continue the fight.

  3. To the family of this guiding light:

    My prayers are with you. I know that God can and does give us the strength we need in this time of sorrow and celebration.

    As a father he was proud to share his children's success.

    Thank you for sharing him with me and my family.

    Peace and Blessings!

  4. I thank God for allowing me the pleasure of knowing Baba Jitu Weusi and sharing him with the world. He has touched many lives and impacted many people. Thank you for the memories and the many lessons that you taught me. You will be Greatly missed. You and your family are in my prayers and thoughts during this challenging time. Gone but you will Never be forgotten. Rest in Peace. Stephanie Willis aka Kujiweza Iman

  5. The transition of Baba Jitu is a great loss, not only to African New Yorkers but also to the African world. I had met him in the late sixties and knew of his outstandiing leadership in Community Control of public education in New York City Schools. Once I moved to New York it was my pleaure to know him personally and to work with him on several projects.
    Sleep well Brother Jitu. Those of us who remain will try to carry on your great work.

    Brother Donald H. Smith