In many ways, the best and strongest man I’ve ever known is Steve Muhammad, my beloved karate instructor. Not only a man of devastating physical skills, an innovative genius, fierce competitor, inspiring teacher and devoted family man, but a creature of deep spirit and vast compassion. With more street experience than any four other people I know, he is also gentle and humble, a combination that still boggles my mind.
From the first moment I saw him at a Martial Arts Expo in about 1974, performing a mass attack skit where four students came at him and he responded with an explosion of speed, power and precision that blew my mind, I knew I wanted to sit at his feet and learn. What I didn’t realize was that THE DEMO WAS UNREHEARSED. Years later I got to participate in one, and he simply said: “come at me” to all of us. And he took us out with absolute control, his punches, kicks, palm strikes and elbows coming within a breath of our skin, kissing our uniforms in machine-gun rhythm…without hurting us.
I’d wondered for decades: HOW COULD HE BE SO STRONG? And one day, about seven years ago, I found out.
As a child, Steve had been raised in Mississippi by his grandparents, who had been slaves. Suddenly, it hit me. Dear God. THAT experience had burned away all that was false. All the lies. All the “First World Problems.” There are two reactions to such stress, really. It breaks you, husks you, cripples you for generations…or the heat and pressure transforms you into a diamond. The majority are broken. But some few…
Suddenly, I grasped that under stress, the few who manage to stand up, to shine, to maintain their humanity, have a knowledge of self, a clarity of their values, that can be shaken by no lesser power. The 99% will be crushed, diminished, driven to lower their eyes and dull their dreams, crippled by fear and hatred…
But those who maintain their humanity are amazing, with near-divine gifts to offer those who will listen: how did I survive? What is true? Who am I? How can you protect your soul in the midst of chaos?
Oppressed populations reliably under-perform. But they also produce some of the finest music, art, athletics, and spirituality on the planet. THEY DO WHAT THEY CAN. THEY THRIVE WHERE THEY CAN. They love each other desperately, nurture their children and grandchildren, believing in “milk and honey on the other side,” encoding their wrath in fables, channeling their suicidal/homicidal urges into their dance and prayer, finding small joys to warm their hearts as they somehow survive from generation to generation…slaves becoming sharecroppers, who become servants, who become merchants and teachers…who become doctors and lawyers…who become scientists, politicians…and storytellers.
They take the fantasies and mythologies, blend them with a burgeoning understanding of the universe around them, and the technology that explores it, and add their own rhythms, creating what the outer world called Science Fiction and Fantasy…and they themselves began to call AFROFUTURISM.
And just as Science Fiction has always both expressed human dreams and driven our inquiry, the version of this phenomenon that grew from the depths of black pain, keeping alive the spark until the laws and cultures changed and allowed us to speak our truth more openly, contains lessons that could not be spoken openly until after the fall of Jim Crow, the end of Segregation, the passing of the Voting Rights act, the birth of a generation unafraid of lynchings and oppression.
When I was ten years old, my mother, who had grown up in the segregated south, whose childhood had been darkened by the shadows of dangling black men, told me: “Steven, if you show white people how smart you are, they will kill you.”
The terror of that statement haunted me. Drove me into the martial arts, where I found a man strong enough to lend that strength to me, so that I could have the courage to create my own dreams, and lend them to a younger generation so that they could stand on my shoulders, see further and imagine a world where children could play together and work together and build together, judging one another not by the color of their skin, or even the content of their character, but on their capacity to create a bridge to a future brighter than any of them had ever known.
The wisdom passed to me is beyond my understanding, but a part of my bones. How to deal with fear, and pain. How to stop hatred and resentment from poisoning you. HOW TO LIVE WITH LOVE, AND HOPE, NO MATTER WHAT CHAOS AND DANGER SURROUNDS YOU.
Lessons for our time. Available to all with eyes to see and ears to hear.
The AFROFUTURISM: DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES class is a distillation of everything my dear, brave, brilliant wife and I have learned about art, creativity, extrapolation, fantasy, and personal evolution. It will twine art and science together into a braid that cannot be broken. You may have a story to write. A screenplay to finish. Want to understand what drove an Octavia Butler or Chip Delany or God help me…a Steven Barnes or Tananarive Due. We will watch movies, study art and poetry, spend ten weeks walking in the footsteps of masters and ask YOU to find the dreams that sustain you, ask you to refine them, teach you to express them, share them with the world at a time we need them most.
I’ve been working toward this for twenty years, and its here. Join us. Be a part of a movement to be an awake, aware, adult human being by grounding your feet in reality while simultaneously reaching for the stars.
The future is ours, yours, our childrens…if you can keep your dreams alive, understand that we all aspire to the same things…and never stop fighting to create magic in your life
We have a special discount price for just the remainder of Black History Month. If you are in total financial emergency, reach out to us and tell us what you can afford and we’ll do all we can to help you. If you can afford to donate a scholarship for a needy student, please do so.
You can make a difference. WE can make a difference. Every one of you, black and white and yellow and brown…if you are a brother or sister in this struggle…YOU are the hope and the dream of the slave.