Power to the People

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Photo by Ian Phares

Power anywhere where there’s people. Fred Hampton Sr. said that in 1969. Over the years, it’s been discussed and debated what that means. Where does power come from? The great author and activist bell hooks once said, “One of the most vital ways we sustain ourselves is by building communities of resistance, places where we know we are not alone.” More recently, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, the scholar and writer from the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg nation in Canada said, “Strong communities are born out of individuals being their best selves.” These concepts can be viewed as separate or as cohesive aspects in understanding the nature of power in our society.

206 Zulu turns 18 this year. Almost two decades since its founding, this grassroots organization with international reach continues to define the power of the people. It’s humbling to be part of a group with so much strength in the individuals who make it up. Over the years, 206 Zulu has built educational institutions around the elements of Hip Hop and the tenets of political awareness. It’s faced down police and politicians. The members of this organization have fed people in our community that were hungry. They’ve protected, restored, and preserved historical structures. They’ve been in classrooms and prisons, on street corners and stages. Such powerful efforts have gone into transforming the world, into finding needs in a community and putting in the heart, blood, sweat and tears necessary to meet those needs. All this work has been done with or without finance. The currency for achieving the ambitious goals of 206 Zulu has been people.

On the eve of another anniversary, we take this moment to honor our members. We offer gratitude for the hours of time that these incredible people have given, even when the only pay was a better world for our children. We’re thankful for the firmness of our members to break walls and build bridges, to ignore the idea that something is impossible because it hasn’t been done yet. We honor the creativity of the educators, artists, and organizers within our membership that have poured their souls into microphones, pages, walls, and canvases. We thank you for helping each other define what power truly is.

On one hand, we can see the power of people coming together to create a sum even greater than its parts. On the other, the power of a collective to bring out the best in each member reminds us that our strength as a group comes from knowing that our work is both a sacrifice and a gift. Drawing back to one of the great thinkers that have contributed to this understanding, the late Zen philosopher and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh said about power, “When it goes together with great love, great understanding, and not a drive to gratify our own narrow self-interest, it can be a tremendous instrument for bringing love, joy, inspiration.”

Thank you to all those who have felt that love born of understanding and given of themselves to the mission of 206 Zulu. We honor you for the inspiration you’ve created and we dedicate ourselves to carry it into the future as we continue building the world we all deserve.

Power to the people!

(Note: Out of caution for the safety of our community, this year’s in-person anniversary celebration has been rescheduled for Sunday, June 19, 2022, more info to be announced.)

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Open Hands is a humanoid father, husband, revolutionary, emcee, journalist, videographer, animator, storyteller, educator, and friend currently residing in parts unknown somewhere within the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.